National CD Reviews

Dawn of Inhumanity
Street: 03.09
Abscess = Autopsy + Impaled + Repulsion + Coffins
It’s near impossible not to compare Abscess to Autopsy; one could even consider the band an offshoot of Autopsy considering that most everyone in the band has played in Autopsy. Yes, Abscess sounds similar to Autopsy’s classic death metal sound, but they don’t sound exactly like it. Dawn of Inhumanity is a compelling and massively enjoyable listen, easily the band’s best since their 2000’s Tormented. While it’s not the first time the band has implemented doom styles to their tunes, it’s the best mix of the sub-genres the band pools—from equally portioning the grit n’ speed of a punk aesthetic, gory, death-fueled lyrics and dirge-like, corpse-rotting, slowed doom riffing—it’s all executed with devious and sinister deliciousness. Many have tried this style and failed. Abscess just raised the bar. –Bryer Wharton

Aetherius Obscuritas
Fekete Orvossag (Black Medicine)
Paragon Records
Street: 10.27.09
Aetherius Obscuritas = Gorgoroth + Antaeus + Taake
I really want to make some sort of joke about Aetherius Obscuritas being Mehmet Okur’s favorite band, seeing as they are countrymen, but nothing I could think of seemed like it would work. In any case, Hungarians Aetherius Obscuritas play dissonant black metal … beyond that, there really isn’t a whole lot for me to say. The songs are well written, the musicianship is above-par, and this release simply screams “evil,” but it’s mediocre. Blast beats are found in abundance on Black Medicine, as is lightning-fast guitar-picking and layered screamy/throaty vocals, but fuck me if there’s anything really original about it. Maybe I’ll play this again at some point in the future and find it to be better than I’m finding it now, but I doubt it. –Gavin Hoffman

Écailles De Lune
Prophecy Productions
Street: 04.20
Alcest = Jesu + Agalloch + Envy + Godspeed You Black Emperor!
Thanks to Debussy, I know that French shoegaze/black-metal band Alcest have titled their album related to something Lunar; its cover art with a big moon on it helps, too. It’s befitting because this is night-nighttime music in its sound and atmospheres. The current incarnation of Alcest may have traveled far from their original sheer black-metal roots, yet there are strongly poignant remnants of harsh black-metal sounds going on with some truly howl-at-the-moon, tortured black-metal scowls and some somber, somehow ethereal, tremolo black-metal riffing. All of this with clean melodies and sung French vocals that can’t sound anything but softly breathtaking creates a calming melancholy sound, which in a mysterious way, somehow plays out as soothing and uplifting. Écailles De Lune is a beautifully epic piece of music that heals the soul and subtly releases anger. The album fits in perfectly where Alcest last left us satisfied yet still thirsting for more darkly emotional songs. –Bryer Wharton

An Autumn For Crippled Children
Street: 04.16
AAFCC = The Angelic Process + early Katatonia
Sometimes meshing genres and influences works really well; other times it’s up for debate, but I am always more inclined to listen to a band who is willing to push the limits over those who play it safe. An Autumn For Crippled Children pull influences from all over to create Lost, and it works extremely well. At the core, most of the songs loom in the neighborhood of post-rock; however, a great deal of metal-induced chaos remains present with constant blown-out car-speaker guitar fuzz, huge, relentless drumming, and shrieked vocals of raw anguish. Although everything is screamed, the voices are mixed at a lower volume, which could broaden the appeal to those faint-of-heart listeners just trying to branch out. AAFCC maintain a forward-thinking approach to everything they present here, which should appeal to fans of dreary, emotive music. This is dismal and wonderful, just in time for the rainstorms. –Conor Dow

Angst Skvadron
Sweet Poison
Agonia Records
Street: 02.09
Angst Skvadron = Dodheimsgard + Sigh + V:28 + Alchemist
Spaced-out themed and styled avant black-metal sounds—interesting, right? Well, it is, and all fronted by T.B., also a key player in Norwegian black metal outfit Urgehal, among other acts. The band lyrically and musically is themed around aliens and all that encapsulates, and Angst Skvadron do a great job at creating spacey and quirky odd atmospheres to go along with some industrialized black-metal type atmospheres and spaced-out psychedelic subtleties. Every song on this record is out to throw off your listening game. You think they’re hammering down one style and they pop up with something completely different—like the calmly seducing and, dare I say, happy-sounding “We Miss Them,” the progressive and overtly math metal-sounding “The Eyes Among the Stars,” and the creepy Susperia-themed sounding “Aerophobia.” Whatever style the band incorporates, it’s all thoughtfully and artfully done. If you’re a fan of Avant-styled black-metal, beam this into your stereo. –Bryer Wharton

Enter the Killzone
Metal Blade
Street: 03.02
Anima = Carnifex + Job for a Cowboy + Cannibal Corpse
While Germany’s deathcore five-piece Anima have averted my attention once again into one of my metal subgenre foes (my first instance being the band’s Metal Blade Records debut album, 2008’s The Daily Grind, which didn’t strike much praise). Enter the Killzone has me mildly at a loss and eating previous words a bit. While it’s downright very noticeable deathcore, the death-metal elements and hardcore elements are fairly balanced with this release, and I’ll be damned if it doesn’t have me getting more than a fair bit of enjoyment. It’s earnestly heavy ended and just a well-rounded mixing of the styles. The vocals may be a bit generic, but the juxtaposition of blastbeats and death-metal guitar riffing with subtle yet poignant breakdowns make Enter The Killzone one of the more accessible and interesting deathcore albums I’ve come across in quite some time. –Bryer Wharton

Ares Kingdom
Nuclear War Now!
Street: 01.15
Ares Kingdom = Sadus + Poison (Ger) + Mefisto + Death
Ares Kingdom take listeners both on a metallic trip back to the past of thrash/death metal glories as well as a trip forward into new territories, all culminating in the fervent, guitar-shredding, beyond-awesome Incendiary. Adding to the classic thrash/death vibe is a record swimming in engaging, mind-enrapturing songwriting bearing classic metal influences as well. While it brings up thoughts of bands long gone yet still worshipped—i.e., Germany’s death/thrash heroes Poison—the record also feels like nothing I’ve quite heard. It enters this weird middle ground of being a hybrid to just being flat-out face-melting. There is a wealth of mad guitar-soloing structured right into the songs instead of playing on top of the rhythms. Albums like this don’t come along too often, so don’t miss out—this record will burn your expectations to the ground and feed the appetite of any classic-loving, forward-thinking thrasher. –Bryer Wharton

At the Soundawn
Street: 04.27
At the Soundawn = Isis + Cave In + Cult of Luna + Envy
If you enjoyed Italy’s At the Soundawn’s first full-length album, Red Square, you’re in for a real treat with the growth of songwriting and musicianship that the band’s sophomore album, Shifting, offers. The melodic rockers paint an enormous atmospheric picture of restrained angst coupled with bleak, melancholy yet calming melodies that will captivate listeners with their wealth of diversity of tones and instrumentations with saxophone and keys making an appearance on the album. Shifting is rhythmically tantalizing, with mesmerizing type drumming encompassing the downward-swirling guitar melodies. It feels as if the album could explode at any moment; it bubbles up like it’s going to, but never fully does. Shifting will easily appease fans of post-metal and hardcore because it displays a songwriting prowess that enraptures and fills auditory senses with morsels of melody with a hefty center of ethereal, bluesy and down-tempo rock. –Bryer Wharton

Street: 03.02
Avsky = Imperium Dekadenz + Bathory + Beherit + Marduk
Avsky is the empty void that is my soul; well, not at all, but they’ll make you feel like you’re stuck in one giant black void, being dragged in one distorted note and howling vocal passage at a time. Most of the tunes contained on Scorn are down-tempo; the pace does increase nicely from time to time, though it’s still cold and vastly bleak. Avsky means “disgust” in Swedish and that fits the feelings on Scorn quite well—it’s pissed right the hell off. The production lends itself well to the echoing, acid-tortured vocals that seem to bubble up and just burn and linger even after they’re spewed from the vocalist’s mouth. There is a great depth to the production and guitar tones for Avsky. Being composed of two members, the guitar tone is viscerally thickened and the lead work shines outright, cutting through everything like a blade. Fans of Swedish black metal or just black metal in general gets your hate flowing. Scorn is full of it, quite frankly—it’s so pissed and cold it scares me. I don’t know if I’d welcome these guys into my living room. –Bryer Wharton

Barren Earth
The Curse Of The Red River
Street: 04.06
Barren Earth = Opeth + Insomnium + Dark Tranquillity (Haven era) + Swallow the Sun
The originality factor with Finland’s Barren Earth’s first full-length album may be a bit lacking; however, the execution of richly crafted electric guitar melodies intermingled with acoustic guitars and some downright heavy, death-styled riffing moments makes for an enjoyable listen. Vocalist Mikko Kotamaki also sings for notable Finnish melodic death/doom act Swallow the Sun, which bears some similarities to Barren Earth, but thankfully, his vocal range for Barren Earth is much more staggered and diverse, from deep death growls to a whole wealth of different types of clean singing. It backs up the progressive melodies and epic tendencies this album has. Barren Earth is a bit more on the meat-and-taters side of melodic death metal—the album has a nicely weighted yet clean feel. Plain and simple fact here; if you’re a fan of the bands in the band equation above, you’ll get great satisfaction from The Curse of the Red River; I sure did. –Bryer Wharton

Beach House
Teen Dream
Sub Pop
Street: 01.26
Beach House= The Raveonettes + School of Seven Bell
Baltimore? Maryland? Yes, Baltimore-based Beach House has been producing steady albums for the last few years and their third release does not cast aspersions on the mid-Coast meandering. I first heard their single, “Norway,” and fell in love with it last year, wearing a steady hole in my iMP3 player. Fortunately, these guys landed on Sub Pop and have gotten the distribution to those eager for something other than super-earnest indie/alt-country bullshit that’s currently flooding the Kingdom of Popular Hipsterdom [population: too many]. Though sometimes described as dream pop, I’d say this guy n’ gal are really just mellow lounge-fuck sort of music, not really angry, stud fucking—more like “I’ve already come and am not really interested in doing it again, but I’ll go along for the ride” sort of music. That may sound bad, but dip into track three like I originally did, relax back and get laid again. –JP

Ben Sollee and Daniel Martin Moore
Dear Companion
Sub Pop
Street: 02.16
Ben Sollee and Daniel Martin Moore = M. Ward + The Avett Brothers
If this is what Kentucky sounds like, I imagine people take a lot of naps. With Jim James from My Morning Jacket producing, it sounds really good, it just isn’t very interesting. One of the things that makes M. Ward interesting is the texture of his sound; everything sounds like it was recorded with an old ribbon mic. These guys have a similar songwriting style, but production values on Dear Companion might take some of the soul out of their folk-blues songs. Other than that, though, it is great. The harmonies are great, the songs are well-written, and other than the title track (which is a far bluesier banjo ballad) it feels and progresses like a lazy summer day. –Cody Hudson

