Review of Slash ‘Em All by Omnislash

Band: Omnislash
Album: Slash ‘Em All!
Release Date: 9 June 2017
Buy as mp3s ($8.91) from: Amazon
Buy on CD ($10) from: Bandcamp

Cover of Slash 'Em All! by Omnislash

DCHM writer Tal is back with this in depth review of Baltimore based traditional/thrash metal band Omnislash’s sophomore album. Be sure to check out the video game inspired music video at the end of the post when you’re done reading.

We’re pretty spoiled in the DC area with a good number of local bands that sound like pros, and yet somehow I’m always surprised when I find another one. Omnislash is one of those bands. I had heard of them for possibly years, but had never been in the right place at the right time to actually see them live. Their recent album Slash ‘Em All! convinced me that I need to change that ASAP.

If Iron Maiden was a little faster and thrashier, that might describe Omnislash’s sound. They’re melodic like Iron Maiden, with mostly cleanish vocals, anthemic choruses and an upbeat vibe, but given to blistering thrash rampages. They at once claim to combine “the best elements of glam, thrash, power metal, death metal, hair metal, and classic rock” and to represent traditional heavy metal from “a time before the metal scene became fragmented.” I suppose if we hearken far enough back into the 80’s, it might be possible to do both at once. Certainly, Omnislash seems to combine all those diverging genres into one cohesive whole – thrash outbursts flow into expansive choruses, the vocals go from gritty to near operatic, and heavy riffs give way to melodic bridges or speedy solos, in such an organic way that nothing sounds out of place.

After an acoustic/neoclassical intro, the album starts off with rocking riffs with just a little thrash dirtiness, and a vicious scream from vocalist Jeremy Phoenix. True metal, all right. The first song, “Empires Fade,” is exemplary of the album – at once melodic, groovy and touched with thrash grittiness, and impossible to sit still for. The vocal style, clean yet forceful and sometimes rising into a scream, is reminiscent of harder power metal bands like Iced Earth. In another parallel to Iced Earth, there seems to be a historical theme to the song, which I first noticed with the line “Rome controls the Nile.” In an interview in Shockwave Magazine, Jeremy indicated that the song is about “that moment in time when it could have been the Egyptian Empire but it became the Roman Empire.” The wailed, “Run for your life” in the chorus can’t help evoking Iron Maiden’s “Run to the Hills,” as well.

There are several catchy songs you’ll be rocking out to in your mind long after the album’s done playing, but the catchiest has to be the title track (and band theme song?), “Metalliation Revengeance (Slash ‘Em All).” With the racing, driving rhythm and insistent, somehow danceable lead guitar, you won’t be able to help starting a toxic waltz wherever you are. Then it goes into a horn-throwing, sing-along chorus and bridge, complete with “woah’s” for the full metal experience. But don’t take my word for it; check out their hilarious video at the end of this post. I can just imagine this as the climactic closing song of their live show.

This is just the middle of the album, however, so the songs keep on coming. The most aggressive songs are in the second half: “Nuke the Moon” and “Not One Step Back,” the former about Project A119, a US Air Force project from the 1950’s that planned to detonate a nuclear bomb on the Moon, and the latter about the Battle of Stalingrad. There’s also a ballad of sorts, “Gothenburg,” if a song with pummeling thrash percussion and machine-gun guitars can be called a ballad just because it has more drawn-out and emotional vocals. “Blood Feud” is a song with furious aggressive verses and a catchy chorus that oddly reaches its anthemic height at the end of the chorus. Since I just finished reading Hillbilly Elegy, I can’t help wondering if the song has anything to do with Appalachia, since that book’s author, J.D. Vance, had some not-so-distant ancestors that took part in some pretty violent blood feuds in that area.

The band’s lyrical themes are another parallel to Iron Maiden, with a more historical bent than most thrash metal, although they still focus on typical thrash themes of war and violence.

One downside to the album, which might have been out of the band’s control, is that the production quality isn’t as good as I’ve become used to for some of our local bands. Some might argue that this is part of the band’s 80’s thrash vibe, but for me, it’s a detriment to the album. For instance, the furious beginning to “Nuke the Moon” sounds like a mess. It would be much more effective at showcasing the band’s technical virtuosity – not to mention more enjoyable as a thrash barrage – if I could hear everything going on. The rest of the album isn’t that bad, but it’s still poor enough that this is one of the rare cases where a pair of good headphones doesn’t help, and actually takes away from enjoyment of the album, since the sound quality issue becomes so distracting.

Sound quality aside, Slash ‘Em All! is a great album, putting Omnislash among the ranks of stellar local bands in the DC area.

