From Exile - Monolith (Self Released, 2009)

From the opening notes of "Arrival," you might be inclined to categorize Monolith as melodic death metal of the highest caliber. That is, if there were a shred of death metal vocals to be found. But there aren't. Instead, Atlanta's From Exile present us with a metal album that melds the aggressive soul of melodic death metal with an emotive progressive spirit.

The guitar riffage is superlative, with an upbeat vibe a la latter day Soilwork. With the first soaring lead lick, you know this is going to be a fucking shred-fest. Impressive keys chime in from time to time, taking on multifarious roles.

The vocals appear for the first time in the second track and are actually only featured in three songs. Highly processed and distorted, it takes a few seconds to comprehend the fact that you're hearing a human voice. From there, the singing starts to become more clear. I really like these vocals. I don't see any particular reason to occlude and distort them, but they fit in nicely with the tunes. The singing reminds me of the clean vocals on The Faceless' Planetary Duality, which I love. Maybe shades of Symphony X's Russell Allen? Can't go wrong there.

"Impure Visionary" continues with an absurdly good classical guitar interlude. Then we get into a soaring, narsty solo. Hot damn, I'm getting vibes of Cynic, Opeth and Dream Theater. Leads here and there evoke Marty Friedman back in the day. Did you have any of his preposterous solo albums? I sure did. I sometimes pop in Introduction (1994) to reminisce, but that's beside the point.

There is lot of synthesized sound on Monolith, both keyboards and guitar. Thankfully, none of this music is besmirched by fromage. It all works, creating some sort of time capsule from 1992. Here and there I hear the mark that Peter Wichers has stamped on melodic death metal guitar. The melodies are all aces. And fuck, the solos are just killer. Beautiful stuff.

Somewhere around "Apparition," that magical metal moment occurs for me. Without realizing it, mind and body converge, and I start banging my head involuntarily. The song kicks a bucket-load of ass. We get vocals again with "Exhumed," but the singing isn't quite as strong as it was earlier.

"The Unlearning Dissent" is more of the lightweight, Marty Friedman musing. The lead sometimes brings "Fear of the Dark" to mind. The title track, "Monolith," starts to settle down into the stylistic realm of Symphony X. I think this is where From Exile are most comfortable. "In The Faded Silence" brings to mind Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence era Dream Theater.

This is reassuring, empowering, raise your fist to the sky and bang your head kind of stuff. If I heard this back in the day I would have played it until the cassette wore out. The question here is whether the different styles brought to the table make for a well balanced metal meal. I think Monolith comes pretty close. It's not surprising to see a band with so much technical prowess go unsigned in this day and age. What is surprising is the caliber of songwriting skill From Exile have to go along with the chops. I highly recommend checking this out. With maybe just a bit of refinement in the vocal department, From Exile could be a (metal) household name.

The album is co-produced with Dååth's Eyal Levi, who also contributes a guest solo on the last track. Emil Werstler performs a guest solo on "Apparition." The production is pretty good, considering there's so much going on here. Either way, it sounds excellent for a self released album. But you don't have to take my word for it - you can stream (and buy) the whole thing below. I picked up the album in FLAC. Awesome.


From Exile Myspace

<a href="">Arrival by From Exile</a>


Wormrot - Abuse (Scrotum Jus Records, 2009)

I have to admit I'm no connoisseur of grindcore. I live for Napalm Death, love early Carcass, worship Nasum and crank some occasional Terrorizer. But when I dig deeper into the world of grind, I'm usually driven away by some piece of the modern grindcore aesthetic. When a grind album does resonate with me, it's usually because it leans towards the death metal side of things. I'm a sucker for grooves, discernible riffage and just a bit of breathing room. Abuse, the absurdly awesome debut album from Singapore's Wormrot, has all of that and more. I'm pretty sure this album is essential for any fan of extreme metal.

