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The Coroner's Report: "Cursed Realms of the Winterdemons:" The Snowpocalypse Edition

By Peter Atkinson, Contributor
Tuesday, February 23, 2010 @ 4:55 PM

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It's been a brutal winter in our nation's capital. Two "Snowmaggedons" in one week, on top of a "Snowpocalypse" in late December. We'd been averaging like 6 inches of snow during the last five-six winters. This year, we got 10 times that in six weeks. Most snow ever! Well here anyway. It's like an Immortal album come to life. "Grim and Frostbitten Kingdoms" indeed.

Ironically enough, Immortal will be playing a handful of shows in the U.S. and Canada - right after winter is over! - in support of their first album in seven years, All Shall Fall (review below). Their whirlwind, four-date tour kicks off March 27 in Toronto and concludes April 2 in Los Angeles. But since we're still "In The Heart of Winter," let's dedicate this edition to them - and steal a few of their song titles.


While most of the "Lords of Chaos"-era Norwegian black metal contingent moved beyond the arson and violence that rocked the scene 15 years ago, Bergen's Gorgoroth continue to revel in mayhem and controversy like it was still the mid-'90s.

At the height of their infamy, frontman Gaahl (Kristian Eivind Espedal) had done two stints in jail for assault, the last one in 2006 after being convicted of assaulting and torturing a man, allegedly collecting his blood and threatening to make him drink it. He also went on record supporting the church burnings of the previous decade, and on the documentary film "Metal: A Headbanger's Journey" threatened that similar events "will be done much more in the future. We have to remove every trace from what Christianity, and the semitic roots, have to offer this world."

In 2003, guitarist Infernus (Roger Tiegs) - who declared he formed the band in 1992 "after making a pact with the Devil" - and a friend were charged with rape. At a 2005 trial, Infernus was convicted of the lesser charge of "gross negligent rape" and served four months in prison.

And then there was the Feb. 1, 2004, concert in Kraków, Poland, where Gorgoroth's sheep head-festooned stage studded with crucifixes adorned with nude, blood-spattered human models literally got them run out of the country. It nearly led to them being charged with committing religious offense - apparently a pretty big deal in Poland (see Behemoth, below).

So all consuming was the band's anti-Christian ethos and image, bassist Tom Cato Visnes left for a stretch in 2006 because he was "having problems with the ideological aspects of Gorgoroth's agenda." And that's saying something given his nom de guerre is King ov Hell.

Once he returned, however, things got really weird.

In October 2007, Infernus announced a split with Gaahl and King. Gaahl and King, however, contended they had fired Infernus - the band's only original member - and claimed the rights to the Gorgoroth name. King - the band's sixth bassist - had applied for a trademark for it a month earlier. What followed was two years of surreal maneuvering that concluded in March 2009 when a Norwegian court ruled Infernus had the legitimate rights to the Gorgoroth name.

While all this was going on, both camps began working on new music - among other things. In July 2008, Gaahl - who'd rightly earned the reputation as "the evil face of black metal" - revealed that he had gotten involved with, of all things, the creation of women's clothing line. Several months later, he admitted he was gay.

At the end of January, Gaahl was named "Homosexual Of The Year" at the Bergen Gay Galla and accepted the award in person. No lie!

Following the court ruling, Gaahl and King forged ahead as God Seed and played a few festival shows last summer before Gaahl decided to bow out of metal music. King soon teamed with Dimmu Borgir frontman Shagrath on a project called Ov Hell that will finally see the music written for God Seed - and initially Gorgoroth - come to fruition.

Infernus, meantime, put together the pieces of a new Gorgoroth with former vocalist Pest and guitarist Tormentor, ex-Dissection drummer Tomas Asklund and American bassist Frank Watkins of Obituary. Once to courts ruled in his favor, Infernus and company got to work on a new Gorgoroth album, Quantos Possunt ad Satanitatem Trahunt - aka Q-PAST. The album was issued here in November after the band played its first few gigs with the new line up, sort of - session guitarist Skyggen and Keep of Kalessin drummer Vyl perform live with Gorgoroth, while Tormentor and Asklund remain studio-only members.