Blessure Grave
Judged by 12, Carried by 6
Alien8 Recordings
Street: 02.09
Blessure Grave = Joy Division + The Shadow Ring + Captured Tracks
Hearing Toby Graves’ voice for the first time is a singular experience. His deep baritone sounds like it is floating up from another room where a depressed post-adolescent wails along to Joy Division tapes doing a spot-on Ian Curtis impression. San Diego’s Blessure Grave exist for more than knee-jerk Joy Division comparisons. Graves and his partner, Reyna Kay, craft sparse early-goth arrangements around angular post-punk riffs, the stripped-down austerity of neo-folk, Kaye’s synthesizers, and Graves’ tortured vocals. After years of creating a buzz in California, Blessure Grave has finally found a home with Alien8 Recordings. Are we seeing a first-wave goth revival? Now I can finally dust off that Killing Joke T-shirt I’ve always been frightened to wear. –Ryan Hall

Blind Man’s Colour
Wooden Blankets
Kanine Records
Street: 02.23
Blind Man’s Colour = Animal Collective + Grizzly Bear + Electric President
Given Animal Collective’s recent popularity, it makes sense that there will be a swarm of bands looking to follow in their footsteps. At first listen, I was skeptical of Blind Man’s Colour, but surprisingly, they manage to stand out on their own. Although many elements of this EP are standard indie experimental fare, the band creates harmonies and echoing, pulsing melodies that lingered in my head long after I’d stopped listening. This album is a good example of how experimental music should work: All sorts of different instruments and sounds in complicated, carefully structured layers that work together to create a cohesive, somewhat haunting song. In a way similar to Explosions in the Sky or Broken Social Scene, a common tune is established throughout all of the chaos in each song, and eventually, all the instruments work in a subtle way to complement that tune. My personal favorites? “Canoe Paddles” and “Sleeping Bag.” –Jessie Wood

The Breathing Process
Odyssey (Un)Dead
Street: 03.09
The Breathing Process = Abigail Williams + Winds of Plauge + Unexpect + Ihsahn
Within the current climate of what’s popular in extreme music, The Breathing Process are poised to take the trend head-on with their genre-bending style of blackened progressive symphonic death metal, all with undertones of metalcore. Odyssey (Un)Dead takes it all on and in most ways, succeeds. The tickling of the ivories, or should I say, plastic, is one of the more enjoyable portions of the album, almost taking on a life of its own at times, but also complementing what the guitars are doing too, whether it’s a deathcore breakdown, blastbeat or tremolo black-metal riff. The only portion of the music that, for what the band is trying to do, comes off as a bit contrived or forced is the progressive elements. If it weren’t for the above-par performance of the female vocals and as mentioned before, the almost baroque, excessively neo-classical type keys, the progressive elements would be all but lost. Overall, for what the band is trying to achieve on this sophomore effort, The Breathing Process has succeeded. –Bryer Wharton

Brown Jenkins
Death Obsession
Street: 11.23.09
Brown Jenkins = the best parts of Xasthur + Leviathan + Crebain
I. Fucking. Love. Brown. Jenkins. ’Nuff said? Not quite. I lost interest in most one-man (or “bedroom”) black-metal bands quite some time ago, but Texas’ Brown Jenkins was one of the few bands of that ilk to not completely bore me out of my mind. 2008’s Angel Eyes has been a favorite of mine since its release, but brother, that sucker pales in comparison to the murkiness and hate spewed forth on Death Obsession. Supposedly, this is Brown Jenkins’ last release, which is a shame, but this is one hell of an epitaph. Dissonant, repetitive guitars (as one would expect from “suicidal black metal,”) combine with equally repetitive bass and drums to form a perfect backing for the-holiest-of-unholy vocals, which are half-growled and half-coughed, and absolutely force the listener into a place darker than they may have initially expected to travel to. The tempo changes will fuck with your head in an entirely unexpected and upsetting way, so dive in. –Gavin Hoffman

The Bundles
K Records
Street: 03.09
The Bundles = The Moldy Peaches + Jeffrey Lewis
If you’ve ever heard Kimya Dawson’s (The Moldy Peaches) voice before, then you know for sure if you’ll like or dislike this album. Her vocals are less singing than they are “talk-singing.” Prominently featured in the movie Juno, Dawson has certainly gained recent popularity. Sure, she’s unique, I’ll give her that, but her style is the kind of thing that all of the worthless hip young ones of today absolutely eat up. Why is that? Well, it’s because the singing just isn’t very good. It’s not terrible, and her anti-folk lyrical abilities are certainly above-par, but I see no reason that this band should rise above a Tuesday $6 show at Kilby. That might be missing the point, but if you can’t make your album fun to listen to, then there’s just no point. –Ross Solomon

Christian Prommer
Drumlesson Zwei
!K7 Records
Street: 03.30
Drumlesson Zwei = Orbital + Signal Path + Caribou
The second album of similar concept from German artist Christian Prommer, Drumlesson Zwei (it means number two), is a mixtape that any club-junkie would go nuts for, all reinterpreted as chamber music and performed live by minimalists. Most of the referenced tracks are too obscure for me to be cleverly amused at recognition of familiar form or melody. I found this not to matter though, as this serves its purpose admirably. This is ambient jazz music, barely there in a scene in a movie (in fact, I swear I hear a hint of X-Files theme in “Sandcastles”), just to provide the right tension. This record is strongest at its more upbeat moments, like “Jaguar Pt. 2” and “Groove La Chord,” where the samba is infectious. With Prommer acting as both a player and later adding more to the tracks as the producer, you can tell he got exactly the sound he wanted out of the entire process. A whole summer afternoon’s worth of fun, this record is something more for the less-than-casual techno-listener or dance-floor aficionado. I put it on while I’m cooking. –Rio Connelly

XI Reasons to See
Street: 03.30
Destinity = Callenish Circle + Soilwork + Dark Tranquillity + Hypocrisy
This is kind of a bummer. I’ve been hankering for some good, catchy modern melodic death metal and this album from Lyons, France-based Destinity had potential. But after a few listens, unfortunately, nothing stuck. The songs are all fine and good—potentially head-bobbing—but they’re highly forgettable. None of them stand out. Apparently, the band has had an identity crisis throughout their over 10-year span of releasing full-length albums containing various styles of black and death metal to the sort of symphonic melo-death/thrash that they’re playing now. The songs are fairly cookie-cutter stuff—insert generic, fast, thrash-type riff here, insert death growl there, insert sweeping keyboard work that doesn’t fit the guitars or vocals here. I guess in the end, I can’t call it a let-down, because I know I reviewed their last album The Inside and promptly forgot about it, so zero expectations equals zero letdown. –Bryer Wharton

Liar and a Thief
Viper Records
Street: 04.06
Diabolic = Immortal Technique + Jedi Mind Tricks
Diabolic comes across pretty rough on his debut album. Featuring some heavy-hitting guest spots from the likes of Immortal Technique, Vinnie Paz, Ill Bill and Cannibus, I definitely expected a bit more. Production-wise, Diabolic is almost completely formulated by Engineer and has a solid constructed dark intense undertone throughout the entire album. That being said, it’s one song after another of heavy and aggressive rapping. Its 17 songs all sound the damn same. There isn’t much rest for the weary. No time for that relax-and-have-fun shit; only raps about beating anyone who steps them up and basically the same pattern of not saying too much of substance in the flow. “Fuck around and I’ll punch your mouth in” is one line from the song Frontlines and is pretty much the jist of the entire lyrical content. Seems to me like the super-tough-guy act has already been done by many before. -Bethany Fischer

The Dillinger Escape Plan
Option Paralysis
Party Smasher Inc.
Street: 03.23
The Dillinger Escape Plan = Converge + Faith No More
A lot of people don’t like the direction that the Dillinger Escape Plan have taken since vocalist Greg Puciato joined.  To the credit of their critics, most brutal bands that add melodic choruses and experimentation to their sound fail miserably.  But Dillinger can rub Option Paralysis in their attackers’ smug faces as a great example of tactfully merging mathcore with engaging songwriting.  Even though Puciato seems to have gone out of his way to propagate the Mike Patton comparisons, especially on “Parasitic Twins,” where he channels Patton’s trademark falsetto, and with his piercing squeals at the end of “Farewell, Mona Lisa,” it’s great to hear him harnessing the full range of his voice.  For the purists, there is some classic Dillinger havoc in “Good Neighbor” and “Crystal Morning.”  For the most part, the chaos is mixed within the composition on this, their best album since their Patton-fronted EP, Irony is a Dead Scene. –Andrew Roy

Drop the Lime
Devil’s Eyes
Trouble & Bass Recordings
Street: 03.02
Drop the Lime = Craze + Bird Peterson + DZ
I have very strong opinions about vocals in techno music. Namely, that there shouldn’t be any. So when I heard Drop the Lime was recording his own vocals on his new track, “Devil’s Eyes,” (practically unheard of for a DJ), I was wary. Drop the Lime takes a huge risk in this way and although he’s a good singer, the song fails in the same way that most techno songs that are largely focused on vocals do: by not putting enough emphasis on the music behind it. As much as I like Drop the Lime, I can’t quite get on board with the original track. However, since this is a remix album, it provides 13 different versions of this song. These remixes range from an electro-death metal Deathface Sons of Perdition remix, to a two-step beat-focused Diplo remix, to a low-key melodic Classixx remix, to a wonky dubstep Tomb Crew remix, to one of the hardest electro songs I’ve heard this year, a Kanji Kinetic remix. If nothing else, check out this album for the astounding diversity of the tracks. With so many different styles, there’s a remix for everybody. –Jessie Wood

Earl Greyhound
Suspicious Packages
Hawk Race
Street: 04.13
Earl Greyhound = Led Zeppellin + Black Rebel Motorcycle Club +Portugal. The Man
Earl Greyhound start out with a base of 70s-inspired rock n’roll and add touches of electro, grunge, indie rock, pop—bits of everything. At times eery and gothic, at times funky and riff-tastic, Suspicious Packages is melo-dramatic, heavy-handed and interest-piquing. Singers Kamara Thomas and Matt Whyte play their vocals off against each other in a way that manages to be several notches weirder and more dissonant than you’ll hear from the current crop of twee indie boy-girl duos. The album occasionally gets a little too derivative—OK, occasionally it gets way more than a little too derivative—but they do this blues-rock sound so well and put so much meat and discordance into every yelled lyric and scratchy guitar riff that I can’t help but like it, anyway. –Cléa Major

Magic Chairs
Street: 02.22
Efterklang = Grizzly Bear + Coldplay + Arcade Fire + Dirty Projectors
This is a wonderful album. The intro song, “Modern Drift,” holds your attention with the intensity of full orchestral bursts complemented by pop-vocals in an addicting beauty. Each song feels like a box of music mechanics, from claps to violin to quick, heart-thumping drums. The piano in “Full Moon” hits a side of 90s pop, then switches into a descending dream in “Mirror Mirror.” The album ends with a low vocal duet countered by high oohs in “Natural Tune.” It’s a lovely success and definitely worth listening to again. –Jessica Davis

Elaine Lachica
I Think I Can See the Ocean
Stunning Models On Display
Street: 02.23
Elaine Lachica = Norah Jones + Grizzly Bear + Thom Yorke
This mixture of jazzy rhythms, lilting vocal arias and lush arrangements is the work of a talented gang of conspirators, especially its ringleader, vocalist, pianist and composer Elaine Lachica. Drifting sleepily from more familiar down-tempo paces to more indie-rock arrangements, the style here is like Imogen Heap becoming a lounge diva. Moments of slow sighs and minimal percussion like “Bewilder” contrast with off-key, technical masterpieces like Tumbleweed. Backed up by a better-than-competent array of players behind her, Lachica’s songs play sometimes like Yo La Tengo, sometimes like U2. It doesn’t really matter that I can almost never understand her lyrics, her voice is one of the most solid instruments here. While the talent is evident, there’re not enough barbs getting stuck under my skin to keep me wrapped up in it for long, although “Jinx the Line” is close. But who knows? I like it a little more each time I listen to it. –Rio Connelly