When I first put on Abuse in the comfort of my own home, I felt an immediate physical reaction to the album. Within seconds I was raging around my downstairs, gesticulating wildly, like a demented Barney Greenway. My home is conveniently laid out to facilitate one man circle pits. I can only be thankful that the thing clocks in at under 22 minutes; one more minute and my head would have flown off my shoulders and my heart would have exploded.

Abuse is a godlike clinic of grind riffage. Each of the 23 songs is driven by addictive, simple, effective and memorable guitar lines. The guitar sound is to die for. When a groove kicks in, I want to eat this guitar tone. Something about the sound literally makes me salivate. What the hell does that mean?

Stylistically, the guitar work sticks mostly to the grindcore ideal. It's so familiar and so refreshing at the same time. The main riff in “Good Times” is preposterous. 54 seconds into “Freedom to Act,” a riff appears with a bent note melted into the groove that will bend your brain. If you don't bang your head 40 seconds into “Murder,” then you should surrender your badge. When guitarist Rasyid deviates from the expected, the results are spectacular. 30 seconds into “Fuck...I'm Drunk,” a melodic riff evokes a mutated, ground up Iron Maiden. Win.

The vocals are exactly what you'd expect – guttural gurglings versus satisfying screams. The lyrical subjects are just what I like – political and social awareness tinged with dark humor. The cover of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs song “Rich” is absolutely hilarious.

The drumming is fantastic, precise and damned good. There are a plethora of rhythmic styles represented on Abuse. More species of blast beats live here than my weak grind taxonomy can identify.

Have I raved enough? Wormrot are unfathomably awesome in my book. Abuse will certainly be among my favorite albums of the year. Brief, to the point, and expertly articulated, this album is a near perfect expression of the things I like about grindcore.

I have to thank Andrew Childers over at Grind and Punishment for recommending this album. I picked up my copy of Abuse through the Relapse web store.


Wormrot Myspace


Barren Earth - Our Twilight EP (Peaceville, 2009)

Barren Earth are a crew that look quite impressive on paper. Active members of Swallow the Sun, Kreator and Moonsorrow join a couple of Amorphis alumni to cook up some fine Finnish cuisine. Melodic death metal is the foundation, but the product is a savory blend of progressive and doomy elements. Our Twilight serves as an introduction to the Barren Earth sound, as well as a teaser for their full-length debut next year.

People on this side of the pond seem to have a low gag threshold for cheese in their metal. I, in particular, can't seem to keep down overly potent prog or raw folksiness. Fortunately, Barren Earth infuses these elements into its music in modest measure. Their formula is roasted to perfection and doesn't offend my delicate American palate. The result is just exotic enough to send me looking for more.

The guitar work on Our Twilight is memorable and fairly dynamic. There are chugging chunks of rhythm guitar accompanied by melodic leads. Some passages evoke latter day Opethian stylings, with a bit of My Dying Bride thrown in for fun. For the most part, this is melodic death metal meat and potatoes, which suits me fine. There are some absolutely insane solos in the mix. It's serious shreddage with a satisfying arc of movement.

The guitars are accompanied by Kasper Mårtenson's stellar keys. The sound shifts between guttural organ and straight piano. Some subtle symphonics can also be heard, although they are generally downplayed. Mr. Mårtenson seems to intuitively know the Limburger limits of keyboards. He flashes impressive skills and augments the music without overpowering or overstepping.

I was already a fan of Mikko Kotamäki's vocal work in Swallow the Sun. His death rasps are excellent here and ground the music in a kind of blue collar workmanship. Mikko's clean vocals are fairly subdued - he doesn't push too far out of his comfort range. At the very least, the clean singing gives the proceedings a melancholic feel.

All told, there is a fairly ridiculous amount of entertainment to be found in these 4 songs. Our Twilight doesn't meander - I get a sense of immediacy throughout. This is definitely worth checking out, and I'm quite looking forward to the full album.

