Category Archives: Black Metal

The HMO Top 10 Reissues & Compilations of 2014

2014

I’ve already agonised over my favourite new music of the past year but regular readers will know I’m a big fan of reissues and archive releases. And, as usual (or increasingly?) 2014 found plenty of old music being repackaged and resold with the usual bells, whistles and (hopefully) some unheard or rare tracks added.

So I would like to present my Top 10 archive/reissue/compilation releases of 2014. Naturally my personal listening moods and enjoyment played a huge part in my choices but I’ve also weighed up some other crucial factors in deciding these:

  • Bonus tracks – A big factor, especially if I’m re-purchasing albums I’ve bought in the past, so reasonably worthwhile reissues like Hear No Evil’s reissues of Motorhead’s 1916 and Deep Purple’s Slaves and Masters didn’t quite make the cut.
  • Curation and selection – I can forgive a lack of bonus material if the reissued material is relatively rare or interesting in the first place. So, despite me absolutely adoring it, Mayhem’s Grand Declaration of War reissue missed the cut as it was already readily available and not in particular need of a reissue.
  • Sound quality – This is always arguable and I’m no hi-fi purist but extra points are awarded if I feel reissues are sonic improvements on previous versions. Although they narrowly failed the cut its worth mentioning Earache’s “Full Dynamic Range” releases here. They sound excellent and I hope other labels will follow their example.
  • Value for money and packaging – Generally I tend to shy away from expensive “super-deluxe” affairs but I do appreciate it when a particularly plush or expansive release manages to avoid breaking the bank. Bon Jovi’s New Jersey box and the Super Duper Alice Cooper set are good examples of expansive and luxurious, but still affordable, sets that didn’t quite make the cut.

So now that I’ve got all that off my chest…

THE HMO TOP REISSUES AND COMPILATIONS OF 2014

71Gkks5PFPL._SL1181_NUMBER TEN: KISS – Love Gun (Deluxe Edition)

Classic album bolstered with nice packaging, liner notes and an extra disc of bonus tracks. I’ve always banged on about how KISS should be doing more archive releases so I had to include this solid reissue here. If they had pushed the bonus track boat out a bit more it might have placed higher but I still hope there’s more where this came from and if their other albums get this treatment I’ll be a happy bunny.

HT RLOLLAIHNUMBER NINE: Ronnie Lane and Slim Chance – Ooh La La: an Island Harvest

Quality 2CD anthology from the ex-Small Faces/The Faces legend. Many of his solo albums are hard to come by now so this was a welcome release for me. And the inclusion of a BBC session makes it a worthwhile buy for fans of longer standing. This was my first exposure to his post-Faces output and it is charming and heart-warming stuff.

2014-04-06 14.58.15-1NUMBER EIGHT: Pantera – Far Beyond Driven (20th Anniversary Edition)

I’ve been enjoying the previous Pantera reissues and looked forward to this immensely. It’s missing B-Sides from the album’s era which is a shame but it’s still a great sounding reissue with a fantastic live show as a bonus disc. This caught me in the right mood and got heavy rotation.

2014-05-11 14.06.50-1NUMBER SEVEN: Coroner – Death Cult

I’m very excited that this Swiss band’s incredible demo has been given an official band-approved release by the No Remorse label. A couple of bonus tracks sweeten the deal but it’s fantastic to have such a great sounding copy of this that plays at the right speed! Not enough people know how incredible Coroner are and on this demo they are also fronted by no less than Hellhammer/Celtic Frost/Triptykon legend Tom G. Warrior himself.

A1SiG3X7H8L._SL1500_NUMBER SIX: The Allman Brothers Band – The 1971 Fillmore East Recordings (6CD Box Set)

I wavered about this but I’m glad I bought it. It’s absolutely fascinating to hear the many shows and alternate takes that were whittled down to the perfect At Fillmore East album. I wouldn’t replace the original but this is well worth hearing if you’re a fan of it. It’s a very thorough and plush package for the agreeable price. A great follow-up to 2013’s excellent Brothers and Sisters reissue.

2014-05-11 13.55.16-1NUMBER FIVE: Various Artists – Wayfaring Strangers: The Darkscorch Canticles (2LP Set)

This superbly curated labour of love from The Numero Group is the only vinyl release to make my list. It’s a charming and fun set of underground US Zep and Sabbath worship from the 70s. It’s very rare stuff and a must-have for fans of Stoner Rock and proto-Metal. The appeal of the music is further enhanced by the Dungeons and Dragons-inspired greatness of the packaging which you can see and read more about it here… with added Lego!

