2013/14 Reviews

Blizzard Hunter ”Conqueror of Destiny” (Sarlacc)bhunter

This band, based in Lima, Peru, used to go by the shorter monicker Blizzard, but as you probably know, it’s already a quite frequently used band name. Hunter was therefore added to the name just a little while ago, and here is a three track release, which in fact contains the same material as the demo the guys put out towards the end of 2011. The first thing you’ll notice is the sound. Apart from the drums which sound a bit stale and clinical, the overall sound is powerful, with some really razor sharp guitars picking up a lot of attention. The vocals of Sebastian Palma, who is also the singer of Lightning, a band that also recently released a tape through Sarlacc, are also very impressive: crystal clear, and almost glass shattering at times.

What about the music then? Well, I guess it comes as no surprise we’re dealing in straight ahead, mid eighties sounding heavy metal here. No bullshit and no trendy influences. The first song, “I’m On My Way” is a fast and energetic affair containing some great guitar work and an impressive performance by Palma. A really fine way to start the tape, and overall the best song on offer here. “Ghost Rider” is a more mid tempo based and melodic track. Nothing spectacular, but a very decent tune where the guitar work yet again stands out, and Palma get to operate in some, for him unusual regions. The last track ,“The Joke” is the fastest of the three, an energetic tune, bordering on speed metal. It also comes with a really shredding guitar solo, but unfortunately also a chorus that seems a tad too typical.

The overall picture is quite familiar when it comes to South American bands playing traditional heavy metal: A mixture of NWOBHM, some intense speed metal and a hint of mid eighties US metal. However, the delievery is not as raw as some of the other South American bands. 11 and a half minutes certainly isn’t a lot to judge a band by, but Blizzard Hunter should be able to raise some interest with this release. Since these three tracks were written some years back, I am looking forward to hearing what the band sound like now, with the new singer and drummer maybe contributing more to the final product. If the band settles for a full length release, they should work hard on creating more diversity, and whatever they do, whether it’s an album, an EP or a demo, they should try to implement more of their own identity in the material.

So where can I get this, you might wonder… Well, Sarlacc is releasing a tape version which I believe is sold out by now, so the only alternative at the moment seems to be to get the digital version from the band’s bandcamp-site: http://blizzardhunter.bandcamp.com/.

Demon Bitch “Death Is Hanging…” (Dying Victims)demon bitch

Even though I enjoyed Demon Bitch’ first demo, released by Arcane Metal Arts back in 2012, I honestly didn’t expect their next release (I see this one is labeled as an EP) to be this good. Hell, “Death Is Hanging” is easily among the ten best releases of the year, even when you take full length releases into consideration. I can’t believe that so far it’s only available on tape, as these four songs need to be pressed onto every physical format there is, just to make them available to as many people as possible. Don’t expect a demo sound or something like that, as the recording sounds very professional.

Demon Bitch is part of the metal scene in Michigan, along with amongst others, Borrowed Time. In fact, drummer Reverend Chekhovski and guitarist Solon Saton have both been involved in the band. Chevkovski was even hired to perform the drums at last year’s excellent self titled full length. To me, it sounds like Demon Bitch is trying to do something similar to Borrowed Time with their music. I don’t think they’re trying to copy them, that would just be plain silly, but there are some similar sources of inspiration and maybe they also share some goals for where they want to go with their music.

Through four songs, the band delivers their own take on traditional heavy metal, topped with killer, totally unique vocals. It’s definitely a sound to fall in love with, as it is fresh, twisted and original. Listening to this EP, you’ll get intensity, melodies and an overall inspired performance from all parts involved. King Diamond and Mercyful Fate are obvious references, but a song like the opener “All Hail Evil” also leans a bit towards newer acts like Sweden’s Portrait, and even Enforcer, the latter mainly due to the energy and some of the guitar work. The song is an intense and almost hectic opening tune, musically with lots of NWOBHM-references, great guitar work and some cool bass lines creating a solid foundation for the track along with the strong and natural drums. On top of it all you’ll find a very impressive and inspired vocal performance from vocalist extraordinaire Logon Saton.

The tempo and intensity is slowed down a bit for “Oaken Guillotine”. This song also has a strong melody, and sounds more American than the opener. The verse is not very accessible, with some pretty hard to get into lines from Saton, while the chorus again is totally catchy. I can’t decide whether this one, the aforementioned “All Hail Evil” or the title track (mostly uptempo with attacking drums and guitars and an amazing chorus) is the best song on the EP, as all of them are totally awesome. Only “Evil Night” is a bit weaker, but still a great track.

Overall this is one of the most exciting releases of 2014 so far, creating similar feelings that I got by listening extensively to Borrowed Time’s debut last year. This is simply put 22 and a half minutes of mystical metal magic! Get it on tape today, and buy the other formats later.

Iron Spell “Heavy Metal Witchcraft” (Dying Victims)IRON-SPELL-Heavy-Metal-Witchcraft-7

The recent heavy metal revival has evoked an interest in traditional heavy metal acts from all around the globe. A good thing as there are lots of promising acts to be discovered almost everywhere. Countries like Peru and Chile have gotten some attention lately, due to acts like Cobra, Metal Grave, Lucifer’s Hammer and Lightning, all covered one way or another here at Metal Squadron. Iron Spell is another new Chilean band, formed as late as last year. While I have been impressed by a lot of the stuff coming out of this part of the world, I have to admit, I am not fully convinced about “Heavy Metal Sacrifice”, a four song demo. Compared to all the bullshit being released every week, it doesn’t feel quite right to be too negative, but the band for sure has a lot to learn.

Starting with the opener,  and also the title track, I am not too fond of the almost happy element of this tune, that is particularly strong during the “Turn on the music/play a Sabbath song”-part of the chorus. While I am probably not the right guy to talk about English that needs to be improved, the lyrics in this one are quite embarrassing (the quoted line is followed by: “Rocking till the crows are flying over us”). Normally I don’t spend a lot of time dwelling on the lyrics, but in Iron Spell’s case,  I am not sure it was a good idea to print them in the cover.

