Category Archives: Songs

“Citadels”: Mandroid Echostar’s Magnum Opus

[Author’s note: I’ve caught a lot of grief from close-minded extreme metal fans due to my love for Avenged Sevenfold’s Sounding the Seventh TrumpetWaking the FallenCity of Evil, and Nightmare albums.  These close-minded fans seem hell-bent on ignoring the obvious musical talent and diversity inherent in the aforementioned Avenged albums due simply to the vocal style employed by frontman Matt Sanders.  I risk the same reaction by showcasing Mandroid Echostar, but I don’t mind.  Both bands are simply too talented and too melodic to dismiss.]

There’s no doubt bands such as Mandroid Echostar aren’t for every extreme metal fan.  The vocals can, quite simply, be extraordinarily alienating–indeed, the band deserves an immense amount of credit for releasing instrumental-only versions of each of their releases to make their musical brilliance more accessible to more traditional extreme metal fans.  And yet, I’ve got a confession to make: I think Mandroid Echostar’s vocals are an integral, indispensable part of the band, and my review below addresses the version of the song “Citadels” that incorporates lead singer Michael Ciccia’s extraordinarily unique vocals.

The song “Citadels” is the final track from the band’s EP of the same name.  A remarkably diverse release, Mandroid Echostar employes three guitarists, allowing the six-string slayers to incorporate a number of melodic passages while maintaining the depth and heaviness that only a third guitar can provide.  The bassist and drummer add further depth and complexity to each song comprising the 30 minutes of the Citadels EP.

While the entire EP is worth repeated listens, it is the record’s final track–also known as “Citadels”–that stands out as a hauntingly beautiful, subtly aggressive, and definitively memorable musical experience.  Beginning at approximately the 23-minute mark of the Citadels EP, the eponymous song brings an already impressive album to a chill-inducing conclusion.  At the conclusion of this review, a link is provided to the EP on YouTube that is timestamped to begin play just as the song “Citadels” begins.

VocalsAs suggested previously in this review, Michael’s vocals run the risk of alienating more traditional extreme metal fans.  Indeed, I will admit that I often subscribe to Unique Leader Records’ “no clean vocals” mantra, but, every so often, an exceptionally talented vocalist opens my eyes to the possibilities of progressive metal that utilizes a vocalist singing in tune to further accentuate the emotional brilliance of a given song.  In particular, Michael’s vocals over the last 90 seconds of the song are absolutely stellar, helping bring the song to a close in a way nothing short of legendary.  (8/10)

Guitar: Axe-mastery is where Mandroid Echostar truly excels.  With three guitarists contributing to every song, the possibilities–be they simply adding depth and heaviness or fusing in something more avant garde–are virtually endless.  YouTube features a number of play-through videos starring the three guitarists in Mandroid Echostar, and it is both instructional and entertaining to see how the trio works together to create richly complex riffs, harmonized solos, and an overall cohesiveness few other bands can boast.  (10/10)

Bass: With three six-string virtuosos flawlessly steering each song, Adam Richards’ bass guitar mastery is of critical importance to Mandroid Echostar’s sound–and, to be sure, he is more than up to the challenge.  While his bass tone is not particularly elevated in the mix of the EP, the experienced extreme metal fan will immediately note the clean, driving, and otherwise crucial nature of Adam’s bass playing.  Simply put, Mandroid Echostar would not be able to pull off the complex compositions found on the Citadels EP without Adam’s bass-playing prowess.  (8/10)

Drums: To be fair, the drum backbone of each Mandroid Echostar song is subdued to an extent, but I have no doubt this is by design.  Overpowering blast beats or incessant double-bass thunder simply would overpower the remainder of the band’s songs, particularly considering many of these tracks include acoustic guitar interludes and a softer approach to vocals.  (8/10)

As a Unit: This is where Mandroid Echostar truly excels.  No instrument–no strings, no drums, no voices–overpower the band’s music.  It is very clear the band has worked exceptionally hard to craft a delicate, balanced, and still heavy brand of progressive metal.  (10/10)

Subtotal: (44/50)

Technicality“Technicality” likely isn’t the first word that comes to mind among extreme metal enthusiasts upon hearing Mandroid Citadel.  The guitar leads, while utterly beautiful, lack the degree of difficulty found in, say, the music of Between the Buried and Me or The Black Dahlia Murder.  The drums and bass are delivered flawlessly–but, again, without the degree of difficulty many metal fans yearn for.  That said, the band manages to seamlessly blend these elements, creating a sort of complexity that comes with synchronizing a series of moving parts.  (8/10)

Originality: While the tone of Michael’s vocals might cursorily remind inexperienced listeners of more mainstream rock frontmen, there is, in reality, very little similar between the two.  Indeed, each song composition as a whole carries the mantle for a refreshing form of originality–one that is unafraid of what other metal fans may think of it.  To me, that’s worth quite a bit.  (9/10)

BrutalityThis is, after all, an extreme metal site, and brutality is a key component of virtually all of the music the MAMB staff enjoys.  Mandroid Citadel lacks such brutality, but there is no question that is a conscientious choice on the part of the band.  (6/10)

ThematicThe thematic aspect of “Citadels” drew me even closer to the song and deserves particular recognition.  Indeed, anyone with a failed romance will quickly find much in common with the lyrics of this masterful song.  (9/10)

Memorability: Only time will tell whether “Citadels” survives the test of time in terms of remaining memorable within the metal community.  Personally speaking, I haven’t been able to get the track out of my head for months, and I doubt I’ll ever forget what it was like to listen to the song, especially the final 90 seconds.  (8/10)

Subtotal: (40/50)

Total: 84/100

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Song Review: “Aeon” by December Flower (2011)

From Lower Saxony, German, December Flower was active for just more than five years.  While extreme metalheads mourn talented bands that are unable to continue making quality music, a more appropriate attitude would be to be grateful for the material December Flower recorded during their half-decade as an offical band.

