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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Review: Bulletbelt - Rise of the Banshee

Album Review: Bulletbelt - Rise of the Banshee (Headless Horseman)
by Mark Brooks

Author Disclaimer: I don’t normally write reviews on a regular basis, mostly due to the fact that I don’t have enough spare time to sit down and write them out. However, as soon as I heard the new BulletBelt album in its entirety, I knew that I had to review it. I hope that through my writing you can understand why.

The sound of a storm fast approaching, ominous hooves gallop in the distance - a rider fast approaches, bringing good news or ill omens? Before one can find out, their head is chopped off in a flurry of tight bass chops, caustic guitar licks, and pounding drums. Before the body does its last convulsion within death's grip, sepulchral acidic voices are heard announcing humanity's final doom.

This is the opening image that BulletBelt's second full-length album Rise of the Black Banshee invokes. A rip-roaring ride of first wave black thrash punk rock that should have plenty of cross-over appeal and is a strong contender for album of the year. 

For those who are unfamiliar with BulletBelt, they are a 5-piece "black-thrash" metal band from Wellington, New Zealand. The band features a slew of talented NZMetal musicians from other legendary NZMetal bands such as Backyard Burial, Demoniac, Karnage and Pervertor. The line-up is as follows: Steve Francis (drums), Ross Mallon (guitars), Tim Mekalick (bass), Ryan O’Leary (guitars) and newest addition Jolene Tempest (vocals).

I put “black-thrash” in quotation marks earlier because this album is not strictly “black-thrash.” BulletBelt have incorporated far more musical influences on this album than their last album Down in the Cold of the Grave, which sounded like a perfect hybrid of 80’s punk and thrash with early-mid 90’s Scandinavian black metal. They went in favour of a more first wave black metal sound like Venom or look to ‘modern’ bands like Midnight for example. The more rock or heavy metal influences come to the fore with tracks like ‘Deathgasm’ and ‘Murderer’s Collar.’ If the No Tag (NZ hardcore punk) ‘Mistaken Identity’ cover was an ode to the band’s punk roots on the last album, then The Nod (NZ heavy/thrash metal) cover of ‘Sniper’ fits in perfectly here to represent the band’s approach on the current album. Although the punk and strictly black metal roots of the band have been dialled down in favour of a wider heavy metal sound, these haven’t completely eroded away. Tracks like ‘Death Tinted Red’ and ‘Numbered Tomb’ feature a heavy dose of icy, blood-curdling Scandinavian black metal and the aforementioned ‘Deathgasm’ also features a healthy dose of punk-rock stomp. These influences, although reduced, turn up in other places, like the artwork.


In terms of the actual music itself, BulletBelt have shown a marked and more cohesive song-writing effort on this album in comparison to their previous work. It’s not as if the band has completely changed their sound, but rather has tinkered with it to get the songs to be at their tightest. Razor-sharp guitar riffs from Ross and Ryan not only bring the icy cold wrath accustomed to black metal’s overall sound but also add catchy hooks that get stuck in your head for days. This accompanied by Steve’s well timed cymbal work and chop blasts really add more punch to the already catchy guitar licks. Songs like ‘Tarawera (Burnt Spear)’ and the aforementioned ‘Numbered Tomb’ feature these techniques heavily. For me the real star of the album is Tim on bass; he really shows that just because you’re playing bass, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have to just follow what the guitars are doing. Tracks like ‘Minnie Dean´, ‘Murderer’s Collar,’ and 'Death Tinted Red' really showcase Tim’s prominent bass work, adding that something extra. That extra layer really makes the songs great pieces of music to listen to.

If I had any criticisms about the music side of things, it would be the lack of guitar solos. Don't get me wrong, The Nod cover features a mind-blowing guitar solo from the original guitarist (of The Nod) and ‘Deathgasm’ also features a great solo but I feel that this type of music calls for more solos. In saying that however, these songs do have extremely catchy leads in place of solos like in 'Tarawera (Burnt Spear)' so it is an altogether minor quibble. Perhaps on their next album, at the song-writing stage they could find parts where a solo (or three) could be slotted in. 

Regarding the vocals, I was saddened to hear that Fergus (vocalist on Writhe and Ascend EP through to Down in the Cold of the Grave) had left and was curious to hear his replacement. Those that are familiar with Fergus' ear-splitting vocals will know it would be a hard task to match that impenetrable scream. Has Jolene effectively replaced Fergus? For me, the answer is yes and no. I have been a fan of Fergus’ ironclad vocals from the minute I heard them. However, there was not much dynamism or range to them – the only quality it lacked. Jolene’s vocals make up for this deficiency by adding flair, going into low snarls, attacking mid-range and screeching highs. The only issue is that they’re not quite as powerful as Fergus’. Then again, Fergus was a freak of nature.