Even though the band name, the cover art and the title of the demo screams heavy metal, this could have been a lot rawer and definitely a lot heavier. At times, like during the verse of “Midnight Fire”, I am reminded of some weak, lightweight hard rock while the bridge and the chorus of this tune make me think of melodic German metal in general, and  most of all the more modern kind, not the one created in the eighties.  This stuff is just too typical and way too slick for my taste, and the songwriting sounds a little forced with very few good hooks or outstanding parts. In addition to the German melodic metal, but not the happiest part of the scene, Sweden’s Steelwing as well as all those new Toronto-bands could be used as a reference to describe the musical landscape in which Iron Spell operates.  For sure, this release doesn’t have the typical Southern American-flair and charm, and could have been an unspectacular heavy metal-release from pretty much anywhere in the world. A bit sad, really.

Lightning ”Demo” (Sarlacc)Lightning

I have to admit I don’t know a lot about this band, apart from the fact that they’re a quintet from Lima, the capital of Peru. Apparently this demo was released for the first time last year, on a CD-R by the band. Sarlacc is now coming to rescue to give it a release on tape as well, a format that for many years was more or less the only valid format when it came to demo recordings. Last, but not least, the guitarist from Cobra, Nito, also mentioned Lightning in the interview somewhere else on these pages.

The South American bands usually perform their heavy metal with a lot of passion and enthusiasm, something that also can be said about Lightning.The demo contains three pretty solid heavy metal songs with a combined playing time of around a quarter of an hour. Not enough to judge a band by, but at least the material gives an indication of what these guys are trying to achieve with their European influenced take on traditional metal. The recording and performance fit the music very well as things sound very natural and are kept fairly straight and basic. It’s like each instrument is given space to breathe and live, resulting in the recording not being too tight or clinical. The music isn’t particularly heavy, instead there is a strong focus on strong melodies as well as classy and classic twin guitar harmonies. Nothing new at all, but the band seem to have the right influences, and there is very little wrong with the way they transform them into the Lightning-sound. Nowadays I have to admit it’s also quite refreshing to hear a band that isn’t just copying the NWOBHM, but still sounds like traditional metal.  To my ears it seems like Lightning is more influenced by the mid eighties metal from Germany, France, Belgium and Netherlands than the acts from UK . Also the band seem to really be into what they’re doing.

Vocalist Sebastian Palma is one of the main assets of the band, with his clear and high, yet pleasant voice. I am fan of high, siren-vocals, but most inexperienced vocalists often sound a bit to strained when they go really high. Palma manages just fine, and with a bit more work on the vocal lines next time, it should be interesting to hear what he can do. I would say that two of the three songs on offer here are of similar quality, with the catchy opener “Heavy Metal Power”  and the speedy “Fear (No More)” being overall a bit stronger than “Supersonic Madness”.  There is clearly potential here, but the band needs to sharpen their songwriting a little if they’re aiming to make an impression already with their first official release. This is by no means an essential demo, but the three songs are more than good enough to keep me interested in further developments in the Lightning-camp.

https://soundcloud.com/sebastian-palma-4

Lucifer’s Hammer “Night Sacrifice” (Shadow Kingdom)

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Seemingly out of nowhere, with a name inspired by the novel rather than the Warlord-song, comes this Chilean act formed by brothers Hades and Titan. The latter sat behind the drums for the band’s first recording, while Hades handles not only guitars and bass, but also tries his luck singing, something he hasn’t done a lot before. To be honest, he is damn close to slipping at times, some might claim he is clearly stumbling at places, especially when he tries to go high, but the lack of technique and experience partly compensated by plenty of enthusiasm.

The first press of the tape is sold out, but Shadow Kingdom is making available another 100 copies. I guess this can also prove to be too few. Of course cassette isn’t a medium for the average fan, but many lovers of the classic US metal bands still own a cassette deck just to be able to play their worn out original demo tapes or killer tape only compilations like “Heavy Artillery”.

Three songs with a combined playing time of around a quarter of an hour are what you get, and they are all pretty cool in their own way. The opening tune “Wolf”, about a creature, half man and half wolf that seeks the forest to fight against his inner demons, is a strong and powerful opener with plenty of cool riffs. “Shadows”, the longest song on offer, is faster and more intense, apart from the mid section, where the tempo is dragged considerably down. Like the first tune, this one has some cool guitars and also a very catchy chorus. Great stuff to headbang to, I guess.  The guys surely know most tricks in the book and at the same time they have an ear for strong songs with catchy guitar parts. The last song “Night Sacrifice” is the one track I like least, starting with an intro that is a little too long and unspectacular before it turns into a more laidback and slower tune compared to the rather hectic approach of the two other songs. Not bad, but nothing special either.

Apart from the vocals which not surprisingly carry an accent, adding an exotic touch to it all, this could well have been an American band from the mid to late eighties, either to be found on a label like Metal Blade, or putting out their music on their own. The guitar sound is refreshing, quite naked and very up front and distinct. The stuff on this demo shows great promise, especially when you know it was recorded by two guys only, one of them being a singer only for a very short time. I really look forward to hearing more stuff from these guys and their new member, bass player Julian, as soon as possible.

Moros Nyx “Rite Of Rebellion” (Sword & Chains)cover

I love it! This tape is worth having for the totally cult, rather amateurish looking black and white drawing on the front cover and the simple, yet cool logo in some kind of blue/grey colors adding a “metallic touch” to it. Before you start to think otherwise, let me be quick to point out that the music presented on Moros Nyx’s debut demo certainly isn’t bad either. The guitarist (also handling bass on this recording), Lee Smith, is a supporter of Metal Squadron, but fear not, I didn’t know that when I decided what to write in this review. Along with Moros Nyx’ drummer Pat Gloeckle, Smith also plays in another promising demo band, Ancient Dreams. The third and final member is Matt Papai, who takes care of the vocals, and also helps Lee out on the guitar. Together the guys give us som great dual guitar work. The beginning of “Child Of The Dream”, the first real song following the short intro “Awakening”, sounds a lot like Metalucifer, and that’s certainly not a bad thing in my book.

Although I don’t get an enormous kick out of listening to this four tracker, I have to admit that Moros Nyx sounds quite refreshing. Seeing the artwork for the first time, I didn’t know what to expect. Reading the labels description: “If you are a fan of Gamma Ray, Rainbow and Heaven’s Gate…”, I kind of knew what to expect, but I don’t really think Moros Nyx has that much in common with these acts. Maybe the already mentioned “Child Of The Dream” has some similarities with Heaven’s Gate around “In Control”, before they turned really melodic and singalong with “Livin In Hysteria”, but that’s about it. “Child Of The Dream” is a totally killer song by the way, intense, fast and catchy.

