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Features

Interviews with Behemoth, Dimmu Borgir, Dark Tranquillity and a Cold Slab Full of Reviews

By Peter Atkinson, Contributor
Sunday, July 8, 2007 @ 11:17 AM


"Blasphemy seems to be a bit o

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I was reading an online article the other day about some group in Poland who had put together a list of musical acts — metal and otherwise — they considered to be “promoting Satanism” which they were threatening to pass around to local authorities in the hopes of having these bands banned from performing in the country — including such home-grown bands as Behemoth.

What actually fell under the definition of “promoting Satanism,” or how that was actually determined, never was given a full explanation — and if history is any indication, good luck ever-getting one. Perhaps the “Gorgoroth incident” from a couple years ago had more of an impact than people might have thought — if in fact they’d heard of it at all.

To recap, the Norwegian black metal troupe — who’ve had more than their share of run-ins with the law — basically got run out of Poland as “blasphemers” after a show they were filming for a DVD went a bit over the top with the animal heads on stakes, rivers or blood and mock crucifixions featuring real (and buck naked) people. The footage was seized and other than a few photos, little evidence of Gorgoroth’s “offense” remains.

Well hopefully that group — who call themselves the All-Polish Committee for Defense Against Sects — won’t end up reading this because blasphemy seems to be a bit of a theme, albeit it an unintentional one, here.

It was just pure, if not ironic, coincidence that Behemoth, Dimmu Borgir, Watain, Marduk, All Out War and Vital Remains, among others, happened to have new material out at the roughly same time that while, in most cases, is not overtly Satanic, basically savages all things holy. Shit happens! Still, I’d hate to screw up the Polish touring aspirations of any of them.

But by the same token, fuck these holier-than-thou alarmists. This is just what everyone needs, another self-righteous morality squad. So here’s hoping all these bands end up coming through Poland, drawing big crowds and really giving the All-Polish Committee for Defense Against Sects something to cry about.

* * *

"A Fucking Dangerous Extreme Metal Band"

"As long as you are an honest and hard-working band, it pays off sooner of later," reckons Nergal, the manic frontman of Polish black/death metal brutes Behemoth. And he ought to know. Over the past four years, you’d be hard-pressed to find a band that worked as hard, or made as much progress, as Behemoth — especially here in America, where the veteran quartet are still something of a new entity despite having been around since 1991. The seemingly endless slog for their U.S. debut Zos Kia Cultus in 2003 and 2005’s mammoth Demigod nearly destroyed the band, but Behemoth have emerged stronger and more determined.

“It was tough, we’d been around for like 12 years, but we’d only toured around Europe,” notes Nergal in mile-a-minute, but spot-on English during Behemoth’s recent five-day U.S. tour in April arranged around the New England Metal & Hardcore Festival — two months before word got out about the All-Polish Committee’s list. “We had nice lives over there, we had pretty comfortable conditions and then we came over here and we’ve got this stinky shitty van, and it’s like ‘OK, go.’ It was a pretty fucked up period for us, we had no clue about the American market or what touring in America was all about.

“I’m happy that we did it, we fucking bit the bullet, we took no fucking prisoners and we pushed it as hard as we could. During the Zos Kia Cultus period, when we were doing the U.S. tours, I was so depressed. The band was self-destructing, so I had to reorganize everything before Demigod. And when we came back it was the best lineup I’ve ever had in this band (with Seth on guitar, Inferno on drums and Orion on bass).

“We did 300 shows worldwide just for Demigod, we did five tours in the U.S. We’ve been in peoples’ faces all the fucking time, we were making people like our music. It might be rough, but here if you work hard, you eat shit, but you can be pretty sure that at the end of the day you’re going to eat cake.”

That “cake” is a stint on this summer’s Ozzfest where, along with South Carolina Egypt-philes Nile, Behemoth will be the tour’s first genuine taste of death metal. The band played on last year’s Sounds of the Underground Tour which, despite drawing sizeable crowds, is still — as its name implies — more about the underground than the massive throngs Ozzfest regularly draws, no matter who is on the bill. And with this year’s being “free,” the throngs could be even more massive.

By then, Behemoth will have unleashed their incendiary eighth album, The Apostasy, and be primed to annihilate the slack-jawed Ozzfesters who probably will have no idea what they are in for.

“We’ve got nothing to lose,” Nergal said. “You’re going to see us in the full sun with the full armor, with the makeup on, blasting the shit out of the audience, and that’s what it’s gonna be. If you don’t like it fine, if you love it, cool.”

