EP REVIEW: Cirith Ungol – Half Past Human

Returning from the grave after close to three decades, California heavy metal legends Cirith Ungol blasted back last year with Forever Black (Metal Blade), their first album since 1991’s Paradise Lost (Restless Records). Striking back while the iron remains hot, the band follows up last year’s full-length offering with Half Past Human (Metal Blade), a four-track EP that reaches back into the past, resurrecting a handful of tracks that never made it properly onto any of their existing albums. 

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ALBUM REVIEW: Summoning The Lich – United In Chaos – Prosthetic Records

Formed in St. Louis, Missouri in 2017, Summoning the Lich have been blasting their way through the death metal scene for the last three years, their hard work resulting in debut album and a no-nonsense slab of brutal deathcore, United In Chaos (Prosthetic Records). 

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Hospital Of Death Reissues Their Classic Albums

At a time when most of the world is in quarantine or enforcing some form of lockdown, where the most commonly used phrases are “self-isolation”, “social distancing”, and “what the actual fuck is Trump saying now?”, the currently disbanded, but appropriately named Hospital of Death are aiming to help reduce the spread of Covid-19 infection by increasing the dosage of thrash metal into your ears.Continue reading

ALBUM REVIEW: Nile – Vile Nilotic Rites

When bands replace key members of personnel, it can take some time for the new line-up to settle. First albums back can be cagey affairs as confidence and momentum are often exchanged for uncertainty and caution. However, what becomes clear almost immediately with Vile Nilotic Rites (Nuclear Blast Records), the latest offering from US Death Metallers and aficionados of ancient Egypt, Nile, is that no such problems exist here.Continue reading

Blind Guardian – 1988 to 2003 Reissues

Remastering albums is a tricky business. For every perceived mistake or fault which gets cleaned up, smoothed over, or completely erased; for every tweak or alteration to the mix, there will always be listeners who prefer the original, no matter what. Trying to improve a recording can often lead to losing the charm of the original, and so as much as record label Nuclear Blast have given a significant portion of Blind Guardian‘s discography a deserved facelift here, the results will lie purely in the eye (or in this case, the ear) of the beholder.Continue reading

Wormwitch – Strike Mortal Soil

I went into Wormwitch’s Strike Mortal Soil (Prosthetic) with a groovy attitude. I thought it clever that it opens with ‘As Above’ and closes with ‘So Below’. The first words spoken were, “I stand on the precipice. And I leave my body to wash away in the current of time. Pour your wisdom into me.  Repent into me.   And prepare for total annihilation.” In my mind I swear I heard Arthur Brown starting to sing ‘Fire’.  I tried to sing ‘Fire’ whilst listening to ‘Howling From the Grave’. In a very scary twist of musical fate, it worked!Continue reading

Van Canto – Voices Of Fire

Van Canto Voices Of Fire ghostcultmag

Van Canto has carved out a nice career over five albums with their brand of a Capella vocal music led power metal. I’m sure some people will just click the back button right now. But if a Capella vocal music and power metal have you intrigued, read on. I’m sure to some when the band arrived in 2006, they seemed like a novelty act. Van Canto takes themselves seriously, but they are also phenomenal musicians who have gradually grown into their own skin as artists. The full realization of that vision comes through on Voices of Fire (earMUSIC) which is a concept album. Created side-by side with German fantasy novelist German bestseller author Christoph Hardebusch (Die Trolle), Hardebushch’s new novel is the source material for the story of the album. Both projects complement each other. Feuerstimmen (Piper Verlag) by Hardebusch releases on March 17th. The audio book version, along with Voices of Fire is included an will be released on the same day.

Set in a world not unlike most popular fantasy realms found in The Lord of The Rings or A Game of Thrones, the epic story unfolds over the course of the album. Narrated superbly by John Rys-Davies (The Indiana Jones Trilogy, The Lord of The Rings Trilogy, Shogun), from the first words to the last notes the album compelling, and never dull. Waring kingdoms, quests for power, fire-breathing dragons, and the songs of bards (a frequent touch point for this band) all factor into the narrative. The story alone is an intoxicating bit of drama.

van canto hardebusch feurstimmen ghostcultmag

As for the musical and vocal performances, beyond drummer Bastian Emig, it Is the five singing members of Van Canto who perform all the instrumentation and vocals. For the most part they are spot on. I can see detractors imaging Beavis And Butthead mimicking the crunch of guitar riffs, but think about the talent and discipline it takes to pull this off? The lead vocals are excellent, especially in ‘Clashings On Armour Plates’, ‘Battleday’s Dawn’, and on ‘We Are One’.London Metro Voices (Lord Of The Rings) provided the choir performances.

The musical theater vibe may feel odd to some. For all the many concept records in the genre, this has never really been attempted or achieved to this level until now. I think those specific tracks will work better live. This is a leap forward for the Van Canto and for power metal.

Van Canto 2016



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Images At Twilight – Kings


The first thing that strikes you about Images At Twilight is how much they sound like fellow Norwegian Black Metallers Dimmu Borgir. But Dimmu when they were younger, hungrier and an altogether different, far scarier proposition than they are these days.

Formed in 2011 by vocalist Andre Aaslie, the band’s début Kings (Indie Recordings) is an ambitious album, full of speed, aggression, and orchestral atmospherics. When things move fast, they move really fast but there are usually moments of perfectly timed, much-needed respite just around the corner. While it might be all very well and good for some Black Metal acts to play unrelentingly fast, a band like Images At Twilight need those little interludes to let the music breathe, even if most of the time they merely serve as a platform from which to launch their next ferocious sonic attack.

