November Roundup: Sorrow, Misery & Blasphemy
The latest from Déhà, Reaper, Ruin, Mentalist & Insomnium.
Déhà – Ave Maria II
Naturmacht Productions – November 5th
Ten years ago Yhdarl released what will without a doubt go down, alongside Loss, in history as one of it’s Great Works, Ave Maria. The project was masterminded by Toilet Friend Déhà, who is responsible for a large variety of other bands as well. One of them carries his pseudonym, and it is this project that has been chosen to carry on the legacy of Ave Maria, the sequel having outgrown the boundaries of Yhdarl.
Building on the foundations of funeral doom, whatever’s left of them from the last time he rolled over them, and working with the soprano Madicken De Vries, Ave Maria II is relentless in its heart-rending approach. Like many of Déhà’s previous works it uses a droning language, but the focus in composition lies elsewhere, the growth and movement are exponential in comparison and the vocal-driven manner, divided into De Vries’ rendition and Déhà’s rending, greatly change the nature of the composition.
Look, I’m not the right man to review this, but I know I love it and I urge you to give it a shot if ever you’ve been drawn in by anything mentioned above or if extremely emotional extreme metal is your fancy. Déhà has once again surpassed himself and Ave Maria II is every bit as good, quite likely better than its predecessor and easily among his Great Works.
Unfortunately, at the time of writing, Naturmacht hasn’t put the record up on Bandcamp yet, or anywhere else, but you can stream an off-album digital-only single “Lunam Quaeruntur”, based on Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata”, released in anticipation of it.
Reaper – Atonality of Flesh
Iron Bonehead Productions – March 19th
The Swedish, Bathory-like first wave black(/thrashers), only more speed- and punk-influenced, Reaper made a good impression with their debut Unholy Nordic Noise, but for whatever reason I never really gave The Atonality of Flesh the time of day until now. Something’s happened with the duo, as the sub two-minute song-lengths that dominated on the debut are entirely missing now and the album even includes a 6-minute epic.
Little has changed musically speaking for Reaper, but the overall songwriting is maybe a tad stronger and more vivid. You’ve got some catchier cuts à la “Come Nature, Come Cruelty, Come Death” that Unholy Nordic Noise couldn’t have served, while “Raid the Heavens” and the instrumental “Saturn Devours” are just plain better than anything on the predecessor, the longer songs allowing for more of the NWOBHM influence to shine through that much better. Though it does subdue the Abbath-like croak vocals and that I do not like, as they were one of the debut’s better features. Ultimately it’s a very good beer & fun kinda record, and excellent for its style.
Ruin – Spread Plague Death
Goat Throne/Death Metal Cult/Nameless Grave – August 27th
Ruin‘s one of those bands that have put out a nearly endless amount of material in a short time, beginning with 2015’s Spread Plague Hell demo, and still going strong 23 releases later on their third full-length Spread Plague Death, in between which little has changed for the band.
Yes, technically Ruin began in the early ’90s, they were together for just long enough to produce 1991’s Sickening Ruin demo and disappear for good, while the then-guitarist-now-vocalist Mihail Jason Satan decided to start the band back up in 2015, with an entirely new lineup.
So most of Ruin’s legacy has actually been built during the last few years. And what legacy would that be? Why a legacy of absolutely filthy, crushing and savage death metal with gangly, Coffins-esque riffs, scraggly groove and occasional hints at doomy influence , slower riffs with notes bent just at the right moment to give that ominous feeling or a scarce, harmonized lead soon to be met with a brief, grotesque blasting.
Ruin operates on an ultra-narrow field but know how to make the most of it. If you like your death metal ultra-heavy and exquisitely brutal, and little else, but aren’t into the implied sub-genre, I can’t imagine a much more fitting choice than Spread Plague Death. It’s about as vivid and lively as this niche can get, sometimes more than you might think possible. But it’s also an unrelenting, uncompromising and unwavering dealer of barbarism exquisite.
Mentalist – A Journey Into The Unknown
Pride & Joy Music – August 20th
After quitting Blind Guardian following the recording of A Night at the Opera, Thomen “The Omen” Stauch’s track record has been pretty poor. Sure, at first he made good on his promise and found Savage Circus with the members of Persuader, a band whose vocalist sounds so much like Hansi people seem to have difficulties differentiating between their often very different music as well, and Piet Sielck of Iron Savior (though he was forced to take a break due to “serious private problems” and was subsequently removed and Sielck has since strongly contested Stauch’s version of the band’s birth as his project).
