Reviews are on a 5 star scale.
Altars – 'Paramnesia' (Nuclear Winter)
Genre: Death Metal
Southern Australian death metallers Altars have unleashed their first full-length in the form of Paramnesia. It walks the line between old-school death metal foulness and more sleek, modern production values. Their sound gestures towards early Morbid Angel and more recent Immolation, but without mimicry; they have a firm handle on their sound and a strong, confident aesthetic.
What keeps Paramnesia from being excellent, however, is frankly mediocre songwriting that does not rise to the level of Altars' sound. The longer material tends to drag; the three longest songs on the record run over 25 minutes, and tend to drift and dilute more than strike. The shorter the tracks, the more successful the songs tend to be. With a much harsher eye towards editing and more experience, Altars could craft and great album. Paramnesia is merely okay.
Cathexis - 'Shades Of Apocalypse' (Mulligore)
Genre: Death Metal
The tech death band Cathexis hail from Austin, Texas. Their debut album is Shades Of Apocalypse, which has plenty of technical wizardry, but also good old fashioned riffs and grooves.
Pinch harmonics are a tad over-used, but Cathexis vary the tempo and intensity enough to keep things interesting. The arrangements are complex at times, but a memorable riff is never far away. The vocals are typical cookie-monster style, and a little high in the mix. Black metal style rasps make an appearance on "Dethroned By The Pernicious," adding an ominous touch. Shades Of Apocalypse is a promising debut, and the band already has a follow-up set for release later this year.
Dark Design – 'Prey For The Future' (Heaven and Hell)
Genre: Progressive Power Metal
Formed in 2010, Dark Design unleash their debut record Prey for the Future. The band's sound is steeped in '80s speed and progressive metal. There are influences of early Fates Warning, Toxik and Omen throughout the release. The production is a tad harsh, especially on the snare drum and guitar tones.
The record contains blazing guitar leads that are featured on every track. There is a clear Iron Maiden influence in the guitar playing as well. Vocalist Andrew Bertrand adds a nice bit of gravel to his melodic phrasing and is reminiscent of early Jon Oliva of Savatage. When Dark Design up the tempo like on the title track, “Dragonmount” and “Abiding Contempt,” they are at their best.
Dissension – 'Of Time and Chronic Disease' (BLK COQ)
Genre: Melodic Death Metal
Sounds to me like someone’s been listening to a LOT of Children of Bodom, with the Finnish-sounding keyboards all over Of Time and Chronic Disease by Montreal’s Dissension. There’s even a raspy pseudo-black metal vocal feel as well.
Occasionally some synthesized strings appear, giving a more orchestral aura similar to Dimmu Borgir. More overt black and death metal influences shade the album, as well as very metalcore sounding melodies. Dissension write songs well enough, but need more development to sound more like themselves rather than an amalgam of other bands.
Ensnared - 'Ravenous Damnation's Dawn' (Nuclear Winter)
Genre: Death Metal
Formerly known as Gravehammer, the Swedish band now called Ensnared emerge with their debut EP Ravenous Damnation's Dawn. It includes four new songs along with two from their 2011 demo.
Ensnared show a lot of different sides on the EP. Fast, thrashy blast beats give way to moderately paced grooves and extended instrumental passages. The production is pretty rudimentary and raw, adding no shine or polish to their sharp edges. They really shine on the 9 minute epic "The Hungry Darkness Of Death," deploying every weapon in their arsenal. It's a promising beginning, and builds anticipation of what they can do on a full-length.
Genre: Hard Rock
Featuring twelve songs that are contemporary and could all find their way on modern rock radio, Gemini Syndrome’s debut release Lux contains the perfect recipe to be a breakout sensation. Focusing on huge melodic choruses and straight to the point hook driven songs, vocalist Aaron Nordstrom is a nice fit between Godsmack and Tool.
“Morning Star” has a fine balance of a Tool inspired verse with a chorus that is gigantic in scope, definitely an album highlight. Ozzy Osbourne producer Kevin Churko handles the production and the sound of Lux is rich and lush. At times the band recycle riffs and there is not much diversity from what is already plastered all over rock radio.
Hollow Haze – 'Countdown to Revenge' (Scarlet)
Genre: Progressive Metal
Featuring in its ranks Rhapsody of Fire singer Fabio Lione, Hollow Haze are back with their fifth release Countdown to Revenge. The band's sound is rooted in progressive metal and perfectly balances heavy riffs, orchestration and complex arrangements. As this is his first album with the band, Lione gets to show a different aspect to his voice and adds a hint of aggression that is reminiscent of “Ripper” Owens at times.
Album bright spot “Still Alive” features an outstanding duet with Lione and Masterplan vocalist Rick Altzi. Their voices blend perfectly together as they both effortlessly trade lead vocal lines. Guitar player Nick Savio is a monster lead player as he executes sweeping arpeggio passages with melodic solos. The record is a tad too long at almost 55 minutes.
Kingshifter - '26 Tons' (Pavement)
Genre: Heavy/Stoner Metal
When you think of heavy metal hotbeds, Wichita Kansas probably isn't the first place that comes to mind, but they have spawned newcomers KingShifter, whose debut album is 26 Tons.
It's an album that grooves from the first note to the last, with thick riffs and plenty of melody. The vocals from Sprout are sometimes bluesy and soulful, other times gruff and angry. While the songs are catchy, sometimes they go to the same riff well once too often. A little more change of pace is needed. Still, there's a lot to like about this band. It's a fun album, a good soundtrack for an evening of partying.
Genre: Progressive Metal
Featuring blistering guitar solos, soaring vocals and complex song arrangements, Atomic Ark is the sophomore release from the progressive metal band Lalu. Masterminded by keyboardist and composer Vivien Lalu, the band features Mekong Delta frontman Martin LeMar handling the vocals. The musicianship is top-notch and there is a nice diversity to the songwriting.
Opening track “Greed” is a progressive powerhouse. Filled with mind blowing keyboard and guitar solos, a memorable melody and a huge groove makes for the best song on the record. “Revelations” closes the album and at almost twenty minutes is a tour de force as it toggles back and forth between mellow passages and heavy grooves. A step up from their debut, Atomic Ark finds the band developing their sound.
The Mezmerist - 'The Innocent, The Forsaken, The Guilty' (Shadow Kingdom)
Genre: Heavy/Doom Metal
The Mezmerist were a mysterious American band that released a couple of EPs in the early '80s before disappearing. The drummer on their 1983 EP was Black Sabbath's Bill Ward. Those EPs have been collected along with a DVD as The Innocent, The Forsaken, The Guilty.
The music on the EP ranges from psychedelic metal to doom to straight up hard rock. Vocalist/guitarist Tommy Mezmercardo at times sings in a regular voice, but sometimes brings out an ear-piercing upper register that channels King Diamond on the first EP, which is far superior to the second. The second one, originally released in 1985, only has three songs, the last of which is an almost 9 minute instrumental. For metal historians it's an interesting artifact.