thrash metal

Live Show Review: Ne Obliviscaris

Location: Columbus, Ohio
Venue: O’Shecky’s LIVE
Date: February 6, 2016

Ticket cost: $10/$12 door

By: Kris Kotlarik

This show represented a number of firsts for me. The most important of those firsts, by a wide margin, was seeing Ne Obliviscaris live. Following their release of Citadel, anticipation was at a fever pitch, so my reaction to them performing a 90-minute set in my city included a dropped jaw followed by a bunch of overly excited obscenities.

This is also the first time I have ever been to O’Shecky’s, a relatively small venue off the highway on the north side of Columbus. After last night’s show, I have mixed feelings about the venue; I was tempted to deduct a half a point from each band because all of them had to deal with crackling vocal mics (and I believe Ne Obliviscaris was also having a crackling snare mic, in addition to the drummer constantly asking for lighting). But beverage prices are very reasonable, and they have two stages that otherwise sounded great and expedited tonight’s five-band lineup.

As always, I’ll be going down the line from the opening band to the headliner to discuss their performances. Let’s begin!
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Kyrmzon (Mansfield, Ohio)
Rating: 2.0*

This being my first exposure to Krymzon, I didn’t come away from this show with a particularly favorable (or unfavorable) impression of them. Their blend of thrash and death metal wore me out fairly quickly, due in large part to vocalist Ron Wise’s constant screaming and the band’s gratuitous use of breakdowns towards the end of their set. Wise was constantly urging the crowd to come closer and to fuck shit up with little to no success. Also, Ryan Arter was remarkably stoic for a man laying down some heavy blast beats on the drums; he would go several minutes at a time without changing his facial expression, which appeared to look like either boredom or annoyance (my guess between the two options is the latter given the occasional technical difficulties, although for all I know, that’s just his game face).

That’s not to say that I hated their performance; Wise, along with guitarist Joey VanDine and bassist Adam Anderson, all played with a lot of energy. Perhaps Krymzon just isn’t my style. And that’s okay.

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Others By No One (Dayton, Ohio)
Rating: 3.5*

These guys surprised me. This is a very young progressive metal band with touches of avant-garde (and the occasional splash of Maximum The Hormone). Just about the only technical flaw I can point out in their performance came from lead vocalist Max Mobarry, who frequently sang away from the microphone and was occasionally inaudible as a result.

With that out of the way…wow. I can’t think of any other opening act, save for some droning black metal band or something like that, to play a 15+ minute song when they are allotted just 30 minutes. That kind of behavior has the potential to piss off approximately 90% of the audience. It only makes sense, then, that Others By No One is undoubtedly influenced by Devin Townsend (as evidenced by drummer Sam Ruff wearing a Z2 shirt). The opening lick of that marathon track featured a riff that was eerily similar to the melodic part of Devin’s “Color Your World” (or the title track of Ki, if you prefer that album). Later on, they slowed down the track so that Mobarry could sing the lyrics “let’s go down to the beach,” similar to “Two Weeks” by Strapping Young Lad or “Disruptr” from Ki.

The most unique attribute about this band, however, is that this is not just a Devin Townsend worship band (that already exists in the form of The Omega Experiment); they played “Gravity of the Bulls,” a track that has elements of modern hardcore. Their music also contents elements from other prog acts like Animals As Leaders or Scale The Summit. As an added bonus, there is no question that out of all the bands that were playing tonight, Others By No One was having the most fun. Bassist Quique Bocio, in particular, reminded me of the performance For The Imperium put on at the 2012 Finnish Metal Meeting; he was all over the place and jumping around the stage as if nobody was watching, and that was extremely fun to watch.

Make no mistake: Others By No One is still raw to the bone, but they are dripping with potential and will make Ohio proud in short order. Please bring merch the next time you come here.

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The Conquering (Columbus, Ohio)
Rating: 3.0*

I’ve seen The Conquering more than enough times to know that their brand of black metal will most likely never appeal to me. But this performance was immensely better than the last time I saw them perform; they got their drummer back after he was forced to ride the pine due to a fractured foot, and the band was markedly better as a result. Plus, Dan Rivera is still rocking that big jug of water in addition to his bass. Needless to say, their chemistry is back.