“Aeon” is a 2011 track from the band’s album entitled, When All Life Ends.  Astute In Flames fans will immediately note that both the band name (December Flower) and the name of the song reviewed below are both direct inferences to Jesper and Co.  Unsurprisingly, December Flower’s music is very reminiscent of In Flames’ style circa 1995-2001.  Fans of extreme music are often divided when it comes to such bands:  129228_photosome consider bands such as December Flower to be mimicking a two-decade-old sound, the time for which has long since based the metal community by.  Many others, conversely, respect and admire December Flower for preserving the definitive traits of Gothenburg metal and are very pleased there are talented bands committed to continuing to churn out high-quality melodic death metal music.

The first 45 seconds of December Flower’s “Aeon” are extraordinarily reminiscent of the golden age of the “Swedish Sound” of the mid- to late-1990s.  Retreat or reinterpretation, the music, vocals, and lyrical content ooze talent, and the music itself is simply fun to listen to, regardless of mood.

Vocals: Frontman Manual Siewert bring the rage and melancholy often associated with the Gothernburg sound.  That said, he fails to demonstrate much range and relies on mid-level growls, which, unfortunately, can become rapidly played out or disinteresting.  (6/10)

Guitar: Torsten Horstmann is unquestionably an excellent guitar player.  For “Aeon,” however, Horstmann relies on chunky riffs and a moderately intimidating atmosphere element.  An extended solo would have added a much-needed burst of adrenaline into “Aeon.”  (7/10)

Bass: Ben Bay does not allow himself to get lost in the swirling melodic guiars that define “Aeon.” Whether he isn’t given much time to shine within the band or simply understands his role as a bassist, the fact remains that he’s a very proficient percussionist.  (7/10)

Drums: The percussion work provided by Daniel Dickmann is solid, energetic, and in complete service of the overall musical direction of “Aeon.”   (8/10)

As a unit: December Flower excels at presenting a cohesive band with a unified message.  The band’s ability to forge the disparate instruments used by December Flower to create complete, cohesive songs. (9/10)

Subtotal: (37/50)

Technicality: December Flower isn’t overly technical, undoubtedly in part to the fact that the German band is more interested in melody and quality song-writing.  Each band member is obviously technical proficient, though these abilities don’t show through dramatically in “Aeon.”   (7/10)

Originality: December Flower suffers in this category in a similar fashion to the manner in which the band was slightly marked down in terms of Memorability.   (6/10)

Brutality: To be fair, laying down a brutal or technical death metal record was not December Flower’s concern when recording “Aeon.”  The down-tuned guitars, growled vocals, and inherent emotion in Manual’s vocals and the tuning of each of the band’s instruments, “Aeon” likely  as brutal as any melodic death metal song is capable of being.  (7/10)

Thematic: Instead of falling into the trap of mimicking In Flames’ lyrical themes, December Flower has its on lyrical agenda, the ambitiousness of such is clearly evident in “Aeon.”  (8/10)

MemorabilityWith the number of modern melodic death metal bands emulating In Flames, Dark Tranquility, Arch Enemy, Soilwork, and other Swedish heroes from 20 years ago, the song “Aeon” itself is not particularly member.  To be sure, it is a gorgeously constructed song; it simply isn’t overly memorable.  (7/10)

Subtotal: (35/50)

 

For a video version of the song, click here.

Total: (72/100)

— Jason

» December Flower on Facebook

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[Time Capsule] Jason’s 20th Anniversary Kick-Ass Tape: Circa 2014-15

I have compiled the following 20 Facebook posts for little other than posterity.  In the autumn of 1994, a friend of mine one year senior–and whose knowledge of all things metal far surpassed mine at the time–let me borrow a double-sided cassette tape he’d dubbed with 20 of what he considered to be the best extreme tracks committed to record.  I had no idea upon first listen how vastly influential the tape would prove to be on my musical tastes; indeed, songs recorded onto the tape that still feature in my regular rotation include:

  • Megadeth, “Tornado of Souls”
  • Cannibal Corpse, “Stripped, Raped, and Strangled”
  • Carcass, “Incarnate Solvent Abuse”
  • Slayer, “Silent Scream”
  • Faith No More, “Kindergarten”

As the calendar turned to 2014, I thought it a fitting tribute to compile another 20 songs in honor of the so-called “Kick-Ass Tape” my high school friend Ryan Bullock provided me midway through my junior year at Murray High School.  I devised a list of criteria I’d use to select the artists and songs:

  • No band included on the 1994 tape could be featured on the 2014 compilation
  • All songs included on the 2014 edition must have had been recorded in 1994 or thereafter
  • Three songs each would be selected from six distinct metal genres, with the final two tracks being contributed by bands impossible to categorize and otherwise immensely influential to me in 2014

Of course, almost immediately after transcribing the list, I began to regret certain selections; this was partially remedied by including “Honorable Mentions” for some genres.  Ultimately, however, the list ended far from perfect, but it is presented below, in its entirety, exactly as I authored it on Facebook in 2014 and 2015.


To kick off my 20th anniversary tribute to Ryan Bullock’s 1994 “Kick-Ass Tape,” I present “Nausea,” a brutal yet melodic track from Slaughter of the Soul, the seminal album released by At the Gates in 1995.  (Needless to say, choosing just one track from such an immensely influential and timeless album is akin to choosing which of your children to sell on the black market for organ-harvesting purposes.)  One of the earliest and most prescient examples of the now-legendary “Gothenburg” sound, At the Gates seamlessly blended the ferocity of death metal with the melodic guitar harmonies of bands such as Iron Maiden. I realized a lifelong dream in 2008 when I saw At the Gates in St. Louis during the band’s one and only reunion tour. And yes, they played “Nausea” (by crowd request!).

