About a year ago, I mixed 3 songs for Saskatchewan based stoner/doom band Chronobot. The tracks have finally been released as a split LP with Kamloops stoner band Hemptress. Both bands are wonderful, and I’m very happy with how the Chronobot side came out! Check the links below for listening and purchasing:
Genre: Death/Thrash Metal | Label: Nuclear War Now! Productions
Location: Kansas City, MO, USA | Listen: Bandcamp
Ares Kingdom should pretty much be a household name now in underground metal, considering they’ve been around for almost 20 years, and members were also part of the legendary death metal band Order From Chaos. 2015 sees the band releasing their third full length album, meaning it’s been a good five years since their last one. However, Ares Kingdom have not been silent over that time frame – they released an album of cover songs that also acted as a “studio experiment” in terms of the band increasing their knowledge in the audio production side of things. “The Unburiable Dead” benefits greatly from the time spent learning new production techniques, and stands proudly among the rest of the band’s discography.
Obviously, people are going to be comparing this record to “Incendiary” (which is a masterpiece) and “Return to Dust.” First, “The Unburiable Dead” only contains seven tracks, but also features the longest Ares Kingdom song to date. There’s some epic songwriting to be heard, as songs build up mid-paced tempos to more frantic parts. The album opens up with its second longest track, “Ubique,” and after a few minutes of opening riffing, Alex Blume’s toxic vocals rip through some manic thrash riffs. At this point, it’s clear that fans of the previous two records won’t be disappointed.
Chuck Keller is on top of his lead playing on this record. He’s ripped some amazing leads throughout the years, and all those years of experience seem to shine through here, if the first track doesn’t give that away already. His sense of melody and phrasing are on point, and to me are exactly what a metal lead guitar is all about.
There’s a great variety of tempos on this record. It seems to me like the mid-pace tempo is a little more prominent here than on previous Ares Kingdom releases, but don’t let that fool you. Songs like “Nom de Guerre” and “Demoralize” are pure thrashers, filled to the brim with riffs that have all sorts of twists and turns. Listen to some of those picking patterns within – the main riff in the title track has this great part that varies between down picking and tremolo picking, and it’s some serious neck snapping stuff.
Mike Miller’s drum performance is also great on this – he’s always been a master at creating grooves within chaotic thrashing riffs, and he certainly has maintained that skill throughout the years. His kick patterns are never stagnant, and thanks to the solid production job, you can really hear that he’s hammering the shit out of that kit with some heart.
Once again, I have to come back to the production of this record. I’ve always appreciated the fact that Ares Kingdom self produce their music. Furthermore, it’s apparent they’ve become better with it over time. The guitar tone is dense with gain and truly massive, but you can still make out the notes even on speedier riffs that dance around the fretboard. But perhaps maybe the greatest part of this record’s sound is how warm and natural it sounds together. There’s no ridiculous modern production techniques here.
The album closes off with another epic tune, and as I mentioned, is the longest song in Ares Kingdom history, clocking in at over 10 minutes. There is no stagnation as the song plays through, and once again, it’s due to a great variety of riffs and feels. There’s even a blastbeat on this song, something that wasn’t even present in the Order From Chaos days. The closing riff itself seems very appropriate, as it feels victorious yet has a sense of desolation, much like the end of a long fought war.
It’s hard to say what the best Ares Kingdom record is at this point, because all of them are solid thrashing death metal records. It’s great that a band can have this kind of consistency in the quality of their music, and even better than they’ve managed to improve recording quality through the years. If you like what Ares Kingdom has done before, this album will satisfy you without a doubt. There are no bands that sound like Ares Kingdom, and I can only hope they continue to unleash pure metal warfare for years to come.
Genre: Death Metal | Label: Dark Descent Records
Location: New Orleans, LA, USA | Listen: Bandcamp
Five years ago, and when they were based in Montgomery, death metal mongers Grave Ritual released their debut album, “Euphoric Hymns from the Altar of Death.” Prior to that, they released a handful of splits and demos under the moniker Meathole Infection. After five years of silence, the band has relocated to New Orleans, and have released their most punishing slab of death metal to date. “Morbid Throne” combines massive death metal hooks with a clear-yet-suffocating sound, making this album a clear winner.
