Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Angel 7 - Black and White (2007)

What's with all these bands from the Russian Federation just kicking copious amounts of butt? It seems like more bands from that part of the world are staking their claim on the Christian metal scene. First, Holy Blood from the Ukraine showed up and wowed everyone with their debut "The Wanderer", then blew everyone away even more with "Waves Are Dancing". Then, I heard about Blood Covenant, with their symphonic black metal sound that was quite accomplished in comparison to their early work as thrash outfit Iron Cross. Now, Angel 7 (also known as 7th Angel) comes along on Bombworks Records and does it again. This unique band is a hybrid of a number of metal styles. There are elements of NWOBHM, thrash metal, black metal, death metal, and even some neo-classical elements here and there. Imagine throwing Sonata Arctica, Frost Like Ashes, Narnia, and a random death metal band into a blender, adding a healthy does of keyboards, and making the song structures unique & interesting, and that will give you just a hint of what Angel 7 actually sounds like. The dynamic duo of Slava Malinin & Nikolay Kiriljuk certainly know what they're doing, and make quite a unique musical statement with "Black And White".

The first thing I noticed is that for a 2-man band, the sound is quite accomplished. Slava is very capable as a drummer, bassist, keyboardist, and as an arranger. Nikolay is certainly no slouch on guitar, either. Secondly, there are a lot of symphonic elements here that, while done primarily on keyboards, fit well with the music and work within this setting so they don't sound cheesy or like they took shortcuts. There are times the symphonic elements remind me of PlayStation-era RPG music, like the Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete remake, or Final Fantasy VII (especially the title-track intro). This is a good thing, however.

"Black and White" kicks things off with a nice symphonic intro, before "New Heaven Above the New Land" kicks things into high gear with a driving guitar line & rhythm section. Vocals here are decidedly black metal in style, but Slava Malinin injects some degree of "melody" in them by kind of singing along with the rasp, which works much better in execution than it might sound on paper. The dual-keyboard lines sound great here, making the layering quite effective. Guitars are heavy, but retain more of a thrash or traditional/power metal sound (though modern, like Metalium). "The Price of War" has some cool low-end vocals that are reminiscent of Rammstein, though it's more of a layered effect with 2 or 3 layers of low-end harmonized vocals. It gives off kind of a Bal-Sagoth vibe, which I love. Solo work here is awesome with dual guitar & harmonized leads, and some nice trade-off work that sounds just like it was 2 guitarists "dueling" in a sense. "Power of Belief and Love" has an awesome keyboard intro with guitar underpinning it that works well, and sets up the primary melody line for the song. This song has some the quasi-black metal vocals as well as a few death growls thrown in for effect. I like the low-end spoken word vocals layered with the quasi-black vocals as well. This is a candidate for catchiest song on the album, for sure. "TV Antichrist" is the heaviest thing so far on the album, with great driving rhythm guitar and some nice harmonics to boot. The keyboards don't dominate this song like they tend to elsewhere. The combo of death growls and black metal rasp in a trade-off works well here, especially with the urgent delivery. The "spoken word" low-end vocals are a bit off-kilter here w/ the rhythm (though not quite syncopated), though I believe that was intended; it creates an interesting effect. "Jerusalem" begins with an almost Arabic feel, remding me of Almora a bit (their "Shehrâzad" album especially). This song is also quite heavy & has near blast beats coming at you after the short instrumental intro. There's also a quiet folky passage toward the end w/ harmonized vocals that sounds cool, & reminds me a bit of some of the folk metal bands I've heard, though none specifically. "Armageddon" has a cool intro with a lot of "whining" guitar harmonic work going on. This song is a tad slower paced than some of the others, employing less double-bass work overall, but still pulling it out for the chorus portion. "Spirit of Freedom" is a short, sort of ambient instrumental with nice keyboard effects. "Till I Die" picks things up again with heaviness, energy, and cool keyboard effects (you can hear the "90's fighting game keyboards" in there). More layered low-end vocals complement the quasi-black vocals well. "From Darkness Into Light" may have the fastest double-bass drumming on the CD in a couple spots, but overall it's a very mid-paced instrumental with nice lead work that is both flashy at times, and in others serves the song well. The ebb & flow melody structure is also quite nice. "Babylon Will Fall" closes out the album nicely with a speedy, heavy tune that mixes some more low-end vocal layering with the quasi-black vocals and some chunky guitar riffing.

All in all, this is a stellar release by a band that I can see going places. If the secular metal world takes them seriously, they have a shot at creating a nice niche for themselves with their unique sound & style. Here's hoping they are given that chance.


