Hard Reviews 2
by Martin Popoff

Solstice - New Dark Age

UK's imposing Solstice have returned through fire with what has got to be one of the more interesting works to combine doom and progressive since Anathema's and Amorphis' metamorphosing catalogues. The high points are many, most culminating in a four-part symphony of metal crucials revolving around drum sound, drum performance, guitar sound and overall production. This is most evident on the rock hard confidence of the opening title track and Alchemiculte, which is eight minutes of vibrating, down-tuned mayhem laced with Maiden. In betwixt the hellfire perfection of those mountain-sized guitars, there's a bunch of minstrel mucking about, but it all kinda fits, because even the heavy stuff is far from harsh, more like an earthquake you know in resignation and peace, will mark your end. High and various relief throughout, both musically and vocally, New Dark Age is a classic that insistently captures doom for the serious creators, snatching it away from those who would become stoner rock.
Rating 9

Black Star - Barbed Wire Soul
(Metal Blade)

This is of course 3/4 of Carcass progressing down the love-it (me) hate-it (everybody else) path of Swasong. Out in England like six months ago or more, the band has finally figured out how to get it happening o'er here, Metal Blade doing well to pick this sucker up. And of course I dig this, Ken, Carlo, Griff and Jeff, with the help of a restrained Colin Richardson, finding raw, vital metal grooves, closer to the death rock of Entombed than the death metal of older Entombed and Carcass themselves. But this goes even further mainstream, Black Star injecting melody, and horns (that don't work: see Riot), when the whim overtakes them. And it's really quite like that. There's this metal munching glory pounding throughout this thing, and then the radar shifts ever so slightly, stumbling on passages where we really think rock rather than metal. But it is occasional and not without merit, bands like Black Star (or possibly Black Star Rising: no-one knows what to call these guys now) really doing this well when they come from so far the other side. Jeff Walker's vocals are mainstram but disposed unto death, just belligerent, a perfect fit to the amazing, beer-spilling riffs all over this fine, fine middle metal exercise. Guitar sound, riffs, spontanaeity, gorgeous groove-filled drumming from Ken Owen, it's all there in a blowin-free retro package that is tall, proud, dirt-choked and hard-working, sorta like a beer commercial shot in a coal mine.
Rating 9

Pentagram - Human Hurricane
(Downtime '98)

Alright mopheads, the story is now told at prices we can afford. Pentagram are one of the original doom acts in the world ever, feedbacking their way around the lowest ladder rungs from 1971 to 1976, remaining relatively unknown because all they had was a grab-bag of singles. First of four proper studio albums came in '85, but this great package compiles all the early singles plus demos and other rarities (all 1973 - 1976) so we can finally witness the majesty of Pentagram. Well, not quite majesty. There's a reason Sabbath got famous and nobody else did. But this is as heavy, and actually heavier than most of the 'elses', those being Sir Lord Baltimore, Blue Cheer, Bang, and a bunch of others people claim to exist (and when you hear them from a metal point of view, the argument falls apart). Almost tapped for a right go 'round by the Krugman/Pearlman team (see the fantastic Cultsters), Pentagram cut through the fat and actually tried quite hard to be loud, sludge-filled metal, citing as their heroes Blue Cheer, but exceeding on that band's promise at least in percentages. Plus these guys had a great vocalist in Bobby Liebling, who had one of those inhuman '60s belts that worked with this America-difused, Detroit-dated, Amboy-doofussed but otherwise Sabbath-wobbled material. Really proof that the metal bands you know were not alone in toiling away real scary like. Seventeen tracks, and among them, quite a few forms of pre-metal mania ventured musingly, then discarded come 1976 for nine years of what? Contact dtrecordings@hotmail.com for ordering info.
Rating 8

Eidolon - Seven Spirits
(Pulse '98)

Can't believe more people aren't talking about this pantheon of traditional, classical metal might, given bad joke bands like Sacred Steel, OK joke bands like Hammerfall, and good joke bands like Manowar seem to be filling up press space for '80s metal's very real revivial. Eidolon (led by King Diamond guitarist Eric Drover), on the other hand, are dead serious about their take on how to do steadfast Euro metal with conviction. For that's what we have here, a sound that is not unlike uncluttered and unfettered Mercyful Fate with James LaBrie singing (it's actually a towering talent called Brian Soulard), superior, slick metal songs (yes, songs), that slam with a deceptive simplicity, sorta like the grey goth of Memento Mori struck with the headbanged spirit of Accept, tight as a drum, overbrimming with metal pride, spit-firing one minute, doing calm Rush respites the next, and eventually getting around to a cover of Ozzy's Diary Of A Madman, a perfect quasi-progressive touch for this important sounding gathering of metal scholars. Note: this is the band's second album (originally from '97, Pulse reissue containing bonus tracks) after a '96 debut called Zero Hour.
Rating 8

In The Woods - Strange In Stereo

This is just too artsy and wishy-washy to be taken seriously. Also, the production is thin, which does nothing for all those clanky goth dramatics, wailing violins and Kate Bush-cloning. I guess this is the true stoner rock, because Strange In Stereo just sounds like a meandering thoughtless jamfest of discardable doom, black and goth ideas, all captured in AM radio-quality glory. Get some good amplifiers, give your drummer a click track and invest in some serviceable microphones. This slow drip should have been left in the woods with instructions to study the Opeth catalogue (and for that matter, the works of labelmates Solstice), a larger block of studio time, and admonishments to lay off the wine.
Rating 4