Apart from the intro, the three tracks all clock in around the four minute mark. The nice thing with releases like this is the fact that you can play them over and over again, without sacrifing wife and kids. Unfortunately, “With Doom We Come” and “Defenders” aren’t really of the same class as the the first song. The former sounds rough and rowdy, with a hint of thrash metal perhaps. Not that far away from a band like October 31, and quite different from the opener. Unfortunately, the vocals aren’t really melodic enough to make the chorus of this one sound optimal.

The last song,“Defenders” is more melodic, yet again an decent piece of uptempo heavy metal, but generally a bit too anonymous.   Even though this is a demo recording, I guess a few words about the sound wouldn’t hurt. It’s a bit thin, especially in the guitar department, but it’s more than good enough to give a decent impression of what Moros Nyx is about.  If the production is a bit rough around the edges, so are definitely the vocals of Matt Papai. That being said (and apart from the aforementioned chorus), I really enjoy them. They strike me as quite theatrical and have an aggressive edge that fits well with the music. Papai is not afraid to throw in some cool screams as well.

“Rite Of Rebellion” is released digitally of course and also in a limited edition of 100 hand numbered tapes. Since I don’t own a proper cassette player at the moment, I have to cope with holding the tape in my hands and looking at the artwork while listening to it digitally. If you want a copy of the tape, it’s still available from a few distros while I write this (mid July). Listen: morosnyx.bandcamp.com

Outcast “Outcast” (Heavy Chains)outcast - cover

This little beauty, a yellow cassette (the only format it’s available on at the moment) wrapped in a rather simplistic black and yellow cover featuring a hotel, an empty street and a streetlight, is the surprise of the year for me, and also the release that I have listened to most times during 2014. Even though the whole thing is rather short, 20 minutes, it’s quite an achievement as the tape was only released two months or so ago.

Outcast, the brainchild of Chris Fong, who is behind all the music, showcased during four equally strong and highly individual songs, is something really, really special. While many bands these days play half hearted and weak metal claiming to be influenced by the early British bands, this is definitely the real deal. Metal done with energy, heart and soul wrapped in an authentic production (love the guitar sound and those heavy drums), has always been, and will always be timeless. While the heavy metal of the eighties, be it European or Japanese, is the main influence here, there are also some hints of punk to be found, in both the opening tune, the energy filled “Spiralling Down”, as well as the other uptempo tracks. Also, I can’t free myself from thinking about what has slowly become some kind of musical fetish for me personally, the so called post-NWOBHM movement, and more specifically the releases of Slander and Shocksplit. I simply adore these two records, and yes, I can spot a little bit from both in the expression of Outcast.

While “Spiralling Down” is as close to a perfect opening tune as it gets, the follow up “Cold Blooded”, follows right on it’s track. It’s another fast tune, catchy as hell, with the very fitting, rough, raspy and powerful, midrange voice of singer Jake. After two fast rippers, prepare for something completely different. Starting out sounding like vintage Praying Mantis, or another one of the more melodic NWOBHM-acts, “Dreamer’s Wake” slows down the tempo a lot compared to the first two tracks, but retains the hooks, the strong melodies and catchy vocal melodies. A very effective break in the fast paced material of the album, showcasing that the band is not restricted to doing straight forward stuff only. While I am yet to decide what is my favourite track on this release, this particular song is in many ways the most impressive.

After having had a little time to breathe, for what is the most complex, diverse and also longest track on the release, this tape ends on a faster and more aggressive note with “No Tomorrow”, another proof of the fact that Chris Fong is already in a completely different class than most of the songwriters in newer, more established heavy metal acts signed on big labels. Don’t stay too long here in Norway Chris, we need more stuff from Outcast!

Possessed Steel “ Possessed Steel EP” (Hard And Heavy Records)cover

After Steel Against Steel, Steel Factory and a few different incarnations of Staiinless Steel, it was only a matter of time before someone called their band Possessed Steel. I didn’t get a chance to listen to the band’s first tape, “Rehearsal 2010”, but who really did? After what I’ve heard, it was strictly limited to 15 copies or so, in the best tradition of Tales Of Medusa, another Canadian band doing black and white covers for their tape releases. Possessed Steel hails from Toronto, and was formed the same year they put out the aforementioned rehearsal tape. Here, four years later, they present again four of the five tracks that were already on the tape. Hopefully the band has some new material up their sleeve too, it would certainly be interesting to hear how the songwriting has evolved during this time.

The tape starts off with the piano piece “Prelude To The Storm”, an unexpected start to the real opening tune “Battle With Neptune”. This is a mid tempo tune with some strong riffing and powerful drums, but rather unspectacular vocals from Talon Sullivan. Throughout the EP, the vocals are pretty much upfront in the mix, but the vocal lines in particular, are very predictable and boring and really need to be improved. More creativity in this area will lift the songs a lot, as things stand at the moment, there are not a lot about the songs, apart from some catchy riffs, that really sticks in your head. The song “Possessed Steel” is the closest we come to an exception, as this seems a bit straighter, more aggressive and generally more memorable than the rest of the songs.

I really feel that I should adore this tape, as it has most of the ingredients I love from eighties heavy metal, but there clearly is something missing. The dry, basic and naked sound, might be the factor that bores me a bit. It’s like the whole recording is lacking dynamics and some diversity in the sound. The solo guitar is thin and screaming, and the solos themselves are generally not very interesting. The drums sound good and pretty natural to my ears, but a bit more bass to the overall sound would have been nice.

It’s not that easy to come up with something to compare this recording to, but some of the more melodic moments (which are quite few and far between) reminds me of something like Omen, while the more unaccessible material of latter day Manialla Road could be a reference for some of the longer tracks.

Rabid Bitch Of The North ”Defending Two Castles” (Sarlacc)cover

I changed the title of this column because of this release. Before it was simply called “Demo reviews”, but I renamed it to “Demo and tape reviews”.  Why?  Mostly because I don’t know if I could call this (and similar releases) a demo. No big deal, I guess, but I thought I should mention it in case someone noticed. Now to Rabid Bitch Of The North, I believe I first heard about this Belfast-based trio through the Miskatonic Board some years ago. I put in an order for their mini-CD “Outta The Kennel”, and got a pretty decent release in return. However, it’s quite obvious that the band has made progress since then.

