CHTHONIC – Seediq Bale

A review for this album has been late in the making, but it should speak well for CHTHONIC that their album titled Seediq Bale still demands a review nearly a year after its initial release. CHTHONIC bring their own unique style of extreme metal to the table with a heavy Taiwanese flare. Some fans would most easily label the music as symphonic black metal, but idiosyncrasies that define their sound set CHTHONIC apart as a diamond in the rough among the extreme metal scene. Incorporation of female vocals, keyboards, and the erhu (also known as a Chinese violin) create a distinctive sound when combined with such Eastern themes. The album itself tells mythological tales about the struggles of the seediq tribe that has been around for countless years. On the technical side of things, Seediq Bale has what is potentially the best production of any CHTHONIC album thus far, and enhanced versions of the album contain music videos and live footage. The band’s performance is flawless both on the album recording and in the live material. The entire album drips with dark atmosphere, and it should be obvious to any listener that the band put a lot of thought and passion into how to convey such pathos. “Indigenous Laceration” is easily the catchiest song on the album, but “Bloody Gaya Fulfilled” should stand as the band’s greatest opus on this release. The lyrics themselves are not politically charged, but it is worth noting that CHTHONIC have undertaken a unique political crusade to have Taiwan included as a separate country in the United Nations. So far their quest has not met with success, but such noble determination on behalf of their country only further demonstrates the internal fire driving this band to accomplish great things. This was easily one of the best releases of 2006, and extreme metal fans should not hesitate to give this band the chance it deserves. (Down Port Music)

SAMAEL – Solar Soul

SAMAEL is one band in recent times that is dedicated to the continuing evolution and progression of its sound. With a career spanning from the origins of black metal to a kind of avant-garde electro-rock, SAMAEL refuse to be pinned down to any particular genre for very long. The newest release, Solar Soul, demonstrates the band’s unrelenting fervor in pushing its sound to new heights while maintaining a natural progression musically. Although the previous album, Reign of Light, had a stronger emphasis on world music and cultural influences, the new album focuses primarily on stronger songwriting and composition. Fans of Eternal should be pleased with this release as there are many similarities. The production value is top notch as expected, and each member of the band contributes a stellar performance. Every song is unique in its own right similar to the band’s prior outing, but the most memorable songs are probably “Slavocracy” and “Western Ground.” Both of those tracks have pounding rhythms and lyrics catchy enough to remain stuck in your head for days to come. The politically charged lyrics, which have become almost commonplace in all areas of metal these days, may be the only real point of contention fans may have with Solar Soul. While fans are not likely to question the nature of the lyrics themselves, it is unfortunate that the tracks are laden with political perspectives at a time when fans are beginning to pine for a different subject matter. Regardless, Solar Soul is a solid release that showcases improvement over the previous album and a drive for musical experimentation and progression beyond that of your average metal band. (Nuclear Blast Records)

DIVINE HERESY – Bleed the Fifth

For those of you who wanted FEAR FACTORY to do a metalcore album, then this one is for you. Dino Cazares is moving forward with DIVINE HERESY to further make his stamp on the metal scene. Ever present is the machine-like interplay between drums and guitar like you would find on any FEAR FACTORY release, and the music is extremely aggressive as one would expect. FEAR FACTORY references aside, the band has some talent in its own right. Tim Yeung (VITAL REMAINS) performs the drums with expert precision, while Dino handles both guitar and bass for the recording and Tommy Vext rounds out their sound on vocal duties. Although Dino‘s songwriting has always contained some start-stop rhythms to help define his writing style, it is obvious that his creative contributions this time around to DIVINE HERESY‘s Bleed the Fifth attempt to garner the support of the metalcore crowd with breakdowns and clean vocal choruses. Tommy Vext sounds like a proficient vocalist in his own right, but the clean vocal sections seem dramatically out of place in most songs on this album. Such misplaced melody is most poignant on the ballad “Closure,” which comes off as completely contrary to the album’s emotional release. Vext‘s yells are very well performed throughout the album despite occasionally coming off as a second rate Burton Bell, and it feels as though Bleed the Fifth would be much more focused if Vext did not switch vocal styles for what seems to be the sake of either being more commercial or emulating FEAR FACTORY. Although the metalcore influences feel tired in a scene where such songwriting has become nearly ubiquitous, there are a number of excellent, aggressive tracks such as the title track, “Failed Creation,” and “Impossible is Nothing.” The song “Savior Self” is especially excellent, but it is probably the worst offender in terms of sounding like a FEAR FACTORY B-side.

