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The Coroner Report Part II: "True Norwegian Black Metal"

By Peter Atkinson, Contributor
Wednesday, July 23, 2008 @ 9:53 PM

An Impressive Dead Body of Work

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It's been almost 20 years since Norway's "satanic metal underground" erupted in a flurry of arson, suicide and murder that turned a small, insular collective with but a handful of obscure bands into the world's most notorious music scene. Yet the events of the early '90s continue to captivate as the popularity of modern black metal - regardless of its country of origin - grows and new fans, or those with a morbid curiosity, trace the music's "bloody rise."

And with books like "Lords of Chaos" or "Lucifer Rising;" documentaries like "Satan Rides The Media," "Black Metal: A Documentary" and "Metal: A Headbanger's Journey;" and TV/Web series like NRK's "Norwegian Black Metal" and Rockworld.TV's "Murder Music: Black Metal" that are readily accessible on YouTube, it's easier than ever to find out how it all went down back in the day: the church burnings, the shotgun suicide of Mayhem frontman Dead, the murder of Mayhem guitarist Euronymous by Burzum's Varg Vikernes, the imprisonments, etc.

Now, of all things, comes a coffee table book on the subject by American photographer Peter Beste, which I mentioned briefly last time. The large-format, dramatically illustrated "True Norwegian Black Metal" encompasses five-plus years worth of work over a number of visits to Norway by Beste, and it kicks ass, for lack of a better superlative.

Though the bulk of its focus is the current Norwegian underground - with more outlandish bands like Gorgoroth, 1349 and Carpathian Forest figuring prominently - an old school undercurrent runs deep, not only through the images of originators like Immortal, Mayhem and Darkthrone, but in the historical perspective the book conveys. Interspersed amid the more than 150 pages of photos are essays, memorabilia and documentation from, or about, the early days of the scene that in some cases - like Euronymous' letter to Metalion (editor of the legendary Norwegian 'zine Slayer that first showcased many of these bands) describing, with chilling matter-of-factness, his discovery of Dead's corpse, his subsequent photographing of the body and retrieval of several pieces of skull, a fragment of which he included in the letter as a "gift" - put you right in the middle of the madness.

An essay by Metalion provides an eyewitness recounting of how the scene came together in the late '80s around a group of like-minded misfits and miscreants and then seemingly flew off the rails after the arrival of Vikernes - aka Count Grishnackh - a few years later. He also lent some old Slayer interviews for the book's postscript with long-ago Emperor drummer Bard "Faust" Eithun, Euronymous and Dead, and Vikernes that offer grim evidence that there was something more going on there than mere teenage hijinx.

They are followed by reproductions of the series of Kerrang! magazine articles that, for the most part, brought Norway's black metal scene to the attention of the outside world in 1993, and illustrated with typical tabloid fervor the fire, violence and death that had by that time enveloped it, making gangsta rap shenanigans - and Beste has also extensively photographed the Houston hip-hop scene - look like kindergarten.

Vikernes stabbed Euronymous repeatedly with essentially a pocketknife, delivering the death blow in the forehead. Eithun killed a man who propositioned him in Lillehammer in 1992, the victim dying from the accumulated blood loss of more than 30 stab wounds. This was up-close-and-very-personal stuff, not Biggie and Tupac chickenshit drive-by style.

But while the insanity of the early '90s has passed, there's still plenty of controversy and sensationalism left in the modern Norwegian black metal scene - Gorgoroth, for example, have seen frontman Gaahl and guitarist Infernus serve jail time for several bizarre assault cases and now have split into two separate camps each seeking the band's name. And Beste presents the odd and obscene in all its grotesque glory - Gorgoroth's Polish concert blasphemies (see DVD review below), Carpathian Forest's seemingly deranged Nattefrost and Vrangsinn, etc.