The title track kicks off with some galloping riff reminding me of several Iron Maiden-inspired US metal acts from the eighties. Then things slow down a bit before the vocals sets in.  And what can I really say about the voice of Joe McDonnell? He certainly sounds very original and very raw. His voice is shrilling, in fact he sounds like he’s on edge of cracking here and there. Also, the vocals are delivered with lots and lots of desperation. I guess they’re an acquired taste, but in my opinion they’re a big part of what this band is about. By the way, “Defending Two Castles” is a killer tune, a seldom example of song where each and every part represents a small highlight in itself. For sure one of my favorite songs, three and a half months into 2014.

The second song, “Sisyphus” mixes faster parts with heavier, mid tempo passages,  resulting in a very dynamic tune. Yet again I am impressed by the very intense vocal performance that kind of explodes during the chorus. “Us Against Them”, the last song on offer here, sounds like a real live favorite as it oozes NWOBHM, and like many tunes from that wave, it also carries a punk edge.

This demo is quite addictive. When I composed this review, I played it like six or seven times in a row. I didn’t get tired of it, probably because the songs are great, but I guess also because they are quite different from each other. Also, this band has something that not a lot of acts still in the early stages of their careers have – an identity of their own. The performance might not be perfect, but the energy, the fun the band seems to have while recording as well as the honest, no frills approach more than makes up for it. Can’t wait to hear more!

https://www.facebook.com/NWOBHMRBOTN

Steel Inferno “Demo 2014” (Wargame)cover

This  Copenhagen-based, multinational band with members from Denmark, Poland, Greece and France, looks a bit unusual to be an act performing pure heavy metal, as they’re not (at least on the band picture) doing the  typical black denim and leather-style.  Nothing wrong with that, but the most important question is: Can they deliver?

Well, this tape, containing five songs of pure heavy certainly isn’t bad, but there is nothing really special about it either. Steel Inferno is fronted by singer Karen. Taking her performance on this demo into account, I doubt if she has a lot of experience from singing heavy metal before. I might be wrong, but there is something about her approach and the way she uses her voice in the different parts of the song that, literary speaking, screams “newcomer”.  She has a rather aggressive approach which works okay for most of the time, but there are parts where the vocals doesn’t really feel right. A bit too strained maybe? Also there  are clearly places where the quality of her voice is being outdone by the enthusiasm and effort she has put into the recording.

Steel Inferno is performing basic, solid, straight ahead heavy metal. It’s quite refreshing with a band not trying to recreate the glory of the NWOBHM, but at the same time staying with all legs way deep in  the eighties. I guess the members have heard their fair share of Judas Priest and Accept. The guitar work in those bands were always killer of course, and the guitars are by far the best thing about this demo too.  It might not be world class yet, but while the other contributions (vocal, drums and bass) strike me as unspectacular, the guitar work  on this five tracker stands out big time. Out of the five songs, I really enjoy the fast paced “Merciful Slayer”. The other four other tracks have qualities as well, including some cool parts that make me pay attention and listen a bit closer, but the main idea behind each song needs to be more developed before the band is ready to take the next step.

Teuton “Promo 2014”teuton

Last year I did a pretty extensive feature on Outcast, which was read by (at least by my standards) a lot of people. The self titled EP was also one of my absolute favourite releases from 2014. While main man Chris Fong was my contact in Outcast, a few weeks ago I also received a message from Jake, the singer from Outcast, who wanted to send me a tape with a band he had started with the bass player, Harriet (also Outcast) while Chris is residing in Europe. I told him I was very interested, and just about ten days or so later, it arrived all the way from Melbourne, Australia. Containing an intro “Teuton” as well as two short songs, this tape clocks in at a rather meager eight minutes. Still, these eight minutes hold more interest than most of the full length releases these days, and give me a lot of hope for the future.

After the intro, “Firestorm” is the first real song of the tape. I was rather surprised to see this as the opener, as it’s way more midtempo oriented and controlled, both musically as vocally, compared to the other track. It’s a cool tune, reminding me a little of “Wheels Of Steel” and “Strong Arm Of The Law”-era Saxon , only a bit darker and rougher in approach, and sporting a simple, yet effective main riff and a chorus in the same vein. It’s nothing spectacular maybe, but very solid stuff nevertheless. I guess on most releases today, it would have stood out, but here “Firestorm” is completely overshadowed by the second track. “Full On Power” is a real ripper, with killer riffs, plenty of energy and with totally wild, yet convincing vocals and incredible vocal melodies throughout the song. I feel I know the tune inside out after having played it continuously since I got the tape, but I am nowhere near getting tired of it. A future classic as far as I can understand, and in a funny way, I am thinking of those great mideighties tracks that were only released on single when I hear this one. Well, it might not be up there with the Randy- or Lord Ryür-stuff, but honestly, it’s not miles away. I don’t think heavy metal anno 2015 can get a much better compliment than that.

I don’t know if this is going to be released in another format (I guess it will, sooner or later), but to be on the safe side, you should hurry up and catch one of the tapes. According to the band, the first press was limited to 100 copies and is close to sold out, but they are printing more as we speak.

Underground “Demo 2014” underground

A heavy metal band carrying a name like this certainly deserves some attention at Metal Squadron. Underground is a quintet from Slovenia, and Underground might turn out to be a lot more interesting than both Negligence (who released an album on Metal Blade some years ago) as well as Motorfire and Thraw and whatever they are called, all the other acts on Metal Tank Records. However, I feel threes songs with a combined playing time of around 13 minutes is too little to firmly judge the band. It’s more than enough though to say that Underground is a very promising newcomer, and if the band can deliver in the same way when it comes to filling a full length, we are dealing With the best Slovenian act since Sarcasm and their impressive “Crematory”, from 1989.

Apart from the usual digital download, the demo is also available on CD, but please note that the presentation clearly wasn’t a priority, as this is only a pro printed CDR without any artwork at all. The material is a completely different story though. The opener “Burn In Fire” is nothing short of impressive, a real ripper of a metal song, sounding like an extremely well prepared lesson in how to do US metal, done by a non-American band. The guitars works in perfect harmony and are sharp enough to cut through flesh, while the vocals are delivered very convincingly over bass and drums that create a powerful, steady rhythm. The vocals of Mario Murgič have a little dark edge and the necessary bit of grit, but you can also hear the natural range and the falsetto of the singer during the awesome chorus.This is a fucking killer tune that will have you sitting on the edge of your seat through the whole journey, I can guarantee you that you’ll not find a single weak moment here!

