Music Review: DROTTNAR – Stratum

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DROTTNAR - StratumDROTTNAR
Stratum
Endtime Productions
2012

I have to give Norwegian act Drottnar their due: They managed to evolve their style and sound over the years from the standard Viking Metal and Black Metal sound to something of a uniquely progressive Black Metal sound on their recent release Stratum. They could have stuck with the tried and true style, but instead they forged ahead, creating something equally magnificent and complex.

Somehow, this second full-length release (not counting Spiritual Battle, which is technically a compilation release) escaped my attention when it was initially released in 2012. Considering what I was going through at the time, I’m not too surprised about that, actually. But again, far besides the point.

Stratum was recorded by the band in 2009, but wasn’t released until 2012 for reasons I am unable to find online. Regardless, despite the six year gap between releases, Drottnar showed that they could very well experiment and forge their own progressive path, rather than remain content with following trends.

The music on Stratum starts with a foundation of Black Metal and Technical Death Metal. But, as immediately evidenced by the opening track “We March”, there’s some well thought-out technical aspects to the music, with odd time signatures and rhythm structures, like this was the logical progression of Believer’s Dimensions release. Yet, none of the raw, brutal intensity is sacrificed whatsoever. You get all the face-blasting and skin-blistering riffs, with a progressive technicality that will give you severe whiplash, along with some industrial elements for some tasty texture throughout.

Overall, Stratum is fantastic. It’s tight, it’s brutal, it’s not your usual Black/Death Metal album. If you’re a fan of the later Extol releases, or certain points of the band Nomicon, or just want something brutal yet not your typical stuff, check this one out.

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Music Review: BLOOD COVENANT – Sign Of Time

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blood covenant - sign of timeBLOOD COVENANT
Sign Of Time
Darknagar Records
2011

Blood Covenant is a symphonic black metal band from Armenia that formerly went by the name Iron Cross until changing it to their current moniker in 2001. They’ve released three full-length studio albums since that time, along with a couple of singles and a live DVD. This is another band that I came across on Bandcamp and…well, let’s just say I am tremendously happy that I did discover these guys.

Sign Of Time [sic] is the band’s third full-length release, and the first one of theirs that I purchased from Bandcamp. After listening to this several times, I really need to get on the ball, here, and get their other two releases. Because if they’re just as awesome as Sign Of Times is, I need them to be gracing my earholes now. But, as far as Sign Of Time goes…

The metal on this release is epic. It’s a blend of Black Metal and s kind of Symphonic Gothic music that gives everything a dark, swirling depth to things. Imagine if Emperor collaborated with Midnight Syndicate or Nox Arcana, you’ll get the idea of what this album is like.

Sign Of Times opens with the aptly titled “Intro”, a nice use of ambient sounds, synth strings and horns, giving this a nice epic feel. This leads into “Sign Of Time”, a great, furious symphonic black metal blast, a great riff and good use of strings and choral chants, with a bit of King Diamond-style vocals making an appearance. “Unseen War” and “The Call” continue with the great symphonic black metal. This leads to “The Funeral Of The Dark Kingdom”, which is an instrumental that features strings, organ and choral arrangements. “Fall Babylon” continues with the Black Metal assault, has a great horror movie style ambient feel and a guitar solo that sounds inspired by Mozart. “Hayr Mer” is more of a Doom Metal flavor, and has a very Ghost-like choral effects on the chorus. I rather like that. “At The Cross” is another instrumental, and continues with the doom style with the orchestration and features a mournful violin. “Corruptible Reflection Of Reality” hits you with another blast of Symphonic Black Metal goodness, and then it’s another orchestral instrumental with “Golgotha”. The album concludes with “Metanoia” and “Faithful”, the later of which has a great speedy riff and the aforementioned King Diamond style vocals to close us out.

Overall, I am very, very impressed with Sign Of Time, as well as with Blood Covenant. This being my first taste of them, I can’t wait to explore they’re back catalogue as soon as I can. Highly recommended, this.