But he contrasts that against the stark grandeur of the Norwegian landscape with its fjords, towering forests and isolated villages, and the utter "averageness" of the workaday life of your average black metaller - see Darkthrone's Fenriz hanging out at his apartment, waiting for a train, sitting aboard said train; Mayhem's Necrobutcher sawing logs in his backyard; or Gorgoroth bassist King ov Hell (pictured) in full black metal regalia throwing horns from the passenger seat of a station wagon while awaiting a ride somewhere.

A lot of what went into the book - like schlepping for hours through the slushy wilderness to get to Gaahl's grandparents' mountain-top cabin - was chronicled on VBS.TV's "True Norwegian Black Metal" Webcast. So there's definitely a hell of a lot more to this book than just the blood, corpse-paint, animal heads and spikes one might expect. And if you've $60 burning a hole in your pocket ($37.80 in the KNAC.COM More Store...Click here to buy), you could spend it on a lot worse than this.

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One central figure noticeable for his absence from "True Norwegian Black Metal" is former Emperor frontman Ihsahn. Guitarist Samoth and Eithun are featured - albeit in surprisingly innocuous settings, given their infamous pasts and outrageousness of many of the others images.

Samoth, who served jail time for arson in the mid-'90s, is shown strolling through a field with his young daughter. Eithun, who spent nearly a decade in prison for murder, is barely visible standing atop a lonesome stairwell in his shot.

During the aftermath of the "Lords of Chaos" era, Ihsahn served as kind of a de facto spokesman for Norway's black metal scene and ethos - in no small part because he was the most prominent member who was A) still alive, and B) not incarcerated. But given his relatively benign history, especially of late, he reckons his omission from the book is no surprise.

"We met on several occasions and I think he did some Emperor shots after we did the Inferno Festival," Ihsahn notes of Beste on the phone from his Symphonique Studios in Nottoden, Norway. "But I never felt I fit the profile, it seemed what he was looking for was [Satyricon/1349 drummer] Frost or the Gorgoroth guys, the corpse-painted madmen of Norway.

"I think shock value is the focus and the art value of that project, and that's not to say I think there's something wrong with that. That's just not who I am."

Indeed, as if to prove that in some weird way, Ihsahn broke the serious-as-a-heart-attack protocol of "true black metal" by appearing in a particularly Grand Guignol episode of "Metalocalypse: Dethklok," voicing fashion designer Eric von Wiechlinghammer - he of the "very special leather," fashioned a la Ed Gein out of human skin. Samoth and drummer Trym voiced his minions in a session they recorded when Emperor played Los Angeles last year as part of their final series of reunion shows.

"Of course, afterward, I saw these comments, 'What the hell is this? Emperor, they are making cartoons now? How very un-black metal and un-serious," Ihsahn says with laugh. "I think that in itself was a very good point, we don't stick to rules like that and if you are that bound by rules, you shouldn't be into black metal in the first place.

"I hope I'm not so one-dimensional that everything I express in my music is everything I am. Of course, we [the black metal community] never really help in making an impression of ourselves as being laughing, joking, family people and that's part of it too. But it [the music] doesn't have to contain everything you are and it doesn't make your product or your expression any more fake for that reason."

And there is still is a bit of the devil left in Ihsahn. His just-released second solo album, angL, has a more aggressive sound and tone - not to mention an awesome collaboration with Opeth's Mikael Åkerfeldt on "Unhealer" - than his classic metal-inspired debut The Adversary, and ventures into darker territory in its aesthetics and lyrical themes of misanthrope, liberation and self-determination, Faustian bargains and Old Nick himself.

"angL, the way I've written it with the big L at the end of it, has a reverse meaning, it's a reference to Lucifer, as was The Adversary," Ihsahn explains. "So that element is there, especially in a song like 'Elevator,' which was inspired by the movie 'Angel Heart' [starring Robert DeNiro as Lou Cyphre, get it?]. But there are a lot of other things, I still wanted to paint with broad strokes."