On the phone from sunny Florida, Watkins - who goes by B¸ddel when with Gorgoroth - tries to make some sense of it all in his role as both active participant and interested observer.

KNAC.COM: You just got back from Norway?

WATKINS: We just played a show in Trondheim, the UKA Festival. It was kinda weird. Jay Z played and Beyonce and Franz Ferdinand, it's like a month-long festival at this big college in the north of Norway and we were the representation of metal and black metal. It was cool. We made the college kids make us a really crazy, sick stage set up, we had four inverted crosses painted gloss white that were like 25 feet high, and barbed wire and we had this massive backdrop that was the cover of the new album. When I looked in crowd when we started playing, I could tell these kids were in shock. They had never seen anything like us and they were just like "wow."

We tried getting some models [for the crucifixes]. They went around to people in the crowd and said "does anybody want to get up on stage and hang off one of the crucifixes?" No one raised their hand (laughs). I'm friends with a guy who sets up Wacken [Open Air, the huge German festival], and when they played in 2008 he was in charge of getting the goat heads. He said his van smelled for months after that.

KNAC.COM: How did that compare to the first show at the Hole in the Sky Festival?

WATKINS: That was pretty crazy. Infernus hadn't played in like two years, Pest hadn't done a live show since '97 or something like that and I had just played a show the day before in Portugal with Obituary.

But it was sick because we destroyed, and every one of the people who came up to me later was like "man, this is the greatest Gorgoroth line up I've ever seen, you were super tight, I knew exactly what songs you were playing." I'd seen Gorgoroth a couple times years ago and I couldn't tell you what songs they were playing, it was just like [makes jet engine noise]. I had always been kind of disappointed in that about them live. But we got up there and we just destroyed.

KNAC.COM: Was it tough for you to get acclimated in the band being such an outsider?

WATKINS: I remember in the '90s getting death threats from black metal kids, kids saying they were going kick our ass because we weren't evil enough, all this shit. But we knew the dudes from Carpathian Forest, we hung out with the guys from Darkthrone, that was normal shit for the musicians. It was weird, even when I joined Gorgoroth, people were like "Oh, this death metal guy, what is he gonna know about black metal?

" I've known about Gorgoroth since the Antichrist record [in 1996], that was the first record of theirs I bought. I was huge fan and I've known all those songs in my head for a long time. So when I got to Bergen the first time it took us like two or three jams before we were like "wow, we could actually play a show." And doing the album, too, I was in Stockholm [Sweden, at Asklund's Monolith Studio] for five days. I took two or three days to lay down the bass tracks and the rest of it was mixing and trying to get sounds, changing the tuning so it would sound a bit more evil.

KNAC.COM: How did you come to join the band?

WATKINS: I've known Roger for a long time, we met at a festival years ago and stayed in contact. A couple times he flew out to shows we did on tour and we'd hang out and party for a couple days. So we were tight. But out of nowhere I was on tour and I got a text from him: "Dude, can you play bass for Gorgoroth?" And I immediately texted him back: "For sure." And that was it, nothing else was said, and I got a call from him a couple days later, and he was telling me "dude, the other guys in my band are pulling some shit." He was like 'I want to formulate a newer, stronger band and a band where I actually like the people I'm playing with" and it just clicked right there. We didn't actually start playing physically together until like a year ago.

KNAC.COM: What were you guys able to do while all the legal stuff was going on?

WATKINS: It was weird, right when it happened, he [Infernus] started e-mailing me riffs and parts that he wrote, just to see what I thought about it. And some of the stuff I was just floored, especially the first song on the album, "Aneuthanasia," the opening riff, it reminded me of Bathory's The Return. I was like "man, this is sick." He kept sending me riffs and parts and pieces, and then he was sending me entire songs. And all the court case shit was still going through the air, and he was really calm about it. He said he didn't care, that there was no doubt in his mind that he was going to win this case.

There was a matter of what are we gonna do about a singer, and then, bam!, we got Pest. We had everything rolling, ready to go into the studio, which we were going to do after I finished the tour with Amon Amarth I was doing with Obituary and just before the end of the tour I got this text: "It seems we win the case."

