SHREDHEAD: LIVE UNHOLY

(LEGEND RECORDINGS; 2019)


Shredhead are an Israeli thrash metal band formed in 2009. They have three studio albums out and they are starting to find some mainstream success in America with their latest effort, LIVE UNHOLY. T
he album opens with a hell of a crash. Shredhead launches into the record’s title track; the guitar work is magnificent and the breaks are awesome. Aharon Ragoza’s vocals are all mid-fry screams. They fit really well until the bridge hits and the highs come in. The vocals are stellar, the break is filthy and, right about halfway through, they go into a Slayer inspired chug with guitar harmonies that sound evil as Hell. The tune transitions to “Overshadows,” which is a solid thrash song. The vocals are more lows through the track and the double bass that hits during the chorus is super fast and heavy. This one sounds awesome! It features killer drumwork from Roee Kahana, alongside a great groove. It’s just under three minutes long but, a lot happens in that three minutes. The last 60 seconds are a great, ominous chug. The third track, “King Maggot,” sounds a bit more old school punk and thrash inspired. But, I’m sensing a trend… it seems that the group is saving their best riffs and grooves for the choruses. All in all, “King Maggot” is another solid track: Good groove, great break and awesome guitar work; the solos are masterful! About three minutes in, it changes direction completely and hits a nasty feel at half time. “Burn Your Master” starts out with another wicked riff, probably my favorite on the record. As the number progresses, the inspiration would appear to be Black Metal. The melodic guitar sounds have a very old school Venom or Cradle Of Filth feel. Lyrically, the song is my favorite on the album and the delivery is exceptional. Sort of Children Of Bodom meets Cradle of Filth meets Lamb of God. The breakdown for this one is absolutely brutal! “Hope is a Mistake” follows, with some awesome guitar work on display. It opens with a really melodic harmony guitar riff… the best guitar work on the album is right here! Which is the perfect time to introduce the guys behind the sound, Razi Elbaz and Yotam Nagor.

SHREDHEAD (Yotam Nagor, Roee Kahana, Aharon Ragoza, Lee Lavy, Razi Elbaz) (photo credit: AVIHAI LEVY)

Unmarked” is more of the same: Great riffs, awesome vocals, kick-ass grooves. The drums shine on this one, with a great driving beat throughout that makes it feel like chaos. The track breaks about a minute and a half in and hits a great new groove while getting a bit more melodic. The phrasing on the vocals and the guitar break at two minutes in are the shining moments. From the two minute mark to about three-and-a-half minutes in, is the song’s best part, with an absolutely brutal breakdown and a massive guitar/drum monstrosity. “Create Hate” is extreme, high octane metal, with what feels like a Death Angel/Decapitated vibe. It’s short, but definitely gets the point across. The band (at this time, may I present bassist Lee Lavy) really shines on this one: It’s intricate while still maintaining a good, driving beat throughout. “Fuck The World” sounds exactly like you think it would. The song is aggressive, raw, hateful, and very well crafted. From 2:18 on, this is some of the best metal I have heard in years. “Skin the Wolf” doesn’t bring a whole lotta new to the table, but it’s still a VERY solid track. I’d say that 45 seconds in is where it really shines. There’s a killer melodic chorus and a bad-ass guitar break in the middle. While it is probably one of the weaker tracks on the album, the low screams are epic, nonetheless. “Zen” changes things up a bit leading into the final track. The number’s an instrumental that has an almost apocalyptic feel happening. It’s kinda like it’s the end of the world and you’re watching, helplessly, but… you’re gearing up to make your final stand anyway. And then, “The Rope” happens. It’s definitely a strong closer, immediately ripping into a filthy galloping groove and a Wayne Static-esque vocal. It’s a bit slower than the rest of the album, but in no way any less brutal. In fact, the slower groove makes the song one of the heaviest on the album. When the chorus comes in and the guitar harmonies, the thing really starts to catch you. “The Rope” leaves you wanting MUCH more. Three minutes in, a really ominous guitar solo comes in, conveying emotion rather than speed… I love it. What a great way to end an album! Shredhead are everything we need in metal.

