POSSESSED “Revelations Of Oblivion” (2019)

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Californian death metal pioneers POSSESSEDwill release their first full-length album in over three decades, “Revelatons Of Oblivion”, on May 10 via Nuclear Blast.

POSSESSEDfrontman Jeff Becerrasaid: “This album from start to release has been a fantastic experience. All of us in POSSESSEDhope you enjoy this newest release and we look forward to touring and creating much more new music in the future. We appreciate all of your support and dedication. Hope to see you during our upcoming tours & shows soon. Thank you to each and every one of you for your inspiration and dedication to POSSESSED.”

“Revelations Of Oblivion”was recorded at NRGstudios and Titan Studioswith Becerraas executive producer and Daniel Gonzalezas co-producer for the album. Mixing and mastering was handled by Peter Tägtgren(HYPOCRISY, PAIN, BLOODBATH) at Abyss Studiosin Sweden. For the artwork, the band enlisted Polish artist Zbigniew Bielak(PARADISE LOST, DIMMU BORGIR, DEICIDE, GHOST, GORGUTS) to create a piece that brought back the notion of true fear that was once associated with the idea of evil.

Said Jeff: “Working with Peterwas a fantastic experience. We put a great deal of thought into who we wanted to produce our new album. Since we hadn’t made an all-new material release in well over 30 years, it was essential that we found the right person. Peter‘s name kept coming up over and over, and after speaking with my bandmates they all really liked Peteras he is more organic, and somebody we felt would fit in well with our process.”

The track listing for the CD is as follows:

01. Chant Of Oblivion
02. No More Room In Hell
03. Dominion
04. Damned
05. Demon
06. Abandoned
07. Shadowcult
08. Omen
09. Ritual
10. The Word
11. Graven
12. Temple Of Samael

The cover artwork can be seen below. Also available is the official visualizer for the song “No More Room In Hell”.

Back in 2017, Becerratold Antihero Magazinethat the band’s upcoming studio album, which will be their first full-length effort since 1986’s “Beyond The Gates”, would contain “some really fucking good death metal. I’m really happy with a lot of the tracks,” he said. “I’m collaborating with [new POSSESSEDmembers] Daniel[Gonzalez, guitar] and Claudeous[Creamer, guitar]. We’re working together hard to create something that we really like. We’re hoping that translates well to other people and beyond. We’re hoping people like it. If they don’t, then fuck them.”

Regarding the musical direction of POSSESSED‘s new material, Jeffsaid: “Well, it’s me. I’m still me. I would say…it’s very POSSESSED-y, but it’s not so dated. I think as much as I love the first three albums, they’re a little dated, so we’re trying to bring it back into this century. We’re not going to over-produce it or do anything but straight death metal. It’s just what I want to play and what the band wants to play.”

Becerraremains the only member from POSSESSED‘s classic lineup, which dissolved entirely in 1987 after the “Eyes Of Horror”EP.

7/10

Possessed “Revelations Of Oblivion” (Nuclear Blast)

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DIAMOND HEAD “The Coffin Train” (2019)

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Brought to the general public’s awareness due to Metallica covering numerous songs from their catalog in their early days, Diamond Head today may differ slightly in membership from those late 70’s/early 80’s roots as guitarist Brian Tatler remains the lone original axe-slinger of the current incarnation. Their 2000’s efforts met with lackluster results, but gaining Danish vocalist Rasmus Bom Andersen for the self-titled record in 2016 brought acclaim for his strong pipes to match Brian’s traditional metal songwriting hooks, bristling with bright riffs and catchiness that made them a legendary, vital part of the NWOBHM scene- especially for future thrash musicians. The Coffin Train continues the trend of veteran acts sticking to their guns while capturing a modern studio atmosphere to the benefit of hopefully not only the old-timers but indoctrinating some younger followers to the fold.