Review of The Wretched of the Earth by Sickdeer

Band: Sickdeer
Album: The Wretched of the Earth
Release Date: 20 March 2017
Buy on CD ($10) or as digital files ($7) from: Bandcamp

Cover of The Wretched of the Earth by Sickdeer

You may have seen locals Sickdeer as they play out a lot! They seem to be one of the openers on many DIY metal shows in DC. In case you haven’t seen them yet, they’re playing a show at Slash Run tomorrow night (details here). Today we’re running a review of their debut album The Wretched of the Earth that they released this spring. As you might expect, DCHM writer Tal has a lot to say about this album. Be sure to stream it at the bottom of this post while you read.

I was truly surprised to hear of a band like Sickdeer in the DMV area. Usually, haunting black metal seeping with atmosphere seems to come from some far-off, mysterious place, like Eastern Europe or Russia, or at least Washington state or Utah. How could the urbanized and urbane (and sludge-choked) DC metropolitan area spawn something so atmospheric?

However it happened, I’m not complaining. Well, not a lot, anyway. I do have to say that the band’s name didn’t exactly scream “atmospheric black metal,” so it may not be the most effective marketing tool. Same for the album cover – with the black and white design and the medieval font, it channels Venom’s Black Metal pretty hard.

Once they got me in the door, though, I was quickly won over. “Retracting Accusations,” the first song on The Wretched of the Earth, starts off with an acoustic bit at the beginning, which sounds like it could have some Middle Eastern or Spanish influence. It seduces the listener into the album before the black metal barrage kicks in. Sickdeer is a bit more uptempo than your typical ABM band (which tend to have a more doomy tempo) but I’m going to stick with the atmospheric tag because of the sorrowful, cascading riffs that underpin every song.

They also have a strong groove to their music, especially in the second song, “Pitiful Ego.” It starts out slow but relentlessly driving, impossible to resist bobbing your head along to – at a nice measured pace. And then it picks up from time to time, including a little jackhammer death metal interlude in the middle.

That’s not the only death metal-ish thing about this album. The vocals are mostly a guttural roar, more like death metal vocals, only sometimes going into a raspy scream more typical of black metal. The vocals do get just a tad monotonous, but they do provide a nice contrast to the moodier, prettier atmospheric riffage.

Despite its dispirited title, “The Wretched of the Earth” might actually be the most beautiful song on the album, with a drawn-out, doomy melody. It also has the only annoying vocals. It’s pretty hard to annoy me with black metal vocals — I’m a sucker for the dirtiest, snarliest, gargliest black metal vocals out there — but there’s a part in the middle which sounds like a yowling cat which I don’t enjoy. That may be the point, of course, since some metal bands make a point to be unpleasant to the ears. And it may be that I’ll get used to it, as I have to countless other types of, ahem, unusual metal vocals.

Based on the song titles (I can’t make out most of the lyrics) the lyrical themes of the album seem to be typical black/death metal subject matter – how despicable we all are (“Pitiful Ego,” “The Wretched of the Earth”), how fleeting and doomed our existence (“Sand to Dust,” “Awaiting the Trench”). No nature or fantasy themes here. No clean vocals or choirs either.

I wonder if the band set out to create an “atmospheric black metal” album, or that’s just what The Wretched of the Earth ended up sounding like. Either way, it’s still a great gift to our local metal scene – a mysterious far-away place to lose ourselves in when the DC traffic and politics get to be too much.

Review of Land Of The Setting Sun by Isenmor

Band: Isenmor
Album: Land of the Setting Sun
Release Date: 21 June 2015
Buy CD ($7) or digital ($5) from: Bandcamp

Land of the Setting Sun by Isenmor

Folk metal is starting to get a foothold in our area. European folk bands have been coming through on their tours for years but we’re starting to see some local folk metal bands pop up. DCHM writer Tal has put together this thorough review of the debut release by one of these bands, Isenmor. You can stream a few tracks at the bottom of this post and listen while you read. You can also check out Tal’s blog In My Winter Castle for more of his writing.

Isenmor, of Savage, Maryland, is the second folk metal band to spring up in the greater DC area in recent years (after Baltimore’s Sekengard). On June 21, Isenmor released a surprisingly mature debut EP (considering that the band was formed a little over a year prior) titled Land of the Setting Sun.

The album title refers to the band’s “Vinlandic” identity. What grounds could a band in the “New World” have for performing European folk music? Well, the Vikings once sailed west into the setting sun and explored the place we now call North America; they called it Vinland. Isenmor takes their inspiration from this to perform Old World music mixed with modern metal, using Viking and Germanic themes. The band’s name, Isenmor, means “iron wasteland” in Old English, and according to vocalist and violinist Nick Schneider, refers to the aftermath of battle, with broken and discarded weapons strewn all about. And I guess that’s fitting since the first two songs on the EP are about the results of battle – death, and the funeral pyre. The lyrics draw on a mix of Germanic and Norse inspirations — while they sing about Wodan and Donar instead of their Norse counterparts Odin and Thor, they also quote from the Viking poem Hávamál (“cattle die, kinsmen die…”). Their sound, meanwhile, is dominated by the two violins (and a viola, according to the credits), which weave folky melodies with English and Celtic inspirations.

