Nine Circles ov…Surprises and Releases That Got Away From Us

What can I say? Sometimes it’s not that the promo pile is brimming over with releases and you miss out on a few things, sometimes you just get so caught up you simply forget. You miss the signs that something you’ve been waiting for forever slips by (ahem, *Hällas*) or that one album your friend has been telling you is damn good and you need to hear it and…you don’t. Sometimes a band you love just ups and sneaks one past you without a word.

And sometimes…sometimes children…you don’t get a promo at all.

We’re not complaining; we’re a small site and we do this for the simplest of reasons, and whether or not that also happens to feed the vicious masochistic streak hiding below our tender skins well, so be it. So for this edition of Nine Circles ov… let’s check out a few that got away.

Abbath - Dread Reaver

Have we gotten to the point where the image of Abbath means more than the music? The man’s face is synonymous with extreme metal; his bowlegged stance and winter poses the stuff of metal memes and legends. There’s nothing on Dread Reaver that’s bad, per se (though I could do without the Metallica cover); if anything the music remains pretty consistent from 2019’s Outstrider which to these ears was a huge improvement over the self-titled debut. The anemic production kills this, though. The sound is wafer thin and buried in a haze of high end frequencies that diminishes some of the stellar guitar work you can almost hear through the din. I get it: black metal is raw. But it’s not starving; put some meat on those bones, Olve.

boris - 1985

I’ve come to accept the fact that I will never catch up with the sheer volume of releases Boris puts out, and that’s a wonderful problem to have. Every Bandcamp Friday there’s usually one or two new surprises put out, and in March it was 1985, a collection of tracks recorded at the same time was 2011’s New Album and given to members of the band’s Heavy Rock Fan Club. Sonics-wise it tread similar ground to New Album, meaning there’s an infectious shoegaze/pop/rock sheen to everything. Check out the bass sound on “u fu fu” and tell me you’ve had enough of this band, I dare you. Boris rarely repeat themselves, so I’m extra thankful to have these sessions from one of my favorite periods of the band’s existence.

Each release may be small, but the sound Canadian duo Crown Lands puts out is massive. Embracing classic anthemic hard rock and prog to champion the stories and plight of Indigenous cultures, the songs on their latest EP White Buffalo ring with an expansiveness that would be the envy of a larger band. It helps that the album’s stellar production comes courtesy of David Bottrill who knows a thing or two about capturing this kind of music with bands like Mastodon and Coheed and Cambria. Whether it’s the barn burner exaltation of the title track or the epic 13-minute odyssey of “The Oracle” Crown Lands have proven to be one of the most exciting bands to watch evolve over the past few years.

destruction - diabolical

One of my earliest and fondest memories as a kid was seeing the cover for the Mad Butcher EP in the local record store and just knowing without a moment’s hesitation I was going to like Destruction. The German thrash outfit have been ripping it for 40 years and I shouldn’t be surprised they can still belt it out, but Diabolical keeps the intensity at 10, sounds great, and has that perfect level of ridiculousness that I want out of Schmier and whoever he’s got backing him. Nothing’s being reinvented here, and if the classic Teutonic thrash style isn’t your thing, I doubt tracks like “No Faith in Humanity” or the borderline Slayer groove of “Whorification” are going to change your mind. But if there’s fun in your heart and a yearning for tasty riffs and solos and copious amounts of palm-muted chugging, this will fit the bill.

Ghost - Impera

Let’s all agree on two things right off the bat when discussing Ghost. 1) Yes, they have completely abandoned any semblance of the dark, gritty traditional metal they balanced with their lighter tendencies, and they’re almost certainly not going to look back. 2) Holy CRAP that Rush-inspired interlude in the middle of “Kaisarion” is amazing. Impera is not the last nail in the coffin of Ghost’s earlier, heavier sound. It’s the sound of the hammer being thrown into the woods, and I for one am here for it. From the opening AOR yell that kicks off “Kaisarion” to the addicting harmonies and melodies of “Spillways,” “Watcher In the Sky” and “Griftwood” Tobias Forge and his Nameless Ghouls have arrived at a maniacally catchy vibe that still manages to sound like no one else out there. If I have a single criticism it’s that when he does reach for heavier on the track “Twenties” it’s the least successful song on the album. Nothing takes away from the greatness of their first three albums, but this direction is fantastic and I’m here for it, lock stock and barrel.

