Roman "extreme epic metal" band Stormlord once again return with another titanic slab of symphonic blackened death metal. Opening with Levithan the orchestral swells come in early to the song but are quickly joined by blistering blastbeats. What is obvious about Stormlord is that they aren't afraid to throw everything at a song much like countrymen Fleshgod Apocalypse, as the cinematic strings really add another level to their sound, as do the vocals of Cristiano Borchi which switch between black metal screams and guttural death metal growls. Though the other members of the band don't mess around either playing some explosive extreme metal, that has been perfectly composed to give a huge feel enveloping you in a wall of sound.
The songs on the album deal with the legends of Ancient Rome such as Romulus along with Conan The Barbarian on Cimmeria which has massive waves of synths. They have been plying this style of music inspired by heroic legends of the past since 1991 and they show no signs of easing up on this sixth album. Slower more epic tracks like the title track and the slow burning Sherden which takes a leaf out of Amon Amarth's book, which also features some great clean vocals from guitarist/keyboardist Gianpaolo Caprino. Far is an album that will appeal to fans of Dimmu Borgir, Amon Amarth and even Septicflesh, it definitely has an epic feel about it so it's a little odd that this is bands sixth album and I haven't heard any of their previous releases, happily this record has made me want to go back and listen to their previous releases, which is always a good sign! 8/10
Windthrow: Treacherous Beckonings (Self Released) [Paul S]
Windthrow are a one man band project, based in Sweden. The man in question is Robin Pettersson, and he’s been making music under the name Windthrow, since 2018, and Treacherous Beckonings is the first album from this project. The album kicks off with Jag For, and we are dropped straight into a blast beat and tremolo picked savagery. The track sounds orthodox, but is also musical and tuneful. The track has a relentless quality that I really enjoyed. Good Start! Next we get a short, folky instrumental called Rimfrost, it features a couple of very traditional sounding instruments (possibly a Hurdy-Gurdy), it feels bleak, which fits the feel of this album. Rushing Blood is next, and is a slight change in style. This track has a pagan metal feel to it that is quite reminiscent of Primordial (although with harsh vocals). The track features great riffs, lots of energy and has a slight NWOBHM feel to some of the riffing; this is emphasised by a couple of ‘galloping horse’ tempo riffs in the second half of the song.
Alea Lacta Est is slower, but is driving and powerful, the track does speed up in the second half, with some nice blast beats and tremolo picked riffs. The album comes to an end with Morrowless, which starts with a blast beat and a cracking solo, to batter the listener. The song does slow down a bit as it goes on, and again has a pagan metal feel to it. It’s melodic and tuneful and is a great ending to the album. Treacherous Beckonings is a great piece of pagany black metal. I’ve really enjoyed it, it’s tuneful and melodic, whilst still being heavy and extreme. My only criticism would be the length of the album. Most black metal albums are longer than this at 33 minutes, easily long enough for hardcore or grindcore, but it feels a little short for this sort of album. However, it’s a criticism that is actually a compliment; I wanted more. So, great album, could you please make the next one longer so I can enjoy your music for longer? 8/10
Paladin: Ascension (Prosthetic Records) [Matt]
Paladin are an American band, in fact they are from Atlanta, Georgia but they have consciously adopted a European style of metal, that they hope will separate them from their American compatriots. Well all I can say is that this mission to bring European power metal to American audiences is accomplished brilliantly as this debut album opens with lots of slicing dual guitar leads as Alex Parra and Taylor Washington trade off from the first moment of Awakening before those double kicks get things moving at the pace of a jet fighter. From here it's all systems go as the songs keep coming with lightning fast precision driven by the rhythm section of Nathan McKinney who beats the skins like they've wronged him and newest member Andy McGraw whose bass is the backbone for all the mayhem.
Things take a slight left turn on Divine Providence which sees Taylor Washington moving between his already established soaring cleans to adopt a harsher growl which shouldn't work but it does so well giving them a bit more of a thrash bent especially on Carpe Diem. From here on out the growls and cleans battling much like the guitars (Bury The Light) that seem to be in a constant struggle for supremacy. Ascension is an assured debut record, from the opening minutes until the final moments. It really shows what these young metalheads can do, shifting effortlessly between Scandi power metal and German thrash doing both with ease in a blaze of muscular guitarwork and anthemic songwriting. This record is a definite Ascension for Paladin who I hope to see on a stage sometime soon due to the absolute quality of this album. 8/10
Orbstruct: Phobos Rising (Self Released) [Paul S]
Orbstruct are a 2 piece based in Ukraine, they’ve been going since 2016 and this is their first album. The band play a very brutal style of death metal, mainly old school in flavour, but with a few newer elements to add to the mix. Firstly, let’s deal with the things that don’t work. The album’s sound isn’t consistent throughout the album. The first 2 tracks on the album (Venus Rising and Shade Of Death) sound like they were recorded at a different time to the rest of the album. The production and mix on these first 2 tracks isn’t very good. The vocals (which are very guttural and extreme) are too high in the mix, as are the drums. The bass and guitar are practically missing on these first 2 tracks. Also, the guitar and bass sound is very detuned (which in itself isn’t a bad thing) and flat, there's no sharp, raspy edge to the guitar and bass sound. This means tracks 1 and 2 feel like there isn’t any guitar or bass on them. The vocals are too high in the mix all the way through the album (a common complaint with death metal), but on the first 2 tracks it’s a real problem. It’s a shame as there might be some good material here, that the mix and production don’t let you hear (there’s a great guitar solo on Venus Rising, but that's the only guitar you can hear, if it was all at the volume the guitar solo was at, it could have been a good song).
The other problem with the album is some of the pacing. Most of the material is either slow or mid-paced, and in some cases it drops to a boring and plodding pace, and doesn’t really work. Gods Gun, Utopian and the second half of (No) Restrictions all suffer from having a lacklustre feel to the pacing, and it’s boring (sorry, I hate describing music as boring, but it’s boring). It turns out that Bolt Thrower are a very clever band, making slow and mid-paced death metal interesting and engaging. However, it’s not all bad, there’s some good stuff on here as well. The guitar solos are all really good, technical, tuneful and melodic. Deterioration is a great track, it’s slow, but feels flowing, the tempo is great (and it’s this slow but flowing feel that the plodding songs are missing). Another track that benefits from a better tempo is title track Phobos Rising, which is relentless and driving, and a cracking track. Phobos Rising feels like a missed opportunity. This band clearly have talent as musicians and songwriters, but too much of Phobos Rising is spoiled by, either, bad production, or bad tempos. The band need to build on what works, and be more self critical about what doesn’t. It’s a solid, but unremarkable album, that feels like it could have been a whole lot better. 6/10