The violin-playing is probably the most proficient and appealing part of the EP. The rest of it is enthusiastic and interesting enough, but can’t help sounding a bit amateurish — there’s an unpolished feel to the clean vocals, and a kind of fuzzy sound to the guitars. Of course, this is the self-produced first release of a new band, so an unrefined sound can be forgiven. And some of the roughness may also be purposeful, such as the sawing and scraping of the violin in many parts – a sound which I actually find not unpleasant. Korpiklaani has a similarly scratchy sound to the violin on their first album, Spirit of the Forest, and it gives that album a coarse, earthy feel, which seems fitting for the genre. It makes it really feel like folk, the music of the people.

It took me a few listens to get into Isenmor’s album, possibly partly due to the unpolished sound, but now I love this release. Beneath the violins, there’s a good deal of black metal sound and influence — waves of atmospheric, tremolo-y guitar, screamed vocals delivered at high speed by Nick Schneider. That isn’t all, though; there are also chugging death metal riffs in “Land of the Setting Sun,” thick, heavy-hearted doomy guitar in “So Willingly Deceived,” and furious riffage à la Swedish melodeath in “The Old Mead Hall.” The vocals on the album are also highly varied — besides the screamed vocals, there are also clean vocals by several different band members, grandiose choruses sung by almost the whole band together, and raspy harsh vocals done by Tim Regan (who is also the guitarist). The album begins aggressively, with an energetic violin melody, blastbeats, and an extended scream starting the furious first song, “Death is a Fine Companion,” but most of the album goes at a much slower pace.

My favorite song is one of the slow ones, actually: “So Willingly Deceived,” which is about the conversion of the heathens to Christianity. I have to admit, I probably connected to this song so strongly because it reminded me of the Saxon Stories books by Bernard Cornwell, whose protagonist, Uhtred of Bebbanburg, is a Saxon lord in 9th century England who resists being converted to Christianity. That connection made the sorrowful keyboard and violin melody especially poignant, the verses praising the pagan gods more grandiose, and the anguish of the verses about those who were “willingly deceived” more real. The melody and vocals are underpinned by doomy guitar, long distorted tones during the verses and disconsolate chugging during the violin bridges, which heightens the sense of nostalgia. I really like the clean vocals in this song, which are performed by Nick — while he sounds untrained, he has a commanding voice which further reminds me of Uhtred of Bebbanburg. The lyrics of the song take surprisingly pointed (for folk metal) jabs at Christianity with lines like “You gladly pledge yourselves/ to a tyrant’s bastard son” and “a poorly conceived lie/ of a coward’s paradise.” Along with the first two songs, this song gives the album a decidedly serious feel, so much so that the drinking song that follows it, “The Old Mead Hall,” sounds a bit silly (it is a fun song, though).

After the five original songs on Land of the Setting Sun are two covers drawn from among the best international folk metal bands out there. The first one, a cover of Eluveitie’s “Havoc,” is enjoyable if not novel – it basically sounds like a rough-hewn version of the original. The warmer and simpler sound of the violins in Isenmor’s version, as opposed to the violin, tin whistle, and hurdy-gurdy that Eluveitie use for the furious folk barrages of the song, gives the cover a homelier sound than the tight, clear sound of the original.

The second cover is Ensiferum’s “In My Sword I Trust.” I was initially disappointed in this choice of cover song. It’s not that Isenmor did a bad job; but I don’t like this song or the album it’s from, 2012’s Unsung Heroes, in general. It’s just not up to the high standard and unique style of previous Ensiferum. (This year’s One Man Army redeemed Ensiferum, in my opinion, but I digress…) While “In My Sword I Trust” isn’t a good song for Ensiferum, it is pretty decent as a generic folk metal song, and Isenmor actually sounds really good playing it. Like the rest of the album, it took me a few listens to get into, but now I actually enjoy their rendition of it, certainly more than the original. Isenmor’s violin sounds much more strident playing the melody than the keyboard in the original – especially when both Nick and Miles are playing. The vocals are a bit gruffer, and after the solo (which is carried by the violin rather than the guitar in Isenmor’s cover), when the guitar and growled vocals hammer down on us, the band actually sounds pretty brutal. While not as polished in technique or recording quality, Isenmor’s cover is a lot more interesting than when Ensiferum plays this song.

