CHTHONIC – Takasago Army

CHTHONIC have been working hard promoting their brand of “Orient metal” to the masses by touring the U.S. with SATYRICON, performing at select European festivals, and appearing in countless metal publications. Seediq Bale showed the band’s maturity in songwriting, and Mirror of Retribution broke the band into greater heights by showing that they can hang with the big boys. Takasago Army continues in the same vein, and the band delivers their best album to date.

Vocalist Freddy Lim has tightened up his vocals with more variation, using his deeper vocals on a more constant level, but his Dani Filth-like vocals still remain an integral part of his delivery. The production is excellent, and all the instruments blend in crisper and clearer than on the previous album. “Takao” and “Broken Jade” are the most listener friendly songs on Takasago Army, and not surprisingly, they are the best tracks on this disc, utilizing their entire repertoire with catchy vocal patterns, melodic hooks, and tasteful riffs.  CHTHONIC’s unique element in the world of extreme metal, the er-hu, is still a prominent instrument, and provides a distinct Asian flavor, as heard on “Legend of the Seediq” and “Oceanquake.”

The riff master behind CHTHONIC, Jesse Liu, has improved his songwriting skills with each subsequent release, and his solos on “Southern Cross” and “Mahakala” make the album so soothing to the metal ears. Although this release is slightly less catchy than Mirror of Retribution, the band forges forward with a good product comparable to their Scandinavian folk metal counterparts.

CHTHONIC have found their niche within the extreme metal world by combining Swedish/Finnish riffs, CRADLE OF FILTH’s style, a splash of IRON MAIDEN, and Taiwanese based mythology/concepts all thrown in together. The band doesn’t offer new ideas or riffs that CRADLE hasn’t done already, but the album should appease their faithful fans worldwide, and the songs should go over very well in the live setting. (Spinefarm Records)

SIGH – Scorn Defeat (reissue)

Before SIGH decided to become an avant-garde and unorthodox extreme metal band, they were an excellent up and coming black metal band from the Far East – a unique band from Asia who drew the interest of MAYHEM’s Euronymous and his label Deathlike Silence Productions. The direction of Scorn Defeat paved the way for SIGH classics such as Infidel Art and Ghastly Funeral Theatre before they ditched the traditional black metal sound.

The first part of the disc is the Scorn Defeat album proper, and epic songs like “A Victory of Dakini,” “Weakness Within,” and “Taste Defeat” still sound as refreshing as they were the first time around. Some VENOM covers and rough tracks from the Requiem for Fools EP and split with KAWIR are also featured on here. The gem of this reissue however, are the Desolation and Tragedies demos, which showcase SIGH in their raw and promising form. Since the demos are rare and almost impossible to find, this is a great addition for SIGH fans of any era.

Scorn Defeat still holds up well in this day and age of digital recording and over-compressed guitars. Unlike 99% of reissues, this one isn’t just repackaged with two live tracks and new liner notes, or a simple remastering of the same songs – this release actually contains listenable substance that matters. This reissue clocks in at 105 minutes, so fans who already own the original won’t feel cheated for picking this one up again. (Deepsend Records)

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LOCK UP – Necropolis Transparent

LOCK UP have set the bar pretty high for properly executing blistering grind albums, and their TERRORIZER-inspired grind/death style is seemingly unstoppable. PENTAGRAM guitarist Anton Reisenegger pays homage to original axe grinder, Jesse Pintado (RIP), by writing a few angry and aggressive songs to say the least.

Upon pressing play, “Brethren of the Pentagram” blasts and grinds your face in immediately, and you can bet that Necropolis Transparent is going to be one hell of an album with no compromise whatsoever. The fury of Nick Barker’s (ex-DIMMU BORGIR) insane drumming, the chaotic guitars, and Tomas Lindberg’s (AT THE GATES) tortured soul all equate to a combination made perfectly from hell. Songs like “Anvil of Flesh,” “Rage Incarnate Reborn,” and “Vomiting Evil” are guitar driven, super catchy, and brutal, with a tinge of the European flavor.

Bringing in Jeff Walker (CARCASS) and ex-LOCK UP vocalist Peter Tägtgren (HYPOCRISY) for a good chunk of the songs sure doesn’t hurt, either. Their vocal styles compliment Lindberg’s harsher style nicely, accenting some catchy lines in a few tracks, such as “Necropolis Transparent,” “Parasite Drama,” and “Through the Eyes of My Shadow Self.”