"I have a curiosity," he continues. "The Adversary was my return to doing a full-on metal album. I wanted to try out all those metal sub-genres I hadn't really had a go at before, so that's why some of the stuff is more progressive and some is more '80s metal-like. Having played this extreme and massive form of metal for so many years, I constantly saw my arrangement details getting lost in the sound, so I wanted to be very sparse; it's kind of thin sounding.

"But having done that I started getting ideas for how I wanted the next album to sound like, and I wanted to make a more hard hitting, more focused album, not so widespread with the material. But still I wanted every song of have a certain personality. To me, as an artist, it's just as experimental as The Adversary."

angL was recorded with ex-Borknagar drummer Asgeir Mickelson and his Spiral Architect cohort, bassist Lars Norberg. Ihsahn worked in his own studio and the rhythm section recorded at Mickelson's, with sound files being swapped back an forth over the Internet - indeed Ihsahn said he still has yet to actually meet Norberg.

Given that, and the fact he and his wife Heidi - who has several musical endeavors in the works including her own solo effort Starofash - have two young children and are busy maintaining Symphonique Studios, occasionally collaborating on projects like Hardingrock - an album of reworked Norwegian folk music with fiddler Knut Buen - and getting their Mnemosyne Productions running to handle it all, don't look for Ihsahn to be playing live anytime soon, although he would like to eventually.

"I've had that in the back of my mind since the previous album, I've written the music so it would be playable by a five-piece band, but being just one person it's a matter of priority," Ihsahn said. "Going on the road is not a natural consequence of having done an album, it's a whole new project. But, at some point, I probably will take this live because I think a lot of the material would be good live material and it would be interesting to see how it all would work out."

But as for Emperor, that's it. The reunion shows they played during the past two summers here and around Europe are over and the band is done, this time for good - Emperor initially split after 2001's Prometheus album. As Ihsahn sees it, the band went out on a high note and on their own terms, so it was mission accomplished, time to move on.

"We ended up doing far more shows than we set out to do," he said. "We thought about doing just one show. But we really ended up being able to do what we wanted. I must admit the highlight was headlining Wacken Open Air in Germany in front of 50-60,000 people and having them all singing along during 'Inno A Satana.' I guess everyone whoever played in a band would have liked to do that at least once. And we got our chance."

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The next potential "next big thing" to emerge from Norway’s still fertile black metal scene has actually been around for more than a decade. But Trondheim’s Keep of Kalessin have only really gotten the ball rolling over the past couple years, after mainman/guitarist A.O. "Obsidian Claw" Gronbech got the band up and running again in 2003, after a four-year hiatus.

The band formed in 1994 under the name Ildskjaer, which was inspired by the work of American fantasy writer Ursula Le Guin, not your typical black metal source material. Several years later, the band adopted the Keep of Kalessin moniker, under which it churned out two albums, Through Times of War and Agnen: A Journey Through the Dark, before splitting in 2000.

"It was just impossible to work together with people who didn't have the same focus as me," said Gronbech, from Keep's closet-sized dressing room at Washington, D.C.'s 9:30 Club, where they were opening for Dimmu Borgir and Behemoth. "So it was a matter of finding the right people, and luckily I have. It just took longer than I thought it would."

In the interim, Gronbech performed as a live session guitarist with Satyricon - a stint that ended abruptly in Toronto in December 2004, when he and bandmate Steinar Gundersen were accused of drugging and sexually assaulting a female fan, arrested and jailed. All charges were later dismissed.

But in the aftermath, he was able to - eventually - find the members he needed to relaunch a bigger, bolder and better Keep of Kalessin. Earlier, Gronbech had recruited Satyricon's ubiquitous drummer Frost and ex-Mayhem frontman Attila Csihar, and together they recorded the Reclaim EP in 2003.

"That was instead of doing a demo," Gronbech said. "I had some songs and I wanted to do a full-length album, and I went to all the labels I could think of saying, 'Hey I'm going to start Keep of Kalessin all over again. Are you guys interested in putting out our new album?' And everybody said, 'We need to hear a demo first."'