51P6CB1WE7LNUMBER FOUR: Demilich – 20th Adversary of Emptiness (2CD Deluxe)

Demilich’s only studio album Nespithe is a stunning Death Metal masterpiece and receives a well-deserved reissue here. It comes with a brilliantly designed and entertaining booklet and absolutely tons of bonus tracks. It’s a truly thorough and well-researched release but special mention has to made of the stunning sound quality too. Congratulations to Svart Records for this: it should be the benchmark for all future Metal reissues.

Christ noooo!
Christ noooo!

NUMBER THREE: Various Artists – One and All, Together for Home (2CD Deluxe)

A fascinating compilation with an interesting theme: Metal bands playing their native country’s Folk music. A lot of thought and attention went into this one and it’s a mix of old and new. Some new offerings from the likes of Winterfylleth and Primordial made this a must-buy but it also introduced me to some great bands like Ava Inferi and Haive that I may not have discovered otherwise.

712mqCedbLL._SL1500_NUMBER TWO: Queen – Live at the Rainbow ’74 (2CD Deluxe)

Not one, but two powerful live recordings from Queen’s early years. I love Queen so any live release of theirs is going to be up my street but it’s especially inspiring to hear them at this early stage playing the heavy, epic tracks like Father to Son and Ogre Battle. I love it when the classic bands I love release archive live material and this release enjoyed repeated listens and kicked off a period of full-on Queen worship.

71-rKQCjI3L._SL1500_NUMBER ONE: Ulver – Trolsk Sortmetall 1993-97 (5CD Box Set)

Ulver’s first three studios are classics of provocative and adventurous Black Metal and they have been done full justice with this stunning box set by Century Media. The three albums alone are must-haves and personal favourites but there are also some tantalising rarities here too and it’s all wrapped up in a stunning box set with a fantastic hardback book with essays, photos and translated lyrics. One of my more expensive standalone purchases of the year but still great value for five superb discs and a seriously luxurious package. It’s a release that effortlessly satisfies all my criteria for a top-drawer reissue. Buy it while you can.

The HMO Top Albums of 2014

2014

Welcome to the inaugural HMO best albums of 2014 list! At the beginning of the year I read a great article by Keith Kahn-Harris on the challenges of musical abundance in the world of Metal. It proved prophetic as 2014 seemed to be absolutely overflowing with highly-rated Metal releases. Even with my attempts to limit my music-buying I found it difficult to whittle my favourites down to a Top 10. There were many albums I enjoyed that narrowly failed to make the cut (particular apologies to Dead Congregation, Winterfylleth, Vallenfyre, Judas Priest and Space Ace).

I concede that it was a good and plentiful year for music but I did feel that in comparison to the stellar 2013, much of what I was hearing was a little disappointing. But, as with 2013, I found the latter stages of the year produced the best releases and I’m now feeling much more positive about the year and its musical output. And, despite the tough decisions, I had a brilliant time figuring out my list: it was a really enjoyable way to review and re-evaluate my purchases. I found myself enjoying albums I’d written off and also finding I now had no time for some that I previously enjoyed. But, in either case, the process made it feel like none of my musical purchases had been a waste.

So without further ado, let the run-down commence! And, as always, please chime in with your thoughts in the comments section.

THE HMO TOP 10 ALBUMS OF 2014

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NUMBER TEN: Bloodbath – Grand Morbid Funeral

Teaser photos of a red telephone box and a beard signified the unexpected return of Paradise Lost’s Nick Holmes – sorry, Old Nick – to guttural Death Metal vocals when he joined Bloodbath this year. It’s deeply satisfying to hear him pulling off this type of vocal performance after all these years and Bloodbath responded with a celebratory blast of an album. Following this and PL’s Gregor MacKintosh’s excellent DM forays with Vallenfyre, it’ll be very interesting to see where Paradise Lost go from here.

[Bloodbath – Church of Vastitas]

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NUMBER NINE: The Scintilla Project – The Hybrid

A sci-fi concept album and collaborative project involving Saxon’s Biff Byford, Hell’s Andy Sneap and some guys from Balance of Power (who, I have to admit, I’ve never heard). It has a Progressive Metal vibe but based around catchy, melodic songs and riffs. This is a great set of moody Heavy Rock with spacey sounds and lively lead guitar. It’s especially great to hear Biff singing over a different musical approach to Saxon and I have even more respect for him after hearing his charismatic and dynamic performance here.

