The Pigeon Post #3: New Music From Noble Beast, Darkenhold, Protokult, Voyager, and Solace of Requiem!

Some of you might remember another one of my recurring features, The Pigeon Post, where I review new albums that have accumulated in my inbox via record labels or PR agencies representing bands that I’m unfamiliar with. That’s the essence of the feature in a nutshell, a cards up on the table way of letting you know that I’m not trying to come off as some all knowing metal svengali —- and simultaneously reminding the aforementioned bands and their respective music business partners that they’re asking for my published solicited opinions for better or worse. If a band appears on The Pigeon Post, its one I’m hearing for the first time, and making sure my readers know that ahead of time is important to me for boring ethical reasons probably of no interest to anyone but myself. As long as my memory doesn’t fail me, no band should ever end up in this feature twice! Catch the previous two installments here, and then here (particularly the first installment if you want a more detailed explanation on the origins of the The Pigeon Post).

One quick note, I realize its been an age since the last installment of this feature, but 2014 has proven to be an intense year for new releases from bands long established (in other words, bands I’ve been familiar with), and I’m going to go ahead and use that as an excuse for why its taken me so long to turn my attention to this. I’d like to apologize to any bands or their respective labels/agencies who sent me promos that didn’t end up among the reviews below. I know there were quite a few that piled up and that backlog grew so out of control that I just had to make some random selections and move on. There’s only so many hours in a day I have to listen to music and its challenging enough making the most of them as is! Maybe I should talk to Fenriz about a job in the Norwegian Postal Service, he listens to music all day long at work right? Anyone have his number?



Solace of Requiem – Casting Ruin: This is a case where I halfway like a band’s sound and sonic approach in general, but find little in the way of compelling songwriting to keep me coming back. That’s a pretty harsh thing to state right off the bat in a review so I’ll add in these qualifiers: Solace of Requiem seem to simultaneously want to echo Dissection and Morbid Angel and Origin. Some will disagree with me here, but I find little in the way of meaningful intersections between those three bands or the styles they’ve come to represent. So sometimes Solace of Requiem hits me with something interesting in the way of blackened melo-deth, and then a section or so later they’re doing something that resembles technical death metal —- a genre I think I’ve simply gotten bored of. At any given point vocalist Jeff Sumrell might interrupt his rather good blackened grim vocals with outright boring death metal grunts, an alarming change up that isn’t musically justified. Its possible to stick to the former and keep it compelling, bands have been doing it for years, vocal changeups don’t impress anyone except the handful of guys at the local backyard death metal fest. If there was more in the way of musical motifs throughout the songwriting then I’d be able to accept such a glaring flaw, but the songs themselves are collages of riffs and percussion rather than songs with a story to tell.

These guys are out of Virginia Beach, Virginia, which like my current home city of Houston might mean that they are based in a place that lacks a strong, distinctive metal personality. In Houston’s metal scene for example, you’ll find everything from New York death metal copycats that brazenly wear NY death metal patches on their denim jackets; to Norwegian black metal worshippers (down to the corpse paint and spikes and keyboards); to Florida death metal copycats (this means they have some semblance of melody amidst their quest for bru/brootality), to indie-friendly doom metal bands (because they’re the only thing our local alternative newspaper covers it seems). That’s to name a few —- point is that Houston being a city of transients tends to have not so much a musical melting pot as a musical buffet. There’s something for everyone, and its all mostly unappetizing. I’ve been looking around online and it seems I’m not the only one that thinks Solace of Requiem lacks focus or direction, and its a shame because there’s obvious talent on display on Casting Ruin. But this is the band’s fourth album now, they’ve been around since 2001. At some point you’d figure that their influences would begin to shed and that they would find their own voice. What could be more important for any developing band?