Completely unrelated to the music of this band, Christopher Wiford on the vocals is starting to pull off the Devin Townsend skullet circa 2004. My advice? Keep it.

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Mithridium (Columbus, Ohio)
Rating: 2.5*

Like The Conquering, I’ve seen Mithridium a number of times opening for other touring acts. They’ve got a fun deathrash style that makes for solid entertainment, although arguably the most entertaining aspect of this band’s performance was the band’s banter with the sound guy. Out of these first four bands, there is little question that Mithridium was the most polished group. They put on a good performance, albeit not necessarily one that stands out on a nightly basis.

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Ne Obliviscaris (Melbourne, Australia)
Rating: 4.5*

My advice for anyone seeing another show at O’Shecky’s would be to get to about the third row. I started off right up in front and quickly took note of just how engaging all six members of Ne Obliviscaris is with the audience, but from up front I couldn’t hear the violin worth salt and the guitars were virtually buried. So I had to move back a little bit and the sound quality was significantly better, and I didn’t miss any of the band’s craziness. Of course, I got greedy, grabbed a chair, and parked it right next to the sound booth for the rest of the show. What I got was exactly what I wanted: One thousand ounces of pure audio gold.

It will never cease to amaze me how talented this progressive death metal group is. Tim Charles is a wizard on the violin and even jumped off the stage to get better acquainted with the crowd while playing. Xenoyr’s growled vocals were relentless through the duration of the set, and Daniel Presland was an absolute monster on the drums. But this review isn’t about individual performances; this is about a band coming all the way from Australia to play in a bar with a maximum capacity of 400 people and playing as if they were back at home playing at the Soundwave Festival (rest in peace, Soundwave!).

The fact that they were able to put together an 80-minute set with just two full albums, and only for a handful of headlining shows, is a stunning feat. They also stayed after the show to talk to fans without dealing with any VIP nonsense. It’s quite clear that not only is Ne Obliviscaris passionate about their music; they also take great pride in their fans. This ranks just behind Devin Townsend’s 2011 show at the House of Rock in Eau Claire, Wisconsin on the list of best small-venue shows I have ever seen.

Ne Obliviscaris is easily among the best modern metal bands going today and they were overdue for some recognition in the United States. With any luck, we will be seeing a lot more of them in the future.

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Pagan Rebellion Columbus: Arkona, Heidevolk, et al.

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Location: Columbus, Ohio
Date: September 12, 2015
Ticket cost: $14/$17
Merch purchased: Arkona hoodie ($45); Heidevolk flag ($15)

By: Kris Kotlarik
Feature photo credit: Mike Ritchie, Covering The Scene

Coincidentally falling on my birthday, I can think of very few things I would rather be doing on such a day than watching a show like this; essentially, this is a quasi-Paganfest, and although I don’t carry a drinking horn around with me, I still have a great deal of fun at these shows. Everyone is in a great mood and ready to have a good time, without the threat of butt metal pit ninjas. With six bands, we got a good look at the local pagan-influenced metal scene, as well as some national touring acts and a couple of global folk metal titans. How did everyone fare?

The Conquering: 1.0*
0.5-point deduction for using backing drum tracks for any reason (even if that reason involves a broken foot)

Watching this band perform, you wouldn’t think they have been together for 15 years; everything from their style (the guitarists were shirtless and wearing corpse paint while the lead singer was dressed in generic black) and their performance were both out of sync. Their brand of black metal just wasn’t working.

The band displayed a good sense of humor, and it was interesting to see their bassist chugging a gallon of water between songs. From a musicianship standpoint, their best track was easily “The Veracity in Our Blood,” which showcases a good midpace riff and some of the vocalist’s harshest vocals. Unfortunately, they were noticeably out of sync during the thrashing instrumental section in the middle of the track, which was disappointing. Get well soon, great drummer! Conquering should be less of a challenge upon your return.

Kingsblood: 2.0*

The group displays a solid stage presence and presents a fairly standard deathrash (how is this not an officially recognized subgenre yet?), but they don’t stand out, especially in this billing. Plus the singer seems to be influenced a little too much by Max Cavalera, a man I have never been a fan of.