There are plenty of worthy grind albums these days, but LOCK UP is the closest band to rival the debut album from TERRORIZER. With short, blasting tracks that make sense, this is one of the few “supergroups” who are not overrated, so be sure to pick this one up for a dose of grind filled goodness. Wherever he is, Jesse Pintado is somewhere out there smiling and proud of this effort. (Nuclear Blast Records)

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FLESHGOD APOCALYPSE – Agony

With so many “brutal” and “fast” bands sprouting lately, Italy’s FLESHGOD APOCALYPSE has cemented their brand of symphonic death metal into the underground realm. The band has generated lots of buzz, and received plenty of acclaim recently due to their hard work and endless touring on the road.

Symphonic elements are a huge part of this album. When placed tactfully, keyboards can certainly enhance the music to epic proportions, such as with EMPEROR’s In the Nightside Eclipse. When the symphonic parts don’t let up at all and allow the music to breathe, it distracts the listener from the actual music, much like METALLICA’s S&M performance.

Unfortunately, Agony falls prey to the latter notion, as there are times on the album where the symphony parts do not enhance the guitar riffs, but instead, the constant blasting, typical vocals, and fast riffs are too much to the point of becoming a wall of noise. Much like HATE ETERNAL, Agony has a constant barrage of blasts and double bass with not many riffs that stick, as noted in “The Hypocrisy,” “The Imposition,” and “The Deceit” – it gets to the point where the songs seem as if they mesh together into one long song.

Midway through the album is where the songs take some shape, as “The Violation” produces some excellent results with catchier riffs and straightforward execution. While “The Egoism” and “The Oppression” contain better structures and ear catching solos, the album wears down the listener, and feels extremely long due to the never ending blast beats and bland vocals.

Agony is slicker and more polished than its predecessor, Oracles, but the main drawback is that the music sounds familiar and the band concentrates more on style than substance. Aside from that, FLESHGOD APOCALYPSE is a band with excellent musicians, and their symphonic/grind style may be something new for people who are bored with the traditional grind/death metal bands or want a more brutal approach than the more popular symphonic bands like DIMMU BORGIR or CRADLE OF FILTH. FLESHGOD APOCALYPSE is not for everyone, but as their past tour itineraries suggest, fans who like the styles of DECAPITATED, VITAL REMAINS, THE FACELESS, and DYING FETUS should enjoy this release. (Nuclear Blast Records)

FLESHGOD APOCALYPSE – The Egoism by NuclearBlastRecords

SEPULTURA – Kairos

The pressure of writing a great SEPULTURA album, years after Max Cavalera departed, has certainly been a daunting one. After getting back on track with A-Lex, the new offering, Kairos, has its moments of “classic SEPULTURA” elements, but the aggression and speed are stripped away. There are heavy moments with catchy riffs, but for the most part, what you will find on Kairos is a mixture of mid paced and mediocre tracks.

Spectrum” starts off slow with a groovy and simple riff that sounds decent, and the listener expects the speed to increase somewhere within the song, but the tempo never picks up. The pattern continues, as the title track starts off well and shows great potential only to decrescendo and slow down again. “Relentless” finally shows some spirit, as the beginning riff is reminiscent of the slow, catchy, crunchy style of early OBITUARY, and finishes off with an Arise era solo. The album starts to wear thin as songs like “Dialog” and “Born Strong” drag with their slower beats and rhythms. Aside from the occasional slow double bass, drummer Jean Dolabella does not let loose, and takes a “simpler is better” approach.

The start of “Mask” contains a riff and vocal pattern that is interestingly very similar to CAVALERA CONSPIRACY’s “Inflikted,” with Jean finally showing aggression and blasts in the song. There is a tasty solo towards the end – showing that there are a few good tracks on Kairos. The short and thrashy “No One Will Stand” and “Seethe” sound like classic SEPULTURA and help liven the album up. However, the pace of the other tracks outweigh these thrashier songs. SEPULTURA has never been afraid to experiment, and “Structure Violence (Azzes)” is an interesting collaboration with the French percussive group, LES TAMBOURS DU BRONX, but at the end of the day, most fans would probably skip this track.

Kairos includes the MINISTRY cover “Just One Fix,” and while the original sounds great, this cover would have been better suited for a future EP release. The digipak CD/DVD version of Kairos includes their cover of THE PRODIGY’s “Firestarter,” and is easily one of the best tracks the band recorded during the Kairos sessions – it’s aggressive, catchy, and the solo by Andreas is amazing. The other bonus track of the digipak version is “Point of No Return,” an aggressive song which sounds like a mix of A-Lex and Chaos A.D. Why the band chose to leave these tracks off of the normal version is an enigma, as these bonus tracks would have spruced up the album immensely.