Grave Ritual’s main appeal has always been the quality of their riffs. Not only are they dark and evil, but they manage to make a lot of catchy riffs. While some bands might only have one “big riff” per song, Grave Ritual delivers riff after riff of proper death metal. Even when they were known as Meathole Infection, these guys churned out some proper riffs. “Morbid Throne” continues this trend flawlessly.
Most of the songs on this album are around the three minute mark, which means there really is no time for filler. The band pushes a variety of musical feels with each song, further cementing an identity for each track. The opening track does a great job kicking off the album with some mid paced riffing and desolate lead playing. For those who’ve been following the band’s progress since the Meathole Infection days, some of these songs may sound familiar. “Baleful Aversion” is a reworking of “Satan’s Supper” from the split with Violent Gorge, and “Adversary Crown” is “The Stench of Rot” from the split with Necrovorous. There may be a couple more re-recordings that I’m not aware of, but either way, these old songs (with new lyrics) sound better than ever and show that Grave Ritual are serious death metal worshipers.
As I mentioned earlier, the production of “Morbid Throne” is definitely the best that Grave Ritual’s ever had. The guitar tone is very well balanced. It’s heavy, but it cuts like a fresh razor blade through flesh. The drums sound nice and thick, and don’t have any unnatural tones. Dan Lowndes (of Cruciamentum) mixed and mastered this record, and his work always manages to create a thick sound without being too murky.
Although Grave Ritual clearly has the Incantation influence in their sound, they don’t sound like a clone band to me. To me, it’s just proper old school death metal that wastes no time. I hear some other influences seeping in, such as Carcass in the way they build up and break down riff segments. Overall, this is a fantastic death metal LP with no frills, just riffs soaked in evil with deathly vocals roaring over top.
Genre: Death Metal/Crust | Label: Neanderthal Stench/Choking Hazard
Location: Vancouver, BC, Canada | Listen: Bandcamp
Constantly evolving and pushing their sounds, AHNA from Vancouver are a band that have been reinventing themselves several times throughout their existence. Over the last few years, their sound has been leaning towards the death metal spectrum, with crust punk undertones seeping their way through the band’s performances. Last year, AHNA released three incredible splits that each proved to be a crushing slab of music. This year, the band returns with a mini-LP that manages to reach sinister sounds beyond the aforementioned splits.
Right away, AHNA declares musical warfare with a nice tremolo Bolt Thrower-esque riff. Much like the sound of bomber jets overhead, it can only imply imminent destruction, and the drums come in like the blast of a bomb. The thrashing pace continues, revealing great riff development therein. The drums have a clear punk foundation to them, and keep a furious momentum to drive the riffs. Following the blitzkrieg speedy riffs, the song breaks down into slow, eerie territory, creating a distinct balance within the song.
These elements are present throughout the mLP, especially the concept of balance. Not only do we get the balance of tempos, but there’s a distinct balance of overall mood. The death metal parts are frantic and pumping with adrenaline. The slow parts are sinister and pulsing. Furthermore, the usage of dual vocals creates another dynamic in AHNA’s music. Both the drummer and guitarist have distinct voices, one being a punkier shout, the other being a morbid death metal roar.
In addition to the unique contrast in vocal styles, AHNA utilizes another stand out technique throughout the album with the usage of lead guitars. In essence, they are often times not really “leads,” but rather a texture that creates an eerie atmosphere that is often unparalleled with bands that play crusty death metal. There are a couple traditional solos here and there, but mostly the lead guitar lets the riffs do the talking.
“Perpetual Warfare” benefits greatly from its on point production. Jesse Gander of RainCity Studios always does a great job with heavy music for bands in Vancouver and beyond, and AHNA’s sound has never been better. The band included a “demo” track from their upcoming full length as a bonus track on the vinyl version of this release, and it really makes it apparent how great the production is on the five tracks from the EP’s recording session.