The band won me over throughout the course of this album. They prove to be far beyond capable of keeping up with the heavyweights of the metal world. I can HIGHLY recommend checking this album out. It’s a super solid effort. My only critique would be that I would like to see them slow it down a bit more to show some contrast. But for what it is, I give it a 9/10.


AENAON: HYPNOSOPHY

(CODE666 RECORDS/AURAL MUSIC; 2016)

Aenaon is a Greek word that means “inexhaustible, indestructible, durable.” Aenaon is also a Greek progressive metal band formed in 2005 who, through several demos and split releases, an EP and two full-length albums, seem to be as durable and indestructible as their name implies. Now, two years after their last album, EXTANCE (and a year after a 7” split with Virus of Koch), the group tests their durability with HYPNOSOPHY, a record that stretches the boundaries of traditional black metal, veering toward an experimental sound that is every bit as groundbreaking in its scope as IN THE COURT OF THE CRIMSON KING was to psychedelic music in 1969. The band seems to evolve – as any good band should – with each new record; I can draw a fairly reliable line to two events in the career of Aenaon that sparked this evolution: The return of a former creative spark, guitarist Achilleas Kalantzis in 2009 and percussionist/multi-instrumentalist Nycriz joining in 2012. Lyricist/vocalist Astrous, Achilleas and the adventurous Nycriz have redefined metal music for the 2010s by introducing elements of the early free-form Jazz movement alongside liberal doses of their cultural heritage, via traditional Greek Folk music and instrumentation.

Aenaon (Achilleas Kalantzis, Orestis Zyrinis, Nycriz, Astrous) (photo credit: EVI SAVVA)

The album kicks off with “Oneirodynia,” a song that’s highly operatic in scope; there’s just something inherently unsettling about throat-ripping blackened vocals supported by a Wagnerian chorus. Equally damaging to the psyche are the dark, Jazz-like saxophone skronks – as an unlikely lead and solo instrument – supplied by the group’s newest member, Orestis Zyrinis. We are definitely off to a great start! Staccato guitar riffs, thumping, pumping bass and a massive drum assault introduce “Fire Walk With Me” before some imaginative – dare I say, “progressive” – guitar/keyboard interplay, via Achilleas and fellow guitarist, Anax (John Memos), takes center stage. The use of both Astrous’ harsh vocals (which are a wicked cross between Venom’s Cronos and King Diamond) and the clean vocals of guest, Giorgos Papagiannakis (Memos’ Absinthiana bandmate), along with blistering speed metal-like guitar solo, infuses a bit of the psychotic into the number and plays very well into the genre-bending sound of HYPNOSOPHY. “Earth Tomb,” for me, is a step back; not quite up to par with the record’s two opening salvos. The tune is features a rather repetitive operatic type of groove with a harsh spoken word section that does absolutely nothing for me (or the song itself, actually). I’m not saying that the song is devoid of any redeeming features; highlights include a moody guitar solo in the break, as well as the return of Orestis’ inventive sax work. I guess what I’m saying is that the thing isn’t horrible, just not great. Okay, so… next track, same as the last… sorta. With the vocals of Astrous sounding more ominous amid the slower groove and the voice of guest Sofia Sarri taking the lead, “Void” actually grows on you before the tune ends. In fact, the song – with its somber, vaguely Middle Eastern vibe – is far better than I had originally anticipated it to be a minute or so in. Yeah… okay, this one is a keeper.

Tunnel” kicks off the second half of the record. While further expanding the definition of the term, the number maintains an old school trash sound, with lightning fast guitar and sax (!) parts. Papagiannakis’ vocals have an odd Axl Rose quality that is not unappealing, while the drumming is powerful and jackhammer-fast; even the slower keyboard/sax break is cool – in a strange kinda Bowie or Foreigner way. I really like the dichotomy of sounds and styles on this one. “Thus Ocean Swells” is more of a straight-on slice of operatic metal with a heavy King Crimson progressive vibe. The clean vocals work exceptionally well in this context, while the harsher vocals seem woefully out of place; instrumentally, however, horns, keys and guitars all swirl around in a magnificent rush of Crimsonesque grandeur. The album closer (and magnum opus), a couplet of “Phronesis” and “Psychomagic” absolutely screams early ‘70s prog-rock excess – which I’m definitely a fan of, by the way – right from the song title(s) and fifteen-minute-plus length. A stick-in-your-brain guitar riff, powerful bass, awesome (not overly busy) drumming and Mel Collins-like sax runs inform the cool three-and-a-half-minute intro, as Nycriz’s drums pick up the pace around the five miute mark. Whereas Astrous’ harsh vocals seemed out of place on “Thus Ocean Swells,” here, his stage-whispered lyrics sound more at home, more demonic and ominous. A fitting way to close out a really solid record. It’s easy to create an album of heavy metal music in 2016, it’s a little harder to mine your own metal vein and develop a sub-genre in your own image; Aenaon has subverted the scene, reinvented the wheel and lain the fruit of their labors at the feet of those of us looking for a little more range within the realm of heavy music.


