The Pigeon Post #2: Reviewing New Music from Civil War, October Falls, Pellek, Gyre, and ViolentorY


To those of you who are wondering what the hell “The Pigeon Post” is supposed to be, I’ll refer you to my introduction in its premiere edition many months back.  For readers who prefer to preserve their retinas, its basically a recurring feature in which I can do a batch of shorter reviews (by my standards anyway) of promotional/advance release copies I get sent to me by various PR firms and record companies. I get into my ethics of why I’m doing it this way for now in that introduction, but suffice it to say, my main priority in writing about the things I write about on this blog is that they come from a genuine place of honesty and integrity —- whether its bands I’ve listened to for ages or as is the case here, artists I’m unfamiliar with. Basically what I’m saying is that I have no stake in the career trajectory of these artists or their associated business representatives, my opinion is being solicited, and for better or worse, I’m giving it. Time to open the mail!




Civil War – The Killer Angels (Despotz Records):

Sometime shortly after the recordings for Sabaton’s last album Carolus Rex were complete, the band went through a little restructuring. Actually, it was a fairly major change: gone were guitarists Oskar Montelius, Rikard Sunden, drummer Daniel Mullback, and keyboardist Daniel Myhr. Sabaton as Joakim Brodén and Pär Sundström continued on with new members and impressively they’ve seemed to keep the machine rolling with nary a hitch. What then of their cast off former bandmates? The tentatively phrased reasons for their departure was their lack of ability to commit to the demands that being in a heavy touring band would require. I don’t know if that’s the real reason or not, but its curious that these guys have gone ahead and started their own band, and seem hell bent on touring just as much as they did in their previous outfit. Joining them on this crusade is vocalist Nils Patrik Johansson, of Wuthering Heights/Astral Doors/Lion’s Share fame, a singer whose vocals contrast wildly with Brodén’s booming baritone. Johansson is essentially a higher register Dio with a touch of Michael Kiske, and while those are awesome names I’m dropping, the mix of their vocals looks better on paper than in practice.


Basically, these guys seek to pick up where they left off with Sabaton: military history themed, keyboard laden, melody infused power metal that is heavy on glory and all that jazz. Fair enough, go with what you know but it does suggest that the Sabaton split was perhaps more acrimonious than both parties let on through interviews. Oh and here’s the problem with their game plan —- Sabaton’s Brodén is one of the finest songwriters around in modern metal, both in terms of his ability to craft truly sublime melodies, as well as gripping, poetic lyrics. I’m not sure who’s handling the songwriting duties for Civil War, but after listening through the songs on The Killer Angels debut multiple times, I have yet to remember a single chorus. That’s a problem in this style of metal, you really have to deliver the goods there. I’m listening to it as I write this and musically these guys are experienced pros, everything sounds tight and there are nice melodies here and there, but you can only spot them in the moment. Nothings sticking! The other major issue is their choice of vocalist. I can understand wanting to do a 180 away from Brodén’s distinctive lower registers, but Johansson is a poor choice. Maybe its just my previous experiences with him coloring my opinion as well (I’ve only mildly enjoyed him in Wuthering Heights), but I’m getting nothing out of his work here —- he’s technically proficient, but there’s nothing there emotionally.


Maybe I’m comparing these guys to Sabaton and I suppose that’s unfair, but its also natural. I don’t think this is a bad record in the sense that its unlistenable. I could see myself returning to this a year from now and giving it another shot, and maybe with a second release they’ll find their footing and put out something really good. I’m aggravated here because reading over this review I feel like I should be more specific and detailed —- but that’s the problem, it all just glazed over me, again and again. That being said, these guys get a pass from me, because their work in Sabaton contributed to so many records I really love, and I got to see them live and meet them as well. I look forward to what they do next.