Rage of Angels - Rage of Angels (1989)

This is one of those "holy grail" albums that many Christian metalheads cite as both a perennial favorite, and an album that was part of their early diet of Christian hard rock & heavy metal. I can't say the same - I didn't acquire the album until sometime in 1998, nearly 10 years after its initial release. Quintessential Christian rock distributor Rad Rockers had hit their stride from a simple, basement-based photocopied catalog distro, to become a full-fledged, multi-paged catalog vendor, and was taking their first steps onto the new frontier that the Internet provided. Of course, many other distros & labels were still in their infancy at that point, some of which would become major players in the "Christian" rock & metal scene (such as Tooth & Nail Records, and their budding Solid State subsidiary, or Facedown Records with their early 7" releases), which made a distro like Rad Rockers fertile ground for new releases. One thing that RR excelled at, however, was retro releases. Back in the day, it wasn't uncommon to get the latest RR catalog with a note saying they had uncovered a stash of a certain CD that had gone OP, and had found the last known remaining stock. Or sometimes, the labels themselves will have a box of unopened CDs sitting in a warehouse somewhere, and when it's discovered, they know that RR was a reliable place to go, because fans who missed out on that album the first time would be hungry to snap up a copy. Such was the case with the eponymous debut of Rage of Angels. If memory serves, nearly 10 years after it's release, an unopened box of the band's debut CD was discovered gathering dust in a warehouse back room somewhere, and Rad Rockers had been tapped to be the distro for that last remaining stock. Having heard "Are You Ready For Thunder" years before on disc 2 of the Heaven's Metal CD boxset, I had been searching for a reasonably-priced CD copy of the album. I had basically sworn off cassettes at that point, choosing to focus primarily on CD and vinyl acquisitions, so despite the occasional Rage of Angels cassette coming available, I always passed it up for a CD copy, knowing that I wouldn't regret it. When the news hit in the catalog that a large number of Rage of Angels CDs had become available from original stock, I nearly hit the floor. Finally, my chance had come to own a copy of this album at a reasonable price! Without hesitation, I procured a money order within 24 hours & sent off for the Rage of Angels CD, as well as a couple other things I had been wanting (a victim of RR's then-policy of $50 minimum order, even for domestic US customers). Within 2 weeks, I had the disc in hand & franticly tore the plastic off the jewel case in anticipation of popping it in the CD player. My wife stood there rolling her eyes & wondering what all the fuss was about, but I knew I had just struck gold. Of course, I don't get that way with every purchase nowadays (I tend to buy a bit more often now than at that time), but there are certain purchases that are the kind that if you've waited for so long to take the plunge, you get that "kid in a candy store" feeling when you open the box or envelope from the mailbox & see that item for the first time in your hands.

Of course, I'm going somewhere with this, if it wasn't already apparent. After perusing the lyric sheet, and reading all the liner notes, I popped the CD in the player & proceeded to hit play. Lo and behold, my expectations were met & exceeded, as the first couple tracks were even better than what I thought they would be. They didn't sound like "Are You Ready For Thunder", but they didn't have to - they were even better. Being in my own band at that time & injecting a classic heavy metal sound into the modern rock/metal sound we were pursuing certainly helped fuel that fire, but this was a release I had looked forward to since I first heard of the band back in 1993. The moral of the story? My 5-year wait was definitely worth it.

So where does this leave things today? Well, still pretty good. Time hasn't been quite as kind to this album nearly 20 years after it's initial release as it was 10 years after. In today's "Christian" market, we have very good & consistent rock & metal releases from bands all over the world, and there is a lot of creativity in many of the underground acts. Even some of the more "mainstream" acts (if you can call them that) rival their secular counterparts from time to time, as is the case with Red and Skillet rivaling many nu-metal or modern hard rock bands, or As I Lay Dying dominating the metalcore landscape quite a bit. Back in 1989, however, only Stryper and Barren Cross had earned any real respect from the mainstream metal publications. Other bands like Saint and Bloodgood had received some coverage, but were usually written off as second-rate, even if they had plenty to offer. Rage of Angels was another band that was on the verge; their album had garnered some respect, which was well-deserved. Musically, this is a powerhouse album that so perfectly captures that line between hard rock and heavy metal (we'll call it "commercial metal") that it is nothing less than essential for completists and fans of the genre, as well as more than a curiosity for commercial metal fans in general.

Fristly, let's get the negative out of the way. Time has not been kind to this album where the lyrics are concerned. Granted, this was a young band who was just finding their Christianity, so that has to be factored in, but if you're turned off by "rock for the rock" lyrics, you'll not find anything overly articulate here. That said, they're not quite as embarrassing as they could have been, and they do fit the themes well, if a tad trite. The other thing that is a very slight negative is Dan Marino's vocals. Now, I'm a fan, for sure. He has power, passion, and energy. Once in a great while, however, it sounds like he over-sings just a touch. It's probably more noticeable to me since I'm a vocalist, but that's only a minor complaint. For a young band recording their debut, these little quips are very forgivable.