"And I even after I told them I had Frost and Attila onboard, they wanted to hear a demo, and I'm like 'Why the fuck should I bring Attila over from Hungary to record a demo that's going to cost a lot of money? Let's record something we can release.' And it has turned out to be this quite unique thing, this collectible item and it did what we hoped. It got the Keep of Kalessin name out there again and laid the groundwork for everything we've done after that." Any chance of that line-up moving forward, however, ended when Attila reunited with Mayhem soon after the EP was done.

"But in the end, everything turned out to be better because the lineup now, it's the perfect line-up for this band," Gronbech said. "We're focused on what we're going to do so it makes the whole process a lot easier. Everyone is only dedicated to this band and the vocalist has such potential, he can do anything, his voice is amazing."

Said vocalist is Thebon, who was recruited along with bassist Wizziac after former Keep drummer Vyl returned to the fold. Together, Keep issued the titanic Armada in 2006, a sleek, spellbinding work of epic, conceptual black metal that managed to match aggressiveness with grandiosity while not resorting to the usual window dressing – keyboards, strings, female back-up vocals, spikes and corpse-paint.

As a four-piece, Keep packs all the power and scale of an outfit twice their size, and they have carried that forward with something even huger and more spectacular with their fittingly titled new album Kolossus, which was issued June 10 through Nuclear Blast. It comes off as sort of a sci-fi take on "Gladiator," played against a soundtrack of supersonic riffs, stampeding drums and Thebon's commanding roar that builds and builds.

"We felt that we should take that kind stuff to the next level, so the idea was to record a strong successor to Armada, and even have the story kind of continue," Gronbech said. "The characters, the victorious ones from the Armada war, taking the war to the next level and the leader, the main character, going against the gods to bring down the gods and to become a god himself.

"I think it was necessary to take a real step up instead going in a totally different direction now that we've finally started gaining attention. I want people to see that this is deeper than an ordinary black metal band."

Americans got their first look at Keep's whiplash-inducing performance this spring during the aforementioned Dimmu/Behemoth tour, which they were invited to open by Dimmu guitarist Silenoz. Even though the band was playing but four songs a night during their half-hour set, they deftly conveyed the bigness of their studio sound in a live setting, despite the spartan bass, drums and bass set up. There were no special effects or backing tapes - save for the usual intros - just massive, organic black metal.

"From some of the shows we have done, people are coming up to me and saying 'I can't believe you are actually re-creating this shit live with one guitar,'" Gronbech said, laughing. "I think that is what makes us somewhat unique. We've seen that we gain a lot of new fans every night. That's the most important thing for us right now."

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Aborted - Strychnine.213 (Century Media) Students of the Carcass school of death metal - and soon-to-be openers for Carcass' upcoming North American reunion shows - multinational quintet Aborted deal in the grotesque with tongue-twisting outrageousness and right-for-the-gut brutality. The puke-and-scream vocal tandem of Sven de Caluwe and guitarist Sebastien Tuvi trade off liberally, yet effectively, on "Ophiolatry On A Hemocite Platter," "Pestiferous Subterfuge" and "The Chyme Congeries" which'll have you reaching for a biology textbook or punching up Google for translation. The accompanying roughshod death grind is graced by some sweet lead dueling by Tuvi and Peter Goemaere - sick bastards though they are, these guys do seem to like to share - that bring a hint of class to all the ugliness. And when you're singing about collections of partially digested food and snake worship, every little bit helps. B