PHILM: FIRE FROM THE EVENING SUN

(UDR MUSIC; 2014)

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Slayer fans, rejoice. The band’s former master of all things percussive, Dave Lomabardo, is back with his trio, Philm, and their second full-length, FIRE FROM THE EVENING SUN. The album features touches of that old Slayer venom and the speed of their early thrashing metal and, of course, the thunderous sound of Dave’s muscular, yet tasty drumming. The album is, while not a complete departure, certainly diverse enough to satisfy both Slayer and non-Slayer fans alike.

Philm (Dave Lombardo, Gerry Nestlet, Poncho Tomaselli) (uncredited photo)

Philm (Dave Lombardo, Gerry Nestlet, Poncho Tomaselli) (uncredited photo)

The album starts with “Train,” a chugging, pounding blues number with a memorable riff and suitably dark, menacing vocals. The song has a classic, threatening rock groove and, what else would you expect from Dave Lombardo? The thunderous “Fire From the Evening Sun” is next, with a swinging, near nursery rhyme sing-song vocal from guitarist Gerry Nestler, who also offers a super-fast solo, augmented by Poncho Tomaselli’s swooping bass line and a near-martial drum beat. There’s also a great hardcore breakdown toward the end of the tune. “Lady of the Lake” is an ARABIAN NIGHTS horror dream with awesome descending bass and guitar parts. Nestler offers another exemplary, stinging solo; Lomabardo’s drumming is a bit more subdued than his usual stormtrooper attack. A doom-laden “Lion’s Pit” is a Sabbathy bone crusher with vocals that somehow reminds me of “This Jesus Must Die” from JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR. It’s creepy and heavy and altogether cool.

Silver Queen” is a heavy blues, evoking Leslie West’s Mountain. It features an unforgettable, thudding riff and a cool, sloppy Nestler solo. The next track, “We Sail At Dawn,” has a kinda restrained groove with a creepy, snaky guitar riff and an equally creepy vocal. “Omnisience” is sort of a heavier version of very early Killing Joke… at least until the fleet-fingered fretting that comes in at the end of the song. At less then two minutes, “Fanboy” is over almost before it gets started. The track is a twangy surf kinda thing that turns into a lightning fast thrash kinda thing. Woulda been cool if it lasted a bit longer and came back around to the beginning.

Philm's Dave Lombardo at work (uncredited photo)

Philm’s Dave Lombardo at work (uncredited photo)

Luxhaven” has an odd Devo meets Dead Kennedys syncopation going on. With a spongy bass sound from Tomaselli and Nestler’s sore throat inducing vocals, the tune is very weird and very listenable. Up next, “Blue Dragon” is another – by now, patented – quirky stab at heavy. Again, the vocals are just a bit unsettling. I like that! “Turn In the Sky” sounds almost orchestral, with minimalist guitar washes and dexterous bass playing. The track features some of the album’s most powerful drumming from Lombardo. The final cut, “Corner Girl,” is a strange Hawaiian-cum-Vaudvillian thing featuring a slightly out-of-tune piano part and a nice nylon string acoustic bass figure. The song eventually turns into an even stranger calypso number, complete with a trumpet solo (by guest Sal Cracchiolo) before returning to its original languid feel. As mentioned above, FIRE FROM THE EVENING STAR has enough of the heavy, thrash stuff to keep the Slayer fans happy and enough quirkiness to intrigue everybody else.