Rasmus shines throughout – able to ascend the necessary eagle note heights on the driving opener “Belly of the Beast” as well as showcasing a bit of his bluesy, Robert Plant meets Chris Cornell finesse during the dynamic title track. Tatler creates these majestic guitar parts made for dual rhythm headbanging, or occasional interplay to fill out the arrangements with second guitarist Andy Abberley – his bag of influences obviously coming from an Iommi, Page, Blackmore, and Schenker perspective just put in a heavier context, even when choosing to be subtle and building from clean to electric intensity for “The Sleeper” where the orchestration adds tension to the power chords and slower, steady tempo. There’s something to be said for catchy riffs and licks cementing themselves on initial airing and sticking to your brain and body. For The Coffin Train, there’s plenty of those moments – allowing Rasmus a chance to engage playfully and float effortlessly in and around the melodic parts of “Death by Design” and the Zeppelin-esque closer “Until We Burn” to make these two songs enormous and endearing.

The discussion over legacy bands churning out new material versus parading out the nostalgia classics on festival/tour runs could go on forever. Take the work on a case by case basis – it’s clear that bands like Judas Priest and Saxon are not resting on their creative laurels, and thankfully Diamond Head still possess enough ability to deliver memorable, quality material to the public today as well. Another brilliant record.

9/10

Diamond Head “The Silver Train” (Silver Lining Music)

 

PERIPHERY “Hail Stan” (2019)

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Considered by some to be one of the forerunners of American progressive based metal Periphery is set to release their upcoming ‘Periphery IV: Hail Stan’ in early April. This will be the band’s first album released on their own label 3DOT Recordings, and one they spent in excess of a year in writing and recording. Their newfound freedom allowed them to try some new ideas, and expand their sound, along with adding strings, choirs, and more orchestration than ever before. The result is an album their fans will surely love.

The album opens with the nearly 17 minute “Reptile” which is arguably the most ambitious song of the band’s career, and certainly the most ambitious of the album. Guitarist Mark Holcomb laughingly asks, “Who begins a record with a 16-minute track? We could finally do that because we call the shots with our own label. It felt liberating. There were no rules.” In case he’s actually curious for an answer to his question I found 70 albums on my shelves that start with a 16 minute plus song, but that’s beside the point. The song starts off peacefully before the bands signature aggression kicks in. The song twists and turns alternating between the heavy moments, and their other signature style of light poppy moments. It’s an interesting track, but while ambitious, I don’t find that it does anything especially new with their sound either, or breaks any notable rules, let alone experimenting.

They tear through the rest of the album with great gusto, balancing their extremes throughout each song. “Blood Eagle” and “Chvch Bverner” are typical examples of this well-established sound, of blazing speed, and technical fireworks. “Garden In The Bones” succeeds a bit more at balancing the electronic and heavier elements, and Spencer Sotelo gives an exceptional vocal performance on it, and the guitar solos, while less flashy than earlier songs, are for my money more interesting, and memorable.

“It’s Only Smiles” is one of the more memorable tracks, for the main reason that it is different from the rest of the album. Heavily electronic, and highly melodic, and with a full choir the band has put out a surprisingly catchy pop-rock song, nearly devoid of screams, and mostly without their typical palm muted “djent” breakdowns it’s a bit of fresh air in what is up to this point an otherwise fairly by the numbers album. And in a similar vein, the dark electronic beats of “Crush” really stands out and is probably my favorite track from the album, it is certainly the most quirky and different. And the closing orchestral section utilizing the music from ‘Psycho’ (when Janet Leigh is driving after stealing the money) is a nice touch as well.

The album closes out with the 9-minute “Satellites” which begins quietly, and melodically with clean vocals, and clean guitar tones. The drums add a nice jazz touch and bring things together quite well. A little more than halfway through it gets heavy, and the screams and chugs start in again, but with more strings, and choral vocals, and end the album on a high note.

