Diabolical Messiah – Demonic Weapons Against the Sacred

Big hooks and big tremolo riffs  are the first thing to come to mind listening to Diabolical Messiah’s second studio album; throughout the album’s short duration, those two are the defining characteristics of the Chilean veterans’ songwriting along with the nearly constant roar of the band’s vocalist. Almost every song is a brief burst of fire, burning bright and then ending after alternating and repeating the same two or three riffs in a manner reminiscent of Nunslaughter in approach, if not in sound, with nine of the ten songs on the twenty five minute album being around three minutes long or shorter. In contrast to the relatively simplistic composition, a lot of the best riffs are catchy and well-written long form melodies that draw me in consistently, demanding attention after shorter sections of ripping shorter riffs that range from the more chaotic sounds of Incantation’s fastest riffs to reminding me of Sadistic Intent and to things that are unique to Diabolical Messiah.

Despite the fact that most of the album is right around the same tempo and despite the fact that the drumming is nearly constantly doing similar blasting patterns, Diabolical Messiah know when to ride a series of short phrases and when to shift to a melody (or to do one of the relatively few slow parts) in order to keep memorability at a maximum and keep listeners engaged. Sparse harmonization adds flavor without being overused enough to start feeling saccharine, and the guitar tone and production are massive enough to really let the guitars carry the album; though death metal at its best is often a combination of catchy vocal lines, heavy and interesting drum patterns, and sick riffs, Demonic Weapons Against the Sacred is, by virtue of the fantastic guitarwork overlaid over repetitive drumming and vocals, a fundamentally riff-centric album. While this would often be a bit of a detriment to me, the songwriting here is strong enough to keep me coming back consistently, and after a few months of listening, to it, I can’t recommend the album enough.  Demonic Weapons Against the Sacred is a great accomplishment for Diabolical Messiah, and yet another excellent addition to the Dark Descent Records catalog.

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Wampyrinacht – We Will Be Watching. Les cultes de Satan et les mystères de la mort

Finally, fifteen years after being recorded, Wampyrinacht’s full length debut has been unleashed upon the world. Jumping from ripping speed metal rhythms to more traditional eerie Hellenic black metal to interspersed moments of neoclassical shred, Wampyrinacht have really recorded something special and, at least to my ears, unique. The atmosphere is tremendously Greek in the best of ways despite the regular tempo and sometimes even style shifts within a song, with a doom metal dirge sometimes shifting to a keyboard-laden section of gloom to more neoclassicism to black metal again in a single stupendous long piece. “Ambitious” is probably the best word to describe the album; not content with just rehashing standard Rotting Christ or Necromantia tropes, Wampyrinacht have really shoved enough quality content into each song that attempting to describe it all individually would nearly require a section by section description, and as much as I hate schizophrenic bands that attempt something similar, Necrolord and Mantus really managed to avoid the jammed-together feeling that lesser songwriters evoke when doing something comparable.

Past the songwriting itself, some other things that deserve mention are Necrolord’s fantastic vocals and the solid production that gives the whole mix room to breathe without sounding too clean for comfort. While I don’t generally like the choice to forsake an old logo for text, in this one case it fits the sampled artwork (Luis Falero’s “Witches on the Sabbath”) fantastically, lending a nice touch of good presentation to the overall package. Classic Hellenic sounding stuff is more or less my favorite sort of black metal, and it’s great to hear so many killer additions to it this year (Wampyrinacht, Cult of Eibon, Caedes Cruenta, and more). a1693470863_10I desperately hope that this makes it to vinyl at some point, and that it gets the attention that it deserves.

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Legionnaire – Dawn of Genesis

I’ve been watching this band for a couple of years now waiting for this to come out- though their demos were a bit sloppy, the sheer potential that I saw for a great album merited periodic checkups to see when it was coming, and Legionnaire have not disappointed. The classic sounds of USPM groups and related bands are some of my favorites, and based on my preferences, Dawn of Genesis almost feels tailor made for me; massive hooks and leads hearkening to Slough Feg and Brocas Helm tie in with the speedy rhythms of Liege Lord or early European power metal groups such as Scanner, and only rarely do the influences become specific enough to a particular song or album to become noticeable. Big harmonized leads and rousing gallops intertwine in a familiar way, and vocalist/guitarist Aku Tienssuu’s powerful voice croons over the instruments with enough authenticity and barbaric charm to win over anyone familiar enough with heavy metal to ignore that he’s (quite intentionally) less pristine than some listeners are used to.