The instrumentation here is nothing short of stellar. The dual-guitar work is great, with nice riffing, a heavy (for the style) guitar sound, and lots of great licks & lead work interspersed throughout. The bass guitar is audible, which is a welcome surprise, and rumbles along with the guitars and drums in perfect time. The bass work isn't going to win any awards, but it's very solid and fits well. The drumming is a high point of this release, as there's lots of little nuances that other more basic drummers playing this style wouldn't necessarily employ, so it gives it that pinch of uniqueness that helps keep this album fresh. There's also a lot of solid double-bass drum work, which is nice to hear in a more commercial metal record. Vocally, Dan Marino is all over the place, with super high-pitched screams and yells, as well as great mid-range & tenor vocals. Dan's voice has just enough grit in it to give this an edge, but is smooth when it needs to be, or in the lower range parts where appropriate so you can hear the words clearly. Dan is also one of those guys who multi-tracks his vocals flawlessly. When you can hear the harmonized spots in the choruses & such, many of those have 2 & 3 layers, sometimes more. Dan is nearly pitch-perfect in these spots, and sounds excellent. The blend of the instruments works well, though I'd say the double-bass drums tend to dominate a bit, and the tom-tom work is slightly muted as a result, but this lack of balance doesn't really hamper the listening experience much, if any.

Lyrically, as mentioned, the album is a sea of early Christian metal cliches, but there are a couple bright spots in the mix. Opening track "Leave You Or Forsake You" is nicely done, with some well-written lyrics that don't pander, but explain plainly about man's relationship with God and how, while not always perfect, God doesn't leave us high & dry. "It's Not Late For Love", despite it's simple approach, is effective in communicating that no matter how "down and out" you might feel, God is there with His love and is ready to accept you. "Somebody's Watching You" takes a more hard-line approach by saying that God is always watching what we do, and we'll have to account for our actions here on earth. The song is complete with the mandatory "spoken word" section that every commercial metal band employed at least once. "Hooked On a Good Thing" (my absolute favorite song on the album, with it's insane drum intro & monster riff) takes addiction and disease as metaphors for being filled with God's love and power upon salvation. It's a tad cheesy, but quite effective in communicating the message clearly.

At the end of the day, no matter what anyone's personal opinion of this album is, the reason it's still talked about nearly 20 years after its initial release has more to do with the albums merits & quality than it has to do with the band breaking up and some members going on to join Steelheart. If anything, time has only strengthened the album's position as one of the key late-80's releases in Christian metal that helped to legitimize the genre and show that there was quality to be found in places other than yellow and black spandex. That reason alone is enough to recommend this album, but the sheer quality of the material here (lyrical faux pas not withstanding) makes this album essential for the collector who wants a piece of Christian metal history, and for the metal fan who wants a piece of the pie that isn't replete with innuendos and nonsense.

I'd like to dedicate this review to the memory of original Rage of Angels drummer John Fowler, who passed March 21st, 2008 from an aneurysm, at the ripe young age of 42. Knowing that several members of Rage of Angels had only become Christians a short time before the recording of their debut, I'm hoping that John is with the Lord right now. May his family take rest in the knowledge that the album he helped create in 1989 went on to inspire a lot of people, and possibly even help plant the seeds that led some to Christ.


Sunday, August 24, 2008

Afterimage - Codex: Triumph in the Eschaton (2007)

Originally posted on, January 2008.

I'm surprised no one has commented on this one yet. This band is fairly unique within the metalcore spectrum. I'd say they are definitely more 'metal' than 'core' for those curious. In fact, I'd say this band is unique in that, while they sound like an equal mixture of melodic death metal, and metalcore, they don't sound like a "deathcore" band because they have enough other influences that seep through to separate them from the pack.

One of the things that stands out right away is the metal tone of the guitars; it sounds more like a metal guitar sound than many metalcore bands normally boast. There is also some intricacy to the riffs, much like a melodic death metal or thrash metal band. Vocally, they incorporate some layered vocals sounds that include a mid-range scream/growl, and a somewhat deeper growl, as well as some harmonized clean vocals. There is some good drumming heard here that ranges from blastbeats to slow & deliberate. The bass is a little hard to hear in the mix, but what can be heard is competent and seems to keep time with the guitars and drums well enough.

Production on this indie disc is quite good. Everything sounds nice, and aside from the bass (which admittedly gets lost in the shuffle on most metal albums in the extreme side of the coin), there's plenty of clarity in the sound. There were spots on here that reminded me of The Showdown's "A Chorus of Obliteration" with its overt metal passages, energy, and the combination of clean singing and harsh vocals over tasty riffing. Don't take this to mean they're a clone, however; far from it. Afterimage carve out their own unique sound. They definitely have their own vibe, and don't sound quite like anyone else. You can hear bits & pieces that will remind you of other bands, but nothing stuck out to me as being a direct copy or rip-off of another group.