Everything Remains as It Never Was
Nuclear Blast
Street: 02.19
Eluveitie = Dark Tranquility + Equilibrium
While there’s folk metal out there that I enjoy, I am still picky about most of it for good reason. Unless it’s blackened German porno-grind, I try to take things a little bit seriously and listen for bands that continually evolve their sound. It was after maybe my second or third listen of Eluveitie’s second album, Slania, that I realized they might not be one of those bands. Their first album, Spirit, seemed almost too ridiculous to be true, with a wonderful blend of Celtic folk melodies via an abundance of traditional Celtic instruments and melodic death metal. Unfortunately, Slania and now also Everything Remains as It Never Was don’t leave me in awe, yet are still more enjoyable than a lot of the jolly and absurd material out there. There’re some decent drinking sing-alongs and some pretty rocking moments for those of you who still enjoy Dark Tranquility, but don’t expect the caliber of Equlibrium to see any contender here. –Conor Dow

Emily Jane White
Victorian America
Milan Records
Street: 04.27
Emily Jane White = Vashti Bunyan + Gillian Welch + Cat Power
Emily Jane White writes sad songs steeped in the Southern-gothic tradition of non-linear narratives of all things dire and melancholy. While some artists give their deepest fears and insecurities voices that inhabit space and time for a bit, Emily Jane White gives them names, back-stories, and personalities that pack her sparse little songs with stories of deceit, betrayal, and death. With so much darkness as her subject matter, White brightens the corners by presenting these tales as gorgeous folk songs often accompanied by her twin-tracked voice and guitar, other times backed by a shuffling, psychedelic-inspired classic-rock band. In terms of the modern chanteuse, Emily Jane White has both the voice and songwriting chops to rise above the literal sea of like-minded artists crowding the interwebs and XM radio folk stations. –Ryan Hall

Regain Records
Street: 03.22
Enthroned = Battle Dagorath + Watain
For almost 20 years, Enthroned have been spreading their brand of black-metal poison throughout the earth and have garnered a fair amount of reverence among their fans for their continual consistency. Pentagrammaton is a great example of modern black metal which still holds true to its roots and influences but doesn’t make it painfully obvious, which is a sure sign of a respectable veteran band. Each time I listen to this album, it goes by quickly enough that I find myself looking forward to starting it over again once the paced intro of the final track begins to play. The best part about this band for me is the drumming, which doesn’t exactly go out of its way to be flashy, but still instead brings out the best in the guitar writing by ensuring that each transition and bridge stays tight and aggressive and doesn’t deviate off into questionably wank territory. The reverence previously mentioned is much deserved. –Conor Dow

Felix Cartal
Popular Music
Street: 02.23
Dim Mak Records
Felix Cartal = Boys Noize + The Faint + MSTRKRFT
Prediction: Felix Cartal’s Popular Music is the electro album of the year.  The genre of electro, which sprung out of electro-house, is almost exclusively defined by its unique synths, and truth be told, it’s a fairly limited form. Great electro albums are rare, but Cartal proves to be the exception, with 12 songs as diverse as they are captivating, although this isn’t surprising from a techno DJ who loves Spoon. This album has everything. There’s two-step club bangers “Love” and “Dutch George (Horn Version),” mind-bending progressive synths in “Berlin” and “Drone,” and low-tempo, more alternative songs “Why Wait (feat. Todd Fink of The Faint)” and “I Believe In (feat. Beta Bow).” Amazingly, every song is good. I don’t need to tell you how rare that is. This isn’t just an electro album. Cartal pulls from every corner of the massive electronica genre to create something that will be listened to for years to come. –Jessie Wood

Freeway & Jake One
The Stimulus Package
Street: 02.16
Freeway & Jake One = Ghostface Killa + Ninth Wonder
When I was first handed this album, I was hesitant because Freeway’s growling vocals could be pretty tedious to listen to through 15 songs. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Jake One’s production evens out that nasty raw lyrical content with soulful and accessible beats. The pair provide a pretty large array of styles, from laid-back, playful, gritty songs for the ladies, like “She Makes Me Feel Alright” to a more intense, powerful feel on “One Thing,” which also features Raekwon.  The album also boasts guest visits from Young Chris, Beanie Sigeal, Bun B and Birdman. Freeway definitely gets some saving grace and balance from Jake One’s brilliant production on this album. The balance created between the beats and the raps is a good mixture, sure to come out of the oven hot and fresh. –Bethany Fischer

Gamma Ray
To the Metal
DisManic Distribution/Knife Fight Media
Street: 03.16
Gamma Ray = Helloween + Iron Saviour + Judas Priest + Edguy
There’s pretty much three ways to look at this album. There’s: awfully cheesy in a good way, awfully cheesy in a bad way or just a bland attempt at keeping power-metal real. Gamma Ray are a band with glorious roots in not only the world power scene, but the strong German scene as well. I’ll admit I’m not a huge authority on the band, so to longtime fans, my words may seem pretty moot, but this album’s stagnant, treading-water formula of power chords, extremely dull guitar solos and a shaky vocal performance will probably make fans stretch to enjoy this offering as well. It’s a shame, because Gamma Ray has some strong releases in their catalogue. This just falls well below the line of average. –Bryer Wharton

Metal Sun (extended EP)
Weather Center Sensory Media
Street: 12.19
Gangcharger = (Goodbye Mr Mackenzie * Sonic Youth)/The Rezillos
Grungy and static-filled, like it’s pouring from an unknown AM radio on a stormy evening, Metal Sun is a shock, but a good one. Based out of Denver, which must have something in the water for the number of underrated bands it’s produced over the last decade, Gangcharger mixes raw, jagged rock with self-aware vocals. This CD drags you back to a grimy garage in 1983 and hands you a beer, even though you’re under-aged, leaving you amped up with nowhere to go. “Kathy in the Quarry” is the ghost of Nico and Lou Reed, stripped down, unpretentious and unrelenting, the standout track on this CD. “Magnus Beat Box” is obviously where they’ve channeled their acclaimed noise-rock energy and “Time to Quit” is actually pretty and swirly, but this is pure rock n’ roll, quirky enough to get filed under college rock, but masterful and well worth a listen. – Madelyn Boudreaux

Perfume and Piss
Street: 04.06
G.B.H = Anti-Nowhere League + Discharge + U.K. Subs
Let me start by saying that Colin is one of the greatest, and probably the most underrated, front man in all of rock n’ roll. If you put Colin in a room with Johnny Rotten, Billy Idol and Axl Rose, and were to leave them alone for 15 minutes, you’d come back to find those others cringing and crying in the corner while Colin laughs and snarls at them before kicking in their teeth. G.B.H. represents real punk rock. They started in ’79 and have never stopped, they’ve never thought twice about what they were doing, and have spent the past 30 years being the most punk-as-fuck band on the planet, and now they top all that off with their latest, maybe the best, record of their career. Each track is pure G.B.H.—songs like “Unique” are the perfect anthems for those pissed-off drives home. Throbbing guitar and bass team with rapid sledgehammer drum beats on the contemptuous track, “Power Corrupts.” The fact is that many had written this band off for the punk rock has-been circuit, but that’s just it: you can’t keep a good band down, and just when you count G.B.H. out, they come back with a smack in the face. This record reminds me just how good punk rock can be. Now, I’m off to spike my hair, dig out my leather jacket and start some shit! –James Orme

Guns on the Run
The Spirit is Eternal
Street: 02.09
Guns on the Run = Blitz + AC/DC + Agnostic Front
I liked Guns on the Run the first time I heard them; a street-punk band with youthful spirit and some metal stylings. I was intrigued the second time through the record when I heard more of a rock n’ roll sound, with definitely more musical chops than the average punk band. By the third time I put this record on I was hooked by guitar work that moves unspoiled from brutal punk rock to dazzling metal inflections, working-class attitude and lyrics that make me proud to get up and go to work every morning, and production quality any band should be pleased with. This record has a stoic sound that helps it stand out from the numerous mundane punk rock offerings I’ve heard in my time. Guns on the Run do what they do right and I am sold on it. This South Philly outfit packs a well-thought-out punch in each one of these nine songs that satisfies the aging punk rocker in all of us. –James Orme

Hannis Brown
oh ah ee
Street: 04.06
Hannis Brown = Coltrain + Animal Collective
This album is odd. So I guess this guy has been doing movie and TV show soundtracks for a few years, which would explain how atmospheric this album gets. I guess he is also a jazz guitarist for the most part, which would sort of explain the weird-ass guitar and saxophone tangents. It sort of sounds like a fucked-up Grizzly Bear album with all of the chanting and oohs and ahhs. If Grizzly Bear were forced to play jazz music, while extremely fucked up, it would probably sound similar to this (it is pretty similar to their Friend album). It isn’t boring at any point, and there are a lot of things to appreciate. Once you dive in, you should probably keep going. It can be a bit overwhelming at first, but it is a short listen (39 minutes) so give it a shot. In short, reactions can’t be predicted—it might stress you out, or you might really like it. –Cody Hudson

Uit Oude Grond
Napalm Records
Street: 04.06
Heidevolk = Folkearth + Tyr + Korpiklaani + Falkenbach
Uit Ode Grond isn’t the catchiest pagan folk-metal album in the world, but it’s highly listenable. Heavy rhythms sway and saw away with ease, something the Dutch metallers have done well for three albums. I have no idea what the band is singing about, since it’s in a foreign language, but you don’t need to know it to get the effect of what the vocalist is purveying—epic themes and what feels like Viking fireside tales. There is a nice wealth of sounds brimming forth from the album, be it the upbeat, folk-styled songs or black-metal-tinged efforts to down-tempo, calming songs. If you’re a fan of pagan folk metal but like the more melodic side that uses mainly clean singing instead of death growls or black metal snarls, you’ll be hooked by Heidevolk’s singer. Uit Ode Grond is probably the band’s most accessible album yet as well as the best performance the vocalist has delivered. –Bryer Wharton

Screamworks: Love In Theory and Practice
Sire Records
Street: 02.09
H.I.M. = The 69 Eyes + Black Sabbath + Depeche Mode
It’s with complete indifference that I come to the conclusion that Finnish gothic rockers HIM’s seventh full-length album isn’t fantastically good nor is it horribly bad, it’s just what you’d expect from HIM. Don’t get me wrong; I liked the band’s last doom-laden, more experimental album Venus Doom, but it is kind of nice to have steady old HIM tunes back in the saddle (although “Ode to Solitude” is apt to take the throne of the best HIM song recorded). There is some variance in sound with keyboard melodies, as well as song rhythms taking influences from 80s synth-pop styled tunes. This one’s fairly easy to sum up—if you’re a fan of HIM, you’re going to like this record; if you never were, Screamworks won’t change your mind, and if you’ve never heard the band, the album is a good set of depressively upbeat songs with lots of catchy melodies and choruses. –Bryer Wharton

