Six Feet Under – “Torment”

Six Feet Under – “Torment” (Metal Blade Records)

Battle Helm Rating

The bass. An instrument so crucial yet so painfully ignored in so many instances. I remember hearing people talking about a band, often overlooking the bassist perhaps intentionally like some unwelcome necessity or even worse, being taken for granted. Either way that’s all set to change here. Chris Barnes, the savage front man of his equally viscerally titled band, Six Feet Under has walked hand in hand with controversy as if he was courting itself! Never one to conform, yet never one to rebel, this weed aficionado has been content on doin’ his own thang but amazingly has amassed a legion of fans along the way to his self styled SFU death metal! In recent years the band, or rather Barnes, has seen a variety of line ups, and here he introduces us to a couple of new feral puppies in demon drummer Marco Pitruzzella and bassist Jeff Hughell – both of Brain Drill and Vile heritage – who lay utter waste to this release. In fact, I thought Ray Suhy was SFU’s guitarist but the multi talented Hughell seems to be handling all guitars, and together with Pitruzzella, has written the flammable music to which Barnes has penned his demented lyrics. Despite approaching middle age, don’t be fooled into thinking Barnes has lost his marbles in a karmic weed state. His twisted mind is as calculating as it’s ever been. The intensity of this record is unbelievable as Hughell and Pitruzzella rampage all over it, while displaying breathtaking levels of technicality from Hughell’s technical bass line plucking to Pitruzzella’s devastating speed and precision, even adding a somewhat exotic touch on aptly named tracks like ‘Obsidian’. That said, and with great relief I might add, is that the SFU sound hasn’t really changed a great deal with those trademark monster grooves still present and even with Hughell handling the guitar, the riffs are utterly grim. Needless to say, there’s a heavy back end to the material with tracks like the doomentia of ‘Skeleton’ or the groovy ‘Slaughtered As They Slept‘ over which Barnes lays his insane ‘vocals’ matching the equally weirdly titled ‘Bloody Underwear’! If there is one area that “Torment” lacks then it is in the lack of soloing, which presumably Suhywould’ve added but is somewhat devoid, hence no all star rating. Still, the 12 meaty tracks of bone and gristle here should satiate the blood lust of any skull bashing cannibal, young or old!

Armored Saint – “Carpe Noctum (Live)”

Armored Saint – “Carpe Noctum (Live)” (Metal Blade Records)

Battle Helm Rating

A Latin phrase meaning ‘seize the night’, legendary 80s hard rock metallers Armored Saint do exactly that, this time across the Atlantic with this mean ass mutha of a live album culled from their 2015 Wacken festival appearance as well as their headlining show in Aschaffenburg, Germany. Once called ‘the headbangingst band in LA’, Armored Saint’s reputation especially as a live act ensured this was no overstatement and now, some 35 years later, they continue to live up to their motto of ‘Saints Will Conquer’! Despite a hiatus thru the 90s, in part owing to vocalist John Bush’s on and off stints singing for Anthrax, this ceased and in the millenium years the band picked themselves back up with a stream of gallant comeback albums, putting them back on form to become a top notch headliner act once again. “Carpe Noctum (Live)” is testament to that, both in terms of the band’s energy and composing panache, as well as filling a crucial gap in live releases, this being their first since 1989’s “Saints Will Conquer”! At only 8 tracks, perhaps due to the PledgeMusic funding of the album, some might feel this is a tad short, however, what more than makes it up is that every single track is nothing short of killa! A mixture of classics with 2 new songs from their latest release, ‘Win Hands Down’ tears it right up from the start and it’s clear the band are in fine form, from the searing guitars of Jeff Duncan and Phil Sandoval, not to mention his brother ‘Gonzo’ pounding away his kit! John Bush needs no introduction, a frontman in his own right who barely has to initiate the rabid crowd to chant along to the anthemic ‘March Of The Saint’. Equally, his vocal delivery remains as fine as it was back in the day, from singing soulfully in ‘Last Train Home’ to taking off the gloves in ‘Left Hook Right Field’. I’ve always admired the mix of hard rock, melody and metal that makes the Saint so special and its no better displayed in the powerful ‘Aftermath’, where Bush puts in yet another stand out performance, along with raging ‘Mess’ (another newie) which impressed me here and has turned out to be another live hit. Perfectly timed for their next set of live dates, “Carpe Noctum (Live)” is a best of the best in which Armored Saint re-affirm their status a highly regarded live act – not only in their hometown of LA, but the rest of the world!