hällas - isle of wisdom

Honestly, this was the album that kicked off the idea for this edition of Nine Circles ov… Hällas was always a band I should have loved but merely liked. Each release was an opportunity to see if I could discover what I was missing. It was fine, but never clicked. So maybe that’s why I was taken by surprise when I checked out the new releases on Friday and saw to my surprise Isle of Wisdom sitting there, waiting patiently for me to give it the cursory listen and drop again in favor of other albums. I listened. I listened again. By Friday afternoon I had played it five times, and ordered the vinyl. I haven’t gone back to their earlier albums so I can’t tell you for sure if the more overt classic prog tendencies on tracks like “Birth/Into Darkness” and “Elusion’s Gate” (damn that vocal hook and the bass on that song) were always there…I can only tell you this finally hits the vintage prog center of my brain in a way the other haven’t, and I simply cannot get enough of that synth sound.

Meshuggah-Immutable

Have folks already made the joke about Meshuggah naming their album Immutable, which essentially means unable to change, which also speaks to the band’s basic style and my own opinion of them? I’m sure they have, and yet there’s something about Immutable that despite all the jarring starts and stops, neck snapping riffs and time confounding rhythms that feels more assured and confident then they have in a long time. The long, extended chords held in “Light the Shortening Fuse” bring me back to obZen, which was the last time I really felt like there was an essential Meshuggah release. Tracks like “Phantoms” and late blast furnace “Armies of the Preposterous” bring the necessary fire that you’ve come to expect, but I find myself drawn back to the smaller moments, like the solo guitar interlude of “Back Cathedral” and the mammoth excursion that is the nine-minute “They Move Below” with its atmospheric intro that morphs into a catchy syncopated punch that finds its brutality in the spaces between each djenty chug. Immutable doesn’t bring me to the cult of Meshuggah, but damn if this isn’t the best thing they’ve put out in close to 15 years.

michael romeo - war of the worlds pt 2

I can’t tell you how long I’ve been waiting for a new Symphony X album. It feels like forever because I was sadly disappointed with 2015’s Underworld. So let’s say 11 years. When Michael Romeo, guitarist and principal songwriter for the band announced he was putting out a two-part solo album I was cautiously excited, and that caution was justified: while 2018’s War of the Worlds Pt.1 was fine, it was missing something. Namely, vocals that could convey the power and aggression that, well…that Russell Allen can convey when Symphony X is on the warpath. So super good news: War of the Worlds Pt. 2 is here five years later and features Dino Jelusick on vocals, who sounds so much like Russell Allen my biggest complaint is why didn’t Romeo simply make both of these albums the next two Symphony X albums? We may never know, but that doesn’t stop the music here from feeling beefier, more aggressive and just overflowing with that signature riff attack that only comes from a Romeo-penned song. The syncopated riff that opens “Divide & Conquer” immediately puts me in a good place, and the snarl of Jelusick’s vocals is pitch perfect for the song’s attack. “Destroyer” drops the tuning for more menace, taking a bit of djent into the normal progressive speed metal Romeo trades in, and it all works. Works so well in fact I can wait a little longer for the next Symphony X album.

Over the past year I have fallen back hard for the Scorpions. Particularly their early work: I have, over the course of doing track by track breakdowns for Fly to the Rainbow and Virgin Killer, become an Uli Jon Roth disciple. But there’s no denying the pop power the band had with their classic run of albums from Lovedrive to Love at First Sting, and DAMN if Rock Believer doesn’t capture that magic again. Opener and early single “Gas in the Tank” is a fun rocking tune that does what you want and expect a Scorpions track to do, but “Roots in My Boots” is the kind of full-throttle track that made me love the band back in the day. Klaus Meine sounds as as good as ever, the guy’s voice is set in stone. I would never have suspected something like “Seventh Sun” to come out from a band who successfully chased the AOR rock single for so long in the late 80s, 90s and beyond. It is grand and epic and hits that late 70s power that makes you double check to confirm that yup…these guys have been around for 50 years. HALF A CENTURY. And here they are pulling out their best album in decades.

I’m sure there’s plenty more we’ve missed, so let us know what we forgot or what we should look out for.

In the meantime, keep it heavy.

– Chris


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