October Falls – The Plague of a Coming Age (Debemur Morti):

Really really late on this record, I think it came out in Spring. It sat in my inbox for awhile before I noticed that a lot of my usual metal website haunts were dishing out glowing reviews. This is October Falls’ fourth album, they’re from Finland yet sound like they should be from Sweden. I’ve seen Opeth thrown around a lot as a reference point for their sound, and while I’m not quite sure that’s a wholly accurate depiction, they do remind me at times of mid-period Katatonia. Anyway I’ve been enjoying the hell out of this album, its on regular rotation whenever I’m sitting here with the headphones on —- the kind of album that you set to play start to finish because its consistently good throughout. That could be seen as a weakness as well, for all its strengths as a seamless continuum of blackened (bleak-ened?) melodeath, there are no real standout tracks that jump up and slap you with their greatness. Oh there’s individual moments, such as the fantastic guitar melody at work towards the end of “Snakes Of The Old World”, and the awesome early Ulver-isms of “Boiling Heart Of The North” where we get our first real moment of quiet and space. Here guest vocalist Tomi Joutsen of Amorphis chimes in sounding rather un-Amorphis-like for an ear pleasing, echo-drenched clean vocal that still maintains the depressive tone set by the rest of the material. And I’m going to paraphrase Angry Metal Guy who described the sound of this album as a wet kind of heavy, like you’re listening to it from a distance through a cloud of fog. Guitars aren’t up front with heavy riffs, bass is more of a texture, and drums are slightly muted. There’s an ambient murkiness that suffuses the entire production, and I know that sounds dreadful, but trust me it works well.


Its interesting to note that many reviewers are touting this as October Falls most accessible release. They all point to the monolithic approach these guys took on earlier records, where for example a track listing could number three to four songs —- of ten minute plus lengths. The structure of this new record is far more conventional, nine tracks, the longest hitting the seven minute mark. Yet I wonder if people really listen to a record like this by skipping around various tracks. This is one of those albums that I can’t imagine driving to… and thus can’t imagine enjoying in spaced out chunks as on the random play of an iPod. Its far too hypnotic and enclosed in its own specific world of sound to be digested in that manner, and so it makes me think that all this talk of the album being accessible is a side-effect of what amounts to a cosmetic decision. In any case I don’t think I’m jumping the gun here to say that this will end up on my top ten albums of the year list somewhere, its really that damn good. Finland’s on a roll lately.




Pellek – Ocean of Opportunity (self-released/independent):

This is an interesting one. Pellek is the performer/stage name of the Norwegian vocalist Per Fredrik Åsly. It is also the name of his band (think Van Halen or more accurately, Dio), a vehicle for smoothly crooned melodic power metal ala Sonata Arctica and Seventh Wonder with their heavy emphasis on layered vocals. The striking detail of Pellek’s bio is that a few years ago he was a contestant on the Norwegian version of The X-Factor. I’ve not seen any footage of his time on that show, where he was apparently branded as the rock guy but ended up displaying a musical reach that extended to classic and contemporary metal. He became a recurring fixture on Scandinavian television after The X-Factor, often appearing alongside Swede Tommy Johansson (vocalist/guitarist of ReinXeed and Swedish Karaoke competition star in his own right). The two collaborated on parts of a compilation put together by Johansson called Swedish Hitz Goes Metal, which as you guessed it set cuts by the likes of ABBA, Roxette, and others to rock/power metal stylings. Keep in mind that there’s no official, easily digestible English bio for this guy, this is pretty much me doing my limited amount of Google research and to be honest its still all a bit confusing. I have no real indication of just how popular Pellek is in his native country, but I do know that his prolific array of YouTube uploads of himself covering rock and metal songs do garner some tens of thousands of views.