Ex Deo – “The Immortal Wars”

Ex Deo – “The Immortal Wars” (Napalm Records)

Battle Helm Rating

Imperious! Stupendous!! Oh, the arrogance of Rome!!! Few musical acts can come close to capturing the essence of one of history’s greatest empires, yet on this unbelievable album Ex Deo have come close as close to Hannibal, the subject of this release, in fulfilling that conquest. The brainchild of Kataklysm’s vocalist Maurizio Iacono, whose Italian ancestral heritage spurred him to form this side project in 2008, Ex Deo have released 2 prior albums that certainly caught my attention for the grand symphonic metal they brought forth, yet not overtly wrapped in any technicality or classical overtones often associated with the genre. Additionally, the heaviness and drive undoubtedly drawn from Kataklysm was perfectly suited to the epic and bloody struggles of emperors, legions and of course, the crushing might of Rome! Despite Iacono at one point stating there would likely be no 3rd album, I’m pleased to say that he has chosen against this and instead delivered a titanic release the choice of which matches Rome’s greatest adversary in Hannibal! Backed by his own cohort of French Canadian Gauls, prepare yourself as Iacono’s launches a musical assault befitting a Roman cavalry charge as he takes you back in history to face ‘Hispania (Siege of Saguntum)’, the hilltop fort where Hannibal slaughtered all the inhabitants who were allied to Rome, while ‘Ad Victoriam (The Battle of Zama)‘ vividly portrays the savagery of the fighting as the legions of Scipio Africanus finally defeated Hannibal’s ferocious war elephants, annihilating thousands of Carthaginians! Ex Deo’s stirring music, backed by the power of their roaring guitars and thundering drums leaves nothing to mind of these brutal battles, yet also with fine class use tasteful ancient melodies, horns and orchestrations to enhance the epic splendor of their material. It’s a stunning job and no better exemplified by the noble closer ‘The Roman’, which takes on film score proportions with rich violins and choirs clashing magnificently with commanding guitars, and not in the least, the battle roar of Iacono himself, clearly visualizing himself as his ancestors bound for glory. A thoroughly impeccable release. You can literally feel the decadence, power and might because it’s all here on “The Immortal Wars” – Ave Roman!

Immolation – “Atonement”

Immolation – “Atonement” (Nuclear Blast)

Battle Helm Rating

One of death metal’s greatest, Immolation have stood the test of time since their inception in 1988, releasing a respectable 9 albums throughout their career. Often credited with laying the musical blueprints for later bands like Cryptopsy and Suffocation, these veterans continue to show their measure on the astounding “Atonement”. Still with founder bassist / vocalist Ross Dolan and legendary guitarist Robert Vigna, this 10th album does what few death metal releases manage to do – evoke a truly enshrouding atmosphere that is long felt after the music has ended. Considering this isn’t even a concept album, that makes it all the more remarkable! Truly reflective of its album cover, “Atonement” is dark, apocalyptic metal on a grand scale that even the gods themselves would fear. Beyond the death, there is an element of blackness present that really makes the difference, drawing you in as the masterful arrangements and musicianship – not in the least the blinding neo classical guitar work of Vigna and Alex Bouks – conspire to create cataclysmic epics such as ‘Epiphany’, ‘Above All’ and ‘Thrown To The Fire’, reeking of grinding brutality, yet also memorable melodies and catchy grooves. Considering Immolation don’t rely on any orchestrals or keyboards to evoke their fearful presence is a definite credit to their musicianship and song writing. Most of all though, its their tightness as a band that pulls it off, be it in Dolan’s bestial growls or Steve Shalaty’s brutal drum technicality! Whether in blinding speed, mid temp menace or slow-ish scything, the magnificence of Immolation’s malevolence cannot be understated here on what must be one of the best death metal albums of the year just as we begin it!