Winterhymn: 3.0*

The first “trve” folk metal group of the night, Winterhymn continues to prove that they belong on the national folk metal circuit. Featuring a prominent violinist, the band’s sound was full of energy and generally much clearer than the previous two groups. Virtually the only complaint I had was the sound of their keyboards; they were either virtually inaudible, or way too loud (most notably on “Stand Your Ground”). I also wasn’t overly enthralled with their lead vocalist, whose harsh screams generally sound out of place and occasionally wavered during the back end of their set. But their energy and enthusiasm were more than enough to hold their own on this bill.

Helsott: 3.5*

This group surprised me more than anyone else on this bill. The star of this group is flautist/singer/Simone Simons doppelganger Bri Steiner, who was all over the stage playing various wind instruments and laying down some impressive vocal melodies. Occasionally, however, feedback came from her microphones.

One qualm I had (one that you’re probably noticing a pattern of by now) was with the male lead singer, who was absolutely hammered and also wearing a Dimebag Darrell shirt. I get that the Dimebag shirt was probably a tribute to the late Pantera guitarist who was killed at Alrosa, but he came off as a drunken meathead during their set and that sort of took me out of the mood a bit.

With that said, the rest of the band was fun to watch, the sound was (nearly) flawless, and Steiner could frequently be seen getting into the mosh pit with the audience during the final two bands’ sets. In short, this is a fun folk metal group to watch.

Heidevolk: 3.5*

What other bands have two members, neither of whom are playing any instruments, serving as co-lead vocalists? I can’t think of any. That alone made this an engaging set; Lars Vogel and Mark Bochting complement each other very well with their own performance styles onstage. Their traditional heavy metal sound with pagan influences generally sounded a bit too loud, but was otherwise well-balanced among each member.

Joost Westdijk was highly entertaining to watch on drums; with his stick twirling and other showboating antics behind the kit, one would think that he was back at home in the Netherlands in the band’s practice studio. If there was one drawback to be had from their set, it would have to be the lack of live folk instrumentation; all of it was pumped into the crowd. It’s not the biggest liability, but a live folk presence goes a long way.

Heidevolk goes down as a band whose live performances far exceed the quality of their studio output, which isn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination. Watching them live is a showcase of why folk metal makes so much sense in a live setting, especially when they’re as on top of their game with regards to stage presence as they were at this show.

Arkona: 4.5*

I had the pleasure of seeing Arkona at Kilkim Zaibu 2012 in Lithuania. This is the kind of festival that Arkona is perfect for; picture, if you will, a typical American Renaissance Faire. But instead of fucking hypnotists and acapella groups that are trying to turn shitass pop songs into “folk” arrangements (the same Renaissance Faire had a “glee” club that attempted to sing Lady Gaga songs. They failed spectacularly), the entertainment is some gritty, in-your-face pagan metal. To this day, that festival was one of the best concert experiences I have ever had. The people, the beer, the authentic display of old Baltic artifacts…if every Renaissance faire was like this, I would hit all of them.

Anyway, enter Russia’s Arkona, a blackened folk metal outfit with an amazingly talented vocalist who goes by the name of Masha Scream. Her clean vocals are enchanting and perfect for this style of metal, and she adds versatility with her growls and uncanny stage presence. In addition to the standard cadre of drums, guitars, and bass, Vladimir “Volk” Reshetnikov handles a number of different instruments, including bagpipes and various flutes.

Let’s cut to the chase here: What Arkona accomplished in Columbus wasn’t good. It wasn’t awesome. It wasn’t superb. It was superior. For one thing, Masha’s live voice has immensely improved since the last time I saw Arkona. It was already great; now it’s on another level entirely. The band’s sound has clearly evolved. Many people criticized their newest release, Yav, because it didn’t fit their expectations for Arkona’s sound. I think Yav was a remarkable stepping stone for the group, as it represents a more evolved sound and a renewed state of purpose, and that was in full effect at Alrosa Villa. Especially memorable was the glorious riff fest from Yav, “Na Strazhe Novyh Let” (On Guard of New Aeons).