Indeed, Nergal views Ozzfest — as, in fact, he does any other tour — as warfare, with Behemoth the marauding horde there to lay waste to all who stand in their way.

“This band, we take things very seriously, maybe too seriously,” he said. “We’re not laid back guys who just put out the record, go on tour, fuck some chicks and have some beers,” he said. “We treat it more or less as some kind of crusade. This is a battlefield; we have countless battles to be won. It sounds a bit pathetic. I can see that, but the fact that we are so serious about it makes it real.”

Behemoth has been keeping it real since forming in 1991, the shipyard city of Gdansk, Poland, the home of the Solidarity labor movement that began the slow death of communism. If there was ever a place to inspire the union of death metal pulverizing and atheistic black metal philosophizing, Gdansk is it.

“We come from a very dark place, actually we come from a very gray place, which is even worse,” said Nergal. “We’ve been fucked throughout history by different regimes and religion, or by communism or fascism, whatever. Coming from Central/Eastern Europe, we are determined, we don’t talk…we just fucking do it.”

“This band started as a fucking dangerous extreme metal band and it still is, it’s probably more dangerous than it ever was,” Nergal notes emphatically. “We had to make a statement with this record and that’s what we did. That’s what The Apostasy [which literally means “the renunciation of religious faith” and concludes with blasphemy’s song of the year in “Christgrinding Avenue”] is, it’s a diverse massive, epic record and at the same time it’s faster and more extreme than Demigod was. We want to definitely prove something.”



Go Your Own Way

Norway’s Dimmu Borgir may be resetting the bar for black metal sonically and, for better or for worse, commercially with their latest album, In Sorte Diaboli, but their late April tour stop in Baltimore shows they’ve still got a ways to go before putting the underground behind them.

After having just headlined the New England Metal Festival in Worcester, Mass., before a crowd of some 2,000 and played the expansive Nokia Theater in New York, Charm City’s Sonar Club offers a distinctly different ambiance. A converted warehouse situated smack dab in one of the city’s seedier neighborhoods, the Sonar is a classic dive: dark, cramped, ugly and more than a little bit smelly.

That Dimmu guitarist Galder, a man so pale it seems as if the sun might actually cause him pain, asks to do our interview outside certainly says something about the place. As we park ourselves on some benches outside the unlikely named Hollywood Diner — whose sign reads “Open,” though nary a soul can be seen — Galder surveys in the surroundings.

“This one is more like the ones we did last time (2003),” he said. “Most of the rest of the places [on the current tour] are bigger, a lot of House of Blues places. It’s a bit smaller, but it’s more intimate and it sounds good. And look at the people in line, it’s going to be a good crowd.”

Although the small stage forced Dimmu to shelve the riser they’d been using to run around on in bigger places, it hardly mattered. The band delivered a punishing 80-minute set that drew almost exclusively from their back catalog — especially Enthrone Darkness Triumphant — that was virtually flawless, unlike some of the tour’s previous shows.

“We had some problems at the beginning, new drummer (Mayhem’s revered Hellhammer, who played on the 2005 remake of Stormblast and Diaboli and is now performing with both Mayhem and Dimmu) and new sound guy,” notes Galder. “But now it’s getting better, last night’s show (in Philadelphia) was really good.”

Indeed the only noticeable near miscue on this night came when Hellhammer flailed through the brief drum solo that introduces the new track “The Chosen Legacy” so quickly that the rest of the band literally had to run out onstage to pick up the song in time.

“He’s done some festivals with us, but this is the first tour he’s done with us, it’s just a matter of him getting comfortable,” notes Galder, diplomatically. “The rest of us have played together for a number of years now, and we’ve only been out for a week. But it’s getting better and better, he’s doing a good job and he’s a cool guy.”

[Hellhamer injured his arm in early June, forcing Mayhem to postpone their first U.S. tour in nearly a decade and Dimmu to recall Tony Laureno, who sat in on drums during the band’s 2004 Ozzfest run, to play European festival dates.]

Dimmu’s Invaluable Darkness Tour with Unearth, Devildriver and Kataklysm was the band’s first in the states since Ozzfest, a trek Galder said meant a lot for the band in terms of exposure and, eventually record sales in the states - where 2003’s Death Cult Armageddon has gone on to sell more than 100,000 copies.

All of that, however, has meant much bigger expectations for In Sorte Diaboli than for the band’s previous efforts. Released the week following the Baltimore date, it did not disappoint out of the box, earning a lot of attention and almost cracking the Billboard Top 40, landing at 43 - a first for anything approaching black metal.