I really like the riffing on this CD. Where some metalcore bands are content to either riff really fast, or slow and chunky, Afterimage mix things up and do both, along with some nice change-ups now and again. "Forged In Perfect Design" has a nice echoed guitar passage that is only lightly distorted, with some nice accent guitar behind it. Also, there is some good solo work here. It's not overly flashy, but the kind that fits the songs well & works within the context of the material, content to be a part of the landscape rather than a showpiece. Another thing that sets Afterimage apart from their metalcore brethren is that the breakdowns don't have that "also-ran" sound to them. They aren't like other breakdowns in hardcore/metalcore; I can't really explain it, but they just have their own feel to them. Part of that may be due to the production & the guitar tone, but part of it is the breakdowns themselves just being different.

Another thing that separates Afterimage from the norm is their lyrics. While many "Christian" metalcore bands have those oh-so-tempting vague lyrics that only hint at Christ or Christianity (or such references are veiled in thick metaphor), Afterimage is quite clear in their lyrical approach. Completely ignoring the trend to downplay (or veil) their allegiance, the lyrics here are replete with references to God, Jesus, Christ, and Lord in varying quantities. Most of the lyrics sound as though they're directly inspired by passages of scriptures, and some appear to reflect the Psalms quite a bit.

"Soulmender" opens things with both barrels firing, and sets the tone for the first half of the album. Great riffing, nice transitions, and good vocal layering abound. "Forged in Perfect Design" continues and adds a little more clean vocal action, while having an overall different vibe than the opening track. "You Who Are Broken" is the longest track on the album, and has some nice stuff going on, including a nice unique breakdown toward the end of the song. "Immersed" opens with a cleanly sung verse & some lighter guitar (though still distorted & heavy), and blows into a fast heavy section in short order. "Burning Hands" has a nice odd-timed intro riff that reminds of semi-technical death metal or oddly timed thrash riffs of old. Once again, the transition/breakdown about a minute in sounds different than other bands and has its own feel. The vocals are SICK in this song, with a loooong scream, slightly reminiscent of Shawn Jonas in its incessant length. "Precursing the Final Millenia" sounds very "melodic death metal" in its intro, and has a nice "stop on a dime" spot that is sure to bring a smile to your face. This track has the most "deathcore" feel of all the tracks, with pinched harmonics abounding, loads of double-bass, and switch-off between higher pitched screams and lower, more guttural deathy growls. Still, it has its own sound to it that keeps it from sounding like run-of-the-mill deathcore. There's a nice transition about half-way through the song that gives you a chance to hear the bass a little, and has some nice echoed, layered solo work.

All in all, a stellar indie release from this band. I can't see why any fan of metalcore, melodic death metal, deathcore, or just any fan of extreme music that has an open mind wouldn't find something to like here. The packaging is nice, the print of the lyrics is well done & easy to read, the CD looks great, and the graphics are well done. This is a very professional product & the band should be commended for taking the time to put something together this nice.

My only suggestion for the band would be to improve upon the clean singing in 2 ways:

1. Put a little more variety in the clean singing so it's not just "straight"
2. Sing the clean vocals with as much passion and energy as the harsh vocals.

If the band can do that, their next disc could be absolutely stellar. Facedown, Blood & Ink, or one of the other indie Christian labels needs to snap these guys up.


Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Scourged Flesh - Bury the Lies (2007)

Originally posted on, October 2007.

I received 015 of 100. I must say, this is a change from their previous CD. While "Released From Damnation" was unapologetically evangelical in the lyrical approach, this is MUCH darker by comparison. Musically, the band still maintains the mid-paced thrashy death sound from the previous album, though I would say this release sounds more natural & the songs work better on the whole. I think this EP sounds more like it was recorded all in one session & mixed by the same person all the way through, where as RFD had more of a "Primitive Rhythm Machine" vibe that sounded like the album was recorded over several sessions with less regard for instrumental sound continuity.

