Dark Forest – Oak, Ash, & Thorn Review

Score9/10
GenreEpic Heavy Metal
CountryBritain
Runtime52:45
Release Date24 April 2020
Record LabelCruz del Sur

Oak, Ash, & Thorn is the fifth offering of medieval power metal from England’s Dark Forest. These veteran warriors have lost none of their lustre with time and, even though they’ve been around nearly twenty years, this is one of their best albums to date.

As far as the overall sound goes, you can expect epic metal with aspects of Skyclad, Iron Maiden, and a tiny bit of classic Rhapsody thrown in. The mixing is a bit more lo-fi, which is perfect for creating that nostalgic, traditional feel. On a sidenote, Oak, Ash, & Thorn plays like the opposite of albums from Grendel’s Syster; where Grendel’s Syster plays a slow, steady, doomy epic metal, Dark Forest drives on with a questing spirit that’s worthy of any power metal band.

Needless to say, this album is killer. I can’t even pick favourite songs, because each one offers something completely different. Whether it’s in the gallop of ‘The Midnight Folk’, the dynamism of the eleven-minute title track, or the bombast of the instrumental finisher, ‘Heart of the Rose’, the vocals are strong, the drums are expressive, and the guitarwork is incredible.

Oak, Ash, & Thorn is excellent from start to finish. There’re plenty of highs, lows, and details (be it fills, countermelodies, or harmonies) so you can expect to get a hell of a lot out of it with consecutive listens. Showing nothing but endless variety and skill, Dark Forest continue to prove they’re worthy of knighthood.

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Burning Shadows – Beneath The Ruins Review

Score7.5/10
GenreHeavy Metal
CountryUSA (Maryland)
Runtime16:08
Release Date6 December 2019
Record LabelRafchild

Marylandian (Marylandish? Marylandite? Fuck it, whatever.) heavy metal vets Burning Shadows have released four EPs and three full-lengths since their beginning in 2000. Their sound has been built on a beefy power-laden foundation and adorned with epic vocals and choruses. However, their latest effort, Beneath the Ruins, sees a change from their previous material, trading a lot of the power metal elements for more of a thrashy approach. Nevertheless, the riffs are still huge and crunchy and the band is solid, so the change of pace isn’t bad at all.

The most prominent way in which Beneath the Ruins separates itself from most other US heavy metal albums is with its production quality. Where bands like Visigoth and Haunt keep things “authentically” lo-fi, this album is full of contrast and sharpness, retaining a heavy metal feel musically rather than relying on poor mastering.

The EP begins with a strong-and-steady banger in ‘Blacken the Sky’. The energy level picks up more for ‘The Grey Company (Paths of the Dead)’, which also has the best chorus, and continues to rise into the final two tracks. The driving force behind these four tracks is the imposing massiveness of the rhythm section, but the solos and smaller details, such as some growled sections and other background guitar parts, keep the whole thing fresh and exciting. There are also three bonus tracks to enjoy (if you decide to purchase the album), of which two are live versions. The actual new bonus track, ‘The Shadow from the Steeple’, is my favourite on the entire EP. It’s dynamic and hearkens a to a more classic sound, and it’s an all-around blast.

If there’s one area Beneath the Ruins suffers, it’s in the vocal melodies. Tom Davy‘s throaty, bellowing vocals are great, but there’s not a whole lot of variability in the way the melodies are structured. In a live setting, for this king of music, that isn’t really a big deal, but it’s things like that that usually pull people in to listen to again regularly.

Beneath the Ruins is a worthwhile listen for anyone who likes darker, aggressive heavy metal. It has that pounding, chugging drive that Burning Shadows does so well and, despite not having the ammunition to blow any minds, you can still crank it to blow down the fucking walls.

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Grendel’s Sÿster – Myrtle Wreath Review

Score8/10
GenreHeavy Metal
CountryGermany
Runtime50:34 (25:17 per language)
Release Date1 October 2019
Record LabelIndependent

One of Germany’s more unique metal bands, the female-fronted Grendel’s Syster, have released their second EP. Myrtle Wreath includes both an English and German version, which allows for a slightly different experience depending on which you listen to. But, at twenty-five minutes per version, the album is is short, sweet, and easily manageable in one sitting.

