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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

Contact info:


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

Contact info:



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

Contact info:


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!"