Everyone has that one perfect album that they want to make. The one album that’ll change the game, get high scores, become a classic, and be basically perfect. Everyone has that master piece album that they envision in their head. Finn Zieler is no different, and I very much envision that this is what he had in mind when crafting a perfect creation. It would be an album that would be heralded throughout the ages as possibly the greatest album of all time, an album that musicians for years would aspire to try to even come close to replicating. At least, that’s what I think was going on in his head. In reality, it’s not the greatest album of all time. Nor is it even the greatest album of the year. Or even in the upper echelon. Or top half. Actually it’s not even good. Or average. Or bad. The reality is that ESC is an awful album that ranks among the worst I have reviewed this year, due to a fundamental disconnect between vision and actuality.

For starters, I was able to determine Zierler’s vision because it’s so damn obvious how hard this album is trying to be amazing. It throws the kitchen sink at you, and then adds a couple dozens more sinks just because. And it’s not just that this album has a lot, it’s how over the top it is. The piano in particular goes above and beyond reason, sounding more like one of those ridiculous, program made touhou piano remixes rather than a professional album. It makes it hard to take the music seriously. I’d say it even sounds goofy, like it’s from a cartoon. The way these guys blaze through notes like Paula Dean goes through butter makes this especially so, trading any kind of thoughtful song construction into “hey let’s see how many notes we can fit into here!”.

What’s worse is that there isn’t even any backup melody to offset this, it’s done almost entirely through chugging and rhythm guitar. It makes the music severely lacking in the depth department, often making the vocals the focus, despite them also being over the top and ridiculous. I’d even say they’re cringe worthy, and not in the fun power metal “let’s velveta on this track” way, but in the way where the band wants to be taken seriously, but they try so hard to get that result it ends up being laughable. One moment in particular that epitomizes this is on No chorus, where towards the middle end of the song they go into this spoken word rant about normality. It’s the typical shit some 16 year old would say on facebook as some sort of revelation, with the whole “normal doesn’t exist, it’s a construct of our society, I’m different and weird because I watch naruto and play pokemon in high school” etc. It makes me wonder if these guys actually think their music is weird. That would explain a lot about how they can think people would take them seriously. If they think this shit is weird, I’d love to hear what they would think of something like Beherit.

But the absolute worst part of this album is how god damn musically nonsensical it can be at times. The best example of this is on Dark to the Bone, specifically towards the middle end of the track. Normally I can write down what the riff/melody is on a song no problem. I couldn’t do that here, because there wasn’t any sort of main riff of logic behind the notes played. It’s essentially shitting around on the notes C D Eb G and Ab. Go back and listen to that, you’ll see what I mean. It sounds like essentially random notes. And that’s a constant throughout this record. Instead of going with distinct melodies and themes, it’s just fucks around on the keyboard and fret board as fast as they can, hoping something good comes out of it.

It’s a shame, because there are good sections on this record that display that this band has talent. The end of Evil Spirit is extremely beautiful, and god damn if it didn’t give me goose bumps and chills listening to it. And it happens because this is one of the only times on the album that this band slows down and gets musical. The background guitars play melodically. The solo guitar slows down. The pianist doesn’t piss all over the keyboard. Its good fucking music. If only this happened for the rest of the other 95% of the album, maybe this would’ve gotten a good score.


Serpents Lair – Circumambulating the Stillborn ALBUM REVIEW

A towering and dark album. There was a bit of hype in certain circles for this record, and I say it absolutely delivers. There isn’t any one particular thing I love about this, but I was hooked the moment the archaic choir opened this album. The atmosphere is tense and doesn’t let up, throwing in some dissonant chords to build tension, and very guttural black metal vocals that border on death metal at times, just to keep things more sinister. Sinister would probably be the best way to describe this work, as aside from the almost calming intro, there is never a moment where the listener feels like they’re in a safe place. There is a constant sense of dread through almost every second of this. I’d describe this album as violent in nature, constantly on the attack, relentless pounding the listener with blast beats that don’t let up.