KNAC.COM: Do you hope this is it for all the controversy?

WATKINS: Yes. We don't want more bullshit, more stories and more people talking shit. In a way, we kinda like people talking shit, but we also don't want to stir up more shit because this band's stirred up enough shit as it is. Now that the court case is settled, we're really pushing the envelope on what we're doing and we're so excited about playing and touring, we just don't want to have any negative vibes.

KNAC.COM: Now that Q-PAST is out, what is Gorgoroth's game plan?

WATKINS: We are dying to play. We don't just want to whore ourselves out and jump on any tour that's out there. There's been so much controversy and so much craziness and cancellations and all this other kind of shit in the past that we don't want to have that kind of legacy, we want to have a legacy of when Gorgoroth's playing, you're like "holy shit." It's like a big event.

We have attorneys that I've worked with for a long time and we want to do this right. We want to be sure we can get him [Infernus] over here [Gorgoroth's only live appearance in the states was at the 2001 Milwaukee Metalfest]. We want to go to Canada and we want to go to Japan and we want to go to Australia, places that are a little stringent when it comes to criminal activity and that kind of stuff.

KNAC.COM: What about Obituary?

WATKINS: Obituary is more fired up than ever. We're in the mode right now where we're ready to put out records, we're ready to tour, we're ready to do anything that's out there. So as our schedules conflict, I'll deal with it case by case. There are instances where I could see playing with both bands on the same day. I've seen tons of people do it. Like Steve [Asheim] from Deicide playing with them and his own band, Order of Ennead. And he's a drummer, I just play bass. If he can do it and I can't then I'm a pussy (laughs).


    Gorgoroth has confirmed a string of European shows in the spring, beginning with the Tomahawk Festival in Germany. Joining them for a mini-tour in April will be Keep of Kalessin, which will mean double duty for drummer Vyl.

    Meantime, Prosthetic Records will be releasing Ov Hell's debut full length, The Underworld Regime, April 13. King and Shagrath are joined on the album by drummer Frost (Satyricon, 1349) and guitarists Ice Dale (Enslaved, I) and Teloch (God Seed, 1349).


"Man, did you see this Terrorizer readers poll? Holy shit!"
A month after said poll's publication, Behemoth frontman Adam "Nergal" Darski is still more than a bit astonished by the results.
"It's insane. Can you believe that shit? I still can't believe that shit."
"That shit" was Behemoth winning just about every one of the poll's categories. If it didn't have something to do with being a female artist or new band, Behemoth basically took it:
  • Best Band;
  • Best Live Band;
  • Best Bassist (Orion);
  • Best Guitarist (Nergal);
  • Personality Of The Year (Nergal);
  • Best Drummer (Inferno);
  • Best Vocalist (Nergal);
  • Best Album (Evangelion);
  • Best Cover Art (Evangelion).
"It probably looks suspicious to many people, but we really didn't pay anyone, OK," Darski said, laughing, during a phone interview prior to the band's Jan. 8 show at Jaxx outside of D.C. "It's all readers and their opinions and fans voting for us and believing in the band. I'm so fucking thankful. I really have no words, it's awesome. But we've got to keep in mind Behemoth has never been about any awards and polls, that kind of stuff, it's always been about quality music and perfect live shows."

For a band that has made a slow, but very steady ascent from the darkest corner of the extreme metal underground in Gdansk, Poland, over the past decade, 2009 was most triumphant for Behemoth - as the Terrorizer results would indicate. The band's mammoth ninth album, Evangelion, was a masterpiece that earned gushing reviews and chart success around the world - including a #2 spot in Poland and a #55 debut on the American Billboard chart. It was followed by a run through the states on last summer's Mayhem Rockstar Energy Drink Tour, where the band shared an extreme metal stage with Cannibal Corpse and The Black Dahlia Murder that rivaled the intensity of mainstage co-headliner Slayer. After the rush to get their last album, The Apostasy, done so the band could join the 2007 Ozzfest, everything fell into place last year for the new album.

"Evangelion was just perfect," Darski enthuses. "It was done exactly the way we wanted. It's the ultimate Behemoth record, the way it sounds; it's proof that everything was done perfectly."