So anyway, this is Pellek the band’s sophomore album, I have not heard their first so I walked into this completely unaware —- and was pleasantly surprised. If my earlier description of Pellek’s sound piqued your interest, you’ll find a decent amount of stuff to enjoy here. There’s nothing mind bendingly awesome going on, but there’s a level of songwriting craftsmanship being achieved here that is mildly compelling. I’m referring in particular to cuts like the glorious “Northern Wayfarer”, a well executed syth line propelled rocker that supplements a catchy as hell chorus with percussive riffing, and an excellent acoustic dropped midsection that greatly enhances the epic aura of the song. The “Sea Of Okhotsk” has a striking verse and chorus that are purely dependent on the vocal melody, the underlying instrumentation working to conjure up an Oriental styled soundscape. Things do get a little too flowery for me on “Gods Pocket”, a tune so cheerful it makes Power Quest sound like a dark cloud… heavier riffing on the second verse here can’t disguise what essentially sounds like a children’s song set to rock guitars. There’s of course a ballad on offer here, the kind that can only be enjoyed by those of us who love our fair share of power metal ballads.


Pellek is clearly the star here, his vocals seem to take center stage on every song, but that’s not to marginalize the efforts of his backing band, who provide consistent, quality power metal musicianship all across the board (yet lack the creative signatures of say Sonata Arctica, or Nightwish.As for the rest… I dunno, there’s something just innocuously enjoyable about this whole affair. There are moments when I’m reminded of sounds of J-Pop and classic video game music, not in a blatant Dragonforce-d way, but more in the subtle textures that were recurring motifs in the work of the aforementioned Power Quest. Its an interesting feature that spices up what would otherwise be a fairly standard collection of Euro power metal. I’m surprised someone with Pellek’s past exposure and publicity remains unsigned, perhaps that’s by design but its a rarity in this genre. A nice surprise overall.




Gyre – Second Circle (Monolithic Records):

First of all, these guys have managed to manipulate the lettering of their chosen band name to look like the face of Cthulhu, which is awesome looking (and a fine marketing tie in!). Anyway, Gyre play a slightly technical, progressive blend of deathcore, which could mean absolutely nothing to you without a certain amount of experience in understanding what the connotations are to having “core” tagged on the end there. If I had to guess I would say the band must really hate that label now, but when I was doing research on these guys I’d see it thrown around everywhere. There seems to be an earnest attempt to transcend the limitations of that style and it comes in the small corners of these songs, the moments of time which are not filled with djent riffing.


Its like the band is interested in the textural depth of bands like Deftones, or even Opeth, yet can’t seem to allow themselves enough space within their interlocked framework of riffs to fully explore that potential of their sound.  I could spend a paragraph worth of space going into the minutiae of what this sounds like but this is a particular style of music that I have always had a hard time writing about without boring myself, much less you, so I’ll just refer you here so you can take a listen. The strange thing is that there’s something to these songs that I find rather enjoyable. I try not to put a lot of weight on my first impressions, but I was surprised by how much I enjoyed these songs as a headphones listening experience. The production values here are very, very good —- a trait that only enhances the “progressive” tag that Gyre seem to court. Lyrically there are some heady themes being addressed here, and the few lyrics I’ve seen are thoughtful and well done. Its a shame then that no one will give them much thought because the vocal approach here is far more conducive as an instrument, lacking the breadth to give words and phrases enough enunciation to register beyond mere sound.


As enjoyable an aural experience it was, I have a hard time rating this EP so highly when it comes to appreciating it on the values of songwriting itself. I suspect this is what forms my overall apathy towards this particular subgenre of metal. Yes these are songs with structures but there’s such an inane amount of riffs for riffs sake that I lose sight of what the song is supposed to be. When you listen to a Death song, you understand what it is you’re listening to even though it written with extreme metal language. Riffs have a musical definition, and tempo changes have purpose or direction. When you listen to Emperor, yes its a wall of sound, but these are layers upon layers of cohesive music, and if you listen repeatedly your mind will finally process them all individually and at once to beautiful effect. Years later you’ll find yourself telling your buddy how you think In the Nightside Eclipse is rather catchy at times. No matter how many times I listen to the four cuts on Gyre’s Second Circle, the riffs were always the same violent collision of riffs, nothing more, nothing less. But maybe that’s the way its supposed to be, aural chaos for aural chaos’ sake and its my problem that I can’t find the value in that. I would blame it on getting older, except that I’ve always felt that way towards core and djent oriented styles. Still, fantastic logo.