Music Review: CRIMSON THORN – Anthology Of Brutality

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crimson thorn anthology of brutalityCRIMSON THORN
Anthology Of Brutality: 1992-2002 The Complete Collective Works
Bombworks Records
2017

As death metal goes, Crimson Thorn ranks up there in my Top 3 favorites. They’re one of the most heavy, brutal, gut-churning-ly fantastic groups to ever have graced my earholes. I caught them live at Cornerstone 2002, around the time when they released their final full-length Purification, a show that congealed my insides and left me with a warm, tingly sensation that I’m 86% sure wasn’t just a minor stroke brought on by the show. If I had one complaint about the band, it’s that the production quality–especially on their first full-length release–left a lot to be desired.

Fortunately, and at long last, the good folks at the always-awesome Bombworks Records understood this, and released a three disc boxed set of the Crimson Thorn albums, along with a few extra odds and sods, all of which are completely remastered to finally showcase the death metal the way it was supposed to be listened to: where you can feel it down deep in the bowels of your very being.

Disc one contains the 1994 debut full-length Unearthed, plus the Plagued demo from 1993. Disc two contains 1997’s Dissection, plus their contribution to the Tribute To Living Sacrifice compilation (“Anorexia Spiritual”), and “Something Else”. Disc three contains 2002’s Purification release, plus three live cuts from a show in Minneapolis: “Intro/Imminent Wrath”, “Sarcastic Deviation”, and “Putrid Condemnation”.

If you’re anything like me, then you already own all of these releases, including the Live In Minneapolis DVD. Well, there’s still a very good reason to get Anthology Of Brutality, and that’s because the remastering has made everything sound superb. The sound is no longer muddled–especially on both the Plagued demo and Unearthed releases–and all of the delicious brutality goodness is made nice, clear and solid. If you’re tired of not being able to crank up Crimson Thorn’s discography as you’d like, Anthology Of Brutality has got you covered.

If you’re wanting a physical copy of the boxed set itself, this was limited to 500 copies, so you’d probably want to be quick about it. However, the songs are also available for digital download from Amazon, which is where I purchased my copy, and if you’re okay with that, it still sounds fantastic. Either way you go, Anthology Of Brutality comes highly recommended by your Uncle NecRo, and gets an enthusiastic five-out-of-five Metal Horns Up.

Music Review: DEMON HUNTER – Live In Nashville

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demon hunter live in nashvillDEMON HUNTER
Live In Nashville
Solid State Records
2009

Something I’ve always wondered about Demon Hunter is, what are they like live? Mainly because, despite what you think of them, you have to admit that they have a rather layered and complex sound going than your standard metalcore / deathcore / NWOAHM style that you labeled them with. The vocal harmonies and melodies often made me wonder how they pull it off in a live setting. Unfortunately, they don’t seem to hit Omaha very often when they are on tour, and when they did I wasn’t exactly as big of a fan than I am now, so I didn’t go out to see them and discover how they are live for myself.

Fortunately, Solid State Records stopped ignoring my calls and letters, and released Live In Nashville. This is essentially the audio version of the live show filmed for the second DVD on the 45 Days documentary set that was released the year prior to this. This set was recorded at Rockettown in Nashville, during their Stronger Than Hell tour with Living Sacrifice. That sounded like an awesome show, that. I wish they would have recorded Living Sacrifice’s set as well. I also wish to one day ride a unicorn, but that’s probably not going to happen, either.

Here, they play cuts from their 2002 self-titled debut (“Infected”), 2004’s Summer Of Darkness (“My Heartstrings Come Undone” and “Not Ready To Die”), 2005’s The Triptych (“Ribcage”, “The Soldier’s Song”, “Undying”, and “The Flame that Guides Us Home/Not I”), and of course, the album they were touring for, 2007’s Storm The Gates Of Hell (“Storm The Gates Of Hell”, “Lead Us Home”, “I Am You”, “Carry Me Down”, “Fading Away”, “Follow The Wolves”, and “Sixteen”). After a nice atmospheric instrumental leading up to the famous “Dine in Hell!” clip from the movie 300, Demon Hunter rips into their set, sending everyone into a frenzy (I presume…it’s not like I can actually see them like I could on the DVD or anything, but in my head they’re all going berserk).