Behemoth's new year "Evangelia Amerika" trek was their first full headlining tour here. They previously had co-headlined the Radio Rebellion tour with Job For A Cowboy in 2007. Yet the band - who killed it at Jaxx later that evening - took a rather cavalier approach to the tour, which kicked off in Philadelphia the previous evening.

"We haven't played together in like five or six weeks, and literally the first time we saw each was at the airport to come over to start the tour," Darski said. "We didn't rehearse before this tour. But we are doing the same set that we did on the European tour. Probably we should have warmed up a little bit to get loose, but everything turned out great. I don't remember if we have ever played a better opening show on any tour ever."

Behemoth's transportation, however, was another matter. After arriving during one of the coldest stretches of our miserable Mid-Atlantic winter, the heat promptly went out on their bus. "We're getting a new one, but not until tomorrow, so it means tonight is going to be pretty fucking freezing for us," Darski said, laughing. "But then we go to North Carolina and then Atlanta. In two days we'll be Florida and we can say 'fuck this cold.'"

The band - rounded out by drummer Zbigniew "Inferno" Promiñski, bassist Tomasz "Orion" Wróblewski and guitarist Patryk "Seth" Sztyber - will be on the road for most of 2010, having already been booked until August. They will travel to Japan, Australia, Finland, Sweden, Greece and Turkey before starting the European festival season in May. Behemoth will playing some of the Sonisphere Festival shows, including the monumental June 16 date in Warsaw that will see the Big Four - Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth and Anthrax - performing on the same bill for the first time.

"That will be a big honor, playing that show in our home country, we will be part of history," Darski said. "It's gonna be big, that's for sure."

Despite being one of the few metal bands from Poland to make an impact internationally - along with Vader and the recently reformed Decapitated - Behemoth have something of a love-hate thing going on in their home country. While Evangelion recent reached Gold status there and the band recently were featured in a cover story in the Polish edition of Newsweek, they have been dogged by controversy because of their anti-Christian philosophy and occasionally "blasphemous" actions.

Most notable was Darski's onstage destruction of a bible during a September 2007 Behemoth show in Gdynia. Ryszard Nowak, the head of the dubious All-Polish Committee for Defense Against Sects - essentially Poland's version of the PMRC - registered an official complaint with Polish authorities, who launched a criminal investigation that was later terminated. When Nowak would not relent, Darski sued him - and won. Nowak had to apologize in the Polish press last year and donate money to an animal shelter.

"In Poland, we're getting a lot of support lately, it seems like people are opening up," Darski said. "But some of this shit just wouldn't go away. So I took the action I thought I needed to make it stop. The court ruled in my favor, so hopefully that will be the end of it."

But the bible desecration, apparently, has not been forgotten. Just days after we spoke, word came that the Polish conservative political party Prawo i Sprawiedliwosc was maneuvering to have Nergal prosecuted for offending people's religious beliefs — a criminal offense under Polish law (see Gorgoroth, above). So stay tuned.


I could go on about the "blizzard" of new death/black/thrash releases over the past few months, but since I've beaten the winter thing to death, let's say no more. Here's the cream of the crop, along with some of the crap, from late 2009/early 2010.

ABSCESS - Dawn of Inhumanity (Peaceville)
While most other death metallers keep getting more technical and clinical, the latest album from Oakland iconoclasts Abscess revels in low-fi, demo-quality sonics and a full-frontal, almost old-school punk attack mode. The band describe their sound as "sickodelia," but it often recalls the Wolverine Blues-era death and roll of Entombed, only much gnarlier and sludgier. Though a far cry from the gore-metal spew drummer/vocalist Chris Reifert and Danny Coralles puked up back in the day with Autopsy - and Reifert before that with Death - Inhumanity still sounds sick as hell thanks to its maniacal vocals and the bonesaw riffing and discordant solos that accompany them. Eerie and utterly unexpected stretches of calm in "Black Winds of Oblivion," "Dead Haze" and elsewhere only make things more creepy and ominous. B

