Category Archives: Black Metal

Aura Noir – Aura Noire (Review)

Aura Noir – Aura Noire (2018)

More reliably excellent stuff from the Norwegian black thrash icons. Aura Noir cast back to the early days of black metal’s “first wave”: the gnarly thrash of old Venom, Celtic Frost, Sodom and the like delivered with the cold intensity of “second wave” bands like Darkthrone and Mayhem. And on 2018’s Aura Noire the band grinds their sound down to the bare power-trio minerals. It feels significantly less face-flaying than their older stuff but the band’s supply of killer, twisted riffs and mischevious lyrics (“truly fictitious!”) is inexhaustible and the stripped-down sound allows their music to breathe with a natural, live energy. Aura Noire doesn’t strive to impress, so it’s tempting to write it off as merely solid. That would be a mistake. Dark Lungs Of The Storm, Grave Dweller and Mordant Wind are all charnel delights and the album’s old-school brio and confidence mark it out as a future favourite.

HMO Rating: 4 Out Of 5

The Antichrist Imperium – Volume II: Every Tongue Shall Praise Satan (Review)

The Antichrist Imperium – Volume II: Every Tongue Shall Praise Satan (2018 – CD Version)

The Devil rides out once more as The Antichrist Imperium follow up their 2015 debut with this second volume of unrelenting Satan worship. Of all the members of the sprawling Akercocke family tree, The Antichrist Imperium’s death metal sticks closest to the parent band’s legacy of progressive, debauched, blast-furnace goat homage.

And for the first three tracks of Volume II: Every Tongue Shall Praise Satan, blast-furnace goat homage is exactly what you get. A bit of diminishing returns starts to creep in here but once the album settles into a more adventurous mode with the sumptous Liturgy Of The Iconoclast/Blood Sacrifice it never looks back. Golgothan Heiros Gamos is occult ecstasy and Sermon Of Small Faith is an epic, joyous closer. Top marks to guitarist Matt Wilcock and drummer David Gray for whirling like dervishes throughout and the twin vocalists Sam Bean and Sam Loynes conjure up an increasingly captivating vocal chemistry.

It’s great stuff so fans of blasphemous and seductive evil metal should pee on a pentagram, leave it for three days, and pray for a third outing. Everyone else? Salt and mercury… effective against the dark forces.

HMO Rating: 4 Out Of 5

The Antichrist Imperium – Volume II: Every Tongue Shall Praise Satan (2018 – Vinyl Version)

 

Funeral Mist – Hekatomb (Review)

Funeral Mist – Hekatomb (2018)

The return of Swedish orthodox black metallers Funeral Mist has been one of 2018’s most welcome surprises. And Hekatomb, their first album in nearly ten years, is a raging reminder that the Devil still has all the best tunes. Tracks like Shedding Skin and Hosanna are absolutely flaying, a purist’s delight, and the rest of the album has imaginative depth and rich layers: In Nomine Domini’s addictive sliding riff; Naught But Death’s wicked mix of groove and gospel; Cockatrice’s ambient keys and the monk-y magic of Metamorphosis. It’s a stunning accomplishment from Arioch who, ably assisted by drummer Lars B, is the mastermind behind all the music, imagery and charismatically demented vocals here. Easily the album of the year so far. It’s so good I had to buy their entire back catalogue on vinyl.

HMO Rating: 5 Out Of 5

The very cool booklet that comes with the vinyl edition
Gotta get ’em all!

Mercyful Fate – Mercyful Fate EP (Review)

Released in 1982, Mercyful Fate’s self-titled debut is often referred to as the “Nuns Have No Fun” EP but I reckon even Mother Theresa would be hard-pressed to not get a kick out of this. The Danish band battered out a high-energy update on the pace-shifting, riff-laden approach of bands like Diamond Head and Priest but earned recognition as one of the “first wave” black metal bands by virtue of being extremely, extremely evil. While their style is fairly traditional, Hank Shermann’s riffs and solos are pure malevolence and the unique range of corpse-painted vocalist King Diamond is alternately threatening and ghostly, hitting high notes only Rob Halford can hear on Devil Eyes. A Corpse Without Soul and Doomed By The Living Dead are thrashing, twisting workouts with wonderful vocal hooks. Try not singing along with “I’m a corpse, I’m a corpse, I’m a corpse without soul”. The band’s seminal albums would be more cerebral and progressive occult offerings, but the four songs here have a more boisterous and naïve sense of blasphemy. The graveyard scares, pentagram pants, “fucking angels” and a C-word laden ode to religious sisters make Mercyful Fate a uniquely diabolical, gleeful and headbanging entry in their impressive career. None more fun.