The concepts and lyrics on Kairos are interesting and very well suited to the current incarnation of SEPULTURA. Derrick Green still does a commendable job on vocals, and Andreas puts in an amazing effort in terms of bringing back remarkable Arise-like solos throughout the entire album. Although Kairos is an above average record, most of the songs may be too slow and bland to keep the listener interested throughout the entire voyage. While some Max-era SEPULTURA purists have missed out on some great albums such as Nation and A-Lex, Kairos offers more variety and melody, but a lot less aggression and speed than the new CAVALERA CONSPIRACY. (Nuclear Blast Records)

SEPULTURA – Mask by NuclearBlastRecords

DYING FETUS – History Repeats…

Maryland based veterans DYING FETUS were heavily influenced by the underground death metal scene in the early 1990’s, so it’s quite fitting that the band pays homage to their influences on History Repeats…

FETUS has covered ground from the most popular bands in death metal, such as with CANNIBAL CORPSE’s “Born in a Casket” or NAPALM DEATH’s “Unchallenged Hate,” but they don’t forget about the underrated bands, either.

Their cover of BOLT THROWER’s “Unleashed Upon Mankind” might even sound better than the original, and the PESTILENCE cover of “Twisted Truth” is up to par as well. Some bands deserved more credit than they received, such as BROKEN HOPE, and FETUS’ rendition of “Gorehog” is brutal and sounds extremely close to the original. The band also covers an obscure but heavily underrated slam/groove/death metal band from New York, called DEHUMANIZED, and they nail “Fade Into Obscurity” to a T. Throw in “Rohypnol,” an original DYING FETUS track exclusive to this EP, and you’ve got yourself another worthy release from this hard working trio.

While some bands try to experiment or change the original songs too much, things can get a bit blurry, but DYING FETUS sticks to the originals as closely as possible. It’s a treat for old school death metal fans to hear these classic tracks updated in DYING FETUS fashion, and at the same time gives the younger generation a feel for how great these original songs were. (Relapse Records)

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NADER SADEK – In the Flesh

Avant-garde artist Nader Sadek has brought his project to life with a supergroup of metal warriors respected in the underground scene. By recruiting Steve Tucker (ex-MORBID ANGEL), Rune Eriksen (AVA INFERI, ex-MAYHEM), and Flo Mounier (CRYPTOPSY) as the core of the band, this brutal album coincides with his art and vision. While the project is called “NADER SADEK,” Sadek himself is the mastermind and “director” while the musicians bring In the Flesh to life.

The eerie intro features the maniacal sounds of MAYHEM vocalist Attila Csihar, and leads directly into the brutalizing track, “Petrophilia.” The track pounds away with the masterful blasting and double bass magic of Mounier, and some of the riffs are quite reminiscent of MAYHEM’s Ordo Ad Chao. Tracks like “Soulless” are largely death metal influenced, with huge hints of CRYPTOPSY found within them, and guest shredder Destructhor (MORBID ANGEL) provides some ZYKLON-esque leads to balance out the culmination of thrashy black/death metal riffs.

Mechanic Idolatry” is catchy, brutal, and utilizes the skills of all the musicians involved. Tucker’s vocals never sounded better, and Mounier attacks the drum kit with a barrage of continuous double bass and flashy cymbal hits. While all of the songs on In the Flesh are excellent, “Sulffer” is one of the best tracks, and some riffs sound lifted from MAYHEM’s Chimera album. There’s no better track to end an album such as “Nigredo in Necromance,” with a crescendo leading up to a monstrous riff and solo, and finally crashing down to a melodic end. The album is short, with six real tracks, and three artistic tracks that break up the brutality, and the listener will yearn for more.

In the Flesh is an amazing mish mash of the disharmonic riffs from MAYHEM, the brutality of MORBID ANGEL, and the complex speed and intricate drumming of CRYPTOPSY. Forget the atrocities of CRYPTOPSY’s The Unspoken King or MORBID ANGEL’s Illud Divinum Insanus, and feed your ears with this album instead. The artwork and packaging of the CD also illustrates how Sadek went through great lengths to produce an amazing product. There is no doubt that In the Flesh will end up as one of the top albums of 2011 in many polls at the end of the year. (Season of Mist)

NADER SADEK – Mechanic Idolatry by HeavyHardMetalmania

PESTILENCE- Doctrine

When PESTILENCE announced their reformation, hopes were high for Resurrection Macabre, especially after the band drifted into obscurity with the strange, jazz fusion influenced album, Spheres. Resurrection was a decent album with a few high points, but like most bands that take an extended break, that offering was only a mere shell of the greatness in which PESTILENCE once was. While nobody expects Doctrine to be compared to such classics like Consuming Impulse and Testimony of the Ancients, Doctrine is a complete flop and makes Resurrection Macabre look like a masterpiece.