Ultimately one’s reaction to this album will depend on where one is in their musical journey, and how much they enjoy the incessant and repetitive nature of this more djent-style of progressive music. Honestly, I probably would have enjoyed this more ten or twelve years ago when I was in my early 20’s. In the current moment while acknowledging their admirable technical abilities it reminds me of watered down Meshuggah mixed with electronic pop music and sounds more juvenile than anything. At times more interesting, and pleasant enough to listen to, but not especially engaging, or original, or progressing the genre forward.

Periphery has with ‘Periphery IV: Hail Stan’ produced an album that their fan base will undoubtedly love, but progressive metal fans with a taste for more unusual and experimental music won’t be terribly impressed with. Its best moments come when they break from their typical mode and use the constant chugging riffs with more restraint, and within an electric framework. Still, it has some memorable moments and bright spots of creativity that help an otherwise unremarkable album.

7/10
Periphery – Hail Stan (2019)

Interview with ACHIM SCHREINER (Blood Red Soul, Woodlark, Crave For Dawning, Sanctuary Of Stars)

FB_IMG_1555757061550(1)Today at SANNE ROCKS Coen Bakker welcomes ACHIM SCHREINER from BLOOD RED SOUL and WOODLARK and more recently also from his ambience metal band CRAVE FOR DAWNING. I spoke with Achim about all his present musical adventures and the ones in the future!

Coen Bakker: Did I forget anyone?

Achim Schreiner: You almost got it right (laughs). I’m also having a side project called SANCTUARY OF STARS with ANDRA ARIADNA from Romania and I’ll be doing something new later this year.

CB: We will come back to this later on.

AS: Yes, we will.

CB: Tell me what’s new in your camp! You’re still in the middle of an album production for BRS and Woodlark at the same time.

AS: Yes, that’s true. With Einar I have just completed the last mixing and mastering processes and we’re now about to hit the home stretch, so to speak. Some more details with the artwork and preparing the marketing and publishing side of things and we’ll be good to go.

CB: Do you already have a release date? Or a name?

AS: For a long time we had avoided to set any sort of deadline simply as we are all pretty busy with all sorts of things and bands, Einar as well, and have other day jobs in music as well. Plus we had some unforeseen things and issues to deal with. However, I think it safe to say that in June we will be ready to present the album to all the people, if there are any (laughs), who are looking forward to it! I think Einar and I have put some great tunes together in the good Woodlark tradition of sounds and styles. Whoever likes the previous three albums will not be disappointed by the new one.
About the second part of your question, we do have a title indeed. The album will be called “The Ascension”.

CB: How the overall sound? Will be as heavy as “The Grand Mystery”?

AS: Actually it will be a bit of a return to the more melodic times of Woodlark when there were songs like on the first two album. “Grand Mystery” was significantly heavier but we wanted to emphasise on the more melodic side again this time. That being said, there are still heavy elements on that album and especially the title track “The Ascension” will be pretty heavy indeed.
We have to keep in mind that the songs for that record were written and partly recorded over a rather long period of time. I had the first ideas already in late 2016, shortly after releasing “The Grand Mystery”. As always we had more material than we could actually use in the end.

CB: We are looking forward to it! I have read that you are also working on a solo album again which would be the first one since 2017’s “Left Here To Atone”.

AS: Yes indeed. I was not overly happy with this album back then and for a number of different reasons that I don’t wanna go into now. But it was not on the same level as my 2014 album “Black” and I wanna get back to that and also wanted to stretch out and branch out a bit more again. I haven’t done that for a long time. During the last couple of years I have had to neglect quite a few things I usually love doing and playing. Including playing the Blues and funky fusion, jazzrock kind of stuff. My new solo album will be diving very much into these direction again and it was great fun so far to write and record for it. When I started to play the blues again and put together some first songs earlier this year, it felt like a revelation. Suddenly playing guitar and making music was about fun and joy again and I realised how much I had lost the joy of playing guitar during the last 2 years.

CB: The stress and the schedule to deliver certain material on time.