Jolene's voice however, adds a venomous, acidic bite to the songs on the album rather than a skull-crushing tone like Fergus’ voice would. Instead of having your skull smashed apart with a sledgehammer you have the (more painful) acid flung in your face, slowly corroding through your skin, melting the bone until nothing remains but a smouldering pus-sack of flesh. It is hard to imagine how the album would have sounded if Fergus had remained. In any case, Jolene does a damn fine job of stamping her own mark onto BulletBelt’s carefully crafted and honed sound.

Another nice addition was the inclusion of guest vocalist Rigel Walshe, of Dawn of Azazel fame, on the track 'Numbered Tomb'. At first I wasn't sure if his vocals worked here as I'm not a fan of Shining (SWE) or Silencer and the guest vocal lines were definitely in this vein (they are interesting to hear at the very least if you're familiar with Dawn of Azazel’s usual vocal style). It has since grown on me and has become one of my favourite parts on the album. Furthermore, the inclusion of more backing vocals/gang vocals on the album, especially on the track 'Deathgasm,' was a welcome addition and one that was lacking in previous albums. I hope that these trends continue in their future material.

On the lyrical side of things, Rise of the Banshee could almost be considered a concept album of sorts. The album features a lot of lyrics focused on the dark, seedy underbelly in New Zealand’s culture/history. For those who don’t know, ‘Minnie Dean’ is about the child-killing woman of the same name who was the only woman to be given the death penalty in this country. ‘Tarawera (Burnt Spear)’ is about the volcanic eruption which claimed many lives and destroyed a cultural landmark, ‘The Pink and White Terraces,’ in 1886. ‘Deathgasm’ is the title song for an upcoming NZ horror/comedy film and so, I assume, the lyrics are based around the movie and its concepts. The other lyrics are more subtle in their meaning but still convey the inner dark nature of mankind. 

BulletBelt have decided not to use Nick Keller’s highly stylised art like in Down in the Cold of the Grave but instead have used the almost cartoonish art style from Scarecrowoven, who also did Steve’s heavy/power metal’s band Red Dawn’s latest EP ‘Ironhead.’ The result is a mixture of classic Mercyful Fate/King Diamond mixed with early AFI (back when if you were into hardcore, it was cool to like AFI) art. The result is analogous to their roots from punk through to heavy metal/first wave black metal and perfectly encompasses the album’s musical outlook and approach. 

The band recorded at STL where they have previously before, but this time they recorded and mixed on a vintage SSL 4000G board - the board itself coming from Peter Gabriel's 'Real World Studios' and has been used for bands like: King Crimson, The Cars, Robert Plant, etc. The result was then mastered overseas at 'The Boiler Room', Chicago. That alone should speak for itself. If not, this album has an excellent clarity to it where everything sounds perfectly balanced. My only comment would be if the guitars were a bit rougher sounding in tone. But what do I know, I’m just a filthy vocalist. 

In summary, this is an excellent album and the band should be proud of the amount of hard work and effort that has been put into making a great album filled with excellent musicianship. They’ve made an album that from the artwork through to the lyrics captured the intended approach and outlook of the band. They have once again set the bar high for themselves and for the NZMetal community and I am eager to see how they will overcome it with their future work.

For fans of the band already, you will love to hear the development and cohesiveness that the band has honed in on for this album. If you're new to the band, then it is a hell of an introduction that you're in for! Don't let Rise of the Black Banshee pass you by this year and get the album immediately. You will not be disappointed.

For fans of: Venom, Midnight, Nifelheim and first wave black metal/thrash metal.

Favourite track(s): Sniper (The Nod cover), Deathgasm

Rating: 9.8/10

To listen to and purchase 'Rise of the Banshee' explore the panel below

Friday, October 10, 2014

BulletBelt Interview

BulletBelt, from Wellington NZ, have been kicking about in different forms since 2009, playing their own unique brand of Black Heavy Metal.  They have just released their second album 'Rise of the Banshee'. Let drummer Steve Francis tell the rest...

1) Could you please give a rundown of why you started BulletBelt and what the driving force behind it is? Why should people check you out?