Joanna Newson
Have One on Me
Drag City
Street: 02.23
Joanna Newsom = Kate Bush + Joni Mitchell + Cat Power
Seeing Joanna perform live is one of those moments that will never escape me. Her 2006 album, Ys, made a gorgeous impression on my heart and remains, to this day, one of the greatest things that happened during the last decade. How do you follow up a masterpiece? I’m sure Joanna asked herself this before she began to work on her triple disc Have One on Me. Once I pressed play, I knew I could commit myself for the long haul. I took it all in slowly; I savored it like a five-course meal. The album opens with the Kate Bush-esque piano-driven “Easy,” which rides into the 11-minute title track reveling the familiar harp. Noticeable upfront is a change in Joanna’s voice; her nasally high-pitched squawk that we have grown to love has been polished to the point of extinction. The poppiest moment appears on the jazz-infused “Good Intentions Paving Company” while the haunting “Baby Birch” created a pit in my stomach as Joanna sings “I could spend a hundred years adoring you, yes, I wish I could take every path, because I hated to close the door on you.” One hour into the album, Joanna’s “old” familiar voice arrives during “In California.” The playful piano on “Soft As Chalk” stands tall, sandwiched in between—dare I say it?—forgettable tracks. Have One On Me is a remarkable achievement and Joanna should be proud, but the album leaves me wondering if it would be just as remarkable with one disc. –Courtney Blair

Johnny Cash
American VI: Ain’t no Grave
Street: 03.23
Johnny Cash = “He’s poet, he’s picker, he’s a prophet, he’s pusher, he’s a pilgrim and preacher and a problem when he’s stoned. He’s walking contradiction, partly truth and partly fiction, takin’ every wrong direction on his lonely way back home.” –Kris Kristofferson
American VI; Ain’t no Grave leaves this Cash devotee with a question. At what point do these recordings cease to be the musings of the greatest vessel American music has ever known, or just become the workings of a producer unwilling to let the artist die? Throughout his storied career, Johnny Cash would continuously push boundaries in spite of trends, and it was that uncompromising spirit that made his songs live and breath. So these recordings made six or more years ago have the same tone and spirit as the last couple of Cash releases, this being the second post-mortem, and in a way, it serves as a sad reminder that he’s no longer out there creating, commenting, advising us on the current problems of life. Yet ultimately, this album is still Cash, and any fan of music would be a fool not to take notice. Mostly a folk record, like most of his American outings, the title track is a masterfully produced by Rick Ruben, a song as haunting as the title suggests. “Cool Water,” a song that actually made me thirsty, is a Hank Williams cover that reminds us that even Cash looked up to somebody. In these and the other eight tracks, Cash plays the part he played so well in the winter of his career, of the old man in the mist passing on truths of age and experience that could only come from a man in black. If this is truly to be the last new (unheard) material from the Cash vault, let me say it is the final fitting word in the greatest musical career in history. –James Orme

The Kandidate
Until We are Outnumbered
Napalm Records
Street: 02.09
The Kandidate = Hatebreed + Hatesphere + The Defaced + Skinlab + Lamb of God
If you’re still rocking Pantera on a daily basis or can’t get enough Lamb of God, Until We are Outnumbered should whet your whistle as long as you don’t expect to hear some elaborate guitar soloing. The songwriting is fairly formulated and predictable, but there plenty of angst-ridden grooves with a good healthy dose of NY hardcore-sounding vocals and peppered-in breakdown guitar groovin’ to break some faces with. This is actually and ironically, the album’s saving grace from sounding completely watered down and boring. There also seems to be some identity crisis moments where the band attempts some melodies with somewhat sung/clean vocals and just wind up sounding out of place. This debut album from The Kandidate is strictly for fans of modern thrash/groove metal; its simplicity is its strength, although somehow, its weakness as well. –Bryer Wharton

Cloven Hoofs at the Holocaust Dawn
Nuclear War Now!
Street: 02.02
Kerasphorus = Beherit + Angelcorpse + Axis of Advance
What do you get when you get a band spearheaded by P. Helmkamp of Angelcorpse, Revenge and Order from Chaos as well as a session drummer of Axis of Advance, Conqueror, Revenge and Arkhon Infuaustus? You get the face-melting, black/death metal, metaphysical, mystical and hate-spewing EP that is Cloven Hoofs at the Holocaust Dawn. This EP is actually a bit different for fans of bands that Mr. Helmkamp has been a part of. While the EP is insanely raw, it’s also cleanly produced, crystalline clear and heavy on the bass guitar, leaving a massive bottom end that enhances the guitar riffing and blazes the four tracks on this EP into blissful brutality. The vocals not only will scare small children but God-fearing adults as well. It is with sincere hope that I can count on a full-length coming from Kerasphorus. Not that going over and over the four tracks is a bad thing, it just makes me want more of the raw delicacy the band has dished out here. –Bryer Wharton

Lair of the Minotaur
Evil Power
The Grindhouse Records
Street: 04.13
Lair of the Minotaur = High on Fire + Mastodon + Bison B.C.
It’s been a couple of years, but Lair of the Minotaur are back with some rather drastic but not unexpected style changes to their core sound with Evil Power, the band’s fourth full-length. The album kind of reminds me of a thrashier, groove-laden version of early Mastodon before they got all proggy. The doom and angrier, almost death-metal, elements that were more prevalent on past albums are less prevalent here. Evil Power is sheer blood-thickened groove churning along like a rough river with a hefty drum and low bottom-end bass sound that just compels listeners to get their head a-bobbin’ and their toes a-tappin’, all in an evil, rocking, sinister sort of way. While the tracks tend to bleed together, the overall sound invites you to latch onto those ultra thick grooves and leaves a resonant feeling of getting epically pummeled. Most importantly, fans of the band shouldn’t be disappointed and neither should any newcomer. –Bryer Wharton

Les Discrets
Septembre Et Ses Dernières Pensées
Prophecy Productions
Street: 03.29
Les Discrets = My Bloody Valentine + Alcest + Sunlight Ascending
France is on a short list of countries that always seem to have something interesting for music fans to be excited about. Les Discrets are a band put together by mastermind Fursy Teyssier, known for his contributions to the now-defunct Amesoeurs, which is a single piece of a total artistic vision that ambitiously combines music, film and painting. While Amesoeurs was able to achieve a great sense of unease toward modern society, Les Discrets disappears from a careless world entirely, creating a somber, ethereal album full of moments that demand repeated listens. Most of the tracks bury acoustic guitar melodies underneath foundations of hazy, distorted tremolo, which utilizes plenty of delay and creates a strong, dreamlike atmosphere for its duration. This thematic album isn’t something to be tossed into the pile with the majority of them; it’s one that will be in my rotation for quite some time. –Conor Dow

Lighten Up
Absolutely Not
Jump Start
Street: 01.26
Lighten Up = Gorilla Biscuits + Righteous Jams + 1208
I listen to all sorts of stuff, but most of what I really care about is fast, angry hardcore. This is exactly that, man, but with a significant early 2000s punk influence. Following in the giant footsteps of bands like Minor Threat, The Descendents, and The Angry Samoans, all the songs are short as hell, plus they’re all heavily laced with that familiar, refreshing sense of wild-eyed frustration and irony. I know I’ll get shit for saying this, but Absolutely Not sounds like a mix of Punk-O-Rama 7 and Lockin’ Out bands like RZL DZL and The Rival Mob. The gang vocals on “Life on Earth” sound like they got pulled straight off a Good Clean Fun record, minus the overly goofy PMA. My only complaint is that sometimes the guitar parts develop a galloping metal feel which I don’t dig so much. If you even pretend to care about hardcore, you’ll go out and pick up this record right after you cash your next measly paycheck. –Nate Perkins

Little Women
AUM Fidelity
Street: 04.13
Little Women = Dysrhythmia + the Mars Volta interludes + Kaoru Abe
Little Women showed some real potential on Teeth, their previous release, but on Throat, they are trying too hard to be avant-garde. Eighty percent of it sounds like a high school orchestra rehearsal, without the sheet music––a dissonant free-for-all. On “Throat II,” I got a Ligeti “Atmospheres” vibe during the five minutes of atonal saxophone swells, which is commendable, but not thought-provoking. “Throat IV” is basically the only time that the saxophones, drums and guitar become cohesive and musical, which obviously isn’t the goal of free-form jazz, but it’s the goal for most listeners. I imagine that many of us, at times, wish we were artsy enough to love an album like Throat. Though, then we’d have to say things like “Requiem for a Dream is the greatest film ever made,” and “Tetragrameton is The Mars Volta’s best album.” I, for one, can’t live that way. –Andrew Roy

Look Mexico
To Bed to Battle
Suburban Home
Street: 03.23
Look Mexico = Minus the Bear + Fake Problems + The Appleseed Cast
Even though I kinda liked Look Mexico’s first album (2007’s This is Animal Music) and I really liked their follow-up EP (2008’s Gasp Asp), they were a band I could never fully get behind—they seemed a bit too indebted to their influences, and Matt Agrella’s voice was just a bit too emo-y for me. On To Bed to Battle, though, Look Mexico has finally come into their own. The album only contains 10 tracks, but Look Mexico covers a lot of ground on this album, using varied instrumentation to showcase styles from math rock to chamber pop to Americana to, yes, emo. Highlights include the thoroughly memorable “You Stay. I Go. No Following.” which features English troubadour Frank Turner and “Take It Upstairs, Einstein,” where the band creates a sound that I can only describe as dream-twang. To Bed to Battle is still rooted in the Get Up Kids school of sensitive pseudo punk, but Look Mexico have taken the blueprint and run with it to create one of the better albums I’ve heard this year. –Ricky Vigil

The Tenant
Profound Lore
Street: 03.16
Ludicra = The Gault + Weakling + Agalloch
I can‘t remember the last time I‘ve had an album hyped to me as much as Ludicra‘s The Tenant. Props to the band for naming their fourth release after one of Roman Polanski‘s best films (whether intentionally or unintentionally), and more props for releasing an album of such fine mettle (metal?) Granted, this sucker‘s gonna take a while to grow on me— it doesn‘t grab my balls right out of the gate—but I‘m not complaining. The super-dry recording is absolutely stellar, making it easy to imagine what Ludicra sounds like live. No over-produced guitars or drum triggers will be found here, and that speaks volumes about the musicianship and songwriting abilities of the band. Once I have more time to give The Tenant the attention it deserves, I‘m sure it will end up as one of my favorite releases of the year, but, as previously stated, it‘s not an album that will punch you in the face right off the bat. Maybe that‘s a good thing. (Burt’s: 04.05) -Gavin Hoffman

Mass Solo Revolt
Bend In Time
Hop Skip
Street: 04.13
Mass Solo Revolt = Conformists + Casket Lottery + Toad the Wet Sprocket
Well, for starters, these guys have the cutest little band name. I just love it when bands get all contradictory—it’s totally anarchist. Each song incorporates a cool modern rock sound, but somehow seems to sneak in a little cheese-dick action every time. An element that begins to wear thin on your brains as the album progresses (the cheesiest cheese-dick problem about Mass Solo Revolt) is the lyrics. Especially on “Boot Strapper,” when they throw in a reference to Sonic Youth’s “Dirty Boots.” Maybe if vocalist Martin Brummler will give up on his weak Stephen Malkmus impression, they will be more than music that you can use to make your little sister feel cool. –Jon Robertson