ARSIS - Starve for the Devil (Nuclear Blast)
Line up chaos. Canceled tours. An eating disorder. It's been a rough couple years for Arsis mainstay James Malone. But he and the reconfigured band come storming back with Starve, a demon-exorcising monster that strips away some of the technical dazzle ARSIS had become noted for but makes up for it with sheer thrash tenacity. Despite lots of shredding leads and widdly-twiddly bits, the songs themselves are relatively straight forward and propulsive, as evidenced by barnstorming opener "Forced To Rock" or the surprisingly catchy "Beyond Forlorn." The punishing "A March for the Sick," “Half Past Corpse O'Clock" and "Sick Perfection" provide some cathArsis for Malone, who confronts his issues in frank, unflinching terms. And for someone who literally "starved for the devil" in 2008, losing 100 pounds in like four months from a bout of anorexia, this is a far more constructive way to purge. B+

DARK FORTRESS - Ylem (Century Media)
The sixth album from German black metallurgists Dark Fortress is a sprawling, fairly epic affair that won't win many converts among purists. With a sound that's big, clean and bombastic - not to mention relatively catchy - and grandiose songs, Dark Fortress are reminiscent Norway's Keep of Kalessin, who's black metal attack is tempered by copious melody.
Ylem is a very riffy, methodical, sometimes brooding effort. The guitars crunch and crash instead of zipping by in flurry of tremolo, and the typical blast-beat tumult definitely plays second fiddle here. Morean's always scabrous vocals and more full on, "evil" tracks like "Satan Bleed" or "Nemesis," help keep things from getting too accessible - but not by much. B

DARK FUNERAL - Angelus Exuro pro Eternus (Regain)
The fifth album from Sweden's Dark Funeral arrives with the promise of being their "most technical and varied" to date. But that's not saying much. The quintet have become black metal's version of The Ramones or AC/DC, with their albums all boasting pretty much the same M.O. - in their case, shrill, frantic riffing, sprinting tempos and a lot of caterwauling about Satan and that sort of thing. But there's no real shame in that, since they do a pretty damn effective job of it. In the end, Angelus delivers much of what we've come to expect from Dark Funeral, opening in an apocalyptic whirlwind with "The End of the Human Race" and rarely wavering. Even the mid-paced "My Funeral" or "Demons of Five" ride a double kick-drum fusillade from fittingly named new guy Dominator, so "varied" is all relative with these guys. And more technical? Kinda hard to tell when most everything flies by in a blur. So guess we'll have to take their word for it. B

ELUVEITIE - Everything Remains: As It Never Was (Nuclear Blast)
One of the heaviest of the recent wave of pagan/folk metal acts, Switzerland's Eluveitie took an acoustic sidetrip with last year's Evocation I but return with metallic vengeance with Everything Remains. There's still bountiful violins, flutes, hurdy-gurdys, bagpipes, whistles and other folk frivolity here - not to mention the occasional jig-like arrangements - but Remains delivers plenty of punch on top of that thanks to the gnarly wall of guitar from Simeon Koch and Ivo Henzi and Christian "Chrigel" Glanzmann's gruff, authoritative vocals. "Nil," "Kingdom Come Undone" and the title track are outright thrashers - with the fiddles and flutes racing right along - while "Thousandfold" and "(Do)Minion" are thick bruisers. Where other folk-metal bands stumble on their Renaissance fair/Braveheart kitsch, Eluveitie sound genuine, natural and mean - hurdy gurdys or no. B+

ENTHRONED - Pentagrammaton (Regain)
While Belgium is known much more for its awesome chocolate and beer, it does have something of an extreme metal scene with the likes of Ancient Rites, Leng Tch'e and these miscreants. Enthroned have been around for more than a decade, with a constantly churning line-up yielding enough ex-members to field a football team. But they've soldiered on and offer up their 10th album here. With mainstay guitarist Nornagest now also ensconced on vocals, Enthroned do a serviceable job of tongue-twisting, roughshod black metal reminiscent of Marduk or Gorgoroth. Other than the song titles - "Magnvs Princeps Leopardi," "Rion Riorrim" - there's nothing really fancy here, just blood, fire and damnation. The malevolent, eight-plus minute finale "Unconscious Mind" does show some depth and daring, it's just too bad there's not more of it. C+