Oh, and don't think I didn't notice that the first 4 notes of the title track sound exactly like the intro to the Death song "Bite the Pain." Alas, it is a passing guitar phrase, and a completely inoffensive coincidence.


Our Twilight is out on November 17th in the U.S.

You can check out samples of the songs here.
Barren Earth Myspace

Full disclosure: Peaceville provided me with a promo copy.


Latitudes - Agonist (Shelsmusic, 2009)

Agonist is a surprisingly awesome debut album. Latitudes has a heart of sludge, but a soul of darkness. Operating primarily under the NeurIsis doctrine, Latitudes sets itself apart with progressive movements and a diversity of influences. While primarily an instrumental album, a couple of songs have excellent clean vocals.

Latitudes harvests some of the melodic synergy that works so well for bands like Pelican and Burst. There are Mastodonic movements with riffs that scrape deep distorted trenches then reach up to be infused with melody. The clean guitar passages are excellent throughout and frequently peer over the precipice into darker Opethian depths.

I think the distinguishing mark of this album is the clean vocals. "Antechamber" and "Hunting Dance" make me think first of Paul Masvidal's work on Traced In Air. The singing exhibits Steve Wilson's melodic sense with some of the bravery of Robert Reinholdz from Burst. It's infectious and entirely memorable.

The production on Agonist is rich and deep, with a wide open feel. The entire album is driven by an absolutely wicked rhythm section. If anything, Agonist is too short. When I reach the last track, I'm thirsty for more. Nothing drags or bores me here; it just flies by.

I definitely recommend checking this out. Latitudes is a band only inches from forging a completely unique identity. I think they should add the clean vocals to more of their music - the singing here is the sauce that will push them above the crowd.


Latitudes Myspace


Immortal - All Shall Fall (Nuclear Blast, 2009)

I was expecting a lot from a new Immortal album. I was probably expecting too much. What I didn't expect was an album so close in spirit to Abbath's side project.

As with many things in life, All Shall Fall sounds best when you check your expectations at the door. On initial listens, my brain was racing, trying to map out the new Immortal landscape. It's a waste of time; All Shall Fall is a great album.

During Immortal's hiatus, Abbath released Between Two Worlds under the moniker of I, along with Ice Dale, T.C. King and Armagedda. It was an excellent album of blackened power metal by way of Quorthon tribute that I still listen to regularly. I expected that Abbath would shun this direction entirely upon reforming Immortal, but I was wrong. The first song and title track on All Shall Fall would fit right into that album.

What does this mean? Immortal was always about battle and triumph. I think the triumphs here are no longer quite so grim. Perhaps they are a little bit happy. Abbath has synthesized the pure and simple joy he found on Between Two Worlds into a new Immortal. It brings a smile to my face, at least. All Shall Fall is a celebration of something joyous that eschews the misanthropic essence of black metal.

One of my first impressions of the album is that the production is askew. It seems to lack a low-end punch. The patented swarming guitar sound seems to be mostly missing. But having seen Immortal live, I know that's not how they sound in person. Perhaps their older albums were unnaturally compressed? Either way you cut it, the result on All Shall Fall is closer to their live sound. That's fine with me, but it did require an adjustment period.

The riffage here is pretty good. Perhaps it's not up to the absurd level of my expectations, but good nonetheless. The clean passages are excellent and inspiring. There are moments of sheer guitar brilliance sprinkled throughout the songs, but they are not constant. Make no mistake, an Abbath slightly off his game is still better than most of the players on the field.

One of the biggest things you'll notice on All Shall Fall is a general downshift in velocity. Many of the tempos here are mid-paced. This creates a stark contrast when Horgh turns on the speed. The result as a whole is a greater sense of dynamics throughout. I think contrast is the main theme of the album. All Shall Fall is all about movement - light and dark do differ here.

So what's the verdict? You'll get up out of your seat and squeeze the oranges, I'm sure. Be sure not to over-analyze. Just sit back and let yourself be frozen by the Icewinds from your stereo.




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