Hard Reviews 2
by Martin Popoff

Herbert - Chrysalis
(Ugly Pretty Little Music)

This unassuming little indie tugged my ear with its subtle crossing of stoner metal with progressive or jam band tendencies. I believe the band wants to be called progressive rock, but that's way off field, Herbert really loping like a drunken Orange Goblin or Monster Magnet (vocals sound like Wyndorf) but using their healthy non-classification vibe to fool with time signatures and generally throw curves, including lyrical ones and even visual ones like the cover art and look of the band itself, which are all quite non-metal. But make no mistake, this is ruled by old fuzzy guitars, and all the tomfoolery just helps set the band above the old Sabbath re-engineers. Contact: 508 California Ave., Santa Cruz CA 95060, buckwylee@yahoo.com, http://herbert.iuma.com.
Rating 8

Sacred Steel - Wargods Of Metal
(Metal Blade)

A marked improvement on the debut, but these Shrapnel-bottom-feeding melodies still grate mine ears (see Tonight The Witches Ride, Iron Legions and sour ballad Dethrone The Tyrant King), much fault to the bleating vocal chest-thump of Gerrit P. Mutz. But it is perhaps this nerdy Star Wars comic collector eccentricity and laughing-out-loud embracement of metal cliche that will endear (with a wink) Sacred Steel to fans of this novelty genre, led of course by Hammerfall. But this list of songtitles approaches bald-faced humour really, and I just can't shake that and see these guys as real.
Rating 5

Soil - El Chupacabra

Not exactly your average career path, Soil have now released two five-track EP's. But that fact can be seen to harken back to the days when EP's would create a buzz. And the buzz behind Soil is the following: a heady, heavy combination of street-heated metal a la Nashville Pussy or forgotten sons Speedball, the grunge of Alice In Chains, and a fierce, almost European metal attack that hints at Entombed (cover art might have something to do with that also). Sure, Soil's sum total package might even recall Creed, but that would deny the meat and potatoes sledgehammer swing of the thing. Look for a new album with fellow Chicago noisenik Steve Albini at the helm sometime in March. But for now, this is just a little too everywhere and brief to make the huge intended impression.
Rating 7

Dimmu Borgir - Spiritual Black Dimensions
(Nuclear Blast)

Becoming one of the best-selling bands in the Nuclear Blast roster, Dimmu Borgir are certainly the object of much buzz from seller and prospective purchaser alike. And if you like their carved out tentspace within the dozen flavours of black, then Spiritual Black Dimensions will not disappoint. Personally, I see the majesty, the colour and the textured depth to all this, but I'm feeling a little hit by the old 'more of the same' emotion, Dimmu tossing themselves on the pile (near the top mind you), of the bands mushing their axes and keys together, indeed relying more on keyboards for tune, and in general, softening the edges of their attack. Same complaint I had with Cradle Of Filth. And here's the rub: the keyboards are usually simple-toned washes, with all the interesting stuff happening on those buried guitars (drums are also quite distant), even though Dimmu is not above replaying their own invented conventions, while soloing along the new black line that almost always straddles an Yngwie finger wingnut next to a Maiden twin melody. Verdict: as highly creative within the band's conservative self-set boundaries, but not as truly arresting as mad scientists Opeth, and too creamy smooth to shotgun beers with the new crackly forces of Witchery and The Haunted.
Rating 8