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Thursday 1 December 2022

Reviews: Okkultist, Norrsköld, Black Anvil, Lockhart (Reviews By Paul Scoble, David G, Erick Willand & Matt Bladen)

Okkultist - O.M.E.N. (Alma Mater Records) [Paul Scoble]

Okkultist have been making music together since 2016, the five piece are based in Lisbon, Portugal. O.M.E.N. is the bands second album; it is preceded by and EP called Eye Of The Beholder in 2017, and the bands debut album, Reinventing Evil in 2019. The band is made up of Beatriz Mariano on vocals, Leander Sandmeier on guitar, David J. Rodrigues on bass, João Corceiro on guitar and Eduardo Sinatra on drums.

Okkultist play a fairly modern style of melodic death metal, the sound has a definite technical edge to it, but is also packed with tunefulness and drive. A lot of the material on O.M.E.N. is mid-paced rather than blasting fast, the track Death To Your Breed is a good example of this. The track is mid-paced, but is very taut and has a lot of energy and is purposeful. The song does have a couple of slower, heavier sections and a cracking solo but it is mainly about mid-paced stomp. Another mid-paced track is the Hammer Horror titled Blood On Satans Claw, which has a relentless and unstoppable feel to it, the song boasts a slower, but very memorable chorus, really good vocals, a great solo and a nastily dissonant ending.

9th Layer Of The Abyss takes the tempo down too slow and heavy for most of the the song. The track is mainly heavy and dissonant, it's very rhythmic and staccato, so the audience will feel battered by the song. There is a great guitar melody added near the end and, the track comes to a close with break of much faster death metal that drives the song to its end. 

The balance of pacing on this album does come down on the side of mid-paced melodic death metal, there a couple of tracks on O.M.E.N. that are high speed blasts. Demonic Warfare is fast and flowing death metal which is tight and driving. While Thy Blood, Thy Flesh, Thy Sacrifice is also fast, but in a more aggressive and combative way. The song features some great blast beats and (another) really good solo.

The album also contains a tribute to Children Of Bodom, with a cover version of the song Sixpounder, originally from the COB album Hate Crew Deathroll. The cover is done well, it’s slightly faster and the lack of keyboards make it feel a little bit harder than the original, but it has the same spirit and energy to the Bodom version and I feel that Alexi Laiho would have liked it.

O.M.E.N. is a great album full of enough ferocity to push the right death metal buttons, but still drips with melody and tunefulness. Technically this is a very accomplished album, everyone involved have put down very good performances, and the album sounds really great, the mix and production is spot on. It’s on the more extreme end of the melodic death metal spectrum, so the album is aggressive and blasting, as well as being full of melodiousness, it’s a difficult balance to achieve, and Okkultist pull it off with ease. 8/10

Norrsköld – Prisma Aeturnus (Self Released) [David G]

The unsurprisingly Swedish four-piece Norrsköld bring us their third album in Prisma Aeternus, and it is interesting to hear something that calls back to elements of late 90’s/early 00’s style of melodic death that the creators have largely moved away from, but isn’t afraid to put this in the context of a more modern sound.

Witness The Illusion shows some of the same angsty energy that was present in the origins of the scene, bounding out frantically with twin guitars ablaze. It’s enough to put a smile on a middle-aged man’s face and think back to the vibrancy of acts like The Everdawn and Gates of Ishtar, though delivered with a polish which wasn’t available to bands of the early era. There’s even an In Flames-ian acoustic folk outro that adds a nice flavour.

This End follows up with a more considered style, pushing the raspy vocals to the fore and slowly chugging along. With natty melodic harmonies and a short, blooming solo it leans into a more modern style, while maintaining the roots it has set. It’s interesting to hear these distinctly updated tones across the album as they provide an uplifting and positive counterbalance to the more nervy and tense outbursts. For a good example see the rough gallop of Dissolved that gives way to a triumphal melody in the chorus.

Indifference stands a little in contrast thanks to the rough intro that really does go back to the 90’s in tremolo picked fury, before pulling a section that wouldn’t sound out of place in the atmospheric-era of mid-to-late-90's Hypocrisy. It sits weirdly in an album that likes to throw cheeky guitar breaks and jagged but fun riffs, but it also provides a surprising highlight.