And that’s not all. You get more than your money’s worth and then some with this EP, as the two covers are followed by acoustic versions of “Pyre” and “So Willingly Deceived.” I won’t deceive you; when I first picked up this album, I groaned inwardly upon seeing two acoustic versions, figuring they wouldn’t hold my interest. I couldn’t have been more wrong. They’re not boring, seeing as the violin melodies, which are a key element of the music, are still there, and with acoustic guitar, bass, and drums added to that, the acoustic songs are even a bit heavy in their own right. The acoustic songs give us more of a chance to appreciate the violins and hear the lyrics a bit better, and so they actually enhanced my appreciation of the metal versions. My opinion here is helped, of course, by the fact that I enjoy just plain folk music as well as folk metal, but I’m pretty sure that most folk metal fans are in the same Viking longship with me there.

Last but not least, the album is further enhanced by the artwork. The cover, showing a small silhouette of a helmeted man with a spear standing on a crag before the sea, in front of a turbulent dark orange sky that dominates the picture, is an oil painting by 19th century Norwegian painter Knud Andreassen Baade, “Scene from the era of Norwegian Sagas.” The CD is printed with “The Ride of the Valkyrs,” an illustration by John Charles Dollman from an early 20th century book of Norse mythology, showing Valkyries in their winged helmets riding horses that seem to leap over the viewer, the gray color and muscular figures making them look like statues. It was pretty clever of the band to use some great public domain artwork for their album – it looks very professional, and really cool to boot, and also fits the nostalgic, history-oriented tone of their album. They should put that cover image on a T-shirt, because I, for one, would give them money for it.

All in all, Isenmor is off to a very strong start with this EP. I’m excited to see where they go — at a live show in Frederick on July 11, they played some new songs which seem to indicate they’re charging full speed ahead with faster and heavier songs. This bodes very well for the folk metal scene in the DC area, as does the Maryland Folk Fest happening at Metro Gallery on August 22, featuring Isenmor, Sekengard, and other folk metal bands from up and down the east coast. We’re becoming a bastion for folk metal, and with Land of the Setting Sun, Isenmor joins the front ranks of this fledgling scene.

Review of Caesious by Torrid Husk

Band: Torrid Husk
Album: Caesious
Release Date: 4 February 2014
Record Label: Grimoire Records
Buy digital ($3), cassette ($5) or CD ($7) from Bandcamp: Here

Cover of Caesious by Torrid Husk

DCHM album reviewer Tal was particularly taken by the new Torrid Husk EP Caesious and she really wanted to review it. I’m not one much for turning down enthusiastic album review requests and this is a pretty sweet slab of black metal from West Virginia. Be sure to check out Tal’s other writings, such as local concert reviews, on her personal blog here and of course you can stream a song from this EP at the end of the post.

If you’ve read any of my other reviews (here), you probably know I adore melodies. I also like heaviness, intensity, thunder, darkness – and Torrid Husk’s Caesious delivers on all these fronts. It’s poignantly melodic and atmospheric, with all the evil-sounding raspy vocals and blast beat thunder you’d expect from a black metal band.

The first song, “Cut With Rain,” sets the melodic bar rather high – the other two songs don’t quite meet that level of melody, unfortunately. “Cut With Rain” begins softly, but soon turns into an intense melodic assault with blast beats on top of flowing tremolo guitar work. The repeated flowing melody gives the impression of sheets of heavy rain sweeping across the land, and the raspy vocals give this land a sense of darkness — and then death, as the vocals dip into guttural death metal territory. The vocals are a little lost under the onslaught of guitars and drums, and there’s no hope of understanding what Tyler Collins, the guitarist/vocalist, is saying. Halfway through the song, we’re granted a breather, as the drums slow down for an atmospheric bridge. It doesn’t last long before the assault starts again. Toward the end of the song, there’s a neat moment where the band suddenly charges into headbang-worthy classic heavy metal riffs (played with black metal techniques), but they quickly become distorted back to a black metal sound, before becoming totally chaotic. The song goes out on an extremely fast note as the drums and vocals seem to race each other to the finish. For its combination of melody and aggression, “Cut With Rain” is undoubtedly my favorite song on the EP.

The second song, “Thunder Like Scorn,” is rather chaotic and churning. Various sounds in the song give the impression of thunder – the repeated buzzsaw riffs at the beginning, the cacophony of drums and guitars later on, the booming low growls. Even as the song slows a third of the way in, the tempest seems to churn on. There is a tranquil melodic segment in the middle, like the eye of the storm, but just as it starts to get relaxing, the drums thunder in even more aggressive than before. The song slows again toward the end, as though the storm is drawing away, and the vocals become more prominent – up to that point, they’re a bit lost among the instruments.

The last song, “Paranoia,” starts off just as fast and intense as the song before it, with a frenzied sound again matching the title. Interestingly, the two songs are connected by a ringing feedback note that ends the previous song and starts this one. “Paranoia” is a bit more varied than “Thunder Like Scorn,” though, with some slower atmospheric guitar, sometimes laid over hammering drums and sometimes dominating the tempo; a bridge that, with its dissonant buzzing notes followed by gentle strumming, gives the impression of a catatonic state; and vocals ranging from drawn-out, agonized screams to furious ranting. The drums, whether battering fiercely or insistently enforcing a slower tempo, the uneasy-sounding guitar riffs and the agonized or infuriated vocals certainly create the impression of intense anxiety.

