First Impressions Reviews: April Roundup
In a (failed) effort to keep myself writing at least a little every day, I decided to review a bunch of albums that I (intentionally) let slip below my radar, first impressions style. That is to say, I listened to them once, and reviewed them simultaneously. Neither the most refined, nor reliable method, nevertheless producing a few, quickly assembled reviews of purest thought regarding the latest from Necropsy, Timo Lassy, Lost Society, Mokoma, Pharaoh Overlord & Demons & Wizards. Through this exercise I have come to see that I do not like things.
Necropsy – Exitus
Necropsy‘s one of those death metal “cult” bands, active briefly in the ’90s, that made a comeback in the 21st century with a few so called classic demos below their belt. Except that Necropsy was active from the late ’80s to the mid-’90s and managed a whopping seven demos, an EP on Seraphic Decay Records and a split with Demigod before calling it a day. Back in 2008, they got off to a good start with their demos compiled by Century Media, but struggled to find a label afterwards, before dropping the Psychopath Next Door EP on Xtreem Music, which they’ve since called home.
5 years since their sophomore full length, they’ve released a worthy offering of working man’s death metal—built on nothing more than simple, headbanging riffs intersected by a few melodies. Exitus doesn’t turn its back to all that, but slows down to a crawl, exploring the previously only glimpsed doomier side of the band. Vocalist Tero Kosonen’s obscured phrasing works slightly better with the slow pace, and the short length is in favour of the band. The material on Exitus is even simpler than before, and the drawn-out compositions inevitably drag. Especially the first 2 songs blur together due to a lack of distinguishing riffs, though the lengthiest track, “206 Motives” stands out a little better. The closing “Butcherado” briefly raises the pace and I can’t help but wonder if a faster section or two wouldn’t have done wonders for Necropsy. Still, Exitus is short enough to not allow boredom to set in, and, even in lacking starpower riffs, makes for an appetizing platter.
Lost Society – No Absolution
Hailed often as just another pizza thrash revival band, Lost Society was quick to leave all that behind them. Where their first album had more passion and zeal than skill, several songs coming off like riff demos with no intention for all the parts to be used together, by their second album they were a well-composed thrash band making the best of their talent. But, lacking approximately all the fun that there was to be had with the debut, the sophomore had little to nothing to offer. By Braindead, the group’s love of -core and groove metal had overtaken their songwriting, and tried to expand into several different directions, leaving No Absolution to tie the ends together.
None of which No Absolution has the slightest intention to do, rather sprawling into 10 more. Clean vocals are both more plentiful than before, and actually clean this time, rendering many a chorus to a cheap Trivium knockoff. None of the band’s talent has disappeared over the years, but the pronounced hubris comes off forced and artificial. The performances feel like just that, performances, a tad spiritless and scripted whereas the not-as-deep-as-Elbanna-thinks lyrics and delivery resemble a gross overactor. The genuineness isn’t the only thing lost though, as though the band may have carved more memorable hooks than before, the variation of their riffs could come from any number of modern metal bands across any number of genres. If Braindead saw them on the verge of finding their own, unique sound, in drawing away from their roots, Lost Society has, ironically, never been so far from something of their own making.
Pharaoh Overlord – 5
Circle‘s slightly less-known sister band, Pharaoh Overlord started out as its stoner rock-influenced counterpart, but it’s become more and more experimental over the years. 2018’s Zero presented synth and electronics-permeated, experimental (post-?) rock with guest vocalist Antti Boman of Demilich burping his way through each of the songs. 5, apart from “Kalanchoe”, eschews guitars and, apart from the brief introductory section to “Ideal Flower”, vocals, in favour of original Neue Deutsche Welle-influenced sound.
Or so the group, now condensed to a duo, claims. Much of 5, in truth, seems to be owed to krautrock. The rhythm flowing seemingly freely, but within strict regulations, melodies that do not as much settle over the rhythm as they do sprout from it and the sense of adventure and exploration, captured within songs that would easily pass for airplay if it wasn’t for their length. Given its repetitive and captivating nature, no friend of Circle, NDW or krautrock should let 5 (definitely not the band’s fifth release) slip through their fingers.
Mokoma – Ihmissokkelo
Mokoma has carved their own unique niche out of the boulders of (thrash) metal and Finnrock, with as many hooks and hit choruses as your favourite pop star, all the riffs and aggression of your step-brothers moshmetal group and one of the best language users in metal by large. Known as a ferocious live band, and having found their own label long before any of the commercial success that has grazed them since had reared its head, while also signing some of the biggest names around.