AS: Yeah, that too. You just didn’t have the leeway and time to let yourself dive into other things anymore and I missed that greatly. During winter IU had some great jam sessions with fellow musicians and it was so much joy and so much fun to play something different for a change. I love rock and metal to bits but there is something about the blues and funk guitar that gives you a freedom of expression, the space for subtle ways of pickings etc. that you cannot find in metal. At least not to this degree and this extend. When playing these bluesy ideas it was then when I realised how much I had actually missed it. So my solo album will be very much a reflection of what I have just said. The title will be “Dimension Nowhere”. There are already a couple of tracks available to listen to them for free on my YouTube channel, by the way.

CB: Do you have any guest musicians on this album?

AS: No, except for a drummer who is the very talented Lee Steinmetz this time. He has been out of (professional) drumming for several years already and we get to talk from time to time and somehow I managed it to make him curious about the music I’m writing and started playing more again and to up his game and now, several months later he has already drummed on several of my songs. Lee is in his early 60s already but what a drummer. Immense feel and timing. He has played in all kinds of genres within the last 40+ years. Other than that I played everything myself which is the easiest, fastest and most of all most hassle-free way of doing things as I have realised again (laughs).

CB: What about BLOOD RED SOUL?

AS: Things go forward here as well. Fiona has just recently finished recording her vocal tracks in a studio in Greece with the help of a producer called John McRis who apparently did a great job.

CB: Did the idea come naturally to involve an external producer or was it a conscious decision?

AS: Well, John and Fiona have worked together already in the past and especially last year when the production of the new forthcoming FALLEN ARISE album was taking place. Obviously she liked working with him very much so it was just a logical step to team up again.
Lisa Rieger has done a beautiful job as well who will sing a wonderful ballad on the record as well as Andra Ariadna too. Andra and myself were used to work together already from my side project SANCTUARY OF STARS so it was very nice working with her again, of course.

CB: Can you tell us a release date for this album?

AS: Not exactly but in summer or late summer we will definitely have it all completed and available. When you have a project with so many different people involved who all have their own lives, jobs and other bands, it is very hard to keep a certain timetable. At least this is my experience. Last year things had changed when our singer Ellie called it quits to pursue other paths of her musical career and we had to re-build the entire concept for the second album then. It was already clear back then that it will be hard to predict any sort of release date for it. The title will be “River Of Melancholia”, by the way.

CB: But you had some songs already or did you have to write from scratch?

AS: No, I had the songs we had until then. That was not the problem. Later we also added some more which were co-written by Andra, Lisa, Paul Culley and of course Fiona Creaby as well. Fiona and I have written music together already on the first BRS album where she was featured back then with two songs called “Destination Love” and “Time Ran Away”.

Over the course of the last couple of months we went a bit back and forth in some things and changed mixes, re-recorded guitars and just tried to make it sound better and give it more depth. The usual things when you work on an album for a way too long time.

CB: …especially keeping in mind that you already worked on the WOODLARK album at the same time.

AS: Exactly and quite frankly it was not always an easy ride. It’s impossible to do these things with different people entirely without any sort of friction.
However, I always try to keep things together. At least this is what I’m trying to. Even when it sometimes includes to do unpopular things and make unpopular decisions but someone has to do them.

CB: So you are the bad guy (laughs).

AS: I pretty much am. That’s for sure (laughs). Well, someone’s got to be the bad guy, right?

CB: Do you keep ideas for the next album already? Songs maybe that didn’t make it on this album?

AS: There are always tons of songs and musical ideas I have and and usually I have way more songs than actually needed. It has been like this with BRS and also with each and every Woodlark album. But i think it is way too early to think about anything in the future of Blood Red Soul. It will depend on many factors and also on the agendas of the people involved. Everything’s on the table and we will sit down and discuss this topic calmly after the release of the new album. That’s all I wanna say about this topic now.

CB: Fair enough. Let’s get to the last topic I wanted to ask you about. You are being quoted saying you will be having a whole new project by the end of the year. Is that true and if so please let us know more about it!

