The last time I encountered the UK’s Formicarius was back in December when they contributed a track Lake of the Dead to the excellent compilation Speed Kills VII. Back then I called them “very promising” and I’m glad to report that, with Black Mass Ritual, they have delivered on that promise and then some.
Formicarius go medievil on your ass with their debut album, dishing out Cradle of Filth-style symphonic metal with power metal exuberance. The whirling atmosphere, rib-cracking riffs and exotic solos sound like Mustaine and Friedman jamming with Emperor, the potent speed metal velocity, galloping bass and catchy choruses bring to mind early Helloween and there’s a folky bent to the riffs and instrumentation that reminds me of the classic Skyclad albums.
All the performances are outstanding, from Lord Saunders’ articulate Abbath-esque croak to Morath’s grand and eloquent keyboard embellishments and solos (check out the excellent outro piano on Overlord, a standout moment). The songwriting is also uniformly excellent. An overly jaunty riff in Abhorrent Feast of Minds is the only thing close to a mis-step and it’s soon forgiven as Master of Past and Present closes the album on a dark, dramatic high.
It’s a fantastic debut: rampaging, grand black metal with a healthy dose of epic tradition and fearless creativity. In a year where I’ve been mainly knocked out by death metal albums, Formicarius have struck a decisive blow for black metal. And they’ve done it with an album that is all kinds of metal fun for all kinds of metal fans. The Black Mass Ritual begins on July 21st, don’t miss out.
Here’s a rousing track from Primordial’s new live album Gods to the Godless (Live at Bang Your Head Festival Germany 2015). I always feel like live shows are defined by the inclusion of new tracks. My memories of live performances usually revolve around the new songs that were played. For better or worse, bands seem to put extra welly into the new stuff: meaning that brilliant new songs make for an unforgettable show but weak ones will likely mar my recollections, no matter how classics-laden the show might have been. The former is definitely the case with Primordial. Four of the eleven songs here are taken from their last album Where Greater Men Have Fallen and here’s an amazing version of the title track: a burly and martial take that surpasses the studio version. Alan Nemtheanga proves himself, once again, the consummate metal frontman, and the band’s chemistry and the skill of their arrangements are even more evident in the live setting: every instrument occupying a unique space to create a massive wall of sound. Primordial, over twenty years into their career, sound like they’re determined to remain impassioned and vital until the bitter end.
[To hear the Song of the Week, click track three on the YouTube screen below. And then listen to the whole thing, you won’t regret it]
I wish I’d heard HEart of the Ages when it was released. Mixing extreme metal with prog and folk hardly seems all that audacious now but when In the Woods…’ debut album came out in 1995 this was a leap forward for black metal. There were similar attempts from Ulver and Primordial in the same year but, even compared to those great albums, HEart of the Ages sounds more forward-thinking and groundbreaking. 21 years later their style might not seem as startling but the music still has a fresh zing of originality and there’s plenty to love in its combination of Burzumic shrieking, melancholic doom, heathen folk and Floyd/Crimson soundscapes. Latecomers should buy the recent Heart of the Woods box set for a particularly plush version of the album. The Norwegians are also due to return later in 2016 with their reunion album Pure. If like me, you’ve missed out on In the Woods…, now is a great time to get involved.
Let’s have a look at the new releases July has in store for us. Not an exhaustive list – only the best stuff sets off the HMO Mission Control New Release Klaxon. This month is heavy on reissues but it’s all great stuff. (All release dates are for the UK)
Der Rote Milan – Aus Der Asche (CD/Download – Out 1st July 2016)
I got an advance copy of this and it’s fantastic. An incredibly accomplished debut album: punishing and vitriolic black metal with some gripping, beautiful passages. It’s only getting a limited run of 200 CDs but you will be able to buy the digital version on their Bandcamp page too. It’s one of the best releases of the year so far. Even likely to be a contender for my end-of-year list shenanigans.
Stuff like this happened all the time in the 80s
Piledriver – Stay Ugly (CD – 8th July)
Here’s a reissue of Piledriver’s second, and final, album. This one is of great interest for Virgin Steele fans. It’s from the post-Noble Savage period in 1986 where Virgin Steele mainman David DeFeis busied himself, under aliases, with a bunch of side-projects in order to pay off Virgin Steele’s mounting debts. He produces and writes all the songs on this and Edward Pursino also writes and plays guitar. David doesn’t sing on this though, that task is taken up by Piledriver himself. Real name: Gordon.
Bulldozer – The Day of Wrath and The Final Separation (Vinyl – 8th July)
Vinyl reissue of the first two albums from the Venom/Motorhead-like Italian band. I’ve been after their stuff for a while but it’s usually out of print or expensive. These reissues will do nicely and the FOAD label always does wonderful bang-up jobs of their reissues.
Piledriver! Bulldozer! … er… Girl! These UK rockers were glammy contrarians of the NWOBHM era and featured future Def Lep guitarist Phil Collen and future L.A. Guns singer Phil Lewis. Their first two albums get the Rock Candy reissue treatment. I’m tempted by these but I’ve maybe got all the Girl I need on the My Number compilation so I won’t be rushing out to get them.