Completely Removed
Street: 04.20
Medications = Faraquet + Dinosaur Jr. + Q And Not U
Completely Removed is Medications’ third release, and it couldn’t be choppier, more artsy, or more drawn out and wandering. The lyrics are poetic and clever, and I admire the songwriting, but none of the songs seems to really flow in any recognizable way. The songs “Long Day” and “Seasons” are the strongest of the album, because they seem to almost feel like actual rock n’ roll that would let you just turn your brain off and make out with your girlfriend or something. Everything else feels like it takes real work to listen to, and, well, fuck work. In “Rising to Sleep,” the singers alternate words, which is absolutely never cool unless you’re the Beastie Boys. I want more than anything to trust Ian MacKaye and Dischord, but I’m having a really hard time getting into this album. I mean, it’s OK. But that’s the problem—it’s just OK. –Nate Perkins

20 Buck Spin
Street: 01.01
Megasus = Torche + The Sword + Saviours
Ah, Megasus. For the uninformed, these guys are employees of Harmonix—the company that developed the Rock Band and Guitar Hero games, which have caused so many idiots to believe they can “rock out” without actually being able to play an instrument. All of that aside, Megasus delivers relatively heavy, head-bobbing rock à la Torche and The Sword, and they keep it simple. No hints of drummer Brian Gibson’s indie-darling project Lightning Bolt are to be found here—this record is much more akin to AC/DC than noise rock, and thank the fuck Christ for that. Catchy guitar patterns abound, and the drums are just a wee bit short of pummeling, which, all in all, makes for a rocking experience. Definitely worth checking out, if not only for novelty’s sake. –Gavin Hoffman

Midnight Odyssey
Street: 04.16
Midnight Odyssey = I Shalt Become + Vinterriket + Austere
The landscapes of Australia are easily as bleak as Norway in their own special style. This could explain why much of the black metal that grows from that region tends to be some very desolate shit. Firmament is the second release of this one-man project and it is some of the most mournful stuff I’ve heard in some time. The hollow atmosphere is comparable to Elysian Blaze, which is a major bonus for me, because reverb done carefully can add so much more mood to a song. Each instrument contributes just enough to the songs without overwhelming each other. Though guitar and vocals are the prominent force in each song, there’s also a hidden layer of keys behind most of the tracks, including two fully ambient interludes, creating a pretty unique atmosphere without jumping off into Limbonic Art territory. As someone who enjoys, and almost prefers introspective music, listening to this one is a no-brainer decision. –Conor Dow

Monster Movie
Everyone is a Ghost
Street: 04.06
Monster Movie = The Flaming Lips + Empire of the Sun
“And there is a heaven … that’s higher than the earth.” This album may be worth listening to if only for the faithfully desolate deliverance of the preceding line on the second track. I was initially turned off by the lack of intensity of progression in these songs. If you like music with dramatic climaxes, you should look elsewhere, but Everyone is a Ghost offers an easy-to-digest set of words, MIDI drums, and pulsing synthesizer movements which are epic in their own way. When the synth hits dramatic notes on the third or fourth minute of a song, chords enter extreme keys. Although acoustic tracks like “How the Dead Live” offer a pleasant surprise, this album stays within a very small path. You wouldn’t be able to differentiate any song from another after a day. – Bradley Ferreira

Misere Mortem
Napalm Records
Street: 03.09
Mortemia = Sirenia + early Tristania + AC/DC of goth metal
“Blah blah Morten Veland, blah blah gothic metal, blah blah Evanescence joke.” This is how I feel whenever I write reviews that involve Morten Veland. But wait! This time he’s doing everything himself, which I have to really admire as I admit that I am a pushover for solo projects. I can just picture him having a beer after Sirenia band practice realizing that they have had a new female vocalist for all four albums and saying “fuck it!” only to produce Mortemia as a result. Considering Sirenia is more or less his own brainchild, it’s pretty unsurprising that this is basically Sirenia without female vocals. In their place is a decent amount of real choir vocals, which works really well and doesn’t feel as contrived. The songs aren’t at all adventurous, but if you like his songwriting, you shouldn’t be disappointed here. Since I feel the last two Sirenia releases sucked, this is a nice surprise. –Conor Dow

Motion City Soundtrack
My Dinosaur Life
Street: 01.19
Motion City Soundtrack = The Academy Is.., + Sing It Loud + Jimmy Eat World
There’s a sense of brightness, mellowness and optimism that permeates Motion City Soundtrack’s major-label debut. Maybe that’s because this is clearly a band that has discovered exactly what they want to sound like and have now perfected that sound. They combine damn catchy power chords with lyrical oddities, a sense of whimsy and musical craftsmanship that set them apart from other similar-but-shittier bands that play punk-infused pop. Justin Pierre is a skillful enough vocalist that he can slyly pull off lines like, “I fell asleep watching Veronica Mars again” and then pull his tongue out of his cheek to sincerely belt out a classically emo love song. All in all, this album breathes life into a genre I thought I’d stopped liking when my 14th birthday came along, and it’s definitely the cheeriest thing I’ve heard so far this year. –Cléa Major

Murder By Death
Good Morning, Magpie
Street: 04.06
Murder By Death = Tom Waits + Spindrift + The Good Life
The unholy love children of Ennio Morricone, Nick Cave and Edgar Allen Poe, Murder By Death has never been a band that could be described as “restrained.” MBD has become renowned for their Western-tinged concept albums about zombies, demons and the nature of good and evil, but Good Morning, Magpie is a more controlled affair. Adam Turla’s semi-authentic baritone is a bit less boisterous and cellist Sarah Balliet is resigned to a supporting role on most songs, but this is still undeniably Murder By Death. The band’s strength still lies in their ability to create tiny universes and tell compelling stories within each song, evident on the Pogues-y “As Long as There is Whiskey in the World,” the angry/weary “Piece by Piece” and the Cursive-esque “On the Dark Streets Below.” Even though Good Morning, Magpie, isn’t as strong as previous MBD albums, it’s an interesting and enjoyable change. (Bar Deluxe: 04.03) –Ricky Vigil

New Model Army
Today is a Good Day
Attack Attack
Street: 09.15
New Model Army = The Clash + Southern Death Cult
The latest CD from one of the great English “positive punk” bands circa 1980, this is classic NMA, passionate and unforgiving, relating tales of mankind’s self-destruction through the words of working-class everymen. There are no sleeper tracks here, just an explosion of love and disappointment, rage and hope. The standout “Ocean Rising,” first released by singer Justin Sullivan on his 2003 solo album, wears you away exactly like water carving stone; it’s pure catharsis in song form. NMA are better than ever at creating an experience in CD form, dragging you from the angry certainty of the title track and “Peace is Only” to the militancy of “Arm Yourself and Run,” from acceptance of inevitable loss in “Autumn” to the solemn farewell of “North Star.” These guys prove that old punk rockers don’t have to shoot themselves up into oblivion, and still have much to say 30 years on. –Madelyn Boudreaux

Not to Reason Why
Would You Hug Fire
Street. 04.13
Not To Reason Why = Explosions In The Sky + Do Make Say Think + Russian Circles
Almost every instrumental post-rock band uses the same song structure on all their songs: small to medium build-up, big noise, tiny breakdown, and triumphant ending. While Not to Reason Why is one of the bands that definitely follow the post-rock blueprint, there is something that seems a little more solid about this band compared to the others. The element that makes them stand out is the playing by all four members. Each song consists of drums, guitar, bass and piano, but on every track, each of the four parts seem to come across with enough emotion, power and confidence to keep you listening, which is the element that should put this band at the top of the post-rock list. Hopefully in the future, they can switch it up a bit more. –Jon Robertson

Street: 04.20
Nyseius = Averse Sefira + Marduk + Merrimack + Mayhem
If this French black-metal four-piece are looking to carve a specific stylistic niche for themselves with Militiae, the band’s debut full-length, they’re not. That stated, they’re probably not out to create a niche for themselves; they seem pretty content with being cold, blazing and subtly atmospheric black metal with some nice moments of epically down-tempo and downright scary moments. All of this is fine by me: Especially from a scene that is notably known for some of the more experimental black-metal bands in the scene, it’s nice to get something without any funky frills. Nyseius are cold and calculating, the production has the nice bite of raw yet freezing cold crystalline clear sound, yet has that trademarked black-metal effect in which the instruments meld themselves together to create one cohesively decisive, sinisterly ominous and vividly darkened piece of black-metal music. –Bryer Wharton

Truth or Dare
The End Records
Street: 03.27
OOMPH! = (NIN + Opeth) / Rammstein
Although I liked their electronic industrial work, as Germany’s wildly popular Neue Deutsche Harte band has grown harder over the years, I like them less. Truth or Dare is a greatest hits album with a twist: 20 years of European hits re-recorded in English. “God is a Popstar” is infectious and almost fun and the metallic edge of “Sandman” gets the blood going. However, “True Beauty is So Painful” is painful indeed, with its Vampire-Riding-Hood story and overwrought gaaaawwwwwthic pretension. Everything sounds better when you can’t understand the words, unless the writing is on par with Leonard Cohen, and OOMPH!’s lyrics aren’t. Nothing is gained from recording the songs in English, and something—the ability to stomp around shouting words you don’t even know—is definitely lost. Good for OOMPH! fans and 16-year-olds who draw skulls on their notebooks, but nothing the rest of us can’t live without. –Madelyn Boudreaux

Orden Ogan
Easton Hope
Street: 02.02
Orden Ogan = Brainstorm + Edguy + Mercenary + Symphorce
Coming from a country that breeds power-metal bands like rabbits, we have Orden Ogan, who apparently started out as more of a folk band, none of which has carried over to their third full-length album, Easton Hope. The band’s highly symphonic-backed tunes are extremely well produced, with thick, heavy, thrashing guitar tones, a welcome balance of melody and heaviness, and ballads that don’t sound over-horribly cheesy, although some of the lyrics the band has come up with for the album are a bit silly. In the end, it all can add up to be a bit much and make repeated listening not frequent but still desirable over time. Also, when the album is done, it does have the feeling as if you’ve listened to something like it before, but depending on personal taste, you’ll mind or you won’t; after all, a catchy album is a catchy album, even if it contains a bit of rehash. –Bryer Wharton

The Pack A.D.
We Kill Computers
Mint Records Inc.
Street: 04.27
The Pack A.D. = The White Stripes
This new female guitar-and-drum team is an interesting rendition of regurgitated White Stripes. Lead singer Becky Black has a fairly good range, which holds off the realization of the all-too-similar guitar-countered drum monotony. Then, for a second, there’s a bit of hope. “Cobra Matte” starts with chunky riffs and Black’s vocals swing into this mad fight for survival between beast and prey. An excitement for the possibilities of more is followed by “B.C. is on Fire” (which sounds like the theme song to a cop show), with a jungle fever thump and reverb vocals. Then it’s back to the fight scene only to discover a grim and unnecessary view of the carcass left to rot. (Woodshed: 04/08) –Jessica Davis

