Most people probably don’t think of Bulgaria in the ‘80s as a particular hub of heavy metal. If they think about epic heavy metal, they almost definitely don’t. In fact, the metal-archives only has eleven releases marked for the entire ‘80s as being Bulgarian, with several being from the same bands. In spite of this, two of those releases feature some of the ‘80s best epic metal; neither of those take the same form as bands like Manowar or Manilla Road, but is something more mystical, with a heavy focus on repetition to create atmosphere and driving vocal lines. These bands are Trotyl and Dr. Doolittle, with the releases respectively being Lunatic and Every Man Needs A Woman.
Vastum have been around for a few years now. I’m sure my perspective on them is a bit different from people not from California, but to a lot of people, they’re legends here. They’re possibly the single most venerated death metal band from our great state since Autopsy themselves to a lot of people, with a not small contingent that holds up their most recent album, Hole Below, as the single greatest death metal album since Graves of the Archangels. Their sound has always been rooted in massive and chunky mid-paced riffs, with a heavy focus on brutal rhythms and ignorant attacks- the heaviest parts of Demigod or Bolt Thrower with a hell of a lot less melody.
With the band’s third full length album (many people consider Carnal Law to be a full length because of the length and it being reissued on vinyl and CD down the line, but I believe it was originally intended to be a demo), Orificial Purge, the band sees themselves adopting some new pleasantly disturbing growth. Instead of each song approaching a zenith of sonic destruction, Vastum’s music has become more thoughtful; Hole Below featured a handful of more atmospheric sections with spoken word, and Orificial Purge features a hell of a lot more of them, and more varied composition in general.
Everything seems bigger and more expansive, with just as many huge riffs as before, but with a new focus on how the riffs build up, catchier vocal lines than ever, and a much more dynamic approach that may not appeal to modern caveman metal afficionados as much but that hits me harder. Where before a groove might have carried into a neck-snapping breakdown or just into another groove, there’s a new sense of grotesque purpose to the songwriting that feels really refreshing. “I On The Knife (Second Wound)” has some of the band’s fastest riffing to date but also some of the slowest, and the way the song crescendos into its bleak and reflective end is a perfect snapshot of the change that’s come over Vastum to such great effect.
“Fear of sacrifice, the knowledge of pain.
Fissured, known, the fist of truth will yawn.
Orgy, cross, light, crepuscular loss.”
The experimentation on the album becomes more apparent with repeated listens, and with focus. A disinterested listener juggling work or a forum might miss the two minute long intro leading into the title track, or the string intro to His Sapphic Longing. Melody and leadwork take a higher place in the compositional stew than ever but are offset by the remaining bulldozing caveman sensibilities, and small details carry more weight than ever. None of this is to say that Vastum has suddenly become Unaussprechlichen Kulten, but this new side to them is a welcome change.
As always, the guitars are huge in the mix, as are the vocals. The dual-vocal assault that Dan and Leila comes across as being far more important than vocals usually are in a death metal album, and carry sections that wouldn’t work instrumentally powerfully, tying the music together perfectly. Earhammer Studios has been Vastum’s recording home since Patricidal Lust for a good reason and the band’s sound is impossible to compare to anyone else save for the handful of people already cloning them. I wish Luca’s bass was a bit more separately audible, but given how massive the mix is, that feels like a small complaint on an album I otherwise have nothing to complain about.
A final note is that I really dig the artwork. Save for an alternate cover version of Patricidal Lust Vastum has stuck to monochrome since their inception, and color suits them as well as the artwork suits the album.
The wild, hard rocking heavy metal of the ‘70s and early ‘80s has been enjoying a resurgence of sorts in recent years as more and more bands yearn for musical days long gone. Most of that revival focuses on the more mystical side of that coin, with occult rock, love letters to Blue Öyster Cult, and the ethereal leads of Pagan Altar enjoying some success. There’s a lot less (good) homage to the higher-octane groups like Scorpions, Rainbow, and Deep Purple.
Read the full review on Toilet ov Hell. Published on December 4, 2019.
Unaussprechlichen Kulten is one of the best bands active today playing death metal. I’ve talked in depth about my feelings for them, largely via the reviews I did of their last two albums for this site (review 1, review 2). Fortunately enough for me, I got a chance to chat with them at this year’s edition of Never Surrender festival in Oakland, and to do a full interview with them via email after the festival had ended. To those who haven’t given them a shot yet, I’d recommend checking out their last few albums, their split with After Death (aka Nocturnus), and reading the reviews I posted up above.
Read the interview at Toilet Ov Hell. Published on November 19, 2019.
Not many new bands properly evoke the spirit of the earliest days of thrash and speed metal. The energy, passion, and crazed sonic assault of a genre that didn’t quite exist yet seems to just be lost to time—even extremely competent worshippers feel like they’re putting their own spin on an old genre more often than not.
Read the review at Toilet Ov Hell. Published on 11/20/2019.
Follow-ups are always a bit of a risky affair. There’s fan expectation, and if the artist doesn’t evolve at all, there’s earlier material to overcome- many bands can’t rise to the challenge, and either break up or put out a flop of a second album. Terminus, hailing from Belfast, had more of a hurdle than most due to the fact that their debut album, The Reaper’s Spiral, is one of the absolute best albums of the last decade. How does one live up to that?