Bulletbelt started as a 'bedroom' project between Ross and I. Initially there were never any thoughts of even playing live. Just keeping it as a 2 person project and work on it with no stress at our own pace. The first first few months were very much like this. The early material being 2nd wave BM influenced. But over time this beast we created gradually took on a life of it's own and is now very much it's own entity. We've had members come and go but Ross and I are the constants. Hopefully with the line up we have in 2014, Jolene, Ryan, Tim, Ross and I we have the 5 people to keep moving the band forward. We feel that we are blazing our own path and not being swayed by scene or "kvlt". 

2) Before we start talking about BulletBelt as such, Lets talk a bit more your own history in New Zealand Metal? Give us a rundown of where you came from. Ross, Ryan and Jolene also have interesting and different back grounds in the same scene. Tell us about those. I Remember Ross writing to me back in the early 90s when I was in my first band ‘Convulsion’.

Like most people I became 'infected' with metal through having older brothers who had a decent record collection of punk and early metal/rock. Once I heard Eddie Van Halen play eruption on Van Halen 1 it was game over on my pop tape collection. So you get heavier Van Halen - Twisted Sister - WASP - Megadeth - Slayer - Napalm Death. So in college it was time to start a band.. None of us could really play. Karnage was born. We played about a dozen gigs between 90-93 ending with supporting Carcass in Wellington. Incidentally they came up to our flat before and after drinking and their touring Guitarist Mike Hickey (who played on Venom calm before the storm) ending up 'scoring' Totmans girlfriend that night. Around the end of Karnage Sam and myself met up with Lindsay Dawson and formed Demoniac. Hidee Beast came a little later. I played on the 93 Rehersal demo. I left after that and didn't really play a lot again until 2009! Must have been a mid life Crisis. Although I didn't play in bands during that period I still was every much a metal fanatic consuming as many albums as I could get my hands on.

Ryan is obviously a scene stalwart having played in Backyard Burial for many years plus he played in Monsterworks and Bile Suction. Jolene played in Zirconium, Pariah and Majera. Ross also plays drums in local perverts Pervertor and Tim plays in Intergracia

So yeh, too old too cold!

Demoniac - early line up. Steve is on the right holding the up side down sheep
3) You’re in the process of recording a new album. Tell us everything!

The recording is in the bag. Rise of the Banshee is released October 1st, the same day we open for Sepultura! We feel that we've spread our wings a lot on this one. There's some different things going on for sure. The battle cry from day one had been NZBM, but this time around probably NZHM would be a better description. Influences from BM to Motörhead to DM to Thrash. So more diverse, but certainly feels like Bulletbelt. Another big difference this time around is the tunes haven't been road tested. So it's been interesting hearing them really come to life in the studio. Jolene has fucking nailed it too. Obviously practicing the tunes in the rehearsal room at volume it's hard to really pick up on the vocals, so we were going into the studio a bit blind. We know she sounds great but didn't know how it would equate to the studio. Her vocals are going to blow people away. We have made a really strong album, a big step forward for us and I can't wait for people to hear it! The concept of the album was to base it around NZ's dark past. We like to promote ourselves to the rest of the world as this safe, clean green paradise but some evil shit has happened in Aeoteroa. I don't want to give too much away yet but some of the subject matter is Minnie Dean who was only woman hung in NZ. One tune is about the gallows that used to be on the Terrace in Wellington and there's a song about Mount Tarawera erupting and fucking everything up. And like the first album we cover an old NZ song Bulletbelt style. We've revved up 'Sniper' from New Plymouth's The NOD

4) Speaking of Jolene, not so long ago she joined the band after Fergus exited. What happened there with Fergus, and how did you come to pick Jolene to replace him? 

As you know yourself Chris from being in bands for a long time sometimes people just decide their time is up. There was no bad dealings or drama at all, Ferg just let us know he was opting out. We respected his decision and although we were bummed to see him go it was exciting to launch a new

chapter for Bulletbelt. Ferg was never really a 'metal guy'. He would be the first to tell you that. He's now in a 'noise' band and still creating and still a great friend of ours.

Jolene actually did some backing vocals on the first album and told me at the time that if Ferg ever leaves to hit her up which i did! She came and tried out and within a couple of practices we knew she was it. It was a baptism of fire for her as we had a whole bunch of gigs lined up. Ferg had actually offered to do them before he left but we figured once you're gone your'e gone. So we threw her in head first. She played our vinyl release gig after about 3 practices then played with Primate the next week, She did a great job, mainly trying to remember the lyrics! I think it's a relief for her now that we are moving onto new material and it's her lyrics.