Compared to Torrid Husk’s earlier album Mingo (released in June 2013), the drums are more prominent on Caesious, and the guitars and vocals take a back seat to them. Rather than being swept over by cascades of atmospheric guitar, Caesious is dominated by blasting drums. As I greatly enjoy atmospheric guitars, I find this a little disappointing. Despite this, Caesious is still a solid release that should put a dent in anyone’s cravings for darkness, thunder and even a bit of melody.

Review of South Of The Earth by Iron Man

Band: Iron Man
Album: South Of The Earth
Release Date: 30 September 2013
Record Label: Metal Blade / Rise Above
Buy from iTunes (digital) for $7.99: Here
Buy from Metal Blade (CD) for $11.99: Here

Cover of South Of The Earth by Iron Man

Maryland’s Iron Man has been cranking out doom metal for decades around here and they recently released their fifth studio album, South Of The Earth. DCHM writer Grimy Grant wrote the following review of it, I hope you all like reading it as much as I did. Be sure to find him on Twitter at @jgrantd and let him know what you think of Iron Man or any other metal bands. And be sure to check out the videos at the end of the review to give them a listen while you read.

One of the original badasses of doom metal in Maryland, Iron Man, are showing the kids how it’s done with their new album South of the Earth. Iron Man have experienced various hiatus in their career, their most recent break coming right after Generation Void was released in 1999. Since 1988 (according to Metal Archives), they’ve built themselves from being a Black Sabbath tribute band into artists worthy of note not just in our area but around the United States as well. Sleep bassist Al Cisneros said they were “one of the best local bands” from Maryland onstage at Maryland Deathfest this year, which I can only imagine gives you infinite cool factor points. In short, they’re touted as one of the more traditionally heavy bands out there as well as one of the longest-lasting.

South of the Earth is the band’s ode to both modern and traditional doom metal. There are deeper roots, obviously, to the traditional, Sabbath-like fuzz and bass sound in the guitars. This is really impressive on tracks such as the second track, “Hail to the Haze”, and the sixth track, appropriately titled “IISEOSEO (The Day of the Beast)”, where the guitars give off serious electric flair. At moments in South of the Earth, I felt like I was being transported sonically back to some low-lit, dank bar where Iron Man’s lead guitarist and founder, Alfred Morris III, is tripping out the audience of bikers and stoners with his sick riffs. Iron Man has added a new member recently, “Screaming Mad” Dee Calhoun, and he brings a tendency towards a southern-metal sound. This makes the vocals on some songs such as the title track, “South of the Earth”, sound more like southern metal. Dan Michalek’s vocals on 1999’s Generation Void were way more classic metal sounding, almost a mimic copy of Ozzy Osbourne. This isn’t to put Calhoun’s talent in a bad light – he has a wealth of talent as expressed in “The Ballad of Ray Garraty” where he starts the song off in a traditional, Dio-esque bass harmony. This doesn’t stop the fuzz coming from Morris and bass player Louis Strachan who are both dragging things back into that “classic heavy metal” sound. South of the Earth is the Bud-n-whiskey of the area’s metal: heavy metal that uses old-fashioned guitar chops, solid drums, and belting vocals.

“Hail to the Haze” is a song that honors that kind of heavy rock while also making some poetical thoughts on the subject of psychedelics. Calhoun opens by asking to “Hail to the hallucination – come here to placate/Slip into my mind where I’m confined and take me away.” Backed by fuzzy guitars, it’s easy to follow Calhoun’s words and get lost in the song, just as the singer is possibly getting lost in drugs. Then Calhoun brings a warning that repeats through the song “How much longer – how much longer/How much longer can they hold before they explode… How much longer inside can this monstrosity hide?” The song, like the guitars going back and forth in the beginning, is pulled between reality and escapism. The track ends with a “Hail to the chemicals – ingest my final escape/But how much longer … /How much longer in this state I’ll be awake?” A chilling question that asks whether dying or going fully into a drug-induced coma is better than facing what’s inside the singer.

Calhoun’s poetry makes a lot of the songs intriguing just because of the way the stage is set. “IISEOSEO (The Day of the Beast)” has a lot of that in it. Starting off with a jumbled-up series of guitar notes (no real studio tricks coming from the mix – just straight, old-school guitar noise, which I thought was cool) the song then launches into a ballad about Satan’s last days in paradise. What brought me to think of this song as significant are the choice of words to describe an angel’s descent: “The bracing of foot was a hope burned to soot”, and then: “In this year of the beast the sun dark in the east/With warmth that’s remembered by none/He sits there alone with a heart turned to stone.” It’s a vivid depiction that doesn’t need a whole lot of further interpretation for me. At the same time it could be argued that it’s almost too simplistic and a-typical of traditional metal. Singing about Satan is a go-to for almost any band such as Electric Wizard or Candlemass. Regardless, the way it’s worded shows a lot of thought and genius went into this song.