Diaboli is something of an anachronistic album. An ambitious conceptual work from a lyrical standpoint — a medieval tale of a student priest who loses faith and turns to the dark side — it is also Dimmu’s leanest, most streamlined album since Enthrone. It’s a rather dramatic departure from the heavily orchestrated grandiosity the band had been building on since Spiritual Black Dimensions and definitely a surprise given that concept albums are usually the definition of overblown.

“This album is a bit more thrashy, more guitar oriented,” reckons Galder. “It’s cool to do something different and after the last album where things were so epic it was good to simplify things. This time we talked ahead of time about keeping the songs shorter, not having these really long middle sections. These songs are still pretty complex, there is a lot going on, they just don’t go on for as long.”

Given that the story line for Diaboli was scripted entirely by guitarist Silenoz, Galder is understandably reticent when it comes to the details and the genesis of the concept. However, he did say that through it all runs a universal theme: “It’s about hypocrisy and choosing to go your own way instead of just following the herd, thinking for yourself, even at the cost of your own life.”

Galder will be doing a bit of going his own way over the summer, but with a decidedly different purpose. He will record another album with, or more precisely as, Old Man’s Child — since it’s essentially now a one-man band — in August during a break in Dimmu’s touring schedule.

“I have eight songs ready,” he said. “I don’t want to do any half-assed, and I don’t think they (Century Media Records) want me to just for the sake of putting something out. They’re cool about it, and they are willing to wait for when they know I can really put the necessary time into it and give it the attention it deserves. They want me to take it seriously and write good songs, so that’s good.”



Out Of The Shadows

Dark Tranquillity might not be the first band that comes to mind when you think of extreme Swedish metal, despite being one of the architects of the buzz-sawing “Gothenburg sound” back in the day and remaining very much a viable, active outfit today. But it ended up being the likes of Entombed, At The Gates and Dismember who earned most of the Swedish death metal accolades in the early ‘90s, and Arch Enemy, In Flames, Soilwork and Opeth who have been hogging most of the headlines in recent years.

That’s not to say Dark Tranquillity haven’t done well for themselves. They’ve built an impressive, diverse body of work and have seen a considerable rise in their popularity of late as “Swedish metal” regained its cache. It’s just that for nearly 20 years, the sextet has mostly been lurking in the shadows.

But there’s no shame in that, and as frontman Mikael Stanne — who took over a vocals after original singer Anders Friden left in 1993 and later joined In Flames, whose debut album, oddly enough, Stanne had sung on — sees it, that Dark Tranquillity are able to make a living at making metal is worth a hell of a lot more than press clippings.

“The fact that we can make music, create and go out and tour all over the world is really something we cherish,” Stanne said. “We could very easily be working in factories dreaming of doing these things. When you remind yourself of that the glass definitely looks more than half full.”

While it might not be a terribly exotic destination, Stanne was calling in from Detroit during a stop on the band’s spring co-headlining tour with countrymen The Haunted. It was the first time Dark Tranquillity topped the bill here after a half-dozen U.S. tours as an opening act. And after some initial trepidation, it was quickly shaping up to be the band’s best tour yet.

“It’s been amazing, way better than we could have expected,” Stanne enthuses. “It’s great to hang out with really great bands, really cool friends of ours and the shows have been fantastic every single night. Me and the Bjolers (Haunted brothers Anders and Jonas, formerly of At The Gates) have known each other for 20 years; it’s weird that we haven’t toured together before.

“We didn’t really know what to expect because we were out touring before the album was out, which is kind of weird for us, and The Haunted has already been out a bunch of times. But it’s exceeded all of our expectations. One of the best things about touring over here is we can see the growth every time we come back. Since the first tour we’ve done, things have gotten so much better. It’s really, really growing and it’s great to see.” “The album” Stanne spoke of is Fiction, which was issued in late April on Century Media. It’s the band’s eighth and most well rounded album to date, with a lot of contrasting ingredients blended together with the savvy of a veteran band that has mastered the art of melodic death metal.

“There are so many totally different songs, much more diverse material on this album,” Stanne enthuses. “The songs are stronger individually, they really stand out from each other, there’s some really intense, really fast stuff on there, there’s some really mellow stuff, there’s some clean vocal things going on, we have a female singer on a songs, it’s some of the most diverse material we’ve ever done.”

Always one of the smarter bands plying death metal’s typically gore-splattered waters thanks to Stanne’s abstract lyrics that could on one hand dabble in science and technology and at others be deeply personal. That continues this time, although the material remains true to the album’s title.