Death metal fans, especially those who enjoy Autopsy and Bolt Thrower, will get much enjoyment from this release. Fans of Axegrinder, Sacrilege, and other metallic crust will also appreciate what AHNA is doing. Personally, this is my favourite EP from 2015, and I can’t get enough of what this band has been doing the past couple years. If this mLP is any indication, and as evident with the bonus demo track, AHNA’s upcoming LP is going to do some damage. That is, if there’s any survivors left from the onslaught of “Perpetual Warfare.”
Genre: Black/Death Metal | Label: Dark Descent Records
Location: Toronto, ON, Canada | Listen: Bandcamp
For those paying attention, Adversarial has been one of the most promising death metal acts of this decade. Formed in 2007, this Toronto power-trio has been annihilating everything in their path, whether people realize it or not. Their debut full length came out in 2010, which spewed forth an abundance of spiraling riffs to create a toxic atmosphere that was unparalleled by their peers. However, that infamously loud snare turned a lot of of listeners away from an otherwise incredible album. Adversarial corrected this problem with releases after, especially winning fans over with the split LP with Antediluvian. Finally, 2015 sees their second album, “Death, Endless Nothing and the Black Knife of Nihilism,” and it truly rises above all other black/death metal bands putting music out today.
First, one will notice right away that the production of this record benefits the style of music a lot more. Mixed by guitarist/vocalist C.S., it’s clear that a few more years of recording discipline have paid off. The guitars are thick, and allow the complexity of the riffs to stand out well against the barrage of drums. Drums of this speed are often hard to obtain a clear sound, but this mix achieves a great balance and allows all the hyperblasting and double kick madness to fulfill their roles properly. Lead guitars have a tasteful amount of delay that assist in creating a spiraling feeling of uneasiness. Furthermore, Damian Herring of Subterranean Watchtower Studios handled mastering duties and did a fine job of doing so. Any problems that listeners had with the debut Adversarial album have been nullified with this recording.
The songwriting of this album is unworldly. While most bands playing cavernous death metal end up with some murky version of Incantation worship (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing), this is not so with Adversarial. The riffs presented on this album take full advantage of the fretboard, and subsequently offer a wider range of sound and create a vortex of immense destruction. I often find myself craving to hear many of the riffs throughout this album, particularly on the tracks “Eonik Spiritual Warfare” and “Lone Wresting Hymns To The Warmoon Of Chaos,” the latter being my favourite track on the whole LP. The use of these chords within the riffs remind me of Deathspell Omega but in a much more volatile context. I’ve noticed as I get older, I tend to prefer metal that uses d-beats to drive its rhythm at parts. That being said, if a death metal band can keep my attention without the punk influence, they have to have some massive riffs, and that is certainly the case here.
“Death, Endless Nothing and the Black Knife of Nihilism” has another strength, and that lays within the flow of the record. Oddly enough, the intro track is the second track, and there’s an interlude in the middle with some 1984-Orwell stuff on it. Some may find this to be overused, but I found it very fitting within the destructive nature of this record. There’s just the right amount of tempo variations throughout the album that keep it fresh throughout its 37 minutes of playtime. There is quite a lot of blasting which is easy to overdo, but they throw in just the right amount of space between to let everything breathe.
In my opinion, this is easily the best record to come out in 2015, and it’s not even a close race despite the fact there were quite a lot of great releases. Adversarial just really excelled and went above and beyond what I expected, and this was an LP I had the highest of expectations for. If the first album’s production turned you off, don’t let that stop you from hearing this. Once again, Danille Gauvin’s artwork has graced the presentation of this album, and much like the music, it contains many intricacies that are more apparent as you begin to emerge yourself in it.
I’ve decided to have a personal website once again. It’ll mostly be focused on music I’m involved with as both a performing artist and audio engineer, as well as reviews of music I like. Stay tuned.