5) Lets talk about your current/previous album ‘Down In The Cold Of The Grave’. How do you view that now that you have new material recorded? In your view how was the album received? You self released both vinyl, cassette and CD versions through your own label. How did you find doing that in this post download pirate world? 

I'm really proud of it. We recorded it 2 years ago and some of those tunes are 3 years old. It's a perfect representation of where we were in 2012. The

album was received really well. The only thing I would change is how widely we promoted it. We certainly could've done a lot more. But that's how you learn. Everything we've learnt since our inception in 2009 will be used to push the new album hard. We have a
plan of attack in place to really get it out there. 

Yes we self released on Headless Horseman, Trading and selling to other labels/distros has been the key to getting it out there. The negative of doing it yourself is $ and the positive is total control over everything. In this day and age it's hard work doing tape/CD/Vinyl releases but WELL WORTH the hassle. Ross and I are old school collectors and know the feelings of holding an awesome metal album in your hands and looking at the art work, reading the credits, lyrics and being taking away to that special place that great metal albums can do to you. There is no better sound than the crackle of
vinyl. I know i'm in a minority these days but downloading just doesn't compare. We always have been in this for the long haul so we know that it takes time to sell a batch of CD's or vinyl. 

6) Continuing on with ‘Down In The Cold Of The Grave’. On that Album you had the cover art and logo done by the incredibly talented Nick Keller. What are you looking to do with the visual presentation of the new album?

I was really keen for this one to have a classic heavy metal feel like those great covers from the 80's.. The great old days of walking into a music store and buying a record unheard because of the cover art. Scarecrowoven is doing the art. I stumbled across him in Thrasher magazine and was blown away by his stuff. I contacted him to do my other band Red Dawn's cover art and he nailed it. This time around around I showed him King Diamond Abigail cover as a reference point. He's really captured the vibe and it represents the feel of the album perfectly.

Click the image to purchase and listen to 'Down in the cold of the grave' 

7) You were recently interviewed for Radio New Zealand’s 2 part ‘South of Heaven: A History of New Zealand Extreme Metal’ documentary. Tell us why you think that is important to the people reading this.

NZ metal has a great history and it's awesome that Craig Hayes has documented it. A lot of those bands broke up 20 years ago so it's important that they are remembered. I was a bit player back in the day, but attended many shows as a punter so was happy to be interviewed and give my perspective on what went down. Now
we just need someone to do an awesome vinyl compilation on THONZEM!

Click HERE listen to 'South of Heaven: A History of New Zealand Extreme Metal' as well as complete unedited interviews.

8) You’ve been pretty prolific in your touring around New Zealand. What benefits has this brought to BulletBelt? I understand you’re going to be playing off shore soon? 

Yes we are a busy band and like touring and getting our music out to as many people as possible. If anything it has made us a much better live band. We also like the idea of taking the music to the smaller towns around NZ. As a teenager getting into metal I can still recall the magic of the first gigs I attended. We hope to go to these places hopefully inspire someone to start there own band. 3 shows in Aussie this time around. Getting across the ditch is easy to do but also exciting to play new ground. Brisbane, Melbourne then playing the Bendigoat festival in Bendigo. We have plans to travel further abroad in the future.

9) What is ‘Headless Horseman’? What can we expect from it in the near future?

Headless Horseman is the label and distro that Ross and I formed to get our music out and help fund what we do. Ross handles the distro and I lead the touring side of things. We have brought Impiety/Goatwhore (with Chaos), Midnight, Primate and Krisiun next month to NZ. We both work together on the album releases which have so far been Bulletbelt, Red
Dawn and Pervertor. "The futures uncertain and the end is always near".

Check out the 'Headless Horseman' facebook page HERE

10) Who the fuck are 'The Skull'? Why? What the fuck are they doing?

Haha The Skull are 4 ugly fuckers who have made Chinese Democracy part 2, except it's a 12 minute gang beating rather than a wankfest. And it's hopefully coming your way soon!

11) Cheers for answering this interview Steve! Now is the bit where you get to wrap things up and plug any products or shows you would like readers to be aware of. 

Thanks for the interview Chris. Go and get our album Rise of the Banshee now. You can buy it off the Bulletbelt Bandcamp, at a record store near you or on iTunes. Cheers!

Click the image to purchase and listen to 'Rise of the Banshee' 

Friday, May 30, 2014

Review: Domains - Sinister Ceremonies

Another fine review from Mr. Mark Brooks...