The two other tunes, “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and “Horrors Of The Past” arent as strong, but are still great tunes. The former has a diverse vocal performance, where powerful, well controlled singing is spiced up with some more impressive, high pitched parts. It’s not as catchy as the opening tune, but the diversity makes it interesting,with lots of different parts strung together quite effectively. “Horrors Of The Past” is a heavier, more mid tempo based tune starting off with an intro riff that in fact sounds a little folky before it settles by relying on a solid, rather basic main riff. The tempo is raised around the three minute mark and the song gets way more intense as do the vocals with Murgič again hitting those really high notes in Halford-style without sounding unnatural or strained. While “Burn In Fire” is clearly the top song here, together the three tracks are proof that the band can both do the “simple” and catchy stuff, but also use song structures that are different from the standard verse-chorus-verse-chorus-formula to good effect. I can’t wait to hear what these guys come up with next!

http://www.facebook.com/underground.band

The Unholy ”Demo”

Nytt bildeThe band sent me the three songs on this demo already some months ago. Without hearing the material first, the interview I did with the band would not have been possible. However, since the material hasn’t been officially available until one or two weeks ago, I have not made a review.  Now it’s time to do something with that. This three tracker from the Portuguese outfit is a very impressive release. Taking into account that we’re talking about at demo, the sound is extremly good, in fact way better than many albums in the same genre released by European labels.

The band, based around the powerful voice of singer Sara Steel and guitar playing of Nuno Nightmare (ex-Midnight Priest) is very much influenced by the more melodic US metal bands of the mid to late eighties.  Completing the band are current members of Midnight Priest, bass player Joe Dalton and drummer Alex Animal. A very steady rhythm section consisting of two guys that are used to playing together. As you have already understood, the performances on this demo are up to album standard, and in some aspects way above the stuff delivered on many professional releases nowadays. Steel mentions the deceased Carl Albert (Vicious Rumors, Ruffians, Villain) as her main inspiration, and even though you can hear that she has snapped up a trick or two from him,  there aren’t that many similarities. Being a female singer possessing both power and a commanding voice, she ends up somewhere near the likes of Leather Leone, Ann Boleyn or Barbara Malteze and other female power sirens.  If it wasn’t for the fact that I know this is her first time in a studio, I would never have guessed. That’s how convincing she sounds. I hear some King Diamond-like vocal lines some places, for instance in the choruses of  the  quite heavy opening track “Open The Gates” as well as in “She Comes From The Grave”,  probably the least accessible track on the album, but that might just be me.

The band as a whole, has some similarities with Italy’s Sign Of The Jackal, both vocally and instrumentally, but I agree with Nuno when he says that The Unholy is darker and heavier. The main reason might be that The Unholy seem to focus on metal in their sound and don’t include as strong a hard rock-influence like the Italians do. That being said, The Unholy can sound damn catchy too. Just listen to the last track on this demo, “Queen Of Thunder” with its uptempo drive and an extremely hooky melody line. If this song isn’t a big live favorite, well then there really is no hope. Hopefully the band will pen some more material soon. If it’s on par with the tracks on offer on this demo, the band is more than ready to perform at festivals like Keep It True or Headbangers Open Air.

I will try to do more demo reviews in the future, but as most of these releases contains 2-4 songs, I will not grade the reviews. However, this demo from The Unholy is among the five best released during the last year, and I can’t wait to hear more from the band to find out if they can shape their songwriting even more and make the best out of what is their starting point: To make US sounding metal with a Southern European flair.  Act fast if you want a physical copy, as this CD is limited to 300 pieces, and once they’re gone, they’re gone.

Band contact: the.unholy.army@gmail.com

Walpyrgus “Walpyrgus” (Swords & Chains)a4078725703_10

Let me put a few things straight: I am a big fan of almost all Twisted Tower Dire-stuff, both the demos with Janet Rubin as well as the period with Tony Taylor. However, “Make It Dark”, their last album, the first with new boy Jonny Aune singing, is probably my favorite, at least song-wise. Unfortunately the album was hampered by a quite bad drum sound, but come on, which heavy metal fan can be left untouched by songs like “Mystera” and “Stone Leopard”?

I know some people found the direction of the 2011-album a bit too lightweight and melodic, and I guess those will not be too pleased with Walpyrgus either. Sorry for not mentioning it earlier, but when it comes to members, Walpyrgus is 60 percent Twisted Tower Dire. Talking about the music, this is probably even closer (than 60 percent) to the guys’ other band. In fact, the three self penned tracks on this EP sounds a lot like the stuff on “Make It Dark”. I have no problem imagine “The Sisters” and especially the infectious “We Are The Wolves” on the last album. “Cold Cold Ground”, the first taster from the album made available on the net, isn’t too far away either, but it’s probably the one I like the least on the EP. It’s a rocking tune with some cool parts, is quite diverse and as usual the guitar work is stellar (how is it possible not to love the end section?), but I am not a fan of the backing vocals in this one. In my opinion the songs also lacks the pace to work as the opener of the EP.

“The Sisters” is a mid tempo based tune with a huge chorus, and some really tasteful guitar work. A short, to the point and very accessible song that should be a lot of fun live. “We Are The Wolves” is my favourite on the EP, this is a faster one with some inspired vocals from Aune and a killer guitar solo. Like the other songs, this one clocks in around the three minute mark. Extremely catchy stuff!

In addition to the band’s own songs, Walpyrgus closes this EP with a version of Mercyful Fate’s “Doomed By The Living Dead”. Although you can still picture King Diamond doing his piercing vocals during the verse, the vocals of Aune add an extra sense of melody to a track that is originally hooky enough to fit the Walpyrgus-formula.

This review is based on the files Scott Waldrop sent me early in May. The EP will be released on tape format by Sword And Chains on June 1st and on CD and vinyl through No Remorse Records a couple of months later. While not as convincing as Twisted Tower Dire at their best, this is essential stuff for all fans of this sadly underrated band and melodic heavy metal with a touch of the seventies in general.