As far as how they handle playing their songs live…they do so admirably. Obviously, they don’t reproduce everything exactly like they do on the studio albums. Unless they were pulling a Top Of The Pops and “playing along” to a prerecorded track, that is. They sound live and raw, with no discernible overdubbing, keeping things organic with the execution. And that makes this rather fantastic as a live album.

So, there you go. If you love Demon Hunter, or even just like them, and haven’t had the chance to check them out live, Live In Nashville is the next best thing, while waiting for them to show up in your neck of the woods, methinks.

Music Review: APOSTASY – The Seven Eyes Of God

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apostasy - the seven eyes of godAPOSTASY
The Seven Eyes Of God
Catacomb Records
1994

Here we have yet another obscure cassette-only demo release from a band that completely escaped my attention back in the day, mainly because I was stuck with whatever the nearby record stores and Christian bookshops held for music. And when you’re a metalhead languishing in Eastern Nebraska in the mid-1990s, years before the internet was going to become a viable means of communication outside of your narrow sphere of existence, you either trust mail order through magazines, or hope that whatever passes as a record shop will have it, or will be willing to special order the thing. In that sense, I envy LA and New York music scenes. But, I digress.

Apostasy was allegedly one of the first black metal bands with Christian members to be formed in America, instead of Europe. Or Australia, natch. They hailed from Pueblo, Colorado, and released their only cassette demo The Seven Eyes Of God in 1994. I doubt I would have seen anything about the band or their demo outside of either Heaven’s Metal magazine, or one of the Christian Metal ‘Zines circulating at that time. Even now, the only information I can dredge up from the interwebs is their entry in the Metal Archives site.

This five-track demo of theirs was, as mentioned before, released in 1994. The music is listed on the Metal Archives site as “black metal”; I would qualify the music as that in the same way I would qualify the music on Death’s Scream Bloody Gore as “death metal”, in that it’s really more thrash metal with affected black metal type vocals. Which, given the period, was what the early 2nd Wave of black metal was, essentially aping Venom and making it more “extreme”. Of the five tracks, only three are full-fledged songs: “Eve Of Divinity”, “Destrier” [sic] and “Pagan Moon”. The first track, “Through The Gates Of Eternity…” and the last track, “Rebirth (Outro)” are both brief bits that work as atmospheric introduction and outros, respectively. The music in-between those two tracks are some decently played thrash/death style with black metal vocals, some interesting riffs going on.

Unfortunately, the major issue I have with this demo is the quality of the production. It’s very low-grade, there’s a very loud hiss that is rather prominent and distracting. Also–though I think this has less to do with the production and more to do with the fact that mine is a used copy–the songs muffle at points, and for all of the songs it sounds like the tape itself was eaten by the tape player (or a cat decided to play with it or something), and renders the songs extremely garbled at times, especially with the last three tracks. Especially on “Pagan Moon”, which is nigh unlistenable. Again, that’s probably not due to the production; but even counting that out, the production is rather cheep sounding and terrible, which is a pity as the songs are fairly decent otherwise. Kind of an old-school raw sound to them.

Music Review: DANIEL BAND – Running Out Of Time

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daniel band - running out of timeDANIEL BAND
Running Out Of Time
Refuge Records
1987

The Daniel Band’s fifth and final studio release before going on what they called an “indefinite hiatus” (meaning they didn’t technically break up as a band, and while they’ve reunited a handful of times for one-off shows from time to time, for all intents and purposes the band was put on the back-burner while everyone lived their lives), Running Out Of Time is the album that I’ve heard others refer to as not their best. And certainly the 80s collage style cover art didn’t help much for first impressions. But, being of the type to have to hear it before forming an opinion on an album, I gave it a good listen. Is Running Out Of Time a weak album? Or does it hold up?

