Immortal: Northern Chaos Gods (Nuclear Blast)
Founded in Bergen, Norway in 1991, it would be fair to say that Immortal are one of the legendary black metal outfits. Their classic At The Heart Of Winter album stands in the pantheon of black metal releases. Their last album was 2009’s All Shall Fall, a creative masterpiece that was hewn out of the Northern ice fields, but as we know, was to be their last with Abbath Doom Occulta at the helm. His departure in 2015, following an unsavoury period of infighting was unsurprising but for many the name Immortal was feared consigned to the halls of history. Not so, and with Northern Chaos Gods, their 9th release, Demonaz and Horgh have delivered a blistering return.
Listening to the Peter Tägtgren (who also provided the bass work) produced release in scorching heat is surreal. This is an album that reopens the icebound Gates Of Blashyrkh, the demon and battle filled winter landscaped realm. A world that is shrouded in cold and darkness. From the relentless pummelling of the opening title track, which cuts ferociously and fiercely into the heart of the listener, this is a statement of both intent and a demonstration of the power with which Immortal have once again harnessed. 42 minutes of blasting machine gun fire drumming, monstrous riffs and of course, the eerie screams of Demonaz sweep through the speakers like a wave of white walkers, the tracks chiselled from the glacial fjords of their homeland. It is triumphant in so many ways, with Into Battle Ride and Gates Of Blashyrkh majestic in their power and triumph. Gates Of Blashyrkh could possibly be the very essence of Immortal; a distillate of grimness that will once again see the band claw their way back onto the ice throne of Norwegian black metal.
The sheer scale of this assault is captured magnificently in the towering Called To Ice; a blisteringly intense and thunderous charge through the Nordic Winter storm. Where Mountains Rise continues the monumental sound, retaining the old school feel whilst progressing the new Immortal front and centre. Demonaz said “This is how Immortal is meant to sound, and this is an album that pays tribute to our musical past as well.” Northern Chaos Gods captures not only the past but guides the direction of the band, post Abbath. Nothing defines it better than the closing epic, Mighty Ravendark, which arrives at over nine minutes in length. Soaring guitars, crashing riffs, bludgeoning bass lines and Horgh’s stunning drumming combine to conclude the “ultimate journey through Blashyrkh, the realm of all darkness and cold.” A magnificent, triumphant and explosive return to the icy world. Even in the heat of the summer, the bleakness of the permafrost prevails. A grand epic and a welcome return. 10/10
Brass Owl: Brass Owl EP (Self Released)
Formed in southern Ohio, Brass Owl comprises a bonafide shred master on guitar, an award-winning session drummer and a bassist with a distinctive retro style. This EP has a jam-oriented sound and reflects the collective experience of the band. isn’t just a testament to the bands past accomplishments, but also reflects how tightly they have gelled as a unit. The mastermind behind this project is Brian Tarter, who is apparently approved by Steve Vai and it shows in some of the thrilling guitar work throughout the four tracks on offer here. State Of Mind for example, sees him noodling for fun, peeling off the solos whilst the band act as a tight unit. It’s entertaining, interesting and contains enough blues-soaked rock n’ roll to appeal to a wide audience. 7/10
Ultra-Violence: Operation Misdirection (Candlelight Records)
Described by lead vocalist Loris Castiglia as ‘the last chapter of a trilogy we started five years ago with our debut album’, Italian thrashers (what else could they be with their name?) Ultra-Violence certainly grab the bull by the horns with the opening beast Cadaver Decomposition Island, a six-minute rager that bizarrely morphs into almost AOR territory after about three minutes before hitting the accelerator once again. Welcome To The Freakshow shows the Death Angel colours one would expect. There’s a variety of thrash on offer, with the Megadeth style My Fragmented Self offering a contrast to the fear of being without your phone; the social commentary of Nomophobia with its progressive synth intros segueing into heads down Bay Area thrash.
The band, who formed in Turin in 2009 comprise Castiglia on vocals and guitar, Andrea Vacchiotti (guitars), drummer Francesco La Rosa and bassist Andrea Lorenti. They have a no-nonsense approach, ratchet everything to 11 and go for broke. That’s not strictly true, as there is a subtly in some of their tracks which many routine thrash outfits appear to miss. However, there is nothing that I’d heard that could prepare for the cover version that appeared nestled in the middle of this album. Yes, right out of left field appeared a thrash version of Dire Straits’ Money For Nothing. Bizarre isn’t the word! It’s so unexpected that I can’t quite comprehend whether it is genius or utter rubbish. I’m tempted to plump for the former and that earns Operation Misdirection a solid 7/10
Cold Snap: All Our Sins Arising Empire (Nuclear Blast)
When you read that Croatians, Cold Snap have supported the likes of Pro Pain, Dead By April and Ektomorf, you immediately have a good idea what they are going to sound like. Sure enough, they hit the opening track on their fourth album with a metaphoric punch in the face. Having formed in 2003, the band provide a style that combines the groove of Lamb Of God with the aggression and power of Hatebreed, a volatile and vicious mix that incorporates numerous styles whilst always exuding a weight that is both punishing and fresh. Having graced many of the major European festivals in recent years, including Metal Days and Wacken, Cold Snap have a style that only comes from hard work and putting in the hours. It's snarling, bulldog metal which doesn’t always float my boat, but All Our Sins is a visceral battery which covers various topics from the band members' various perspectives. Ranging from personal issues, such as watching close family members endure pain and suffering due to illness, to general views of the world as it exists today including people having to flee from their war-torn homelands or famous musicians feeling the need to take their own lives.
All Our Sins is heavy and infectious. Tracks such as Demons and Fallen Angels are huge and with the addition of a second vocalist the six-piece has been able to widen the scope of their sound with the introduction of more prominent screamed and growled vocals, as well as a more groove-oriented approach to riffing that melds the familiar bounce of nu-metal with the bands signature cut throat attack. Cold Snap is Jan Kerekeš vocals; Dario Sambol drums; Zoran Ernoić bass; Dario Berg vocals / samples; Dorian Pavlović guitar and Zdravko Lovrić guitar. All Our Sins is out in July and is well worth a listen if you like something with real punch. 8/10