Warhawk “Down In Hell” warhawk

Warhawk’s first demo is a quite ambitious one. Clocking in at more than half an hour and containing no less than seven tracks, “Down In Hell” gives a good impression of what this band from Venice, Italy is about. The band was formed a couple of years ago, and I can’t say I am familiar with any of the musicians from before. Musically the band is closer to old speed/heavy metal than thrash in my opinion, mainly because the singer is singing more than the typical thrash vocalist does, but also because Warhawk doesn’t have a lot of the typical thrash metal riffing or rhythms.

The recording is more than decent enough to be presented as a demo, but I feel things need to be tightened up a little if the band is to record a full length. The drums are a bit too loud and the guitars could have been clearer, especially during the faster parts. The exception is the solo guitar, which screams in your face during the solos. Chianti’s vocals seem a little flat and monotonous, and the guy also need to control his voice a little better when he goes for those high screams, like towards the end of “Bloody Brawl” or in “Flying Tigers”. The screaming of the vocalists, the screaming guitars, while not exactly new experiences in a heavy metal recording, it all turns out a little too much here. Acts like Exciter, Raven and Agent Steel seem to be among the sources of inspirations for these Italians, but yet Warhawk clearly lack the power and the songwriting of the aforementioned bands.

So what do the band need then to progress and make the next offering more listenable? More interesting songs for sure, more hooks and maybe a little bit of diversity, even though I understand the band wants to do the uptempo style. If the band is going to do another demo, I would also suggest to take away two songs, as seven is clearly a couple too many on this release. Contact: www.facebook.com/warhawkmetalband

Witchtower “Return To The Witches’ Castle” (Metalmania)Witchtower_metalfinal

It seems like an eternity since I first heard this demo in its entirety online. I was convinced that the music was worth getting on physical format, but had to wait some time to get my hands on the release. This CD-version is made available by Metalmania, a company from Chile, but according to their facebook page, Spain’s Witchtower has since signed a deal with Heavy Forces for the release of their debut album.  Not very surprising, as the label has already released two albums by another Spanish band heavily influenced by the NWOBHM, Iron Curtain.

While Iron Curtain seem to prefer the harder and faster stuff, like Jaguar or Savage mixed with a bit of Motörhead, Witchtower is a lot more laidback, rockin’ and last but not least, musically ambitious.  A couple of songs are very close to Diamond Head, the opener “Don’t Turn Off The Lights” being one of them.   A great, very dynamic  and diverse song with groove,  crushing, almost doomy riffs and a Maiden-like section during the second half of the tune. It’s also a song where the vocals carry some small similarities with Sean Harris, without being capable of matching the voice and the passion combined in one of the very best voices of the NWOBHM.

I have to admit I am not a big fan of the second song, “One Way”. The tune leans just as much towards rock and boogie as metal, and is simply too lightweight for me.  The melody isn’t really memorable either. While the opener is my favourite track from this demo, “Stronger Than You” is also a very strong song. This is a pure metallic tune, with the guitar work in particular reminding me of “Wheels Of Steel/”Strong Arm Of The Law”-era Saxon. I am not a big fan of the vocals in the chorus, as they seem to be a bit too loud, in lack of a more fitting word. The title track is an instrumental, and although it has some really cool parts, I find the song a little too disjointed.

The band is doing some gigs at the moment, their most high profile performance being the one at Brofest in Newcastle early in March, but Witchtower started out as the brainchild of Victor de la Chica. On this demo he has done about everything, apart from the drum programming. The drums by the way, sound a bit stale while the guitar sound is spot on, the early eighties British sound. Also the production is very fitting, powerful, and naked and raw enough to capture the particular early eighties spirit. Even though things are not perfect yet, I will make sure to check out the full length when it is released.

https://www.facebook.com/witchtowerESP

 

 

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TRIAL (swe): Always in motion

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The new album from Sweden’s Trial, “Motherless”, is one of those releases that will create mixed opinions among the people who enjoyed their stellar 2015-release “Vessel”. It’s certainly more on the experimental side of things, and I guess the fact that I haven’t fully made up my mind about it, suggest that it isn’t the easiest to digest. I guess only time will tell how good an album “Motherless” is. Last time I did something on Trial, I spoke to Andreas Johnsson, and he told me that my interview object this time around, the band’s other guitarist, Alexander Ellström, was partly responsible for him playing guitar in the first place.

– It all happened when we were about 12 or 13 years old. We started to hang out listening to music. Andreas  had been playing guitar a couple of years prior to that, but he really wasn’t that interested. As far as I can recall, I picked up a guitar at his place and started playing. From that moment, he kind of got into. At he same time, we started getting into metal as well, Iron Maiden of course, but mostly black and death metal stuff.

How has the fact that you go back a long time helped you develop your playing and interaction? 

– It’s been great. We understand each other perfectly. It’s like we got this sixth sense. It’s really difficult to explain.  If I play something, he immediately understands what kind of vibe it is to the riff, or where it is going. I haven’t really experienced the same feeling playing with someone else . It probably stems from the period I spoke about, when we were young. We kind of learned how to play metal together, and I wasn’t that into metal before we met.

“Vessel” got a lot of great feedback when it was released. Was it all deserved?

– I think “Vessel” was a little bit naïve, but naive in a good way. We wanted to explore many thoughts and ideas on that album, but we simply didn’t know how to technically do it. You have to remember, that it was basically the first time we were in a real studio, so it was a strange experience. We didn’t know how to bring forth all our ideas, but thankfully, we were under much guidance from both the engineer as well as Andy LaRocque who produced the album. This time though, we knew what to do and how to get there. In hindsight, I wish we were able to put all those ideas into “Vessel”, but the record is, like all records, just a footprint in time. It’s best to leave it like that, you will always regret something. You are never satisfied really.

Was it simply the experience from recording “Vessel” that made you more secure of what to do and how to do it for the recordings of “Motherless”?

– Yeah, absolutely. The experience really helped us. We were kind of new in the business back then, and  it helped us understand the segment of recording and how to work on a song in a more broader perspective. We didn’t realize that we lacked it before we went on to record “Vessel”. It was a really mind opening experience for us.

In some ways, Alexander was a bit  surprised by the amount of positive feedback the band got on “Vessel”?