Ultimately, Bleed the Fifth has moments of very impressive songwriting and performance. However, it is imperative that Dino and his DIVINE HERESY co-conspirators expand their influences and songwriting to move out of FEAR FACTORY‘s shadow. While adding metalcore to the mix may gain immediate mainstream fan attention, it only helps ensure that DIVINE HERESY are more likely a trend to pass in the night rather than a steadfast metal stalwart who could remain as a force to be reckoned with. (Century Media Records)

NILE – Ithyphallic

After coming off the success of the previous 2005 album Annihilation of the Wicked, NILE used it to set the standard of death metal even higher with that incredibly savage release. Their songwriting was tighter than ever, and the addition of Greek drummer George Kollias (SICKENING HORROR) cemented the surgical precision of NILE‘s performance. Fast-forward to 2007, and you have yet another massive slab of Egyptian-themed death metal via NILE‘s new release titled Ithyphallic. Although Kollias has remained with the band, bassist Joe Payne (DIVINE HERESY) departed from the band prior to the recording of this release, which left vocalist and guitar player Dallas Toler-Wade also handling bass duties in the studio. Chris Lollis (LECHEROUS NOCTURNE) has since joined the band on bass for live performances, and his vocals were actually included in the recording on the track “Eat of the Dead.” Despite the minor lineup change, this album is the culmination of everything NILE has written up to this point. “Ithyphallic” means “a grossly obscene or indecent poem,” and the raw talent on this album is definitely grossly obscene in its excellence.

You can find nods to previous albums everywhere. The darker atmosphere is reminiscent of both Amongst the Catacombs of Nephren-Ka and Black Seeds of Vengeance, plus more orchestration ala In Their Darkened Shrines has been included this time around for an even fuller sound. Only two tracks, “What Can Be Safely Written” and “Even The Gods Must Die,” approximate epic song length greater than eight minutes most similar to other songs like “To Dream of Ur” and “Von Unaussprechlichen Kulten.” However, the tendency most notable is far heavier groove throughout the album like Annihilation‘s “Lashed to the Slave Stick” and Catacombs‘ “Barra Edinazzu.” You can hear such influence most directly on Ithyphallic with the song “As He Creates So He Destroys” as well as on the album’s single, “Papyrus Containing The Spell To Preserve Its Possessor Against Attacks From He Who Is In The Water.”

Other notable qualities of this album are the improved drum production and what is easily the band’s best vocal performance to date. Some fans have complained that this album does not include extensive liner notes as did previous albums regarding the Egyptian history that forms the basis for the lyrics. However, this is likely due to a heavier influence from sources such as H.P. Lovecraft and the Necronomicon rather than specific instances in Egyptian history. Overall, Ithyphallic is a much darker albeit straightforward death metal journey through Egyptian themes, and it should easily place within the top five death metal albums of 2007. (Nuclear Blast Records)

ANGELCORPSE – Of Lucifer and Lightning

Even though it’s been over seven years plus a band break up since ANGELCORPSE‘s previous release The Inexorable, the band picks up right where they left off and sound stronger than ever. Original ANGELCORPSE beatster John Longstreth (ex-ORIGIN, SKINLESS) has rejoined with founding members Pete Helmkamp and Gene Palubicki to form the original three-piece that stormed the world back in the 90’s. Apparently Helmkamp and Palubicki have been writing material over the past two years, and Of Lucifer and Lightning is the fruit born of their recent efforts. The new recording brings Satanic death metal to new heights, and it’s hard to believe that seven years have gone by since the previous studio album. The intro track “Credo Decimatus” slowly rolls in readying the listener for the excellent death metal to come, and the first full song “Antichrist Vanguard” starts the album off with a bang. The musicianship is flawless all around, and it’s good to hear Florida death metal as it should be. While there are some very obvious similarities to early MORBID ANGEL in both songwriting and production style, the death metal onslaught is undeniably ANGELCORPSE at their finest. Helmkamp‘s vocals are at their best, and the rest of the band play very tight. Songs such as “Machinery of the Cleansing” and “Extermination Sworn” are easily highlights on the album, although every song is great in its own right. Great solos are found all over the place, and spoken word lyrics are occasionally added for dramatics. Of Lucifer and Lightning should catch the ear of every death metalhead who enjoys old school Florida death metal, and all should prepare for ANGELCORPSE to spearhead the genre from this point forward. (Osmose Productions/The End Records)