My second selection for my 20th anniversary Kick-Ass Tape” is another Gothenburg essential, Soilwork’s “Needlefeast.” Anything from The Chainheart Machine, A Predator’s Portrait, and Natural Born Chaos is worthy for inclusion, in my opinion, but this particular track features virtually every element of what made Soilwork so great:

20th ANNIVERSARY KICK-ASS TAPE: The Gothenburg Sound
3 of 3 (The Gothenburg Sound) || 3 of 20 (Overall)

“Jester Script Transfigured” — In Flames

The third and final selection to represent the Gothenburg sound that dominated the global heavy metal music scene during the mid-’90s is the mighty In Flames. In fact, the band’s sound has been so tremendously influential on extreme music during the 21st century that its trademarks–namely, soaring guitar harmonies and galloping double-bass drums–are often simply referred to as the “In Flames sound.” An extremely prolific band with a dozen albums to its credit, In Flames’ style has evolved considerably since the group’s first release, Lunar Strain. The song featured here is from the band’s third full-length album, Whoracle.

HONORABLE MENTIONS FOR THE GOTHENBURG SOUND:

Dark Tranquillity
The Crown
Hypocrisy
Arch Enemy

20th ANNIVERSARY KICK-ASS TAPE: Finns to the Front
1 of 3 (Finns to the Front) || 4 of 20 (Overall)

“Kissing the Shadows” — Children of Bodom

After the sonic revolution that was the “Gothenburg sound” had matured, a new melodic onslaught was unleashed onto the metal community–and it, too, had Scandinavian origins. Specifically, the release of Children of Bodom’s 1997 album Something Wild ushered in a new twist on melodic death metal: in addition to blazing-fast guitar riffs and growling vocals, harmonized keyboards were used to compliment the six-string fury of extreme heavy metal music.

For the first of my three selections for the “Finns to the Front” portion of my 20th Anniversary Kick-Ass Tape, I’ve chosen “Kissing the Shadows” from Children of Bodom’s third album, Follow the Reaper. As has been the case with my previous selections, I believe “Kissing the Shadows” embodies everything that made CoB’s first three albums legitimately great, most notably an extended dual guitar / keyboard solo near the song’s conclusion.

20th ANNIVERSARY KICK-ASS TAPE: Finns to the Front
2 of 3 (Finns to the Front) || 5 of 20 (Overall)

“From Afar” — Ensiferum

Helsinki heathens Ensiferum take the elements classically associated with Finnish melodic death metal–those, for example, embodied by my previous selection, Children of Bodom–and interpret them with a folkish twist, creating galloping anthems that tell the tales of Nordic heroes while incorporating acoustic guitars and so-called “clean” vocals. Founded in 1995, it was not until the 2004 release of Iron that Ensiferum gained international recognition. Now, with five albums to the band’s credit–including the 2012 release Unsung Heroes–Ensiferum represents the very best of Scandinavian folk metal.

I have selected the title track to the band’s 2009 album From Afar for inclusion in my 20th Anniversary Kick-Ass Tape:

20th ANNIVERSARY KICK-ASS TAPE: Finns to the Front
3 of 3 (Finns to the Front) || 6 of 20 (Overall)

“Black Winter Day” — Amorphis

This, my third and final selection for the Finns to the Front portion of my 20th Anniversary Kick-Ass Tape, is dedicated to Benjamin M Romero, an extremely close personal friend who served as a groomsman at my wedding and whom I first met upon starting employment with eBay in autumn 2000. In addition to sharing my love of cinema, Ben also is a connoisseur of fine heavy metal music and is responsible for introducing me to Amorphis, the third Finnish outfit featured on this year’s musical compilation.

While its music is generally more mid-tempo than the majority of bands that came to symbolize Finland’s rise to musical prominence at the close of the 20th century, Amorphis nevertheless seamlessly fuses brooding melodic guitar passages with extensive use of synthesizers and lyrical passages detailing the exploits of Nordic warriors to tell ancient tales of heroes conquering the endless darkness of the Scandinavian landscape. Powerfully influential but never duplicated, Amorphis’ musical style is instantly recognizable and brutally haunting, making the band the perfect inclusion to round out the portion of the 20th Anniversary Kick-Ass Tape devoted to memorializing Finland’s contributions to heavy metal music over the past two decades.

FINNS TO THE FRONT — HONORABLE MENTIONS:

Norther
Kalmah
Wintersun
Finntroll
Korpiklanni

20th ANNIVERSARY KICK-ASS TAPE: The [American] Empire Strikes Back
1 of 3 (The [American] Empire Strikes Back) || 7 of 20 (Overall)

“A Gunshot to the Head of Trepidation” — Trivium

As the 21st century dawned on a weary, war-torn planet, a diverse, immensely-talented crop of American-born bands burst onto the heavy metal scene, determined to reclaim the country’s rightful place upon the throne of extreme music. Influenced not just by metal legends such as Metallica and Slayer, but by more modern sub-genres such as the so-called “Gothenburg sound,” these young yet remarkably skilled musicians served notice across the oceans that the American scene was back–and more brutally melodic than ever before.

Among the first to carry the standard was Orlando-based Trivium. The band’s second album, Ascension, catapulted the quartet to international metal stardom, and “A Gunshot to the Head of Trepidation”–my selection to represent Trivium on my 20th Anniversary Kick-Ass Tape–perhaps best exemplifies the band’s beautifully melodic sound, a sound featuring soaring, twin-guitar harmonies, thundering bass riffs, and a compelling mix of growled and clean vocals from frontman Travis Heafy.

This selection is dedicated to my ex-wife, Jessie Facer, who introduced me to Trivium in 2004 and who talked tattoos with the aforementioned Heafy backstage in Las Vegas following the band’s live performance in 2006.

20th ANNIVERSARY KICK-ASS TAPE: The [American] Empire Strikes Back
2 of 3 (The [American] Empire Strikes Back) || 8 of 20 (Overall)

“What a Horrible Night to Have a Curse” — The Black Dahlia Murder

Hailing from Detroit, Michigan, The Black Dahlia Murder served visceral notice to the world that death metal–which was born in the late 1980s in Florida–was still entirely dominated by the Americans. Featuring savage, blood-curdling screams and guttural growls–both performed by vocalist Trevor Strnad–ferocious yet melodic six-string madness, and impossible time and tempo changes executed with brutal precision, The Black Dahlia Murder’s music is a carnal feast for the ears.