Blackwinds - Flesh Inferno (Regain) The second release in a matter of months from this amorphis side project of Sweden cultists Setherial delivers a proficient, and ballsy, symphonic black metal punch that recalls Enthrone Darkness Triumphant-era Dimmu Borgir. With its 10 brand new tracks, Flesh Inferno is a vast, grandiose album boasting a massive wall of guitar grimness, plentiful eerie synth atmospherics and deliberate pacing punctuated by fits of blast-beat fury. All this despite the fact that the "band" is pretty much just drummer Lord Mysteriis, and whatever other members of Setherial he can round up at the time. Regardless of who's doing what in Blackwinds, Flesh Inferno sounds huge instead of slapdash. And thanks to Lord Kraath's malevolent vocals and the satanic/apocalyptic sentiments of "Quintessence of Evil," "Seraphim Ephemeral" or "Plague Bringer," Blackwinds feel as genuinely evil as hell-bound countrymen Watain. B

Cryptopsy- The Unspoken King (Century Media) The initial backlash that greeted the "new direction" Canada's Cryptopsyhinted at when several tracks from The Unspoken King were leaked recently would seem to be overblown and somewhat unwarranted. Yes, there is some dramatically different material here, and, yes, the band do probably bite off more than they can chew in some cases. But King is hardly a "sellout" disaster of Celtic Frost Cold Lake-like proportions. Indeed, overall, it's a decent, mostly super-technical death metal outing - with some notable, and sometimes unfortunate, divergences. "Worship Your Demons" and "The Headsman" get things rolling in typical Cryptopsyfashion: dizzyingly complex, insanely fast and undeniably punishing. "Silence The Tyrants " injects a hint of riffiness, but retains the brutality. Things, however, definitely go sideways with the electronic-tinged "Bemoan The Martyr" that introduces new frontman Matt McGachy's intermittent clean vocals and makes for what seems like a Frankenstein's monster of two separate songs stitched together. The death-core histrionics of "Leach" and "Plagued," again spiked with clean singing, just sound awkward and tentative. But when the band get back to more familiar territory playing freaked out death metal powered by Flo Mounier's spastic drumming, like "Anoint The Dead" and "Bound Dead" - which has pretty effective melodic breaks - they kill. So give Cryptopsycredit for having the balls to mix things up. It might not always work, but at least it's not the same old shit. C

Dark Fortress - Eidolon (Century Media) Known more for their trademark thrash, the Germans can make pretty decent black metal when they put their minds to it, too. Landshut-born Dark Fortress are certainly the real deal. The band's fifth album, Eidolon is a conceptual work inspired by magic mirror rituals or some shit like that. With titles like "Cohorror," "Analepsy" and "Catacrusis," and new frontman Morean's hissing vocals - which occasionally morph into a spooky throaty basso that seem like sepulchral moans - it's hard to tell, but suffice it to say, there's some creepy, twisted stuff going on here. Musically, however, Dark Fortress are spot on - epic, mysterious and progressively/symphonically inclined in a Chimera-era Mayhem/Anthems-era Emperor sort of way. The traditional tinitus-inducing shrill, lightning-quick tremolo guitaring drills right through your ears, yet occasionally yield to lush keyboard/guitar effects and morose, droning passages. These back-and-forth dynamics lend depth and texture and make perfect fodder for Morean's tortured vocal gynmastics, even if the story line gets lost in translation. B

Decapitated - Human's Dust (Metal Mind Productions DVD) Shot at shows in 2002 and 2004, this DVD was meant as a celebration of the early years of promising Polish death metallers Decapitated. Human's Dust may now, unfortunately, serve as their epitaph. A tour van crash last year killed drummer Vitek - who was just 23 - and severely injured frontman Covan, leaving the future of the band - which includes Vitek's brother Vogg on guitar - very much in doubt. So it's a little weird watching the band members talk in interview segments about their hopes for the road ahead as they worked their up from the underground when you know they ultimately are destined for doom. The concert footage, shot at three gigs, however, definitely leaves the impression that Decapitated were going places - even though it all features former frontman Sauron at the mic. While their "Live in Krakow" segment is marred by cheesy camera effects and soundstage sterility, the band rip, led by the rapid-fire drumming of Vitek, who was but 18 at the time - he was 12 when the band formed! Better is a 2004 "Live at Metalmania" segment where Decapitated are positively ferocious in a festival setting. The band seem a bit lost on the massive stage during the "Live at Ozzfest" set - performing in front of Slayer's massive backline - but they blast away with abandon and are obviously not intimidated at the prospect of preceding one of metal's most lethal live acts. Though the members were still school-aged at the time, Decapitated charge through the sadly prophetic "Eternity Too Short" with a veteran band's authority that ultimately got more convincing. B+