If anything, I wish this album would’ve actually utilized more of what I saw in the intro. I’m not saying they should’ve gone full on Deathspell Omega, but I think just a bit more of some extracurricular would’ve helped bring a little bit of variety into here. As a whole I feel like the album is a bit samey, which made it a bit hard to fully evaluate exactly what I liked about it. I came to realize that the fact that I can’t point to anything specific is a bit of a problem, as there really isn’t much to distinguish each track from one another. It made it so that I tended to tune out the album a bit, and there were times where I lost track of where I was in the album, having to back track and re-listen just to get oriented.

Circumambulating the Stillborn is still a great album with a fantastic atmosphere, but I feel like it avoids a higher score because of its one dimensional nature.


Mestis – Polysemy ALBUM REVIEW

Remember Animals as Leaders? Remember how so many people complained that they relied on an excessive amount of notes, and were just a pure wank band? Well imagine all of that minimized, and played in an almost trip-hop format. What do I mean by that? I mean every song is structured literally like a trip-hop beat. You got a grief intro, then the introduction of an idea, repeat it a few times, expand on it, and then repeat back to the main theme. It doesn’t sound to different from a traditional song the way I’m explaining it, but trust me, listen to the album and it’ll make sense.

So how does this work? Like pure fucking magic. Mestis took everything good about Animals as Leaders and then corrected all of their flaws. Too many notes, it’s too technical! Bam, got down to the bare bones without taking off all the meat. It jumps around there’s too many ideas! Bam, simplified it to one main idea per song. Djent sucks, this isn’t trve Norwegian NS raw blackened death crust avant-doom slam-hop! Well fuck you, that black robe and skull cod piece is probably protecting your tiny wiener from shriveling in the sunlight. Point is, this took an already fantastic band, and made them better in every single way.

I initially thought of this as simply a great record, mostly as fun background music. I imagine listening to this while walking down a Florida beach at sunset, feeling the waves softly crash against my feet. However I couldn’t help but notice as I was listening to this that I was enjoying this record a lot more than what my original proposed score (around 8.75) would indicate. Like, REALLY enjoying this. I started to realize that I was grinning cheek to cheek from listening, and that all my anxieties and worries I had for today had simply vanished. I was transported to another world. A world of pure tranquility and joy. And I got that same feeling in me. That same feeling I get when I feel like a record is an AOTY candidate. A record that should go on my pantheon of great records. I spent a lot of timing thinking about these feelings, debating with myself whether an album with what I would consider relatively little depth (the record is below 40 minutes and every song is less than 5 minutes long) could reach this pinnacle. But I realized this doesn’t need depth. If this record were 55 minutes and had some 10 minute behemoths on it, it would lose so much of its appeal. It would lose impact, and it wouldn’t make me feel so god damn happy listening to this. I’ve determined this album is in fact my AOTY so far, due to one simple fact: I simply haven’t enjoyed listening to an album more than this in years. And what is music but a vehicle for enjoyment?


Vastum – Hole Below ALBUM REVIEW

A punishing album full of riffs that bring you pain, and growls that bring you doom, Hole Below could very well be that of the hole where a serial killer keeps its victims, which in this case you’re 15 feet down in. It’s almost industrial like sections bring the listener an overwhelming sense of dread, creating a massively unsafe and uneasy environment. The inescapable feel of dread fills the listener at every waking moment, as if every strum of the guitar is a footstep of the killer about to come fetch you and bring you to your demise. All in all, this is an album for those who want to feel as if they are in mortal danger, and for those who wish to have their organs turned to spaghetti sauce…