The song I have chosen to represent the band on my 20th Anniversary Kick-Ass Tape–“What a Horrible Night to Have a Curse”–features triplets churned out by drummer Alan Cassidy that defy the conventional confines of musical theory and structure. Ultimately, the aforementioned decision was difficult, as “Deathmask Divine”–also from the album Nocturnal–is also simply in another league when it comes to extreme death metal.

And, speaking of triplets, The Black Dahlia Murder has religiously produced an album every two years, the titles of which are always a single, three-syllable word:

Unhallowed
Miasma
Noctural
Deflorate
Ritual
Everblack

20th ANNIVERSARY KICK-ASS TAPE: The [American] Empire Strikes Back
3 of 3 (The [American] Empire Strikes Back) || 9 of 20 (Overall)

“Remenissions” — Avenged Sevenfold

Rounding out The [American] Empire Strikes Back is perhaps my most controversial inclusion: Avenged Sevenfold. The band’s musical style has evolved so dramatically over the past decade–beginning with what could somewhat accurately be called “deathcore,” then transitioning to thrash metal before essentially becoming straightforward hard rock–that opinions within the metal community regarding Avenged Sevenfold’s place within the genre vary wildly. Furthermore, selecting the song to best represent the band on my 20th Anniversary Kick-Ass Tape proved exceptionally difficult; I considered “Trashed and Scattered,” “Save Me,” “Second Heartbeat,” and “Danger Line,” yet ultimately opted to select “Remenissions” from the band’s sophomore effort, Waking the Fallen.

HONORABLE MENTIONS — THE [AMERICAN] EMPIRE STRIKES BACK

Shadows Fall
All That Remains
Unearth

20th ANNIVERSARY KICK-ASS TAPE: Two of a Kind
1 of 2 (Two of a Kind) || 10 of 20 (Overall)

“White Walls” — Between the Buried and Me

As a teaser to my 20th Anniversary Kick-Ass Tape countdown, I posted a link to Between the Buried and Me’s “Obsfucation,” the first track off of the band’s masterful The Great Misdirect. To me, BtBaM is as close to truly classical music as heavy metal will ever get; specifically, the complexity of the music means the band’s work ISN’T something you can listen to regardless of mood, or something you can listen to on repeat without growing, well, exhausted with the overwhelming technical mastery of the North Carolina outfit’s work (specifically, Colors, The Great Misdirect, and both installments in the Parallax series).

What you will discover upon repeated listens to BtBaM is something new to appreciate or marvel at within the band’s flawlessly crafted material. From insanely precise time changes, a bass guitar reminiscent of jazz fusion, and the singularly most beautiful and haunting twin guitar leads and harmonies, there is no shortage of attention-grabbing talent throughout every Between The Buried And Me track, even those that clock in at an astonishing 17 minutes in length.

As mentioned, I had previoused teased this countdown with “Obsfucation,” a song it could be argued as the finest the band has ever recorded. After immersing myself in the band’s music this summer, I have come to believe the “White Walls” is perhaps the only track that surpasses “Obsfucation” as a stand-alone representation of everything heavy metal can truly be. Incidentally, “White Walls” is the final track from the “Colors” album, while “Obsfucation” is first on the list of tracks on “The Great Misdirect,” giving the tracks an almost symbiotic relationship.

To be sure, “White Walls” is a marathon of a song, but it is worth savoring every minute–particularly the astonishing run of guitar leads and harmonies that comprise the last four minutes of the song. Nowhere else in metal will you find sweeping arpeggions played so fast yet so perfectly, followed seconds later by the kind of coda that, quite frankly, raises the hair on the back of my neck every time I hear it. A simple piano rhythm plays out the last half minute of the song, leaving an indelible, unforgettable place in one’s collective metal memory–guaranteed.

One final note: The countdown will next resume with a look at the three greatest deathcore bands of the past 20 years–a genre, to be sure, that I do not generally care for, but one that features some criminally underappreciated masterpieces.

20th ANNIVERSARY KICK-ASS TAPE: Death to the Core
1 of 3 (Death to the Core) || 11 of 20 (Overall)

“Better Living Through Catastrophe” — All Shall Perish

[Editor’s note: After some reflection, I have determined that I have listened to “Better Living Through Catastrophe” more than any other song over the course of my 36 years on this vile planet. While it is unquestionably among my 20 favorite songs of all time, the primary reason I’ve listened to the track more than any other is because, from summer 2011 to autumn 2013, I listened to “Better Living Through Catastrophe” prior to every workout I performed at Gold’s Gym and Snap Fitness. Considering I generally train five times per week, the song served as the perfect pre-workout energizer hundreds and hundreds of times over the aforementioned two year period.]

The “deathcore” genre of heavy metal–which fuses the melodic death metal guitar harmonies made famous by Gothenburg bands such as In Flames with the stomping, breakdown-driven style of early hardcore–is honestly among my least favorite styles of heavy metal. In fact, nine out of every 10 deathcore bands I’ve heard I would not listen to again. That said, the few bands that succeed at mixing these styles do so extraordinarily well and have composed some of my favorite workout anthems of all time.

At the head of the clas is All Shall Perish. The band’s classic “The Price of Existence” features 11 alternately brutal and melodic tracks that serve as the perfect introduction to the proper way to do deathcore for novice listeners. And, in particular, “Better Living Through Catastrophe” features every essential component of an unforgettable deathcore song: Vicious, angry vocals; thrash-style, uptempo guitar runs; pummeling, double-bass-led drums; and, timed perfectly, a mosh-worthy breakdown accented by sweep-picked arpeggios.

Indeed, while I will feature two additional bands in this (Death to the Core) category, there is no more perfect introduction than All Shall Perish’s ultimate masterpiece:

20th ANNIVERSARY KICK-ASS TAPE: Death to the Core
2 of 3 (Death to the Core) || 12 of 20 (Overall)

“Hester Prynne” — As Blood Runs Black

[Editor’s note: I began my 20th Anniversary Kick-Ass Tape countdown more than a year ago but have not authored a new contribution for more than six months. That said, I am committed to completing this tribute before year’s end, and this entry is the first of the remaining nine I will complete prior to December 31, 2015.]