ViolentorY – Theory of Life (self-released/independent):

Hailing from Bulgaria, the awfully named ViolentorY play a less keyboard drenched Children of Bodom-ish take on melo-death with power metal leanings. Think latter period CoB mixed with the wild vocal theatrics of classic Sinergy (except with a dude singer) and Tarot. This is their debut album, having premiered with an EP a year ago and even though I’ve pretty much summed up their sound in one sentence, its enjoyable stuff overall. Sometimes being an obvious product of your influences works well if you know what bits to pick and choose. Take vocalist Dimitar Belchev, who comes off as a mix of Alexi Laiho and Marco Hietala. As weird as that sounds it really works, and is a suitable complement to a musical approach that is heavy on symphonic melody.


I have a particular fondness for the oddly titled “Power Source”, a rock-steady slow builder of keyboard atmospherics and heavy riffs that culminate in the album’s best chorus where Belchev pours his guts out and almost gets all Jon Oliva on us. Its a killer moment that I’ll be coming back to this album for. They get close to the same level of awesomeness with “Master of Dreams”, an uptempo, King Diamond-ish slice of great tension building verses and soaring refrains. There is budding pop songwriting talent within the band (I’ll be honest I have no idea who’s doing the songwriting here) that will hopefully continue to get better and better. Its not all good though, as they misstep with “Over You”, which does seem to be exactly what its Europe-ish title suggests, a love lorn power ballad in which they try to channel Dio’s adamant statement to “Walk Away!” from the evil woman (Look out! Tonight!) except without the verve and panache of the master himself. And there is a bit of filler in the second half of the album that’s unfortunate, as everything starts off so well.


Its a shame about that band name… you’d think things like that wouldn’t matter but let’s face it, it is rather silly. I hope people don’t let it put them off if they come across it. And Theory of Life sounds like an album title by an American post-grunge band, and song titles like “XperiMental”, and “Psychical Decay” made me groan but now I’m just being a jerk. Hey its late and I’ve been writing for a long time! Seriously I like what ViolentorY is doing and while this album is far from perfect, its a promising debut. These guys are unsigned, but you can hear this album on YouTube I believe, go check out “Power Source” for sure.


Running With the Devil: Watain’s Wild Hunt

Let’s get the obvious stuff out of the way here first. Yes this is one of the most anticipated black metal records coming out in 2013, a big three if you will alongside records by Darkthrone and Satyricon. Yes their last album was considered by many to be brilliant, and yes if you didn’t find anything to like about previous Watain offerings, you should avoid this like Taco Bell. Watain are what they are, either you’ll find something to like about them or you won’t, because this isn’t a band that strives towards innovation or makes a point of reinventing the black metal wheel. And yet I hate saying that, first because its a little unfair, and secondly because there will be differences in a band’s sound from album to album, simply because the most minute details can produce that change (guitar tone, mixing engineer, freaking recording studio). The question to ask I suppose with a band’s new album is what are these differences, and do they matter overall enough to change someone’s mind one way or another?


I’m particularly interested to hear the take of a friend of mine, who might be the biggest Watain fan in Texas. I’m sure he’ll turn into a spittle-flying maniac when we drive up to see them in Austin a few months from now. He turned me on to the band, and I’ll admit that I was indifferent… for awhile. Then I realized that every time I’d ride as a passenger in his car he would have their 2010 Lawless Darkness album insistently blasting in all its ugly glory — and I began to suspect that it was the only album he actually had in the car. I don’t care who you are or what you like, if you’re force blasted something that long, it WILL eventually seep into your brain and lo and behold, there I was, agitatedly driving home from work, unsatisfied with my iPod randomization and realized that I wanted to listen to the chorus I was hearing in my head. The chorus was from “Reaping Death”, the vicious highpoint of that particular album. And so now when I come back home from work or anywhere else feeling particularly aggravated, the Lawless Darkness has been one of a couple anger management records that I turn to as a soothing balm — like Swedish massage but black metal. That’s a thing right?