Deicide - ‘Till Death Do Us Part (Earache) The runaway train that is Deicide just keeps rolling on. More lineup-go-round? More legal problems? No problem. Back they come with another album that'll peel the skin off your face. 'Till Death, the ninth studio offering from the band - now pretty much just mainman Glen Benton and drummer Steve Asheim - is everything we've come to expect from Deicide: vicious, hateful, blasphemous death metal that takes no prisoners and makes no apologies. Yet though it's being promoted as their "most barbaric and extreme album ever," truth be told 'Till Death may well be Deicide's most "musical" album. With its sweeping intro and outro, intermittent punishingly catchy hooks, and the sleek, sophisticated leadwork and interplay of hired guns Ralph Santolla and Jack Owen, 'Till Death is easier to warm up to than much of Deicide's earlier fare - despite Benton's dog-bark vocals. Had not Asheim muddied up the production a bit here, the album - for all its inherent, full-frontal brutality - might have sounded downright slick. And that probably would not have been a good thing. B+

Equilibrium - Sagas (Nuclear Blast) Like their Swiss counterparts Eluveitie, Bavaria's Equilibrium definitely straddle the "metal" side of the folk-metal fence. Indeed, the bulk of their Nuclear Blast debut sounds more folk-tinged symphonic black metal than anything else. Were it not for their polka-fied keyboard accompaniments - there may be some strings and other things thrown in there as well - raging tracks like "Wurtlebert," "Blut Im Auge" or the especially fearsome "Verrat," buoyed with Helge Stang's lion-roar vocals, make it seem like this quintet are making a run at Emperor's throne. The folk element is much more pronounced on "Unbesiegt" or "Heimwartz," but even here its overlaid atop a foundation of full-on metal. You won't find jig-worthy breaks or beer-hall singalongs here, Sagas is all about intensity. A-

The Funeral Pyre - Wounds (Prosthetic) While they don't exactly reinvent the wheel, California's Funeral Pyre do reinvent themselves with their third full length, morphing their melodic death metal into more decidedly black metal fare. With its screeching riffage, spray-gun drumming and the ear-piercing caterwaul of singer John - no last name, but no dopey "evil" alias either - The Funeral Pyre take a page, make that a few chapters, from Emperor's In The Nightside Eclipse book of tricks. Wounds is old-school Norwegian-style black metal all the way, only with the sort of ripping guitar solos that were verboten back in the day. And while the band drop the keyboards of previous efforts here to strip things down, the eerie strings on the title track are an effective, if predictable, touch. B-

Gorgoroth - Black Mass Krakow 2004 (Metal Mind Productions DVD) The most evil band in the world certainly know how to put on a show. Gorgoroth showed up at the same Krakow soundstage where Decapitated recorded much of their comparatively tame DVD toting barbed wire, torches, crucifixes and what seems like a van-load of sheep heads. When the band played, all hell broke loose - and when they were done, it all broke loose again. The event was the subject of lurid headlines in Poland for days, the footage was confiscated by the police and the band faced possible charges of "offending religious feelings," which never ended up being brought. Four years later, the DVD has finally been made available and the rest of the world can see what all the fuss was about.