As I previously mentioned in my last selection–“Better Living Through Catastrophe” by All Shall Perish”–the so-called “deathcore” sub-genre of the metal scene is among my least-favorite. The genre is dominated by down-tempo music lacking in creativity and reliant on downtuned guitars and endless breakdowns. However, the few deathcore bands within the scene producing quality music are absolutely worth listening to, and this includes As Blood Runs Black’s seminal album, Allegiance.

In fact, most consider the deathcore genre to have peaked during the middle of the last decade–precisely when Allegiance was released. The album features melodic overtures intermixed with crushing breakdowns and a myriad of time changes and technical precision. I selected “Hester Prynne” to represent As Blood Runs Black because it captures all of the aforementioned elements perfectly: insanely technical guitar work, crushing drum support, and a devastating breakdown two-thirds of the way through the track. Additionally, “Hester Prynne” is one of those rare tracks that gets better with each passing second, concluding with a flurry of sweeping arpeggios and other technical wizardry.

Sadly, As Blood Runs Black never made another mark on the deathcore scene following the release of Allegiance. Plagued by constant lineup changes and issues with their record label, the band was only able to release two more albums, both of which were no match for Allegiance. But for straightforward, aggressive, and technical deathcore music, “Hester Prynne” has everything you could want in such a song.

20th ANNIVERSARY KICK-ASS TAPE: Death to the Core
3 of 3 (Death to the Core) || 13 of 20 (Overall)

“Autumn Tint of Gold” — Through the Eyes of the Dead

A deathcore band whose name was inspired by the legendary Cannibal Corpse song “Staring Through the Eyes of Dead,” this outfit has produced some of the most brutal music within the entire genre. With morbid, violent lyrical content that suits the music perfectly, Through the Eyes of the Dead demonstrates how deathcore music can be brilliantly brutal: no clean vocals, no gang shouts, no nonsense: just straightfoward brutality underscored by catchy riffs and narrated with exceptional vocals.

Malice is perhaps the band’s best release, though Bloodlust is also worth purchasing. The band is relentless, delivering an hour of thunderous overtures of violence, hatred, and disdain for modern civiliation. Indeed, dispensing with the usual deathcore lyrical content of overcoming personal challenges and misogny, Through the Eyes of the Dead crushes deathcore’s tired and formulaic approach to music and defines itself as a leader within the genre.

HONORABLE MENTIONS
——————

August Burns Red
Thy Art is Murder
As I Lay Dying

20th ANNIVERSARY KICK-ASS TAPE: Symphonies in Black
1 of 3 (Symphonies in Black) || 14 of 20 (Overall)

“Mourning Palace” — Dimmu Borgir

Black metal has its roots in Scandinavia, with Norway being the primary contributor to the genre. Beginning in the early ’90s, black metal featured heavily-distorted guitars, ominous and foreboding atmospheric elements, and lyrical content condemning Christiantiy and promoting a return to the pagan gods of Nordic mythology. Additionally, many black metal bands openly embraced Satanism as part of their music–not, however, because the bands believed in the ideology, but rather because it served as a stark, controversial means of protesting Christianity.

Dimmu Borgir is perhaps black metal’s most commercially-succesful band, with nearly a dozen releases, some of which have received limited commercial airplay (in particular, “Progenies of the Great Apocalypse,” from the band’s album Deathcult Armegeddon, received considerable critical acclaim and a measure of mainstream success). To me, the band’s finest work came earlier in its career, when Dimmu Borgir put less emphasis on symphonic elements and instead delivered brooding, evil soundtracks to the coming apocalypse. The finest example of such work is “Mourning Palace” from the band’s album Enthrone Darkness Triumphant. Featuring perhaps the most ominous opening riff and one of black metal’s most memorable screams, “Mourning Palace” delivers a haunting portryal of lost souls appealing to Satan for the forgiveness of their sins and for his eternal embrace.

The song’s first half is seemingly upbeat, but, midway through the track, the tone changes to match the utter evil being delivered by Shagrath, the band’s frontman. The track ultimately reprises the song’s opening riff, but in a much more somber, even wicked tone. “Mourning Palace” remains one of the band’s most enduring tracks and is played as an encore at virtually every one of Dimmu Borgir’s live performances.

20th ANNIVERSARY KICK-ASS TAPE: Symphonies in Black
2 of 3 (Symphonies in Black) || 15 of 20 (Overall)

“Felonies of the Christian Art” — Old Man’s Child

Old Man’s Child is an absolutely legendary band fronted by Galder (who now also plays guitar for Dimmu Borgir). Old Man’s Child is exclusively Galder’s project; in fact, he provides the vocals and plays both guitar and bass guitar on each album, with the drums being provided by stalwarts of the genre such as Hellhammer.

Old Man’s Child delivers music haunting in its beauty, with symphonic elements accenting the brutal, straightfoward guitars and demonic lyrical content. Indeed, The Pagan Prosperity, Ill-Natured Spiritual Invasion, In Defiance of Existence, and Vermin are all essential albums for any black metal collection. Each album demonstrates Galder’s musical progression, yet every song retains the cold-blooded brutality and defiance of Christianty definitive of the genre as a whole.

Unfortunately, Galder’s responsiblities in Dimmu Borgir means his output of Old Man’s Child material is infrequent, and it is uncertain if he will be releasing any further releases under the Old Man’s Child banner. For black metal fans, however, the band’s impressive discography provides hours of soul-wrenching enjoyment.

20th ANNIVERSARY KICK-ASS TAPE: Symphonies in Black
3 of 3 (Symphonies in Black) || 16 of 20 (Overall)

“Dunkelheit” — Burzum

Along with my inclusion of Avenged Sevenfold in The (American) Empire Strikes Back, my selection of Burzum as representative of the finest black metal ever produced may be met with passionate disagreement. There is no question Varg Vilkenes has profoundly influenced the black metal genre; in fact, he was one of the driving forces behind its rise to prominence in Norway during the early ’90s, and he put his words into action by burning down a number of Christian churches in Norway, for which he was imprisoned.