The album starts off rather well, with the nice, heavy guitar-driven anthem “Black Or White”. It’s a fist-pumper, for sure. This is followed by a pretty good, solid mid-paced hard rock cut, “Sins Of The Heart”, which reminds me of Dokken in their prime, heavy and melodic. Following this, though, we get a couple of breaks in the momentum–“Hold On”, which is a synth-heavy commercial rock cut that does have a decent hook and a good guitar solo, and “Long Time” which is a power ballad, but not the sappy kind. It’s dark, with a heavy riff in the bridge. We venture once again into a tasty heavy blues rock cut with the hilariously titled “Party In Heaven” (the title of which seems to trigger aneurysms in a lot of the anti-Christian Rock articles I come across online), which is followed by another nice heavy rocker “We Need Love”, and the galloping riff-heavy “Greedy Little Hands” giving us a one-two-three punch of heavier rock, before moving into a more commercial and bright “Things Are Changin'”. The album ends on the title track, “Running Out Of Time”, which is a heavy, dark mid-paced rocker, with a great guitar riff and leads.

So, overall, after listening to the entirety of Running Out Of Time, I’m wondering again why this one is considered a weak album. Maybe in comparison to the previous Daniel Band releases, I can see the argument. If you’ve just come off of listening to, say, Rise Up or Run From The Darkness before popping this on, Running Out Of Time may come off as a bit more commercial sounding to your hard rockin’ tastes. And the original production work certainly doesn’t help matters very much, I do admit. However, when comparing this to other commercial CCM Rock records, or even mainstream commercial rock at the time, Running Out Of Time has an edge over the others. Also, Retroactive Records did a good job remixing the production with their 2012 reissue. The only real complaint I have with Running Out Of Time is the cover art. It’s more New Wave pop than what’s represented on this album. But, again, very minor quibble. Gonna have to go with recommended on this one as well.

Music Review: DROP DEAD – Ending The Sadness

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drop dead - ending the sadnessDROP DEAD
Ending The Sadness
Independent
1988

When you go digging hard enough, you come to realize that thrash metal in the CCM area wasn’t just a thing that didn’t happen until Intense Records was invented; no, I have to say that thrash metal was alive and well in the 1980s, and sometimes you wouldn’t know of a band unless you was great at tape and demo trading back in the day, or (like me) you happen to stumble upon something long after missing the peak time for good thrash metal from the era. As a for-instance, Drop Dead.

Drop Dead was a thrash metal band that hailed from Indianapolis, Indiana, between the years of 1987 to at least 1994, when they had the Death By Fusion compilation released. They may have broken up before that, as their final demo was released in 1990. I don’t know, not a lot of information could be gleaned from the interwebs as I was researching the band for this review.

Regardless, the focus of this review concerns Drop Dead’s first demo release, Ending The Sadness. This was the only release I was able to obtain from them, as even the aforementioned compilation CD is hard to find. I got it from a trade, in case you were wondering.

Ending The Sadness is a cassette-only demo that was released in 1988. And if there’s any contender for one of those remastering and proper re-releases through either Retroactive or Roxx Records, this is one of those that should be considered. Mainly because Ending The Sadness is a six track collection of some of the best kind of thrash metal: straight forward, furious, and hits you hard, fast and continually. The opening track “The Dawning” hits you right out of the gate with its furious thrash riff and shout style vocals, while pummeling you with its rhythmic attack. Title track “Ending The Sadness” then lulls you into a false sense of security with an acoustic opening interlude, then hooks your nose with a thrash attack that will sandblast your face off. “Fall Of The Deadly Fortress” is a great instrumental, fantastic riff; “The Revolution” goes with another acoustic opening that sounds a lot like the opening riff of “The Call Of Ktulu”, then it once again kicks you in the face with a great, meaty riff hook; “Escape Destruction” kicks off with a furious opening riff, then settles into a solid groove rhythm with a great solo; the demo ender “Doomsday” closes things with fantastic thrash metal goodness.

Overall, Ending The Sadness is a good, solid demo EP of raw and intense thrash metal, played very tight and furious. The production is a bit muffled, and there is a noticeable hiss on the tape, despite the Dolby Noise Reduction symbol on the tape cover; regardless, it’s still rather listenable and doesn’t effect my listening enjoyment whatsoever. Obviously. If you can find this, nab it and enjoy it. In the meantime, I shall do my darnedest to make others aware of this, and try to get ahold of any other of their two other demos that are floating around. Recommended.

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