It is indeed quite a grisly spectacle. Sheep heads everywhere - on stakes, in piles, lining the front of the stage - live crucifixions with blood-splattered nude models - male and female - fire, fire and more fire and one of the most genuinely fearsome bands you'll ever see. Indeed one of the crucifix models literally couldn't hang, and was taken off her cross after a couple songs because of the intensity of the performance. The show itself is a rather brief - less than an hour - but given the way-over-the-top visuals and the sheer relentlessness of Gorgoroth's blast-furnace black metal, it's probably long enough. The sound also ain't so great, with a muddy, kick-drum and bass heavy mix all but burying Gaahl's shrieking and overpowering the guitar wail - and the "bonus footage" of two bootleg videos from the 2000 With Full Force Festival is barely audible at all.

But considering the fact that the Polish authorities gave back enough Black Mass Krakow footage for it to even be released is something of a miracle, I guess you gotta take what you can get and be happy with that. But caveat emptor on this one. C

Grave - Dominion VIII (Regain) Although they've been plugging away for 20 years, Grave sometimes get overlooked in the pantheon of Swedish death metal perhaps because they have largely avoided the controversies - albums deemed "indecent and obscene," dramatic sonic departures, etc. - of many of their contemporaries. Nor, save for their remarkable debut Into The Grave, have they issued what might be considered a "landmark" album. However, they have remained a dependable, defiantly old-school act. And that's worth something. The band's eighth studio album is, again, a somewhat workman-like but ultimately satisfying blast of buzzsawing Swedish death metal that makes it seem like the early '90s all over again. What Dominion VIII might lack in sonic daring it more than makes up in its traditional purity and unbridled aggression. Tracks like "Stained By Hate" and "Bloodpath" grind away with raw abandon. There's no frills and or gimmicks thrown in to gussy things up. And here you won't miss 'em at all. B

Hail Of Bullets - ... Of Frost and War (Metal Blade) A Dutch supergroup of sorts, made up of ex- and current members of Pestilence, Asphyx, Thanatos and Gorefest, Hail Of Bullets revel in old-school Swedish-style death metal in an album that chronicles the Eastern European theater of World War II where the Germans battled the Soviets. It's a somewhat confounding mix, too be sure, but ultimately it delivers the goods. Hail Of Bullets bulldoze through nearly a dozen tracks like the Panzer divisions that inspired them. It's all-ahead full at maximum grind here, with iron-lunged Martin Van Drunen providing the finishing touch with vocals that can strip paint right off the wall. While most people are probably not looking for a history lesson in their death metal, the accompanying lyrics and grim liner note photos make ... Of Frost and War one album that's worth following along to. B

Headhunter - Parasite Of Society (Candlelight) Guess Destruction frontman Schmier figured if he could reunite with that band, why not try it again with his other? So during some down time, he's dusted off Headhunter, the trio he formed in 1990 after leaving Destruction, and has produced the first new album from them in more that a decade. And while most people are probably thinking "so what," since none of Headhunter's three albums were readily available in the states, this reunion album's worth a whirl. Hookier, catchier and a bit flashier - Uwe "Schmuddel" Hoffman is one bad-ass guitarist - than Destruction, Headhunter offer what could best be described as a power/thrash metal hybrid. The title track, "Read My Lips" and "Egomaniac" rip and tear with the best of them, and the overall chunkiness and swagger give Parasite an anthemic feel that occasionally hints of Testament. The band's wicked humor is nice touch too, although the cover of Skid Row's "18 and Life" sucks as much ass as the original. If it was meant as a joke, it ain't funny. B-

