Orphaned Land: Unsung Prophets & Dead Messiahs (Century Media)
It’s been five years since All Is One, the epic and possibly breakthrough release from the Israeli outfit. It’s fair to say that the band have hardly kept a low profile since then, with several world tours and festival appearances, collaborations and the release of the 25th anniversary Orphaned Land and Friends earlier in 2017. Unsung Prophets & Dead Messiahs is the first album to feature guitarist Idan Amsalem, who replaced Yossi Sassi back in 2014.
Once more the band has served up a treat with a magnificent release that builds upon their previous albums, intricate pieces nestle comfortably alongside the straightforward death metal passages. The band has reached extensively into their oriental and Eastern toy box to superb effect, with bouzouki, xylophone, saz, oud and piano all blending with the guitar work of Amsalem and Chen Balbus, the percussion of Matan Shmuely and the reliable thunderous bass lines of Uri Zechla.
With multiple female backing vocals, often in a choral style, as well as guest appearances from Steve Hackett, Hansi Kürsch and Tomas Lindberg (At The Gates) the album opens with The Cove, an eight minute epic which comprises multiple layers, time changes and styles, careering from biblical to death vocals with ease.
Vocalist Kobi Farhi is on magnificent form, his soaring call to prayer captivating. Several shorter tracks follow, ranging from the crushingly heavy We Do Not Resist through to the more traditional Yedidi, as we embark on a typical journey which encapsulates the Orphaned Land approach; protest, resistance, joy, tragedy, anger, all encapsulated in anthemic and poetic compositions.
It’s rare to get a truly jaw dropping track on an album but that’s exactly what happened when Chains Fall To Gravity permeated my speakers. An uplifting message is enveloped in one of the most beautifully sensitive and graceful songs I’ve ever heard. Farhi’s vocals coated with velvet yet full of defiance and steel. Like Orpheus follows, a powerful composition with Blind Guardian’s Kürsch’s vocals to the rising chorus fitting seamlessly.
The fusion of sounds continues with My Brother’s Keeper, a union of several styles which works brilliantly, whilst the six minute Take My Hand maintains a thumping beat with bouzouki, strings and crunching riffs all allowing the mellow tones of Farhi to weave his lyrical storytelling.
Penultimate track Only The Dead Have Seen The End Of The War, often apparently mistakenly attributed to Plato opens with haunting sirens that blend with some beautiful string sections to create an image of horror before the track rampages with the arrival of some brutal death vocals from Lindberg. A change in tempo half way through provides respite before the whole thing erupts again, Farhi and Lindberg’s guttural strains contrasted by choral voices and chanting, whilst the whole track is smoothly underpinned by thick synthesisers. The Manifest – Epilogue with its simple message concludes a quite magnificent release which I think is their finest to date. 10/10
Watain: Trident Wolf Eclipse (Century Media)
Sweden’s Black Metallers Watain return with their sixth album, a short but brutal affair. The band’s last release in August 2013 was The Wild Hunt, which as well as being double the length of Trident Wolf Eclipse, contained tracks which moved far away from the ritualistic onslaught one has come to expect from this band. The range of diversity displayed in the previous release is limited in comparison on Trident Wolf Eclipse which returns to the more traditional black metal approach. Eight songs, all under five minutes in length and dripping with searing riffs, battering drums and Erik Danielsson’s guttural malevolence in the vocal department.
Plenty of groove underpins the tracks, such as Furor Diabolicus, a rampaging beast which haunts the soul and tears skin from flesh in equal measure. The core of the band remains with Danielsson’s demonic bass lines combined with the blisteringly fast drumming of Hakan Jonsson and Pelle Forsberg’s slicing axe work. At times majestic, the towering A Throne Below, at times full on in your face, Nuclear Alchemy, Watain’s return, along with the controversy they inevitably create, as well as a headline show at Bloodstock in August has already stoked the fires in 2018. An imperious return. 8/10
Legion Of Wolves: Bringers Of The Dark Sleep (Self Released)
On those rare occasions when an album grabs you the throat and pins you against the wall you inevitably must play it again to check your faculties are still in the right place. The debut release by Dublin death metal outfit Legion Of Wolves is one such album. Dripping with the groove of Lamb Of god and a host of death metal outfits, Bringers Of The Dark Sleep seeps into your pores, infiltrating the soul and converting your heart to a brutal ball of blackness. The combined riffage of Arkaduisz Kupiszowski and Annatar interacts with all the confidence of a stadium level act, whilst the backbone of the band, drummer Jason Connolly and bassist Piotr is built more solidly than the All Blacks front row.
Up front the truly guttural rasp of vocalist Chris adds the finishing touches. The album really is a stomping beast, from the opening title track, the sheer power of Grond (Hammer Of The Underworld), a reference to the mighty hammer wielded by Morgoth in Middle Earth and also the name of the 100ft long Orc battering ram used to breach Gondor and the sheer infectious channels on Plague Of The Immortal, complete with demolition drums and a demonic vocal performance. There really is no hiding place from the onslaught, the vicious riffs which peel out of your speaker on each track grab you tightly alongside the unearthly growls and snarls of Chris. Not that you’d want to hide. A storming debut. 9/10
Hellish God: The Evil Emanations (Everlasting Spew)
Hailing from the Lombardy region of Italy, Hellish God is a four-piece death metal outfit. The Evil Emanations is their debut album which follows the satanic death metal blueprint faithfully from start to finish. It’s a short album, 30 minutes in total but the band don’t hold back with an ultra-aggressive approach which sears the skin and rips flesh. I’m not a big fan of some of the impish screaming vocals which surface during tracks but when vocalist Tya can do his own thing it improves with some Corpsegrinder like growls. It’s full throttle, with blast beats and 100mph drumming throughout, some fine shredding from founder Michele De Ioia and thunderous bass lines. Tracks such as Burning The Infidel, Agitator Shall Be Triumphant! and album closer Marching With The Accuser tick all the death metal boxes. A solid release. 7/10