Classic metal, and I’m talking more specifically about Raven, Saxon, and Pentagram albums from the 1980s and early 90s, is more about listening to the power and might of the music in itself than being grossed out or blown away. That said, there are moments in the album where the music faded into the background of whatever I was doing. It’s only when I’m in the mood for good old-fashioned metal and really listening to everything that I really enjoy South of the Earth. Everything Iron Man does in the album is perfect, but it doesn’t always stand out that well. “Mot” Waldmann, drummer for the band since last year, has only a few moments of flair but otherwise the guitars and vocals take over each song. The rhythm is more similar to blues than anything else – with the drums lightly prodding on the band in the background and not providing as much intensity as in some bands. Sure, Morris and Strachan make up for this more than enough with wave after wave of sweet licks, but I wonder if there can’t be more pizazz from the whole band.

Overall, South of the Earth wowed me with music that sounds like it’s from the very beginnings of 70’s psychedelic rock and metal tradition, while being rooted in today’s metal scene. When it rocks, it really rocks but without blowing up a whole lot of new ground. There are some cool things in here, too – like the “Ballad of Ray Garraty” that talks about the Stephen King novel The Long Walk from the 70’s where teenagers walk to death. There’s another literary reference from H.P. Lovecraft in “Half-Face/Thy Brother’s Keeper.” These points are all very straight-forward despite the poetic writing. It’s as if the band just wants to put on the best show they can without bringing too many new things into the scene. Iron Man delivers exactly what it promises: a really good time listening to what sounds like classic beats from the era of early metal.

Review of Alma de Guerrero by Metanium

Band: Metanium
Album: Alma de Guerrero
Release Date: 19 September 2013
Buy from iTunes (digital) for $9.90: Here
Buy from CD Baby (digital) for $9.99: Here

Cover of Alma de Guerrero by Metanium

Tal is back with her second album review for DCHM and it marks a first on the site. Specifically, this is the first time we’ve reviewed a non-English album on the site. Alma de Guerrero by DC locals Metanium is, except for an alternate version of one track, entirely in Spanish. As always you can stream a few songs from it at the end of this review and you can also find more of Tal’s writing on her regular blog here.

I first became acquainted with Metanium’s music when I saw them open for Spanish folk metal band Mago de Oz in May. I really enjoyed Metanium’s set – a groovy mix of heavy metal right on the edge of power metal, with a cover of Helloween’s “I Want Out” that the singer delivered effortlessly. I wasn’t able to attend their album release party on September 19th, but I was looking forward to hearing the new release, Alma de Guererro, hoping for more heavy metal and Helloween-esque goodness.

Alma de Guererro (Soul of a Warrior) is a solid, enjoyable album, and pretty ambitious, too, reaching for the heights of the vocalist’s range and striving for hard-hitting heavy metal power. It has some really cool moments. But in contrast to the singer’s breezy take on Helloween at their show in May, here he frequently sounds strained. The recording quality is also rather low, which detracts a little from the ability to enjoy the guitar goodness – but for an underground, self-produced album, it’s a pretty good effort. The album cover and booklet, by contrast, are very professional and nicely designed. The digital design of a horned skull reflects the aggressive and (mostly) straightforward heavy metal direction of their music. Inside the booklet, one finds quality photos of the band and a simple but effective layout for song lyrics and the band’s thank yous.

The first song, “Veneno Mortal” (“Deadly Venom”), is a solid heavy metal track. It starts out a bit low key, but the random shreddy guitar bits scattered throughout the first two verses keep it interesting. After ending the second verse with a wail, the pace picks up, galloping for a few moments before settling into an aggressive NWOBHM sound. Toward the end is a fun segment where the drums and guitar thrash furiously for a couple seconds. The song provides a good taste of what’s to come on the album – solid heavy metal riffs, unfortunately a little obscured by the fuzzy production, gritty vocals with some wails thrown in, and random moments of amazing inspiration.

The title track, “Alma de Guerrero” (“Soul of a Warrior”) is also very strong. Starting off with a dramatic intro, epic guitar strains and a nice clear wail, it seems destined to be a thundering heavy metal attack. The vocals are quite powerful and gritty, although the singer seems to lose control a little at the end of the verses. The song urges the listener – the metalhead – to fight on in the face of evil, to keep pressing forward confidently, never to look back or give in to weakness; and the guitars and the strong vocals pack the energy the theme needs.

