SEPULTURA – Quadra

SEPULTURA certainly needs no introduction, but to this day, Max Cavalera-fanboys still slam this lineup as a “cover band” and continue to bash every album released after Roots.  While there were indeed a few lackluster albums after Max’s split, Machine Messiah showed some real potential for the band to finally crawl out of his shadow.  Quadra, however, finally allows this band to break free and show some real grit and passion that was previously missing.

After a melodic start that is somewhat reminiscent of “Inquisition Symphony,” upon the first few notes you quickly realize that Quadra is different from the other Derrick Green-fronted albums.  Could it be?  Some brutality?  Pissed off aggression?  “Isolation” immediately punches you in the face with catchy, thrashy riffs the band was once known for.

Right away it’s apparent that drummer Eloy Casagrande is allowed to breathe artistically and fully showcase his talents.  Casagrande is not confined as the last few albums he played on, and his freedom to go apeshit (pun intended) is finally unleashed.   Igor Cavalera’s style is captured with Casagrande on “Means to an End” and he pays homage quite well.

Last Time” provides the aggressiveness that was lacking in a lot of the recent albums, but the progression is quite clear with choirs, melodic solos, and all-around excellent songwriting.   Shockingly, you’re still taken aback at how much firepower is on this album as the band takes no prisoners with the aural assault.

A lot of throwback ideas are on display, such as the tribal Roots-era influences on tracks like “Capital Enslavement.”   The revitalization of the band is apparent and the refreshing thrash goodness is continued on “Ali.” 

Guardians of Earth” starts off with a well-placed acoustic guitar intro before leading into some choirs, killer solos by Andreas Kisser, before transitioning to the equally epic next track.  “The Pentagram” is a track that absolutely could have been released in the Arise-era with Igor Cavalera-drum worship, flawless ripping and shredding and more and more riffs!  The almost jam-like session has an abundance of brutal, almost death metal inspired riffs, and Quadra reaches its apex at this point. 

The album drops off a bit towards the end, but this effort is most definitely the best material since Roots.  Jens Bogren once again shines in the producer seat, as the guitar crunch and heaviness of the drums are mixed perfectly without being buried in the mix of the constant barrage of Green’s vocals.

While the days of an all out thrash attack like Beneath the Remains are gone, the band as a whole has, dare we say progressed, and ultimately delivered a crushing album that rivals the ones at the pinnacle of their career in the early and mid-90’s.

Who needs a SEPULTURA reunion with Max when this album crushes anything SOULFLY has done in recent years?  Huge respect goes out to Andreas, Derrick, Paulo, and Eloy, as Quadra has already set the precedence for album of the year. (Nuclear Blast Records)

DEFILED – Infinite Regress

Japan’s unique death metal veterans, DEFILED, have delivered a whopper of an album! Don’t believe me?  Check out the video below.  As always, the constant is guitarist Yusuke Sumita, and his chaotic riffs are on full display with an excellent complimentary lineup to forge his passion for underground death metal.

After the intro, Infinite Regress opens up with the dizzying track, “Divide and Conquer” and unloads a healthy mix of grind, blasts, and discordant riffs.  DEFILED is chock full of technical parts, but not the usual guitar noodling “sweep after sweep” garbage that has infiltrated the “technical metal” subgenre these days.

The production is hearty and crisp, without sacrificing any distortion crunch or having the drums getting buried in the mix.  However, don’t think this album is just a blast fest, as “Tragedy” starts with a mid-paced slew of riffs before showing their trademark off-time riffs and maniacal vocal lines.

Some great bass lines are thrown in “Aftermath,” and DEFILED’s catchiest material to date is offered here on tracks such as “Systematic Decomposition,”  “Masses in Chaos,” and “Slaverobot.”

DEFILED is a band that takes multiple listens before appreciating the whirlwind riffs and savagery of it all, and this album is no different.  So many riffs are unleashed everywhere but somehow it all comes together nicely with different tempo changes and great drum patterns.  The band should be extremely proud of this effort, and fans of classic riffage influenced by NAPALM DEATHTERRORIZERCRYPTOPSY (just to name a few) should enjoy this album immensely.  Last but not least, the sick work of Wes Benscoter graces the cover and solidifies this album as a great pick up in 2020. (Season of Mist)

TERRORIZER – Caustic Attack

The world is always a better place when THE master blaster, Pete Sandoval, is actively playing music.  After overcoming the arduous journey back from back surgery, he teamed up with multi-instrumentalist Lee Harrison (MONSTROSITY) and vocalist Sam Molina (ex-MONSTROSITY) to revive TERRORIZER.

The long and short of it is that Caustic Attack is the band’s best album since their infallible landmark debut, World Downfall. In fact, Caustic Attack is one of the top albums of 2018. All apologies to Lee but shit, we didn’t know he could bust out out such good riffs as he’s built his reputation as a drummer.

Getting back to the Commando, the beauty of Caustic Attack is that it can be thoroughly enjoyed in different ways.  You can enjoy the exciting, heart pumping songs themselves or you can just focus in on Pete‘s drumming and just marvel at how he crushes all.