Everything about Arkona’s performance was stellar; the sound was fantastic, the lighting fit wonderfully with the music, and each band member fully looked engrossed in their performance. Looking into the crowd, two things were visibly clear:
1: Arkona drew the biggest and most consistent mosh pits of the night by a wide margin. That’s not just a reflection of the amount of booze being consumed; that’s the amount of energy the band was displaying.
2: Outside the mosh pits, I couldn’t find a single person in the audience that wasn’t into their performance. Never mind the fact that 99% of the people in the crowd don’t speak Russian and therefore can’t understand the lyrics; in any direction, you could see shit-eating grins the size of Texas on people’s faces.

By all metrics, Arkona’s display of musicianship and showmanship was a rousing success. Plus their hoodie has amazing back art. Arkona was one of the pioneers of folk metal, and now they’re innovating it, both in the studio and on tour.

Overall: While most of the bands were solid and are worth a look, Arkona should be selling out festival grounds all over the planet. Their performance here is among the top ten I have ever seen, and a top-five show in this country.

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Photo credit: Mike Ritchie, Covering The Scene

Arkona’s setlist in Columbus. Photo credit: Mike Ritchie, Covering The Scene

Review: Devin Townsend – Physicist

Location: Vancouver, Canada
Genre: Progressive/Thrash Metal
Released:
Format Reviewed: FLAC
Feature: Devin Dissection

By: Kris Kotlarik

Steven Rosen: Were you happy with the “Physicist” album?

Devin Townsend: When I was doing “Physicist,” I had come off of that “Infinity” period where I had made so many f–kups in terms of my personal life that I was just really depressed. Because I was thinking, “I can’t believe I’m so arrogant through all this sh-t.” You know? It was a really grey period. But in that frame of mind unlike “Z2,” I didn’t hammer it home. I gave up. So “Physicist” remains a record for me that as much as I think again it was done accurately for the frame of mind I was in, I’m not proud of that frame of mind. And the main thing I’m not proud of is the fact I phoned it in at the end and the record sounds unlike the vision.

First of all, Rosen deserves a Pulitzer Prize for this interview, which has more information about Devin Townsend’s mindset for most of his albums than you can find on any number of other interviews put together. Secondly, this could have been an album that sent him into the mainstream, as it originally entailed Metallica’s Jason Newsted working with Devin on something that would have been “heavier than Strapping Young Lad.”

Instead, Physicist is often looked at as either the black sheep in Devin Townsend’s discography or the hidden Strapping Young Lad album, depending on who you ask. After all, this album did feature the entire sex contingent of everyone’s favorite pissed off extreme metal band. And on the basis of Strapping Young Lad albums, while this would be incredibly inferior to City and Alien, it easily beats out the self-titled album (unofficially known as Chickenfeather) and might be a shade better than The New Black and/or Heavy as a Really Heavy Thing.

Like those two albums, Physicist has some truly fantastic material along with a bunch of thoroughly mediocre (at least by Devin’s standards) material. What stands in this album’s way more than anything else, however, is the production. It’s the sonic equivalent of soggy Cheerios. I want the crispy Cheerios, dammit!

And yet I still can’t say I dislike this album. I don’t love it; this cannot be understated. But it’s decent enough. At the top of the crop are several songs that rank among Devin’s best, starting with “Namaste,” a lyrically uplifting thrasher of a song with some outstanding riffs. Then there’s “Planet Rain,” an 11-minute downtempo tidal wave that is memorable for its often apocalyptic feel, with some low range notes from Devin adding to the destruction. The instrumental section starting at 4:00 is fantastic, as is Devin’s screams that follow. When you think it’s going to end, it takes another go to finish you off; whether or not this over two-minute section (or the minute of rain to end the track) are necessary doesn’t even matter; I’d handily put this in my top ten list for Devin Townsend’s best tracks.

There’s also “Kingdom,” which I would talk about lengthily had it not been improved in almost every way imaginable on a rerecorded version from Epicloud. “The Complex” sneaks into your ears after a few listens; the synth layering is quite noticeable and adds a certain element to this track that might not otherwise have made it stand out much.