FINNTROLL - Nifelvind (Century Media)
The "folk" takes something of a backseat on the sixth album from Finnish folk-metallers Finntroll. They use a more subtle hand at mixing in the folksy instrumentation than the aforementioned Eluveitie . Though "Ett Norrskensdåd" does boast abundant pipes and strings and "Galgasång" is straight traditional folk with its chanting vocals and banjos, "Tiden Utan tid" and "Mot Skuggornas Värld" are draped in classical keyboard orchestration, lending a Dimmu Borgir-ian air to them. "I Trädens Sång," "Solsagan" and others jockey between full-on death and black metal, with Mathias "Vreth" Lillmåns' sung-in-Swedish rasp bringing some welcome menace. Despite some polka-like undercurrents near its end, Nifelvind offers anything but the frilliness and fun most people have to expect from this kind of thing. B

HATEBREEDHatebreed (E1 Music)
Getting back to regular Hatebreed business after their all-covers foray For The Lions, Jamey Jasta's Connecticut thrash-core brutes offer up their sixth album only five months later. Reveling in the music of others - from Crowbar to Metallica to Bad Brains - on Lions doesn't seem to have rubbed off much on the band here. Other than some solos here and there from guitarist Wayne Lozinak - who returns after 13 years to replace Sean Martin - and a few punky "Woh, oh!" gang choruses, this is trademark Hatebreed bulldog brutality, like it or lump it. But after more than a decade of the same old stuff, think I'll lump it. C

HEATHEN - The Evolution of Chaos (Mascot)
Here's a real blast from the past. After regrouping in 2001, Bay Area bangers Heathen finally issue their first new material in 18 years with Chaos. It's an album that would be right at home in the late '80s, but still sounds pretty good today. Epic, aggressive, technical thrash that builds and builds, with loads of parts and ample solos, Chaos is an unrepentant throwback to the ...And Justice For All/Pleasures of the Flesh era - and seems a hell of a lot more honest than much of what the current wave of revivalists has produced given that these guys were there back in the day. Though "A Hero's Welcome" stumbles on its contrived "support the troops" lyrics, most of Chaos is spot on. The staggering, 11-minute "No Stone Unturned" left my jaw on the floor. The guitar work throughout from original member Lee Altus (also of Exodus) and new recruit Kragen Lum is truly stellar as they dodge, parry and trade off like they've been playing together forever. Awesome. A-

HYPOCRISY - A Taste Of Extreme Divinity (Nuclear Blast)
After focusing on his other band, Pain, for a stretch, mainman Peter Tägtgren returns with the long-standing Hypocrisy. Their first album in four years, and 11th overall, is a mixed bag of raging melodic death metal - "Weed Out The Weak" - and groovy, mid-tempo crunch like the menacing "Hang 'Em High." If anything, there's actually a bit too much groove here, and the last half of the album kind of drags. But the ferocious "Sky's Falling Down" sends Divinity out on an admirably punishing note, so it's all good in the end. B

INGESTED - Surpassing the Boundaries of Human Suffering (Candlelight)
England's Ingested recall the gore-grind of San Diego's Cattle Decapitation, bit without any semblance of the latter's socio-political smarts or message. Instead, Ingested is from the primal Carcass/Cannibal Corpse school of splatter, from their debut's arguably obscene cover art to the mince-no-words directness of the material, opening in a hail depravity with "Skinned and Fucked" and amping up the perversion and grotesquery from there with "Copremesis," "Intercranial Semen Injection" and the delightful "Pre-Released Foetal Mush." Yum! Granted it's tough to decipher what the hell frontman Jason Evans is gurgling on about, but with titles like those or "Anal Evisceration" it doesn't leave much to the imagination. Ingested's music is fairly by-the-numbers death grind, with drumming that sounds like it's machine-made, but if lewd, rude and crude is all you're after, these guys deliver and then some. C