HMO Rating: 5 out of 5

*Buying Note: This EP is also available in its entirety as part of the compilation The Beginning, which is a must-buy too.

Ghost – Prequelle (Review)

Ghost – Prequelle Ltd. Edition with bonus tracks and 3D cover thing

Hard to believe it’s already eight years since Ghost’s debut album Opus Eponymous. Time flies when you’re having satanic fun. And on the plague, death and apocalypse themed Prequelle, Ghost are still all about fun. Like on its excellent predecessor 2015’s Meliora, Ghost’s fourth album is full of blissfully catchy theatrical rock that laces its spiritually uplifting hooks with diabolical twists. But it doesn’t do much that Meliora didn’t already do better. Two flat instrumentals pad out the running time, Pro Memoria is beyond Muppety and the fiendish lyrical slants aren’t as keen or effective (replacing “be with” with “bewitch” isn’t enough to add depth to the ABBA-tastic Danse Macabre). But all gripes are rendered churlish when faced with the excellence of tracks like the glam metal Rats, the passionately defiant See The Light and majestically melodic Witch Image. Prequelle might be a weak facsimile of its predecessor but there’s still enough devilish fun in its diminishing returns to make it worthy of devotion.

HMO Rating: 3.5 Out Of 5

Darkthrone – Dark Thrones And Black Flags (Review)

Superb artwork from Dennis Dread!

The Norwegian legends keep pumping out one amazing album after another but this 2008 release is my pick of their modern output. Black metal of the proto variety (my favourite kind): evil primitivism from the nurseries of real metal sound. Both Nocturno Culto and Fenriz are on top form throughout. Culto’s sideways, frosty riffing is at genius level on tracks like Death Of All Oaths (Oath Minus) and Fenriz blasts out crusty, howling Mercyful Fate-style traditional metal. His tracks Hanging Out In Haiger and The Winds They Called The Dungeon Shaker stand out as favourites but this whole album is top drawer fist-clenching fun with a dark intimidating atmosphere.

HMO Rating: 5 out of 5

[Darkthrone – The Winds They Called The Dungeon Shaker]

The HMO Top Albums of 2017

Twelve whole months of your human time have passed. An entire year of metal releases that have all been building up to one thing: The HMO Top Albums of 2017!

And what a year it was. I reckon the overall standard in this year’s list is the highest since I started doing these, with albums in the lower reaches that would have ranked higher in a less competitive year. Consequently, there was also a bunch of very deserving albums that just missed the cut:

Formicarius – Black Mass Ritual, Contaminated – Final Man, Power Trip – Nightmare Logic, Full Of Hell – Trumpeting Ecstasy, Vampire – With Primeval Force, Demon Head – Thunder In The Fields, Spectral Voice – Eroded Corridors of Unbeing

All of these were favourites of mine that would very likely have made the list any other year and I’d heartily recommend all of them. But there can be only ten…

NUMBER TEN: Satyricon – Deep Calleth Upon Deep

The black metal duo returned with this powerful and deceptively simple set of cold, bleak, groovy and progressive black metal hymns. Following frontman Satyr’s recovery from illness, the album was heralded as “day one of a new chapter”. But it’s no reinvention, just the sound of a band knuckling down with fresh dedication and commitment.

NUMBER NINE: The Obsessed – Sacred

Doom icon Wino returns with a new lineup of his old band The Obsessed and an album that lives up to their classics of old. Hefty biker doom riffs with ace songwriting, soulful maturity and vintage musicianship. Wino’s voice and guitar slinging are as badass as ever. He sings “I was born with my heart on my sleeve” and, 56 years later, he’s still wearing it well.

NUMBER EIGHT: Artificial Brain – Infrared Horizon

No AOTY list would be complete without some death metal in space and this year’s guttural cosmic travellers are Long Island’s Artificial Brain. Post-humanity, cyborgs ponder life and their predecessors and the wonderfully ambient blend of tech death, beautiful dissonance and filthy vocals suits the theme perfectly. Also… might be the only album in my collection that features the word “urinals”.

NUMBER SEVEN: The King Is Blind – We Are The Parasite, We Are The Cancer

The King Is Blind make the HMO Top Ten for the second year in a row. No mean feat. This sequel to their debut album Our Father, brings that album’s biblical tale into the modern day with harrowing results. The UK headbangers bash out an intelligent, raging and monolithic slab of metal that fuses a whole bunch of styles into a crushing, grooving whole that grows in stature with each listen.