They’ve also started on a steady and steep decline of quality a good while away, that’s even taken the taste from their older material away. Annala’s lyrics have become more and more forced (non-comedic) plays on words by each consecutive album, even if he continues to defy metal lyricism’s inane expectations, while the band keeps digging their musical rut deeper and deeper. Even though no longer resting between the radio ballads and black & nu metal, like on 180 Astetta, Mokoma makes little attempt to tie its ends together here. In interviews, the band touted challenging themselves by writing songs around one riff, but fail to make up for the lack of drama and arc with mesmerizing qualities.
Ihmissokkelo loses itself in an indiscernible, unemotive, uninspired and uninspiring maze where form becomes an intrinsic value. Much like a record only made to fulfill a contractual obligation, bearing all the outer marks of the band, but lacking all the content. But the only obligations the band has, are to themselves.
Demons & Wizards – III
The joint collaboration of Iced Earth‘s Jon and Blind Guardian‘s Hansi, Demons & Wizards‘ debut from way back when was more than the sum of its parts, though barely, and almost managed the impossible in combining the two bands’ styles into a working formula. The sophomore struggled to maintain this level, but surely after so many years, the two have finally delivered, if not a masterpiece, then at least a more than worthy successor to their self-titled album. Blind Guardian’s attention has been diverted to an orchestral album, and Iced Earth’s to re-releasing their demo, while Jon re-assembled Purgatory to re-record their pre-Iced Earth demo, so neither band’s creative forces required the creative juices for the moment either.
With an 8-minute opener, things get off to an interesting start with “Diabolic’s” menacing intro. Too bad it just keeps on going, and after it finally subsides, we’ve arrived nowhere. It’s the only musically interesting section of the plodding song, though Hansi tries his best to elevate it. It’s a decent song though, its only major mistake being the length it’s forced to drag through with luncheon as scarce as this. The following “Invincible” demonstrates a more hard rock sound, prevalent in several of the following songs, and welcome in exactly none. By far the most tired, low-effort low-gain cuts of the band’s career. Clocking over an hour, you’d expect a bit of bloat, but I’m not convinced D&WIII isn’t mostly bloat, like a skinny leg swollen to thrice its usual size due to an infection. The 9-minute “Timeless Spirits” is easily the worst offender, another hard rock cut, its ideas run dry around the 3-minute mark, and generally speaking these songs have far too few ideas for what is attempted.
Hansi tries his best to elevate the record but fails, and more than once I found myself wondering if he really is trying his best, or if the lackluster material disheartened him enough to not hold himself up to his usual standards. Passionate as his performance may be, his melodies lack the usual grandeur and complexity, although the direction of the fairly stripped down material could theoretically be responsible for that, it does not come off as their best decision. Jon struggles his way through the songs with his trademark galloping chugs with little attempt to make up for the missing riffs, so business as usual, but it never used to stop him from making good songs or albums before. Apart from a few better guitar melodies, III exhibits some of his weakest work to date, or rather being technically proficient, his least engaging work to date.
There’s some good scattered throughout this slog, but it’s buried deep beneath the bad, and not necessarily worth the time and effort to dig up. I am sure that both Jon and Hansi had a blast making this record. I know for a fact that at least a few fans have creamed themselves over this album. And I can hear that it is bad.
Timo Lassy – Big Brass
Big Brass was recorded some time ago, but released only now, with the brass section of Ricky-Tick Big Band, after collaborating with Lassy’s band on a few songs on Moves. Timo Lassy has been making a name for himself as one of Finnish jazz’s top saxophonists for a long time now, and especially within the last 5 or so years, his career has seemed to be moving forward leaps at a time. I’ve got to admit I’m not jazzed about him. But last year’s duo album with drummer/percussionist Teppo Mäkynen almost turned my head around regarding him in that it’s an excellent record, but I’m still not super into his older material.
While Big Brass may actually have been recorded earlier than said collaboration, Lassy’s playing is already much more informal here than it used to be, and it’s all for the better. The additional brass, conducted by Valtteri Pöyhönen, adds a fluff around Lassy’s, Mäkynen’s and bassist Lötjönen’s compositions that I never realized they needed (though it should not come as a surprise given my love of Ricky-Tick and big bands in general), and a controlled swing, at the heart of which, Lassy’s growing prowess over his instrument is allowed a freer reign than with his casual band line-up.