Obscure Metal Roundup I

Welcome to the first installment of Obscure Metal Roundup!

This semi-recurring feature is meant to be exactly what it sounds like. Each article will feature mini reviews of three metal albums that I have discovered recently from bands that seem like they were made up by a bot designed to invent metal bands, based on little more than an algorithm developed after being fed a preponderance of Venom lyrics. There are only a few ground rules, but they are important, so here goes:

-Obscure is an operative term, here. Pretty much all of the big metal bands these days are less popular than the genre’s titans were at their peak, but I will do my best to avoiding reviewing releases by bands most metalheads already heard of. It’s possible I’ll cover a release by a band that is already relatively big, but if this happens, it’s because I legitimately just discovered them, I swear. My point is you’re not going to see a review in here to the effect of, “Have you checked this band out? They’re called Baroness” or some such.

-The scope of these roundups is not limited to new releases. Some reviewed releases will be new, but albums from, well, any point in metal history are fair game.

-Objective is a meaningless term in the field of criticism. Therefore, I will make no attempt to disguise my biases. This applies not only to my expressed opinions of the albums featured, but what types of bands and albums I choose to check out.

Ranger – Where Evil Dwells (Released 2015)

Seemingly one of the more prominent throwback thrash metal bands of the past decade, Helsinki, Finland’s Ranger is almost good. I say almost because while they seem to have pretty decent shredding, writing, and arranging chops (think about what early Metallica would sound like if Dave Mustaine had been the primary creative force), they have a terrible habit of shooting themselves in the foot with baffling production decisions.

Namely, they seem to enjoy burying their bass in the mix as much as possible – as a result, 2016’s Speed & Violence only contains the first thing, and while 2014’s Skull Splitting Metal! doesn’t eschew its own low end as thoroughly, the buzzy guitars can’t do the heavy lifting by themselves, and the album falls well short of what its title promises. The vast amount of untapped potential is depressing, really, and almost poseurish, as if the guys in the band think the best thing about metal is when it sounds shitty on purpose.

But on Where Evil Dwells, the band pulled their shit together on the production side of things to make an honest-to-Satan good album. The bass is present, so the riffs are fuller and the songs are more dramatic. It’s clear they still want to be pre-90s Metallica entirely too much; Deadly Feast sounds way too much like The Four Horsemen at first, the lyrical preoccupation with war sounds uhm…extremely familiar, and there’s even a lyrical shoutout to Disposable Heroes that sneaks into Phantom Soldier.

But the fun stuff here is really good! Black Circle (S.Y.L.S.) is the sort of epic ripper that most metal bands try all the time, but few can successfully pull off. The tension and release is masterful, and the third act slays as a result. Opener Defcon 1 demonstrates a maximalist mindset that is rarely wrong in metal. Checking out Where Evil Dwells will result in a good time, but the rest of Ranger’s catalog is only recommended if you want more of the same, but worse.

Standout Tracks: Defcon 1, Black Circle (S.Y.L.S), Where Evil Dwells

Bonehunter – Children of the Atom (Released 2018)

Oh man, Bonehunter. What a bunch of weirdos! Bonehunter is also from Finland, but comes across as less of retro thrash and more as a modern hardcore act. 2017’s Sexual Panic Human Machine is a collection of perfectly competent modern speed metal, but somehwat unfortunately, the songs themselves aren’t as interesting as the cover art, which features a bipedal bear (or maybe it’s a wolf?) trapped in an upright tank in some sort of laboratory, screaming at his captors and sporting a colossal boner. It’s attention grabbing to be sure, but the music contained therein is less distinguished.

Children of the Atom, however, represents a quantum leap for the band, in both competence and confidence. The riffs all have a sense of propulsion, which is to say that they’re so hook-laden in and of themselves that they grab you by the face, and in so doing get you to believe the band is playing faster than they actually are. Put another way, Bonehunter lures you in with the promise of speed, then hits you with their real strength, which is their arsenal of truly vicious grooves. Mid-album banger Black Star Carcass is a prime demonstration of this. In this sense, they seem to have taken a lot of cues from Red Fang and/or Midnight.

Initiate the Sequence/Demonic Nuclear Armament does its job as the album opener, and rest of the album keeps things going in the same medium-high speed vein. Only two songs go longer than four minutes, and any slow introduction or otherwise relatively quiet sequence is just about guaranteed to be a misdirect (as seen the title track, to name but one example). The Reek of Reaper’s Scythe stands out as a particular highlight due to it’s rhythmic shifts in the chorus and the catchy lead guitar work. This album may be best when it slows down just a bit, but the overall attack is relentless.

Also, these are some pretty great song titles we got here. Sex Messiah Android? Cybernetic Vampirism? These are good song names.

Standout Tracks: Demonic Nuclear Armament, The Reek of Reaper’s Scythe, Black Star Carcass

Cruel Force – The Rise of Satanic Might (Released 2010)

Picture this. You’ve slept about three hours after a night of heavy drinking, and are mostly unable to process external stimuli. However, since you’re on the city bus, there’s not much to do except listen to music, and you’re too stupid right now to make an informed decision on what tracks you’re gonna spin. So you search for a band you’re already a little too familiar with, find their related artists, and see what comes up. You’ve been burned a bit too many times by making this decision based solely on how cool the band’s name sounds/cover artwork is, but since you have minimal information beyond an abstract sense that these bands vaguely resembles this one bad you like, the rational reasons at your disposal for making a selection are limited.

Eventually, your quest leads you to The Rise of Satanic Might. You don’t expect much. As long as it’s not replacement-level mid-tempo black metal you’ll be pleased enough. And then, you start up the album, and a curious and rare thing occurs. This shit slays. It’s well produced! They play fast as fuck! The vocals are mostly standard-issue death metal growling, but it totally works! All of a sudden, you’re having a blast.

You check the release date info and, low and behold, this album came out in 2018! Holy shit, you didn’t just discover a great album, it’s like you made a new friend, as well. This is their debut, and it shows the most potential of any debut album you’ve heard this side of Satanic Royalty. So you look the band up on Metal Archives to learn what their deal is, and…motherfucker. This album actually came out in 2010, and Cruel Force been ‘On Hiatus’ since 2012. Nothing Bathed in the Blood of the Goat can stay.

You were lied to, but it’s no matter. It was not the first time, and you doubt it was the last time, either. It doesn’t matter, really. What does matter is the album’s unyielding speed and overwhelming sense of fun. I liked this album so much, it made me want to join the Church of Satan, if only for a few moments. Any metal enthusiast will find this album to be a delight. Metal in general, and black metal specifically, has a reputation for being too serious for its own good, and that’s a damn shame. The best metal is nothing more than the musical equivalent of a beer can and a packed bowl sacrificed for the glory of the Infernal Lord. Thank you to Cruel Force for reminding me of this, even if their season was all too short.

Standout Tracks: Forces of Hades, Leather and Metal, Victim of Hellfire, Queen of Heresy

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