Hard Reviews 2
by Martin Popoff

Old Man's Child - Ill-Natured Spiritual Invasion
(Century Media)

A masterpiece is at hand, Galder weaving an intoxicating brew of death, black and classic influences, arriving at a scant 35 minutes of material, despite close to a year's work (he allots about a month per song). Lyrically, Galder's goal was to make this as misanthropic as possible, our self-imposed shut-in creating his own anti-spiritual, war-strewn realms from which to spit his venom. And spit he does, in an average Norse bark, over amazingly strong non-specific but 100% modern and relevant extreme metal songs, all driven by the drum mania of Gene Hoglan, the only other instrumentalist on the record, even Gene handed full-on drum machine imprints from which to form his rhythmic spine. So like Arch Enemy and like mates Dimmu Borgir, Galder (Bladder) has erected majestic, smoke-choked vistas of triumphant classical metal, blurring the distinction between "commercial" and extreme by plucking from the listener only extreme emotions. From a guy who believes in nothing (including Odin), Ill-Natured Spiritual Invasion is certainly an active servant of the unseen.
Rating 10

Am I Blood - Agitation
(Nuclear Blast)

There are a handful of post-Metallica bands improving on Load and Re-Load, but here's one that sorta offers us the required up-quotient metalizing (as good Swedes should), without really improving too much on the songs. There's an element of confusion here, hints of industrial, strange breaks, those totally Hetfielded growls, and a sense of drift, as if Am I Blood is merely parading past with all their mod-Metallica riffs, hoping a few of them stick. I mean, this record has a lot of riffs, and occasionally it works wonderfully (see Negative and Stains), but I get the feeling I'm being tricked and should not enjoy this record without questioning motive.
Rating 7

Iced Earth - Something Wicked This Way Comes
(Century Media)

Having released a career retro (of sorts), having moved the band to Indiana, and having lost long-time guitarist Randy Schawver, the ever-dedicated Jon Schaffer found himself at a bit of a crossroads. But have no fear, his next move rules, the Iceman whipping up a sturdy new sledge, edging even further from prog into straight meat-and-potatoes metal with meticulous grooming. Much of this carries the same castle-shrouded tone as its proper predecessor, but there are also a few speed metal highballs on board, perhaps mirroring the tense times Schaffer has seen as of late. Trivia note: the whole record was supposed to be a concept album, but this idea finally got pared down to the final three tunes, which clocking at 20 minutes, form the Something Wicked trilogy. Spot the Maiden bass break in closer The Coming Curse and win a cheese wedgie. Uh, one other thing, I can't shake the initial impression that this whole thing, or at least large parts of it, were done with a drum machine. Damn, I'd like to ask him and clear it up, because it's just bugging me. All I can hear is those dead uniform high-hats. I hope I'm wrong, 'cos I love Schaffer's deep metal mania.
Rating 8

Children Of Bodom - Something Wild
(Nuclear Blast)

Here's a continued, bubbling trend, metal guys starting up new bands, ostensibly on the side, creating more excitement with the shiny situation, versus their regular gig (please proceed to Peter Tagtgren, Primal Fear, Covenant, Arcturus, Mike Amott). Such is the case with Thy Serpent guitarist Alexi Laiho who has assembled a Finnish quintet of elegant proportions, another hyper mid-metal act with a dozen or so black metal signals. Something Wild is immediate (and fast at 36 minutes), Children Of Bodom (there's another trend: long, fancy pants names) playing expertly, using all the right tones but slicking it up to somewhere between Dimmu Borgir, Old Man's Child and Cradle Of Filth. Indeed Laiho is unapologetic about his '80s influences (Randy Rhoads, Steve Vai), and just to drive home the point, he prefers to keep the band's lyrics artful, poetic and oblique, rather than directly confrontational. Clean, tight but striking, riff-mad but keyboard-marbled, gothic and well-appointed but still blisteringly vital and uplifting.
Rating 9