“If there is a theme it’s how reality and fiction works together,” Stanne said. “I wanted to distance myself from the lyrics in a way and not make them too personal. I wanted to write about fictional characters instead of myself, write little stories and different concepts. It was really liberating, I could be much more honest with myself. “A lot of it is about frustration and things that I don’t like talking about, like things that I hate about myself. It’s part of growing up, realizing your failures and errors you’ve made in your life. It was a cool way to address that by projecting it onto someone else.”



* * *

Reviews

Since it’s been more than six months since I’ve done one of these things, obviously I’ve got some serious catching up to do. So in order to keep this somewhat manageable, and cover as much ground — good and bad — as possible, a bunch of otherwise deserving albums had to be omitted — Naglfar, Belphegor, Aborted, Secrets of the Moon, Chimaira, Crionics, Carnal Forge, to name a few. But that still leaves quite a pile to wade through — and wade I did.

Black Metal

Finntroll - Ur Jordens Djup (Century Media)
Immortalized as a supermarket in an episode of “Dethklok Metalocalypse,” Finland’s Finntroll are definitely one of the more “unique” bands in the metal underground these days. Trodding the rarely traveled path between blackened metal and traditional folk music, and featuring such decidedly un-metal instruments as the banjo and mouth harp (played by a guy named Trollhorn, who also handles the keyboards), Finntroll sound like nothing you’ve ever heard. Like Britain’s Bal-Sagoth, Finntroll are way over the top and obviously could give a shit whether it all sounds ridiculous or not. But with this their fifth album, the sextet certainly sound like they mean it. With new frontman Vreth growling in Finnish throughout, Finntroll charge through 11 surprisingly vicious tracks on Ur Jordens Djup. Even “En Maktig Har” or “Makteus Spira,” which sound like folksy jigs out of “Lord of the Rings “ as Trollhorn really goes off, rip on the strength of Routa and Skrymer’s gnashing guitars and B. Dominator’s galloping drums. And the more aggressive “Slaybroder” or “Under Tva Runor” will make you feel like grabbing a flaming torch, a broadsword and shield and pillaging. B

Marduk - Rom 5:12 (Regain)
Swedish miscreants Marduk get all medieval on our asses with Rom 5:12, an album that blends the high-minded flair of a conceptual work with the band’s signature single-minded black metal brutality. Their second album with vocalist Mortuus, it is a more fully realized version of what Marduk began working toward with Plague Angel, incorporating more anthemic grandeur with, for instance, the methodical pummel of the eight-minute “Imago Mortis” and building atmosphere with eerie horns and organ strains, death march percussion and sinister Gregorian-style chanting — “Damnation 1651” or the witch-hunting “Accuser/Opposer” are complete departures for them. Yet, instead of making for mere distraction — or worse, sounding cheesy - these twists actually bolster the full-frontal intensity of the blast-beat powered “The Levelling Dust” or “Limbs of Worship” and make for one wild rollercoaster ride through hell and back. A-

Mayhem- Ordo Ad Chao (Season of Mist)
Norway’s infamous yet venerable Mayhem take some big-time steps backward, literally and figuratively, with their latest work. Former frontman Atilla Csihar, who sang on 1994’s landmark debut Dom Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, is back in the fold, replacing the enigmatic Maniac, and with him comes a return to a raw, minimalist sound more typical of Sathanas or Wolf’s Lair Abyss. The experimental, and wildly erratic, Grand Declaration of War and 2004’s much more brutally direct Chimera seem positively slick and polished by comparison to Ordo Ad Chao’s rough-hewn, low-fi histrionics. Indeed, as crude and unfiltered as Chao sounds — with its buzzing guitars, necromantical screaming and clanging percussion — it’s almost like Mayhem recorded a rehearsal during preproduction, decided they liked it and that was that. Not that that is necessarily a bad thing, it’s just quite a shock which takes a few listens to adjust to. Compositionally, Chao maintains the Zappa-esque, almost sophisticated air that has typified Mayhem’s more recent work, highlighted by unorthodox, sometimes confounding structures, an epic scale — the sparse, yet sprawling “Illuminate Eliminate” clocks in at nearly 10 minutes — and Hellhammer’s unbelievable free jazz-style drum freakouts. Atilla’s chilling breathy/croaky vocals give Chao the stark freakiness that was somewhat lacking with Maniac’s more forced caterwauling and make a perfect fit for the bone saw purity of the band’s sound here. B+