Lyrically, the band makes no mention of God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit like the previous release, which I find interesting. Instead, the lyrics are much more personally focused. For example, "Washed In Blood" seems to infer that because we're washed in Christ's blood, no one on earth can take that away, and Satan can't touch us. We become our own worst enemy because of the mistakes we make & the sins we still commit after salvation that show the world that we're still human. "Burnt Alive" sounds as though it's written from the perspective of a soul in Hell. "Judgement Returns" (from what I can gather from the lyrics) seems to be a song about the Crucifixion. "Ashes To Hell" has that "turn or burn" feel to it, though much less obvious than early Christian metal. It implies that we are all destined for Hell (the wages of sin is death, after all), and comes from the perspective that we can do something about that (though it never offers a solution), and if we don't we end up in Hell. "Death Is Silent" might spark *minor* controversy over use of the word "crap" in the song ("You believe the crap that it's just a body in the ground") but taken in context it's a strong way of saying "there's more to death than a corpse". It feels as if the band made a concerted effort to go away from the evangelical lyrics - I'm not sure if they see "Bury the Lies" as a concept piece or not, but it definitely works that way from a "Hell is real, here's my perspective" vantage point. I think in the future if the band can find a balance between the "so evangelical it hurts" lyrics & the darker, more obtuse lyrics found here, they will have a winning combo.

One thing I have to say is that the packaging on this is excellent. Troy Dunmire's work here is better than on RFD - a nice, stark black & white picture with the basic SF logo & a nice red & silver title at the bottom. It reeks of old-school underground metal, & that's basically what this is. I like that the cover speaks that & makes no apologies for it. Inside, we have a full-color layout w/ black backgrounds, shiny silver lyrics, red titles in a gothic font, and CG flames at the bottom of each page of lyrics. the full-page photos of the band live (which each member graciously signed for my copy, thanks!) are nice, and the various other photos in this booklet are an improvement over RFD's more basic layout. I also like the inlay artwork better than RFD's - I think it's fitting for the project. Also, if the subtlety in the lyrics didn't clue people in that this is a Christian band, the Hebrews 9:27 reference on the tombstone picture on the inlay should do the trick. It's a nice way to not beat people over the head like RFD did.

All in all, I think this is a winning package. While I think the lyrics are a tad to ambiguous in spots for their own good, the music is solid, the production is consistent, and the packaging is outstanding for an indie release, especially one as limited as this. I'm a happy camper that I ordered this when I did - I certainly would have regretted it down the line had I seen the quality of this product years after its release w/ no way to get a copy.


Some months after the original review was written, the band had sold out of the EP & demand was still there, so they issued a 2nd pressing through Soundmass to meet the demand. The 2nd pressing is not numbered, and is branded with Soundmass logos & such. I am looking for a copy of the Soundmass release as well (yes, I'm a collector bordering on addiction). As such, this release may still be available via the Soundmass webstore.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

War of Ages - Arise and Conquer (2008)

This album has been long-awaited by fans, at least from the standpoint that they've been waiting for a new album since 2006's "Pride of the Wicked". 2007's "Fire From the Tomb" was a solid stab of metalcore, but it was a re-recording of the bands eponymous debut with one new song added, rather than a proper new album. "Pride of the Wicked" is an album that metalcore fans have embraced & lauded, with many in the "metal" camp who don't embrace metalcore even enjoying it due to it's strong riffs and solo work. In a way, "Arise and Conquer" has a lot to prove, as much as "Pride of the Wicked" has been praised. Do they live up to this promise? Read on!