Noble Beast – s/t: Without exaggeration, this debut album from St. Paul, Minnesota quartet Noble Beast is the best album I’ve ever gotten to review for The Pigeon Post, and daringly enough, might just be one of the best overall albums of 2014 —- no joke, its that good, shockingly so. First off, thanks to reader Eric, who emailed me about Noble Beast a long, long time ago where it was lost amid a clutter of piled up emails. Shamefully I read his midsummer follow-up email asking if I had checked them out yet and as of early September I still had not. Better late than never right? There’s so much to discuss here, how about for starters the fact that Noble Beast are in their very existence a rarity, that as an American power metal band. Unlike fellow countrymen Pharaoh whose take on power metal is very much informed by the grit and grime of American thrash, Noble Beast are clearly influenced by a distinctly European strain of power metal. Upon listening to this album, I’m hearing generous helpings of Blind Guardian, Iron Savior, and even a flavoring of Falconer. Even more startling is just how mature and developed they sound on this debut —- it sounds like the work of a band a few albums deep in their career. It makes sense when you do a little digging and see that a couple of these songs were around since 2010, when the band released their first and only demo. The time in between was spent wisely —- on honing their songwriting craft and creating a musical identity that is separable from their influences, yet willing to embrace them.

I’m not too clear on who the primary songwriter is within the band’s ranks, but they clearly have a truly gifted talent at the helm. These are fully realized, exceedingly well written songs that just sound as if they were worked and honed by a craftsman. Verses are engaging and full of musical diversity, tempo shifts and progressive change-ups; bridges are actually built to lead in and out of chorus sections with their own identity —- and the choruses themselves are built upon fully arcing hooks. I’m going to give you the link to their bandcamp page, because I want you to hear what I’m going on about. Take a listen to the album opener “Iron Clad Angels”, and join me in marveling at just how huge that chorus vocal melody is, or on “Dragon Reborn” where the verses march with a military parade shuffle that heightens the tension and explode in a refrain that is so satisfying precision sharp that I couldn’t help smiling in dumb glee when listening along (also, if I took this song alone and played it to my Blind Guardian loving buddies and told them it was from the German band’s upcoming new album, they’d have totally believed me… that’s not a criticism of Noble Beast by the way). I really love the way the band incorporates subtle strumming acoustic guitar work in the verses of the non-ballad epic “We Burn”, its a fresh idea that I’ve honestly not heard done so well before. Every single song on this album is at the very least good, and more often than not they’re hovering near great status.

As excellent as all the band members are at delivering superior musicianship, particularly in terms of guitar work, its vocalist Rob Jalonen that has the standout performance to behold. His tone is a mix of Hansi Kursch and Piet Sielck, the kind of synthesis that practically demands that you play some type of epic power metal lest you offend someone in Europe or South America by a refusal to play ball. Jalonen’s public musical history shows only an affiliation with similarly power metal-esque projects, but I wonder if at some point in his early musical development he tried putting together say an alt-country band ala Wilco, or Lucero or something like that. I imagine him being abducted by a pair of silent, long haired guys in Maiden and Dream Evil tees and being driven around St. Paul against his will while Imaginations From the Other Side played on an endless loop. Sounds like a scene from Metalocalypse. The reality is probably far more in line with the rest of us, and its okay to embrace that as well. As a power metal fan in the States, I take a particularly distinctive pride in seeing one of my own countrymen plant the metaphorical flag for the subgenre in American soil with such an incredible effort. But like the original European stuff that blew our collective minds and made regular rock seem timid and pedestrian, Noble Beast’s slice of perfect power metal should know no boundaries. Europe, South America and Japan —- you’ve been warned.