– Of course, you never know what people will think about your work, simply because you isolate yourself when you are writing an album. Personally I don’t try to get too much input from other bands, as I feel really satisfied when I work alone or together with the band members focusing on where to take Trial. Motion is important to us. We really don’t want to be influenced by other bands in an obvious way, but we might be in a more spiritual way.

If you look even further back, are you comfortable listening to your demo and first album?

– Of course, there are some highlights to be found. Not so much with the demo, maybe. I don’t know if you have heard it?

Sure, you sent me a copy for review in Scream Magazine back in 2010.

-Back then we really didn’t know what was going on. It was a very early recording, we didn’t know how to do it, and all the songs turned out quite slow.  The circumstances weren’t the best really. We did the whole thing really fast, I think we recorded the music over one day, perhaps two, and then Linus came in and laid down the vocals in one day too. In hindsight, we didn’t need to rush it, but still we did. “The Primordial Temple” contains some old songs, written around 2008 or perhaps even in 2007, really old stuff we felt we needed to get out there, but there were also a couple of new tracks we were pretty excited about at the time. If you listen to our next release, “Malicious Arts”, (7″ vinyl)  it contains new songs only. This release felt like a new beginning for us, and from that moment, we really started to see where we were heading.

“The Primordial Temple” is starting to get sought after on vinyl and especially on CD, but according to Alexander, it isn’t going to be re-released anytime soon.

– To be honest, we’re not that eager to get it out as of now, but eventually it will get a re-release. Perhaps we could include the songs from “Malicious Arts” as well.

Let’s turn the attention to “Motherless” then. It seems you set out to progress from “Vessel”, and not only to refine the expression you had on that particular album?

– Our goal is always to move forward. Motion is way better than to stagnate. Approximately fifty percent of the songs on “Motherless” were written in the weeks or months after “Vessel” was released, some of them even before the album was out. Then came a period when we didn’t write that many songs, as we focused on playing a couple of gigs and had some other stuff going on. The rest of the songs for “Motherless” were then written a couple of months prior to the recording. Tracks like “In Empyran Labour” and “Juxtaposed” are farily new. The oldest songs on the album are those connected in  the trilogy. They were finished before “Vessel” was released actually.

Apart from your singer Linus, all of you have been together for something like ten years now. Is there a general consensus or an agreement that drives you forward or the dynamics of five different opinions?

– At least there is a general consensus that we’re moving in a certain direction. It’s difficult really, but it’s not like everyone interfere with the ideas of others in a way that we start an argument or something like that. We are pretty much open to write whatever we want, as long as it sounds like Trial, and the feeling is there, along with the sound and the atmosphere. If those factors are present, you can include bits from pretty much every genre. I feel we have really done that With “Motherless”, including things like an Indian raga and even some jazz and blues stuff if you listen closely. It’s kind of a black metal record too, as it’s very melancholic with strong melodies.

Even though there are some pretty distinct changes, I was kind of suspecting an even longer jump from “Vessel” to “Motherless”. While listening to  the latter, it is quite easy to draw lines back to “Vessel” as well.

– You simply can’t make the change too big at once. Perhaps if we had written all the songs during a shorter period of time, like right before we went in and recorded them, the album would have sounded much more different compared to “Vessel”, and much more progressive than what you can hear on the album. When that is said, this is the method we are using. We always have these songs laying around, working on them for a couple of weeks or months, and when the time is right, we pick them up and finish them.

Speaking about the songwriting, Alexander confirms that it’s  still him and Andreas that are coming up with the basic structures for the songs.

– Musically that is. We write all the riffs and discuss where to include them in the songs. Then we take the stuff to the rehearsal room, where everyone have their say. I can have a really strong opinion on how a song should play out, but sometime that doesn’t work, and things have to be changed.  We work on the songs over such a long period of time just to get the feeling right. We don’t like to rush anything. We like the songs to lay over a period of time, and if something isn’t right, we have the ability to sense it. Sometimes we skip the whole song, and never do anything with it again, but most of the time, we finish what we have started. It can be really difficult to get all the things right, to get the perfect instrumentations. It’s hard to nagivate through a song together, at least it takes some time.

IMG_9072Is it hard for you to se the basic idea being changed by the opinions of others as you might want to hold on to the original idea?

– Everyone is pretty open to basically every idea we have, so it’s not a problem really. Sometimes I can have a really strong opinion on a song, but the opinion can change over time. It’s a good thing, because sometimes you are just a little too excited about the initial  idea. It’s important that you don’t rush things, because then the end result will probably not be optimal.

While the lyrics on “Vessel” were shared between three members, Alex is responsible for most of them this time around…

– “Cold Comes The Night” is the only one I didn’t do, it is written by Andreas. It’s not that I felt obligated by the other members to write the lyrics, more that I felt obligated spiritually to do it. I had these things that I really had to get out of my head, that needed to  be examined or explored.  Writing all these lyrics, has been quite a trip for me personally. And it wasn’t really clear for me in the beginning that all the lyrics shared something, almost like a concept.

So it’s not just the last three songs that are connected in a way?

– Those three are obviously connected, but every song more or less is. They deal with the abysses of my life, what I feel and what I experience. Also how I see things and how to get there and continue examine everything that is really dear to me. The lyrics are filled with anxiety, but also with love.

Even if the lyrics are personal, Alexander is confident the listener can still relate to them.

– Absolutely. As long as the lyrics are good and understandable, people can read them and try to see what I mean . They can have a look at their own lives, and see how the lyrics relate. A lot of people are having anxiety and experiencing love or hate or whatever. If you can relate to the lyrics, I believe they can help you in various ways, to help scars heal that haven’t healed. I have to point out though, that none of the lyrics were written with the purpose of of other people understanding them. It was more like meditation for me to get it out of my system. In the end, only I can see the real structures of the lyrics, and read into every word what they meant at the time I was writing them, and what they still mean to me.

Did writing these lyrics give you something in return?

– The album is called “Motherless”, but in some ways I have become a father of these lyrics. Their my children now. Writing these lyrics have given me a lot, but they’re also filled with all these feelings I can’t explain with words. You can only try to explain them with words, to help yourself understand the feelings better. Still they aren’t fully explained. You can look at the lyrics and say: “This doesn’t do it for me, and perhaps take another angle and you feel yeah, this really means something to me. This really captures the feeling I have.” The lyrics are very emotional really.