The CD pulls no punches & immediately begins with a shout of "All consuming fire, burn!" followed by the primary riff of the song. There's good guitar work here, with melody woven into the heaviness. It's not bone-crushing, but it's heavier than your traditional tough-guy hardcore. Actually, it's reminiscent of As I Lay Dying's latest stuff from the standpoint that it is heavy & driving without losing its sense of melody. "When Faith Turns to Ashes" has a great fast riff that recalls AILD even further, with it's fast drum beat & the degree of complexity in the riff work. The dual-guitar harmonizing is also a nice addition, giving the sound some depth. The "bridge" riff has some thrash feel to it; matter of fact, the whole song has a bit of a thrash feel to it. The song is incredibly short, however, and feels like it's over too fast. "Through The Flames" starts with a nice double-bass rhythm, some nice harmonized guitar work, and a hefty scream. Again, the dual-guitar work here works well and the players complement each other well. The gang vocal in the chorus shows the group wearing their hardcore influence on their sleeve a bit, and is a nice melodic bit. The breakdown in the song is a tad also-ran, but that's forgivable considering the rest of the guitar work is well done. The solo here is also good, serving the song well but showing the talent of the guitarist as well. "Salvation" begins with a nice riff that echoes a bit of thrash, and has a bit of dual-guitar work. The opening solo work totally screams 80's heavy metal, which is a nice nod to the progenitors of the genre that this is leaning toward. The verse riff is interesting with a nice minor chord progression that isn't typical. Again, the center section wears the hardcore influence firmly on the band's collective sleeve with the spoken-word vocal bridge, but the riffs come back in shortly thereafter to re-affirm the metal influence that is definitely felt here. This isn't Bay Area thrash, by any means, but it is certainly leaning in a more thrash-oriented direction than many of their metalcore brethren. "Sleep of Prisoners" starts with a more typical metalcore riff than anything thus far, though the dual-guitar work at the end of the riff pattern certainly throws a dash of spice in the mix. The melodic segue between verse portions is well placed, and the vocal layering here works well. The pinch harmonics nearly half-way through sound great as well. The drumming here is solid, nothing spectacular, but sounds good in the context of the song. The breakdown toward the end is again, nothing special, but it does the job well enough. "Wages of Sin" begins with a guitar sound that makes one think it might be from a different era, but when the vocal yell kicks in, it brings you back to today. The riff sound here really conveys a "metal days of yore" feel. The drumming here is well matched to the material without being showy. The guitar work is solid, and there's some nice licks going on, even if they're not overtly technical. The section that might have been called a short breakdown is filled with a cool higher-pitched riff that offsets the "hang out on the low string" thing that breakdowns often end up being, making it unique. The riff before the slowed down bridge section (with actual singing!) is nice, and has a nice classic metal feel to it, but with a modern sound. "Yet Another Fallen Eve" begins with a nice semi-technical guitar intro that becomes a nice harmonized piece for a short time. The main verse riff echoes this harmonized pattern with a crunchier sound. Again, the band opts for some nice harmonized semi-technical guitar work during the "breakdown" section, making more than just a standard breakdown. The slower pace of this song lends itself to the more hardcore feel, but the double-bass drumming & faster pace of the segue bits help break this up nicely so it doesn't sound like they're slipping into the "sameness" that many a hardcore band easily do. The bridge riff has a good sound - they're not relying completely on power chords here; there's a bit more texture to it than normal which works well, giving it a quiet dissonance. "Generational Curse" ups the tempo again and brings back a more thrash-influenced riff, followed by a nice melodic metalcore bit segueing between verse sections. Good double-bass work here in the beginning of the pre-chorus as well. The short breakdown works in context here without being too long. Great solo here toward the end of the song, which has a nice classic metal feel to it. "The Awakening" (which was the song the band first briefly previewed on their Myspace page prior to the album's release) opens with a fast riff that is reminiscent of some of the band's older material, and is probably the song that sounds the least like the rest of the material on the album. It has a bit of the As I Lay Dying melodic metalcore sound to it, but it's not a carbon copy. It just has that vibe throughout, without the pacing that AILD drummer Jordan Mancino would normally employ. The drumming here is tasteful and works well within the song, however. The guitar work here isn't quite as intricate or interesting as many of the previous songs, opting for a more "reserved" approach. The screamed vocal brought to the fore 3/4 of the way through the song helps break up the song a tad, and foreshadows the breakdown & the end of the song well enough. Closing track "The Deception of Strongholds" opens with a clean guitar riff & some cymbal work before bringing in a heavier guitar sound & some nice solo work to get things going. The pace picks up with a nice lick, and some harmonized guitar work in behind. The song travels along at a good clip, with plenty of melody in tow. The solo work here is tasteful, and doesn't take over, merely serving the song while providing a nice brief centerpiece. The song closes with the last note slowly fading out into the background.

Lyrically, this is very bold. Many passages are taken directly from scripture, and there's absolutely no question who this band serves. Lyrics are well written & easy to follow, but they're not childish or simple either. They are "just right" for this album. The artwork by Dave Quiggle is great, and continues the style he started with "Pride of the Wicked" in fine form. Production is strong, and while reminiscent of As I Lay Dying's latest album (thanks to AILD front-man Tim Lambesis), doesn't sound like AILD-lite, but retains the band's own sound & feel.

This is a winner, and no fan of metalcore should be without this album. I would go so far as to say any open-minded metal fan who isn't tired of the "core" aspect of metal or is willing to branch out should also own this - it brings some classic metal touches into a modern framework & does it with panache & style. Definitely a worthy follow-up to both "Pride of the Wicked" and "Fire From the Tomb". I look forward to their next album with even more anticipation, and hope that they find a way to make it to Nebraska on one of their next tours.


InExordium - S/T (2008)

I've labored over this album.... literally! Since I pre-ordered it & got the download link to get the MP3s before the street release, I've listened to this album several times through. However, every time I get the urge to listen to it, I'm working on something. I've washed dishes, put laundry away, done house cleaning, and worked at my day job. Unfortunately, that means the music doesn't get my full attention. Fortunately, however, it has given me time to allow this stuff to "sink in" a bit before writing my review.