Collectors of the King
Regain Records
Street: 03.22
Ragnarok = early Gorgoroth + Taake
Back with a new vocalist and their sixth album, Ragnarok are back with nine rather thrashy tracks of pure Norwegian madness. Using their finely tuned traditional black-metal style, Collectors of the King is bound to satisfy black-metal fans who are looking for little more than an aggressive outlet thanks to concise song structures and several interesting moments throughout its duration. Unfortunately, this traditionalism can be a double-edged sword, and although I certainly enjoy the material, it doesn’t feel like anything I haven’t heard before. I won’t say that this isn’t worth listening to, but I imagine that this will likely fall by the wayside all too quickly among most avid black-metal fans. –Conor Dow

Red Sparowes
The Fear is Excruciating, But Therein Lies the Answer
Sargent House
Street: 04.06
Red Sparowes = Mogwai + Pelican + Dredg
Red Sparowes is composed of a bunch of musicians that have been a part of a lot of awesome bands, most notably Bryant Clifford Myer, the sound effects/guitar player for Isis. If both of Myer’s bands were brothers, Red Sparowes would be the gloomy, post-apocalyptic, cowboy little brother. The band’s third full-length is an improvement from their last album, and still contains all the elements that make bands stand out against the piles and piles of post-rock music out there—song titles that form together to make up a phrase and concept for the album, a heavy and powerful sound that doesn’t fall into the predictable big distortion wash, intelligent bass-playing and, last but not least, sweet slide guitar action. Red Sparowes is definitely one of the best instrumental bands out right now. (Urban: 04.27) –Jon Robertson

Resin Hits
How to Cut a Rock
Street: 04.20
Resin Hits = The Clash + Dick Del + Social Distortion
Resin Hits is a deceiving band. If you were to judge the band by their name and super amateur album artwork, you would get the impression that they were a crappy garage band. While part of this impressions does hold true, behind the cheap presentation and lo-fi recording, the songs are super catchy and entertaining. The highlights of each of the eight tracks are surf-punk guitar riffs and scratchy vocals that sound even more beat up then Mike Ness’s voice. So give Resin Hits a try—even though it looks lame, it’s still dope. –Jon Robertson

Retribution Gospel Choir
Sub Pop
Street: 01.26
Retribution Gospel Choir = Torche + Weld-­era Neil Young & Crazy Horse + Besnard Lakes
Pulverizing, devastating … loud. Three adjectives I never thought I would write in a review of any project by everyone’s favorite cantankerous Mormon, Alan Sparhawk. Following on the heels of their self-titled debut, 2 expands on the massive power chords and catchy choruses of their debut and steers the trio into sludgy, stoner-rock territory with heavily distorted guitars married with rambling classic-rock sensibilities. Sparhawk’s guitar theatrics are in full swing here, layering thick layers of reverb over swirling, druggy guitar drones and an absolutely face-melting guitar solo on “Poor Man’s Daughter.” Making up for some of the lost immediacy and succinctness of their first album, producer Matt Beckley (Avril Lavigne) pushes everything to the absolute front of the mix, giving the lucid pop moments the sheen of a big-budget radio band. (Kilby: 04.16) –Ryan Hall

Street: 04.13
Rooms = Minus the Bear + The Cure + Pinback
This record starts out with the right sense of urgency to the drumming on “Window and Rattle.” What comes over the low, lightly distorted Pinback-esqe guitar are vocals that sound like they could be delivered by Robert Smith. I started getting a sense of some of the influences for these guys with “Forming Shapes,” which has a ska feel while still being math rock. This music pulses and twists, swings and shatters. Dizzying complexity and tight, staccato guitar rhythms drop into poppy choruses and that 1980s vibe that’s still going on a little. “Left Arms” and “No Fortress” are fast, and the drumming just pops and grabs you by the ribcage. “Red Sky” is slower, but has an addictive chorus. Perhaps the only fault with the material is that so much of it is good—the same kind of good—so that it blurs together, making the album like one epic melody snipped into sharp little pieces. The one epic melody would be about gritty neighborhoods and running through backyards at night. –Rio Connelly

Rotting Christ
Season of Mist
Street: 02.15
Rotting Christ = Thou Art Lord + Thorns + Nocternity
Historically speaking, Greece was the birthplace of advanced ancient cultures, so it makes sense that a band as collected and revered as Rotting Christ might be Greek. The band have bounced around, trying their hand at various genres throughout their more than 20 years together, but for the last four albums, they have evolved into creating a brand of pristine, dark, and dare I say, catchy black metal with a thick gothic tinge. As palatable as they may be, they seem to effortlessly retain their recognizable sound. Aealo is a loosely themed album about a soldier’s experience on the battlefield, and as you may expect, the album sounds fairly military as a result. Most every track features drumming reminiscent of Summoning as well as contributions from a full traditional choir, guest vocals from A.A. Nemtheanga (Primordial), Magus (Necromantia) and a Diamanda Galas cover which features the powerful Diamanda herself on vocals. Aealo is far from disappointing and a great tool for introducing people to good metal. –Conor Dow

Ruby Suns
Fight Softly
Sub Pop
Street: 03.02
Ruby Suns = Yeasayer + Brian Wilson + Memory Tapes
Hear that? That’s the sound of sunshine, and what perfect timing. It’s been three years since New Zealand’s Ryan Mcphun, a.k.a Ruby Suns, released the tropical psychedelic pop album Sea Lion. The third release, Fight Softly, finds the one-man multi-instrumentalist stepping into a blippy-synth dance club located on the sun. “Sun Lake Rinsed” opens the album slow with Ryan’s harmonic falsetto voice over heavily programmed drums. If you can wait four minutes, you’ll be rewarded with the shuffling beat of “Mingus and Pike” and the Washed Out, chillwavy-ness of “Cinco.” The transition from “Cranberry,” about a day trip to the lake, into the soothing drums on “Closet Astrologer,” will make you feel like you’re drifting into a dream. Highlight is the luscious, multi-layered tropical rhythms of “Dusty Fruit.” Fight Softly isn’t as brilliant as its predecessor, but you could easily embrace this dance-a-thon. (Kilby: 04.06) –Courtney Blair

Scout Niblett
The Calcination
Drag City
Street: 01.26
Scout Niblett = PJ Harvey + Nirvana + Cat Power
“Welcome to my self-made sweatbox,” Scout sings in the title track of her fifth album. The album cover shows her in a full grin, eagerly waving at you while holding a blowtorch at full flame. She’s asking you to join her inside her confessional sweatbox, which is made of bare bones minimal instrumentation, a sludgy distorted guitar and sporadic drums. Hang on while she takes you for a ride into the grunge past, reminiscent of PJ’s Rid of Me and Kurt’s Bleach. Scout’s lyrics spew claustrophobic disturbing visuals throughout: “The voices said just do it/I think I agree, because someone’s got to do it,” she howls on “Just Do It.” The fuzzy guitar on “Cherry Cheek Bomb” sends a hypnotic throb to your head and the album closes with the nine-minute numbing hum of “Meet and Greet.” Steve Albini-produced Calcination may leave you worn, but rightly so. This is Scout’s most moving piece of work yet. –Courtney Blair

Purulent Reality
Paragon Records
Street: 03.09
Sectioned = Death + Morbid Angel + Unleashed (early) + Disincarnate + Entombed (early)
Tired of blast beats, heavy grooves and Cookie Monster vocals done and done again and again, only to have the effect of making the listener tired and bored? The U.K.’s Sectioned take us back to the mid-to-early 90s, with a crossbreed of Florida and Swedish-styled death metal, and it’s damn satisfying—a death metal band that actually focuses on songwriting rather than attempting to be more brutal than brutal. Purulent Reality songs meld well with each other, giving listeners an experience with the entire package that demands its audience to listen again. Paces range from mid-to-fast tempo and the production lends itself quite well to the era it’s trying to capture. None of this is contrived or sounding like old-school worship; it all just sounds like a band from that fantastic, dynamic, groundbreaking era of death metal that you missed out on. Sectioned take a plethora of styles, dissect them bluntly with a blood-encrusted rusty knife, and give us meaty tidbits of scenes either long gone, rehashed, or progressed beyond recognition. –Bryer Wharton

The Slackers
The Great Rocksteady Swindle
Street: 04.20
The Slackers = The Pietasters + Westbound Train + Deal’s Gone Bad
It seems unfair to describe a band as great as The Slackers by comparing them to other bands, but if you imagine Lou Reed, Bob Dylan and Otis Redding fronting every incarnation of The Wailers simultaneously, you’re almost there. The Slackers’ mix of ska, reggae, rocksteady and dub is still intact on The Great Rocksteady Swindle, but on much of the album, the band sounds like a bunch of New York garage rockers covering old Motown tunes. As always, Vic Ruggiero’s tales of heartbreak and loneliness delivered through his thick Brooklyn accent are a highlight, particularly on “How it Feels” and “Because.” The instrumental psych-reggae cover of Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine” is amazing, but there are a few duds, mostly when Glen Pine takes the mic. Swindle isn’t as good as the Slackers’ earlier albums, but it’s still miles ahead of any other ska band on the planet. –Ricky Vigil

Summer People
Good Problems
Red Leader
Street: 04.06
Summer People = Stars + Arcadia Fire + Anathallo + Jesus Lizard + At The Drive In
I think the members of Summer People all have a little bit of a split personality inside them. The majority of Good Problems is full of complicated multi-layered indie jams similar to The Broken Social Scene. But there are a few songs on here that don’t fit in at all, like track two, “Shallow Water People,” which sounds like a Sparta B-side; track three, “Broken Bones,” which sounds like a track Jesus Lizard would never want to release; and track six, which sounds like Curtis Jensen from Form of Rocket barfing out some vocals over a Cowboy Junkies song. With the exception of those three bastard songs, the rest of the album flows smoothly and has some great mellow highlights. – Jon Robertson

Svarti Loghin
Drifting Through the Void
Street: 04.16
Svarti Loghin = Lyrinx + Alice in Chains + Fen
You’ll probably notice around the middle of the second track here that this album has very prominent layers of clean and acoustic guitar over the top of the even-tempo music, which continues through the entire album. It’s still black metal in places, but it isn’t the shredding kind. For example, the fourth track, “Drifting Through the Void,” has a moment of lonely guitar and harmonica toward the end. Most of the vocals are performed with grim black-metal wails and shrieks, but sometimes they venture into clean, almost blues-like territory. It sounds strange and even potentially silly by description, and it will probably be something black-metal purists won’t enjoy, but I think it’s actually music coming full circle, since without blues, there would be no metal. In fact, much like jazz, blues was considered “devil music” in its time—and now here we have it, black metal and blues in a very listenable combination. –Conor Dow

Mulmets Viser
Napalm Records
Street: 04.06
Svartsot = Korpikalani + Fintroll
It’s a shame Denmark’s Svartsot lost all but one of its members in 2008 due to “creative differences”; I quite enjoyed the band’s debut full-length, Ravnenes Saga, and had hopes for a catchy pagan/folk-metal record. Mulmets Viser isn’t a bad album by any means—when the pacing, flutes and mandolin are going, it’s fairly catchy per song. I say “per song,” because individually, they sound quite well and infectious, but when you listen to them all back to back, the album gets old quickly, partially due to the rather rehashed-sounding guitars throughout. There aren’t nearly enough guitar leads or soloing to make the songs stand out and the monotone, death-growled vocals absolutely slaughter the rest of the album’s hope at sounding unique. If you need some good, upbeat heavy metal sounds to throw in the background, Mulmets Viser will suffice, but it’s a far cry from how good the band’s debut was. –Bryer Wharton