There are a few moments that don’t quite satisfy, mostly when breaking down and the bottom end just doesn’t have the requisite presence to really punch home the moment, such as in the otherwise smile-inducing Beyond The Night. Perfection Into Solitude pulls the gently croaked vocal over quiet section that sounds as uncomfortable as it did when people first started doing it, detracting from some rather poignant guitar work throughout.

Standing at 33 minutes, this is short shot in the arm for those that want the more traditionally leaning approach. This year we’ve seen a prominent group of scene luminaries release an album that did something similar in modernising an older sound quite successfully, but that had a level of polish which made it feel too controlled. Norrsköld bring back the chaotic energy that defined melodic death at its height so that even the missteps on Prisma Aeturnus seem to be born of their love of the style, and I find that rather endearing. 8/10

Black Anvil - Regenesis (Season of Mist) [Erick Willand]

New York is a steaming pile of humanity and as such has produced an unprecedented amount of innovative genre bending music. From early punk and glam rock to hardcore, thrash and death metal and most recently a growing rogues gallery of black metal, specifically the avantgarde variety. Enter Black Anvil into that fray with a blast of horns and bombast as Regenesis lays down a varied, if somewhat lengthy entry to that legendary list.

Opening with the standard, an ambient piece titled The Gates Of Brass that I have to admit could have been left off and no one would have ever known, it’s not bad just, well…standard. In Two opens the affair properly with some serious blasts and P’s distinct vocals and a flare of epicness that heralds what's to come. At 5:39 in length and packed with subtle and not-so-subtle style nods, it's a heady song not without memorable riffs however. The Bet is a rougher approach yet still carries plenty of melody and gravel rolls nicely into 8Bit Terror with it’s black’n’roll via Satyricon vibe and catchy chorus. 

Track 5, 29 is a different beast altogether, fast and deeply aggressive; it's the first straight visceral black metal track here with a great vocal delivery and my pick for best track on the album. Track 6 is Silver & Steel and is a clear style shift. I swear my first thought was KISS, not in a bad way either. This is a slower paced song but don’t think doom, the structure is more prog rock, complete with harmonized vocals and although I wasn’t expecting this I’m here for it. That pace was not to last however and Castrum Doloris is another fun ripper of a ride, despite the evangelical preacher sound bit in the middle which I feel could…should have been cut for the sheer fact of overdoneness. And yes, I made that word up.

This is a long album, but I’m not bored and sticking with it bears rewards such as track 8, Echoes & Tapestry. This is a fantastic example of mature black metal song writing, built with a clear ear for melody and studied knowledge of the ‘hook’. I listened to this track 3 times in a row despite the 5:30 run time. Echoes & Tapestry is so good that the rest of Regenesis feels like extra/bonus songs. 

Starting with track 9 is VV, another ambient piece that leads into NY Nightmares with guest vocals by Danny “Ezec” Diablo, a long time veteran of the New York hardcore and hip-hop scene. This is very much a North Eastern song with a cold tone yet plenty of gang lyrics and harmonized vocals that give it a distinct hardcore sound, this song feels like autumn. Grant Us His Love is the second to last track but you’d never know it by the intense black metal buzzsaw attack pockmarked with crunchy guitar bits and a sudden singing chorus and horn blast ending complete with the sound of something burning. 

And finally, the title track, Regenesis and it follows the rules set by this album in mixing elements style yet still maintaining a cohesive song structure that just works. Grandiose, epic yet still sharp and dirty, melodic yet hammering, a top shelf ending song. Which leads, of course, to my thoughts on the cover art which sports a dark structure in the shape of a maze covered infinity symbol on massive pillars that descend into blackness, I dig it. With only a few minor things I’d change or that just didn’t fit, this is a very solid album and absolutely worth the time. 8/10

Lockhart - No Chance (Self Released) [Matt Bladen]

Fluffy AOR featuring Goat Horn/Cauldron man Jason Decay and members of the NWOTHM/Thrash scene? Yeah ok then! No Chance is the debut 3 track EP from their Toronto band who are a much lighter, more cuddly option than anything the members have played in. Jason is joined by veterans of the metal scene; drummer Fabio Alessandrini (Bonfire/Annihilator/Enemy Eyes), vocalist/guitarist/synth player Devon Kerr (Axxiom) to make the slickest 80's influenced AOR this side of Foreigner, REO Speedwagon and Kansas, from the synthy goodness of Just Can't Wait, through the bouncy Under Fire and the opener No Chance In Hell, this EP is currently only available digitally and on on cassette, to really make it authentic to the music. 7/10    

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