Category Archives: Time Capsule

[Time Capsule] A Review of Nothgard’s “Warhorns of Midgard”–Five Years Later, and Every Bit As Good as the Day of Its Release

Melodic Viking death metal masters Nothgard are alive and well in 2016, having produced a number of superb albums over the past decade.  And while each album is worth owning, it is the band’s 2011 masterpiece Warhorns of Midgard that has best stood the test of time as a near-perfect execution of the pagan-themed metal many extreme metal fans have come to recognize as a fusion of modern, crushing metal, complete with harmonized guitar leads, the incorporation of folkish elements, and intelligent lyrics and song titles that reinforce the mythically thematic elements woven into each one of Warhorns of Midgard’s tracks.

Album Details

Track Listing

Cover Art

  1. Lex Talionis
  2. Arminius
  3. Under the Serpent Sign
  4. Einherjer
  5. Shadows Arise
  6. Blackened Sky
  7. Victory
  8. Warhorns of Midgard
  9. Spirit
  10. Ancient Heritage / Modern Warriors
  11. Rise After Falling
  12. Ragnarok
midgardListen to the full-length album here!

Over the past 15 years, the sub-genre of Viking-themed metal has grown exponentially, meaning there is no shortage of technically adept musicians seeking to honor the glory of the conquests led by Scandinavian explorers from the 8th through the 13th centuries.  All too often for fans of extreme metal, however, such records emphasize the folkish elements of pagan metal while sacrificing the speed and brutality that not only conjures the power of the AEsir but also provides the aggression and fearlessness of the fearless Norsemen who sailed around the world to discover and conquer.

Fortunately, Nothgard delivers both the folkish and the brutal in equal parts, making for a thoroughly enjoyable, motivating, and respectful tribute to those who came before us and risked everything to discover new lands for both plunder and settlement.  Simply put, Warhorns of Midgard does not let up from start fo finish, and each song offers a unique variation on the pagan metal formula.

As readers of MetalAteMyBaby.com know, only individual songs thus far have been rated according to a formal and numeric system.  Nothgard’s masterpiece will be the first full-length effort to be evaluated in a similar fashion, though, with this being a test run, the categories and rating system may seem crude and are subject to change moving forward.

As this is MAMB’s first attempt at formally quantifying the merits of an album, the categories may seem somewhat abstract–and perhaps even unrelated to one another.

Sheer Epicness: Viking metal is inherently epic, given that the music provides an exhilarating soundtrack for lyrics detailing the heroic exploits of our Scandinavian forefathers.  The galloping pace of Nothgard’s double-bass driven attack alone supplies an epic foundation for the rest of the band’s instrumentation, while twin lead guitars further play on the primitive instincts that lay dormant in every man and woman of Nordic decent.  (9/10)

Technicality: The elite pagan metal bands are as technically accomplished as many bands identifying as technical death metal outfits.  To be sure, Nothgard dispenses with erratic, unpredictable time changes and overly syncopated drum beats–and yet, ultimately, this restraint makes Warhorns of Midgard that much more listenable.  The technical prowess is there, to be sure, but it serves the thematic message of the music instead of overshadowing it.  (8/10)

Thematic ExcellenceThe cohesiveness of the thematic message featured on Warhorns of Midgard truly sets Nothgard apart from their talented counterparts within the pagan metal genre of extreme metal.  For example, the album’s second track, “Arminius,” tells the story of the titular character and his efforts to unite his clan in pursuit of freedom and happiness.  Two songs later, “Einherjer” recounts–in German–the inevitable consequences of taking up the sword and heading to battle.  Following an instrumental track, the second half of the album probes further into the choices, sacrifices, and consequences of living and dying by the sword, culminating with the album’s final track, “Ragnarok,” which, of course, reminds the listener that the pagan end of the world means “[T]he end of all / no one to escape.”  (10/10)

[Author’s note: Until MetalAteMyBaby.com finalizes the remainder of the rating system, Warhorns of Midgard and subsequent albums will be rated on a scale of one to 30.]

Total: 27/30

As mentioned, Nothgard is alive and well and continues to produce music well worth owning.  If you’ve never listened to this immensely talented band, start with Warhorns of Midgard.  You’ll become a fan upon your first listen.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Nothgard/
Website: http://www.nothgard.de/

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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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[Time Capsule] Song Review: Children of Bodom, “Kissing the Shadows” (2000)

[Author’s note: Jason’s Facebook page displayed a memory from two years ago (in 2014), when the co-founder of MetalAteMyBaby.com was busy constructing what he referred to as his “20th Anniversary Kick-Ass Tape.”  When Jason was a junior in high school, a musically influential friend of his made for him a double-sided cassette tape featuring 20 of the best metal songs circa 1994.  Twenty years later, Jason set about paying tribute to the tape that introduced him to so many amazing musical artists, naming his project the “20th Anniversary Kick-Ass Tape.”

Among the only rules for the composition of the tape was that no band included on the 1994 original could be again featured on the 2014 installment.  Furthermore, Jason selected six metal genres–among them melodic death metal, deathcore, and black metal–and chose three songs to represent each sub-genre.  The final two bands were designated “one of a kind” and featured artists impossible to categorize using the metal community’s de facto sorting process.