Watain - Sworn To The Dark (The Ajna Offensive/Flame/Southern Lord)
Like Dissection, to whose late leader Jon Nodtveidt they dedicate opening track “Legions of the Black Light” — whose lyrics actually were written by Dissection guitarist Set Teitan — Swedish satanic majesties Watain don’t just play black metal, they really give the impression that they live it — and mean it — even if all the fire and leather and chalices and skull piles seem a bit ridiculously overdone. Still, they come off here as more genuinely sinister and downright scary than, say, Dark Funeral. Sworn To The Black, the band’s third album, has the same sort of deliberate sense of purpose, albeit with a more overtly satanic air, than Dissection had before Nodtveidt went to prison. Sworn is stripped down, undecorated by rote orchestration or fancy instrumentation or delivered with a needless emphasis on speed and — bottom line — is 100-percent Evil, with a capital E. These guys like to lay on the blasphemy nice and thick, and on “The Light The Burns The Sky” or “Storm of the Antichrist” it’s presented with such joyful, cold-blooded exuberance that if Watain really are full of shit, Sworn is the best practical joke ever. If not, then God help us all. B

Death Metal

Arch Enemy - Black Earth (Regain)
The first album from Sweden’s Arch Enemy is arguably some the band’s finest work. And it is finally officially available in the states — a decade after its initial release. Fairly fresh from his stint with Carcass, guitarist Mike Amott teamed with his guitarist/brother Christopher, drummer Daniel Erlandsson and frontman Johan Liiva and hit the ground running with Black Earth. Taking a page from Carcass with their thundering hooks and fanciful solo interplay, and teaming it with a backdrop of death metal that boasted a surprisingly strong sense of melody and songcraft, Arch Enemy helped steer extreme Swedish music in a whole new direction. Black Earth definitely stands the test of time. Crushingly heavy — thanks to the one-two punch of the Amotts’ humongous riffs and Fredrik Nordstrom’s bruising production — and loaded with bold, memorable songs - “Bury Me An Angel,” which is still a live staple, “Transmigration Macabre” and the mid-tempo behemoth “Fields of Desolation” — Black Earth made an instant statement a decade ago. Bolstered by a menacing bonus cover of Iron Maiden’s “Aces High” — made all the more so by Liiva’s gruff vocals — it definitely makes for something much more than just mere nostalgia now. A-

Beneath The Massacre - Mechanics of Dysfunction (Prosthetic)
Whether its the extra-strength beer, the long winters, or the friggin’ metric system, there’s definitely something fucked up about Canadian metal. Taking a page from Cryptopsy’s bag of tricks, Beneath The Massacre’s epileptic fit technical death metal will definitely scramble some skulls. The band’s full-length debut is a dizzying complex, crushingly heavy fusion of math-metal dexterity and death metal brute force. Christopher Bradley’s finger-fraying guitaring seems like the work of three men at once, and when paired with time changes that feel like a ride on the Vomit Comet you wonder how in the hell these guys are ever going to be able to pull it off live. After a while, Mechanics becomes somewhat exhausting — especially with Elliot Desgagnes’ monotone jet-engine vocals — but it nevertheless impresses with it sheer audacity and unapologetic Canadian freakishness. B

Gojira - The Link Alive 2003 (Listenable DVD)
America is just now getting a real taste of French avant gardists Gojira, who’ve toured twice here since late last year in support of their phenomenal U.S. debut From Mars To Sirius. But the band - whose turbulent, eco-friendly industrial/prog-flavored death metal is like Morbid Angel colliding with Rush - have been around for the greater part of a decade. The Link Alive DVD captures Gojira at a time when the band’s quirky sound was really starting to click and fans in their home country and around Europe were just starting to get into them. Indeed the dingy theater in Bordeaux where the DVD was shot was packed with roiling stage divers and crowd surfers all going ape shit as Gojira grinds away. Enlightening, if somewhat embarrassing, bonus footage shows the remarkable evolution of the band from amateur thrashers to seasoned pros. By the time Link Alive was filmed, Gojira were a formidable and expressive live act, even if their ambitious music was still coalescing. The band then went on to really nail it with From Mars. For the converts who came in Mars’ aftermath, Link Alive makes for a worthwhile to play catch-up with Gojira’s curious past. B+