Review: Domains - Sinister Ceremonies (The Sinister Flame)

It's unusual for me to write about any bands that aren't from New Zealand in an 'official' capacity but this band gave me an email and when they said they were from Spain, it piqued my interest. A country which has an enduring legacy around the world (using an example from my Filipeno ancestry where the Philippines was named after King Phillip II of Spain and I myself, retain some Spanish 'blood' especially with my mother's maiden name being 'Roxas' and all), yet their metal scene is practically unknown with only a handful of known bands (the gore-splattered Avulsed, the excellent but Swedish sounding Graveyard, the bestial Teitanblood and Blasphemy clones Proclamation being the only ones that seemed to have made some leeway globally). When I finally heard the CD though none of this mattered, I knew that I had to review this.

To start with, Domains are a relatively new death metal band. According to their Metal-archives, they've been around since 2005 but have just released their full-length 'Sinister Ceremonies' earlier this year. I for one, am glad that they didn't rush recording if this is the result.

I'll start with the music itself. Although this is a death metal record, it does borrow a lot of elements from black metal. This serves as an undercurrent to the 'brutal' (and I mean that as an adjective, not as a genre) death metal riffs and gives the riffs an edge of dark melody. This builds up the atmosphere to the songs that gives off a chilly, obscure and all together 'evil' sound to them (for instance check out the track 'Mastery' and those ending riffs, feel like you are sinking slowly into the pits of Hell). I know that it was seen 'in vogue' to bring evil atmosphere into a death metal record by either ripping off Incantation or doing the 'bestial' thing (much like their compatriots Teitanblood). You will find this isn't the case with Domains. This is a 'fresh' outlook on how to add atmosphere into your music and although it isn't completely reinventing the wheel or shattering conventions; it nevertheless feels like a breath of fresh air within the mortuary of extreme metal.

The band focuses on more tight mid-paced passages in their music, rather than complete doom, with some occasions that lead into fast parts, reminding me of Immolation. As expected from that statement, you get your blastbeats but these are used to accentuate the carefully honed song structure. The transitions between fast and mid-paced aren't 'unnatural' but flow smoothly, like destructive lava oozing from Earth's mantle. I mentioned earlier that the band uses black metal elements to accentuate their riffs but combining this with death metal riffage also brings about a level of melody and catchiness to the riffs; which the drums do well to also instil this in your mind by adding well-timed cymbal work, rolls and catchy beats to these riffs. It is easy to start humming the tune to 'Raped by Darkness', 'Eucharist of Relevance' or 'Crowned at Dusk' something that they share elements with German death metallers Necros Christos yet far less doomier.

Another thing they share with the aforementioned band is the lyrical themes and general philosophical outlook of the band. This isn't Occultism for Occultism's sake, but something that comes from a deep seated belief in the dark arts. The lyrics are well-written and well conceived. They aren't overly complex but not simple either, they are dark but not coming across as cheesy or non-genuine. You will have to buy the CD to read the lyrics since they don't seem to be up online (at least yet) but I feel as if they are an integral part to this band's vision and are ones that are just as well crafted and thought-out as their music.

The production is a little murky and dense but again this adds to the atmosphere of the album, rather than detract from it. The drums sound fantastic here with great reverb on the snare to really accentuate the atmospheric guitar riffs. The guitar riffs and bass sit well in the mix, neither clouding each other. Likewise, I like where the vocals sit - above the music and they did well with his voice to give it enough reverb without losing its bite. There may be some complaints that the guitar levels could be more 'bright' but I think that would be a foolish thought considering the obvious intentions of this album. It is meant to sound a little obscure, a little gives the album an ambience that it has been recorded in a crypt rather than at a studio. 

Lastly, I will speak about the artwork and general layout of the CD. The artwork is killer in my mind, but then again I'm a sucker for the old school death metal art of old. It reminds me of the Finnish death legends like Demigod or early Sentenced. It works well to invoke in the listener's mind what the music is all about and the band's vision through their music. The inner layout is simple, curiously without a single band photo, but this aids to visual clarity rather than looking at a dense piece of work. 

Finally, there is not much I can fault this album on although as mentioned earlier - this debut album isn't likely to shatter conventions or reinvent the wheel. In saying that it is a very solid album which deserves to be on many 'top albums of the year' lists. I especially look forward to seeing what they come up with next and if it is even possible to top such a strong album. It'll be interesting to see what the next trend in death metal will be; we've had the Incantation death-doom trend and we've had countless Suffocation imitators, I sense the next trend will be a bunch of Immolation clones. Don't, under any circumstances, count Domains as one of them - their music is done with far more genuine purpose than those that will surely follow. If you're a fan of Immolation, Ascension, Necros Christos, Sonne Adam, Mortuary Drape or other dark, evil death/black metal bands (the way it should be really) then do not hesitate in picking this album up immediately. It will not disappoint. 