There are other good tracks here that could have been even better if the mix were to be reworked. Among them is “Material,” which has a highly catchy chorus. “Death” and “Devoid” work as a thrash tandem, but the former has some vocal effects that sound like a ghost trying to haunt the living which doesn’t really work. “Irish Maiden” is really good with the exception of the intro riff and the return of those haunted ghost vocal effects, both of which unfortunately go on for far too long. The start of “Victim” is promising, but the verses are really annoying. “Jupiter” has a similar problem to a lesser extent, but the chorus is also catchy. “Humble” is a haunted rework of “Bad Devil” from Infinity and holds minimal interest beyond its mild entertainment value.

I shouldn’t be this much of an asshole when it comes to production, but it really does make a difference. Listen to Terria, then listen to Physicist, and tell me that the production doesn’t at least somewhat impact your opinion on the overall quality of the album’s sound. Some people like soggy cheerios. I am not one of those people.

Overall: The standouts of “Namaste” and “Planet Rain” are as good as any song you’ll hear on Devin’s better albums. The rest is generally quite average.

Rating: 3.0*

Review: Machine Head – Bloodstone & Diamonds

Location: Oakland, California
Genre: Groove/Thrash Metal
Released: November 7, 2014
Format Reviewed: FLAC
Feature: National Uprising – Recent Releases

By: Kris Kotlarik

In July of this year, an interesting tour through North America was announced: Machine HeadChildren Of Bodom, Epica, and Battlecross would have combined a number of mainstream metal acts from different genres, and all of these bands had something different (and good) to offer. But Machine Head went and cancelled the tour because they couldn’t record the album in time. Bodom frontman Alexi Laiho was naturally pissed off, and Machine Head frontman Rob Flynn responded with a series of petty insults directed at Children Of Bodom fans, many of whom already listened to Machine Head. Of all the bands on that touring bill, Machine Head and Children Of Bodom are the most similar to each other, with the latter essentially being a Finnish rehash of the former. This kind of argument is just bound to piss people off even further.

I’m not a huge fan of any of these bands. I used to really like Epica before I got tired of their cheese. Bodom has been completely mediocre for about ten years, but I still want to see them live (I missed a shot at seeing them in Finland by six days). Machine Head has a few songs that I like, and their live show is okay, but I already had my fill of them during the 2012 European festival season. I would have gone to this tour to see Bodom, but I have no qualms about not having to spend a shitload of money to get to Cleveland.

Nonetheless, with the album taking so long to record, I had some expectations that it would be pretty good. I was wrong. Simply put, it sucks.

The most annoying aspect of Machine Head’s sound is any time Flynn does this thing with his vocals in which he breathes in with his mouth open, and that occurs too many times on this album to mention in detail. The songwriting is basically terrible; “Game Over” is the most generic hard rock track I have come across in recent memory, and songs such as “Eyes Of The Dead,” “Take Me Through The Fire,” “Damage Inside,” and “Ghosts Will Haunt My Bones” are boring beyond reproach. Then there’s “Imaginal Cells,” an utterly pointless instrumental with political samples from an audio book. So with half the album already receiving some blanket criticism for being just plain boring, let’s look at what’s wrong with the other tracks.

“In Comes The Flood” has boring music, but interesting lyrics. Essentially, this is an anarcho-left wing anthem (“I want to burn down Wall Street, baby/And fan the flames of discontent like Hades.”) There are several good lyrics here:
-“Saints of Red, White and Blue/Pass bonds of junk to you/Our flag has all but bled to green.”
-“Moneytheistic religion”
-“We’re fighting for the scraps/We’ve let our conscience lapse/By turning cash into a god.”

And then there are some really stupid lyrics like “I don’t give a fuck if I’m rich, motherfucker.” The rest is somewhere in between and could just as easily have been ripped directly from any political discussion: A few interesting bits but a whole bunch of generic talking points that you would expect to hear on MSNBC.

“Now We Die” tries way too hard to be an epic opener and comes up well short. “Killers & Kings” has some potential, but Flynn is basically screaming in your face for the entire track without any regard for dynamics. “Sail Into The Black” has a cool introduction which features some low vocal chanting. The problem is that the introduction goes on for almost four minutes and doesn’t really go anywhere after that. And “Beneath The Silt” is another boring song musically, but Flynn shows that he is capable of doing something other than shouting at you or doing that annoying breathing thing he always does. This is his best vocal display on this album.