Immolation - Shadows in the Light (Century Media)
What you see is pretty much what you get from Immolation: no bullshit, technically proficient death metal with no compromises and no apologies. The band’s seventh album offers nothing more and delivers nothing less. Shadows in the Light won’t score many points for originality or sophistication, but like long-time cohorts Suffocation, Immolation obviously got comfortable with what they were doing during death metal’s formative years, decided to stick with it and continue to do it very well. And there’s nothing wrong with that, so long as you don’t then slip it into auto-pilot - see Six Feet Under below. Shadows burns with as much fire as Immolation’s earlier works. And the band’s technical prowess can still blow minds even though the hate-fueled material here is more refined and murderously concise. B

Job For A Cowboy - Genesis (Metal Blade)
After building a pretty good buzz the old-fashioned way - well sort of, along with a homemade EP and attention-getting live shows, they worked MySpace and YouTube pretty hard - Arizona’s Job For A Cowboy prove themselves more than worthy of the hype with Genesis, a debut that grabs you by the throat and never lets go. An unrelenting assault of machine-gun drumming, grinding riffs, neck-snapping time changes and from-hell vocals, Genesis takes new-school thrash and puts a boot right up its ass. Cleverly weaving in liberal splashes of death metal and grindcore, and omitting the clichéd breakdowns or clean vocals, Job For A Cowboy deliver pure unfettered ugliness and brutality. An eye-opening, punishing debut. A-

Six Feet Under - Commandment (Metal Blade)
The new album from Six Feet Under sounds pretty much like the previous album from Six Feet Under, which sounded a lot like the one before it. Variety and surprises have never very high on Chris Barnes and company’s list, and after more than a half-dozen albums of pedestrian death metal that’s really not a ringing endorsement - especially when your repertoire consists primarily of chunky hooks, consistent mid-tempo pacing and Barnes puking vocals and horror movie lyrics. Tracks like “Zombie Executioner,” “Resurrection of the Rotten” and “Ghosts of the Undead” deliver all that and nothing more on Commandment, which leaves one begging for something, anything, different — a blast beat or two, some wanky guitaring — even though you know it’s not gonna happen. Maybe next time. Ha! D

Vital Remains - Icons of Evil (Century Media)
If you want more blasphemy for your buck, look no further than this. From a cadaverous Christ being nailed to the cross on the cover to the epic satanic death metal the band blasts with nefarious glee with Deicide’s Glenn Benton again behind the mic, Vital Remains’ sixth album is the complete unholy package. Following an intro that provides a hammer, nails and screaming soundtrack to the crucifixion on the cover, Vital Remains unleash hell with the skin-flaying, seven-minute title track and then take that ball and run with it for all it’s worth. Each proceeding track is bigger, badder and more black-souled than the next — a roiling cauldron of hyper-speed everything and Benton’s horrific, multi-tracked vocals that sound like something out of “The Exorcist.” All that’s missing is the pea soup puke — although with the added oomph of Erik Rutan’s awesome production and Dave Suzuki’s scorching leads, you’ll hardly miss it. B

Thrash

Blood Tsunami - Thrash Metal (Candlelight/Nocturnal Art Productions)
Since being released from prison a few years back, ex-Emperor drummer Bard “Faust” Eithun has been keeping himself pretty busy, writing and performing with Zyklon, Aborym and Scum and partnering briefly with the doomed Dissection. His latest gig is with the awesomely named Blood Tsunami, an old-school band with flaming-throwing frontman Pete Evil and a sound that delivers exactly what their debut album’s title promises. With chunky riffage that recalls the mid-’80s Bay Area scene and the velocity and rough edges of early era Germans like Destruction and, especially, Kreator, Blood Tsunami are definitely a throwback. But they are certainly not just some lame trip down memory lane. With Evil’s venomous vocals, he and Dor’s dog fighting guitaring - especially on the mammoth, solo-studded instrumental “Godbeater” - and Eithun’s aggressive pacing, Blood Tsunami obviously have a higher purpose in mind. Thrash Metal is an assaultive debut that bowls you over from the get-go and never lets up. A-

Dew-Scented - Incinerate (Nuclear Blast)
Though perhaps most noteworthy for its guest appearances — Kreator’s Mille Petrozza lends his vocals to one tracks, Annihilator’s Jeff Waters and Firewind’s Gus G trade guitar solos on another — the seventh album from Germany’s Dew-Scented can certainly stand on its own merits. With its rampaging thrash highlighted by some already impressive guitar interplay from Hendrik Bache and Flo Mueller and the ‘roid rage vocals of Leif Jensen, Incinerate does just that. Though it sounds a bit like really old Nuclear Assault, but without the wit, it gets the job done and it will kick your ass. And what more can you ask? B-