Darkenhold – Castellum: If you’re in a black metal band from France, chances are you sound something similar to Alcest right? That being the dreamy shoegaze-laden, swirling, fuzzy flavor of black metal that put the country on the map (for good reason) and was later copied by an embarrassing amount of American black metallers (you know its true). Darkenhold are a rare French black metal band that apparently wants nothing to do with the Neige sound and choose to instead pursue a far more traditional strain in line with second wave Norwegian black metal. And judging from a few spins of their newest, Castellum, they’re actually managing to deliver a pretty convincing take on it —- this is a band that I would’ve easily pegged as Norwegian (on that note, still not sure what language the lyrics are in… but its not that pressing of an issue). They really go for a straight down the middle, early 90s approach that takes bits and pieces from Mayhem, Immortal, Burzum, and early Satyricon in equal parts. That may strike some as an exercise in redundancy but I’ve got to give it to these guys, their songs are packed with catchy riffs and a well considered balance between sheer aggression and atmospherics (mostly in the form of clean electric passages with some acoustic undertones… not a lot in the way of keyboards here).

They also chose to limit their nostalgic perspective when it came to the production, because unlike the purposefully lo-fi nature of those early 90s black metal classics, Castellum is mixed to be sharp, present, and discernible. That means that you can hear separation between the bass, rhythm and lead guitars, and the vocals sit on top of them instead of being buried down below. Percussionist Aboth (Abbath might not be amused!) is a particular highlight in terms of performance, he’s not flattening these songs to death with unending blastbeats. Instead he alternates between a variety of approaches and tempo shifts —- in “Glorious Horns” he punctuates an epic, stop-start intro with an old-school classic metal sensibility, lesser drummers would’ve overplayed in that moment, and his restraint throughout the album is commendable. I’m genuinely surprised here —- I didn’t expect to be this entertained by a purposeful stylistic throwback. This is their third album, and as per music industry lore a band’s third album is where they really hit their stride… obviously I haven’t heard their first two to compare but Castellum really works. I was curious to see a band picture and looked them up on the Metal Archives, they look oddly enough like a cross between Alcest and Hammerfall —- I don’t know if that’s good or band but its certainly interesting. By the way, their band name literally means “dark hold” right? Dimmu Borgir might suggest that these guys limit their Norwegian worship to the music and find a moniker in their native French language perhaps?



Protokult – No Beer In Heaven: Jeez… what can I say about Protokult? If the title of their debut album doesn’t give it away, this Toronto based, dual-gender vocal helmed folk metal band dabbles in a style that is geared towards those who find Alestorm and the dreadful Korpiklaani palatable. That’s the audience they’re going to get anyway with their choice of album title, despite that their sound actually leans closer towards a not yet fully realized blending of Arkona and Turisas. Its a debut album, so its easy to be forgiving of the sense that if things go right for Protokult, their third and fourth albums won’t sound anything like the musical crockpot that is No Beer In Heaven. Some of these songs are so unfocused that they’re actually jarringly atonal, such as “Heaven Cast Me Out”, where an effective keyboard melody is wasted by vocal lines that are aimless and lacking definable hooks. Co-vocalist Ekaterina Pyatkova is a distinctive, sharp, angular operatic soprano that reminds me of an early Tarja Turunen. On those early Nightwish songs off Angels Fall First that never quite gelled, Turunen’s vocals often spiraled off into an unstructured mess. It was on the subsequent Ocean Born when Tuomas Holopainen began to harness his songwriting abilities together with Turunen’s vocal capacity where he was first able to display both of their respectively brilliant abilities. The same needs to happen for Pyatkova, and hopefully from within the band a songwriter will emerge that can deliver the goods in that sense because she has tremendous raw talent.

There are flashes and moments on the album where I can spot the seeds for something good, such as on “Sol Intention”, where male vocalist Martin Drozd delivers clean vocals that sound like a merging of Danzig and Peter Steele. I want to like him more as a harsh/extreme vocalist, but he often dithers between semi-clean/semi-extreme styles in a way that is frustrating (I wonder if he’ll grow on me over time in that sense). One track I do think has some promise is “Gorale”, which reminds me of a blend of Eluveitie or Arkona with Lepaca Kliffoth-era Therion with its woodwind laced intro gradually unfolding into an epic, guitar-fueled, stomping finish. Its not a great song, but I can see more of a future in them pursuing that direction than in following their impulse to be silly for silliness sake in tracks like “Water of Life”, or the now immortalized in a music video “Get Me A Beer!”. Speaking of the latter, the video is as ridiculous as you’d imagine it would be, but there’s something about it that endeared me to the band. Maybe its their wide-eyed attempt at face-pulling shenanigans, or the angry band manager shtick, or the comic suddenness in which beer-googles earns Drozd a slap across the face. I found myself smiling despite absolutely deploring the song and its trite subject matter —- somehow I’m actually rooting for this ragtag bunch of Canadians! On that note, I felt like the head-slap earning statement expressed by one band member at the end was meant for me: “You know, I think I’m just going to have a glass of apple juice.”