And so its in light of my enjoyment of their previous album that The Wild Hunt comes as something of a let down to me. Just like their fellow big three brethren, Watain have decided to mix up their formula a bit with this new album. Some of it works for sure, but there’s some rather baffling stuff going on here. First off the good stuff: Props to the band for coming up with a great album title and not self-titling their record (enjoy the artwork by the way). There’s some Lawless Darkness worthy face-ripping moments here, as on opening pair “De Profundis”, and slow (by Watain standards) stomper “Black Flames March”. The former in particular boasts the most ferocious riffs on the entire album, along with a mid-song hurtle into a vortex of some really really nasty background vocal effects and speed metal tempos. There’s a couple gems in “Outlaw”, “Sleepless Nights”, and most strikingly “The Child Must Die”, which in addition to its almost King Diamond-esque riffs and lyrics features an incredibly effective melodic intro that really catches you off guard. Vocalist Erik Danielsson is one of black metal’s finer vocalists, and he’s as reliable as ever on all of these cuts. Its when he decides to deviate from his normal gutteralic (yes we’ll make that a word) vocal approach that he begins to lose me.


Most reviews of this album will no doubt spend a few sentences analyzing Watain’s attempt at a ballad on this record, “They Rode On”, what the surprisingly succinct reviewer at Pitchfork aptly described as the band’s stab at a tune akin to Bob Seger’s “Turn the Page”. I can see that, and look I love when metal bands try their hands at ballads. It interests me on a fundamental music level… I think that ballads are far more interesting when done by an artist who normally concentrates the vast majority of their musical output on rockin’, being loud and abrasive, and you know, heavy. Some bands can pull them off and others just don’t have the songwriting chops for it (and I’m really forgiving when it comes to ballads too). But in black metal it seems that the stylistic limitations of the genre would prevent a band from ever getting close to anything approximating balladry — perhaps the closest example we’ve seen has been Cradle of Filth’s “Nymphetamine”, but they’re not black metal as we understand it anymore, and they had to employ female vocals… so, yeah, cheating a bit. The adventurous stretch in black metal has seemingly been to attempt to get more melodic through symphonic elements as well as the introduction of clean vocals (albeit still within the context of a black metal style song).


I applaud Watain for going out on a limb with “They Rode On” but it fails as a song in general simply because its meandering and boring. The instrumentation is interesting for a short while, but then it too fades to a dull murmur — strummed chords that take no shape or have no direction. Its almost as if they wrote the song lyrics first and retrofit the music around them, there is no melodic through line and in a song with this much ambient space that deficiency becomes quite glaring. There’s a mildly nice, Scorpions-esque solo in the middle that is really the instrumental high point, but its not worth the price of admission alone (I could just go and listen to the Scorpions). What really burns the baking pan here is Danielsson’s woeful clean vocal performance. I realize that this is out of his wheelhouse and he’s branching out here, but you call it like you hear it and this is Anders Friden thinking he can do clean vocals live levels of bad. I’m sure a good many people will find his clean vocals endearing and to each their own, but they’re distracting to me. A good vocal melody for one would’ve gone a long way here.




They also come up empty on the album closer “Holocaust Dawn” (you’d figure at this point in their career with the storied visa problems they’ve experienced that they would avoid hot words like that in their song titles but whatever), this is a song that tackles doom metal levels of tempo and is heavy on plod n’ trod, light on anything remotely interesting. Well, there is the sheer oddness of the circus theme sounding mid-section but it stops as soon as it starts. Then comes a few more minutes of meandering plodding and by the time a heavy riff does finally kick in you’d probably have skipped backwards a few tracks anyway. Its a chore to listen to and one of the more unfortunate bits of experimentation on offer. But Watain’s attempts to branch out creatively aren’t all misguided, and I feel that they were really onto something with large parts of the title track, a six minute mid-tempo grinder of a track that juxtaposes excellently done whispered vocals with choral chants. Suitably moody yet melodically informed guitars blanket these unique vocal pairings with strong melodic lines, and the guitar solos throughout are really the best I’ve heard on any Watain track to date. Also Danielsson delivers a really effective agonized clean vocal here that makes you wonder what the hell was going on with “They Rode On”. I dig the spanish guitar at the end as well — nice touch.