Dublin Death Patrol - DDP 4 Life (Godfodder)
Part side band, part high-school reunion, Dublin Death Patrol brings together a gang of musicians and friends that were at the forefront of the birth of Bay Area thrash and lets them take a footloose, immensely fun trip down memory lane. Headed by Testament frontman Chuck Billy and ex-Exodus singer Steve Souza (who Billy replaced when Legacy became Testament prior to their debut), and featuring Willy Lange from Laaz Rockit and two of Billy’s brothers, all of whom hailed from Dublin, Calif., back in the day, DDP pretty much pick up things as if the guys were still back in high school. Offering a mix of amped up originals and bruising covers of songs by bands the fellas cut their teeth on as they were hitting puberty — Motorhead’s “Iron Fist,” UFO’s “Lights Out” and Thin Lizzy’s mammoth “Cold Sweat” — is a spirited romp that, though roughshod and even somewhat sloppy, sounds anything but slapdash. As you might expect, Billy and Souza make for a formidable duo bellowing above the thrash and roll bluster of their buds, who obviously still have the fire in the belly of old. DDP 4 Life rocks plenty hard, and boasts all of what made Bay Area thrash so great — chunky riffs, chugging tempos, fiery solos and roaring vocals that sound like a grizzly bear ready to tear a chunk out of your hide. B+

Entombed - Serpent Saints (Candlelight)
The first truly new album in four years from Sweden’s death metal pioneers is their feistiest in years. Perhaps feeling like maybe they “got served” by former drummer Nicke Andersson’s new old-school side band Death Breath, Entombed answer back with more venom and gusto than they’ve had probably since 1997’s To Ride, Shoot Straight and Speak The Truth. Serpent Saints shows the band mean business from the outset, harking back to their early days by opening with the ferocious title track — which bears a striking resemblance to Motorhead’s “Iron Fist” — and the unexpectedly black-metal flavored “Masters of Death” (this black metally-ness appears again on “Warfare Plague Famine Death”) before settling into the familiar Wolverine Blues-like death and roll abrasiveness on “Amok.” And abrasive is the operative word here. The production is especially rough and dirty, which is perfect for the aforementioned tracks but muddies up more technical fare, such as the towering “When In Sodom” or the brooding “In The Blood.” L-G Petrov proves the real star of the show here, barking his misanthropic lyrics with attack dog authority and showing that Entombed could still be a player to be reckoned with in a scene now dominated by bands they helped inspire. B+

Onslaught - Killing Peace (Candlelight) A somewhat unexpected reunion, given that England’s Onslaught weren’t much more than a fringe band way back when — and imploded not long after their major label “big break” yielded the slick, tepid, Metallica-esque In Search of Sanity in 1989 with ex-Grim Reaper howler Steve Grimmett. But after 15 years apart, Onslaught re-emerged on the live circuit a couple years ago with 4/5ths of their “classic” line-up — guitarist Nige Rockett, bassist James Hinder, drummer Steve Grice and gravel-throated frontman Sy Keeler — and now are offering Killing Peace, their first album with Keeler since 1986’s The Force. Though sounding a bit dated, which is understandable, Killing Peace shows the fellas can still bring the hardcore-tinged thrash and rights a lot of Insanity’s wrongs. Shedding the clumsy epic power metal trappings for a more rough and tumble sound that lets Keeler’s rabid vocals really do their thing on pointed tracks like “Twisted Jesus,” “Planting the Seeds of Hate” and “Shock ‘n’ Awe,” Killing Peace is far less polished and way more aggressive than its 20-year-old predecessor. It’s a much more comfortable and effective approach that should, if nothing else, restore Onslaught’s underground credibility. B

Susperia - Cut From Stone (Candlelight)
It took four albums, but it seems like Norway’s Susperia have, for the most part, finally been able to put all the pieces together. Founded by black metallurgists Tjodalv (Dimmu Borgir’s old drummer) and Cyrus (Satyricon/Old Man’s Child), but employing a decidedly melodic Thrash Metal approach, the clash of influences and aspirations sometimes yielded somewhat awkward results. But practice makes perfect, and Cut From Stone comes much closer to perfection than any of Susperia’s three previous releases. The band just plain wrote better, more sonically solid songs here, blending muscle, melody, depth and dexterity and having the vast majority of them come out sounding natural and powerful. The epic “Distant Memory” is evidence of that in a nutshell, weaving acoustic interludes and intricate melodies with crunching riffs and Athera’s hulking vocals over six-plus minutes without stumbling once. Ditto the more straight-up thrashing of “Release” or ”Brother” where Tjodalv kicks up the backbeats. Although the arrangements and lyrics can still be erratic, case in point “Life Deprived,” Cut From Stone is miles ahead of where Susperia has been and establishes the band as a definite force to be reckoned with. B+

