Mini-Reviews from Around the Bowl: 05/03/2019

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So it’s spring now, that’s something. A bird stopped just outside of my window for a second, that was cool. You know what else is cool? Pythia, Lost in Kiev, Vaura, Avandra, Cosmic Putrefaction, Ketzer, Totalitarian, Eluveitie and Spirits of Fire.

PythiaThe Solace of Ancient Earth
Independent | May 17th, 2019

First off, some words to all promo writers everywhere: “female-fronted” is not a genre. Stop that. Anyway, Pythia is a female-fronted symphonic metal band that, while not doing anything particularly mind-blowing or genre-breaking, is a fair deal better than basically every other band aping Anette-era Nightwish out there. The Solace of Ancient Earth listens more like a Euro-power metal album than anything, with bombastic orchestrations atop a bed of tremolo riffing and driven by pseudo-operatic soprano vocals. While the riffs themselves generally only function as a vehicle for the strings and voice to do all the fancy stuff (though “Hold of Winter” has some solid rhythm guitar throughout), the lead guitar work is as shreddy as it comes. If flowery power metal isn’t your thing, this will do little to change your mind; otherwise, don’t let the “symphonic metal” tag scare you off. – Spear


Lost in Kiev – Persona
Pelagic Records | April 26th, 2019

A new but increasingly important player in the evocative instru-post-metal scene, Lost in Kiev, is back with some synth-driven grooves and homemade spoken word samples. Persona is packed full of excellent music for imagining a technological hellscape, often reminding me of Blade Runner 2049. Their careful arrangements are as powerful as that perfect cinematography. Within the bounds of a theme that never flinches, Lost in Kiev are able to provide more than enough variety with aggressive highs on “Mindfiles” and trancelike grooves on “Thumos”. – Joaquin


VauraSable
Profound Lore | April 26th, 2019

The dream of the ’80s is still alive on Sables. It is a dark dream, sad and yet sultry. A dream that conflates the post-Bauhaus work of Peter Murphy with the guitar tone and effects from every ’80s cop and/or vampire movie ever made, and, of course, with Vaura‘s own body of work. Sables sounds exactly like Vaura in every breath — and yet it is Vaura as we’ve never quite heard them before. Which is to say that it was never difficult to imagine them completely cutting out the metal in favor of going mostly goth all of the time. It sounds like they’ve been logically headed here all along, especially given the amount of metal experimentation missing from 2013’s The Missing. And, aside from the interminable failure of a ballad that is “Eidolon”, Sables succeeds at pretty much everything it sets out to do — even at the duo of strange, spacious cut-up pieces (“Zwischen” and “Basilisk”) where the drums throw the beat all over the place and the guitar and bass meander furtively past each other in the mists of a summer dusk. Looking for metal? Step aside. Looking for Vaura’s take on B-sides from your favorite Rosetta Stone album? Step on in. Bask(silisk) in the silky sounds from an alternate timeline in which the ’80s were nothing but bleak and no one bothered to pretend otherwise. – Richter


Avandra – Descender
Blood Music | April 26th, 2019

Do you wish prog never moved on from the days of good Dream Theater and Whatever Band Neil Morse Happens to Be In at the Time? Avandra has done an unparalleled job at modernizing the early 2000s type of prog with their sophomore release Descender. The dudes from Puerto Rico (yeah, I was surprised too) have created something special in that they got me excited about a style I moved on from years ago. The linked track may sound a little extra Dream Theater-y at points because ex-member Kevin Moore did guest keys on it, but the Cynic-like guitar work in the intro is fantastic. As a sad sidenote, Avandra is the last band signed to Blood Music, whose operations are winding down soon. At least they picked a good one to go out on! – Joaquin


Cosmic PutrefactionAt the Threshold of the Greatest Chasm
I, Voidhanger Records | April 19th, 2019

Who’d’ve thought that Gabriele “G. G.” Gramaglia of The Clearing Path would ever deliver a death metal album as low on frills as this? His last outing with said project flirted with death metal of a highly atmospheric and heterodox nature, but Cosmic Putrefaction is an altogether more brutal affair. Like, think Necrot, only with shorter songs and more ambitious musicianship. With the unmistakable Brendan Sloan of Convulsing on growls and Gramaglia on everything else (including what I’m continuing to assume are programmed drums), this thing is basically a two-man supergroup. It is a love letter to the destructive power of the riff; a powerful argument for reliance upon dogma when nothing else will do. Do not skip this. Favorite Track: “The Ruinous Downfall” – Richter