Voyager – V: I sat down with this album fully expecting to dislike everything about it, and my inborn prejudices towards modern progressive metal’s tendency to rely on djent and noise-related nonsense was pervading my mind before I actually hit play. Its always such a gratifying experience to be proved wrong in these situations. The manner in which Voyager’s V, (their fifth album now, hence the title, geddit?), is described by reviewers all around the internet and in blurbs that I received from their PR agency is exactly the sort of language that tends to describe bands that do everything but write interesting music (at least for me). Thankfully, the reality is that for all Voyager’s shininess, their Intel factory uber clean guitar chugging, and their keyboard built atmospherics —- this is a band that is smart and savvy enough to realize that its all a waste without sharp, melodically driven, hook-LADEN songwriting. They have that in spades, and I think what makes the songwriting work in terms of playing to their musical strengths is the fact that their singer Daniel Estrin has smooth, expressive, yet powerful range and capacity to use his vocal melodies to anchor most of these songs. The instrumentation is impressive for sure, if you can tolerate its anti-septic delivery and approach, but it all surrounds Estrin’s vocals as the central element of nearly all of these songs.

It works, and I commend them for keeping a lid on excessive instrumental sections that lesser bands would splatter all over the place. Whether or not the Australian guys and gal in Voyager would like to admit it, they’re writing pop songs and dressing them up in prog-metal clothes, and hang on a second, that’s entirely okay! Take the single, “Hyperventilating”, where delicate clean electric lazy strumming is juxtaposed to frenetic riffs during the chorus —- sounds heavy right? Yet its Estrin’s very un-aggressive vocal dexterity in extending syllables and bending them to his will that results in his carrying the actual melody with the lyric “My everything is fading… I’m hyperventilating”. Is it just me or does his syllabic extensions give off a Dolores O’Riordan vibe? I like that the band isn’t afraid of getting away from ze rockin’, as on “Summer Always Comes Again”, a lovely piano-led ballad swelled by keyed-in strings that reminds me of late nineties era Porcupine Tree. The percussive surge towards the song’s end is a nice surprise and raises the euphoria level before suddenly dropping off…I’m wishing it was a longer song. I should also take a line here to point out that Estrin is a fairly skillful lyricist, which is always a rarity in metal in general. He’s not exceedingly poetic like a Roy Khan, but he has a way with clear, concise diction and phrasing. Its a good thing too, because his vocal style certainly lends itself to be easily decipherable, and any embarrassingly bad lyrics would clearly stand out. Estrin manages to avoid that faux-pas, and Voyager manages to shove another one of my preconceptions into the gutter where it belongs.

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.


The Pigeon Post #1: New Music from Eclectika, Boneworm, Boil, and A Hero for the World


First, a brief introduction…

The Metal Pigeon blog is a relatively small endeavor. I am a staff of one; the writer, editor, and publisher. I realized long before I wrote my first article here that I couldn’t compete with the amount of content published on a near daily basis by metal sites that had multiple writers on staff. But it hasn’t been a drawback for me, as I’ve always meant for this blog to operate exactly as it has been, with an emphasis on long form opinion and criticism, and quality over quantity. I dabble in reviews for album’s I’m excited about and look forward to, or for bands that come out of the woodwork to surprise me and make me a fan, but I’m not on major metal record company promo lists yet (if ever) and pretty much have to rely on Spotify, YouTube, and yes spending cash to get access to music. No big deal really, but that’s a huge reason why I don’t review every noteworthy new album that comes out, or have something to post about every single day.