Standout track(s): Crowned at Dusk is a particular favorite but really this whole album is stellar.

Rating: 4.8/5

Contact info:

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Review: Invertia - Another Scheme of the Wicked (Ohm Resistance)

Invertia - Another Scheme of the Wicked (Ohm Resistance

Invertia label themselves as Industrial/Black Metal, from New England, USA. Although an accurate title, I don’t think that description does them justice. There’s more to them than a pigeonhole marketing tag. Let this review speak to that.
‘Another Scheme of the Wicked’ is a five song mini album, with each track remixed at the end, bringing it to full album length. The music contained within could be described as bleak, angular shades of black and grey. Not unlike the creature on the cover art, which captures the feel of and almost describes the music of Invertia perfectly. 

This is particularly relevant in the opener 'The Sidewinder'. Which delves between moody discordant guitar strings, to black metal chaos and then industrial pulses. All laced together with misanthropic satanic voice samples.

Noticeable in the second track "Cross Eyed Christ" and again in the third "Void of Community", are angular, discordant rhythms that lock down with the programmed drums. In both of these songs, the main riffs smack you like a whip as it lashes out in time with the snare.

Track four "Hourglass Without Sand" starts out in a consistent tone to those previous, before being treated to a mid song interlude, which sounds like something off Beherit's "Drawing Down the Moon", performed after a nuclear apocalypse, in an abandoned power station.

The fifth and final non-remixed tune is "They're everywhere". It kicks in at an insane suffocating speed, before a vacuum briefly draws you up into the stratosphere only to drop you straight back into the blender to the manic chant of "jesus christ will set you free".

Now I’d like to throw in a thought. Whether Invertia choose to take it on board of course is up to them. Programmed drums/drum machines can do a whole raft things that a real drummer can't. By saying that I mean other that going inhumanly fast. There are is a limitless range of percussive sounds available that go way beyond that of a standard drum kit. I’d love for Invertia to embrace and explore that concept on their future recordings.

Now we get on to the remixes. First up is Justin Broadrick’s melodic ‘Jesu’ treatment of 'The Sidewinding'. A welcome oasis (the kind you find when lost in a desert, not the brit-pop band) like relief after the previous onslaught of harsh darkness. Justin really takes this somewhere else and turns it into his own song. He's done this and yet made it fit in comfortably with the rest of 'Another Scheme of the Wicked'. Good job!

This is followed by the ‘End.User’ remix of 'Chris Eyed Christ'. Opening with a fazed grinding bass sample, then layered with ominous floating keyboard and then Irregular off time percussion. Like the previous JKB remix, this takes the tune somewhere completely new. This track reminds me of the disjointed unorthodox feel of Mayhem’s ‘Ordo Ad Chao’.

The ‘TranZi3nT’ remix of 'Lack of Community' continues in a similar vein to the End.User mix, if not a tad less inspired. It does have some interesting hypnotic drone passages though.

The ‘Submerged’ remix feels less inspired, using predictable techno beats and sample loops from the song 'Hourglass Without Sand'. It would be my least favourite track on the album, but yet it still fits in consistently with everything around it.

Lastly, ‘R3TRD’ remix 'They're Everywhere' with pulsating rhythmic power-electronic style noise with bonus distortion on everything, accompanied by a slow simple hypnotic beat.

While all the remixes aren't perfect, they do display enough variety to make you feel as though you aren't listening to the original five songs over again. This of course serves the release well, as it sounds like a full album's worth of material.

Overall ‘Another Scheme of the Wicked’ is a fresh and rewarding listen. In my view, it explores new ground within the realms of extreme metal. If you enjoy metal that isn’t afraid to explore the territory of industrial electronics, this could be for you.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

NWONZHM Reviews: Fallen Order, Red Dawn and Stormforge

Posts here have become fewer and further between these past 12 to 18 months.  This has been mainly due to life getting in the way.  I've bought my own house, am enjoying spending more time with my daughter and have been working through some other quite serious self inflicted turmoil.  Things are stabilizing now though and there are a bits and pieces in the works. These include interviews with Impaled Nazarene, Diocletian, a bunch of reviews and of course the forever postponed Subcide Zine #4.  To tide you over until those things eventuate, Mark Brooks (aka Scourge Witchfvkker from Exordium Mors) has been good enough to pen the following reviews of recent releases by 3 New Zealand Heavy Metal bands, who play what he has labeled as NWONZHM.