IHSAHN - After (Candlelight)
Do saxophones have a place in black metal? It's beginning to seem that yes, yes they do. Japanese avant-gardists Sigh have used them for years. Chicago's Nachtmystium employed them with great effect on 2008's Floydian Assassins: Black Mettle Vol. 1. Now ex-Emperor frontman Ihsahn busts them out for the first time on his third solo album. From mirroring the racing guitar lines on the superb "A Grave Inversed" to the bluesy wail that punctuates the epic "Undercurrent" and "Heaven's Black Sea," Shining's Jorgen Munkeby provides the squalling horn that intertwines the prog noodling and black/death metal churn After mashes together. For the most part, the sax blends surprisingly well here, since it is used somewhat sparingly. Only on the improv-y foray in the desolate closer "On The Shores" does it really stand out. For the bulk of After that remains horn-free, Ihsahn has crafted the heaviest, most nuanced and confident material he's done as a solo artist. After clamoring for direction on his first two albums, he seems to have found the perfect formula here, as unorthodox as it may be. A-

IMMOLATION - Majesty and Decay (Nuclear Blast)
It's been awhile since I paid much heed to these guys. Not really sure why. Guess Immolation's tech-death just seemed a bit redundant after 20 some years. But their eighth album is anything but, and definitely commands your attention. There actually is a certain majesty going on here, from Robert Vigna and Bill Taylor's sweeping leads and guitar interplay to the twisty-turny arrangements - "A Token of Malice" is almost Voivod-y weird - that makes a cool counterpoint to the sheer brutality of the material and Ross Dolan's flame-throwing vocals. It's complex, but not at the expense of old-school filth and fury. Buoyed by the monumental "A Glorious Epoch" and the aptly titled "A Thunderous Consequence," Majesty grinds magnificently and shows these guys still have plenty left in the tank. A

IMMORTAL - All Shall Fall (Nuclear Blast)
There hasn't been a much better or more fitting soundtrack for the last two months in D.C. than the reunion album from these Norwegian "Blizzard Beasts." Epic grandeur meets black metal bludgeon on the frozen wastes of Blashyrhk with icy, bone-rattling results here. Despite a seven-year hiatus, Immortal comes back with all guns blazing. All Shall Fall, with its unending grimness, cascading riffs and drummer Horgh's hulking tempos, is absolutely crushing. Hopefully it won't take another seven years for Immortal to do a follow-up, but if it does and they deliver something as massive as Fall, it will be worth the wait. And hopefully it will be at least that long before we see this much snow again. A-

MARDUK - Wormwood (Regain)
The self-described "most blasphemous in the world" have grown more experimental and far less overtly, well, blasphemous since hiring on new frontman Mortuus in 2004. So while "wormwood" itself is straight out of the New Testament “Book of Revelation”, how that relates here to songs like "Whorecrown" or "The Fleshy Void" is anyone's guess. "Slay The Nazarene" this definitely is not. Along with Mortuus' obtuse lyrics and guttural, phlegmy vocals, Marduk's surprisingly crafty compositions - no longer do the merely rely on sheer velocity - and deft use of effects - as opposed to rote orchestration - give them an air of sophistication and guile you don't often find in black metal. B+

NILE - Those Whom The Gods Detest (Nuclear Blast)
Super fast and mind-bogglingly technical? Check. Unrelentingly brutality? Check. Nearly incomprehensible, or at least indecipherable, Middle Eastern-themed lyrics and grizzly bear growling? Check. Another Nile triumph? Indeed. As ridiculous as it all seems - there's even a song about shit here, "Hittite Dung Incantation" - these skull-scrambling South Carolinians do what they do with flair and purpose. And as difficult as it is to make death metal sound exotic, these guys continue to do so with astonishing ease. B+

ORPHANED LAND - The Never Ending Way Of ORwarriOR (Century Media)
As you may imagine, Israel's Orphaned Land are rather unusual. Blending Middle Eastern folk with death metal, prog and the symphonic grandiosity of bands like Nightwish and Within Temptation - especially in the luxurious female vocal accompaniment of Shlomit Levi - the band cut a wide sonic swath with their fourth album. Aided by the clean, precise production of Porcupine Tree's Steven Wilson - who's worked with Opeth, among others - Orphaned Land weave together a conceptual work about a "warrior of light," with frontman Kobi Farhi singing, growling and howling in English, Hebrew and Arabic. Musically, theirs is a far different approach than the aforementioned Nile, with the Middle Eastern instrumentation being a key component that works in concert with the metallic aspect to create a richly textured tapestry instead of merely adding flavor. ORwarriOR is dense, complex and epic in the truest sense - clocking in at nearly 80 minutes, it plays like a film soundtrack or musical score. ORwarriOR can definitely be a bit much, but if you're looking for something different, you won't find much different than this. B+

