Tag Archives: 2017

Akercocke – Renaissance In Extremis

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

Avatarium – Hurricanes And Halos

Avatarium – Hurricanes And Halos (2017)

Avatarium were originally devised as a combination of crushing doom and 70s prog. But on their third album Hurricanes and Halos there’s very little doom left at all; the focus is now firmly on retro rock stylings of swirling Hammond organ and sultry psychedelia.

Into The Fire/Into The Storm is a bold opener that makes full use of Jennie-Ann Smith’s forceful, dramatic lung power and The Starless Sleep is a wonderful mix of dark fable and summery 60s pop. But there’s a sense of diminishing returns on album number three. Although it’s one of the doomier tracks, Medusa Child is overlong with cheesy child vocals. And the breezy, bluesy When Breath Turns To Air and the closing instrumental parp of the title track barely register. The album’s uneven second half is saved by the stomping Uriah Heep worship of The Sky At The Bottom Of The Sea and the ominous beauty of A Kiss (From The End Of The World), one of the band’s best tunes to date.

It’s another strong effort from the Swedes but it finds them veering away from my own taste. As the band dial down the doom I find myself less engaged. But the band’s charismatic and summery take on classic 70s rock will win them more fans and appreciation than they lose. And those listeners may well find this the band’s most accessible and enjoyable album so far.

HMO Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Possession – Exorkizein

Following an impressive demo and mini-album, I was expecting to be more impressed by Possession’s debut full-length album. The Belgians dish out impressively clear and concise black/death with plenty of evil atmosphere but they never really lift themselves out of the solid zone. Despite some strong riffs, the songs in the first half all blur into one. Exorkizein gradually improves, and is at its best in its closing stages with tracks like In Vain and Take the Oath being standouts. Possession have an appealing Watain-like delivery and catchiness but there’s not enough of that band’s threatening audacity and ambition here. Exorkizein is far from execrable but not exactly exciting either.

Paradise Lost – New Releases For 2017

There has been lots of exciting news coming out of the Paradise Lost camp lately with not just one new release on the horizon but two! So I thought I’d be super-efficient and just deal with both in one handy post.

First up is the main event, the band’s new album Medusa. It’ll be out on September 1st and promises to continue the band’s increasingly heavy direction. The cover has a very cool folk-horror vibe and the vinyl single Blood And Chaos (coming out on August 3rd) has great artwork too. Their last album made my yearly Top 10 and I’ll be surprised if Medusa doesn’t end up in this year’s list. It’s an exciting release from a veteran band that’s still in vital form.

And if all that wasn’t awesome enough Music For Nations have lined up a 20th Anniversary reissue of their 1997 album One Second. It was the album that followed the massively successful Draconian Times and, in the words of frontman Nick Holmes, marked “for better or worse the beginning of a very experimental stage for the band.” It’s maybe not what some people think of as classic PL but it was an interesting progression from the band at a point where they could easily have stagnated: a great album with some classic songs.

The new edition will come with the live audio of the 1998 Shepherd’s Bush gig that has previously only been available on the DVD Evolve. This means there are a few B-Sides from the era that are not represented here but the live disc is a value-for-money bonus that makes it worth another punt (not to mention the usual liner notes and all that stuff). You can finally just listen to it without the band’s haircuts putting you off.

It’s all good news for Paradise Lost fans. These two releases, not to mention the blistering Vallenfyre album Fear Those Who Fear Him, should keep all you miserable buggers happy for a while.

Thus Defiled – A Return To The Shadows

I don’t normally get all that excited about covers EPs (Danzig excepted) but Thus Defiled’s A Return To The Shadows is a total riot. The release marks the UK black metallers’ 25th year in action and sadly, also their last. The quality-over-quantity band hasn’t exactly been prolific during that quarter century so the chance to hear some new recordings is hugely welcome.

The main attraction is the new track Armagedda In Rapture and it’s a scorcher. The impressive production is simultaneously clinical and savage. It’s pure riff destruction with fantastic demonic vocals and it’s easily the best black metal track I’ve heard this year so far. The kind of song that’s so awesome it just makes you laugh the first time you hear it.

The rest of A Return To The Shadows is taken up by cover versions and, interestingly, the band opted to only cover non-black metal material. It turns out to be a great call as the band are able to put their own spin on a batch of songs that less daring souls would consider unfuckwithable.

They scythe and scream their way through Death’s Evil Dead and Metallica’s Creeping Death. Impossible to top such classic tracks but they inject so much energy and spark into them that the effect is like hearing the songs for the first time. You can’t ask for more than that.

Next up is a bewitching version of Morbid Angel’s Demon Seed and as an extra bonus they’ve got Morbid Angel/Nocturnus legend Mike Browning adding superb ominous and cultish vocals to another belter of a track. The cover of W.A.S.P’s Hellion that closes is the weakest here, a shade lost under the windy howls of vocalist Paul C, but with repeat listens it starts to make more and more sense. The riffs are undeniable and a black metal band that covers W.A.S.P. deserves instant HMO bonus points.

It’s a brilliant EP. Tons of fun and if it wasn’t digital I’d have probably worn it out by now. Fans of extreme metal should not miss out on this download-only release (available here). All the band ask is that you donate anything you can spare to the Chuck Schuldiner-approved musician’s charity Sweet Relief. It’s a great gesture and, with the band deciding to call it day and slink off into the shadows, a great way for them to close out an impressive career of evil.

Craven Idol – The Shackles Of Mammon

With its stunning artwork and a concept covering themes of power, avarice and corruption, Craven Idol’s The Shackles Of Mammon promises to be a scathing, angry and cohesive statement. And for the first four tracks Craven Idol certainly sound spitting mad. Pyromancer and A Ripping Strike are absolutely raging black thrash of the old Kreator/Destruction variety, Black Flame Divination is awesome Venom-style hooliganism and The Trudge is epic Bathory-worship. But cohesion proves to be a problem as the rumbling Dashed To Death and Mammon Est prove largely forgettable and, although they are decent enough tracks, Hunger and the doomy album-closer Tottering Cities Of Men struggle to regain the listeners attention. Fans of crusty venomous metal will find lots to like here but the album frustratingly fails to capitalise on the in-your-face intensity of its first half. Overall, The Shackles Of Mammon scrapes above average but there’s a shitload of promise here if the band can deliver with more consistency.

HMO Rating: 3 out of 5

Vampire – With Primeval Force

This has become a surprise favourite in recent weeks. I had suspected it would be a middling retro genre effort but Vampire have totally surpassed my expectations with their second album With Primeval Force. It’s not original and doesn’t linger in the mind after listening so it doesn’t quite have the makings of a classic… but it’s still one of most enjoyable albums I’ve heard so far this year. And if the band continues in this promising vein, hellish greatness awaits. The ghoulish vocals and melodic riffs bring to mind Tribulation’s album from last year, the myth and magic vibe recalls Dissection and the savage thrash and bash reminds me of Teutonic terrors like Kreator. In fact, if you thought Kreator’s Gods Of Violence album from earlier in the year was a shade too polished then this will be right up your street.