[The Scintilla Project – Beware the Children]

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NUMBER EIGHT: Mayhem – Esoteric Warfare

Even as a relative newcomer to the band’s post-Mysteriis career I have learned to expect the unexpected with these guys. And on their fifth full-length release the last thing I was expecting was a lesson in straight-up Extreme Metal. While this approach could have proved disappointing I found it refreshing and the strength of Esoteric Warfare is in the delivery, an abhorrent maelstrom topped with Atilla Csihar’s remarkable vocal weirdness. But basically I love any album where the word “conquer” is pronounced “conkwer.”

[Mayhem – Psywar]

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NUMBER SEVEN: The Wounded Kings – Consolamentum

Another big year for Doom Metal, especially if it’s retro, occult-themed and female fronted. Kudos to Devonshire’s retro, occult-themed and female-fronted doomsters The Wounded Kings for coming out ahead of the pack with this confident and impressive release. Cathedral-grade heaviness, adventurous song-structures, expert pacing and Sharie Neyland’s moreish wailing make this my Doom pick of the year and a band to watch.

[The Wounded Kings – Lost Bride]

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NUMBER SIX: Triptykon – Melana Chasmata

Tom G. Warrior returns with yet another “fierce boulder of abhorrence” improving and sharpening the style already established with their excellent debut Eparistera Daimones. Melana Chasmata proves that Tom is still a unique musical personality at the top of his monumentally heavy game. Sadly, the renowned artist H.R. Giger passed away not long after its release. Triptykon’s dark, musical art and the stylish use of Giger’s “Mordor VII” as the album’s artwork is a fitting tribute.

[Triptykon – Tree of Suffocating Souls]

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NUMBER FIVE: Sólstafir – Ótta

These Icelandic rockers were one of my most exciting discoveries this year. This dense, lush album hit the spots that Anathema’s disappointing Distant Satellites failed to. It’s all in Icelandic but I’m told that it’s a concept album about the different parts of the day which puts it in the same wheelhouse as the awesome Days of Future Passed by The Moody Blues. As elegant, stormy and elemental as the excellent album cover suggests.

[Sólstafir – Lágnætti]

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NUMBER FOUR: Grand Magus – Triumph and Power

An album that crept up in my appreciation as the year progressed! I was initially a bit underwhelmed by its mild-mannered delivery but as the year wore on it proved remarkably resilient: charming warrior Metal that proved to be right up my Manowar-loving street. Strong songwriting, JB’s confident and personable vocals and the earnest sword and sorcery vibe make this the best traditional Heavy Metal album of the year. But if they want to raid the ultimate top prize in future they’re going to have to get a bit more bloodthirsty.

[Grand Magus – Steel Versus Steel]

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NUMBER THREE: Behemoth – The Satanist

Despite being one of the first major Metal releases of the year Behemoth’s The Satanist is still enjoying a high profile and appearing on many end-of-year lists. And its reception has been well-deserved: it’s a startling statement of intent by a band coming back strong from life-threatening illness and enough controversy to scare off Blackie Lawless. A deeply personal and fully realized vision, performed with heart and conviction and enhanced with fantastic production and artwork, The Satanist is an unholy monument to blasphemy and defiance.

[Behemoth – Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel]

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NUMBER TWO: Primordial – Where Greater Men Have Fallen

With their eighth album I wondered if Ireland’s Primordial might begin to sink into a comfortable groove of diminishing returns. But full credit to the band for still having the will to excel, Where Greater Men Have Fallen is a stunning release. In addition to the rolling and beefy Pagan riffs there is a welcome Freezing Moon-style Black Metal atmosphere in Babel’s Tower and the band unleash some primitive savagery on The Seed of Tyrants. A. A. Nemtheanga also continues to be one of Metal’s most compelling and intelligent vocalists and lyricists, expressing a wide range of emotions and enigmatic material bound up in the weight and struggles of history.

[Primordial – Babel’s Tower]

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NUMBER ONE: Voices – London

The only band on my list to have also released an album last year (the excellently-titled From the Human Forest Create a Fugue of Imaginary Rain) Voices return with their even-better sophomore album London. A rich and harrowing concept album set in the titular city it chronicles a character’s descent into madness, jealousy and sexual obsession. Whereas much Black Metal seems to aim for the ancient and/or the rural, the music here is an entirely urban modern hell: claustrophobic and crowded. Pulverising, mechanistic assaults jolt into tranquil, proggy sections and intriguing narrative passages. It’s a genuinely unhinged masterpiece and a magical, cinematic album that has enthralled me with each listen.

