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.