Live Review: Bloodshot Dawn, Æpoch, Becomes Astral, Ending Tyranny @Schwaben Club, Kitchener, Ontario

"Whose dad IS that?" Kyle Edissi (Æpoch, guitars) asked incredulously from the stage as a diminutive man, easily over sixty years of age, crowd surfed for the third time during last night's show. No one seemed to know, and it didn't matter in the slightest. Everyone on the floor was happy to give him the night of his life, transporting him around the floor atop dozens of helping hands. For all the bad reputation the industry press seems intent on leveling against the metal community these days for being a supposed 'unsafe space', it's anything but—at least if last night's concert at Kitchener's 'Schwaben Club' was any indication. People were attending from all walks of life: old-school geezers like myself, teenagers, men, and women (over a quarter of the show's patrons were female, a welcome sight!), and they were all there for the same reason—to witness the best technical death and melodic death metal that the region has to offer, topped off by a blistering set from UK's own Bloodshot Dawn on their very first Canadian tour.

Review: Goreworm - The Path to Oblivion EP

Goreworm - The Path to Oblivion EP
Label - CDN Records
Runtime: 18 minutes
Release Date: March 23rd, 2018

At the ripe old age of 36, I may not be hip to the 'slams' that metal kids these days listen to on their shitty earbuds while I shoo them off my lawn with a grandpa guitar, hurling Slayer LPs in a frothing rage of tr00 kvlt righteous fury, but every so often I stumble down the rabbit-hole and something dank tenaciously sticks to my shoe, refusing to be ignored. Sure I'll walk around pretending like it isn't there, but eventually people start asking about the smell, and by then it's too late. I have a serious Goreworm infection, and as any metal-head worth their salt knows, the only cure for a bad case of the br00tal-deaths is to lance and purge the boils in the form of verbal or written diarrhea. This is the latter. I'm sorry.

Hailing from the middle of ass-fuck nowhere (Brantford, Ontario), Goreworm allegedly started as a project by Brent Moerschfelder and Jordan Elgersman, intending only to write a couple of songs "just for the fun of it." According to their press release, when they noticed that every track was better than the last one, they decided to go whole-hog and make an actual band out of it, proving once and for all that anything can be made better by chucking a few more Canadians at it. The malformed motley crew was then picked up by local legends CDN music and catapulted into the stratosphere of obscurity where I found them floating in the aforementioned rabbit-hole alongside an old Thy Flesh Consumed promo and Michael Jackson's 'Thriller'. Initially mistaking it for a copy of Abysmal Dawn's 'Obsolescence', I picked it up and joyfully skipped home, not realizing that Goreworm had used me as a vector to spread dankness to the uninfected multitudes who read this blog (all four of them.)

Undercover Spotlight: Godslave - Reborn Again

Godslave - Reborn Again
Label: Green Zone Music
Runtime: 46 minutes
Released: March 9th, 2018

Oh man, where to begin with this one? It's thrash metal from Germany, and if that's got you thinking of Kreator, well, you're not too far off, but Godslave is far from a one-trick-pony. Influences here range from the obvious (Kreator) to early Metallica, Overkill, Iron Maiden, Exodus, and a host of other wide-ranging sounds. We start with excellent straight-forward riff-centric thrash, and slowly go off the rails the further the album goes all the way to the swaggering cock-rock meets thrash of 'Rock on, man', the brilliant speed-metal banjo in 'Instrumental Illness', and a surprising addition of female vocals on album closer 'No Complaint'.

Reborn Again could very easily have felt like a mess, but somehow it all comes together into an extremely entertaining album showcasing killer song-writing and flashy guitar, wrapped up in a punchy production. Check it out! The album is available for streaming on Spotify and to purchase on Amazon and Itunes. Unfortunately, they don't plan to distribute on Bandcamp, although you can check out a few songs there for free. Check out this awesome 360 degree video below.

Review: Rivers of Nihil - Where Owls Know My Name

Label: Metal Blade
Runtime: 56 Minutes
Released: March 16th, 2018

“Where Owls Know My Name” is the third in a series of albums representing the four seasons, with the summer of ‘Monarchy’ falling to the inevitable decay of Autumn. Themes of longing, change, and regret permeate the album from the lyrics to the band’s experimental take on the classic ‘Rivers’ formula. New elements have been added to form an unlikely mix: Mellotron, Moog synths, trumpet, saxophone, and clean vocals are all very present, added to Rivers of Nihil’s already proggy take on technical death metal. One would think that this would result in a heaping mess of clashing ideas and vibes, but somehow it all pulls together into one cohesive whole that, while not without flaw, is much greater than merely the sum of its parts.