Agalloch – Pale Folklore, The Mantle, and Ashes Against The Grain (CD/Vinyl – 15th July)
Plush reissues of the progressive black metal band’s first three albums. Wouldn’t be priorities for me but these are some well-regarded albums so they’ll be getting added to my increasingly unwieldy wish list.
Cradle of Filth – Dusk and Her Embrace… the Original Sin (CD/Vinyl – 15th July)
Totally unreleased Filth! This is the original version of their classic album Dusk and Her Embrace that has never been heard until now. It was abandoned due to a band split and a legal fracas but it’s finally here. Not every month you get to hear a mythical “lost” album, let alone one that’s an alternative version of a black metal staple. I’d say that makes this essential.
Twisted Sister – Rock N’ Roll Saviours: The Early Years (CD Box Set – 22nd July)
Here’s a potentially enticing box set covering live stuff from the band’s early daze. I say “potentially” cause if it’s going to be £40 for three discs they can bugger right off. “But it’s got a pop-up mirror.” Oooh… that makes all the difference. I do love looking at my own face.
Carcass – Choice Cuts Vinyl (22nd July)
Reissue of an old Carcass compilation. Always thought the title and the cover were a bit… shit. But if you don’t have any Carcass this wouldn’t be a bad place to start. Album tracks, EP tracks and some Peel Sessions for good measure. Nothing I don’t have already though. Extra temptation comes in the form of coloured vinyl. Plus a nifty T-Shirt if you buy it direct from Earache too.
Dio – Decade of Dio 1983 – 1993 (CD/Vinyl Box Set – 22nd July)
Last, and certainly not least, the new Dio box set. I initally pooh-poohed this due to the lack of bonus tracks/rarities but then I remembered I’m missing Lock Up the Wolves and Strange Highways. So I might as well bloody get it then, eh? I feel like it’s what Ronnie would have wanted.
And that’s the lot! Let me know what you think of the selection and whether there’s anything righteous that I’ve missed. Happy shopping!
Bergtatt, the title of Ulver’s 1995 debut, doesn’t seem to have an exact translation to English. In the album’s liner notes it’s translated as both “Spellbound” and “Mountain-taken” which is the literal translation*. It’s a Norwegian term for people (usually maidens I imagine) that have been lured into the hills by particularly alluring trolls and other assorted faerie folk, never to return! The music is appropriately seductive, alluring and magical: the album is laden with dreamy acoustic guitars, flutes and soothing Gregorian chant singing. There’s excellent, raw black metal throughout as well but, even then, the orchestrated layers of guitar don’t shatter the dreamy allure: Ulver aiming for a panoramic, classical vibe rather than the usual evil aggression. It’s a debut so fully realised that the band immediately moved on from the style but Bergtatt has proven to be inescapably influential. In 1995 this was a unique album but so many bands have followed in its dreamy, progressive footsteps since that, if it was released today, it would be more relevant than ever. It’s ageless rock n troll.
*In English the full album title is Mountain-taken: A Fairy Tale in 5 Chapters
[Ulver – Capitel I: I Troldskog Faren Vild or Chapter I : Lost in a Forest of Trolls]
When Primordial released their debut album Imrama they hadn’t yet discovered the unique and powerful heathen metal approach they’re now revered for. It’s easy to overlook Imrama, then, but you shouldn’t: all the pointers to their future greatness are here. And as a bonus you get to play “spot the influence” too. Always fun. There’s a much more prominent black metal attack on this than on later efforts and also a gothic mournfulness which reminds me of the early Anathema stuff. A.A. Nemtheanga also throws in some neat Martin Walkyier “chaarggee-AH” type vocals too which always wins points from me! And there’s that rolling, strummy folkiness in tracks like Fuil Ársa that would be become the band’s staple in future years. So it’s all here really, just rejigged, refocused, refined and perfected in later releases. An interesting and promising debut from a band headed for greatness. On last night’s train journey from Ayr to Glasgow this went down especially well: the folkiness was ideal for the beautiful sunset view of Arran, and the rough, charging black metal was perfect for drowning out all the drunken revellers heading back home from a day at the races.
What makes a great cover version? There’s only one question you have to ask: does the band covering the song make it their own? Skyclad’s cover of Thin Lizzy’s Emerald is excellent. It’s faithful to the original song but the more metallic, aggressive and threatening delivery along with the clever use of violin to handle the chorus riff and bridge ensures the song fits perfectly in Skyclad’s folk metal oeuvre. Extra points awarded for guest guitar from Lizzy’s ‘Robbo’ Robertson and the fact that this version is responsible for me getting into Thin Lizzy in the first place! Even if I (and probably you) ultimately prefer the original there is no denying this is an inspired and enjoyable cover version.
Emerald opens their 1992 EP Tracks From the Wilderness and is followed by two studio cuts that sadly don’t keep up the standard it sets. A Room Next Door is a decent ballad with beautiful, rustic acoustic guitars but When All Else Fails is forgettable thrash. Neither are in the same league as the Lizzy cover or up to the quality of the tracks on the band’s previous two albums. The lack of Fritha Jenkins’ violin on these suggests they were probably off-cuts from the band’s debut album. The EP closes out with three energetic and endearing live tracks from the Dynamo festival. The band are tight and Martin Walkyier delivers each song with zeal. These excellent performances round out a worthwhile stop-gap release but there’s no denying this is mainly worth buying for Emerald. For fans only.