Bloodbound – “War Of Dragons”

Bloodbound – “War Of Dragons” (AFM Records)

Battle Helm Rating

A Swedish power metal band, Bloodbound might’ve been slightly late off the mark for the power metal wave of the late 90s, but they’ve certainly made their mark as a 2nd division band, playing Sweden Rock and supporting Evergrey and Hammerfall in their time. In my opinion, they could’ve been much bigger but suffered from successive changes in their singers, not to mention an early image conflict where the band would wear corpse paint, coming across as a black metal band when the truth couldn’t be any further! Taking a cue from their more famed countrymen in Sabaton, these guys play power metal with a slight epic tinge but with heaps of bountiful melodies like on the racing ‘Guardians At Heaven’s Gate’, an apt title considering the swashbuckling guitars of the Olsson brothers, not to mention those blissful choirs. Thankfully still with Patrik J Selleby hopefully putting their past singing woes to an end, the vocals are perfectly suited to the heart stirring music in delivering plenty of passion along with clean, soulful highs clearly demonstrated on ‘Fallen Heroes’, where the talent of the band show that they can equally handle the move into epic territory while staying perfectly suited to the more traditionally folky style on ‘Silver Wings’, complete of course with its hugely catchy chorus! Even on the quieter songs like ‘Starfall’ Selleby’s vocals  make the singalong magic while on the classic power metal of the searing ‘Battle In The Sky’ he lights the fire to the inferno while the Olsson brothers duel it out once again in neoclassical splendor! All in all an excellent power metal offering from a band long expected to move into the premiere league if their demons have long since past.

King Woman – “Created In The Image of Suffering”

King Woman – “Created In The Image of Suffering” (Relapse Records)

Battle Helm Rating

With its long association to the hippy / flower power movement, San Francisco once again draws itself center stage thanks to the hallucinogenic potency of the mighty King Woman. Fronted by Kristina Esfandiari, who’s suffered her fair share of mental anguish from years of religious torment, King Woman might be one of the lightest bands on a label renowned for its extreme and off the wall signings, but that’s not saying their couldn’t frazzle a field of flowers. Essentially a heavy stoner psych band, this quartet are also influenced by shoe gaze, drone and even doom during their heaviest moments like on the fuzz drenched opener of ‘Utopia’. Either way, it all adds up to a fair amount of noise especially in the raw, reverb soaked guitars and the plodding after rhythm that certainly make up a full n heavy sound to the 8 tracks on this debut. However, it’s the likes of the mesmerizing Floydian-esque ‘Hierophant’ that show the amazing captivating power of Esfandiari’s trippy vocals, surprisingly not high as if to rise above the music, but rather to mix unashamedly with her bearded brethren to add even more effect to the hypnosis. The fact that the album progressively builds in song length adds to the cumulative effect of the overall trip, such that when you reach the likes of the 8 minute ‘Hem’ the effects of the pysch fever have you in full possession, either be it between the ethereal bliss of Esfandiari’s shamanic wailing or the crushing power riffs when the band switch on the juice. Not bad at all considering King Woman are by no means a space rock band and even more commendably, don’t employ and keyboards or noticeable effects. “Created In The Image of Suffering” might have been the inspiration behind this release, but its cathartic illumination and ultimate release amid such beauty and peace make it truly breathtaking.

Six Feet Under – Schizomaniac!!!

Six Feet Under returns with their 12th studio album, Torment, and a new leap in intensity. There’s plenty of classic Six Feet Under groove to be had on Torment, but fans will note a much more aggressive approach, and even more blast beats throughout. This is a cantankerous Six Feet Under with absolutely nothing to prove. This is Six Feet Under at their most deadly. Continue reading

Armored Saint – Live at Wacken

This Friday (February 24th), ARMORED SAINT will release their new live album, ‘Carpe Noctum’. Having toured with Metallica, Whitesnake, Alice Cooper, The Scorpions, and many other artists since their inception in the early 80s, ARMORED SAINT has always been a highly regarded live act – not only in their hometown of Los Angeles, but also around the world. The only official release to capture this, however, is 1989’s live album, ‘Saints Will Conquer’ – until now, with ‘Carpe Noctum’, which was recorded at the band’s 2015 Wacken festival set, as well as their headlining show in Aschaffenburg, Germany. Continue reading

Nova Collective – Ripped Apart and Reassembled

NOVA COLLECTIVE (featuring members of Between the Buried and Me, Haken,Trioscapes, Cynic) will release their debut album, ‘The Further Side’, via Metal Blade Records. NOVA COLLECTIVE’s music can be described as fusion, weaving progressive rock influences with world music, jazz and classical, to create something entirely new that is pure aural candy for prog/jazz fans. Continue reading