NUMBER SIX: Immolation – Atonement

No big back-story, concept or narrative to talk about here. Just straight-up quality death metal from a veteran act that’s still hungry. As with other releases this year, it’s definitely got a whiff of the end-times about it. But instead of dishing out the political rage, Immolation deal out a restrained, ominous and dark indictment of our times. Crushing, twisted, authoritative and destructive from beginning to end.

NUMBER FIVE: Midnight – Sweet Death And Ecstasy

Hooded demon Athenar returns with his third full-length album of black thrash hooliganism. No zeitgeist-y vibes here: just Satan, shagging and Venom-worship. But there’s a lot of creativity crammed into this album’s short running time and its bookended by two epics that push the band’s stylistic (long)boat out: swashbuckling, scything mid-tempo metal that invokes the legends of old… the legends of Ye Olde Bathory and Manowar. It’s that good.

NUMBER FOUR: Cradle Of Filth – Cryptoriana: The Seductiveness Of Decay

The loved-or-loathed British institution continues a late-career renaissance that finds them tipping the balance firmly in the loved direction. Themed around the Victorian obsession with death, Cryptoriana… is a darkly fabulous romp of hard-hitting gothic metal delivered with expertise and passion. It’s atmospheric, cinematic, galloptastic and just tons of fun with a vocal turn from Dani Filth that cements his place as the veritable metal legend that he is.

NUMBER THREE: Memoriam – For The Fallen

Featuring ex-members of Bolt Thrower and Benediction, Memoriam were formed as a tribute to Bolt Thrower’s late drummer Martin ‘Kiddie’ Kearns and what a tribute it is: crusty, primitive old-school death metal with a sense of tragedy and loss. But it’s not a total downer, there’s enough carnage here to please Bolt Thrower fans. Vocalist Karl Willetts performs with charisma and heart while the band unleashes the kind of filthy, strafing riffage that’s guaranteed to have you running for cover.

NUMBER TWO: Paradise Lost – Medusa

2015’s The Plague Within was a welcome return to growlier death/doom fare but I don’t think anyone could have expected Paradise Lost to dredge the depths of misery like they have with this near-flawless album of gothic gloom. Anthemic hooks, crusty riffing, mournful harmonies and a fearless vocal performance from Nick Holmes put Medusa right up there with the band’s best work. No small feat, considering the number of innovative and essential albums that make up this legendary band’s discography.

NUMBER ONE: Akercocke – Renaissance In Extremis

The great comeback of 2017 was the return of these much-missed British Satanists with their most progressive, personal and accessible album to date. But the blackened malevolence of old remains and the fact that this album could well lure fans of more classic fare into a more extreme musical realm suggests these suave Londoners are still doing the devil’s work. The eclectic variety, complex structures and dreamy introspection make for a fascinating, rewarding listen and the intense, dynamic, neck-snapping skill of the band’s performance is the stuff of metal gods.

HMO TOP ALBUMS BY YEAR

2017: Akercocke – Renaissance In Extremis

2016: Darkthrone – Arctic Thunder

2015: My Dying Bride – Feel the Misery

2014: Voices – London

The King Is Blind – We Are The Parasite, We Are The Cancer (Review)

The King Is Blind’s previous album Our Father was a high-point of 2016 and it’s very pleasing to have them back with a follow-up so soon. And their second album We Are The Parasite, We Are The Cancer doesn’t just follow up their last release, it also follows on the imaginative and thorough God/Satan concept that has ran through all of the band’s music. This time the story brings us up to modern day: the pesky Satan pledging the destruction of mankind and, drawing power from our abuse of sin, sending seven plague princes to generally stir things up and give us all a hard time. Serves us right.

Like its predecessor, WATPWATC blends a bunch of extreme metal approaches – death, black, doom, grind – into a crushing, grooving whole. But this is a more threatening and foreboding outing: the rage and intensity is ramped up and the superb production adds layers of nightmarish, urban ambience. The highlights are many: Patriarch is a furious and discordant opener, Bolt Thrower/Memoriam frontman Karl Willetts lends his wonderful vocal thuggery to the filthily-anthemic Mantra XIII (Plague Avaritia) and Godfrost (Plague Invidia) is just pure carnage. And any album with a hidden Mano-quote is fine by me!

The band is on burly form throughout. Guitars and drums are hit thick and hard and Steve Tovey sells each song with intense and committed vocals. But the album is not without its flaws. I find the Gojira-esque harmonies on Like Gods Departed (Plague Acedia) a bit dull but the track’s awesome Candlemass riffing and its building excitement render that a minor complaint. And, although the increased brutality means that the album doesn’t quite sink its hooks in like Our Father did, the cathartic impact and the almost Floydian atmosphere of tracks like As Vermin Swarm (Plague Ira) and the acoustic-laden The Burden Of Their Scars leave a considerable impression.