My first sit-down with the album came in the wake of learning about the death of an old friend. Not just any friend—the friend who exposed me to extreme underground metal. Without him I wouldn’t be writing this blog, listening to this album, or have had some of the most transcendental experiences of my life. I sat alone in a dark room, turned up the speakers, and let the album wash over me, and like experiences that now seem so long ago I felt myself transported, soaking up the ascendancy of something pure, neither good nor evil, organic or spiritual, simply BEING. And for that moment in time, it was enough. “Where Owls Know My Name” is that kind of record. If you let it in.

Metal Undercover's Top Ten Albums of 2017

Twenty-seventeen has been a crazy year, filled to the brim with quality metal from all corners of the globe in all sub genres! While the blog has been slow to update due to the sudden availability of paid writing work (the horror!) that doesn't mean that we (me) at Metal Undercover haven't been keeping up with new releases! Take a gander below the cut for the albums of the year, and keep a close eye on the blog in the coming weeks for discussion of some extremely honorable mentions!

Undercover Spotlight: Hadal Maw, Aeternam, and Primal Attack

Hadal Maw - Olm
Label: EVP Recordings
Runtime: 46 Minutes
Released: February 5th, 2017

Atmospheric Death, Tech and Groove Influences

Hadal Maw's sophomore release, Olm, sees quite a few changes to what was once another 'me too!' in a sea of tech-death metal bands. Three years and one new vocalist later they've gone darker and slower, sacrificing much of their technical wankery on the altar of atmosphere and rhythmic groove. The Meshuggah influence is strong here, and while it's not overpowering, it shows through in composition, guitar tone, and even occasionally in new vocalist Sam Dillon's varied screams. The album should resonate with fans of slow to mid-paced atmospheric death metal, while fans of a more speedy tech death would do well to give the band's previous album Senium a spin or two.

MORE BEHIND THE CUT! Aeternam's Ruins of Empires and Primal Attack's Heartless Oppressor

A Year in Review: Metal Undercover's Top Ten Albums of 2016

Twenty-sixteen was one of the best years for metal in recent history, and the sheer quantity of quality releases was truly off the charts. I went into the process of creating this (late) list completely overwhelmed by the number of albums from the past twelve months and no real means of doing them all justice. Now, this type of list is, of course, subjective and caters to the whims of the individual author. In my case, I spent a good portion of 2016 obsessed with technical death metal, and that will show quite obviously on my list. As always, your mileage may vary. Here are my favorite metal albums of 2016:

Review: Chariots of the Gods - Ages Unsung

Label: Independent
Runtime: 41 Minutes
Released: September 16th, 2016

Something amazing has happened here. Forget all you think you know about Einstein-Rosen bridges and throw your quantum mechanics textbooks into the void of the closest wormhole, because Ottawa, Ontario-based metalcore/melodeath band Chariots of the Gods has at last uncovered the mysterious art of time travel. It's difficult to know exactly how it all went down, whether a group of intrepid space/time-faring musicians traveled fifteen years forward in time to remind us future-dwelling technophiles of a time before smartphones and Spotify, or if some nefarious songsmith devised a means of filtering our modern consciousness into the past, (no doubt all part of some grand scheme of world-domination), but either way prepare yourself to rock like it's 2002 all over again. So if you are or were a fan of early Killswitch Engage, Shadows Fall, Trivium, or the early New England metalcore scene, you might find this trip down memory lane a welcome diversion from the fast-paced uncertainty of the digital age.

Review: Eye of Horus - Obsidian

Label: Independent
Runtime: 17 Minutes
Released: November 25th, 2016

Just take a moment and soak in that gorgeous cover artwork by the talented Federico Musetti. Say what you will about Edmonton, Alberta-based death metal outfit Eye of Horus, but they are blessed with consistently high quality artwork gracing their covers that just screams modern death metal (and a love for mysteriously glowing towers.) Eye of Horus bills themselves as melodic death metal, and while there is absolutely a degree of melodic death influence in their songwriting, it's not the only sub-genre that springs to mind by a long shot. Obsidian runs a wide gamut of sound from melodic death to black metal, even tastes of what feels like deathcore from time to time, at the core of which is a solid foundation of slightly-blackened death metal. Obsidian is a step up in songwriting from the band's previous album Infernal Calling, somehow feeling more diverse in influences while being more focused in composition, a fine feat for any band zeroing in on their own signature sound. 