AS: I already hoped you forgot about it (laughs). Kidding aside, yes it is true indeed. I’ve been having this idea in my head for quite some time already. I love to try new things and get inspired and enthusiastic about music. In my other bands the image and stylistic framework you are working in can be great but also very limiting at the same time. Sometimes I miss the freedom I had when I did these 4 instrumental albums in 2011 and 2012.

CB: You did four albums in a row back then which were entirely instrumental music. All this beside your regular solo work back then which is quite remarkable.

AS: Thank you and yes, it was quite a drain but I loved every minute of it. There were times I wrote and recorded two songs a day, actually (laughs).
So I really miss that creative freedom and the peace of working on my own again without asking, begging, arguing, back and forth and whatever else. Without all that crap, you know.
So that was when my new project was born in my head.

CB: Do you already have a name or is it still a secret? What about the musical direction?

AS: I have a name and it was a secret so far. Only three people know it so far (including myself), both being my best friends.
Later this summer I will release some tracks and by autumn a full album will be completed already. Already now I have about a dozen tracks already completed.

CB: How could you manage that aside all the other commitments and schedules?

AS: When working on my own I do usually work very fast, very efficient. That helps (laughs).

CB: Do you have any support by any other musician(s)?

AS: Primarily it is just me but I have written some ideas with a guitar student of mine, a female guitarist from the Netherlands. She will also do some background singing. I will do the main singing in the songs that feature vocals at all. Primarily there will be instrumental songs, very heavy, very much in your face and wall of sound kind of thing. Very much guitar based with hardly any keyboards or only just rather subtle to add some atmosphere and colours. It is best described as if you try to mix up elements of Andy Timmons and Marty Friedman, I mean stylistically, and the result could come pretty close to what I am up to in this project. Needless to say that I absolutely loving it. It is probably the heaviest I have ever made and it even includes some occasional growl/grunt vocals from me plus some clean vocals. Tanja, my dutch student and guitarist, is a hell of a guitar player herself already and working with her on original music for a whole new experience for her. She is like a sponge, she loves to listen and to observe and loves to learn. Plus she has a great work ethic which is something that is very important for me. Most of all she is easy to work with, which was equally important to me. I know her for years already.
Also will british bass player Leisl Heath lay down some bass tracks from time to time, depending on the time and song. We will see how it goes.

CB: You still haven’t revealed the name yet!

AS: The name will be TIMESHOCK.

CB: Sounds fantastic.

AS: Thank you very much! I like it too.

CB: Last but not least, what about the CRAVE FOR DAWNING album?

AS: The CFD album is basically completed and after some minor things about the artwork are sorted out it will be out 1st June 2019! The album title will be “Red Dawn” and the songs are very much in the funeral/atmospheric/ambient metal kind of style. I love this sort of music.

CB: Makes me wonder what I should envy the most the creative or the physical energy (laughs). Achim thank you very much for taking the time and talking to us in depth about all these projects!

AS: Thank you so much for having me! Always a pleasure to be a guest here on SANNE ROCKS. You guys have always helped us and I deeply appreciate that. Thanks a lot!

CB: You are very welcome!

Interview was conducted by Coen Bakker (May 2019)

ELUVEITIE “Ategnatos” (2019)

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It’s not difficult to see why Eluveitie is a folk metal powerhouse. From humble beginnings, the band has grown into an institution that delights its legion of fans with its harmonious blending of traditional folk instruments and death metal. While it has been a few years since the band dropped their latest effort — acoustic offering Evocation II: Pantheon in 2017 — the band has revisited their heavier side and has relished the opportunity to create another heavy album and has returned in 2019 with their eighth studio album Ategnatos.

