AGATHODAIMON – Serpent’s Embrace

Serpent’s Embrace
(Nuclear Blast)
This is the fifth time I have set out to do this review (in as many days too). This one is hard. It’s good, but I feel I need more listens. I basically know nothing of this band, aside from what Surt (Black Trinity) has told me, and even he knew little about them.
I do like the first track, “Cellos for the Insatiable.” As well, I liked the second track, “Serpent’s Embrace,” despite the fact that it reminds me of a black metal In Flames.
It’s track three that I have trepidation. “Light Reborn” starts out on a marching tempo, but slows to a crawl and it feels forced. It’s still good, but this is not one of the strongest tracks here.
Now “Faded Years,” I like this one. It has this odd groove that you NEVER find in black metal. (And yes, this is black metal. It feels like it and the vocals sound it as well.)
“Solitude” is slow. I mean slow, but not so slow as to induce a coma. It has the feel of Samael and Dead Silent Slumber. In fact, that is what this entire CD feels like. It IS good on so many aspects, yet it falls short on a couple of the songs. “Solitude” is not one of them.
“Limbs of a Stare” fucked me up, period. I did not expect this one. Slow piano with a looped drum rhythm, OK, I can see that. Then the female singer hit, and I thought I was listening to a neo-goth CD. This is more fitting of an industrial/goth/EBM CD. It’s good, but it really didn’t feel right on this. Especially when it is followed by a kill bomb like “The Darkness Inside” (which feels like a Dimmu Borgir tune, only on opiates).
Like I said, there are a lot of good tunes on here; (out of the nine, seven are really good, even if there is not black metal blasting) it’s too bad a couple of them were not up to par. There is not a bit of blasting here. They go for atmosphere rather than brutality, which is a refreshing thing considering I have been bleeding my ears to Marduk and their likeness as of late.
This is good and if you like Dimmu Borgir, Dead Silent Slumber and Samael, then I am pretty sure this will be welcomed into your own collection.
Rating: 7 out of 10.
(Michael Corey)
(NOTE: This CD also comes with a video clip and some behind the scenes footage of the making of the video and behind the recording of the CD.)