In the end, a band like Legionnaire is as firmly nostalgic as can be- heavy metal to the bones, and gloriously unashamed of it. Half of the tracks start off with the catchy dual leads that countless bands have used as their bread and butter, and at times, it feels like as many rhythms are variations on gallops as not, but none of the nostalgia harms the album for me. There are plenty of newer heavy metal bands that dip a bit too closely to the sounds of the legends that they emulate, detracting from the music via familiarity, but as much as I can hear my favorite bands in Dawn of Genesis, I hear them in the same way that I hear lesser known peers rather than in the same way I do a clone. Each time I listen to the album, I revel in the searing love for heavy metal that Legionnaire want to share so badly with the world. Though I haven’t been particularly impressed with a lot of the recent heavy metal and speed metal coming from Finland, this album and the recent debut release from countrymen Chevalier (who I understand are friendly with Legionnaire, with the two having played shows together) prove that the country is still producing incredible heavy metal.

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Ljosazabojstwa – Sychodžańnie

The occult horror of a certain type of black/death generally somewhat influenced by or otherwise in line with Mortuary Drape is one of my favorite things, and Ljosazabojstwa clearly agree, given the content on Sychodžańnie and on the demo that came before it. From the first bits of atmosphere created by a haunting organ introduction through the very last chords, everything about this EP is massive; monolithic doom-driven rhythms do combat with the vocalist’s echoing snarl, subtle keyboards occasionally provide an extra layer, and the whole package is complimented by the immense production that ties the entire package together. Ominous interludes, sometimes mid-track, build tension, and whenever appropriate buildup has been reached, well-timed eruptions launch trudging doom into ripping hellfire before spiraling back to a horrifying crawl.

Though I mentioned Mortuary Drape as a point of comparison (and a clear influence), Ljosazabojstwa are by no means a clone of anyone; chaotic tremolo melodies, pretty leads, fiery death metal, and blazing thrash merge seamlessly to form a package that fits the mood that Mortuary Drape, Necros Christos, or similar bands put me into without feeling like a pointless ripoff at any point. Though sometimes the non-metal interruptions get a bit much for me, the overall package is startlingly strong, and a welcome change of pace from the onslaught of more straightforward death metal releases that I’ve been hearing from this year so far; as a point to their credit, the interludes are well written (or well picked, for the samples), and my general distaste for lengthy and frequent interludes may well be more of a problem for me than the interludes themselves.

Ljosazabojstwa fundamentally call for a return to the occult, and I welcome it with open arms. Sychodžańnie is catchy, memorable, and excellently performed, with more than enough variety and strength of both songwriting and pacing to keep the EP interesting from listen to listen. Most great EP’s leave me wanting more from the band, and as much as I’m looking forward to hearing Ljosazabojstwa’s first full length, this is a rare EP powerful enough to merit the repeat listens and reflection to occupy me until whenever the band feels that another release is necessary.

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Ljosazabojstwa - Sychodzannie [cover art]

Soulskinner – Descent to Abaddon

Composed of several present and past members of classic Greek black metal bands (and a former Obsecration member), Soulskinner have been chugging out great death metal for two decades now between their current name and their original one. A lot of bands lose steam over that long of a period, but Soulskinner just keep putting out amazing stuff, and Descent to Abaddon is no exception. The album is absolutely massive in scope and to a lesser extent in style, ranging from a gorgeous thick atmosphere recalling some of the earlier Greek and Finnish death metal bands to the crush of Bolt Thrower, and even to moments that thrash or recall Deicide, all generally within the same song. Riffs range from a death/doom crawl to blazing speed and intensity, showcasing the band’s versatility and lack of interest in having a singular tempo to great success.

Despite a variety of influences that would overwhelm a lesser band, Soulskinner know how to effortlessly jump from one mood to another, though their real strength for me comes from the fantastic leads and the moodier bits of the album. The atmosphere that comes from the interplay of the leads and tremolo melodies is enrapturing and it’s hard to really make a comparison to any of the best sections because I don’t get the same vibe from many other bands despite the similarities to a lot of my favorites. Sometimes the leads make for a certain dreaminess that I don’t associate at all with good death metal, which adds an extra layer to an already gigantic album.