Ategnatos begins the same way as many Eluveitie albums beforehand — a spoken word introduction atop a building musical score that crescendos into the title track. At this stage of the game, it could be considered a very rote move from the band, but it still continues to work and also provides some greater context to the overall theme of the album – that being of rebirth. This theme is very strongly embedded in the music and lyrics so before going any further it is important to point out that while it might be very easy to draw parallels between this theme of rebirth and Eluveitie’s line-up changes, this does not feel like something that has been intentionally targeted or promoted by the band, and seems to be a tenuous link at best. The albums large and emotionally powerful lyrical focus on mortality and rebirth should be enough to dissuade people from drawing these parallels, but there will undoubtedly be a small cohort that will draw links between these themes and the changeover of notable band members, so it felt important to include this up front.

Ategnatos is an interesting album. For all intents and purposes, the band tries to retain a large portion of their folk metal roots but has also taken the interesting approach of experimenting with other genres. There are many songs on the album that harken back to a more traditional death metal rooted sound, similar to the one the band had on earlier albums like Everything Remains As It Never Was, but there is also some poppier sounding tracks like ‘Ambriamus’, a ballad in ‘Breathe’, and a groove-metal sounding track in ‘Deathwalker’. There’s a lot of variety here, all with Eluveitie’s touch, and while it all works, the ranging variety could have an impact on the way it is viewed in the eyes of the fans.

Figurehead and frontman Chrigel Glanzmann is again to be commended on his performance on Ategnatos. While there is no drastically big deviation from the same displays we have been getting from Glanzmann for the last decade or so now, there is a sense of refinement to his performance on this album. Even in some of the more upbeat sounding songs that you think might not accommodate his style of vocals, Glanzmann embeds himself into these songs in ways that don’t originally seem obvious. Additionally, the harsh and soft dichotomy between his fierce vocals and his gracefully beautiful counterpart Fabienne Erni Is really one of the key elements that give Ategnatos a lot of its emotive power.

While on the subject of vocals, Erni has been a surprise inclusion to the band’s ranks over the past few years. While many fans are probably still mourning the separation of Eluveitie and previous female vocalist Anna Murphy, Erni demonstrates on Ategnatos that she is more than capable of helping to elevate the band in a way that would not have been previously possible. In fact, many of the songs on Ategnatos simply wouldn’t work without the grace, passion or power that Erni puts into her vocal delivery. Tracks like ‘Ambriamus’, ‘The Slumber’ and ‘Breathe’ are carried by her performance alone, while her choral and accompanying vocals on tracks like ‘Threefold Death’ add a greater depth to their overall sound. Her use of the harp is also quite prevalent in many tracks and adds a great flourish every time it makes an appearance.

Musically, the remainder of the band performs well. There are some songs with some sections with really great guitar work from Rafael Salzmann and Jonas Wolf, particularly in tracks like ‘Breathe’ and ‘Rebirth’, and an additional stand out violin pieces from Nicole Ansperger like the upbeat solo in ‘Deathwalker’. Apart from that, there wasn’t much that stood out as being ideally unique to this album over other albums in the band’s catalog which wasn’t already tied to their new stylistic approach.

Overall the mix is as balanced as one would come to expect from an Eluveitie album. The folk elements are respectably placed, and the album never feels like a particular component of its wall of sound is outshining another. There are a few sections where the vocals and backing vocals could have been louder to really drive home their importance, but overall the band has achieved a good balance — which you would, of course, expect when mixing duties were handled by none other than Jens Bogren.

The album does suffer some engagement issues throughout its 16 song duration though. Firstly, there are a few tracks —particularly the interludes — that could quite easily be removed and the result would have had a minimal impact on the listeners overall appreciation or feel for the album. Additionally, while musically sound, the differing styles attempted from song to song on the album may take listeners by surprise, and may also take a few listens to embrace which could be a turnoff for some. But aside from these small issues, there really aren’t much to fault with the album.

Ategnatos is a great return to heavier music from Eluveitie, but it is going to be interesting to see what happens from here. The album challenges the way that people should view their own mortality, but the stylistic change means it will also challenge the way that fans will view Eluveitie moving forward. While the band has had no difficulty on Ategnatos in finding a way for the listeners to embrace the raw emotional power of their lyrics, it will be interesting to see how the fans approach the varied direction of their music. While many might perceive this album as struggling with some identity issues, in particular around its pacing and it’s varied genres, it is still an enjoyable, but it just may take some time to really resonate with listeners. Make no mistakes Ategnatos is a good album and is one that will show listeners that spend time with it exactly why the band continues to be a torchbearer for modern-day folk metal now and into the future.