THE ABSENCE – From your Grave

From Your Grave
(Metal Blade)
This was a surprise for me. I had gotten an e-mail from Metal Blade about this release. Out of pure curiosity I requested a promo for review. I’ve listened to this a number of times now, and I have to say this one has definitely proven that American metal now has the same muscle as the trendsetters over in the European scene.
This has a lot of European melodies, yet retains an American stamp. This is a good combination and leaves for some really good tunes. Imagine if you will what would have happened if In Flames, Soilwork and Cannibal Corpse merged and started in the United States. That, in a nutshell is The Absence. I hear many touches of At the Gates as well, and that is no hindrance.
There is a lot of history within this band, much of which can be obtained via their website, which I’ll give towards the end of this review.
However history and descriptions aside, let’s get to the meat of this album…
Opening this CD is a song simply titled “Intro.”  Yes, it’s an intro, (DUH!), but this is one that immediately shows that this is a band to be reckoned with. Melodies overlaid upon another create a feeling of descent, and then the battering mid-paced start of track two, “A Breath Beneath,” begins.
This easily shows an In Flames influence before it beats the shit out of you. This is a great one-two punch combination. It’s also one hell of a good way to open this disc.
This one rolls from speed to melodically fueled mid-paced sections, to blinding blasts. It has it all, and as your ears are razed by the music, the vocals contribute to the aural wreckage that ensues. (Yeah, I like this, and it gets better too!)
The third number is called “Necropolis.” This beats you. There’s not a whole lot more I can say. This is one of the faster tunes here. This is a double fisted blast in the head, and it really doesn’t let up too much.
Now, while I do praise these guys for the ability to recreate the European sound, I will say that the ONLY downfall is that it has been done before, just not by Americans. THAT is what makes this good. The underground is FLOODED by bands that sound like this; I’ll not lie. But again what makes this an impression on me is that AMERICANS are doing it.
“From Your Grave,” the title track opens at a blistering pace. Then delves into a 6/8 time signature ala At the Gates. (I can’t help it; the influences SO show on this.) The lead works, as well as the dual harmonies are easily befitting of the European stages.
Following is “Heaven Ablaze.” This chugs along nicely with a steady mid-paced double bass rhythm. It then dives into an At the Gates styled section briefly, before going back to mid- pace timing. This one is not bad; however I feel there are too many parts and too much happening. It seems like there is much here to distract the listener. So much in fact that it is hard to focus on one thing.
“Summoning The Darkness,” is next and this one keeps you at attention. This one is very much like At the Gates. While this is good, it’s been dome before. (But not by Americans damnit!) Midway in you get an In Flames feel for the solo section, and then it’s back to the speed. All in all this is not all that bad.
“Shattered,” is an instrumental. Sadly I have to say this is kind of another low point for me here. I was actually expecting something like this. It’s just like track five from Slaughter of the Soul. Sorry, but it is one thing to emulate, another to completely follow a formula set by another band.
“I, Deceiver,” is next. Now THIS I really like. This combines all the elements and influences. This is really thrashed out and moving in all its melodic glory. This makes up for the short instrumental.  This is where I hope to see American Metal heading in the future. It is with this song I also see this band possibly taking the route In Flames did with the addition of clean vocals. Time will tell on that one.
“My Ruin,” opens to a racing start, loaded in dark melody, and slams into melodic mid paced hell before screaming back into thrashed out melodic chaos.  This is another good one, easily one of quite a few highlights on this CD,
Closing we have “Seven Demons.”  This opens with a fade in one 6/8 timing, and on to, (yup, you guessed it) speed. But not for long.  It soon becomes the U.S. way of saying, “we got it!” This is a pretty good way to close this CD.
Like I said, this HAS been done before, just not by us Americans. I’m in NO WAY slamming this band. In fact I am giving them loads of praise for being one of the first bands in the U.S. to finally nail this sound.
Look out Sweden and Finland, we’re there, and we’re definitely pounding on your doors….
For more info about this band go to:
Rating: 8 out of 10.
(Michael Corey)