There are times, however, when things don’t balance quite as evenly as they could. Some songs suffer from sounding a little too busy in parts, the keyboards becoming a little too intrusive during some of the quieter moments. This doesn’t happen too often though, and is a pretty minor quibble in an otherwise very well thought out and put together album. The orchestral sections give the record a very cinematic atmosphere, most notably on the instrumental ‘Created To Destroy’ which could very easily have been lifted from the soundtrack to one of the Lord of the Rings movies, and fifteen minute epic ‘Kaizanbar’ where the band manage to showcase every facet of their sound perfectly, without it ever feeling tiresome or cluttered.

The production sounds great, stark and bare when necessary, like it could have been produced in the early-mid nineties, but also rich and clear enough to enable the symphonic elements to sit alongside the vicious guitars and hyperspeed blastbeats without sounding cheap or hollow.

Although Images At Twilight may not be the most innovative band on the scene, they have still managed to create an album which will not only appeal to those who miss the halcyon days of early Dimmu Borgir and Bal Sagoth but to those more contemporary minded Black Metal fans who prefer a stronger production and slightly more progressive elements to their music.






Psychotic Gardening – Hymnosis



Sometimes you get an album and wonder why you’ve never heard of the protagonists before… This fourth long-player from Canadian quintet Psychotic Gardening (they’ve obviously seen my wife when a frog appears from the undergrowth, mid-weeding) certainly belies the satanic lyrical bent, with some diverse influences steering the set gleefully in every extreme direction.

From the outset of Hymnosis (Self-released) the scything staccato riffs of Canadian underground legend Chuck Labossiere veer between doom and thrash, while Gillishammer’s penetrating scour conducts the simmering ensemble. There’s early variation and a show of future intent in the death-doom of the Paradise Lost-like ‘Re-Hybridized Strain’, Andrew Wiens‘ howling leadwork accompanying a mournful organ and crushing riffs on the album’s first real show of strength. Rather than a mish-mash of styles, each track is different but not in a disjointed fashion, seeming to flow in expressing the chapters of the story. The rampant death groove of ‘Mindfold’, for example, displays brutal tendencies, whilst a dirty bounce and lead operates ‘Genome Degradation:’ a slow, brooding yet crushing monster with unusual chord structures heightening the addictive sound. ‘Searing Cital’ is almost funereal, the throat like an angry Treebeard and maybe Peter Jackson would’ve loved its tolling heaviness and menace as the soundtrack for the trees heading to destroy Saruman. Doom is taking hold at this point; it’s easy to dismiss the title of ‘Garden Raiding’ as violent whimsy but the track is almost moving, its doleful threat possessing stunning leads at the close. There’s an almost prog structure to the cover of Death‘s ‘Open Casket’, the longest and most inventive track, rarely breaking a canter as the superlative guitars are accompanied by powerful, dictatorial drums and some impressive screams. Closer ‘Journey to the Sun’ obviously reflects the coda of life, and that album title; occasional choral effects and the eventual marching beat sandwiched by an emotive piano

It’s an amazingly tight, affecting close to a set which constantly surprises, filling the listener with joy, sadness and angry euphoria in equal measure. Don’t let the name put you off, there’s little humour but plenty of integrity here.

8.5 / 10

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Summoning – Old Morning’s Dawn

Summoning-OldMorningsDawn-620x620Chances are, by now, you’ll already have an opinion on Summoning, one way or another. They’ve been around long enough and have a dedicated enough fan base that someone will have recommended them to you. They also seem to be a divisive lot, with reviews and comments ranging from epic platitudes to straight-up dislike. Chances are Old Morning’s Dawn (Napalm Records) won’t change your opinion, falling into the “second verse, same as the first”, or “seventh album, same as the first, fourth, sixth…” category.

Unlike marmite (I’m definitely in the hate camp), Old Morning’s Dawn kinda leaves me on the fence. Or at least leaning against it, but on the negative side. At times, it stirs, evoking the atmosphere of Howard Shore’s Lord of the Rings soundtrack (ish). At times it disappears into stultifying background dreariness. The ever contentious keyboard-played drums at times provide a sparse appropriate background, at others sound cheap, digital and out of place, and the constant mix of an organic aim with (what must be intentionally) inorganic sounds does grate, many of the keyboard tones evoking the cheap Casio bent of Burzum’s Daudri Baldrs failure.

But then there’s a ‘Caradhas’ with triumphant synths parping in the foreground while riffless guitar noise drifts in and out behind them; a Dune-esque leitmotif dances in around the 3rd minute mark, melodies seguing well with the guitars. Or an ‘Earthshrine’, which does bring the album nicely to a close, and builds from a sparse piano intro into a cleverly understated male voice choir and proud brass instruments.

But therein lays the problem, too. For ‘Earthshrine’ is, like the majority of its counterparts, nine minutes long. And the bookending peaks sandwich five minute long tedious valleys of meandering parps and swathes, and that is the theme of much of the album.

It isn’t an atmospheric work, it is 66 minutes of intermittent swells amongst a tide of dreary, and the much of the album passes by in the background time after time, with a lack of drum beat or identifiable song, as most of the offerings here are interchangeable. Indeed, most of the parts of each offering are too. Devin Townsend once declared Life Is All Dynamics. Old Morning’s Dawn is sorely lacking in life, all or dynamics.


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Steve Tovey