[Voices – The Fuck Trance]

The podium!
The podium!

Venom – Welcome to Hell (Review)

Venom - Welcome to Hell
Venom – Welcome to Hell

Extreme Metal pioneers Venom waged war from the very depths of Hell, raging against the early-80s New Wave of British Heavy Metal bands they considered tame and the heroes that they felt had pulled their punches.

They combined the filth and fury of Punk and Motörhead with the larger-than-life images of KISS and Priest and the kind of Devilish allegiance that would have Sabbath crying “Please God help me!” Conrad, Tony and Jeff became the far more demonic-sounding Cronos, Abaddon and Mantas and their classic album cover set out their allegiance to Beelzebub in black and gold. And they had the sound to match their demonic image.

Another trip to the beach ruined
Another trip to the beach ruined

The band used demo sessions for the final album, signalling their primitive purity and honesty. Welcome to Hell sounded under-produced and unholy. The Motörhead influences are obvious, especially in the opening tracks Sons of Satan and Welcome to Hell, but the brio with which they mangle these rockers is thrillingly rudimentary. Cronos’ appropriately named “Bulldozer” bass piles over everything, Mantas peels off some fun wild solos and Abaddon’s caveman drumming tries to keep up. The sense of limits being pushed gives the performance a chaotic edge, especially during the lurching changes of pace. The debauchery of tracks like Poison and Red Light Fever is often criticized but really it all just adds to the shock factor and what’s the point of being one of the Great Horned One’s Legion if you can’t indulge in a bit of hellraising hedonism?

On Side 2 the band enter more original and scarier territory. Witching Hour is seminal proto-Thrash, Angel Dust is face-ripping and In League with Satan is addictively catchy while still sounding ominous and threatening. The band tightens their Metal grip as the album progresses and the most influential musical moments come from the record’s second half. Welcome to Hell has many elements of the Heavy music that preceded it and its fast pace, growled vocals and evil vibe can be heard in so much Metal that came after. But it remains unique and divisive. In fact, it’s a hellish maelstrom of just about everything I love about Heavy Metal while also embodying everything the genre is criticised for.

Venom’s raw, no-holds barred approach would prove to be massively influential on Thrash, Death and particularly Black Metal. Although Venom hadn’t gotten around to christening it yet, many key components of BM began here: particularly the occult, evil atmosphere and rotten production values but also the iconography, aliases and instrument descriptions (Bulldozer Bass, Chainsaw Guitars and Nuclear Warheads!)

But most importantly, Venom’s greatest legacy was their harder/faster/scarier mind-set which became the ethos of much of the Metal that followed. With Welcome to Hell Metal became Extreme and for that we should all praise Satan.

HMO Rating: 10 out of 5

2013-09-21 18.32.34 2013-09-21 18.29.37

Sabbat – History of a Time to Come (Review)

Sabbat - History of a Time to Come CD Reissue
Sabbat – History of a Time to Come CD Reissue

If you were in a successful Thrash Metal band in the 1980s, you were probably American or German. While the UK was a massive influence on the genre via bands such Venom and Motorhead, the UK Thrash Metal scene is generally a footnote in any history of the genre. However, in England’s green and pleasant land there was one band that was more than a match for any of the more successful Thrash exponents from overseas.

They were Nottingham’s Sabbat and their debut album History of a Time to Come had the pace, aggression and technicality of Slayer and Megadeth and the filthy Black Metal tinge of Germany’s Destruction and Kreator. But, in addition to being able to thrash with the best of them, Sabbat had a pagan and medieval quality to their music which sounded uniquely British.

The whole album is expertly paced. For the most part the band thrashes like maniacs but the album is interspersed with enough memorable horn-raising riffs to appeal to fans of Maiden and Priest. There are also occasional clean passages, river sounds and tweeting birds offering pastoral respite from the musical sword-waving elsewhere.

Songs like Hosanna in Excelsis and Behind the Crooked Cross are satisfyingly direct and savage with Andy Sneap’s deft guitar riffs and snaky legato fills. Vocalist Martin Walkyier impresses too: his crazed screeches, growls and exaggerated pronunciation (“The poison-ah! infil-ah! trates-ah!”) coming across like a possessed Dark Ages preacher or prophet. His startling vocal performance here would prove influential in the Black Metal genre both in the UK and abroad.