For those not "in the know", InExordium formed from a reunited team consisting of most of the original line-up of Christian doom-death metal stalwarts Paramaecium. After several years of toiling in the underground, despite having several highly lauded albums, band leader Andrew Tompkins probably felt the doom-death sound he had helped pioneer had run its course. When guitarist Jason De Ron and the insanely talented drummer Jayson Sherlock returned to the fold in late 2006 after having been off doing their own projects for some while, Andrew decided it was time to lay Paramaecium to rest & move forward with the old line-up in a new direction. Fans (including myself) have waited over a year for what was to come, and many months after the announcement that the name of the band was changing from Paramaecium to InExordium, a Myspace site with a couple tracks FINALLY emerged, at last giving fans a glimpse into the new direction. At first blush, for those of us used to the sounds of death dirge, this was quite a change to a more straight-forward, heavy death metal direction.

Now that the pre-orders are well underway (I'm hoping I was one of the first 100 so I get my copy signed by the band), and the download has been out for a few weeks now, I felt it was time to give this band & album its due. This is a very solid piece of death metal, and an interesting release for a number of reasons. Before I sing the praises of this album, let me get a couple negative things out of the way. I am a little disappointed by the production on this album. Don't get me wrong - it sounds great. Everything is clear & the instruments are well balanced. What I mean is the heaviness isn't quite there. It's plenty heavy, that much is true. But, it lacks the unrelenting heaviness of Paramaecium's "Exhumed From the Earth" album. I still consider that one of the heaviest things every recorded because the guitar is so stinking thick & heavy, and the sound is so punishing, even for as slow & plodding as it can be. Second, this record is difficult to classify. It's not old-school death metal, it's not melodic death metal, and it's not brutal death metal. It's also not tech-death. That makes it hard to classify. It's modern, but it still retains a sound that very much hearkens back to death metal days of yore. This is only a minor criticism, because it's also one of the albums strong points. The variety helps keep it fresh throughout. It feels like a mixture of all the above styles. Another thing that bothers me a bit is the lyrics - they're mostly vague, either sounding like obtuse stories or odd collections of thoughts and/or feelings that don't convey (at least not to me) anything concrete. Of course, lyrics are often left to interpretation, so perhaps they were left intentionally vague. In any case, they're not as satisfying as other death metal bands who at least convey something specific, or make the lyrics so obtuse that it sends your imagination running wild. These mostly just make me go, "Huh?"

"Out of the Silence" starts things off in fine form, with a song that blends a brutal death metal sound with a slightly melodic modern death metal framework. Lyrically, the song is based on a novel by the same name. It's kind of a science fiction story, of sorts. No solos in this song, but nice transitioning between the melodic parts, the brutal/fast parts, and the verse sections that are well paced & keep right along. "Scourge of Democracy" has a fair bit of groove to it, and lyrically eludes to politicians & the erosion of freedom. Jayson keeps the double-bass drums going throughout, and the riffs here by Jason De Ron are well placed & fit the song well. The quiet part about 2:30 in breaks up the action slightly until the chorus riff comes pummeling back to finish off the song. "The Voice of Treason" also has quite a bit of groove in its opening riff. The layering of the guitars work well here, especially in headphones where you get some separation. "Programmed Cell Death" has a great riff that's not overtly technical, but has a nice feel to it. Lots of groove here as well, and the chorus riff has a nice old-school feel to it, especially with the double-tracked guitars. "Rising Hatred" starts out with a short intro that leads into a blast beat & the most brutal section on the album thus far. The riff in the chorus has a cool effect that I've not heard before & can't quite describe, but it's pretty cool & sounds sorta like a really fast sweep. I can't pin the song down, lyrically; not sure if it's just a story or not. It seems like it's alluding to abortion and the feelings surrounding it for an indifferent father & an emotionally devastated mother, but that's just a guess at this point. "Beneath Contempt" is a fast song with a nice riff and a crawling groove. The first guitar solo crops up here, and is a nice winding solo that serves the song well & doesn't showboat. "Imminent Particle Collision" is another barn-burner, starting off with blast beats & a fast rhythm, complete with plenty of double-bass & cymbal work. The song settles into a fast groove reminiscent of some older death metal shortly thereafter, before transitioning back to blast beats. The song gets plenty of groove in the middle section before resuming the blast-beat laden verse portion. Good dual-guitar work here with a harmonized riff. The groove-laden riff in "Fractured Cortex" is pretty sweet, with some nice guitar work. "Buried Alive" has more blast-beast in its opening, and an effective riff that keeps the song moving. The middle section has nice dual-guitar work with riffs that aren't harmonized, but play well off one another. "Punishment" is based on the novel "Crime and Punishment" and has a cool opening riff. The "chorus" riff is reminiscent of some of the slower, more plodding work Jason De Ron did for Paramaecium. The solo here is more all-out than the previous one, going all over the map & going for speed toward the end. It's interesting that the lyrics take the point of view of the killer in the story & coming from a perspective that the killer knows he deserves punishment for his crime and longs for it. "Covered In Pain" has an awesome opening riff and some good growls by Tompkins. This song in it's main riff uses the same "fast sweep" sound I mentioned before. It's a cool effect and gives the song an "eerie" feel that death metal often doesn't achieve. The lyrics come from an antagonist perspective; I'm not sure if it's written from the perspective of satan, or some other fictional character, it's all very vague. The groove here is great as well, and the laugh at the end of the song is pretty cool.