They also present an impressive lack of genuine weak points- the only real part of the entire album that actually bothers me is the breakdown in The Fall, and that part doesn’t last long enough to detract much from the entire song, let alone with the whole album. Something that some other fans of the band have criticized is that some of the leads and melodies are repeated throughout the album a bit too much, but as true as that is, it doesn’t irritate me at all; the variations on the same melodies are done well enough and are killer enough in the first place that hearing them in different contexts is a bonus more than anything else.

Overall, Descent to Abaddon is a fucking fantastic listen, and proof that Xtreem music is still putting out killer albums. Soulskinner’s previous album was finally released on vinyl last year, marking their first full length to be pressed to wax, and I really hope that this one is as well, because I’ve rarely heard an album so deserving of the vinyl treatment in recent years that hasn’t been pressed.

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Ravenous Death – Ominous Deathcult

A lot of modern death metal eschews the entire concept of being catchy- not all of it, certainly, but often the focus of a band is to crush, or forge a certain atmosphere at the expense of memorability, or to rage chaotically without giving much of a chance to grasp onto anything. That’s not necessarily a criticism- I adore a lot of stuff that does that- but a big reason why I love Altars of Madness and Scream Bloody Gore so much is that they’re endlessly catchy, and Ravenous Death deliver hooks and instant catchiness in a way that’s not at the forefront of death metal today. Hailing from Mexico and comprising of a group of scene veterans that come from more bands each than many albums have songs, Ravenous Death put their long songwriting experience to excellent use on this first EP release.

Ominous Deathcult is a fairly varied affair that tears through five songs that range from massive crushers to fast tremolo-heavy somewhat more melodic affairs to the doom, gloom, and eeriness of the EP’s closer, but for all that the songs are different, they don’t sound random, and flow together satisfyingly throughout the duration of the 19 minute release. Enthralling tremolo melodies intertwine with big chugging rhythms, with just enough harmonization of the leads to attract attention without overusing harmony like some groups do. Influences from bands like Morbid Angel, Entombed, and even moments that remind me of Demigod  are present but Ravenous Death have done a good job of forging their own sound even on their first release, and as much as it’s familiar, Ominous Death is not nostalgic, and it definitely stands on its own feet. The rare solo section is short and sweet, which is how I like them in death metal, and the production is pretty good overall. There’s only a single section I’m not particularly fond of in the entire demo- a bit of the chugging rhythm work on “Throwing Up Guts”- but given how good the release is overall, it’s a very minor complaint. Very much interested in seeing where Ravenous Death goes from here- the band has announced their pairing to Memento Mori for their upcoming full length, and given the quality of the music on this EP, it’s well deserved.

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Necrot – Blood Offerings

Necrot is a band that’s best described as being absolutely pummeling, with no intention other than to pound listeners into submission. They don’t play technical or complex music, they don’t sell themselves as introspective- they just crush and rip their way through their approach on death metal, and that’s why so many people have come to love them in recent years. Pounding and groovy riffs are reminiscent of Bolt Thrower, the least mystical sections that Demigod conjured, or some of the other groups that extremely prolific members of the band are also involved with, but despite being reminiscent of other groups Necrot have their own distinguishing flavor that I keep coming back to. Brief moments of melody pop up for just long enough to draw attention and vanish just as quickly, adding an extra layer to an already extremely catchy album. Vocalist Luca Indrio rasps over the music at a pitch that’s just a bit higher than what listeners unfamiliar with the band might expect from their music, but he does so excellently, perfectly fitting the music, and timing his assaults well with the riffs and the primal drumming, which ranges from more standard death metal beats to some punk ones, always perfectly suiting the music, and often carrying a riff far further than it might otherwise be palatable.

Though I said earlier that the band willfully steps away from complicated songwriting, that isn’t to say that the composition was done carelessly- there’s a large variety of influences integrated into the album, and each song flows excellently through them, and even at their most similar, extremely well written transitions separate riffs that on a less competent album would blend together, leaving behind a distinctly memorable assault. On a related note, despite many sections of extreme repetition of a single riff or group of them as well as sections that spend a lot of time developing a single idea, Blood Offerings does an excellent job of avoiding overstaying its welcome at any point, and will likely be in my rotation for a long time. After the hype that Necrot built around themselves through years of excellent shows and several killer demos, it’s nice to see them deliver.

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