Review: Wastewalker - Funeral Winds

Label: Independent
Runtime: 33 Minutes
Released: November 1st, 2016

Funeral Winds is the debut album from Sacramento-based melodic/progressive death metal band Wastewalker. Despite being mainly lumped in with modern tech-death acts by press and fans alike, this debut owes a weighty portion of its sound to the melodeath greats that came before them while adding in just enough tech and progressive elements to be their own unique animal. Just listen to the leading riffs of opener 'Hazmat Birth' and the melodeath influences will be more than readily apparent. Genre conventions aside, how does Wastewalker stack up against the competition in an ever growing pool of talented metal artists? The band features a number of notable names from modern metal, including Alterbeast vocalist Cam Rogers, John Abernathy from Conducting From the Grave, Sepsis's Nate Graham on guitar, Dire Peril's Justin Tvetan on drums, and is rounded out by Joel Barerra on bass.With this kind of pedigree, metal fans that have been in the loop for the past few years should know that they're in for something killer.

Review: Dark Tranquillity - Atoma

Label: Century Media Records
Runtime: 49 Minutes
Released: November 4th, 2016

November marks the return of two Gothenburg, Sweden-based melodic death metal originators, and while the collective metal community seems to have given up on In Flames after their numerous and storied shifts toward a pop-metal sound, Dark Tranquillity stand accused of an entirely different crime: stagnation. Even DT's staunchest supporters generally admit that since 2007's album Fiction, Dark Tranquillity have been in a creative rut that just keeps getting deeper and deeper. 2010's We Are the Void failed to innovate or garner much attention in an increasingly over-saturated metal scene, and in 2013, Construct proved that consistency of output isn't always a net positive. And then in early 2016, a bombshell dropped: founding band member Martin Henriksson quit the band, stating that he had "lost the passion for playing music", leaving fans more nervous than ever about where Dark Tranquillity would go from here on out. This brings us to the November release of Atoma, the latest DT platter and their first album post-Henriksson. So how does the new album measure up against Construct? Have Dark Tranquillity broken the chain of Fiction-clones and produced something for Gothenburg metal fans to sink their teeth into?

Review: Testament - Brotherhood of the Snake

Label: Nuclear Blast
Runtime: 45 Minutes
Released: October 28th, 2016

What a year it's been for the return of old-school thrashers! Following hot on the heels of sensational albums from their contemporaries in Megadeth, Anthrax, and Death Angel, Testament aren't about to shirk in their duties to the denim-clad gods of thrash. Since these Bay Area originals rose like a phoenix from the ashes with 2008's triumphant return The Formation of Damnation, Chuck Billy and company have been putting out regular hot slabs of gritty thrash metal every four years that never deviate too far from the template laid out in 1999's exceptional album The Gathering, but nonetheless show flourishes of originality and invigoration despite the long road this troupe of titans has tread over the years since the salad days of the 80's metal scene.

While the band feels that it's one of their strongest records to date, Brotherhood of the Snake was plagued with difficulties from the beginning of the recording process, with iconic vocalist Chuck Billy stating that the album was "probably the most difficult record we've ever done." Brotherhood's music was written entirely by guitarist Eric Peterson and the band entered the studio having never heard or practiced the songs before. Despite the stress and miscommunication plaguing the production, the finished album feels tight and well-played, a fitting testament to the sterling musicianship of the band as a unit. Legendary drummer Gene Hoglan returns once more, providing his own unique voice to the rhythm section, paired with long-absent bassist Steve DiGiorgio for a call-back to the nuanced brutality of The Gathering.

Review: Sacred Steel - Heavy Metal Sacrifice

Label: Cruz del Sur Music
Runtime: 47 Minutes
Released: October 14th, 2016

German power metal. There, now that we've weeded out the lactose intolerant, it's time to dig into Heavy Metal Sacrifice, the latest release by Sacred Steel, fronted by the 'siren of metal' himself: the incorrigible Gerrit P. Mutz. Heavy Metal Sacrifice is Sacred Steel's ninth full length album since their debut almost twenty years ago and their second for Cruz del Sur Music. One of power metal's undeniable workhorses, Sacred Steel have achieved admirable consistency of output over the years while never quite attaining the recognition afforded their peers. Will Heavy Metal Sacrifice break the cycle and usher Mutz and company into the gates of Valhalla?

It's impossible to discuss Sacred Steel without touching on the elephant in the room: Mutz's vocals. So let's get the obvious out of the way first. While they have been honed and refined over the years, the core of Gerrit P. Mutz's vocal stylings remains relatively unchanged over the past several albums. But would it still be Sacred Steel without the high-pitched nasal vocal attack? What Mutz lacks in range he more than makes up for in uniqueness, which has lent the band more than its fair share of fame and notoriety over the years. From time to time the vocals take a dive into growl territory, which are actually quite well done, but these passages are the exception rather than the rule. The bottom line is that if you couldn’t get past the vocals before, you'll likely find that little has changed.