I wrote once that Red Dawn (featured below) could possibly be NZ's answer to 'Iced Earth' ; how crushingly wrong I was once I heard Fallen Order.

Fallen Order are a 5-piece Heavy/Power Metal band from Wellington, New Zealand and have self-released a brand new EP entitled 'The Age of Kings' (although Stormspell Records are releasing their own version for worldwide distribution). What you have here is not a band or release that is 'finding their sound' or 'learning the ropes' so to speak. They have stormed ahead with a fiery blaze of catchy infectious melodic metal that you can raise a fist (and beer) to.

I was immediately impressed by the solid quality of the production and the thought and creativity to make the songs flow well. If you don't believe me, listen for yourself on their bandcamp  (link provided below) especially on tracks 'Stand Together' and 'Falling Down’. The band focuses on making solid anthem-esque 'call to arms' tracks and this I think is their secret and separates them from the rest of the bands in the NWONZHM movement. You can't help but sing along and feel the urge to pound your fist along to the beat.

Hamish Murray is one damn impressive vocalist and you can hear this from the get-go of the EP. Singing mainly in the baritone range that would make Matt Barlow blush and then having the control over his voice to burst into powerful Halford screams - incredible. This is a vocalist who has a masterful control over his voice and it is hard to find anything negative about it. The leads are both tasteful, not overly 'wanky' and show the prowess of the guitarists involved. The bass and drums are both ever-present and sit nicely in the mix, neither of which over-powering the other instruments.

The presentation of the CD itself is simple but effective. This is after all, an EP showcasing the band's wares and not a full-blown full-length where I would expect a lot more effort on the layout. I do really like the artwork as simple as it is, it is eye-catching and whoever designed the layout/art for this EP should be commended.

My only criticism of this EP, is that it is an EP. I crave for more after it's finished, but of course this is a stepping stone to bigger and better things; and this can be assured of once this band gets more distribution on the international stage.

Standout track(s):

All of them are great but for me 'The Age of Kings' really stands out and represents  the band's outlook and sound.

For fans of: Iced Earth, Manowar, Judas Priest etc.

Rating: 4.5/5

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Again, Wellington (New Zealand)'s 5 piece band, Red Dawn have unleashed another extremely professional-sounding EP (entitled 'Ironhead') of Thrashy Power/Heavy Metal for the masses to gorge on.
If you're familiar with  Red Dawn's previous EP 'World Eater' you know what to expect and the style of song-writing here is nothing too drastically different (in that it's Power/Heavy Metal with a definite thrash edge), however the 'Ironhead' EP differs not just in line-up changes but in the quality of song-writing and production.

The EP opens with the cranking of a motorcycle engine (which I suspect is the vocalist's Ed Hintz) and then the opening riffs of the title track. It is almost a signature of Red Dawn to have dual galloping guitar riffs and you can hear this throughout the EP. The song-writing has definitely become more tighter in comparison with the first EP and shows that the band have found 'their feet' in regards to song composition. The soaring vocals of Ed penetrate the listener and focuses on lyrics that are down-to-earth and give an element of realism to the band. I know it's 'kosher' that if you're in a  Power Metal band you have to have fantasy lyrics, but I'm glad that Red Dawn have avoided this for the most part (although there is a song about the excellent Welsh TV series 'The Prisoner').

Ed is a competent and strong vocalist especially with his mid-range and he can hold notes quite well; my only criticism would be that his falsetto screams are the weakest out of the three bands reviewed here. It's not a big deal when listening to the EP on its own but when in comparison with the other EPs, it is noticeable.  The leads produced by Andrew McGregor and Dan Hayston are simply put incredible. Red Dawn are a guitarists wet dream and if that is your thing, then I wouldn't hesitate in picking up this EP immediately. The production on here is a lot less 'dense' in comparison with the first EP, allowing room for the guitars to 'breathe' in amongst the ferocious bass licks and pounding drums.   Lastly, the bass and drum sound on this EP are also fantastic - I can only assume this is because the mastering was done offshore in New York at Masterdisk.

The artwork is incredible and was done by Scarecrowoven ( It's definitely a 'modern' looking piece of art but also feels like it could have come from the 80's also. I think that pretty much sums up Red Dawn succinctly both musically and visually.
Apart from the falsetto screams, my only other criticism would be the song 'Prisoner' which I feel doesn't quite work as well as the other songs. I understand that it is customary for a Power or Heavy Metal band to have a slow song or a ballad and sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't. I feel as if 'Prisoner' almost hits the mark but it isn't quite there yet. The fast galloping bits are great though and I'm anxious to hear a full-length with new material. Have a listen on their bandcamp below and let them know your thoughts!