The album also includes an English version of this song which I didn’t enjoy as much. Some of the lyrics sound far too simple in English; the Spanish version is a little more poetic. For instance, the second verse of the song:

En este mundo, tienes que luchar
Siempre adelante tienes caminar
Con pasos firmes, y sin mirar atrás
Mantente fuerte, y sin debilidad

Vocalist Marvin Serrano, who wrote the lyrics, has translated this almost word for word:

In this world you must learn to fight
Always look forward when you’re walking down the path
So keep your head up and remember don’t look back
Remain strong and don’t ever give up

It’s still a great message, and conveys the literal meaning of the Spanish lyrics pretty closely, but in translation, especially of evocative works such as song lyrics, capturing the feeling and rhythm of the original is just as important as the literal meaning – and this translation is a little lacking in that department. Still, including an accurately translated English version of the title track is a nice touch for any listeners who don’t understand Spanish.

The two versions do differ slightly in more than just language. The Spanish version is sung solely by the vocalist, whereas the English version includes gang vocals in the chorus which sound a little disorganized. On the other hand, the verses sound a bit better on the English version.

My favorite song on the album is undoubtedly “Perdiendo el Control” (“Losing Control”), and I think it’s their most solid piece as well. It’s fast-paced, with strong, aggressive vocals throughout, and has some unusual guitar work for this genre – a thick, very distorted tone, with segments of buzzy tremolo picking and racing drums that have quite a black metal feel. Ironically, the song is called “Losing Control,” yet the vocalist seems much more in control of his vocals in this song than in some others.

The rest of the songs aren’t as memorable, though they do have their cool moments. “Al Filo del Metal” (“At the Edge of Metal”) is an old school heavy metal song with a decent rocking energy, but didn’t really hold my attention. “La Marcha Vikinga” (“The Viking March”) is another decent, moderately-paced song with a few snatches of shreddy guitar. The ballad, “Hace Mucho Tiempo” (“It’s Been a Long Time”) starts off nicely with an acoustic intro and then some beautifully mournful electric guitar, but the singer’s gritty vocals seem a little rough for this song at first, while his clean vocals on the agonized chorus are a bit weak, wavering as he tries to sustain notes. As the song goes on, though, the forceful singing style seems more appropriate, conveying the intensity of the persona’s grief and loneliness. “Victimas de la Religión” (“Victims of Religion”) starts off rather monotonous and plodding, but soon picks up the pace with a bit of a thrash vibe. Admittedly the dangerous-sounding bridge, about halfway through, is pretty ear-grabbing, as is the ending where the singer insists, “No seas victima de esta religión” (“Don’t be a victim of this religion”) over more of those dark and intense tremolo-ish riffs. “Sangra el Corazón” (“Bleed the Heart”) is notable for its polka rhythm, which makes it a fun song, in spite of the repetitive lyrics (several songs on the album suffer from those). The beginning of “Sangra el Corazón” is also the only song where I could actually hear the keyboard – if I hadn’t seen the keyboardist’s picture in the booklet, I would probably not even have known the band has one.

Besides the English version of “Alma de Guerrero,” the album also includes another bonus track, a half-acoustic alternate version of “Veneno Mortal.” I’m not a fan of acoustic versions of metal songs in general, since they usually lack the punch of the electric versions, so I was relieved when, about a minute and a half in, the electric guitar and drums started to pick up. About two thirds through, the same thrashy heavy metal vibe as in the first track took hold – so much for an acoustic version. I prefer the sound of original song, but hey, some people may enjoy the acoustic part.

I was surprised that the high-pitched and clean vocals on the album sounded so forced, compared to my fond memories of the singer’s wails at the show in May, and a little disappointed at the low production. The latter is perhaps to be expected for an underground album, though. As for the former, it doesn’t take away too much from my enjoyment of the album, since the aggressive vocals are still very strong, and there are some solid riffs to back it up as well as some flourishes of brilliance. I’ll be following these guys with interest to see how they progress on their next album.

Perdiendo el Control:

Veneno Mortal:

Review of Soma by Windhand

Band: Windhand
Album: Soma
Release Date: 17 September 2013
Label: Relapse Records
Buy from Bandcamp (digital) for $9.99: Here
Buy from Relapse (CD, vinyl) starting at $10.99: Here

Cover of Soma by Windhand

We’ve got a new album review by Grimy Grant and this time he’s writing about the new album by the Richond based doom metal band Windhand. I know, I know, Richmond isn’t technically within the area that DCHM covers however they’re too close, and too damn good, to just skip over. If you haven’t heard Windhand before be sure to stream the songs at the bottom of this post and give them a listen as you read the following review.