8/10

Eluveitie “Ategnatos” (Nuclear Blast)

DELAIN “Hunter’s Moon” (2019)

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In anticipation of their next studio album Symphonic Metalers ​Delain​ have released a special gift for their fans. In the form of a second live album and accompanying DVD, there are also 4 brand new tracks to prepare for their new album later in the year. As a prelude ​Hunter’s Moon​ allows fans to get a sneak peek at what is yet to come from this band.

The first 4 tracks from the album are those new tracks which have seen the bands guitarists step forward with their writing abilities. The band have clearly been busy and this is the proof. With the fast paced, energetic riffs that drive through each of the tracks and the steady beat pushing them forward, the band still has a lot to show for themselves. ​Charlotte Wessels ​vocals are as hauntingly beautiful as always, providing that soft contrast to the heaviness of the band and creating a stunning sound. If this is the prelude to the next album, fans are certainly on for a treat!

The live part of the album also holds something special as ​Nightwish’s Marco Hietala ​guest stars. Hietala joined Delain on their ​Danse Macabre ​live tour last year and seemed to certainly make an impact with fans as heard on the album. He fits into the bands style with ease and his harmonies with Wessel on “Your Body Is A Battleground” are near perfect as though he belongs. This live portion of the album, does what all really good live recordings do, and make you wish you’d been apart of the audience.

Delain ​really know how to treat their fans with this latest offering. With a peek into what could be coming from their next album and a look back at their last tour, what more could you ask for. With a DVD added for bonus, there is enough to satisfy the need for more from the band for now.

8/10
Delain – Hunter’s Moon (2029)
Napam Records

CHILDREN OF BODOM “Hexed” (2019)

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For any band, recording and releasing ten studio albums is an accomplishment–Children of Bodom has been at it for over twenty years now, and their career has taken a clear but divisive arc. Musically, it can be divided almost cleanly in half; they rose to fame with the style they realized on their first five albums, one of blisteringly fast guitar, melodic keys, and ambitious, harmonically constructed compositions. Signs of their newer sound started to show as early as 2003’s Hate Crew Deathroll and increased much further in 2005’s Are You Dead Yet? The five albums since, including Hexed, have all shared a similar approach, focusing more on riffs, usually with discordant constructions and unstable tonal centers. Whether you like one or the other or both, Children of Bodom’s commitment to heaviness and high-speed energy is one thing that’s remained constant over the years. Hexed is very much at home in the latter half of COB’s discography, and fans should know that this is in no way a “return to roots” for the band–it is, however, a decent metal album, and probably the best of the second half of the Bodom catalogue.

Everything in Children of Bodom runs, creatively, through frontman Alexi Laiho–he writes almost all of the music and lyrics, plays lead guitars, and performs vocals. His work as a young shredder twenty years ago earned him (rightfully) industry status as a guitar hero. Laiho has a lot of intrinsic strengths as a musician, and Hexed is most effective when it plays to those strengths. In their youth, Alexi and his friend/bandmate, keyboardist Janne Wirman, were passionate fans of the 1984 film Amadeus, based loosely on the life of the eponymous Mozart–the 1999 album Hatebreeder opened with a clip from the film and contained adaptations of several Mozart passages that appeared in it. It was appropriate. Laiho was, in many ways, similar to the young Wolfgang: ambitious, unique, wildly talented, but also reckless, irreverent, hedonistic, and as likely to be found raising Hell as composing. That album was a masterpiece, an impossible blend of complimentary styles, including NWOBHM, classical, and even black metal, all processed through unrestrained virtuosity and savage energy. Laiho’s natural aptitude for harmony and melody were splashed all over it. Not only is that what makes Children of Bodom’s music great, it’s what sets it apart from all other metal. Over the years their material has manifested Laiho’s distinct musical voice in various ways–what’s interesting is that although his inherent talent for harmonic music will seemingly vanish at times, it always reappears again. The variables are how often and for how long, because everything in between does little to separate Children of Bodom from the pack. The best thing about Hexed is that almost every song features at least one moment of harmonic coherence–and each is thrilling and deeply satisfying. The bad thing about Hexed is that these moments can be fleeting and infrequent, and they’re separated by interchangeable, low-open string riffs and confusing, frustrating chord progressions. Consequently, Laiho’s genius struggles to fully manifest itself.