But lately, I’ve noticed more than just the usual clutter of metal related subscriber list emails in my inbox. Smaller metal labels  — mostly ones I haven’t heard of before — have begun to take notice of this little site, for good reasons I hope, and have started sending me promos of their artists’ new releases. Its been rather flattering as well as very cool, and honestly it all took me by complete surprise. See I have no delusions of grandeur about this blog. Its simply a better, broader, and more visible soapbox for me to voice my opinions, as opposed to the confines of some dusty metal web forum. But I am proud of it, its my own creation and I’m still blown away by the scores of people that  keep coming back to read my stuff and comment on it, and in that small way its been a success.


But here’s the dilemma I had: The promos these labels were sending me are for artists I’ve never heard of, let alone listened to before, and wouldn’t it seem just a tad strange that all of a sudden I publish an article about band “x” that YOU’VE likely not heard of before either? All while suggesting that it was something I was eyeballing down the pike months in advance as a possible album to review? I don’t pretend to have my fingers on the pulse of the metal underground, there’s just way too many releases, labels, and bands to even attempt to try. My time-learned philosophy for metal music has been to let the cream rise to the top. If a band is putting out good stuff they will garner interest from the community at large and at some point I will hear about it, check it out myself, and subsequently write something about it. Point is I have no overwhelming urge to be amongst the first ones to listen to and discover a band — that’s something you tend to grow out of, and for good reason.


However, I have a backlog of promos sitting in my inbox, and I feel bad about not having done anything with them. It got real when a French label sent me a physical copy in a nice envelope, with classy French stamps, addressed to The Metal Pigeon. I began to think about how to do something about all these promos, after all these people are spending effort and now actual money to get this out to me! I know how much it sucks to work on something, put it out there, and have it be ignored by everyone. If someone sends me something to listen to, it doesn’t take much of an effort on my part to actually find a moment to listen to it.


So here’s my solution, The Metal Pigeon’s Pigeon Post, a randomly reoccurring feature in which I will listen to these promo copies of releases by artists unknown to me, from small labels you’ve likely never heard of either, and review them with total unabashed honesty — even if what I end up writing is not complimentary. I throw that out there so that if any promotional reps are reading this, you’ll know what you’re getting into. I don’t make a habit of slamming bands whose music I’m not into, and I do try to provide understandable reasons for any criticism I dish out, but I will call a spade a spade if I have to.


So onwards, the premiere edition of The Pigeon Post!



Eclectika – Lure of Ephemeral Beauty:

This didn’t do much for me at first. So maybe its a good thing that I slacked off on the thinking up of a feature to talk about this album in, because time has slightly changed my opinion for the better. Eclectika is essentially a one man project based out of Corcelles-les-Monts, France, apparently a rather tiny hamlet in the middle of the Burgundy countryside. A suitably pleasant environment for creating atmospheric, symphonic, yet minimalist black metal right? In case you were wondering my nice envelope from France had this album in it. Sebastien Regnier is the driving force behind the project, apparently handling most of the lead vocals and all the instruments, but he’s joined by two guest vocalists, the most notable of which is a female singer named Noemie Sirandre whose high operatic vocals are scattered throughout the album. On paper, music like this should be right up my street, and when I listen to these songs I find myself liking a riff here and there, noticing a well done atmospheric moment, and admiring the range of Sirandre.