Season of Mist
Street: 02.09
Shining = Den Saakaldte + Make a Change, Kill Yourself ...
Shining has always been a band to demand respect. Rather than resorting to rote Satan worship, they manage to create a sense of oppressive despair in their music which is so self-loathing that you can taste the steel barrel of your own pistol between your teeth. When most depressive black metal wallows in bedroom mediocrity with overly lengthy or shoddy songwriting, Shining are a full and live performing band with more of a direction than merely being “suicidal” for the sake of it. The vocals of Kvarforth add another dimension to further separate the band from their peers by offering his unconventional yet honest range with an almost crazy street-preacher quality to it. The writing and production is on par with Halmstad, with the fourth track being a double-take-worthy cover which shifts the mood of the album for its remaining duration. Shining is here to remind you: There is. No light. At the end of the tunnel. –Conor Dow

Slim Cessna’s Auto Club
Buried Behind the Barn
Alternative Tentacles
Street: 03.16
Slim Cessna’s Auto Club = Nick Cave + Old Crow Medicine Show + Chris Isaak
If you haven’t checked out Slim Cessna’s Auto Club, you need to do yourself a favor and hear the strangest gothic-country/roots/alternative/folk band out there. They effortlessly re-imagine roots music, forcing the listener to pay attention to the drastic and moody turns each song can and will take. Buried Behind the Barn is not a new record, but is a collection of original versions of classic Auto club tracks. Half of these tracks, after some evolution, made it onto The Bloudy Tenent Truth Peace release in 2004, but what is really interesting is to hear a bit of the band’s process. A song like “Port Authority Band” is funny in that here, it almost sounds like a traditional folk song, but maybe after awhile, being bounced around in the heads of the players in this band, it could grow into something we couldn’t so easily classify. But on the other hand, a traditional-sounding folk song with the slightest undertones of darkness seems to fit in just as well in the Auto Club canon. Truly an original, Slim Cessna’s Auto Club proves to be paramount in the alternative country scene. – James Orme

Ted Leo and the Pharmacists
The Brutalist Bricks
Street 03.09
TL/RX = Chisel + the Make-Up + Springsteen
I was turned on to Ted Leo through his ’90s band Chisel, and ever since then I’ve been a fan—though I didn’t become a rabid fan until 2004’s Shake the Sheets.  I wasn’t sure that Leo and the boys would ever again be able to hit the mark they made with that one.  My fears were confirmed with 2007’s Living with the Living, with its too-wide-a-range approach to song choice and the fact that the three really good tunes from the session were only available on a limited bonus disc (and poorly mastered at that).  A new bassist, the return of early guitarist James Canty, and another label switch have done wonders in helping the Pharmacists focus.  The Brutalist Bricks is more akin to a Chisel record than to the most recent Pharmacists sound, and that’s a good thing.  The pop edge is still there, but in a much more muted form.  The punk feel of the album flows well from the opening song, “The Mighty Sparrow,” all the way to 13th and final track, “Last Days.”  There are a few speed bumps along the way, but nothing that’s not forgivable.  The falsetto/reggae Ted Leo has been shelved for now, and the classic punk, New Jersey Ted Leo has once again strapped on the sunburst Gibson guitar.  Welcome back, guys, it’s been a while. –James Bennett

Terri Tarantula
Skok Records
Street: 02.05
Teri Tarrantula = Elliott Smith + The Walkabouts
For awhile, the song “The Daredevil Way” from Tarantula’s self-titled album resided next to an Elliott Smith single on my listening device and I would occasionally have a hard time distinguishing between Moeller (Terri’s real last name) and the emo-poster boy. This isn’t a bad thing. Moeller’s vocals are a bit more ethereal, effected and of course, more female than Smith’s—not to say they aren’t as earnest—but different enough to warrant a listen. Regardless, this is the first album I have ever heard from a label hailing from Slovenia, and that alone is enough for at least a passing listen, which is what I recommend if you’d like some contemplative, well-orchestrated songs about subjects as varied as Evel Knievel and D.B. Cooper. –JP

These New Puritans
Street: 03.02
These New Puritans = (old Pigface/Wire) * Jazz Butcher
Stuffed full of heady, even pretentious, lyrics and an orchestrated sound, heavy with percussion, Hidden is hard to classify. So THIS is why critics invented the term “post punk!” After a minstrel horn intro, it kicks into unstoppable drums and creepy sampled vox on “We Want War,” which could almost be an industrial-tribal dance song, but is too long for the dance floor. “Fire-Power” sounds like a Blue Man Group outtake. The jazzier “Hologram” and nearly hip-hop “Attack Music” are no more straightforward, and the CD rounds out with medieval tropes on “Canticle” and “Drum Courts—Where Corals Lie” (dig that crazy title, y’all!). The final product is what I’d imagine coming from the Legendary Pink Dots OFF the drugs, or an alternate universe ThouShaltNot. Overall, a strange CD from a very talented and promising band. Just don’t call them avant garde! –Madelyn Boudreaux

Titus Andronicus
The Monitor
XL Records
Street: 03.09
Titus Andronicus = The Hold Steady + Hüsker Dü + Desaparecidos
The Monitor vs. CSS Virginia marked the first naval battle between two ironclad battleships. The battle was unprecedented, not because it was the first of its time, but because it pitched the Civil War to heights of unbelievable spectacle. 148 years later, New Jersey shoegaze-punks Titus Andronicus treat this event with the dignity it deserves, by creating a blistering, pissed-off, and ultimately triumphant, sprawling masterpiece of a record. Eschewing the typical pop-song dynamic, Andronicus craft long-playing songs that dive from bombastic to mournful and then back again. By couching their songs in the language, imagery, and even prose of the Civil War, they remind us 148 years isn’t that long ago and if we draw our boundaries along political and ideological fault-lines, we are doomed to repeat history, but this time our ships are much bigger: “It’s still us against them … and they’re winning.” –Ryan Hall

Neo-Satanic Supremacy
Napalm Records
Street: 02.09
Troll = Dimmu Borgir + Old Man’s Child + Cradle of Filth
If you’re a fan of all three of the bands in the above equation, you’re going to love Troll. In effect, I like Troll, who features Stian Arnesen, a.k.a. Nagash (formerly of Dimmu Borgir until 1999 and part of industrial black metal crew The Kovenant). This is tightly produced symphonic black metal, with one solid flaw—the blastbeat-oriented drumming sounds a bit programmed and machine-produced, which equates to being a bit over-triggered. Aside from that fact, the production fits exactly what Troll is trying to do, which is craft some glorious keyboard-driven symphonic black metal that sounds as meaty and thick as a juicy porterhouse. For what this is trying to achieve, like their aforementioned peers, it’s well-orchestrated and finely produced symphonic black metal with an atmosphere of evil over-indulging-decadence and brutal heaviness, and they achieve it with ease. –Bryer Wharton

Troubled Horse
Bring My Horses Home/Shirleen 7” single
Street 03.19
Troubled Horse = Sir Lord Baltimore + Roky Erickson + Black Sabbath
I’m not sure what possessed the youth of Sweden to stop burning churches and start listening to psych rock, but they are better for it. And so are we. If you can get past the fact that the Scandinavian four-piece pattern their look after The Doobie Brothers, and if you get your mind around the notion that at least half of them also play in the Swedish doom metal band Witchcraft, you will be surprised at how utterly 1970s American the whole project is. From power chords, galloping drums and lyrics with zingers like “So good lookin’, I wanna know what you’re cookin’,” the whole thing seems a little too classic rock. It made me laugh out loud the first time through. Yet every subsequent listen has made me bang my head a little harder and smile a little wider. I was not expecting sun-starved, frozen northern Europe to come up with something this listenable. I mean, I knew it was a good idea to lock up Varg Vikernes for the better part of 16 years, but I had no idea that Scandinavian metal would get this much better in his absence. –James Bennett

Unholy Grave
Grind Killers
Selfmadegod Records
Street: 03.23
Unholy Grave = Discharge + Napalm Death (early) + Heresy
Quantity and quality, that’s what exists not only in the massive back catalogue of Nagoya, Japan’s Unholy Grave but their first full-length album since 2007. Seriously, if you wanted a complete collection of every recording and split these 1993-born grind/noise fiends have dished out, you’d have some serious searching to do, with over 100 releases. But that point is moot. Grind Killers is easily more about the aesthetic than making any song sound pretty. The record was recorded live, which is easily heard in its raw, almost rehearsal-sounding quality, but that is one of the best parts about grind, and in the case of Unholy Grave crust/punk as well, it’s not supposed to sound polished and perfect. The rawness in its fuzzy production and/or noticeable errors, flaws and simplicity give that sense of capturing a moment of sheer grind chaos, like you can hear the sweat dripping and see the spit flying from these disheveled, pissed-off guys. It’s not supposed to be catchy; it’s supposed to be aggression-displayed in ferocious noise and, indeed, it’s that and then some. –Bryer Wharton

As Yggdrasil Trembles
Nuclear Blast
Street: 04.06
Unleashed = Amon Amarth + God Dethroned + Dismember + Bolt Thrower
There’s a fine comfort in consistency and somehow, that consistency shines with Unleashed. There are massive amounts of Viking-themed battle hymns that just beckons to be jammed, blasted or whatever you do when you listen to extreme heavy metal at loud volumes. Yes, the band has undergone some small metamorphoses throughout their over 20 years of existence, but that’s to be expected. The band can still capture the raw essence of death metal, and have even polished it up (with battle-drawn blood, that is) on their last few albums. It doesn’t get old, it’s just goddamned Odin-tastic epic death metal with good morsels of death metal-styled tremolo riffing, mid-to-blazing-paced songs with decipherable lyrics that you can yell along with, like Thor does when he swings his hammer. For fans of Unleashed or those just looking to unleash a Viking assault for your pleasure, As Yggdrasil Trembles far from disappoints. –Bryer Wharton

Van Canto
Tribe of Force
Napalm Records
Street: 03.09
Van Canto = a cappella metal
Some might consider what Germany’s Van Canto does makes them a sort of niche band or a novelty act. But I consider it damned awesome, and once you hear it, you will too. The band consists of six members with five vocalists and one that actually plays a physical instrument—a drummer. After awhile of listening to Tribe of Force, you forget the band is even (almost) a cappella. The original material shines insanely bright, with one cover, the amazingly done “Master of Puppets.” The album equates out to a power-metal style, but it’s more than that; they showcase just how important a person’s voice is as a musical instrument. The rhythms never cease to amaze me on this album, by far their best thus far and the guitar solos are mind-boggling in the fact that they sound like real guitars. To be understood or just to know what they do, Van Canto need to be heard. Descriptions fall short of the massive feats these musicians capture with their vocal chords. –Bryer Wharton

Napalm Records
Street: 03.09
Varg = Bathory + Ensiferum + Unleashed + Ulver (early)
There seems to be a debate about Varg being correctly labeled as pagan metal, with the band’s obvious forefront of ravishingly cold, fast and raw black metal and some devastatingly brutal undertones of death metal. Yet Varg does have a pagan metal rhythmic and subtle musical core with some darkly sinister acoustic guitars to accompany the raw mentality, along with the themes of Vikings and Norse mythology, which if I knew German (the sung language), I’d know more about. This is pagan metal that splits the mediocrity and fluffiness of bands like Turisas like a blunt battle-axe to the forehead. The production of Blutaar is executed to near perfection; the tones retain a raw feeling but are crisp and pristinely sharp. The vocals have the quality of a bleeding throat delivering as much raw pain as they can. It is with a triumphant scream that I will honestly proclaim this as one of the best metal albums thus far this year, wherever your tastes may lie. –Bryer Wharton