THE RED CHORD - Fed Through The Teeth Machine (Metal Blade)
Mass-holes The Red Chord give deathcore a much needed boot up its ass with their fourth album, proving that there's more to it than jackoff technicality and cookie-cutter breakdowns. The band have always had an element of unpredictability, thanks in large part to frontman Guy Kozowyk, who sounds like a cross between Lamb of God's Randy Blythe and Gwar's Oderus Urungus and writes certifiably insane lyrics. Here, that's matched by the crazy-quilt, mean-ass riffage of Mike "Gunface" McKenzie and the band's tumultuous groove. Tracks like "One Robot to Another," "Hymns and Crippled Anthems" and "Demoralizer" gnash and grind like a woodchipper, and don't waste time with pointless wankiness or moshability. Instead, they just crush. Which is how it should be. A-

THROUGH THE EYES OF THE DEAD - Skepsis (Prosthetic)
These stability challenged North Carolinians - guitarist Justin Longshore is the lone original member - return with a third album that deathcore fans will probably wet their pants over while everyone else elicits a collective yawn. New vocalist Daniel Rodriguez's barf and shriek gymnastics certainly are formidable, but they are definitely an acquired taste. TTEOTD's uber-technical music sounds a bit like Black Dahlia Murder, but without the sly humor or fiendish melodies. Skepsis is more about sheer bludgeon, and though Longshore and Chris Henckel show some flash, the trippy soloing on "No Haven" and twin leads on "Insomnium" are very cool, their riffing too often devolves into a hyperspeed churn that doesn't really go anywhere. C

THROWDOWN - Deathless (E1 Music)
A lot of people dismiss these guys as Pantera soundalikes. I'd argue they're more Lamb of God soundalike-y, with a bit of Godsmack thrown in, given frontman Dave Peters' Randy Blythe/Sully Erna vocalizing and the thrash-and-crunch musical approach the band have adopted over the past few albums while essentially abandoning their hardcore roots. Either way, Throwdown's sixth album sounds borrowed and calculating, which sucks regardless. D

UNLEASHED - As Yggdrasil Trembles (Nuclear Blast)
Along with Amon Amarth, Sweden's Unleashed have pretty much cornered the market on Norse/Viking-inspired death metal. Indeed, frontman Johnny Hedlund wears the influence on his sleeve on "Wir Kapitulieren Niemals" with its "Viking death metal!" mantra. The band's 10th album is part battle cry and part folklore history lesson as they charge through "Courage Today, Victory Tomorrow," "This Time We Fight" and "Chief Einherjar" like a marauding horde set loose on some unfortunate peasant village. Yet while at its heart Yggdrasil is vicious, attacking death metal, it is perhaps Unleashed's most musically accomplished work, with Fredrik Folkare peeling off some sparkling leads and the band working more complexity and sophistication into the arrangements. It gives Yggdrasil a welcome depth that helps balance its brutality without tempering it. A-

VALKYRJA - Contamination (Metal Blade)
Falling somewhere between Dark Funeral and Marduk in the Swedish black metal scheme of things, Valkyrja conjure up a great sounding, though somewhat derivative, first effort for Metal Blade, and second overall. Fleet riffs with shrill, trilly runs - black metal staples both - dominate the material here without much melody or hookiness to break things up. The pounding grooves that open "Laments of the Destroyed" and the title track and the sweeping lead that concludes "Ambiance of the Dead" are nice touches, but Valkyrja could have used a lot more of that sort of thing here. Given the relatively epic scale of most of the songs here - they average about six minutes each - blast-beats on cruise control just don't cut it. And at nearly an hour, Contamination can be a real endurance test. C-

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