Standout track(s):

There are some killer tracks on this but I have to say 'Death March of Bataan' sticks out for me I guess because it hails to my Filipino ancestry.

For fans of: Iced Earth, Iron Maiden, Anthrax etc.

Rating: 4.5/5

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Epic Power Metal band 'Stormforge' come from Auckland, New Zealand and are a 5-piece band featuring past and present members of a myriad of NZMetal bands too numerous to go into in any depth here.  Their debut EP 'Sea of Stone' was released earlier this year to those that have been begging for a release since their inception.

Unlike Fallen Order or Red Dawn, Stormforge write epic songs usually around 6-9 minutes long. One may find this a problem, to maintain an audience's attention span (unless you're a Doom/Sludge listener where even 9 minutes is too short!) yet these songs are so well-composed, so majestic sounding that you don't want it to end once it hits the last track (which consequently, is also the title track).

Courtney O'Leary is no doubt the best clean vocalist this country has to offer, and this is proven time and time again on this EP. From soaring, searing wails to deadly falsetto screams and everything in between - he is an inspiration to a lowly Black/Death vocalist such as myself. You can tell that there has been endless hours of recording and mixing to get the vocal parts absolutely perfect for the CD. Speaking of inspiration earlier, if you're a budding guitarist then these guitar solos are pure masturbatory material. If you're Yngwie Malmsteen, then these solos are masturbatory material! They are executed flawlessly yet they melt your brain at how complex and technical they are.  The drums have similarly been captured quite well in the mix and are a highlight of the recording. I know that the drums in Power/Heavy Metal are often over-looked, they are usually used to provide the beat and not much else more. You will find that Antony Mifsud-Houghton is not one such drummer, providing an aggressive edge to his drumming not often seen in Power Metal. You can especially hear this on tracks 'As the Nightsky Burns' as well as the title track. The bass also sits nicely in the mix, although not as prominent as say Red Dawn's EP reviewed earlier.

The artwork for this is outstanding, I am of the understanding that it is digital but it looks hand painted! I hope to see even more epic artwork for a full-length album. The lyrics for this album also feature themes tied in with the epic artwork and ones that I can instantly gravitate towards. I know that I stated earlier that fantasy lyrics in Power Metal are a cliché but Stormforge's delivery of such subject matter are what stands-out. Tales of vengeance, retribution and battle-glory are interwoven with dark fantasy to make them both engaging and entertaining to the audience.
There are but a couple of criticisms I have with this EP, firstly -  the additional vocals and leads/solos should be more prominent in the mix and lastly, that is it only an EP! I know that's it's almost 30 minutes long, but it is simply not long enough. A full length is definitely what is needed from such an incredible act.

I know that I may be bias as I know the members personally, played bands with them, lived together etc. however out of all the bands of the NWONZHM, Stormforge are my favourite. I can only put this down to my taste in epic metal as a whole regardless of sub-genre. If you're a fan of more straight forward, fist-pounding metal than by all means check out the other bands reviewed here or Forsaken Age (another NWONZHM band not included in these series of reviews).

Standout track(s):

Really all of these songs rule but the ballad 'Death Sings in the Night' strikes a particular chord (and I usually hate metal ballads!). Whether I'm getting sappy as I get older or the fact that it features one of the best vocal performances I have ever heard out of Australasia (and maybe the world?)  and jaw-dropping guitar solos, I'll let you be the judge. Take a listen of their bandcamp (link below)  and let the band know which is your favourite!

For fans of: Blind Guardian, Iron Maiden, Helloween etc.

Rating: 4.7/5

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Thank you again to Mark Brooks for authoring these fine reviews.  I would now like to close this article with the following personal message to the review subjects:

I want all 3 of you bands to look at me like I'm your wise old granddad. I want you to imagine I'm sitting in front of you in a throne like armchair, and you are all gathered around. Fallen Order to the right, Stormforge at the centre and Red Dawn to the left. Now imagine me saying this "I'm very proud of you all, and you've all done a wonderful job. But I want you to understand one thing - No matter how hard you try, you'll never be as good as Iron Maiden! That doesn't mean I want you to stop attempting to excel though! NO! I want you to keep trying to improve your selves! ...then and only then... ... Yes I'm looking at you in particular Courtney O'leary... Then you might just get to be as good as SAXON!"