Review: Virvum - Illuminance

Label: Unsigned/independent
Runtime: 40 Minutes
Released: September 16th, 2016

"A journey to a place where timelessness reigns and nature blooms in strangest colours; a heavenly place far beyond comprehensible perception." - Guitarist Nic Gruhn on Illuminance

Technical death metal is a tricky thing to do right. On one hand, technicality and mind-bending flourishes of brilliance at blazing speed come with the territory and rarely fail to impress on the initial spin of the latest tech death platter, but what about the songs? The carefully crafted structures that leave the listener bobbing their head for days after the first listen in fond recollection of a verse or bridge that not only impressed, but imprinted itself into their subconscious? Metal of a progressive and technical bent often struggles to gain a foothold in the rocky crags of an adult mind, fatigued by the frequency of new releases and struggling to simply absorb the sheer quantity of input flying by on a daily basis. Some of the best technical and progressive albums are 'growers', artistic statements that need to be chewed over and absorbed in order for their heart and soul to be bared to the listener. But what if you could have both? Memorable passages that seep into your thoughts as soon as you hear them, with additional layers to be peeled away and savored over future listens? Enter Virvum and their stunning debut album Illuminance.

Review: Meshuggah - The Violent Sleep of Reason

Label: Nuclear Blast Records
Runtime: 58 Minutes
Released: October 7th, 2016

It's difficult to believe that the monolithic institution that is Meshuggah has been littering the metal landscape with the precisely bludgeoned corpses of their contemporaries for almost thirty years now. Love them or hate them, the Swedish quintet is undeniably one of the most influential visionaries of modern heavy metal. The Violent Sleep of Reason marks Meshuggah's eighth full-length slab of rhythmic pummeling since their inception, and what a marvelous and brutal ride it's been--from the thrash roots of Contradictions Collapse to the mechanical pulse of obZen and Koloss, Meshuggah are always upping their game and giving fans new musical elements to pick apart and examine for years to come. 

Far from content to merely invent one of the most popular sounds in modern metal and inspire hundreds of younger bands, Meshuggah are always pushing the envelope while remaining true to their core sound. Much to do was made of the new album being recorded live, and while fans were skeptical at first, the difference between The Violent Sleep of Reason and Koloss is stark and immediately apparent. The new tracks feel alive and bristling with a human energy that has been lacking in Meshuggah's past few releases. Gone is the almost metronomic machine-like precision of tracks like "Bleed"--replaced by a lurching juggernaut trampling over a vast aural soundscape. The whole affair feels organic and spontaneous, a feeling that the band haven't captured since they recorded 1998's Chaosphere.

Bucking tradition as a matter of course, the longest cut on the album is up front and center on track one. "Clockworks" sets the stage for what's to come with Tomas Haake's unrivaled spastic drumming joining with the rest of the band in a series of polymetered grooves. As the third single released from the album, "Clockworks" got a deluxe music video treatment from Nuclear Blast Records and gets into the heads of the band as they lay out the rhythms--literally.

Other standout tracks include "MonstroCity", a song packed with so many riffs it will take a dozen listens to fully appreciate it, including an insanely catchy descending guitar riff around 3:45. "Ivory Tower"'s stuttering solo hearkens back to the discordant leads that permeated the classic Destroy Erase Improve album. "Stifled" ends with a soundscape that builds as a wall of sound under the pummeling riffs and emerges abruptly as the drums and bass disappear, leaving the final  minute and a half of the track to sweep you off your feet though a feather-bed of resonant swells. Sustained guitar cuts through the atmosphere with clean notes and subtle feedback, leading directly into the maw of the beast that is "Nostrum"--the second preview single.

"Nostrum" centers around a rumbling low verse riff that calls to mind a deep warning foghorn bellowing out its call over stormy seas, whether to warn incoming ships of rocky crags or tentacled monstrosities lurking below the black waves is left up to the imagination of the listener. The tempo slowly builds before unleashing the full fury of the album's fastest guitar solo--a cutting wind slicing through the waves, driving the listener inevitably and inexorably toward their eventual doom on the sharp rocks and guttural unearthly growls that close out the song.

Closer "Into Decay" rumbles fuzzily out of your speakers and morphs into a verse riff of slow single-string sludgy bends. It's a fitting final track that concludes the album on a simplified groove before fading out with a squeal of feedback.

Like all Meshuggah albums before it, The Violent Sleep of Reason will be well-received by long-time fans and maligned by their habitual critics. If you didn't like Meshuggah before now, The Violent Sleep of Reason won't change your mind. For better or worse, the band sticks well within their comfort zone when it comes to composition, and while the recording process has changed considerably--to the benefit of the album's production and feel--there is no significant evolution here that will convert skeptics into true believers.