Were you inspired by other musicians that have written similar lyrics?

– Not really. Of course I am influenced by the dozens of bands I listen to, so if you listen carefully, surely you will find something. What I was really influenced by though, is the beat generation, with poets like Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and the likes. I am influenced by how they express themselves, and how they create a new reality by just typing those words. Reading stuff by them opened my senses and my mind to see things a little clearer than I have done before. Perhaps I was also able to be a bit more honest with myself in the lyrics.

Alexander isn’t sure the lyrics feel more like a whole now that he is the main contributor… 

– Its hard to say really. I welcome every other band member to write their own lyrics. It’s a personal expression, and if the other guys have something good, they should really share it,  instead  of keeping it to themselves. For future recordings, I might end up doing all the lyrics, or I might just do one lyric for each album. It’s really hard to predict.

Why is “Motherless” a good title for this album?

-That’s a really good question. You might also have this feeling that you are separated from something, always trying to get back to it.  On this occasion, I identify it as being motherless. Not having this cosmic mother that I belong to, not feeling her prescence. You feel that you don’ belong anywhere. It’s some sort of existential anxiety. You need to investigate all the feelings you have and increase the level of awareness. You need to investigate both yourself and the universe. The microcosm and the macrocosm. As above, so below…Its everything.

I remember Andreas mentioning that the different influences all of you bring to the table, is part of the answer why Trial’s material sounds so diverse. What is your influences and the stuff you bring into the songwriting?

– I would say I come from the music back in the sixties. I only listened to The Beatles, The Who, Beach Boys and Creedence before I started listening to metal. It’s mostly the way they thought back then that appeals to me. Everybody was trying to do something new, and to move forward. I might be a little influenced by the music itself as well, but it’s this way of thinking that I mainly get inspiration from. The next step is to try to translate it into what we’re doing and find my own way. I don’t want to copy anything that has already been done. When you are young, you are not aware of yourself in the manner that you can say: I want to do something that’s unique, but as you get older, it gets easier. I learned a lot from this era in music, and I want to create something that I experience as new.

IMG_9260After releasing “Vessel” you had at least one leftover song from the recordings. Did you record anything else this time?

– There was one song that we finished, but didn’t record. In the end we decided that we wanted to make an album that feels like an whole album in the sense that when you listen to it from the start to end, you will get a certain kind of experience. “Motherless” also felt a little too long with nine songs instead of eight. It all comes down to our own thoughts, but the feeling was that it would be too long. The song in question is heavily jazz influenced. Perhaps we will use it later. It’s a song we’re proud of even though it didn’t fit in on this album.

You are on Metal Blade this time after having been on several different labels in the past. What’s most important for you when it comes to choosing a label to work with?

– The most important thing is that the label believes in what we’re doing, but I guess Metal Blade  wouldn’t have signed us in the first place if they didn’t. However, I guess there are different levels of “believing in”. We don’t demand that much really, we just want to be able to record whatever we want to record. That’s the basic for us, everything else is a bonus, and it’s here you’ll find the difference between labels. Metal Blade is a big label, and it’s kind of more pressure too. I don’t feel pressure to make good music, but people expect us to feel pressure, I think. It could all prove to be really difficult, because if people hate the album, we will probably not get an opportunity to make another one. It’s hard, but we don’t try to think about it that much. We have a strong belief in our music, and if the right path is thread things should be okay.

Alexander describes Metal Blade as a step up  from the days on High Roller, even though he doesn’t say a bad word about the latter either.

– Metal Blade represented an even greater opportunity to work on the songs in the studio. We spent a bit longer time making this album compared to the last, the focus on the songs was really something different and we tried to be  thorough with everything. If something didn’t sound good enough, we did it all over again.

The trilogy, consisting of  the songs “Birth”, “Embodiment” and “Rebirth” is an important part of the album, to such an extent that the whole B-side on the vinyl version is dedicated to “Still The Stars Dismembers The Void” which is the title of the trilogy.

–  These songs are not just about regular birth, regular emobodiment or regular death. You can experience these things on different levels, it could be a thought or a feeling. It can be what comes to mind, and movement also, if you are going through something. It always repeats itself – birth and embodiment, rebirth. You can almost divide everything you do into these three segments. The trilogy is basically an examination of things I have experienced, learned from and tried to understand even more. So I believe that’s the red thread running through these three compositions.

As a listener, I need time to  absorb this album. A lot of time, compared to “Vessel”. Is that something you, as one of the main song writers, can understand?

– Yeah, absolutely. It takes time with this record, as “Motherless” is filled with all these things going on. It’s atmospheric as well, and the lyrics have been taken to another level.

I am really impressed with the vocals this time. Having seen Linus Johansson coming into the band, how would you describe his progress?

– He is definitely more confident nowadays compared to what he was in the beginning. We have changed the approach to how we do the vocals a lot. We really worked fast and intense with the vocals at the early stages of our career, and Linus really wasn’t given enough time to focus on certain passages or even capture a feeling in the vocals. As a singer, sometimes you want to scream your lungs out, sometimes you want to do something completely different. This time we had the time to work on such things. Linus and I also spent time before we started on each song to discuss the lyrics. We talked about how I felt about the lyrics, and how he felt about them. We also spoke about how he could read into the lyrics to try to capture the feeling for each segment of the song, so it wouldn’t be a straight line of intensity throughout the track. Some songs are more interesting to listen to when it comes to the vocals, because Linus really captures the listener. He is really theatrical with his vocals, and for sure did a great job this time. Everyone can hear that his performance is mindblowing.

As you mentioned, you had material ready for this album at an early stage. Do you already have songs for the next album?

– When you are about to record, you only focus on finishing those songs, and make them as perfect as possible. Almost instantly after the recording is finished, I get inspired and creative again. I can do next to nothing prior to and during the recording, but after we are finished, I always tend to want to write more stuff. So yes, we have a couple of songs and ideas basically ready, but nothing we are rehearsing right now.

Do you think the next album will be very different from “Motherless”?

– Absolutely. In some ways, but in some ways it could also be similar. Its quite early to tell. We might change our approach in different songs, and that in turn can change the whole perspective of the album. Of course we don’t want to do anything that is too similar to “Motherless”. We want to do something new, but I need to have the whole picture to say exactly how different it will be.

All photos: Anders Skoorell

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