As you might have already guessed, Children of Bodom’s “Kissing the Shadows” was one of Jason’s selections for the Finnish metal portion of the 2014 compilation.]

“Kissing the Shadows”

For those not heavily immersed in the extreme metal community when Children of Bodom hit the scene near the end of the 20th century, it is exceedingly difficult to recount the excitement that surrounded Alexi Laiho’s Finnish neoclassical death metal project.  Something Wild was a phenomenally influential debut in 1997, followed immediately by Hatebreeder, an album featuring speed metal masterpieces authored with laihodecidedly classical compositional techniques.  But it was Follow the Reaper that is remembered by most as the band’s greatest achievement, with similarly classical themes fused with fast, aggressive, and insanely technical staples of extreme metal music.

While radio-friendly cuts such as “Hate Me” garnered much of the commercial attention lavished upon Follow the Reaper, it was the album’s ninth track, “Kissing the Shadows” that truly showcased just how masterful Laiho and his band could be.  Indeed, 15 years later, “Kissing the Shadows” is still considered one of the top three tracks ever recorded by the Finnish melodic outfit.

At four minutes, 40 seconds in length, “Kissing the Shadows” gets down to business immediately, incorporating over-the-top harmonics and a synergy between guitar and keyboard within just the first 30 seconds of the song.  The principal melody builds across each stanza, with the bridges between verse and chorus utilized to showcase Laiho’s formidably creative guitar chops.  By the time the two minutes, 50 second mark is reached, the listener may doubt Children of Bodom is capable of exceeding the catchy brilliance comprising the overall structure of the song–but it is precisely around this mark on the song counter that things rapidly veer from the impressive to the mind-boggling.

More specifically, the 2:54 to 3:08 segment of the song introduces the first of a sequence of blistering guitar solos from Laiho; each roughly 15-second guitar lead is then followed by an equally melodic keyboard solo.  And so back and forth it goes, with electric guitars trading off with keyboards before the two instruments join forces in harmony to bring the final 40 seconds of the song to a close.  It is nothing short of an energetic, Did I just hear that? means of bringing “Kissing the Shadows” to its ultimate finish line.

Vocals: Alexi Laiho’s vocals eventually became a weak link within his band’s music, but, at this stage of his career, Laiho’s voice was a flawless match for Children of Bodom’s musical style.  His shrieks, his annunciation, and his energy serve “Kissing the Shadows” beautifully (9/10)

Guitar: The guitar work on Children of Bodom’s first three albums is as noteworthy as that contributed by any other Finnish band over the past 20 years (10/10)

Bass: The pace, tuning, and natural spotlighting of the band’s lead guitar and keyboards mean the bass guitar does not play a particularly decisive part in “Kissing the Shadows.”  It is, to be sure, technically competent and labors in service of the song as a whole (8/10)

Drums: Children of Bodom’s first album was dogged by rumors that a drum machine had been used to achieve the insane speeds featured on Something Wild.  By the release of Follow the Reaper, however, such rumors had subsided, and Bodom’s drummer was finally getting the credit he deserved for framing Alexi’s compositions effectively and appropriately (7/10)

Subtotal: (44/50)

Technicality: Upon its release, “Kissing the Shadows” was, in terms of guitar and keyboard prowess, as technically accomplished as any relatively mainstream Scandinavian release ever heard (10/10)

Originality: While other Finnish bands such as Norther, Kalmah, et al quickly emerged from the shadow of Children of Bodom, the efforts of the aforementioned bands should not diminish how original “Kissing the Shadows” was upon first listen (9/10)

Brutality: “Kissing the Shadows” does not hail from a genre in which brutality is emphasized, so it is natural that Children of Bodom will not match the musically misanthropic brutality of bands such as, say, Necrophagist or Cytotoxin.  Nevertheless, for its own genre and its time in history, “Kissing the Shadows” holds its own (7/10)

Thematic: The thematic elements of Children of Bodom’s music has never been the band’s strong suit (7/10)

Memorability: To be sure, “Kissing the Shadows” is an eminently memorable song, with YouTube guitar covers persisting to this day and the song (and its solo) often cited as the best work Alexi Laiho ever composed and recorded (10/10)

Subtotal: (43/50)

Summary:

I chose “Kissing the Shadows” to represent Finnish metal on my “20th Anniversary Kick-Ass Tape”–and, it should be noted, the decision was not a particularly difficult one.  While Scandinavian bands such as In Flames, Dark Tranquility, At the Gates, and Soilwork very much shaped the evolution of metal during the late 20th century, Children of Bodom ushered in a completely new sound, one that remains endlessly imitated 16 years into the new millennium.

Total: (87/100)

— Jason

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Children of Bodom is represented by Nuclear Blast Records.

Website: http://www.cobhc.com/
Facebook: 
https://www.facebook.com/childrenofbodom/?fref=ts
Online store: http://media.nuclearblast.de/bands/Splash/CoB/IWorshipChaos/retailers/index.html

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