Review: Smoulder – Times of Obscene Evil and Wild Daring

Epic metal and my taste go hand in hand. I got into heavy metal through Slough Feg and Brocas Helm after years of stagnating at Maiden and Sabbath’s doorstep, and once I found Slough Feg I didn’t have to look very far to start finding more stuff that I was into thanks to a similarly-inclined friend. What I am trying to say here, before even getting into this review, is that I am automatically biased just because of the style- and, moreover, I am friends with several of the band members, one of them going back years. Anything I say should be ignored in favor of just immediately buying the album yourself so you can see how great it is.

Failing that no-thought impulse buy (or wanting something to read while waiting for your copy to arrive or download), however, read on. To give a a single line description, Smoulder are slow, full of doom metal and epic metal tendencies (not often you hear Tales of Medusa riffs in another band!), and really, really love writing fantasy anthems. Once the tolling intro is through and the music starts, those tendencies are made immediately clear; “Illian of Garathorm” is mid-paced or slow throughout, pounding in the style of the faster Solitude Aeturnus or the slower Manowar bits while serenading listeners with tales of Elric and friends.

For the most part, this sets the tone pretty much as it is for the entire album- fairly repetitive and drawn out songs that are carried not by mile-a-minute riff changes, but by the building of atmosphere, passionate singing, and subtle instrumental developments that keep even the slowest parts of the album interesting. That is not to say that the album is without variety, and right after the album’s only true doom metal track comes a song that sounds more like slow speed metal than like the epic doom that Smoulder claim as their heritage; past that, Sarah’s singing manages to reach enough catchy choruses and memorable crescendos to carry bits that might falter with less-interesting singing.

Even when the album doesn’t really need it, the bass always stays interesting as well with little harmonies, fills, or brief excursions from the root always just a riff change away- definitely a pleasant surprise, given how many heavy metal bands let actual bass songwriting take the back seat. The lead guitar also does a great job at adding in extra layers, with harmonies, melodies, and tasteful soloing dropping in and out a few times a song to keep the pounding rhythms from becoming too monolithic. Additionally, the drums do a great job of maintaining dynamics without sacrificing the feel of each song or sacrificing some killer playing- “Shadowy Sisterhood” in particular showcases some absolutely killer playing that really makes the song for me. There really isn’t a weak point here performance wise, or anything that stands out over anything else.

The production, which is both very clear and very powerful, also deserves mention. Rising superstar producer Arthur Rizk once again worked his magic here, and the atmosphere is very mystical without being too drowned in reverb to see clearly, which is certainly a rarity for the sonic landscape that Smoulder have gone for here. Also perfectly matching the music is a fantastic piece licensed from Michael Whelan, providing one of the best covers I’ve seen on an album in recent years. The overall effect, from the songwriting to the aesthetic to the production, is one of absolute devotion to metal and one of absolute passion for the music that the band is writing. This is an album worth buying, friends worth supporting, and, to boot, on a label worthy of all of these great things. Not often does everything align so that a band such as Smoulder is can make it, and even less often does it happen where that band actually deserves their success, so help Smoulder carry on the steamrolling that they’ve been doing across their two sold out pressings of the album and go buy whatever is left before it’s too late.

Follow Smoulder on Facebook here, and buy their music here.

Images courtesy of Smoulder.

Interview with The Great Kaiser of Demon Bitch, White Magician, and more

The esoteric side of heavy metal has been around since the very start. The strange, the magical, and the fantastical have driven songwriters to great heights for the genre’s history, and one of the current masters of the weird is here right now to do an interview. The Great Kaiser, aka Derek DiBella, is perhaps best known for his years with Demon Bitch, but is also the driving force behind White Magician, Isenblåst, and more. 

Read the interview on Ride Into Glory. Published on August 31, 2019.

Interview with Dave Boyd from Twisted Tower Dire

Not many heavy metal bands have, unbowed, stood the test of time without breaking up or falling apart quality-wise. For every hallowed name that’s kept their quality level up since the start, scores more have fallen- but not Twisted Tower Dire. A venerated name in the heavy metal scene, Twisted Tower Dire have been going strong since 1995, and their newest album, Wars in the Unknown, comes out in just a few weeks. In support of the album, I asked guitarist Dave Boyd some questions.

Read the interview on Toilet Ov Hell. Published on March 5, 2019.

Interview with The Hammer of Malleus

Ancient witchery is alive in America. Boston is more known for its punk scene than its metal one, but there’s always an exception, and Malleus are one of Boston’s best right now, playing primordial black metal noticeably inspired by groups like Hellhammer, Bathory, Sodom, and Venom.