…Is what I feel like I should feel when listening to this. Alas, I do not. It could just be chalked up to current listening mood, the temperature in the room, how much I shat today, who knows. Even after repeated listens, I’m not feeling this. I recognize that this is a great work, but my feelings aren’t syncing up with that. The album, although executing its desired vibe well, feels hollow. It feels like every song is relatively the same, which isn’t typically a complaint I have with death metal, as that’s sort of a staple with most traditional death metal tracks. But here it’s amplified for some reason. Perhaps just because I was expecting more, as it starts out promising with an industrial/ambient like intro, which I expected to be utilized much more throughout the album. I debated on whether or not I should give the my approval anyway, however I feel like I should stay true to my gut feeling and give this a more modest rank. I still encourage people to check this out, as I’m sure everyone else will feel differently than me.


Vehemence – Forward Without Motion ALBUM REVIEW

Surprisingly a nice album. Normally when I think of melodic death metal I associate it with being nothing more than power metal with death vocals. There’s none of that edge to it, none of that grime that makes death metal great. The problem I think that so many bands emphasize the melody too much and completely ignore other aspects of death metal, aside from the vocals. Vehemence, a band that has gotten in trouble for doing some “pop-death metal” work in the past, does a great job here at making an album that sounds melodic, with distinctly structured songs, while still maintaining the core death metal sound. The melody is not overbearing and dominating, instead acting like a way to progress the music.

There is a distinct combination of the harsh and the soft, especially on the track A Dark Figure in the Distance. An absolutely beautiful track, it infuses acoustic guitar work that doesn’t feel out of place with the generally harsh style of the rest of the album. The track feels actually sorrowful, which isn’t an emotion I typically associate with death metal. The rest of the album employs the musical ying and yang to lull the listener into almost a sense of comfort, albeit not in the traditional sense. It’s a bit hard to explain, but to me the record didn’t feel like it was going to hurt me. I think in this case that’s a good thing, as Forward Without Motion is able to keep its edge while still feeling familiar.

I will say however I feel like it’s a tad long. I never fully got bored, but at almost an hour in length, I felt I grew a bit weary of the record. This is amplified by many tracks that I won’t say sound the same, but have similar atmospheres and tendencies. Overall however I think this is a great record and a really nice comeback for this band. It has just enough of a dark side to keep the listener seriously interested, while still providing the listener without something to hum days after listening.


Gods of Eden – From the End of Heaven ALBUM REVIEW

An example of when technically meets little frugality. There’s lots of emphatic and over the top technical sweeps and riffs on this record, probably more than what even the most prolific tech death bands can produce. The problem is that there’s little weight behind them. Behind all of the over-produced and epic runs, all the samples, all the ancient Egyptian themed intros and various timbres along the way, lies a big fucking stack of nothing. Despite being a melodic death metal album, there is very little in they way of true melody here, rather just djent-chugs and drifting between chords to shred with. Even though the technicality IS impressive, it feels more like they’re just showing off. The entire album sounds like the band desperately wants someone to take them seriously, but I have a hard time doing so when I here midi pianos that sound like they came off some shitty touhou piano arrange video on youtube. From the End of Heaven is a remarkably bland album that sounds more like the band members are practicing scales rather than creating music. Even the most shallow of music appreciators will get nothing from listening to this.


Avatarium – The Girl With the Raven Mask ALBUM REVIEW

When the makers of two of the best Doom Metal acts out there (Candlemass and Tiamat) come together to make music, you can only expect greatness from it. The Girl With the Raven Mask absolutely brings that, delivering a top notch doom metal performance that perfectly balances the line between over the top cheese, and serious gloom. It almost feels like what a pop-doom metal album would sound like if that were such a thing. Catchy, if a bit corny, lyrics with distinct choruses and refrains, all played in a very clean and up-front style that delivers you the doom, no bullshit added on. But what I really think this album excels at is knowing when to scale back. Sure there are plenty of times it could’ve revved up that ham meter, but instead chose to quiet down and give us some time to reflect. Very much one of the top doom metal albums of the year, if a bit straightforward for an exceptionally high score.