ABORTED – Archaic Abattoir

Archaic Abattoir
Well now, THIS was a surprise. So far my liking of Olympic Record’s bands has been less than stellar. So it was with trepidation that I came upon Aborted. From the moment I pressed ‘play,’ until the end, I was very impressed.
I know nothing of this band; however that will be remedied very soon. THIS is grind. This is GOOD grind. This is what I think of when I think of grind core. Insanely fast drums, sickeningly fast and melodic guitars, and most of all, the vocals.  These are not your typical ‘let’s make a sound like a burping puke and call it the lyrics’ vocals. They are distinct and round out a very solid and sick release.
The guys of Aborted, to me, sound like Carcass meets Shadows Fall, only add a FUCKLOAD of hostility.
Formed in Belgium by front man Sven De Caluwe, the band released three prior CD’s (of which I know nothing) The Purity of Perversion, Engineering the Dead and Goremageddon. The latter saw the band incorporate the ‘Carcass’ sound to their brand. But enough with their history check them out on their site:
Now, as I have stated before, I have not been thrilled with most Olympic releases. This (along with Behemoth) is easily a shining moment.
The opener, “Dead Wreckoning,” explodes with the slowed timing of guitars (just like Carcass) with a heaping dose of hell brought forth by drummer, Gilles Dellecroix. Groove and sick heaviness dominate this already great track, and the fun only continues.
Track two, “Blood Fixing the Bled,” comes on strong and doesn’t fall flat. Melodic, brutal and just pissed off; this is a relentless beating of the ears.
Next up is “Gestated Rabidity.” This is like a speed trip through a hall of glass. Sick time shifts, monstrous vocals, and ‘wall-o-sound’ guitars scream out with crystal clear brutality. This aural roller coaster is followed by “Hecatomb.” All I will say is: sit the hell down! This is a non-stop blast fest. (OK, there IS a pause, but it isn’t long enough.) This is easily one of my favorites on this CD. My only bitch: it’s too short!
“The Gangrenous Epitaph,” is a great reminder of what Carcass has given this genre. The groove-laden ministering of Aborted shines bright here. Dark chords and (holy shit!) a short solo, make this yet another great track among many.
“The Inertia” sounds, again, like Carcass, but not in a ‘hey-let’s-rip-their-sound’ kind of way. This easily shows the influence that they had. Emulation is the best flattery.
Let me put this way, if you’ve heard “Necroticisim” and “Heartwork,” you’ll have the gist of Aborted. Jeff Walker would be proud of these guys. I know I have made a number of comparisons to Carcass here, but hey, it’s the truth. The influence of that band is heavily shown here, and that really isn’t a bad thing. Anyway, moving on…
“A Cold Logistic Slaughter” charges on and basically lets up at the end. Short, sweet and brutal, all in one.
“Threading on Vermillion Deception” keeps the chaos alive with grooving guitars and sick blasting. The vocals are the standout here. Sven De Caluwe uses a unique guttural and a not-quite-hardcore style to his voice here (as he does on the rest of the CD). This makes the music memorable rather than just another stab at gore-grind. A quick solo section and soon you’re back to being hammered.
Next to last is “Voracious Hemoglobinic Syndrome.”  This is another great track. Tremendous drum work, soaring guitars, and the vocal delivery; all are super.
Lastly, we come to “Descend to Extirpation.” This one fades in on a marching feel, only to explode in fury. This has all the moments of grind: blasts (and dear gods, I heard a hint of Pestilence in there too), slow crawling mosh tempo, but all of that is infused with Aborted’s sound, which is, to say the least, stunning.
Go buy this. It is easily worth the time.
Rating: 9 out of 10.
(Michael Corey)