Though the band is fairly new they’ve made waves in the underground, and fresh off the release of a new two-song mLP titled Night Raids guitarist The Hammer has agreed to do an interview with me to talk a bit about the band.

Read the interview on Toilet Ov Hell. Published on January 15, 2019.

Interview with Lethean

England’s Lethean started as the solo project of multi-instrumentalist James Ashbey and after a scrapped EP they’re finally set to debut their first album, The Waters of Death, on Italian label and heavy metal powerhouse Cruz Del Sur Music. To get a feel for their music you can read my review of The Waters of Death here, and Marco’s review of it here. As a note before I get into it, at the band’s request this interview was conducted in a cut and paste format. Without further ado, I’ll start the interview here.

Read the interview on Ride Into Glory. Published on November 8, 2018.

Interview with Sacral Rage

Heavy metal is the law and Sacral Rage are the masters at playing at playing it. Fast, technical, and with gloriously soaring high vocals, they’re the current masters of their style, and have a new album out now on Cruz Del Sur Music. If you’re unfamiliar with the band, you can read my review of it here. I’ve been a fan for a few years now; with the release of Beyond Celestial Echoes I was curious about a few things, and the band were kind enough to answer some questions for me. Though I spoke directly with Sacral Rage’s vocalist, Dimitris, all of the band worked collaboratively to answer the questions for me. As readers may be able to tell we started this interview before the album came out.

Read the interview on Toilet Ov Hell. Published on November 2, 2018.

Interview with Wrathblade.

For a few years now Wrathblade have been one of my favorite active heavy metal bands, and last year’s devastating God Of The Deep Unleashed just solidified that. Though they’ve been around for fifteen years now, they’ve only put out a handful of releases, and their relative lack of activity made me want to know more. For the uninitiated, Wrathblade play pounding epic metal the old way, bringing plenty of influence from classics like Brocas Helm, Manilla Road, Manowar, and more. There’s not really a bad place to start with their music because all of the band’s material rules.

At the band’s request, the interview was conducted in a cut and paste format- if any of the flow of the conversation comes across as awkward, it’s probably because of that. Responding members of the band are Giannis (drums) and Nick (vocals).

Read the interview on Toilet Ov Hell. Published on August 24, 2018.

Interview with Zealous Hellspell of Ordeals

New York City’s Ordeals came blazing into existence in 2011, but didn’t release anything until 2016’s Apotheosis,which was a malignant piece of black/death released originally as only a run of less than a hundred cassettes on a small German record label. Now they have their first release out since then, a split on much larger label Blood Harvest Records, but the sound has changed to a very out-of-vogue old school melodic death metal sound more akin to Intestine Baalism. Following a triumphant appearance at Covenant Festival in Canada, Zealous Hellspell (shortened through the interview as ZH) has been kind enough to answer a few of my questions about their past, their future, and their ongoing ascent to greatness.

Read the interview on Toilet Ov Hell. Published on May 21, 2018.

Interview with Andrew D’Cagna of Ironflame

Ironflame came out of nowhere early this year from the mind of Andrew D’Cagna, shocking the world with potent riffs, catchy choruses, and gorgeous melodies. Despite having already played Legions of Metal fest in Chicago and having been invited to play Keep It True next year, not too much is known about the band at this point, so I asked Andrew some questions about it.

Read the interview at Toilet Ov Hell. Published on October 11, 2017.

Interview with TG of Nihil Verum Nisi Mors (NVNM)

One of my favorite parts of the metal scene is how the passion of genuine diehards has led to various splintered microlabels across the world (according to the venerable metal-archives, there are tens of thousands of the things).

A lot of those labels put out a single release or two and crumple under the responsibility or financial commitment, but sometimes a collective survives to destroy the world under the weight of the riffs that they put out.

NVNM belongs to a special category of label which serves solely to exist as a way for co-founders and masterminds TG and Joe Aversario to unleash their morbid creations upon the world; they don’t take submissions (as I found out when I tried to get them to put out material from one of my bands some months ago), don’t search for new bands to release on the label, self-record their music, self-produce their music, and dub most of their releases themselves- essentially, NVNM is the pure, concentrated essence of DIY; given that prior to forming the collective TG and Joe played together in a deathgrind band, this is somewhat unsurprising.

Read the interview at Toilet Ov Hell. Published on October 9, 2017.