Afterwards Thomen drifted from one failed project to another never staying in one place for long. It wasn’t until Serious Black‘s debut that he managed to garner any positive attention, but promptly left the project as well. So imagine my surprise when I learned that not only does he have a new project, but that he’s been a member of it for three years and counting AND they’ve already put out two albums AND he still hasn’t quit. That’s dedication unheard of.
So obviously I hurried to to their debut album titled, uh, Freedom of Speech. A Middle-aged Men Metal Band titling their album Freedom of Speech with songs-titles like “Freedom of the Press”. Uhuh. And the obligatory pop song cover is “Toy Soldiers” (should’ve included the raps from Eminem’s version). Yeah. I kinda immediately regret this. The music turned out to be dry and boring, speed-flavoured power metal with weak hooks and a chronic lack of riffs so I skipped pretty fast to this sophomore and I’m positively surprised that I did.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s no masterpiece at its game. It’s not going to be recorded into the annals or preserved for generations to come. But it is a pretty good power metal record in the vein of 2000’s Helloween. The bright guitar leads seem much more plentiful and integral than on the scraps of the debut and this also brings to mind Blind Guardian a bit. There’s nothing as externally worrisome as “Freedom of the Press”, but “Dentalist” and “Evil Eye” do take care of that Helloween silliness. The obligatory ballad, “An Ocean So Deep” is, as predictably as unfortunately, the weakest link on the album and the back-half loses a lot of the front’s steam when “Soldier Without a War” makes a half-hearted attempt at a semi-ballad, “Torture King” chugs its way into mediocrity and oblivion and “Battle Dressed” proves the weakest regular cut on the album. Luckily the 8-minute closer “Live Forever” with all of its Maiden-isms takes corrective measures and closes the album on a good note.
A Journey Into The Unknown is not really a record that rises above its influences or the history of its members. At its core is generic, melodic, Teutonic power metal but with just enough embellishments to make it work through the better parts, which in turn carry over the lesser. It’s the first album Stauch has played on since the Savage Circus debut that I could imagine myself coming back to, at least partially. And so much of an improvement over the debut that I might even start anticipating its follow-up.
Insomnium – Argent Moon
Last Century Media – September 17th
One of the best known bands from the Finnish melodeath scene, Insomnium were a pretty big thing for me growing up. Then I did, and the Insomnium-generation changed as well. While Ville Friman is still a member and a songwriter in the band, he’s hardly the primus motor anymore. Hardly a man pushing for Insomnium’s musical development, no. These days the group acts out a certain kind of democracy with 4 active songwriters, led by Markus Vanhala, whose style is unfortunately far more conservative, and under his guidance Insomnium’s experimentation has veered towards conceptual.
Argent Moon is the latest product of this factory line, a “ballads-only” EP. Though if you really want to get technical, all of these would pretty much qualify as “half-ballads”, the only kind of ballad any metal band not playing power metal seems to actually have the nerve to attempt. Nitpicking aside, it feels like Insomnium was half reluctant to commit to the idea and wanted to spruce up the EP, a task in which they miserably failed.
Take a touch of acoustic guitar, sprinkle a randomized amount of clean vocals over it and add a forcible, tepid double-bass beat towards the end and you’ll have every song on Argent Moon, although maybe “The Antagonist” didn’t feature a double-bass beat, but I can’t say for sure because it’s still entirely indistinguishable from the rest, and every bit as lacking. It also wasn’t great to realize Insomnium has reached the stage in Cycle of Setämies where they’re using ass to sell their music.
While I don’t expect Insomnium to excite me as much anymore as they once did, I never expected to be met with such an unremarkable release. I can only ask whatever happened to the band that penned the likes of “Weighted Down with Sorrow”, “Shadows of the Dying Sun” or “One for Sorrow”, hell, “Lose to Night” almost counts if these do? I cannot forget the existence of this turd fast enough.
NO BANDCAMP BECAUSE CENTURY MEDIA HAS NO IDEA HOW TO HANDLE DIGITAL PROMOS, PROMOTION OR DISTRIBUTION. [Le hat tippe to Snooty McWords for his recent Discord jab at this label—”Moar like Last-Century Media”. ~Roldy]