Being Angry Metal Guy has both benefits and drawbacks. One of the drawbacks is that everyone notices my level of involvement in the blog. If I’m late or missing, people notice and have opinions about it—that’s a strange feeling. On the other hand, one of the benefits of having started this blog and paid for it for nearly ten years is that I can’t be fired for late reviews. Unfortunately, this has its own drawbacks. Like any hypocritical parent, it means that I have to figure out ways to instill a sense of responsibility in all the young, impressionable writers that we smother with -core and self-produced folk metal for our own sadistic amusement. So, I’ve decided to demonstrate my dedication to proper follow-through for the kids by doing something I have thought about doing for a long time: a round-up of a few things that have been withering away on my Stack o’ Shame.
As with video games or books, one’s “Stack o’ Shame” is the stuff one intends to play or read but hasn’t for one reason or another.1 This particular crop of reviews is too late to write full long-form pieces. On the other hand, I did all the work of listening to these albums and preparing them for review, so I am invoking the “It’s Good to Be the King” clause of my contract with myself and taking corrective measures. By way of an apology to both you, the readers, and the un-reviewed bands in my Stack o’ Shame, I bring you these angry, metal blurbs. Mea culpa.
Exmortus // The Sound of Steel (Prosthetic Records, June 8, 2018): Exmortus’ sound is a kind of neo-classical melodic death metal for which I have a soft spot. The Sound of Steel certainly makes that point clearly. From start to finish, Exmortus put on a clinic in neo-classical noodling with a distinctly baroque tinge. These guys aren’t, however, just a less synthy, more Manowar, version of Children of Bodom. Rather, their sound is one part neo-classical power metal, one part Kreator, and one part Motörhead. As a result, their music is heavy, driven and aggressive. The Sound of Steel is a clear continuation of Exmortus’ enrapturing sound, but also their production problems. Specifically, with pretty monotone vocals, a dense, loud master, and a clinical production job, the band’s excellent compositions sound flat. After a dozen or so listens from front-to-back, the title The Sound of Steel doesn’t evoke the ringing of a blade—it evokes the sterile, lifeless plane of a medical gurney. That’s a shame, because Exmortus is a talented band and The Sound of Steel is another example of just what makes them so good. If the production woes could be cleared up, I think Exmortus would be one of my favorite melodeath/thrash bands around. — 3.0/5.0 | DR6 [320 kB/s mp3s]
Kobra and the Lotus // Prevail II (Napalm Records, April 27, 2018): Kobra and the Lotus makes a kind of melodic post-power metal that I enjoy. I return to their albums relatively frequently and they have some real gems on them. More to the point, I think that Kobra has a fantastic, and underappreciated, power metal voice. So while not an earth-shaking metal institution, I look forward to Kobra and the Lotus‘ new records. Prevail II is, unsurprisingly, the follow-up to last year’s Prevail I. The latter was good, though uneven. Prevail II is similar in its variable quality, but not as good as a whole. On the one hand, the band knocks out songs like “Human Empire,” “You’re Insane” and “Losing My Humanity,” which demonstrate their power/trad metal credentials. Kobra’s voice carries the band with a classic Geoff Tate-feel, through double-bass heavy, riffy rockers that are loaded with enough twin-guitar harmonies to please any fan of trad metal. On the other hand, Prevail II wanders uncomfortably into commercial rock territory. Tracks like “Let Me Love You,” “Velvet Roses” and “Heartache” sound like they could be aimed at rock radio; often mid-paced, featuring lyrics that can be pretty painful. As with its predecessor, the contrast between these two sides of Kobra and the Lotus makes for an album of peaks and valleys. Between Prevail I and II, there’s an album I love that’s on par with the band’s unapologetically metal 2012 release. But on its own, Prevail II ain’t one to write home about. — 2.0/5.0 | DR5 [320 kB/s mp3]
Master Boot Record // Direct Memory Access (Blood Music, April 20, 2018): Master Boot Record, a one-man Italian project themed “1337 h4x0r” is one of the best recommendations that I have received from a reader. As a result, I checked out MBR‘s Bandcamp last year and contacted him about his forthcoming full-length. Direct Memory Access deserves some attention for two reasons. First, this is the only thing in my music library with the genre label: “Chiptunes / Baroque.” Second, the album is a non-stop adventure in the important lesson that metal isn’t just about instrumentation; it’s about attitude.
The correct attitude is on display throughout the 42 minutes of dynamic, aggressive electronic music. Unlike Danimal Cannon, Master Boot Record isn’t just primarily instrumental. Growls make an appearance, but also singing that reminds me of 80s new wave. But the vocals never feel like they’re center stage, instead Direct Memory Access is a story of frenetic keyboards, industrial drum machines, and a not-quite-but-sounds-like-16-bit soundscape that has more than enough of a low-end to make even the most jaded, purist metalhead bang their head. Unlike other chiptunes artists I’ve heard, Master Boot Record writes songs made for vocals in a sound that kind of reminds me of Fleshgod Apocalypse if it were played on GameBoy™. It’s death metal made with a different texture—a texture that could also be the soundtrack to a particularly brutal Shadowrun video game.2 The final product ends up a compelling, vinyl-length album with excellent songwriting that is—despite fully electronic instruments—dynamic, versatile, fun and heavy.3 No doubt about it, Master Boot Record‘s Direct Memory Access is a genuine win. – 3.5/5.0 | DR8 [ALAC]
Gazpacho // Soyuz (Kscope, May 18, 2018): Gazpacho‘s Marillion-esque, post-Floyd prog seemed like it was going to be a genuine love affair after I got twitterpated by 2012’s March of the Ghosts and toppled head over heels for 2014’s Demon. Alas, 2015’s Molok was an unsatisfying morning after. But now with a little time and distance, Gazpacho dropped Soyuz, an album built around a theme of how “beautiful moments pass and cannot be ‘saved for later’.” Soyuz is dark and delicate and it seems that the Norwegians have recovered some of their mope from earlier albums.4
Soyuz is made up of eight songs that span a vinyl-friendly 48 minutes and flow with the characteristic Gazpacho style. As with earlier material, the record is an eclectic amalgam of sounds—player pianos, xylophones and accordion litters the tracks, offset by overdriven guitar leads and crunchy rhythm guitars. The music’s fragile, quirky soundscape accompanies Jan-Henrik Ohme’s idiosyncratic phrasing and nasal tenor and the band’s peculiar melancholy is only interrupted by the poppy “Hypomania,” a song which would fit on a Muse record. Aside from this deviation, Soyuz is beautiful, mature and chill. While great overall, both “Soyuz Out” and “Emperor Bespoke” stand out for their expansive compositions and sneaky hooks which draw listeners in and bring them back for more. Add to all of this rich, luscious production that is a pleasure to hear and Soyuz marks a great return to form. — 4.0/5.0 | DR135 [192 kB/s mp3s]
- I, for example, backed Pillars of Eternity I and II on Kickstarter and I’m just now playing the first one four years later. ↩
- Also on my Stack o’ Shame: Battletech. ↩
- Note the irony that a record made entirely of electronic instruments and distorted voices has a higher dynamic range than both Kobra and the Lotus and Exmortus. Maybe we’re on to a problem here… ↩
- I can’t reasonably call it swagger… ↩
- Please note how the file compression didn’t meaningfully affect the DR score, even if it is bullshit to send out 192 kB/s promo… ↩