If I were to pick a track that I like on this album, I would choose “Night Of Long Knives.” It has a solid introduction that doesn’t overstay its welcome, and there are some cool moments, especially in the prechorus. I also like the “prophet/profit” wordplay. The chorus itself is nothing special, but I like the rest of the track. This song is based on Charles Manson, his “family,” and their murders. This has a solid premise, except I have one key issue with the lyrics: None of this has anything to do with the actual Night of the Long KnivesWhat in the world was this band thinking when they came up with this title? If they wrote a song about the original event, it would have fit well with the introductory lyrics:

“You won’t see us come/In the night/With these knives/And these bloodstains on our hands/Paint the walls/Taste the blade/On the night of long knives…”

And then Flynn starts rambling about the “summer of ’69” in Hollywood. The history nerd in me screamed in agony as I listened to these lyrics unfold. Why do you do this to me, Machine Head?

Is this the worst album of the year? Absolutely not. For starters, I was able to listen to it all the way through, which is a lot more than I can say for other albums I nearly reviewed (looking at you, Megaherz). But there are so many things wrong here that it does get the worst rating I have given an album to this point.

Overall: Forget the Bodom fans; even Machine Head fans should be angry with this one.

Rating: 0.5*

Review: Acid Drinkers – 25 Cents For A Riff

Location: Poznań, Poland
Genre: Heavy/Thrash Metal
Released: October 6, 2014
Format Reviewed: FLAC
Feature: Global Conquest – Recent Releases

By: Kris Kotlarik

Acid Drinkers has been around for 28 years, and they haven’t taken much time off, having released an impressive sixteen albums during that span. Two of those albums are cover albums, and they almost take on Me First & The Gimme Gimmes‘ level of genre mismatching in their covers. “Love Shack” as a thrash metal cover just does not work, although I give them props for trying, probably because of their Polish accents. In all seriousness, some of these covers were actually good, although Dragonforce recently upstaged them on “Ring Of Fire.” They also turned “Hit The Road Jack” into something of an Alestorm-esque drinking song with a solid video.

Anyway, this have won three Fryderyk Awards (the Polish Grammys) for “Best Hard & Heavy Act” on their own material, and on the basis of 25 Cents For A Riff, it’s not hard to see why. This group takes a series of different heavy metal aspects and puts them together to form an interesting blend of thrash metal that doesn’t feel like a thrash metal album, and I’m guessing that’s the sort of thing that gets respected in Poland, a country that knows a thing or two about heavy metal.

There’s a lot to like about this album; the influences, which range from post-Black Album Metallica to shades of The Sword and some stuff out of that spectrum, are plentiful and take several listens to pick them up. The problem here is that later on, the album starts to wear on the listener. On a per-song basis, most of this album is quite solid, but it doesn’t pack the requisite punch to keep the listener engaged for the full 52+ minutes. There’s quite a bit to like, between the thrashier tracks of “God Hampered His Life,” and the surprisingly high-tuned “Don’t Drink Evil Things.” My favorite track, at least from a music standpoint, might be “Me,” which sounds like one of the bonus tracks from Star One‘s debut album, but there’s too much vocal repetition for this to be a sustainable track.

I think the best all-around track on here is “Chewed Alive,” a mid-tempo thrasher which boasts a catchy riff and some of the best vocal work on this album, especially in the pre-chorus. There’s also a nice solo in here. But from the next track onward, the tracks start blending together and nothing really stands out. On the bright side, there’s a lot of interesting but short bass grooves to look out for, and the vocal work is diverse enough to at least give the listener something to look out for.

Overall: The musicianship is solid, but there is too much filler. Would have been better if some tracks (especially the closer) were cut. 

Rating: 3.0*

ATF Review: Stam1na – Nocebo

Location: Lemi, Finland
Genre: Progressive/Thrash Metal
Released: February 8, 2012
Format Reviewed: FLAC
Feature: All-Time Favorites

By: Kris Kotlarik

My first exposure to Stam1na, one of the most popular metal bands in Finland (most Americans and other countries don’t know who they are, although that could change on their upcoming tour through Europe), came in 2012 during the Finnish Metal Meeting, in which they played a headlining set. They were quite entertaining, but their greatness didn’t sink in further for a couple years. Their most recent effort, SLK, is another likely ATF nominee, and most of their previous works would also rate very highly. But this particular album has kept me captivated in many ways.