Caustic Attack starts off with songs that are geared towards being album openers with lots of immediate blasting and catchy, simple riffs that carry more of a punk/grind feel.  Half way through the album with “Trench of Corruption,” things get more ominous and darker.  There is this tangible feeling of urgency and momentum that are undeniable.  And this is where TERRORIZER truly shine and separates itself from the pack.

Don’t deny yourself one of the best extreme metal albums in recent memory.  A new beginning is here for one of the godfathers.  Bow down.  (The End Records)

 

 

 

THE SPIRIT – Sounds from the Vortex

While THE SPIRIT hail from Saarbrücken, Germany, they sound like they were born in the metal Mecca of Gothenburg, Sweden.  It’s abundantly clear that DISSECTION are, by far, their main influence.  However, a closer ear can hear influences from other Swedish black/death metal bands such as UNANIMATED and SACRAMENTUM.

A handful of bands have tried to carry the torch left by the legendary DISSECTION, such as THULCANDRA, but none of them have come as close as THE SPIRIT.  On their debut album, Sounds from the Vortex, they essentially wrote the album that could’ve followed Storm of the Light’s Bane, and I do not make that statement haphazardly.

Sounds from the Vortex has the perfect balance of pure ferocity, melody, and, most importantly, that mysterious atmosphere of the classic albums that came out of Sweden in the mid to late 90’s.

Having said all of that, THE SPIRIT should also be praised for the endless prime riffing, instrumental prowess, and tight songwriting. Check out the barrage of ice that hits on the 4:09 mark on “The Clouds of Damnation.” “Cross the Bridge to Eternity” has unique riffing patterns reminiscent of something off of DARK TRANQUILLITY‘s The Mind’s I.

The album’s finishes out as strongly a possible in its final three songs.  Powerful and confident, these songs close out what is one of the best debuts in years.  If THE SPIRIT can replicate this level of excellence on album number two, their ascension is guaranteed. (Nuclear Blast Records)

LIK – Carnage

The glorious buzzsaw guitars that rip forth in the opening riff of album opener, “To Kill,” immediately bring to mind all of those sentimental, warm and fuzzy feelings you had jamming to DISMEMBER and ENTOMBED back in the day.  And it’s no coincidence that LIK (“corpse” in Swedish) are from Stockholm, Sweden.

On their second album, Carnage, LIK easily establish themselves as a true force to be reckoned with.  Like the instant classic that it is, the ten songs are consistently infectious and memorable.  Each successive listen will make you realize that this is one of the best death metal albums to come out in years.

The best part of Carnage is the instantaneous enjoyment that it brings.  It’s not a rehash or a ripoff of the legends but simultaneously a great homage and continuation of the Stockholm Swedish death metal legacy.

It should noted that the production, courtesy of Lawrence Mackrory (DARKANE, F.K.Ü) at Dugout Studios, is a thing of beauty.  The Boss Metal Zone guitar/bass tons are thick and ripping while the drums are natural and powerful in the mix.  Everything literally sounds loud (in a good way) without being abrasive.

While extreme metal vocalists can often blur into each other, Tomas Åkvik (vocals, guitar) has the deep roar but also the clear enunciation that David Vincent is famous for.

I know upon first listen, you may think LIK is merely a DISMEMBER-worship band but with successive listens, you’ll find that there is more that distinguishes them from their main influence.  (Metal Blade Records)

 

 

IMMORTAL – Northern Chaos Gods

After initially listening to the first couple seconds of IMMORTAL‘s comeback album, Northern Chaos Gods, you realize that you owe the band a huge apology for doubting them.  A raging storm of ice and snow blast forth in a way that only Bergen, Norway’s finest can produce.

Despite the departure of original vocalist and bassist/guitarist, Abbath, and him allegedly taking most of what was supposed to be the band’s next studio album for his solo album, IMMORTAL is intact and true to their legacy.  Demonaz takes on vocal duties in masterful fashion and, most importantly, returns to his rightful place recording guitars for the band. Peter Tägtgren (HYPOCRISY, PAIN) pulls double duty as producer and session bassist.

While it is accurate to say that IMMORTAL finds much inspiration in their colder, faster sound from around the mid-90’s, Northern Chaos Gods is not a total throwback or a regression.  The mastery and epic sound that the band honed so well in the 2000’s is still intact as evidenced by songs like “Gates to Blashyrkh” and “Mighty Ravendark.” The one characteristic that is not as strong as the hooks that were ever so present in their last couple of albums.  However, Northern Chaos Gods is still a satisfying and enjoyable album.

With Northern Chaos Gods, IMMORTAL continue to build on their legacy and prove that break ups, line up changes, lawsuits, and severe injuries cannot stop one of the greatest bands on the planet.  (Nuclear Blast Records)

GRUESOME – Twisted Prayers

How often does the band that is paying tribute to their idols go as far as to surpass them?  Well, GRUESOME‘s Twisted Prayers is one of those rare instances where the students becomes better than the master.  Modeled after the style of DEATH‘s leap forward, Spiritual Healing, GRUESOME perfectly capture the birth of progressive/technical death metal.