WINTERSUN – Wintersun

(Nuclear Blast)
Well, it’s that time again: time to listen and dish out some opinions about that which I am listening to.
I’ve had this promo for awhile now and to be honest, I wasn’t thrilled with about half of it upon my first listens. However, listening to this repeatedly has gotten me completely enthralled.
Imagine if you will, Children of Bodom. Now, imagine them doing several bags of crack, and you will have Wintersun.
Hailing from (you guessed it) Finland, this two member group (Kai Hahto-drums & Jari Maenpaa-guitars and everything else) delivers an onslaught of melodic chaos. Soaring guitar work, which is severely akin to that of Virtuosity, permeates this entire release. On top of said guitar work, the bass work is just as exceptional. Then there are the drums… Again I am in total awe. I have no idea where these drummers get their energy, let alone how they keep it. Nonetheless, the drummer is phenomenal.
It seems that 2004 was a year that bands decided to nuke everyone. This stunning release is loaded with insane time shifts, as well as lulling and soothing passages. If this is any indication of what is to come from this band, then I will be looking forward to future releases.
Now, let’s move on to my breakdown of the songs.
Track one, “Beyond the Dark Sun” rips out and never stops. This is just a taste of things to come. Spoken passages start the lyrical content, and not too long afterwards, blackened war cries split your ears. This is an amazing opener. As the song ends you get a long cry, and then you get beaten once more.
“Winter Madness” is a blast fest. Melodic and hurtful, if you survive this one, you’ve done well. This showcases the singers’ talents. Ranging from black metal screams to Devin Townsend styled screaming/singing, this is easily one of the most potent tracks I’ve heard in a long, long time. On this tune, the vocals almost NEVER stop, pummeling you into the ground. The midsection of the song shows the immensely talented lead work. Then soon the battering ram blasts into you and you’re left going “what hit me?”
“Sleeping Stars” is a MUCH needed breath. This is a slow moving song that can take you far away, if listened to with the proper headphones or stereo system. Once again, melodies run rampant throughout. Keyboards set a soundscape that gives you the feeling that, when you’re eyes are closed, you are looking to the stars and seeing them awaken for the first time. (And damn it, I wish we’d get lyrics with these releases so we knew what the lyrical content was. I feel like a fool saying how it feels when, if I had lyrics, I could actually TELL you what the tune was really about. This is the bad side to promos. I need press sheets!! Hey Lisa, can we raid the offices at NB and get this kind of stuff? Ha, ha!)
Then, guess what? You get the shit kicked out of you with “Battle Against Time.” From the devastating opening to the apocalyptic closing, this absolutely levels you.
Vocally, as well as musically stunning, this is one of many favorites of mine on this CD.
Following this musical flattening, we find “Death and the Healing.” This is my absolute highlight of this CD. Not a day goes by when the opening melody doesn’t run through my head. This is another slow one. The flow and feel of this gives a feeling of serenity, yet it still retains heaviness. The singing takes a little bit of adjustment, but once that is attained, this just takes you to a cold, yet soothing place.
After this slow soother, you get another heaping dose of hell. “Starchild” is relentless in its intensity. Rife with double bass drumming, soaring melodies, and pits-of-hell vocals, this is the musical equivalent of a nuclear bomb. The vocals struck me on this as they range, yet again, from black metal, to clear, to Devin Townsend. This song is great in all aspects.
Thus far everything has been great, and yet there is still more…
“Beautiful Death” starts off slow, but soon enough it hits and you’re off with the pummeling that remains steady. Clean vocals, screams from hell, and relentless driving tempos make this enjoyable and memorable. (The really great melodic guitar work helps a lot too.)
The closer to this evil, evil CD is titled “Sadness and Hate.” this is the longest song, clocking in at just over eleven minutes. This starts out very dark and slow. Soon, distorted guitars explode, yet that slow brooding melody remains. This is a good way to end the CD.
“Triumphantly” is a good way to end any CD.
These eight tracks are all of good lengths (five to seven minutes each). This could prove a hindrance at first, but have patience. The more you listen, the more the songs will grow on you. Seek this out. It is very much worth it.
For more information about the band, go to:
Rating: 10 out of 10!
(Michael Corey)

UNLEASHED – Sworn Allegiance

Sworn Allegiance
(Century Media)
OK, you’re in your favorite chair. You feel a sense of comfort because you know this chair. It hugs your body from the years of sitting in it. You know every nick in the wood and tear in the fabric. It is familiar and unchanging. Well, the same can be said about the newest release from Unleashed.
It takes balls to keep up the same formula for over fifteen years. The same lineup that was present on their landmark debut Where No Life Dwells beats out another release of death metal.
When I first listened to this, I was none too thrilled. Thankfully, I gave this repeated listens and this has managed to grow on me. If you know Unleashed, then you know what to expect, and that is not always a bad thing.
Opening in the classic style of their own, “Winterland” rips out and starts the wrecking ball.
“Destruction (Of the Race of Men)” keeps the fast pace going. Lyrically, it is obvious that the members of Unleashed enjoyed the Lord of the Rings movies.
“Only the Dead” is brooding and twisted. This is the usual stamp of Unleashed heaviness. The title is a bit misleading, but I think you’ll get the point after hearing it.