“Dunkelheit” is the first black metal song I ever listened to; I was 20 years old and decided to give the album on which the song appears, Filofosem, a listen while retiring to bed one night after work. Initially, I was unsure what to think of the heavily-distorted guitars and the relatively simple song structure of the track, but, after listening to the song a handful of times, I was struck by the trance-like repition of the primary riff and the utterly cold and foreboding lyrics delivered in haunting screams by Vilkenes. The lyrics–“When night falls, she covers the world in impenetrable darkness / A chill rises from the soil and contaminates the air”–are brilliant in their simplicity and beautifully describe the harsh, unforgiving winters Vilkenes endured in Norway.

Several months later, I had the privilege of visiting Norway, and, during my stay, my grandfather and I drove north and found an isolated forest surrounded only by an ancient church and graveyard. The spiritual presence in that forest was very real, and I felt a connection to my northern ancestors that stays with me to this day. While maligned as simple or even neo-Nazi in its approach, Burzum’s music has left an indelible mark on black metal, and Filofosem is mandatory for any serious fan of the genre.

20th ANNIVERSARY KICK-ASS TAPE: Technical Excellence
1 of 3 (Technical Excellence) || 17 of 20 (Overall)

“Shepherd’s Commandment” — Dying Fetus

Technical death metal is a relatively new addition to the burgeoning number of genres within the metal scene. Characterized by overwhelmingly complex song structures, frequent tempo changes, and blistering guitar licks backed by thunderous, double-bass driven drums, technical death metal is fascinating, yet many find they are unable to listen to it for extended periods of time due to the schizophrenic nature of the music.

Dying Fetus was one of the pioneering bands of the technical death metal genre and continues to produce incredible music to this day. To me, the band’s Destroy the Opposition best captures the band’s sound and features John Gallagher and his crew at their very best musically. Dying Fetus is also recognized for featuring socially aware lyrical content criticizing the government’s policy of foreign intervention and various other domestic programs the band believes are driving America toward civil war. Of course, this commentary is accompanied by extremely violent lyrics and equally violent music.

I have had the pleasure of seeing Dying Fetus perform twice, and it was astonishing to see the four-member group reproduce their studio sound live in concert. In particular, watching John Gallagher deliver his brutal vocals while also playing extremely complex lead guitar riffs was nothing short of mind-blowing. While more recent bands may have surpassed Dying Fetus in terms of sheer technicality, the band will always have a place as a leader within the technical death metal genre and has amassed a massive following along the way.

20th ANNIVERSARY KICK-ASS TAPE: Technical Excellence
2 of 3 (Technical Excellence) || 18 of 20 (Overall)

“Stabwound” — Necrophagist

Necrophagist burst onto the technical death metal scene in 1999 with the release of Onset of Putrefaction, an incredibly technical album marked by stellar guitar work heavily reliant on the Phrygian scale and featuring insane sweeping, tapping, and other guitar techniques that wowed metal fans across the world. Four years later, the band released Epitaph, which proved to be immensely influential within the genre and which is still regarded as perhaps the finest example of technical death metal ever produced.

Necrophagist is helmed by Muhammed Suicmez, a half-German, half-Turkish musical prodigy known to be an extreme perfectionist. In fact, the 2004 release Epitaph is the last album the band has released, and the band has become notorious for promising the release of new material, only for it not to materialize due, in the opinion of fans of the genre, to Suicmez’s perfectionism. Indeed, it has been revealed that a new album of material had been produced by the band, but, after final mixing, Suicmez was not pleased and decided to re-record the entire album. As of 2015, metal fans across the world are still waiting for the band’s newest release, with others wondering if the modern generation of technical death metal bands has surpassed Necrophagist in ability and influence, thereby reducing the group’s impact on the genre.

Regardless, both Onset of Putrefaction and Epitaph are essentional inclusions in every technical death metal fan’s music library–and, if you ever have the chance to see them perform live, do not miss the opportunity. I saw Necrophagist open for Cannibal Corpse in Orlando, and watching Suicmez effortlessly shred on this guitar while also providing lead vocals was utterly insane. Despite the band’s endless delays in releasing new material, they have fans across the globe and will forever be recognized as a pioneering force in the genre.

20th ANNIVERSARY KICK-ASS TAPE: Technical Excellence
3 of 3 (Technical Excellence) || 19 of 20 (Overall)

“Graves of the Fathers” — Cryptopsy

Cryptopsy is arguably the most influential band in the technical metal genre. The Canadian giants have produced several abolute classics, including Blasphemy Made Flesh (1994) and None So Vile (1996), the latter being generally recognized as the landmark album of the genre.

Cryptopsy is powerd by Flo Mournier, one of the most insanely talented drummers in metal history, regardless of genre. The band’s early work was also marked by the genre-bending vocals of Lord Worm, whose growls and guttural vocals perfectly accentuated the musical chaos over which they were delivered.

Cryptopsy continues to produce brutal music, releasing an album in 2014. While perhaps not as groundbreaking as the band’s earlier releases, the band’s later work still delivers the punch-to-the-gut brutality that is the hallmark of the band while retaining the immense technicality for which Cryptopsy has forever been known.

HONORABLE MENTIONS
———————————–

Allegaeon
Arkaik
Hideous Divinity
Cytotoxin
Beneath the Massacre
Decapitated

20th ANNIVERSARY KICK-ASS TAPE: Two of a Kind
2 of 2 (Two of a Kind) || 20 of 20 (Overall)

“Prelude to Stalingrad/Behold the Iron Cross” — Bound for Glory

It is genuinely an honor to conclude the 20th Anniversary Kick-Ass Tape by featuring Bound for Glory, the metal band that has, by far, been the most influential musical presence of my life. I first listened to Bound for Glory during my freshmen year in college and enjoyed the first album I purchased, The Fight Goes On. However, when I received my copy of the band’s subsequent release, Behold the Iron Cross, during the summer following my sophomore year, my entire idea of what music could be irrevocably changed forever.