So, what is the verdict here? Well, it's a mixed bag. The vocals are dead on; if you were a fan of Andrew Tompkins work in Paramaecium, you know what you're getting & his voice will be unmistakable. If not, expect an interesting throaty growl. If you like solid riffing with some variety, you'll love the guitar work here. If you like lots of solos in your death metal, you won't find it here, though the small amount of solo work here is well done & fits the songs. And, of course, Jayson Sherlock's drumming is superb as always. I feel a bit let down by the lyrics; Andrew is capable of so much, as is evidenced by his previous work. I realize InExordium is NOT Paramaecium, but I can't help draw parallels. The lyrics in this don't speak to me at all, which I find to be slightly off-putting. Not so much that it prompts me not to listen, but enough that I probably won't take the time to learn the lyrics (other than what I pick apart with multiple listens), and they'll become just a portion of the landscape with the vocals. The lack of more solos is also a minor notch against the album, though a lot of death metal doesn't have much in the way of solo work. The other thing here is that Andrew's vocals, while maintaining the unique sound & tone he has, sound as though he's being cut off a bit, or perhaps he can't maintain the kind of longer growls he used to, but there are times when it seems a word or phrasing is cut short. Perhaps it's just the change of pacing from the doom-death I'm used to hearing from him and the faster, more succinct sound that is throwing me off, but it's a nagging feeling nonetheless.

The final word? It's a solid album that fans of death metal & Paramaecium will want to own. I'm left wanting more, but not necessarily in the way I feel I should be. Perhaps I expect too much from this album, given all the time fans have had to wait for it, and all the hype that preceded it. Maybe I'm judging it too harshly when it's just the album Andrew & crew were intending to make. And perhaps I'm over-analyzing it too much (which I have been known to do). All I know is, I'm hoping the next InExordium album is a cut above this and shows the band's talent even more, with perhaps a more focused lyrical direction and more bone-crushing heaviness in tow.


Okay, so I realized my original review was probably a tad harsh. My expectations were too inflated, and I see upon additional listens that this is better than I thought it was, but my expectations were clouding my judgment. I still don't think it's quite as brilliant as some are lauding it to be, but it's better than I originally posited. So, I am adjusting the score of the album to 9/10 from the original 7.5/10 rating. I feel this is more in line with where the album is at. It makes the grade and is quite solid, though it's not as good as I think it has the potential to be. I want it to be clear that despite my misgivings with this album, I honestly do enjoy it quite a bit.

Want your stuff reviewed? I want to review it!

I always love the opportunity to hear new music, and any chance I get to check out new & up-coming bands is always appreciated. I like to hear new music, and hear how rock & metal changes over the years as new influences are brought in, as well as how the old guard is appreciated & sometimes re-interpreted. Whatever style you play, if you'd like a thorough, honest review of your stuff (I may be brutal!), feel free to send me your CD/7"/tape/MP3s/etc. NO, this is not a plea to get free music (though I love free music), but an open invitation for bands to get a review based on their music & my assessment of it. Read some of the other reviews on the site, and if you like what you read & want me to review your stuff, e-mail me (metalfro777 at hotmail dot com OR metalfro at frontiernet dot net) & I will get you my address info so you can send along your demo or CD release. Again, this is not a plea for free music - I plan on reviewing everything I get, as quickly as my free time allows.

Want list updated!

I have updated my want list in this previous post. It's not complete; far from it. If you want to see a more complete want list, check out my want list on in the Music Vault. It's not entirely complete either. There is always stuff coming out that I add to my want list, and stuff that is added to the vault that I add to my want list as I see it. There's also stuff I discover that I add to the vault, then add to my want list right away. In any event, as a collector, I still have a LONG way to go before I have a collection that I feel is really complete. There are tons of 80's releases that I'm lacking, a lot of pivotal 90's alternative, rock, and hardcore that I am missing, including a lot of early T&N and Solid State stuff, as well as a lot of current bands that I can't keep up with because money remains tight. Still, I continue to climb the mountain of releases in hopes that one day I can build up a substantial enough collection of "Christian" rock that I feel I represent the history, heritage, and culture of the genres enough to say I have a deep understanding of the cultural impact. Man, that sounded really pompous! I'm not trying to be arrogant, I'm just a student trying to learn as much as I can about the impact of rock music on Christianity, and indeed the impact of Christianity on rock.