Nachtmystium - Assassins: Black Meddle Part 1 (Century Media) Chicago's Nachtmystium aren't coy about their influences. The band borrow the title of Pink Floyd's 1971 classic for the subtitle of their Century Media debut, and fourth overall, and dabble liberally in Floyd's musical bag of tricks to craft their amazing "black meddle" - or what some have dubbed "blackedelia." Either are pretty apt descriptions. Atop a raw, furious black metal foundation, Nachtmystium - whose earlier work was way more "true Norwegian black metal"-inspired, a la Darkthrone - add a liberal helping of prog, psychedelia and classic rock, and bring it all together with organic, retro production to craft something utterly unique and pretty damn cool. Buzzsaw riffing and the galloping drums of Tony (Nile, Dimmu Borgir, etc.) Laureno are played against chirping, swirling, burping Moog synths and desolate atmospheric passages - often within the context of the same song. And in some surreal way, it all seems to work. While "Omnivore," "Ghosts of Grace" and "Your True Enemy" offer more straight-forward black metal abrasiveness - recalling more recent Satyricon - the title track, the trippy "Code Negative" and the three-part sax-laden "Seasick" that concludes the album are incredibly all over the place: expansive, sinister, strange and brutally captivating all at the same time. It's heady stuff, and when was the last time you could say that about a black metal album? A

Psychobolia - Fisting You All (Xtreem Music) French death metal with a female singer. Doesn't sound very promising, does it? But the debut from Psychobolia turns out to be a brutally pleasant surprise, delivering old school, hate-fueled death metal with vicious proficiency that recalls early Sepultura, Malevolent Creation or Cannibal Corpse. Sure it sounds dated, but there's something to be said for its no bullshit, full-frontal approach that doesn't bog itself down in needless technicality or complexity. And she-demon vocalist Caroline is the real fucking deal. Sounding like a cross between Chris Barnes and Brutal Truth's Kevin Sharp, she whipsaws back and forth between guttural growls and upper-register screeching like a rabid mountain lion or something. And when she gets down to the nitty-gritty in the sexist-pig-gets-what's-coming-to-him title track, she definitely sounds like she means it. So watch your ass. B-

The Rotted - Get Dead or Die Trying (Metal Blade) Death metal's not really "supposed" to have a sense of humor. But it's plain to see from their fourth album's title that England's newly christened extremists The Rotted didn't get that memo. Over the past couple years, the band - formerly known as Gorerotted - have undergone quite a facelift, introducing a batch of new members including ex-Cradle of Filth guitarist Gian Pyres, and ditching the barf-inducing splatter movie antics of old. In its place is a more sarcastic, true-to-life approach that oozes black humor instead of body fluids. There's certainly nothing funny about the band's bruising death metal, which is tinged with hardcore and thrash. But here, serial killers and monsters give way to such workaday horrors as junkies, douchebags and pointless violence on the likes of "Angel of Meth," "Kissing You With My Fists" and "A Return to Insolence." And frontman Ben McCrow details it all with a mocking growl that sinks its barbs in deep. B

Terror - The Damned, The Shamed (Century Media) As long as there are bands like Terror around, there is still hope for hardcore. Eschewing the ubiquitous metal-core bravado and breakdown-laden chicanery, these guys simply go for the throat on their third full-length and never let go. Terror storm out of the gate with "Voice of the Damned" and tear it up through 13 tenacious tracks in right around a half-hour. It's short, sweet and savagely effective. There's no fat or bullshit, just hard-charging hardcore that recalls old schoolers like Agnostic Front, but with a more contemporary crunch that embraces speed metal. And when frontman Scott Vogel's starts barking his marching orders on "Crush The Weak" or "Feel the Pain," you'd best fall in, maggot. B+

Unleashed - Hammer Batallion (SPV) Much like their countrymen Dismember, or the aforementioned Grave, Sweden's Unleashed have been delivering much the same sort of vintage death metal goods for two decades, although they do come from somewhat different angle. Like the marauding hordes that inspire them, Unleashed long have sung the praises of Odin, pillaging Vikings and corpse-strewn battlefields with a conviction and zeal rivaled only of late by countrymen Amon Amarth. And while Tomas Måsgard and Fredrik Folkare's sweeping guitar work does give Unleashed's thunder some texture on Hammer Batallion, violence and force are still the name of the game here. B

All of the music Peter talks about in this report is available in the KNAC.COM More Store. Click on the cover art of your favorite band to make a purchase.

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