I applaud bands for trying new things and being open to experimentation within their defined sound. I mean, at the end of the day, this is still undeniably a Watain album, its just that within that framework it might not hit the same breathless pace that older records had. I know its not a competition, but if I had to make it into one I’d give Darkthrone the nod on their experimental album released earlier this year, with one major footnote, that Darkthrone’s The Underground Resistance couldn’t really be called black metal… at least I don’t think so. Watain adheres, for better or worse, to a stylistic approach to black metal that is shuttered, focused, and very steeped in tradition. You could practically call their sound a dying art. That doesn’t make an album better persay but it does count for something.

Satyricon Returns: First Listen of “Our World, It Rumbles Tonight”

They certainly took their time with this. Its been five years since Satyricon’s last studio album, the spotty but generally good The Age of Nero. For two albums (two and a halfish if you count Volcano and its charting single “Fuel For Hatred”), Satyricon explored a style that could adequately be described as black metal meets rock, a simplification of an already slightly streamlined approach they began to take with 1999’s Rebel Extravaganza. Over the course of these, let’s face it, far more accessible albums, the band’s popularity grew and grew, and they even seemed to work up an arguable masterpiece with 2006’s Now Diabolical. Of course, there were people that hated everything about this era of the band, and inevitably when promotional photos began to show a short haired Satyr —- well that was probably the last straw for those on the fence. For those of us who happened to enjoy the era, I think we could pretty much agree on one thing, that the band had gone as far as they could with their current sound, and it was time for something new. Its rare when a band and its fans agree on change, but when the band finished their last touring cycle they vowed to take an extended break to recharge themselves, as well as to re-imagine their sound itself.


There’s a leak, and its on YouTube and other places (for now) of a track entitled “Our World, It Rumbles Tonight” from Satyricon’s upcoming self-titled album (seriously what is it with bands and self-titled albums this year? Stop being lazy and create a title!). I’ll confess, when I saw this being passed around on Facebook, I fully realized the amount of anticipation I’ve had building up for this album. I was pumped up, and all my goofy pious talk about waiting until I could hear the album in its entirety immediately dissipated. I’ve been listening on repeat non-stop for a few hours now, most likely ruining this track for future playthroughs but screw it —- its been five freaking years since I’ve gotten new Satyricon music! This was after all one of my top five most anticipated albums for 2013, and I’m doing my best not to put the cart before the horse or some other similar saying, but I’ll just throw this out there: If the rest of the new album is like this, then its going to be fantastic.


This is just one track, so its unfair to describe the new sound of Satyricon in this small write up, but there does seem to be a mix of familiar and unfamiliar elements going on here. The production is as crisp and professional as their more recent work, the guitars are upfront and riffing is kept relatively clear and simple, Satyr’s vocal lines are quick and forceful, and Frost is of course pounding directly in our temples with furious double kick. All that stuff reminds me of elements from their past few albums, however there does however seem to be a call back to the wide open, expansive arrangements that touched classic albums like Nemesis Divina. Except that instead of epic, sweeping strings, I’m hearing what sounds like a muted choral vocal that sets in to support the songs beautifully bleak chorus. Here Satyr croaks out “My world, crumbles”, and drawn out, wild guitar chords left to sustain paint a dark, yet vivid soundscape. Its a thrilling, addictive chorus. There definitely seems to be something fresh happening here, I just can’t put my finger on it. I want to say that I’m hearing moments of the wide open expansiveness of some of the more lengthy cuts off Volcano mixed with the pop-smarts of Now, Diabolical but that would be oversimplifying things, and well, it’d just be inadequate.


Take a listen yourself:




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