Behold the Iron Cross demonstrated to me that music could both be technically complex, catchy, and memorable, while also delivering important messages about the plight of our people and the historical misrepresentations heaped upon people of European decent. In particular, the song “Siegfried,” about the legendary mythic Germanic hero, inspired me to draw strength from the tales of our ancestors. “To Untamed Lands We Sail,” an epic track detailing the exploits of the Viking invaders from Scandinavia, was so influential to me that I used it as the exlusive backing track for an amateur film I produced and directed in college entitled “Marchers of Doom.”

That said, the song that most impressed me was the album’s final track, “Prelude to Stalingrad / Behold the Iron Cross.” Powered by insanely aggressive guitar, bass, and drums, and featuring vocalist’s Joel’s angry, yet impassioned vocals, “Behold the Iron Cross” tells the heroic story of the exploits of the Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS on the eastern front during World War II. Flawlessly delivering the history of this tragic battle through brilliantly rhyming verses and sing-along choruses, “Behold the Iron Cross” is inspirational enough to make even the most disenfranchised white man stand up and renew his commitment to fight for the survival of his people.

I have the privilege of being close friends with Ed, the guitarist and driving force behind Bound for Glory. He was at my wedding, and I have stayed with him and his beautiful family many times over the years. He is a consumate gentleman: incredibly knowlegable about what really happened in World War II, an incredible provider for his family, and a wonderful father, Ed is one of the most amazing people I have ever met. I am also friends with Joel, the band’s vocalist, and I am continually impressed at the dedicated work he puts into improving his voice–efforts which have allowed the band to experiment with additional vocal styles on its more recent releases.

The Fight Goes On, Behold the Iron Cross, Glory Awaits, Hate Train Rolling, and Feed the Machine are all mandatory for any serious fan of metal and defender of the principles of our ancestors. Again, I am honored to conclude this 20th anniversary tribute by spotlighting my favorite band of all time, and it is my hope that others are exposed to their music and message.

LYRICS:

Sirens are wailing, systems are failing
Another line has been overrun
Bombers in the air, raining hatred and despair
So many that they cover the sun
Call the counterattack, drive the enemy back
Through their lines we must break through
With full scale fighting, our charge becomes lightning
Breaking the red army in two
From foxhole to foxhole, over barbed wire
Dodging the enemy mines
Past fallen comrades into the face of death
I charge the enemy lines
From the deserts of Africa to the Russian steppes
I’ve battled through the heat and the cold
Each scar tells you a story
And that’s why I behold, the iron cross
Behold, the iron cross
Behold, the iron cross
Behold, the iron cross
Armored divisions pound their positions
Call in the stuka attack
Past screaming rockets, we break the encircled pocket
Never to look back
Stubborn resistance, full scale persistence
Orders from the high command
Make the stand to the last man it’s all for the fatherland
Bogged in mire under constant fire
Atrocity victims lie dead in the snow
The guerrilla hunt will be swift and blunt
Reprisals will be tenfold
I was awarded for my fierceness in battle
Even though it all seemed lost
Crossed swords and oak leaves now
Decorate my cross! behold, the iron cross
Behold, the iron cross
Behold, the iron cross
Behold, the iron cross
Panzers rolling death bell tolling
A nations loss never to be healed
Smoke and fire a funeral pyre
Charred remains litter the battle field
Agony screams shattered dreams
Another life is lost
Insanity grows
Limbs are froze in the dead of the winters frost
Hard as steel nothing I feel
Honor has healed my wounds
Machine gun bursts quench my thirst
My bayonet is perched to run you through
Exploding shells frozen hells
I’ve survived my every test
Skorzeny, Meier, Florian Geyer
I’ve fought beside the very best
BEHOLD!

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The Last Truly Great In Flames Song: “Another Day in Quicksand” (2000)

For the past 15 years, melodic death metal icons In Flames have, well, been doing what they do, releasing yet another mediocre album every few years and touring incessantly between studio stops.  For those of us who’ve been around long enough to remember the first time we heard The Jester Race, or the disbelief we felt hearing the opening strains of Colony knowing that the band had two new guitarists in place, In Flames long ago ceased being relevant.  That’s not to say, of course, that the Swedish legends are deserving of our scorn; rather, they’ve settled into a comfortable, undoubtedly profitable niche, and seem to be having a good time to boot.

A number of longtime In Flames fans identify Reroute to Remain as the album that was the beginning of the end for Anders and his countrymen, but, in this humble author’s opinion, Reroute still included a handful of vintage In Flames tracks.  The band was clinging claymanto life–barely clinging to life–in 2002, but it wasn’t all said and done just yet.  To me, it was the atrocious Soundtrack to Your Escape that sounded In Flames death knell; even a modest comeback effort in the form of Come Clarity couldn’t reverse the damage wrought by the band’s 2004 disaster.  If we accept all I have just written as more or less accurate, the question becomes: What was the last truly great In Flames song?

Needless to say, it would appear on the band’s 2000 classic Clayman–and yet, there’s no shortage of quality melodic metal featured on that particular album.  To me, tracks such as “Only for the Weak” and “Satellites and Astronauts” get a bad rap; to be sure, they’re far from the album’s best cuts, but they’re light years ahead of what was to come just two years later.  To this admittedly biased and forever In Flames fan, the choice of what represents the band’s last truly great track must be made from among the final three songs on Clayman: “Swim,” “Suburban Me,” and “Another Day in Quicksand.”

All three songs feature that timeless, almost sing-song melodic quality showcased in virtually every great In Flames song.  Moving guitar leads, too, are present and accounted for across the board.  Even the thematic content of all three songs hints, in some way, at Anders’ move toward angst-ridden, community college-level existentialist lyrics.  Which of the three, however, gets your vote?  Or do you disagree entirely and favor “Bullet Ride” or “Pinball Map,” a song from the dynamic one-two punch that kicks off Clayman?

For yours truly, the answer is “Another Day in Quicksand.”  Setting aside the fact that it is, in fact, the final track on In Flames’ final worthwhile record, the song itself reminds us, if one last time, of all that In Flames did right from 1993 through the release of Clayman in 2000.  For starters, the first 20 or so seconds of the track feature a signature, up-tempo riff using familiar chord shapes that proved so pleasing to the ears over the years.  Diving into the first verse, Anders’ voice sounds strong and emotional–not surprising, considering he was in the studio while laying down the vocals, but it’s nevertheless nostalgic in a way to hear him utilize his death metal vocals without relying–as he came to do–on the nasally whine that defined later releases.