With WATPWATC, The King Is Blind continue to impress: honing, intensifying and adding depth to their own brand of monolithic metal. It’s a bold statement of intent and I reckon this promising band still has more to offer. In the meantime, the latest chapter of The King Is Blind’s story will please old fans and attract new ones. And I guarantee a growing legion of devotees will be waiting to see what these British bruisers, and that Satan, get up to next.

HMO Rating: 4 out of 5

**We Are The Parasite, We Are The Cancer will be released on Oct 13th and can be purchased here**

Cradle Of Filth – Cryptoriana: The Seductiveness Of Decay (Review)

Cradle Of Filth are a British institution, one of the most recognisable and successful extreme acts to come from these shores. But, while they are loved and loathed by many, they’ve never made a huge impression on me either way. I’ve bought and enjoyed a fair few albums of theirs over the years but I’ve never had that phase where I’ve obsessed over them, where they were my band. Until now.

Although I was late getting to it, I was thoroughly impressed with 2015’s Hammer Of The Witches, and the band’s latest album continues in that vein. Themed around the Victorian obsession with death, Cryptoriana: The Seductiveness Of Decay is a darkly fabulous romp of hard-hitting gothic metal, delivered with expertise and passion. The overall approach is still the band’s patented blackened Hammer Horror style but there’s a whole wealth of approaches employed. Heartbreak And Seance’s romantic melodrama, thrash fury on Wester Vespertine, You Will Know The Lion By Its Claw’s pitch-black savagery and there are wonderful trad metal gallops and harmonies throughout (most thrillingly in The Seductiveness Of Decay). Best of all, vocalist Dani Filth puts each song over and then some: a spirited and veteran performance of considerable taste, breadth and character.

Hammer Of The Witches reached some peaks of excitement that aren’t quite reached here but its a nano-gripe about a near-flawless album. And, on the flip-side, the latest album has none of the excess that detracted from its predecessor. For all its expansive grandeur, Cryptoriana… is tight and direct. The pedal is to the metal at all times and the band’s cinematic flourishes are weaved and layered skilfully throughout the songs with no boring intros or interludes to be found. The style is familiar but the album is fresh and stakes its own unique place in their canon. An utterly wonderful release from a veteran band at the top of their game. My band.

HMO Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Akercocke – Renaissance In Extremis (Review)

It’s been ten long years since Akercocke’s reign of progressive death metal terror reached a thrilling and diabolical climax with Antichrist. Although the band has lain dormant for much of the intervening decade, a vibrant scene has grown in their wake: superb “ex-Akercocke” bands like Voices, The Antichrist Imperium and Shrines forming a growing family tree that has been the source of much of my favourite music of recent years. But despite my huge love of the related bands, I’ve had a growing longing for an Ak comeback and here they are with their new album Renaissance In Extremis, the most highly-anticipated and exciting release of 2017.

Given that they reached peak Satan-worship on Antichrist, it is unsurprising that the ever-evolving British band has taken up new themes. This is a more personal and emotional Akercocke that combines topics of depression, grief and suicide with rampaging positivity and self-improvement. Complex structures and varied moods evoke the subject matter. The shimmering and colourful guitar textures would make Queensrÿche and Rush proud and it’s all given an energetic kick up the arse with an array of wonderful tech thrash riffing in tracks like Disappear and Insentience. And tracks like Unbound By Sin and First To Leave The Funeral find the band’s black/death malevolence of old is still intact.

Band photos by Tina Korhonen © 2017, all rights reserved.

The whole band performs with distinction, sounding sophisticated and polished but also raw and live. The riffs and guitar solos are sublime throughout: the guitar duo of Jason Mendonça and Paul Scanlan combine old and new metal styles with wonderful flair. It’s also especially good to hear Mendonça’s uniquely charismatic and varied vocals again. A couple of wobbly-pitched moments only add to the crazed, natural feel and Jason leads from the front like few extreme metal frontmen can.

There’s very little to quibble about here and this is a superb comeback album overflowing with originality and creativity. Progressive in the proper sense of the word, Akercocke have created another unique album to add to their discography. And one that has enough variety and maturity that many fans of classic metal fare may find it a gateway into a more extreme musical world. For those of us that already reside in that world, Akercocke’s Renaissance In Extremis is a joyous and welcome return, wholly deserving of the most diabolical and infernal praise.

HMO Rating – 4.5 out of 5