SLEEPYTIME GORILLA MUSEUM – In Glorious Times

This time around, SLEEPYTIME GORILLA MUSEUM incorporate even more lullaby songwriting contrasted by harsh, distorted rock. For those unfamiliar with SGM, they are at the forefront of avant-rock progressiveness. In concert, their appearance is similar to black metal band members who became Puritans wearing overalls. Their creativity knows no bounds, and they aren’t afraid to go against the grain in a musical world run primarily by corporations. This new release In Glorious Times is the band’s fourth studio effort, and it sounds more like a bizarre soundtrack or rock opera than it does your typical music release. Aside from the usual oddities of electric violins and whispered male and female vocals, this band has created a plethora of homemade instruments to supplement their already eclectic sound that includes strong influences from indie rock acts, Irish folk, and a variety of metal among others.

The very first track, “The Companions,” starts off the album with an extraordinarily creepy mood and lyrics that reference a paranoia about the desperate people of the world in our glorious times killing everyone with knives when asked to leave. The next and perhaps most interesting song, “Helpless Corpses Enactment,” uses passages from James Joyce’s final novel Finnegan’s Wake to comprise all of the lyrics. It is also by far the most vicious and heaviest track on the album. However, many aspects of this particular release are a bit closer to the indie rock influences. The tracks “Puppet Show,” “Formicary,” “Angle of Repose,” and “The Only Dance” are more straightforward pieces of strange melody that could appeal to those not mired in the underground scene. Overall, female vocalist Carla Kihlstedt steals the show with her performance on most of the tracks, but Nils Frykdahl is worth mentioning for his vocal performance in the aforementioned “The Companions” and “Helpless Corpses Enactment” as well as “The Greenless Wreath.”

While In Glorious Times is not quite as heavy as the prior release Grand Opening and Closing, anyone with an interest in this disturbed yet calming songwriting approach should not pass up this intellectual treat from SGM. (The End Records)

DEVIN TOWNSEND – Ziltoid the Omniscient

If anyone had questions about Devin Townsend‘s sanity, especially after earlier releases such as INFINITY, this album is definitely one that could only be created by a crazed mind. Devin completely soloed this project as the sole writer, performer, producer, and recorder for the project. This particular release runs the gamut of just about everything Devin has done with obvious influences from STRAPPING YOUNG LAD, OCEAN MACHINE, THE DEVIN TOWNSEND BAND, and even TERRIA. Amazingly, this album succeeds where most others fail in the attempt to remain both serious and completely absurd at the same time. It’s actually a concept album about an alien named “Ziltoid” who initially travels to Earth seeking the best cup of black coffee in the universe. After finding the coffee presented to him unacceptable, Ziltoid then decides to attack until he is thwarted by Captain Spectacular. Apparently Captain Spectacular’s mission is to reveal Ziltoid for what he truly is – a nerd. There’s also a segment where Ziltoid speaks to the “Omnidimensional Creator,” whose voice bears a resemblance to Keanu Reeves.

Musically, the album remains a hard rock/metal disc the entire time, despite the fact that it’s generally narrated by Ziltoid throughout the album. The heaviest track is easily the song “Ziltoidia Attaxx!!!” highlighting the “Drums from Hell,” which is the drum program developed by Tomas Haake of MESHUGGAH. Other tracks like “Solar Winds” and “Color Your World” have extremely mellow sections with soft clean vocals and ambient guitar. “Planet Smasher” is one of the more bizarre songs containing deeper vocals and chants with a sensibility similar to NINE INCH NAILS. The rest of the album runs the distance between the styles described with plenty of anthemic choruses and infective guitar riffs.

This album is highly recommended to anyone seeking an amusing yet exceptionally talented detour from your typical metal releases. Despite its humorous nature, this should stand out as one of the most creative albums of 2007 thus far. (Inside Out Music)