With drums and bass lines firmly driving the tempo, there is room for In Flames to incorporate another of the band’s early signatures: the freedom to play with a number of different licks, fluently blending them together into a cohesive, well-composed song.  And, of course, at roughly the two minute, 20-second mark, the build-up toward one of In Flames’ final epic guitar solos begins–and the solo is indeed one to savor.  But, hell, I see beauty in dead flowers, so tell me what you think the band’s last truly great song was.  The polls are open, friends.

— Jason

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Song Review: Bound for Glory, “20 Kilometers” (1997)

Following what many consider to be the band’s Magnus Opus–“Prelude to Stalingrad/Behold the Iron Cross,” the 1996 masterpiece reviewed by MetalAteMyBaby.com here–Bound for Glory composed a pair of decidedly more somber tracks addressing the horrors of the Eastern Front in World War II.  The latter of these tracks, “Russian Winter,” was a virtually all-acoustic effort soaked by the tears of those who saw their heroes die in the shows of Stalingrad in 1942.  The song that precedes “Russian Winter” on 1997’s Glory Awaits, “20 Kilometers,” is no less bittersweet, yet retains much of the aggression and aural firepower previously noted in “Prelude to Stalingrad/Behold the Iron Cross.”

Beginning with Lee Marvin’s haunting voice from the criminally-underrated World War II film Cross of Iron, “20 Kilometers” Cross_of_Iron_UK_quad_poster  employs regimental-style drums and an increasingly intense dual-guitar lead to set the stage for the lyrics that follow.  Specifically, much like its musical predecessor, “20 Kilometers” begins at dawn, June 22, 1941, with the launch of Operation Barbarossa.  Ample verse is devoted to the sheer spectacle of the German war machine:

Divisions stand at the border, prepped for the eastern trek
Operation Barbarossa is launched into full effect
The border is crossed, the assault begins, massed in furious waves
The spark is lit, shelling starts, blitzkrieg sets the stage
Over the marshes and plains, the Panzers start to roll
Death from above, raining missiles: Stukas take their toll

These words, however, are the last of any even cursory similarities between the aforementioned 1996 song and “20 Kilometers.”  Indeed, as opposed to recounting the heroism shown by those in battle across the Eastern Front, “20 Kilometers” bittersweetly notes the cause for which Western Europe was fighting–and, later in the song, how this cause was betrayed by the Allies when they joined forces with the Soviet Union.  In fact, following the above lyric about dive-bombing Stukas comes this heart-wrenching quartet of sentences:

The brave soldiers of Europe
Set out to join the East and West
Against the Red Dragon
Mother Europe sent her best

After recounting Germany’s all-out dash for Moscow, the brutal truth sets in, as reflected by guitarist Ed’s lyrics:

Their move was coming to a halt
They were running out of supplies
Their tanks immobile in the mud
The earth was swallowing them alive
The cold set in, freezing the men
General Winter reared his head
Yet the fight was on in this frozen land
That claimed so many dead

The Bolshevik resistance grew
Their manpower and supplies had no end
Now the attacking soldiers of Europe
Had to turn to defend
Against Asiatic hordes enforced by Allied supplies
How could the Allies support communism and its Marxist lies?

Vocals: There is an inherent rage to Joel’s voice in many of his best performances, and it flickers briefly in “20 Kilometers.”  By far the prevailing emotion in his voice, however, is heartbreak, delivered to devastating effect. (9/10)

Guitar: Ed’s riff-writing has always been stellar, but, in “20 Kilometers,” the solos, too, burn with emotion, setting the stage for the climactic verse quoted above. (9/10)

Bass: Glory Awaits is the only album on which Las Vegas Bob contributed bass guitar responsibilities.  His performance in “20 Kilometers”–and, indeed, across the entire album–is impressive given his relief pitcher role. (7/10)

Drums: As usual, Mike makes the drum kit his own, driving each song with double-bass precision and tastefully inserting fills when appropriate.  Though no fault of his own, some of Mike’s cymbals were either tuned incorrectly or did not survive the mix intact, creating what can be, at times, a minor distraction. (10/10)

As a unit: Few bands come together to polish a finished project quite like Bound for Glory, and “20 Kilometers” is no exception.  While the guitars could be a bit more prominent in the mix, everything else–the effortless rhyming of the lyrics, the mounting tension throughout the song, the raw emotion–comes together beautifully. (9/10)

Subtotal: (44/50)

Technicality: “20 Kilometers” was written to be memorable, not flashy or technical.  What the track sets out to do, it does well.  (6/10)

Originality: There’s been no shortage of songs authored about World War II–hell, even no shortage of songs about the Eastern Front of the war.  Prior to 1997, however, there’d never been a song that brought together the optimism of June 1941 with the crushing realization that all was lost.  It’s been done since, but it’d never been done before. (9/10)

Brutality: A thicker mix may have added another layer of brutality to “20 Kilometers”–yet, to be fair, the song was never authored to be brutal to begin with.  The suffering endured by millions on both sides is brutality enough.  (7/10)

Thematic: In two words: heart-wrenching.  (8/10)

Memorability: I know fans with signs reading “20 Km” tattooed on their arms as a result of this song.  That’s how memorable this Bound for Glory track has proven to be over the years.  (10/10)

Subtotal: (40/50)

Summary:

“20 Kilometers” is a track that initially lights a fire inside; it puts you there on the front lines when the sun was shining brightest on Western Europe.  Five minutes later, your mood is somber and you wonder how Truman and Churchill could have allied with Stalin–the war’s biggest criminal–to annihilate the German people, the German infrastructure, the German way of life.  That’s the lasting testament to “20 Kilometers”: don’t be surprised if there’s a tear in the corner of your eye, even upon your 75th listen.

For a video version of the song, click here.

Total: (84/100)

— Jason

 

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