“The Longships are Coming” is my personal low point of the CD. It is too plodding and boring. The chorus (which is the title of the song) is repeated WAY too much. If I were to count, I’d say this title was repeated at least thirty times. This is way too much in a song that is just barely over four minutes long. Thankfully you can skip tracks on CDs.
“Helljoy” rips out again and races to a good finish.
“Insane for Blood” isn’t all that bad. It’s steady and definitely a mosh-worthy tune.
“I Bring You Death” is a tune that you can’t help but feel the need to head bang to. There are a few passages of blasts too, which I find to be a pleasant change.
“Attack!” Short and sweet, this is a pounder that leaves you wanting more.
Skipping ahead, we find “Praised Be the Lord.” This is a very sarcastic tune and is fast as only Unleashed can do. This is a great tune to play LOUD!
“Metalheads” I think is one that speaks for itself. This is Unleashed’s way of calling the legions to their side. This is a great tune that will go over great in a live setting. This one definitely caters to the ‘Metalhead’ in all of us.
The closer, “Long Live the Beast” throws you to a bloody end. There are actually melodies in this one. This last one screams out triumph and once again solidifies Unleashed’s place in the halls of metal.
Minus a few tracks, Sworn Allegiance will appeal to old and new fans alike. The performances are great and it seems that vocalist, Johnny has grown more decipherable, allowing you to fully grasp the songs without having to scramble for the lyric book.
Minus a few (in my opinion) weaker tracks, this is a keeper and worth owning. Like that comfy chair you love so much, Unleashed shows you that familiarity is better then total change.
Rating: 8 out of 10.
(Michael Corey)

SHADOWS FALL – The War Within

The War Within
(Century Media)
By now, you should know who Shadows Fall is. If you don’t, then it is obvious that you have been living in a cave the past five to six years.
With appearances on the Ozzfest bill and various other metal packages, their name has damn near been everywhere. (If they make T.R.L., I hope they behead that fuckwit, Carson Daly!)
With three strong releases under their belt, Shadows Fall returns with the fourth CD that will most likely get them touring for another two years.
I am slightly annoyed by this advance. I usually listen to CD’s on my computer as I review them. This one, however, wouldn’t play in my ‘puter. So, I lugged out my CD player from my room. (Hey, I’m lazy and I hate to move if I don’t have to, sue me.) Aside from that, this is a really good release.
I missed The Art of Balance, but I can tell you that I can definitely hear the maturing of their sound.
You know their sound: soaring guitar melodies, scraping and clean vocals, thunderous drums, and the rumble of bass. This is no exception.
Many have mixed feelings about these guys. Some say they’re “hardcore” while others say they are comparable to In Flames. I see both on this. Having a groove that is a strong reminder of hardcore, they also add the flair and melodies of In Flames. Either way, this is yet again, another strong release from this Boston based band.
Opening this CD is “The Light That Binds.” Talk about a reminder of Metallica’s Ride the Lightning album! An acoustic guitar opens this and then the song explodes. Melodies, double bass drumming, and BOOM! The speed kicks in. This is the usual formula that has worked so well for these guys.
“Enlightened by the Cold” is groovy and solid. This is a hard hitter that will go over quite well in a live setting. This reminds me of something off Of One Blood, only more mature in structure and sound.
“Act of Contrition” opens in a double bass frenzy of speed. Then, the crushing begins. Grooving and stomping its way, this along with the first two, hits like a hammer to the head.
“What Drives the Weak” is SO MUCH like In Flames. The only difference (of course) is the vocals. I like it, but it is not one of my favorites on this CD.
“Stillness” is a slower song, but loses none of the steam that propels this album. Crushingly heavy, groovy and in your face, this is yet another strong track. (And it may be my favorite on this.)
“Inspiration on Demand” is another In Flames styled song. This song is driving and relentlessly hard hitting. I wish I had LYRICS with this, so I could at least know what the damn songs are about! (This is a problem I will ALWAYS have with promos.) Either way, this is another great song here.
Track seven “The Power of I and I” is Ok. Not bad, but not amazing either. The CD could have lived without this one.
“Ghosts of Past Failures” opens with a very melodic dual guitar attack. This, again, is the typical Shadows Fall song.
“Eternity is Within” started out awesome, and kept that feeling alive.  This one literally blew outward, flattening everything and kept right on rolling. (This one IS my favorite!)
The closer, “Those Who Cannot Speak” starts off on a somber note. Acoustic and classical guitars open this, and before long, this fucker explodes.  Talk about a great closer to a CD. The last two songs beat you to death, and then it is over all too soon.
I enjoyed this CD. However, there were a few times (as I mentioned) where they sounded like In Flames. While this is not a bad thing, it didn’t leave me feeling blown away. This IS a great CD though. If you liked them before, you’ll like them still.
These Bostonians are poised to (hopefully) stomp those bitches known as Godsmack. Another strong release in an impressive catalog thus far. Get this one; it’s worth it easily.
Rating: 9 out of 10.
(Michael Corey)