KetzerCloud Collider
Metal Blade | April 12th, 2019

Though Lizard already clued you in to Cloud Collider, I figure it’s worth mentioning again just how much better it is than it’s predecessor. After making Satan’s Boundaries Unchained, easily one of the finest black/thrash records of the last decade or so, an album that not only strongly took after Destroyer 666, with the advantage of not being made by racist fucks it, and somehow also managed the feat of sounding unique, the band quickly began to move away into different subject material as well as more atmosphere-minded songwriting and riffcraft on their sophomore, Endzeit Metropolis, an excellent album in it’s own right. It wasn’t until the unlistenable Starless that the band shat the bed. Not only was it a rocking, milksop attempt at reaching Tribulation-like spheres, completely devoid of decent ideas, it also didn’t seem to fit in anywhere on the band’s discography. Until now that Cloud Collider has come to fill in the blanks. A step back in some ways, it’s built on black metal influenced riffing, though it takes Endzeit’s atmospheric approach further, until thrashing becomes rocking, and keeps much of the Tribulation influence, only this time integrating it to their own sound to such a degree that it doesn’t sound like Ketzer’s trying to hop on the gravy train anymore. Cloud Collider has it’s flaws, “Walls” doesn’t quite seem decided on what kind fo a song it wants to be, “This Knife Won’t Stay Clean Tonight” brings about a grimace and on an album so eager to go from furious to mellow, “Forever Death” becomes a pointless interlude, and besides poorly placed between two moody songs. Not to mention the record is still a far cry from the first two, but it’s a hell of an improvement that ties Starless in as a pre-mature experiment. – Karhu


TotalitaranBloodlands
Barren Void Records | April 12th, 2019

I missed the Italian Totalitarian’s 2017 debut De Arte Tragoediae Divinae, but a quick survey indicates it was a squashed and jam-packed, but clear black metal record, with a good smattering of death metal influence, especially as the band slowed down.  It was also simple, monotonous and boringly repetitive with several songs trying to desperately crawl their way through 13-and-a-half minute length, in short nothing I even slightly regret missing. It is therefore no great pleasure to say that Bloodlands continues chiefly on the same path, though it is much better. Although the very first thing to hit you on the face is that Bloodlands is even more squashed, the second is a gift of mercy, as despite featuring more songs than it’s predecessor, Bloodlands clocks in at less than half an hour – roughly half of what DATD took. Though it is not completely absent, the death metal influence has largely been done away with, in favour of a blast beat heavy, occasionally melodic approach reminiscent of Panzer Division era Marduk and while this has brought a certain degree of memorability into Totalitarian’s songwriting, Bloodlands still falls flat  and samey. The improvement the band’s done between the two releases might be great, but Bloodlands is still just an “OK” record at best. – Karhu


EluveitieAtegnatos
Nuclear Blast | April 5th, 2019

Eluveitie is one of the foremost folk metal bands in 2019, and looking back at Slania, more than a decade after it’s release, it’s small wonder as to why. Despite having practically been early aughts melodeath with flutes and whistles, it’s held up against the test of time, most of it anyways, it’s slightly more adventurous predecessors, and immediate successor slightly more settled in to the formula weren’t too shabby either, but then something happened. As the band began to flirt with radio rock choruses, Within Temptation styled songs and other such “outsider” influence, they lost focus and as a result their quality rapidly declined. Evocation II, an acoustic record that arrived after massive line-up changes found it’s way to my platter much more often than anything since the sophomore, but the new line-ups first metal single “Rebirth” stirred little emotion. Ategnatos, like Origins before it, is a simultaneous re-focusing of the palette and a further embracing of their modern stylings. It begins well enough with the title-track and “Deathwalker” both employing a snake-like, wild and bright flute melody and a duet chorus between Fabienne Erni and Chrigel Glanzmann, though “Ancus”, and eleven-second interlude stuffed in between them consistently baffles. Unfortunately amidst all those playful melodies and riffs that wish they were Soilwork-lite, nothing after the two stands out before the halfway mark of “Ambiramos” (this album has 16 songs and goes on for over an hour. Jesus H. step-dancing Christ!), a short track with the single best melody Eluveitie’s conjured up in more than a decade, wasted on a radio single trying to sound like a danceable take on “The Call Of The Mountains” or “A Rose For Epona”. The remainder succumbs back into the nondescript depths and are so alike that even “Rebirth” fails to incite a reaction despite it’s familiarity. Yawn. – Karhu


Spirits of FireSpirits of Fire
Frontiers Music | February 22nd, 2019

Frontiers Records love to mash up known musicians for “superprojects”, but the results vary wildly. In case of Spirits of Fire, it’s Savatage guitarist Chris Caffery and Fates Warning drummer Mark Zonder with the Charred Walls of the Damned duo Tim “Ripper” Owens and Steve DiGiorgio. Usually the label pits one or two vocalists with a resident songwriter like Matt Sinner, but this time the band has been deemed to contain enough talent on their own, a somewhat worrisome thought considering none of the above have ever really shone as songwriters. But hey, maybe Spirits of Fire is the vessel that will, after 20-30 year long careers change the way we think about these musicians. Maybe all it took was little push from Serafino Perugino and some fatherly guidance from producer Roy Z to bring out the best in them. Yeah right, from A to Z, this is bullshit. Caffery’s conjured some of the most immaterial solos of his life, over completely uninspired and pointless riffs that do DiGiorgio a favour by drowning him out. Likewise Zonder gives such a blase performance it’s hard to tell who it is. Even Ripper sounds worse than usual, and somehow this is still not the worst record his been on this year (I’ll get to that later). Every song drags on for a minute or two too long, and songwriting in general feels like a lighter, more melodic side to CWOTD, discarded by the band as not up to par. Avoid at all costs. – Karhu


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