The problem is that those things occur by themselves, in scattered moments and never at one time altogether. I know I sound like a broken record in my reviews, but quality songwriting trumps everything else! If you don’t have that, then all the cool sonic elements musically and production wise never have a chance to coalesce or gel into anything memorable. The worst offender here is a song called “Cyclic Anagnorisis”, which features a really great atmospheric intro + riff + harsh vocal entrance that gets you thinking that the ceiling is about to shake, but nothing develops. Operatic female vocals come in awkwardly, the riff never deviates into anything interesting, the underlying ill-chosen bass tone is mixed waaaay too loud (so much so that it becomes distracting). The guitar solo halfway through is a surprise and actually interesting, but can we get some ‘heavy’ on these rhythm guitars please? What am I listening to? It sounds like someone playing guitar through a Super Nintendo. I know that low budget productions have their limitations, but when the guitars on Entombed’s late 80’s demos can sound so massive and crushing, I wonder how much a guitar sound like Eclectika’s is marred not by financial limitations as it is by selection of a guitar amp and head.


Its baffling because when Eclectika get it right, as they do on the brutal, punishing “Les Sept Vertus Capitales”, extra crunch on the guitars would add extra power to what is an already awesome series of riffs. On this track, all the disparate elements that make up this band’s sound find their appropriate points of entry and overall place. Unfortunately it comes more than halfway through the album, a revelation that strikes you with an impact of suddenly realizing at age 50 than all the ingredients that make up a hamburger actually taste better when put on top of each other. Argh, okay so maybe I’m being a bit ridiculous, but you can tell that this band has some quality influences, Therion, Paradise Lost perhaps? I’m not sure about their choice of song titles, like “Handicapped Sex in a Mental Orgy”… I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with that. A metal band wearing industrial clothes is a terrible look — knock it off.  But despite this being a critical review, the band accomplished the difficult task of capturing my attention: I am looking forward to what they do next. My earnest hope is that they work on the simple, yet challenging and demanding craft of songwriting… they’ve got all the ingredients ready, they just have to learn how to cook.



Boneworm – s/t:

Still not sure what to make of this resurgence in throwback doomy/Sabbathy metal that’s been popping up all over the place. The biggest local metal band in my home city of Houston is the recently signed to Napalm Records Venomous Maximus, who write good songs, have built up their following in a smart, savvy way, and yet seem to draw more hipsters to their live shows than actual metal fans. Whatever, its all about attracting an audience right? And they’re succeeding more than any other hard schlepping death metal band in our city’s infernal toilet of a local metal scene.


So maybe Portland’s Boneworm are on to something here. One glowing review on their bandcamp page described their music as “treacle-slow” (is it just me reading that as a Harry Potter reference?), and it certainly is paced similarly to traditional doom metal. But to me this is essentially sludge rock with a fondness for tritones, and when the gang shouted/barked vocals kick in, the whole affair takes on a punky vibe. And that’s when it sounds good —- I was interested in the parts where the vocals almost took on the challenge of delivering an actual hook. The final sections of “The Call” feature some attention grabbing vocal runs with alarming intensity, and I wanted more of that. Its everywhere else where my attention wanes.


I just don’t think I’m cut from the same type of cloth as these guys are when it comes to what inspires me musically and captures my imagination. To each his own and all that, and these guys got my attention with a really politely written email, and I certainly wish them well — but music like this is as exciting to me as doing laundry. On their page their lyrical concept is described with the following statement: “Which is the more terrifying, the intricate words of a sinister hex being cast, or plaintively being told that nothing matters because time is already against you?” Just so you don’t think I’m no fun at all, I actually take the bait for things like that more often than not, I like a band with ambition. But when you’re promising something bold like that, don’t attempt to deliver the goods with a musical approach that makes me go to the Bleacher Report to check out the latest picks in the NFL draft. Its boring. How about some vocal melodies? What if the musical tempo all of a sudden shifted in the middle of one of these fifteen minute long sludge n’ trudge behemoths? Something, anything to generate some interest.


When you’re on the outside looking in, as I suppose many people are with this particular style of rock/metal music, you find yourself wondering what kind of wiring the musicians creating this stuff are built with. Its as if I’m trying to understand an entirely different language. Am I missing something, and if so, I wonder if I could be talked into it? I lay this challenge down for fans of this style of music or indeed for the band and its fans: There’s a comment section below, someone help me see what I’m missing. Of course the thought occurs that maybe this is music meant for inebriated listening experiences —- to which I can only say: Fair.