Read the review on Ride Into Glory. Published on November 9, 2019.
For some years now, an extreme metal band from Arvika, Sweden, titled Tribulation has been taking the metal world by storm. Though originally formed as a dirty and fast death metal band hailing back to seminal Swedish acts such as Merciless and Nihilist as well as to the fierce storming vengeance of early Morbid Angel, Tribulation quickly shed their more primitive leanings to focus on an increasingly eclectic blend of outside influences. Now with four studio albums under their belts, Tribulation are debuting their first ever live album, and guitarist Adam Zaars was nice enough to answer some of my questions about the band and what’s coming up for them.
Read the interview at Toilet Ov Hell. Published on November 8, 2019.
The old Italian spirit of heavy metal mastery has been proved undaunted by the years, changing trends, and the often non-existent financial support for the strange and epic. Vultures Vengeance, hailing from Rome, have in their ten years of existence completely eschewed all convention to bring us their unique take on epic heavy metal. Our man Crucervix already reviewed the album here, and I reviewed it here; obviously, we like it quite a bit, and so Ride Into Glory was excited to have the opportunity to interview Vultures Vengeance frontman, songwriter, and guitarist extraordinaire Tony Steele.
Johnny Gallo may be the best active doom metal guitarist right now. I’ve been tracking the guy’s movements closely the last few years after initially being introduced to Orodruin, who are easily among my favorite bands of the ‘00s (yes, they formed in the late ‘90s, but the bulk of their material was a bit later!). Johnny is a busy guy, and every couple of years another new album comes out that he played some varying amount of instruments on. Blizaro is a drug-induced psychedelic warrior that channels his love of old Italian doom, and John Gallo is a heavier and less rocking take on the same influences- but Orodruin, until they vanished off the face of the planet around 2011, was always more suffocating and gloomy than his other bands.
Now Orodruin is back, and is jarringly less heavy. Before, the riffs carried a lot of the heft and groove of the more oppressive bands in doom metal, with heavy atmosphere via organs and riffs that split bones. Though you can still tell that it’s the same band, the heaviness is more from huge buildups and from the interplay of the instruments than from big guitar parts- Cathedral versus Judas Priest, to quote a friend.
Once I got past the difference in tone, the quality contained within Ruins of Eternity began to reveal itself. Each song is monstrously catchy and memorable, and while the songwriting is simple, the compositions are extremely effective. Bluesy licks will play against slow Iommian riffing to great effect whenever a part threatens monotony, and the guitars pick great moments to fall slightly out of touch with each other, each little detail adding another post to find and wonder at with repeated listens. The dual leads that occasionally supplant the riffs are all really, really, cool as well, perfectly bridging different verse riffs or mood swings in songs.
Vocals, drums, and bass are all performed skillfully by longtime Orodruin frontman Mike Puleo, whose approach to each is a mirror of the band’s music itself; he never gets technical or tries to stand out, but his playing and singing match the music so perfectly that I can’t imagine another performance on the album. In particular I love his vocal performance on Ruins of Eternity; Mike is emotional and earnest without sacrificing power, and his varied approach- ranging from a nasal warble to strident and powerful to sensitive in just a few minutes at a time- far surpasses anything else he’s done with Orodruin in the past. Mike’s talent for writing vocal lines plays a large part in the catchiness of the record, and it’s impossible not to leave the album with more and more lyrics stuck in your head, which is a talent more doom metal could benefit from.
Another point of interest is the album’s stellar production, which leaves everything audible without sacrificing power or charm. The song order is also extremely well picked- the relative speed and aggression of the gorgeous “War on the World” breaks up the slower pieces it’s sandwiched between, serving as the crescendo of Side A while also showing some of the band’s range. Ruins of Eternity is an intimidating forty seven minutes long, but it flows by far faster than it should, leaving plenty of room for relistening, even back to back.
Is Ruins of Eternity as good as Orodruin’s first record, Epicurean Mass? It’s just too early to say, particularly since I’ve been hailing that as the best doom metal album of the ‘00s for the last few years. But I can definitely say that I can’t stop listening to Ruins, and I hope that Orodruin doesn’t take another sixteen years for a follow-up this time. It’s great seeing them getting proper label support this time via the always-excellent Cruz Del Sur Music and I hope it’s a sign that Orodruin will finally blow up (and get some proper vinyl issues of Epicurean Mass and In Doom!) because they deserve it.
Follow Orodruin on Facebook here. Listen to Ruins of Eternity here, and buy it at the same link (North America) or here (Europe). Support doom, and support one of the best bands in metal, finally returned to us.
Are you an angel witch? Kevin Heybourne, sole remaining founding member of the legendary band, certainly is. Formed in 1978 and with a now-legendary debut album in 1980, Angel Witch has some of the strongest name recognition from the original NWOBHM movement, much of it based on the strength of dark and catchy tracks that just didn’t propel them to the popularity they deserved back in the day.
Years after their original disbanding, Angel Witch reformed and started slowly ramping up activity, with a second modern album titled Angel of Light slated to be released next Friday. Fortunately, Kevin was willing to answer some of my questions about the band.