Various Artists
Afro Rock Vol. 1
Street: 03.16
Afro Rock Vol. 1 = Sly Stone + Fela Kuti
Afro Rock was originally released on Duncan Brooker’s Kona label in 2001 and went on to become highly influential, only to disappear into obscurity a short year later. We are lucky to have a label like Strut to revive and reissue gems. Afro Rock can’t contain its energetic funky goodness from invading your speakers; it’s time to let these infectious grooves loose and get your ass-a-shakin’. The album opens with the explosive “Fever” from Jingo, into Geraldo Pino’s James Brown-esque “Heavy Heavy Heavy”. There’s a confident swagger on Steele Beautttah’s flute-driven track, “Africa (is Dead)” and something awkward yet fascinating about the looping grooves of Das Yahoos’s space-infused “Mabala.” It’s Dackin Dackino’s 12-minute “Yuda” that stands out, though, with its sweat-laced slinky guitar, mad bongos and killer sax solo. Find Afro Rock and get ready to be redeemed before it’s lost in obscurity again. –Courtney Blair

If This Isn’t A Dream …
Southern Lord
Street: 01.19
Virulence = Black Flag + Bl’ast + Poison Idea
If you’ve never heard of Virulence before, but you consider yourself a fan of Fu Manchu, kill yourself. Please. The remnants of southern California’s Virulence formed Fu Manchu shortly after the band dissolved, having left in their wake a handful of LPs and cassettes, making this collection the first time any of this material has been made available on CD … which is pretty fucking sweet, although it shouldn’t have taken 20+ years for this band to be re-recognized. Sonically, Virulence had a ton in common with later Black Flag (without sounding like them), and this collection is, simply put, a breath of fresh air from the grave. Super-heavy recording, drums that sound like war machines, guitar and bass that could shred much of what people consider “heavy” music these days, and punker-than-thou vocals. Just pick the fucker up, already. –Gavin Hoffman

Devil’s Poison
Hells Headbangers
Street: 03.23
Vomitor = Slaughter + Kreator (old) + Poison (Ger) + Sodom
It’s been eight years since the last full-length album from these sinister Australian death/thrashers—why? Yeah, I guess the members are associated with other bands and whatnot, but Devil’s Poison gets my old-school death/thrash-loving blood a-boiling with oh so much fury. Vomitor don’t play retro bullshit thrash metal, they just play mad-death-crazed hell-spawned thrash metal fast-tempo to down-tempo, blasting with abysmal echoing vocal yells that laugh in the face of melody and anything remotely clean. This is down-n’-dirty metal and it’s gloriously good. Guitar solos shred out of the meaty-raw main rhythm riffing and dishevel and displace everything that’s going on. They’re brief and maddening and break the tempo on purpose, all with the intent to induce sonic-hatred-bred chaos. Don your battle apparel and join the war for no-frills, all-out thrash metal with Vomitor’s Devil’s Poison. –Bryer Wharton

Vultures United
Street: 03.16
Red Scare
Vultures United = Give up the Ghost + Hot Snakes + Descendents
Vultures United combines anger, humor, honesty, hardcore and rock n’ roll into a fresh take on punk rock that is at once reminiscent of the attitude of bands like the Descendents, and modern. There’s no room for mysterious lyrical rambling on Savages. Instead, vocal lines are straight ahead, to the point and composed in a stream-of-consciousness narrative style that sounds as if vocalist Jordan Salazar is having a loud conversation over hardcore rock n’ roll guitars. “I’m not blaming anyone/It was me having fun fun fun,” he implores on “Ears Eyes Nose and Throat of a Dying Metropolis.” Musically, Vultures United sound akin to a mix of Suicide File and Hot Snakes, and at first blush are nothing to write home about. But then the sounds get deeper, new textures are brought in, horns blare on a few tracks and once that combines with the punk-as-hell lyrical delivery, it’s a combination that can’t be beat. –Peter Fryer

The Watson Twins 
Talking to You, Talking to Me
Vanguard Records   
Street: 02.10
The Watson Twins = Carole King Lite + Emmylou Harris Extra Lite
It’s sad when you anticipate that you’ll enjoy or even love an album, and then after several listens (in this case, seven, to be exact), remain unimpressed with it.  L.A. music-scene regulars and identical twin sisters Chandra and Leigh Watson undeniably make pretty enough music together, especially when they sing back-up for each other or, even better, when they harmonize.  Born and bred in Kentucky, their songs tend to lean toward alt-country, but with a definite undercurrent of soul infused into them. The duo has an interesting history, working through the L.A. indie scene with their unique vocal harmonies as back-up singers, then branching out as Black Swan, before adopting their current moniker while collaborating with Rilo Kiley singer Jenny Lewis on Rabbit Fur Coat. The production of their new album is sleek, courtesy of Russell Pollard and J. Soda of Everest and the music itself is certainly pleasant, but there’s something that I just can’t put my finger on that doesn’t quite work for my ears.  “Devil In You” and “Midnight” are quite listenable, and “Snow Canyons” is gorgeous, but mostly these 12 tracks blend indistinguishably from one another.  Therein seems to lie the biggest problem: the sister’s greatest strength (their pretty voices) sound nearly the same on every track.  While this may work for the nondescript listener, it makes for an unmemorable, if not downright boring, album.  And that’s a shame about the whole thing, because The Watson Twins are clearly talented. –Dean O Hillis

Way To End
Desecrated Internal Journey
Debemur Morti Productions
Street: 10.30.09
Way To End = Furze + Spektr + Deathspell Omega
I really wanted to hate this. For some reason, the way the album presented itself (before listening) simply screamed lame. However, this simple lesson in “not-judging-a-book-by-its-cover” has resulted in quite a pleasant surprise. Way To End offers convincing dissonant French metal of the dark persuasion, and has no qualms about tossing in jazz beats and breaks to offset the otherwise constant riff-assault (mainly on the high strings.) Blastbeats are kept tasteful, and astute listeners will undoubtedly be able to understand that Way To End is not “ripping off” many of the other bands in the French scene—they instead are using said bands as a sort of template, and have expanded on this template in a very palatable and, dare I say, interesting way. –Gavin Hoffman

The Weakerthans
Live At The Burton Cummings Theatre
Street 03.23
The Weakerthans = the Constantines + Neil Young + a literate version of Vampire Weekend
You have Canadians and then you have CANADIANS.  The Weakerthans fall clearly on the all-caps side of the scale.  This live CD/DVD showcases a healthy cross-section of their sound with songs from all four studio albums making the cut.  The band is fantastic live and several of the 18 tracks are played faster than they were originally recorded—a move that adds both freshness and energy to the more than hour-long set.  The crowd is unremarkable, with the exception of Ernesto from Mexico, a fan brought on stage to play the guitar solo on 1999’s “Wellington’s Wednesdays.”  In addition to ripping through the solo, Ernesto proves that Canada has some non-Inuit minorities—and even some with skinny jeans.  Serving as a bit of a greatest hits collection, I can safely say that this is the most Canadian record that I’ve ever heard. There are at least two references to the metric system, a shout-out to Canadian dollar coins, a song about curling, another about Sasquatch AND some poorly spoken French thrown into the mix. And when you think that John Samson has the courage to sing “I hate Winnipeg” to a crowd of Winnipegians and to mention just how much the Guess Who sucked (in a theater named after their singer), it becomes clear that these guys can do no wrong.  They are hometown heroes playing to an auditorium of their friends—all live albums should be this good. –James Bennett    

The Wonder Years
The Upsides
No Sleep
Street: 01.26
The Wonder Years = New Found Glory + Set Your Goals + Title Fight
Oh pop-punk-revival revival, you’re the genre I hate to love. While most would scoff at local bands trying to emulate the radio-punk of the early 2000s, bands on Run For Cover Records and No Sleep are held in high esteem for doing the exact same thing. These bands shouldn’t be treated any differently because they’re on a national label and hardcore kids have an inexplicable boner for this kind of music, but I’m here to tell you that I thoroughly enjoyed The Upsides. Don’t get me wrong—The Upsides isn’t a masterpiece by any means, but it does everything it’s supposed to do well. It’s fast and catchy and paints a pretty good picture of what it feels like to be a dorky, isolated teenager finding solace in music. Plus, there are multiple Arrested Development references, so the album gets a few bonus points. The Upsides won’t change your mind about anything, but if you need a dose of some New Found Glory-esque pop punk, it’ll definitely fill that void. –Ricky Vigil

Worm Ouroboros
Worm Ouroboros
Profound Lore
Street: 12.09
Worm Ouroboros = The Gault + The 3rd and the Mortal + Amber Asylum
This is going to be a somewhat daunting review. Simply put, this is quite possibly the best album I’ve heard this year. Featuring members of the extremely underrated Bay Area act The Gault, as well as death-metal act World Eater, Worm Ouroboros’ debut release is, well, fucking beautiful, and would seem more at home on a label like 4AD as opposed to Profound Lore, but kudos to PL for releasing this. Vocalist/bassist Lorraine Rath has one of those “dreamy-type” voices that lulls one into an interesting place, and the music sways seamlessly between shoegaze and light doom, creating an atmosphere that most metal bands can only dream of. This album has been in heavy rotation since I received it, and my guess is that it will fall into heavy rotation for you as well, once you add it to your collection. –Gavin Hoffman

Earache Records
Street: 04.06
Wormrot = Insect Warfare + Napalm Death + Nasum
Being a sucker for good grindcore, there’s absolutely no getting around the fact of how damn good Abuse, the debut album from Singapore trio Wormrot, is. It seems like it ends in a blink of an eye because of how fast the songs actually are. The fact that it’s only 22 minutes helps that perception, but it feels like the album is done in five minutes and that’s a good thing, because you’re just going to go back and listen to it again. There are no frills or niche styles for the genre on Abuse—it’s just pure, crusty-punkified-groove n’ thrash snarling grindcore played at Mr. Sulu’s-head-is-smashed-in-the-console warspeed. It also has swirling drumming that will have you turning your music-listening area into a circle pit. To put it simply, this is old-school-flavored rotten grindcore with a great modern production value, made by grindcore fans for grindcore fans. – Bryer Wharton

Yeller Bellies
Here to Suffer
Outhouse Eagle
Street: 12.19.09
Yeller Bellies = The Legendary Shack Shakers + Toby Keith or some asshole + The Bomboras – the thick reverb and spooky organs
Here to Suffer is not a rockabilly record as much as I hoped it would be. It’s country through and through—and not cool country/western like Hank Williams or even Deke Dickerson—just pure modern CMT garbage. The vocals are absolutely unbearable. The only song that’s even a little bit tolerable is “El Guante,” which is an almost decent (instrumental) surf tune. The only problem is that it sounds like the drummer tried to learn how to play surf music without ever listening to a Dick Dale record, which is odd because he has a huge pompadour. The sound is awfully bare, yet the whole album still manages to sound embarrassingly overproduced. Don’t waste your time and money—they would be better spent actively trying to search out and destroy each and every copy of this terrible, terrible record. –Nate Perkins