Spectre of Ruin

Layered and melodic, aggressive and measured — Black Fast is old school extreme metal at its roaring best. Firmly rooted in the late 80s, Spectre of Ruin illustrates German thrash to early Florida death, but with progressive riffs and even more sinister old school hooks. Almost like a melodic variant of early Sodom or Kreator, but with the same turbulent levels of ferocity and intense screams.

With sharp and frequent compositional shifts, the band effectively reconciles progressive sensibilities with extreme thrash. In other words, there are no meandering passages here, just devastatingly precise twin guitar assault and thrashy progressions. Integrating the best of the both worlds, Spectre of Ruin is old-school cross-over at its brutal best. Essentially Black Fast is what they might call as an anachronism, misplaced in time, but undoubtedly channeling the Gods — of metal.

—- Image Attribution

By paul hudson [CC BY 2.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons

De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas

For an album which emerged out of utter chaos, De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas is flawlessly breathtaking. Just imagine, some of the real world events surrounding its release included suicide, murder conviction, conspiracy and deception. An ancient Greek philosopher once said — “The whole is more than the sum of its parts” – never been this evident. Musically and culturally, seems like Mayhem just defined the pinnacle of Norwegian black metal, which includes all its marvels and malice.

The album derives on that Darkthrone like dissent, the same aesthetic and cultural statement. But then proceeds to elevate black metal to a stunning jazz like refinement. It’s sophisticated and raw, complex and grounded, malevolent and dazzling. A rare infernal blend – beneath the layers of intricate drums, riffs and abominable vocals is a sheer morbid coherence. Halfway into the record Csihar wails – “The past is alive” – followed by a staggering Hellhammer drum passage. Just about then you will realize, the album is unforgiving, and it’s just not going to let off on that technical intensity.

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By Cecil [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0], from Wikimedia Commons

Immortal and Megadeth

Two brand new releases — one a remastered version of 80s metal, the other a brand new single. Compositions separated by decades, but illustrating raw melody in its most natural habitat — old school black and thrash metal — at threatening velocity. Immortal and Megadeth school of craft is on stunning display. Records developed in different eras, but still sharing a common context; Mustain proving he can play as well, or better, than Metallica — and Immortal going into studios for the first time without Abbath.

Killing Is My Business… and Business Is Good is already a classic, its testament is simply its massive influence. Immortal’s new single takes no prisoners, they launch headlong into an aggression totally missing from their last few works. An icy chill descends, rewinding music to the darkest corners of mid-90s. Worth mentioning there are striking 1349 like qualities here, another essential Norwegian talent. If the whole album is even a fraction as good as “Northern Chaos Gods”, we are in for an early winter.

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By Mark Coatsworth [CC BY-SA 4.0], from Wikimedia Commons

Haken, L-1ve: Rick’s Quick Takes

In a word: YOWZAH!!

From the brooding opening of “affinity.exe/Initiate” to the concluding tour de force of “Visions,” Haken went for it at the Amsterdam stop of their 10th anniversary tour –and they got something special.  If anything, L-1ve is even more ecstatic and energetic than the band’s stunning studio albums The Mountain and Affinity — the unique mix of prog and metal, head-spinning vocal counterpoint and harmony coalesces into an breathtaking, unstoppable unity.  To my ears, it’s Haken’s ultimate statement of their mandate: strong melodies and killer riffs indeed.

Every member of the band is in sync and on point here.  Richard Henshall and Raymond Hearne are relentless on guitar, never letting up on the impressive sonic barrage; Diego Tejeida is smooth and versatile on keyboards, laying down classical piano lyricism, rich orchestral grandiosity or virtuoso organ/synth licks as the situation requires; bassist Conner Green and drummer Raymond Hearne navigate the twists and turns with confidence, pushing the band forward with precision and power.  And then there’s Ross Jennings, riding the wave of the music’s complexities and smash cuts with death metal growls, soaring choruses, a gorgeous, wordless falsetto and heartwarming, enthusiastic frontman banter.

Haken never flags throughout L-1ve, plowing through more than half of Affinity, a condensed medley from Aquarius and core tracks from The Mountain (including an audience singalong on “Cockroach King” — props, Amsterdam!) with undiminished verve and commitment.   If anything, they get stronger and more thrilling as they go; when the title track from Visions closes down the main set, it left me as hungry for more as the crowd at the Melkweg.  Fortunately, the DVD includes four more tracks from Haken’s 2016 ProgPower set in Atlanta (featuring Mike Portnoy on gong?  Well, he does seem to be everywhere …)

In a sentence: you don’t want to miss L1ve.  If you haven’t heard Haken, you don’t know what you’re missing; if you have, this is even better than you think it might be.

Or, in a word: YOWZAH!!!

L1ve is released worldwide by InsideOutMusic on Friday, June 22.

— Rick Krueger

Left Hand Path

Today (June 4th, 1990) Entombed released their debut, ‘Left Hand Path’. Descending from Venom and Hellhammer — that perfect ensemble of atmosphere, aggression and blues like melody. The hardcore punk cross over to metal was complete — “And you better prepare yourself for an equaling death”.


“This is so hardcore”, responded one of my colleagues at work. At that time, ‘Left Hand Path’ CD was running in my Jeep stereo. So, along with the engine, ignition turned on some Swedish death metal also. My usual reflex is to adeptly switch the channel, but he insisted on listening. Perception is really an evolutionary product; going headlong into the margins of a genre might just inspire bewilderment, not fascination. So, without that musical context, he was also quite puzzled about the incoherent riffs and that defiant buzz saw guitar sound.

Early death metal is a blend of punk like structures with melodic guitar. But, 90s Swedish scene exhibits significantly more punk influences. Someone evolving from hardcore punk to metal would certainly find Entombed and Dismember more familiar than Obituary. One of the main hurdles to grasping Entombed is also that punk like dissonance. It’s that same dissonance which…

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Within  the pantheon of death metal greats, Decapitated simply stands out. They are one of those gatekeepers of the sub-genre — bridging the old with the new. The cross-over blend of old school death metal meets the newer (200 time-signatures-per-min) technical mayhem.

Recovering from a tumultuous past they have managed to effectively restructure their sound. And Anticult is easily among the best illustrations of those stunning groovy prog elements within death.

Dimebag Darrell like riffing, downtuned uniquely melodic leads, and vocals bordering between screams to growls — Decapitated successfully integrates groove metal into their pristine Polish death terrain. Seamless switches between musical traits are numerous, and they span divergent eras — from Entombed like leads to Gojira like towering guitars. With everything layered on top of their precision blast beats, these compositions are as sharp as a guillotine. Getting Decapitated has not been this blissful in a long time. The band has evolved from Vitek era technical death, but they are still absolutely about adapting old school structures to stunningly creative musical contexts.

By © Markus Felix (talk to me) [CC BY-SA 3.0], from Wikimedia Commons

The Conductor’s Departure

Heavy with incessantly shifting contours — ‘The Conductor’s Departure’ is simply riveting. The constant progression here can leave anyone speechless. Like any technical death band, their textures are tangled and layered. But when combined with that relentless melodic progression, it only becomes more captivating and savage. This level of sophistication in braiding tech death with complex drawn-out song structures is rare.

Anata is not only meticulous, but their compositions project an offhand feel, as if the record was composed on-the-go. In other words, they tread this demanding terrain of understated refinement, and tortuously rugged, yet dazzling technical display of spontaneity. Adds refreshing aspects to an otherwise grinding framework of measured technical progression. Undoubtedly, this blend of old school with modern technical death is melodic and also dissonant — a cross-over act of the most demanding kind.