3 Inches Of Blood - Fire Up The Blades (Roadrunner)
The second Roadrunner release from Vancouver-based revivalists 3 Inches Of Blood is quite a bit more accomplished and less derivative, relatively speaking, than 2004’s Advance and Vanquish, which was essentially an ‘80s power metal tribute album on crank. Buoyed by the involvement of Slipknot drummer Joey Jordinson, who produced the album and lent a hand putting the songs together, not mention four new band members joining holdover vocalists Cam Pipes and Jason Hooper, Fire Up The Blades is thrashier, more proficient and confident. Where before it seemed like the band were merely aping everyone from Iron Maiden and Accept to Mercyful Fate and Venom, tracks like the blazing “Infinite Legions” or “Trail of Champions” at least have the feel of a band trying to make something “their own.” Though there’s still plenty of an ‘80s metal vibe to go around — from the dueling guitars to the tonsil-shredding vocals from Hooper and the aptly named Pipes that sound like King Diamond and Udo Dirkschneider having a shit fit - the menacing riffs on, say, “Black Spire” and the hardcore undertones throughout offer an edge that just wasn’t their before. B

Hardcore/Metal-Core/Grindcore

All Out War - Assassins in the House of God (Victory)
Hardcore meets thrash meets good old-fashioned sacrilege on the latest effort from this long-standing, but constantly changing New York quintet. The 11 tracks on Assassins blast away at blind faith, zealotry and extremist ideology with a double-barreled assault of super-tight, razor-sharp riffs and punishing breakdowns, yet do it with enough panache and purpose so as to avoid sounding like just another crappy metal-core band. Perhaps being so pissed off at religious fanatics of every stripe — from our own evangelical idiocracy to jihadists to the sheep-like masses who so often fall under their spell — gave All Out War the impetus to not want to waste their breath over a second-rate soundtrack. Whatever. Bottom line is, it worked — and by actually presenting fairly well-reasoned arguments, and delivering them with unbridled authority All Out War make a much more effective case against organized religion than, say, the simple-minded “Fuck Your God” pontifications of Deicide. B+

Despised Icon - The Ills of Modern Man (Century Media)
While much more seasoned and adept than their previous albums, the third full-length from Montreal’s Despised Icon can still be a real chore to listen to. With two vocalists dueling between hardcore hollering and death metal puking, much of Ills seems like one long screaming match between a couple really pissed off dudes. Lost in all this is some reasonably well-performed, deftly scripted death-core punctuated by some really crunching breakdowns, unexpectedly sharp soloing and wicked time changes. But unless Alex Erian and Steve Marion shut the fuck up for a minute, you barely get a chance to take it all in. Too bad. C-

The Minor Times - Summer of Wolves (Prosthetic)
Pennsylvania’s The Minor Times offer an off-kilter, almost Voivod-ian take on metal-core, weaving eclectic and unusual structures and sonics into the usual bluster and basically just twisting everything around. Sure it is all built around the requisite big, beefy riffs and paint-peeling vocalizing, but the herky-jerky, elliptical compositions and droning jamminess are something that rarely enters the equation. Indeed at eight-plus minutes, the angular “This Is The Blues” is damn near hardcore heresy, but it’s a hell of a lot more interesting and satisfying than three tracks worth of chest-beating and caterwauling you usually get in that amount of time. B+

The Red Chord - Prey For Eyes (Metal Blade)
Massachusetts freaks The Red Chord seem more serious about things with this their third release. The freewheeling recklessness and manic urgency of 2005’s insane Clients have given way to a more violently precise, and dare I say professional, grind — which can be both a blessing and a curse. The loose, almost sloppy performance on Clients was a breath of fresh air from the jackhammer proficiency of most new-era thrash-core. Prey, however, is tight as a friggin’ drum and much more technically advanced and adventurous, by comparison — recalling, to a certain extent, Lamb of God. Tracks like “Birdbath” and epic closer “Seminar” with their flighty guitaring and spastic time changes, have an almost proggy air — despite Guy Kozowyk’s pitbull vocals. It’s all pretty impressive, but also somewhat cold and clinical. And the inherent weirdness that made Clients so strangely captivating has also yielded to an angrier, more savage tone here — as evidenced by “Send The Death Storm” or “Intelligence Has Been Compromised” — which takes some of the fun out it. B-

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