It starts rather unassumingly with “Pirunpaska,” roughly translated as “damn shit.” The first few seconds sounds like the beeping sound of a microwave, but it quickly turns into a track with many different riffs and a chromatically lyricized chorus. This is one of the more upbeat tracks on Nocebo, and the best example of this is the bridge that occupies a large section from about 2:10 to 3:00.

“Valtiaan Uudet Vaateet” has a main riff that would have perfectly blended into an early Mastodon album. The chorus is also extremely catchy, capturing the essence of “scream singing,” with the emphasis on the clean aspect of the vocals. There’s also a nice guitar lead that isn’t overly showoff-ish but is extremely effective in crafting a melody. The shortest and thrashiest track on this album is “Tavastia Palamaan,” except for its catchy chorus, which is a common theme for this band. The same goes for crafting innovative bridge sections.

“Puolikas Ihminen” is slightly less thrashy than the previous track, although it has its aggressive moments. Even in its thrash sections, it still carries an upbeat sound. There’s even elements of classic country in this track’s bridge section, because…why not? It all flows so well that it really doesn’t make a difference. “Aivohalvus” is another thrashing track with another utterly fantastic bridge section. They have the elements of songwriting down to a T, and it only gets better from here.

The second half starts with “Rabies,” which contains another quasi-Mastodon riff, and I swear that I’m hearing a metalized version of an oldies song in the pre-chorus, if it can even be called that since it only shows up once. This track has the proggiest structure on here and is a highly recommended listen. The next track, “Lepositeet,” has an intro that resembles the Finnish Santana talking sensually to you while playing a beautiful riff (which comes back later) before turning into a midtempo number. Even as one of the weaker tracks on this album, it’s still solid by all metrics.

The last three tracks are among the album’s best, and would compare favorably to any consecutive three tracks on most albums. First is “Nomad,” which is the only Stam1na track across their six albums to be sung entirely in English. This sounds like it started as a creative reworking of Metallica’s “Wherever I May Roam,” which I am quite fond of in comparison to other post-Master of Puppets tracks, but “Nomad” goes far beyond the latter and morphs into a track similar to “Rabies” in structure, but is more engaging and has a great solo.

“Ei Encorea,” or “No Encore,” is another fun listen that I can’t really put my finger on in terms of describing it. It’s thrashy, while not being thrash metal, and proggy, while still carrying a relatively traditional structure. The ending, which takes the galloping chugga riff with its clean, melodic vocals, is one of the more unique features of this already creative effort. Lastly, “Arveton on Arvoton,” or “Scarless is Worthless,” has the best damn chorus on this album, and the bridge is simply stellar. Guided by a grooving bass, it unexpectedly takes a left turn into Breakdownland. For those who are trying to figure out how to make breakdowns work, this is how it’s fucking done. The chorus changes key signatures for the last go-around before fading out gracefully.

There seems to be an argument in the metal community (what? Metalheads arguing with each other? I’m shocked!) about the existence of modern thrash metal, and why it still exists. There’s one group saying “Screw that; Slayer did it 30 years ago and these new guys are posers.” The other side says “Hey man, these new thrash bands are different.” With respect to bands like Warbringer and Havok, both of whom I like, they’re not as innovative as I’d like them to be and would probably score a 3.5 or so on review (although Warbringer’s debut might be worthy of a 4.0). Stam1na, on the other hand, is way out there in terms of reinventing thrash metal. It doesn’t even feel like you’re listening to a thrash metal album, and frankly, based on what I can make of their lyrics, I don’t think the members of Stam1na really care about any of this nonsense.

The fact that they have reached as much acclaim as they have in their home country is either nothing short of a miracle, or a testament to how awesome Finland is as a country. Because when was the last time a truly innovative American band won a Grammy for hard rock/metal song or album? And for that matter, when was the last time anyone in the United States gave a crap about that particular category?

Anywho, this album rules. Stam1na rules. Listen to them.

Overall: This is right up there with Anathema’s Weather Systems for “Best Album of 2012.” 

Rating: 4.5*