Making the transition from demo or introductory EP to a full fledged debut album isn’t easy. We see it time and time again – bands put out a rough around the edges release with promise and then for one reason or another don’t quite live up to that promise. Luckily for us, that isn’t the case here. Herzel’s Unis dans la gloire demo is one of the precious few modern era traditional metal demos that has stayed in my regular rotation for years and their recently released debut album Le dernier rempart is everything I hoped for in a follow-up.
Having formed upon the date of the Summer Solstice in 1990, there is effectively one real constant with this band regardless of all the turnover that happens within their ranks. That is, Rich Walker, the guitarist and main songwriter of the band, unflinchingly delivers great metal pretty much every time the band puts music out, no matter how sporadic. It doesn’t matter if you pick any of the other full lengths or even the EPs – both Halcyon and Death’s Crown is Victory would be the highlight of a lot of other band’s careers. Still though, New Dark Age has always been the top of the heap, and for my part one of my favorite doom metal albums in general.
Mythology and metal have never been an odd match, there is a long-storied tradition of musicians from every subgenre exploring the folklore of many cultures – Norse, Egyptian, Greek to name a few. In this respect, Phaëthon is not treading new ground. However, what does make them distinct is their background. While we are accustomed to seeing delineation between traditional and extreme metal, it’s no secret that most death and black metal musicians are deeply reverent of early heavy metal pioneers and their offshoots. Phaëthon fits precisely this mold as two of the main musicians are seasoned veterans of the UK extreme underground.
By the late 80s, Harry “The Tyrant” Conklin was already a seasoned veteran vocalist with a varied resume. He had already sung on Jag Panzer’s Ample Destruction; a rough around the edges US Power Metal classic that needs no introduction. Shortly afterwards, he ventured into more occult dwellings with Satan Host’s Metal from Hell – an album that was equal parts Jag Panzer and Venom. Not one to be limited by choice, Tyrant joined Titan Force in 1987 in what proved to be a near 180 from his previous musical ventures. Titan Force represented the more melodic and progressive side of the US Power Metal spectrum, one which placed emphasis on non-linear songwriting but more importantly – strong vocal harmonies.
Like their label-mates Malokarpatan, they remind of a time right before the explosion of Norwegian black metal acts, a moment in time where black metal was not clearly defined, and it was not clear how it should sound like. It is in an environment like this that the Hungarian Tormentor could release Anno Domini, a furious, scary album about, who would have guessed, Transylvania. The way Tormentor wrote riffs, bouncing, twisted but still melodic, is one important piece of the sound of Of Sleep and Death, especially on the title track of the album. However, the melodic elements are pushed much further than what Tormentor did, it is more rooted in what Dissection did.
Musically, Borrowed Time broadly falls into the “epic metal” spectrum – there are obvious odes to heavy metal like the bands from early the NWOBHM (Iron Maiden, Angel Witch), but also Manilla Road and Brocas Helm. What would separate Borrowed Time from other similar acts is the strong emphasis of melody and purposefully lo-fi production in the mix.
Having been formed in 1997 as initially a studio project, Doomsword as a band was aimed at the idea of playing traditional metal in the style of the old American greats. Warlord is their biggest influence, first and foremost – the pseudonym of Deathmaster, the main songwriter of the band, is from the cover painting of the Deliver Us EP, as was the drummers on this album – as well as a strong hint of Manilla Road, Cirith Ungol and viking-era Bathory mixed in. Lots of bands nowadays are influenced by those first three bands, but in the late 90s, bands playing that style did not really have a ton of traction in either the US or Europe.
To summarize, this album here is one of the very first black metal releases after Venom and Kat deserves a spot as a pioneer in the genre. It is fast, neck breaking, aggressive, satanic, horror evoking and completely demented album; for all of that, it remains an absolute classic.
Wino brought a sense of despair that feels more working class-adjacent than anything else. The kind where you work a shitty job that barely pays enough to live on and not enough to meaningfully save up for anything. You get drunk night in and night out on shitty cheap beer (and if you’re lucky, maybe some whiskey) to numb the sense of smoldering rage deep down in the pit of your stomach. There’s a sense of passive-aggressive, languid hopelessness around the Wino albums.
In the ancient days of 1986 a mysterious band known as Lords of the Crimson Alliance would release a single album and then vanish into the night. With members boasting names such as Zan Zan, Far Cry, Cutterjon, and Grom, this 4 piece unleashed a totally unique and otherworldly slab of US power metal that would stand the test of time as one of the best releases in the genre.