It’s hard to attribute this to anything other than complacency–what Hexed lacks is ambition, and a little bit of arrogance. Children of Bodom have shown us that they’re capable of pushing the envelope with how fast, how melodic, how technical, how musically functional each song could be. Without that drive, a lot of the material on Hexed is still good, but it’s not quite special. It’s saturated with riffs that are angry, brutal and punchy but sometimes inconsequential. Half of the choruses are drab and lacking of exuberance. They play like a very talented band that has already done what they set out to and are now simply passing the time. Too many of the musical passages on the album wander randomly, following perplexing chord changes that imply no tonal center and therefore deny the listener of a sense of tension and resolution. Even occasional melodic fills and nicely-shaped phrases will occur completely out of key from their context, so the effect they would normally have is diminished. As a result, Laiho begins to resemble Mozart less and Salieri, his woeful antagonist, more.

Fortunately, this is not always the case, and when it comes to crafting impactful music, Hexed is a vast improvement over its predecessor, 2015’s I Worship Chaos, and probably the previous few records as well. There are many redeeming moments where Laiho’s genius gets to shine. The opening track, “This Road,” has a rousing energy and beautiful melodic pre-chorus riff. “Under Grass and Clover” uses enjoyable diatonic harmony throughout. The title track features an absolutely delicious melody with guitars and keyboard playing in unison, loaded front to back with intense, melodic content. “Glass Houses” and “Soon Departed” feature plenty of compelling material as well. But the star of the show is “Platitudes and Barren Words,” a forceful and hard-hitting track that features the album’s finest musical statement: a gorgeous key melody that opens the piece and recurs as the song’s chorus material. The sequence works because it has strong tonality and is harmonically stable as well as driving and energetic. It’s the same idea that makes the end of the main riff in “Knuckleduster” so effective, as the keyboards and guitars dance together and climb towards a powerful climax. Those moments of triumphant melody and musical completion are the epitome of what makes COB unique and interesting. If such moments made up the bulk of the musical content in Hexed, it would be a masterpiece, but when used sparingly, they simply embellish an otherwise decent metal album.

Everything else works. Laiho’s vocals are as strong as ever; he has a style of harsh vocals that you really don’t hear in any other band. The production is top-notch and as a result the record is sonically robust, with powerful drums, thick, crunchy guitars, and glassy keys all woven together in tight balance. The keyboard and guitar solos are tasteful and impressive. Even the bass gets significant focus and it really brings a depth and heaviness to the riffs. The cover art and visual design are probably Children Of Bodom’s best ever, as well. All the ingredients for a truly outstanding album are here, which makes it all the more tragic that there’s mediocre content corrupting it, but it is the band’s best release in almost 15 years, and that’s impressive for a group with such an extensive discography. It also shows that Children Of Bodom still have plenty left in the tank, and that they remain sovereigns of melodic death metal.

Rating: 8.5/10

Tracklist:
1. This Road
2. Under Grass and Clover
3. Glass Houses
4. Hecate’s Nightmare
5. Kick in the Spleen
6. Platitudes and Barren Words
7. Hexed
8. Relapse (The Nature of My Crime)
9. Say Never Look Back
10. Soon Departed
11. Knuckleduster

Children Of Bodom “Hexed” (2019)
Nuclear Blast