METALIUM – As One: Chapter Four

As One: Chapter Four
(Century Media)

Helloween probably doesn’t realize the monster they created when they wrote and released the amazing Keeper of the Seven Keys albums. Power metal has only two sides: either it is great and leaves a lasting impression or it is just crappy and dorky. Metalium is a mix of both. At times, they are entirely too hokey, whereas they kick serious ass at others. But never do they really get ‘crappy.’
As One: Chapter Four continues the story of the “Metalian.” Here the hero character meets his female counterpart “Metaliana.” I’m not sure if the story has reached a pinnacle moment or if this is the final installment.
I get annoyed sometimes when a CD is predictable. With that said, I was annoyed a few times with this release. Too often the formula of two really good fast tunes and then a ballad is used. Then it’s off to an “I Want Out” style tune. While this is not a bad thing, it just bothers me that so many have tried (and failed) at emulating Helloween.  (I am very biased as Helloween was and still is one hell of an influence.)  OK, now that I am done ranting about the low points of the CD, let me give you the good points, and there are many here.
Opening the CD is “Astral Avatar.” This is your typical intro to a power metal release. Remember when I talked of being hokey? This is one of those times. Thankfully it is short. Then the CD kicks into high gear with “Warrior.” This is what I think of when I hear the term “power metal.” Fast rhythms, screaming melodies, and dual guitar attacks make this a great track.
“Pain Crawls in the Night” is another strong track. Relatively upbeat with some stratosphere vocal acrobats make up what I think is a highlight of this CD.
“Find Out” isn’t too bad, but it could have been better, in my opinion. While not bad, it just followed a formula that seemed safe. This was also where predictability came into the CD (fast, fast, and then a slowdown).
Track five “No One Will Save You” picks up and gets this CD rocking again.
“Meaning of Light” is a short and (yup, you guessed it) instrumental. This bleeds into track seven “Illuminated (Opus One),” which then goes to “Meaning of Light (Reprise).” My issue with this is that all three could have been made into one song. While not bad, it was too long and too slow for my liking. Plus, the female voice (Saeko Kitamae) just sounded goofy. Again, not bad, but predictable.
“Athena” comes next and has a driving rhythm. I was rather happy with this, even if it had the feeling of “Future World,” the chorus being the only thing that was different (in structuring) from the aforementioned song.
“Power Strikes the Earth” follows next. Not bad, but the female (Kitamae) needs to be either muzzled or switched with someone who doesn’t sound so funny. The singer (Henning Basse) sounds eerily like Timo Kotipelto on this one. (That’s a compliment folks.) This moves on at a good pace and is an all around good tune.
“Goddess of Love and Pain” screams out in fast paced power metal fashion.  This is one of my favorites on the CD.
“As One” closes this CD. This is not too bad either. While not the best closer in the world, it is not a bad way to end this.
Letting the CD play after this last track, you will find the utmost in hokey. You get the intro minus the music. It is here that you get to hear how funny the spoken male parts (Stefan Schlabritz as the character of “The Metal God”) really are.
This really is not a bad release; it just has a few too many predictable passages and hokey moments.
Power metal has its great ones: Helloween, Rhapsody and Stratovarius just to name a few. Metalium finds the middle ground, caught between hokey, predictability and greatness. Still, this is one I would suggest checking out. Metalium has taken a definite step in the right direction. If they can lose the hokey feeling, these guys will be amongst the great.
Rating: 7 out of 10.
(Michael Corey)