Boil – aXiom:

This is an interesting one, and perhaps a band that some of you may already know. This is Boil’s third album apparently, a fact I couldn’t find on the Encyclopedia Metallum… which I thought was strange until I started listening to them and realized that this was a blending of progressive metal and alternative rock stylings. The folks at the metal archives can be a choosy bunch I guess. If you absolutely detest anything alt-rock related, you might be put off by singer Jacob Løbner’s tendency to sound as much like Maynard as he does your stereotypical melo-death vocalist. First thought is that I’m surprised at how tolerant I am for that type of stuff these days, especially considering I’ve spent the past decade slowly getting away from anything associated with “alternative” and “modern rock”. Not out of arrogance or elitism mind you, but simply because the deeper you go into the metal world, a lot of rock starts to sound safe, sterile, played-out, and well… boring.


I guess we all come back around to our old interests at some point to indulge some sort of facsimile sweet tooth that we’ve been neglecting. Its why I go back and listen to Garbage’s Version 2.0 album every few years or so. Boil remind me at times of Soilwork, Tool, latter-day Amorphis, and American alternative rock in general — but its a smart mix because Boil focus on songwriting and when they get it right, they REALLY get it right: Cue “At the Center of Rage” and “Heretic Martyr”, two songs where the balance between the metal and alt-rock elements are handled thoughtfully. Løbner’s vocals soar when they need to, lower to a soft croon for delicate moments, only to get surprisingly guttural in moments. The closing cut, “Almost a Legend”, is another highlight with its excellent recurring melodic guitar motif set against a stately tempo, a sort of rhythmic power ballad that ebbs and flows.


Boil are well served by choosing Jens Bogren to helm the production (he’s done Opeth, Soilwork, Katatonia, and Kreator’s Phantom Antichrist just to name a few), as everything sounds clear and well separated, and the vocals are given just the right amount of attention in terms of the right amount of reverb and not overdoing the filters. I suspect this isn’t a band I would’ve found out on my own, because despite all our good intentions, inner bias towards superficial things like a band name, or style of cover art often have a role in determining what we’re willing to spend time checking out. I’m pleasantly surprised at my enjoyment of this record. While its not something that I will be listening to non stop, I can see it being an album I’ll come back to when I’m in the mood for this particular blending of musical styles.




A Hero For the World – s/t:

Winners for the most ridiculous cover art and band name of 2013 thus far, A Hero For the World (that’s a mouthful dammit) deliver a debut album of rather typical modern power metal that is a mix of Firewind style musicality with Dragonforce goofball lyrics. I have a love for the best of this type of stuff, and a very high degree of tolerance for the mediocre versions. This band falls right above that mediocre category — they have promise but are mired in genre stereotypes to a fault. There are some occasional good moments on offer that suggest that on future releases they’ll manage to find their own sound and make a fan of me. Power metal is supported and nourished in Europe, its modern and ancestral home — so one reason to pay attention to the course of A Hero For the World’s career is that they actually hail from the Philippines. I applaud any new power metal band that steps onto the metal stage from a non-European territory, because lets face it, the very idea is not exactly welcome in local metal scenes anywhere in the United States.


I can hear some slight nods to the geographical cultural impact of the Philippines on a ballad like “Free Forever”, which is carried along by a slightly Asian sounding melody that is actually quite appealing, overriding the triteness of the lyrics. Sadly, there are no other infusions of the music of their region, something I’d think would add some uniqueness to their approach. Oh well, there’s nothing wrong with power metal for power metal’s sake, and whomever is the songwriting force in the band certainly has the budding talent to only get better. I think whats telling for me right now is that I really can’t think of anything else to say about this record… there’s nothing glaringly awful about it, but I highly doubt I’ll be coming back for more listens… there’s just better stuff out there in this vein. Keep trying dudes, I’ll check the next one out for sure.

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