VOMITORY – Terrorize Brutalize Sodomize

Sweden’s VOMITORY have been brewing their own brutal concoction of death metal and thrash since they first formed in 1989 as a three-piece band. However, these guys aren’t the typical death metal that Sweden is currently most well-known for such as IN FLAMES and DARK TRANQUILITY. Instead, VOMITORY produces one of the most visceral and intense forms of death/thrash. Although the band parted ways with Ulf Dalegren for this album and added new guitarist Peter Ostlund, their new release Terrorize Brutalize Sodomize pushes their sound even further than before, and this time around they harnessed their sound with slick production courtesy of Rikard Lofgren and Leon Music Studio. This is easily the best material since the 1999 album Revelation Nausea, and the clear, in-your-face production does a fantastic job of letting the talent of this band shine through. Every instrument sound clear, and the vocals are as guttural as ever. Right out of the gates, the track “Eternal Trail of Corpses” hits you with blast beats and relentless guitar riffs. Terrorize Brutalize Sodomize partially leaves behind some of the thrash nuances these guys typically include in their music and instead favors a slightly more traditional death metal approach featured on tracks such as “Scavenging the Slaughtered,” the title track, and “March into Oblivion.” The aforementioned title track and “March in Oblivion” are some of the best material VOMITORY has penned in a while. The band sounds more rejuvenated after their relatively lackluster prior release of Primal Massacre that contained all of the elements for a great album but couldn’t quite execute in the delivery. The addition of the new guitarist is noticeable, although the overall sound of VOMITORY hasn’t changed. The guitar riffs and soloing are especially exceptional during the song “Defiles and Inferior,” which also features some excellent thrashy groove.

VOMITORY‘s newest release is top notch death metal with some thrash thrown in for good measure as always with these guys. They have once again succeeded in demonstrating there’s more to Scandinavian death metal than the popularity of the melodic metal scene would have you believe. Prepare yourself for Terrorize Brutalize Sodomize to take control. (Metal Blade Records)

VITAL REMAINS – Icons of Evil

Since VITAL REMAINS apparently can’t resist any opportunity to create a death metal album filled with as much anti-Christian fervor as possible (simply look at the cover art for this release), it should come as no surprise that Glen Benton of DEICIDE fame returned to reprise his role performing vocal duties on the new VITAL REMAINS album titled Icons of Evil. The approach this time around is much more straightforward (think Into Cold Darkness), rather than the over-the-top, somewhat pretentious angle taken with the prior release of Dechristianize. The majority of songs on Icons of Evil are more reminiscent of the newest DEICIDE album, except with longer, more versatile sections. However, those who thoroughly enjoyed the constant melodic solos, guitar harmonies, and technical expertise of Dechristianize should have no fear. About half the album still uses a similar songwriting formula to that found on the previous release, and songs such as the title track, “Scorned,” “Hammer Down the Nails,” and “In Infamy” display this gloriously. Also, apparently the band took some prior criticism to heart concerning the drum production, thus gone is the background drum “clicking” now replaced by only thundering bass as expected from such high quality production. It is still refreshing to hear how tracks like “Born to Rape the World” and “Shrapnel Embedded Flesh” simply steamroll the listener without as much care for guitar dramatics, and Icons of Evil does an excellent job of melding the old with the new. Many songs are still over seven minutes in length, so the epic feel of the songwriting also still survives. The cover of Yngwie Malmsteen‘s “Disciples of Hell” is also very satisfying. With the unholy blessing of DEICIDE‘s frontman, VITAL REMAINS is poised to take the lead in the top metal albums of 2007 with Icons of Evil. (Century Media Records)

DEW-SCENTED – Incinerate

Germany’s DEW-SCENTED has been working to revitalize the international thrash scene for quite some time now. Their previous two releases, Impact and Issue VI, have been very successful in that effort, and their new album Incinerate only catapults them further along that path. They have managed to cultivate the ferocity and technical prowess displayed in Issue VI into yet another thrash extravaganza. The album presents you with eleven solid tracks plus intro and outro instrumentals. Although the band struggles to push their sound even further with additions such as spoken word vocals, the present state of their songwriting is phenomenal enough to satisfy your thrash needs along with a touch of death metal polish.

The production is as good as ever, and the band continues to make use of alternating stereo channel beats to bludgeon the listener into submission. The only minor production gripe is that a seemingly out of place and strange reverb exists for the vocals on a number of tracks. This doesn’t so much detract from the experience of the album as it rather calls into question the creative decision to add that effect. Regardless, Incinerate is full of thrashy goodness to which you won’t be able to resist banging your head. “Vanish Away” is a good opener, but “Final Warning” kicks it up a notch and really gets the adrenaline flowing. Every track is very solid, but other stand outs are “That’s Why I Despise You,” “The Fraud,” “Perdition For All,” and “Contradictions” for the excellent guitar work. Although this album should still be considered a thrash album like other releases by these guys, Incinerate definitely makes more use of blastbeats for a fuller, heavier sound.

Some may think this band has fallen into rut with a songwriting attitude of “if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it,” but DEW-SCENTED‘s sound is fresh enough to silence anyone with qualms about the band’s musical growth. (Nuclear Blast Records)