Walkyier’s wild delivery is especially useful in songs like A Cautionary Tale and I For An Eye where the songs take the form of Dante-inspired short plays. His varied vocal delivery is great for carrying the multitude of dramatic parts and his voice is often harmonised and doubled over to create a mysterious, occult atmosphere. One of the finest examples of this comes in A Cautionary Tale where Walkyier’s voice is weaved together with a backwards vocal for spellbinding effect (“Bell, book and candle. Candle, book, bell. Forwards and backwards to damn me to hell. Jehovah, I beg thee. Have mercy on my soul”).

Narratives are also expressed musically by the skilful changes in pace and mood. The greatest example occurs in the shift to a classic mid-tempo riff during I For An Eye to illustrate Lucifer’s malevolent intent. An uplifting, cleaner version of the same riff is introduced later beneath the melodic solo which closes the song (“I burn”). This is one of the album’s most awe-inspiring moments and a great example of the Andy Sneap’s skill as a composer, arranger and player.

The lyrics on History of a Time to Come deserve praise too. Many of the era’s bands were moving away from horror-themed lyrics and towards the real world horror of politics and nuclear destruction. Sabbat managed to use elements of both, filtered through the lens of a distinctively pagan and spiritual worldview. Horned is the Hunter (the album’s centrepiece) is suitably apocalyptic but the story of man’s downfall (the “history of a time to come” referred to in the album’s title) is told through the eyes of our forgotten Gods of nature. The topic of Nazism is cloaked by a focus on their occult obsessions in Behind the Crooked Cross and the greed of TV evangelists (always a popular target for 80s metallers) is turned into a medieval carnival in The Church Bizarre.

Sabbat History of a Time to Come CD Rear CoverSabbat would only release one more album, Dreamweaver (Reflections of Our Yesterdays), before the classic line-up split. Walkyier would go on to form Skyclad (one of the greatest bands of the 90s) and Andy Sneap would build a very successful production career. He would later use this success to help reactivate Hell, an obscure UK Metal band that was a massive influence on Sabbat.

This edition of History of a Time to Come has been superbly remastered by Andy Sneap himself and also includes 5 gruff live tracks from East Berlin (taken from the End of the Beginning VHS) with the standout track being a blistering version of For Those Who Died. There isn’t a weak track on this CD. It’s a superb record, superb reissue and a must-have for fans of Thrash and Black Metal. Charge!

HMO Rating: 10 out of 5

[Sabbat – I For An Eye]

Dissection – Live Rebirth (Review)

Swedish Black Metal legends Dissection had only released two studio albums before they embarked on the “Rebirth of Dissection” tour that kicked off with this show in Stockholm (listed on the LP jacket as September 2004 but it other sources suggest that the show was actually in October!).

The band had disbanded in 1997 following the imprisonment of guitarist/vocalist Jon Nödtveidt as an accessory to the murder of an Algerian man in Sweden. Upon his release in 2004, Nödtveidt quickly assembled a new line-up of Dissection for the tour captured on Live Rebirth.

For a band with only two albums of material to draw from, this is an exceptionally strong set of well-written and passionately performed tracks. The atmosphere and excitement at the show is well captured. The taped intro of instrumental track At the Fathomless Depths combines with the enthusiastic crowd cheering to build the excitement level for the first track proper Nights Blood so the feeling of being at the gig is palpable from the offset. In fact, the opening song is exciting and epic enough to be worth the price of admission alone.

Dissection’s take on extreme Metal is grounded with a strong grasp of songwriting and pacing. There are stunning, memorable riffs in abundance here and, although the hoarser vocals and dark atmosphere may be off-putting for some, there is much to love here for fans of the NWOBHM era and other older acts like Mercyful Fate.

Highlights for me include Where Dead Angels Lie and Maha Kali (the only new track here). These are absolutely thrilling and timeless, both delivered with an enigmatic folky lilt. Maha Kali also builds to a fantastic climax with its exotic feel bolstered by female Hindi vocals. The Somberlain evokes Iron Maiden with its melodic guitar harmony lines and there is also an excellent cover of Tormentor’s Elisabeth Bathory. Another band for me to check out!

Overall, this is an incredible Metal live album and is right up there with the best of them. It’s dripping with atmosphere, epic in scope and there is not a single track on here that is anything less than incredible. For such a short-lived band to have created a set like this is pretty remarkable. Jon Nödtveidt would commit suicide in 2006.

Buying Note: This full gig is available on DVD as Rebirth of Dissection and also available as Live in Stockholm 2004 on CD and LP but that version has some tracks removed and some are shortened. This edition, released in 2010, by the excellent High Roller Records has the full set intact.

HMO Rating: 5 out of 5