Not only are all the nuances, that only true fans could recognize and capture, but the damn riffs and hooks are just killer.  There are no drop offs throughout Twisted Prayers.  Thus, there is no need to highlight any songs.  Those beautiful instrumental runs and that heart pumping sense of urgency keep things moving.

Hell, you even have guitarist James Murphy, who played on Spiritual Healing, playing solos on “Crusade of Brutality” and “At Death’s Door” to add to the authenticity of the experience.

What is also important to note is that GRUESOME‘s guitar crunch here is perfection.  Also, Gus Rios‘ drums sound so natural and balanced in the mix.  Big props to producer Jarrett Pritchard for created such a modern, yet true death metal sound to the album.

Somewhere Chuck Shuldiner has a huge shit eating grin when he sees how GRUESOME is carrying on his legacy. Hail.  (Relapse Records)

 

NECROPHOBIC – Mark of the Necrogram

NECROPHOBIC prove that, as one of the proud remaining godfathers of Swedish black/death metal, they can always be relied on to create excellent albums.  The bottom line is that Mark of the Necrogram is the perfect NECROPHOBIC album.

All the hallmarks that the band has built their legacy can be found: the undeniable dark atmosphere, the melancholic melodies, the variety of songs, and the heartpounding tempos.  The greatest intangible that NECROPHOBIC bring to the table is that magic feeling, that mystery of their unique style of Swedish black/death metal.  You would think that a band that started in ’89 would’ve lost what made them special at some point along the way.  However, that is simply not the case with them.

The album opener/title track sets the tone beautifully with its unstoppable melodies and plowing momentum.  “Tsar Bomba” just has that special feeling that you can feel in your soul.  It’s quite a great anthem.  “Lamashtu” is perfect for a live setting with its momentum building and catchy vocal lines.  One listen to “Sacrosant” and you’ll be singing along to the chorus.  The middle section and excellent guitar solo by Sebastian Ramstedt in “Requiem for a Dying Sun” is pure magic.  NECROPHOBIC race to the finish with “From the Great Above to the Great Below” with a strong sense of urgency before smoldering into ashes with the instrumental “UndergÜngen.”

Mark of the Necrogram features strong performances from all band member but it should be pointed out that band leader/drummer Joakim Sterner is the heart and soul of NECROPHOBIC.  Additionally, his drumming is basically the playbook when it comes to this style of extreme metal.

Look, Mark of the Necrogram is yet another classic NECROPHOBIC album and another mandatory addition to your record collection.  Hail. (Century Media Records)

THE CROWN – Cobra Speed Venom

If we’re being honest, THE CROWN‘s last one, Death is Not Dead, was good but not good enough by the standard that the band have set with previous releases.  The good news is that Cobra Speed Venom is THE CROWN‘s best album since the stellar Possessed 13.  Furthermore, it ranks up there with the latter, Eternal Death and Death Race King.

THE CROWN‘s heart pounding and train flying off the rails style of raging metal is in full effect on Cobra Speed Venom.  The songwriting is damn near flawless.  Hook after hook along with the perfect blend of diversity across the album make for an enjoyable listening experience.  The dirty and ugly aspects of their sound along with the clean melodies all have the right balance in the mix.  Lemmy would be proud to not only hear how Magnus Olsfelt‘s bass sounds in the mix but his bulldozing performance.

Bonus points if you caught the little tribute to BATHORY on “In the Name of Death.”

There is really no need to further explain as to why THE CROWN at the top of their game with Cobra Speed Venom.  Buy or die!  (Metal Blade Records)

TRIBULATION – Down Below

Sweden’s TRIBULATION took a big step with 2015’s Children of the Night.  Their new one, Down Below, continues where its predecessor left off with a sound focused on incorporating traditional heavy metal, gothic rock/metal, and bigger riffs onto their Swedish death metal foundation.  The band continue to capitalize on the fundamentals that “feel” and atmosphere resonate deeper with fans.

TRIBULATION have improved in key areas.  First, they improved at creating spacing within each song for each instrument to have its own distinctive voice.  For much of  Down Below, each member is playing different parts coupled with plenty of twists and turns in each song, which creates the air of musicality.  Throw in pianos and synth effects (i.e. tolling bells) and you’ve got plenty of ear candy through out Down Below.   Please note that Johannes Andersson (vocals/bass) is an excellent bassist that makes a significant contribution with his playing.  Rarely is he simply playing the same riffs as rhythm guitars.

Speaking of dynamics and song structure, TRIBULATION aim higher to make each song an experience.  A song like “Lacrimosa” has a great bridge that feels like a haunted graveyard during the witching hour, which then takes off into a great guitar solo and eventually ends with quiet pianos.

Unfortunately, just like Children of the Night, Down Below loses momentum after the first few songs.  Both albums are sequenced in a similar fashion with the “big” songs at the top and the more subdued, melancholic songs thereafter.  While none of the latter on Down Below are necessarily bad, they simply aren’t as exciting as the former.  Thus, the album just kind of ends on a quiet note.

Overall, TRIBULATION are on the upswing and will undoubtedly only get bigger from here.  And in doing so, they are keeping the flame of Swedish death metal alive.  (Century Media Records)