There is a murky world that is a little bit of our own but also belongs to some kind of secret, far-away dungeon where ghosts wail and guitars sing a sad, creeping harmony. This is what Windhand constructs in their albums with Soma being this year’s addition to the collection. A lot of the same great elements are here as in their full length from 2012. Dorthia Cottrell’s vocal work imbues each song with a haunting feel while Parker Chandler (also from Cough), Asechiah Bogdan, and Garrett Morris deliver consistent, Sabbath-y guitar licks that wash over you in waves. Meanwhile, Ryan Wolfe shudders the earth with slow, pounding beats from the drums. When I listen to their work I can almost sense the smoke and fog rising from the ground. It’s everything that a doom super-group should be but in the form of a few local creatives in nearby Richmond, Virginia.

While listening to Soma I couldn’t help thinking about their 2012 album, Windhand. Both have interesting sounds that add flavor to the album. Windhand opened with summer storms rolling in the background, cicadas buzzing in the air and only a single pair of footsteps tromping through an outdoor field. It then digresses a bit by breaking away from the occult drama and even featuring some laughter and unintelligible banter from the band at the start of one track. Soma, in comparison, is far more into the natural and occult roots of the band’s material. The focus seems to be more on the music in this album and lacks the casualness found in Windhand. The band, too, seems to bring more precision to their craft, both in the mixes of the songs and the tightness of their sound. It feels like a perfect second act in their catalog.

Soma lurks in the shadows and stares straight into the darkness, never once looking back and occasionally popping up briefly to rock out. There is more punch to each song than in Windhand, something that I appreciate a lot yet at the same time I strangely find myself missing some of the slower songs in their debut. “Woodbine” for example, starts off immediately in the middle of a strong, harmonizing guitar jam and chorus-like background vocals. Lyrically it’s mesmerizing – the vocals sound like a ghost drifting in and out to entice us to “Go on and love what you are”. By definition, a soma refers to all “non” parts of the body, the soul, the psyche and the mind, as well as an intoxicating drink used in Vedic rituals (Webster’s). “Woodbine” gets its name from a type of vine, also called Virginia Creeper, that blooms mostly in late summer and early fall. So there are intricate levels of metaphor, and symbolism that make “Woodbine” something I can go back to again and again. Like the layers of meaning and imagery for the song, the guitars, vocals, and percussion work together in a dark harmony.

As I already mentioned, the band sounds better on Soma. Embedded in the songs is the occasionally sighing, occasionally roaring voice of Dorthia Cottrell. Cottrell really shines on this album, like in the fourth track “Evergreen”, which breaks from the electrical buzz of guitars, transitioning into an almost all-acoustic folk song. Cottrell comes into focus in the sound mix with her voice sounding clearer than on any other song on the album. The mix on “Evergreen” produces a dual vocal harmony that is a beautiful, artistic edge that I hadn’t heard from Cottrell before and shows off her range. It’s a great change in the pace of the album that seems a bit hard to swallow at first but then gradually builds back into the doom-y feel from the rest of the album. Most stoner and doom albums I listen to now have brief acoustic breaks – such as Valkyrie’s “Wolf Hollow” from their debut full-length Valkyrie. “Evergreen” goes a step further by embracing the musical form of the ballad, giving it a voice as well as pretty acoustics. I found it an interesting choice although some might think it’s too different from the rest of Soma.

“Boleskine” wraps up the album with an ode to Aleister Crowley’s “Boleskine House” – a house in Scotland near Loch Ness where he wrote several books on occult rituals (a fun bit of trivia: it was also owned briefly by Jimmy Page). The song is the longest recorded by the band – going over 30 minutes and features theater-like sound effects accompanied by almost twangy, Western-ish guitar work. It’s long and seems to kind of go on without ending, though, and I didn’t like it as much as the rest of the album’s songs, but I still enjoyed how it took me to a different zone of the Windhand world. However if there’s something that I love the most about this album – and quite possibly the band – it’s the focus on nature and not just occultism. In fact, I should have put my cards on the table at the beginning of this review and mentioned that I am a huge fan of Windhand’s style of doom metal. There is something about Soma that is both mesmerizing and horribly frightening. There is something syrupy and obsidian flowing beneath the surface.

It’s a great moment to see a band such as Windhand evolve their craft into something superior. Stoner and psychedelic rock seem to be reaching an apex now with so many throwback and psychedelic bands coming to the fore. Valkyrie, Doomriders, Kadavar, Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats, Bloody Hammers, Saint Vitus, to name just a few, all released albums in the 2012 or 2013. This means there are good and bad albums as each group scrambles to put their hat in the ring. Windhand is releasing Soma almost a year after their previous self-titled debut yet it seems like they’ve spent a lot of time with it. Not only are they throwing down crushing notes, they are also building into their songs so much imagery that it’s almost overwhelming. I feel like this album has all the atmosphere of a good black metal album coupled with doom metal’s slow-motion pace. At the core is what I love the most about this album and Windhand: that they really seem to give it their all, even if that means depressing or scaring the rest of us.

Woodbine:

Orchard: