Inter Arma – Paradise Gallows

I really, really love atmospheric sludge metal. Even though I don’t have a massive amount of experience with it, it’s definitely in my top 5 metal genres, maybe top 3 when done well. I also really, really hate post-metal. Now this is a bit of a strange opinion, as the general consensus is that post-metal and atmospheric sludge metal mean essentially the same thing. I would argue however, that they absolutely do not. In my mind, atmospheric sludge metal is something more in the vain of Neurosis. Sludge metal that uses atmosphere and older post-rock elements to create massive, momentous atmospheres, and often utilize other genres while still keeping very much in the realm of sludge metal. Post-metal on the other hand, is essentially just really heavy 3rd wave post-rock. Now, despite my distaste for one and like for the other, this is not to say that all atmospheric sludge metal acts are amazing, and all post-metal acts are steaming piles of cat vomit and old condoms, mixed together with the same 3 types of chord progressions over and over again. However I will say that when a band really takes what atmospheric sludge metal means to me at heart, it’s something I can greatly appreciate.

I love creative music, music that pushes boundaries. I also like metal, which is only known for being very creative in a more modern sense. Most of the old out there bands did that by a bit of an accident (or so it seemed that way much of the time). When they did, they became cult classics (i.e, Written in Waters, Nespithe, Drawing Down the Moon, etc.). Inter Arma is a modern band, with a modern sense of how atmospheric sludge metal should work, however they maintain that bit of creativity and stay at least somewhat true to the foundations that Neurosis laid upon the world. In such they create an epic adventure of an album, filled with variety in emotional expression, and one that I certainly won’t forget any time soon.

That being said, I do feel like the album doesn’t really “start” until track 4. The intro is pretty much an afterthought, and to me seems honestly a bit pointless, especially since it doesn’t have much in common with the rest of the album. Tracks 2 and 3 are basically the same track, stated in slightly different ways. That’s not to say they’re bad, quite the opposite. The first introduction you get to the album are these brutal, sludgy atmospheres, which are done well here. However I can hear that on any old album. Lots of bands do really awesome, super heavy, doomy sludge metal, even atmo sludge bands. What makes this album special is what comes after.

Primordial Wound takes a new angle, moving away from sludge and into straight up doom metal. It’s a hypnotic, almost ritual like track, which is backed up by the distant, ancient sounding ritual vocals, almost like some kind of Gregorian chant. This is the first demonstration of how Inter Arma can change styles from track to track without sounding schizophrenic. And they prove me correct in the next two tracks which I think are the highlights of the album.

The Summer Drones and Potomac are the two shortest tracks on the album sans the intro, but both are the biggest statements that Paradise Gallows makes. Summer Drones is structured almost like a modern Swans track, starting off with some low-key, yet ominous bass riff that evolves into these soaring, driving guitars that keep droning their riffs louder and louder until you can’t take it anymore. Then they keep going anyway. It climaxes in a way that doesn’t give a resolution, so it feels like you just took at that pounding for no reason, and yet despite feeling no sanctification, you enjoyed every moment of it. There’s a sexual joke in there somewhere, but I feel like there’s no way I could make without sounding overly explicit, even for me. Use your imagination. Anyway, it segues into Potomac, which, in a bizarre yet not unwelcome turn of events, is this epic, heavy metal-esque ballad that puts the entire album on it’s head. God fucking damn, that main riff is going to be stuck in my head for a while, that’s legendary shit right there. If you were tasked with creating the most epic and memorable sludge metal track possible, you would be hard pressed to do better than this. I feel like it’s the best track on the album, which is no disrespect to the rest of the tracks (except maybe the intro). This just feels like something I haven’t heard much before, if ever. You don’t typically hear riffs that sound like they came from if Seventh Son of a Seventh Son was released in 2010 in a sludge metal album. And now that I heard it, I fucking want more, which sucks, because there’s no way to google “heavy metal riffs in sludge metal albums” and find good results. I tried, fucking Godflesh came up. It kinda sucks now, because this band has set a president of shit I want that I can never find by any other way than sheer luck.

And by sheer luck (or stupidity, probably stupidity) Potomac managed to end the worst possible fashion possible. It’s a fucking fade out. Like what the mother fuck? I was actually thinking to myself “you know, if this does anything but fade out, this is gonna be one of my tracks of the year”, AND IT FUCKING FADES OUT LIKE ARE YOU SHITTING ME? This is literally KD going to the Warriors, nigga chose the one solution out of every conceivable solution that no one wanted, how do you fuck up that bad? KD could’ve literally hung up his cleats and joined the Westboro Baptist Church and everyone would’ve been like “ok KD, you do you man, you do you”. But no, he wanted to be the evil empire. This is the evil empire of track endings. Ok yeah, maybe as an album closer that would’ve been ok, but fuck there’s still 3 more tracks to go, jesus. If there is one actual fault of this album, it’s the transitions. The track transitions are in these awkward states where they flow from one to the other, but not directly. So like one track will end, then fade out slightly and there new track will begin. It makes it seem like the tracks are trying to be related to each other, but they really aren’t in any way. It’s not really terrible, just really awkward.

The final 3 tracks aren’t quite as good as the two middle ones, but still of high quality, as expected. The title track continues on the theme of Potomac, while giving it a much more sludgy vibe, and trading epic solo material with more questioning, and sometimes even a bit bluesy sludge riffs. It leads right into Violent Constellations, which as the title implies, is pretty fucking violent. It harkens back much towards the earlier tracks, however nothing is held back as it acts as a rhythmic assault on the ears. This track is also where the black metal influences are the most pronounced, in both guitar tone and blast beats. I feel like the black metal aspects are played up a bit too much by other people, but I will agree that they are there. It’s probably a good thing they aren’t a played up, I feel like there’s just enough to keep things spicy without detracting from the fact that this is a sludge album. Kinda like a cherry on top, except people would actually eat it. If someone actually eats the cherry on top, don’t trust them, that’s the kind of dude who’s going to say yes to absolutely everything and his computer will crash because he clicked on too many popups that said “CONGRATULATIONS, YOU WON!!!!” and “WHY THE FUCK WOULD YOU PAY FOR DICK PILLS??!!”. As a closer, I feel like it would’ve been fine, definitely better than what actually closed the album.

In a way, aside from the intro and outro, the album kind of goes full circle. Starts off raw, gets more progressive towards the middle, then ends really raw. I would’ve like that as a possible intentional detail if tracks 2-8 had been the whole album. Unfortunately this is not the case. The final track, Where the Earth Meets the Sky, is essentially a whimper, focusing on acoustic (this actually said “autistic” for like 10 minutes until I realized what I wrote, wow) guitar and the promise of an epic secret track. Full disclosure: I fucking HATE secret tracks. Hate, hate, hate, hate, hate them. There has never been a good secret track in the history of music. They’re supposed to be rewards for those who stayed around after the credits so to speak, and instead act as ways to mock the listener, saying “Haha holy shit, you actually just sat through 20 minutes of silence for this? What a fucking loser! What would your mom think of you if she saw you now? Hey, let’s take his lunch money…” etc. This album is no different. After 5:30 of actual music, you get 20 minutes of silence until your finally greeted with basically that shit you get that takes like 20 minutes to actually get out of your asshole, and then when it is it’s like the size of a quarter. You’re massively disappointed and you feel like nature itself just conspired to rip you the fuck off.

That said, aside from the transitions between tracks, none of the negative things I said about this album are really faults, just disappointments that prevented it from being better than it already was. I can shit talk that fade all I want, but let’s be real, it’s a fade that literally lasted like 10 seconds of the 70 minute album. As whole, this is absolutely my sludge metal AOTY so far, and I’m really curious to see what tops this, both in terms of heaviness, and sheer creativity in atmosphere.


9/10

Droids Attack – Sci-Fi or Die

How the fuck do you make an album with riffs so damn perfect, a a cover art that incredible, an atmosphere so monolithic yet groovy at the same time, and STILL manage to have a band name that lame? Droids Attack? That sounds like a line from The Phantom Menace, which I’m assuming is not something they want to be associated with considering their album title. Still, this is the best pure stoner album I’ve heard since Welcome to Sky Valley. Absolutely fantastic work, gonna be hard to top this in the same genre.


9/10

Ivar Bjørnson & Einar Selvik’s Skuggsjá – Skuggsjá: A Piece for Mind & Mirror

It’s really not fair. Folk metal isn’t exactly my favorite genre but I absolutely have a massive bias to really authentic sounding folk metal. This doesn’t give me any sort of eargasm that i look for in the 9/10 ratings, but it’s just god damn solid and well made all around, as well as taking a concept and executing it to the highest degree possible, that I can’t not give this that score. This is some of the most well thought out, least cheesy folk metal I have ever heard. A must listen.


9/10

Helion Prime – Helion Prime ALBUM REVIEW

Holy mother of hell this is awesome. Picture this: female fronted power metal that is NOT over the top cheesy or cringeworthy in the slightest. Actually, let’s just put that as a female fronted power metal band that isn’t over the top at all. Hell we could simplify that to a power metal band that isn’t over the top, but it’s more impressive with a factor that’s often used as a detriment. When you think of female fronted power metal bands, you think of shit like Epica and Nightwish, shit that just goes above and beyond corsetcore. Not that those bands are inherently bad, but it’s certainly something you’re going to take with big old grain of “the people who listen to this probably masturbate to Harry Potter fanfiction” salt. In general, power metal bands with female vocals always have this feeling that while it sounds nice, a male voice would feel more natural. Helion Prime doesn’t give a fuck about that. They don’t care about any preconceived notions of what power metal should sounds and they do that in the best way possible: they accept all preconceived notions of what a power metal band should sounds like, and abide by them.

I know that sounds a bit confusing, so let me explain. One of the reasons women are not seen as much in metal is because of how masculine the genre is. Songs about gore, guts, satan, and drugs doesn’t sound like what a typical girl would foray into. And the community takes good measure to keep it that way, being sort of a no girls allowed club. That takes a step further with power metal. Power metal is stereotypically all about dragons, warriors, history, and lots of men doing manly things. It is the stereotypical metal for nerdy white men. Hell, Visigoth made an album literally about DnD last year. Power metal is the ultimate anti-girl vaccine. So naturally people tend to assume when an icky girl is involved in their just for men metal, it’s going to be subdued, lighter, and have cooties all over it. Going away from power metal for a second, it’s the reason people hate Myrkur so much, because she took something as dark, evil, and manly as black metal, and supposedly lightened it up.

Helion Prime doesn’t do that. This s/t is a concept album about fighting aliens in outer space. The vocals that had the potential to be so misused, not only are on par with what a male vocalist could do, it sounds BETTER. It gives the music a lighter, more upbeat quality, but not in a way that makes the story and tone of the album any less impactful. It doesn’t feel handicapped, it just feels different in a good way. I know I went on a lot about one aspect of the album, but I just wanted to hammer home how awesome I think it is that a band can break the gender barrier in a correct way: by not changing a damn thing of the genre to fit a more feminine style.

Onto other aspects here, the choruses are unbelievably catchy, especially on tracks like Life Finds a Way. There’s a sense that a lot of work was put in to every individual song to feel distinct and memorable. It doesn’t have the massive amount of gadgets and gizmos that all the other big production bands. There are no symphony orchestras, not folk instruments, no skits, nothing. It doesn’t do anything fancy, and comes out as feeling refreshingly natural. It just flows through so well, with every track feeling like a distinct moment in the story. Even though there is a moderate amount of chugging here, it feels more like a tool to establish rhythm rather than just filler (in about 95% of the cases, there are times where it slips into filler territory just a bit). The one negative thing I can really say here is the solo work ranges from pretty good to mediocre. I kept waiting for that one amazing solo to blow me away, and I kind of got it at Ocean of Time, but everything else just felt ok, nothing more.

Other than that, this is a fantastic work of power metal that besides breaking gender tropes, is also an amazing piece of music. Tumblr, if you’re looking for an album to actually show that women can do just as well as men in metal, please choose this one.


9/10

Satan – Atom by Atom ALBUM REVIEW

Often regarded as a cult favorite, Satan is a relatively obscure heavy metal band that arose out of the NWOBHM period that never quite caught up steam with the general populace at the time (as well as being the answer to the question “is there a metal band that’s literally just named Satan”). While their most famous album Court in the Act has recently gotten more fame as the news of it’s greatness spread throughout the internet, they have still remained relatively unknown compared to many other Heavy Metal giants of the time. It doesn’t help that they don’t exactly have a consistent release schedule, the gap between their 3rd and fourth album being 15 years. However what they lack in consistent timing, they make up for in consistent quality. Satan has produced great album after great album, and Atom by Atom by just be the best of them all.

I’m going to start this off by making one of the strangest comparisons I think you make make between metal albums. Atom by Atom reminds me a lot of the Animals as Leaders debut. I know, that sounds insane, but bear with mere here. One of the things that makes the Animals as Leaders debut one of my favorite albums of all time is it’s evolution and progression of a theme throughout a track. It’ll take one idea and through logic and natural progression, evolve the track into a final product. Sometimes you end up right back where you started, other times you end up in an entirely different place. Most tracks on Atom employ the former, however you have examples of the latter, such as on the track In Contempt, which ends in an entirely different key as it began. But again, most of the songs on this album go full circle. They take a theme, and then explore that theme, while occasionally repeating it at appropriate times. To use In Contempt as an example again, there is a staccato arpeggio to begin the track, working as a bit of a warm-up for the main meat of the piece. The track goes on and right before the conclusion you hear that same apreggio, bringing the track to a fitting conclusion full circle, until as I mentioned before, it just says fuck you and ends in an entirely different realm (not a bad thing I’ll say). However what’s magic about all of this is that this repetition of a theme doesn’t feel tacked on or forced. It doesn’t sound like they drew 60% of a circle, and then drew a diagonal line to enclose it and call it complete. It feels like it just naturally evolves out of what came previously. As if that same theme just happened to be appropriate for that moment, just as it was at the beginning of the song. Of course, in comparing these two albums, it’s pretty obvious that Satan does this with about 1/4th of the notes as Animals as Leaders, but the general principal is still there. Every track has a beginning, and every track has a conclusion, with everything in between connecting the two.

Speaking of circles and conclusions, my absolute favorite track on the album has to be the last track, The Fall of Persephone. It feels funnily enough, like it’s the logical conclusion to the album. While unlike the individual tracks being a circle, as the album as a whole feels more like a collection of songs rather than on coherent slow of them, The Fall ties in all of the tricks the individual tracks use into one epic track. While this isn’t your stereotypical 10 minute behemoth to end the album, the 6:50 run-time is far and away the longest track on the album. From again reusing multiple themes, using solos that both act as a break and a transition to the next segment, and utilizing slight tempo changes to give it that progressive edge that’s a bit reminiscent of later Iron Maiden. The track feels like the final confrontation of a hero’s journey, a battle in which you must use all that you had learned in order to face the demo that awaits. This is all metaphorical of course. The Fall is anything but a final boss, rather it’s about the downfall of the queen of the underworld. However regardless of lyrical content, it acts as a fitting conclusion to a record full of that’s full of them.

Satan has much matured it’s sound since the days of old, and in my eyes that’s for the better. This feels like a record made by those who have grown a lot since their absence and have now created a sound that takes the good elements of their old work, while still improving on what they have made before. Atom by Atom is classic, yet with a modern twist, and safe, yet with a bit of a bite. The soaring scream at the very moment the album begins ushers in a soon to be 2015 classic, transcending, in my opinion, Court in the Act on it’s way to being the heavy metal album of the year.


9/10

Anfinnsaas – Anfinnsaas ALBUM REVIEW


This is probably the single hardest album I’ve ever had to rate. I could put this anywhere from 7/10 – 10/10. My gut instinct tells me this is the album of the year, but another side says this is just pretty good. Going over what this album actually is, Anfinnsaas has created an atonal riff-based atmo sludge record with lots of djent influences in it and one of the worst/best production jobs I’ve ever heard. It’s like if Gorguts formed an atmo sludge band in their garage. Aside from that analogy it’s hard to really describe what kind of music this is. As you can see by my tags, this is really all over the place in terms of style. It’s one of those things you need to hear in order to really understand.

To attempt to start off this review, the most obvious aspect of this album that’s easy for anyone to hear is that the production job is a piece of trash. Straight up probably the worst production job I’ve heard this year. As I stated earlier, it sounds like someone recorded this in their garage, and considering this band is composed of just two guys from Norway, they probably did. However in it’s atrociousness, there is beauty. I imagine that these are two teenage musical savants, crafting a work of genius with just two instruments and the cheapest equipment they could barely afford with their allowance. It adds a sense of mystique to the whole atmosphere.

And that atmosphere is one of confusion. This record is extremely melodic and riff based while being almost entirely atonal. I almost wanted to label this progressive metal, because there is a clear sense of progression and method to the seeming madness of this record. It feels disorienting, yet awes inspiring. It’s like being transported to a different dimension, where everything is not what it seems and Jeff Dunham is funny. This is the kind of record I’d want to put on to meet god. However in this scenario, when you meet god he stays silent, instead spilling his knowledge unto you in a form of twisted illusions you don’t understand, rather than words.

It’s truly surreal, and that’s entirely done by two main elements of this album. One is as I mentioned before, the dissonance. Heavy use of dissonance creates the disorienting feel that Anfinnsaas creates. The other which I haven’t mentioned, is the heavy use of poly-rhythm. This goes into the whole djent aspect. There is a lot of off rhythm beats and use of multiple beats at the same time, which creates the sense of ominous godly presences, and being as if you’re in another world. That also continues the aspect of young geniuses, as this drummer can really smack those lids. This is seriously some of the best drumming I’ve heard in a long time, which isn’t something typically focused on in metal albums.

I feel that if the album had a more impactful climax this would’ve maybe been the album of the year. While there is something quirky and unique about being made with two instruments, I feel like it also heavily limits how hard this album can hit, which is important in atmo sludge. And again, the production job both giveth, and the production job taketh away. While it does go with a unique lo-fi aesthetic, it’s still almost Pure Fucking Armageddon tier, which is seldom ever good, even when intentional for effect. Despite that, this is one of the most unique listening experiences you’ll ever have, and I encourage anyone looking for something new, or just want a good fucking album to check this out. Definitely one of my top albums of the year.


9/10