After the mandatory intro, “Amgod” starts off promising with a catchy riff and blast beat only to slow down into a weak mid paced riff, which unfortunately is the theme of the entire album. When vocalist Patrick Mameli comes in with his first scream, it’s so heinous and atrocious that one can wonder how vocals of this caliber can be considered as professional, even within the underground death metal scene. Mameli has lost any growl or power he once had, and instead resorts to a hoarse and throaty scream. The album is a haphazard grab bag with “Doctrine” and “Salvation,” which contain slow, drawn out riffs, while other songs like “Malignant” or “Absolution” try to sound groovy and ultra heavy. Doctrine is uninspired, completely flat, and unworthy of the PESTILENCE moniker. New drummer, Yuma Van Eekelen is fantastic live, and does his best to spice up the songs, but the riffs are so bland that there’s not much that he, or fretless bass wizard, Jeroen Paul Thesseling, can do to improve the music.

Doctrine is disappointing in all aspects, as the album is a poor slab of half written riffs and hooks thrown together. Mameli should end PESTILENCE quietly at this time, so he doesn’t tarnish the history of the band further. Fans who are disappointed with this release should check out the latest HAIL OF BULLETS with ex-PESTILENCE vocalist Martin Van Drunen, or Thesseling’s other band, OBSCURA instead, because Doctrine leaves an unpleasant taste in your mouth. (Mascot Records)

DEMONAZ – March of the Norse

While IMMORTAL has been enjoying their success, songwriter Demonaz Doom Occulta has been in the background with IMMORTAL with riffs and lyrics, as well as writing his own material. Not surprisingly, March of the Norse sounds like a combination of IMMORTAL and IMMORTAL’s side project, I. The biggest and most obvious influence on this album however, is definitely BATHORY. Demonaz wrote all the music and does all the vocals on the album, but he recruits some familiar faces to perform on the album – Ice Dale (ENSLAVED, I) on guitars/bass and Armagedda (ex-IMMORTAL, I) on drums, respectively.

The acoustic guitars in “Northern Hymn” would make the late Quorthon smile, and the first few epic riffs from “All Blackened Sky” has BATHORY 101 written all over it. Armagedda’s simplistic drumming is a fitting and flattering tribute as his beats are calculated and precise behind the music. The title track and “Where Gods Once Rode” seem like tracks that were written to be played live at huge festivals like Wacken or Summer Breeze for large audiences to headbang to in unison.

A Son of the Sword” can easily be mistaken as an IMMORTAL song, as the riffing style and notes are similarly found on IMMORTAL’s Sons of Northern Darkness album. Melodic solos and catchy riffs are featured throughout the album, and are specifically showcased in “Under the Great Fires” and the amazing closer, “Legends of Fire and Ice.”

As a whole, March of the Norse is an excellent album to sing along or drink to, and Demonaz has emulated BATHORY brilliantly, both as a sign of respect, and for nostalgia purposes. Hopefully, DEMONAZ puts out more material, because March of the Norse gives newer IMMORTAL a run for their money. (Nuclear Blast Records)

MARDUK – Iron Dawn

Before going into the studio to record a full length album, MARDUK has decided to tease the world with a short EP, and they offer an excellent glimpse of what’s to come.

Warschau II: Headhunter Halfmoon” brutalizes immediately, with an old Panzer Division Marduk vibe to it, as Mortuus delivers his usual twisted and amazing vocals. The riffs are coherent, drums are blasting, and everything that’s expected of MARDUK in terms of quality and speed are in check so far. “Wacht am Rhein: Drumbeats of Death” continues the onslaught of mortar shell assaults on the eardrums, and “Evil” Morgan has gone back to writing catchier MARDUK riffs again. To mix things up, the band slows everything down with “Prochorovka: Blood and Sunflowers,” which unfortunately derails the flow of the EP and kills all previous momentum. “Prochorovka” is slow and unnecessary, as slower songs were never MARDUK’s strong points, and it seems as if another fast track would have rounded this EP out perfectly. Nevertheless, Iron Dawn is short, direct, punishing, and to the point.

Aside from VADER, MARDUK probably has the most EP releases of any metal band, but as long as they continue releasing excellent material on these EPs, all is fine in the world. Whether consumers will pay their hard earned cash on a 3 song mini album remains to be seen, but don’t let the bland cover fool you, Iron Dawn is classic MARDUK material, and delivers a mean punch to the groin. (Blooddawn Productions/Regain Records)