The most impressive aspect of Myrtle Wreath (and Grendel’s Syster in general) is its individuality. The medieval sound is steeped in a doomy atmosphere and topped off with folk influences. Apparent inspirations that come to mind include Tanith and Wytch Hazel, and even a hint of early Manowar. All of these different elements are combined into a strong, almost epic feel, but with a slightly foreboding air over it.

Another cool touch is the vocal and guitar layering. Incanted vocal lines paint visions of covens singing old folk tunes while the guitars float between slow, deliberate riffs and countermelodies. They fill out the sound without driving it too far away from its rawness the way keyboards or super refined production quality would.

In a word, Myrtle Wreath is different, and that alone makes it worth checking out. Fortunately, it has plenty more than just individuality going for it, so your curiosity will be well-founded and well-rewarded.

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Legendry – The Wizard And The Tower Keep Review

Score6/10
GenreHeavy Metal
CountryUSA
Runtime47:12
Release Date1 November 2019
Record LabelHigh Roller

Springing forth with their third album are Pennsylvania’s heavy metal outfit Legendry. In The Wizard and the Tower Keep, they offer a unique heavy metal experience that’s drenched in late 70s/early 80s prog (think RUSH). Alongside this are other elements, too, such as speed metal (in ‘Behind the Summoner’s Seal’, for example), bands like Manowar, and classic thrash. While it doesn’t live up to the epicness it promises, the album is very different from what you’d hear from a metal band in 2019.

Contributing to this notable sound are the guitar solos, which are straight out of the 70s (and also the best part of the album). ‘Earthwarrior’ uses some funky guitar fx, and ‘The Lost Road’ has some sick classic shredding that’s worth pointing out. As far as the rhythm sections goes, everything is really laid back, and the mixing and easy vocals only pull on the music harder. This doesn’t make the music sound bad, but, for a band that want to call themselves “epic metal”, they’re basically shooting themselves in the foot.

Which leads us to the most crucial problem of The Wizard and the Tower Keep: its label. As I’ve said, Legendry refer to their style as “epic metal”, but this album, unfortunately, lacks the heroism that they’re so clearly trying to capture. Sure, epic metal can mean a thousand different things, with some heavy metal bands earning the title through all-out energy, or attitude, intense choruses, or through a beefy, powerful sound. However, this album lacks pretty much all of that and, while it’s not a bad album, it’s bad for what it’s intended to be.

On the other side of things, The Wizard and the Tower Keep excels in one aspect more than any other: sincerity. There’s no effort here to try to be something they’re not. They wrote an album, put their hearts into it, and, while it misses its mark, it’d be impossible not to appreciate this. There’s no bullshit here, no pandering or falsification. Just an honest heavy metal album with a lot of progressive nuances and long-ass songs.

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Mighty Thor – Ragnarok Review

Score8/10
GenrePower Metal
CountryMexico
Runtime47:36
Release Date17 June 2019
Record LabelIndependent

Mexican powerhouses Mighty Thor have thundered in once again to bring us their third record: Ragnarok. Their first effort in six years, Ragnarok features a new lineup and a much-needed makeover in both sound and mixing. On top of that, the band’s songwriting has matured greatly in this time off, which allows for massive and dynamic arrangements.

For an epic power metal band, the variety that Ragnarok offers surprised the hell out of me. Most of the tracks do have a certain predictable intensity to them, but there’s not a song on the record that comes close to repeating another. Additionally, the orchestrations don’t overpower the band but instead boost the sound high into the heavens.

In the wake of all of this, though, there’s nothing revolutionary happening here; the metal elements are heavy and fast, there are countless symphonic parts, and the feel is uplifting and, well, powerful. However, Mighty Thor have nailed the songwriting and execution of such an outfit, so they manage to stay a step above your run-of-the-mill epic power metal band.

Fueling this metal machine are musicians that are worth their weight in steel (which might mean less in a real-world sense, but you get it). The rhythm section, including newcomers Jean Pinet (bass) and Moises Flores (drums), pounds the fuck out of every song (except in the ballad ‘Mi Refugio’, where it pulls back so that some truly beautiful developments can take place). It’s also really nice to actually be able to hear the bass in the mix, as the previous Mighty Thor albums were so muddy that I had no idea what the shit I was hearing half the time. New frontman Uidemar Cuevas suits the band’s epic sound perfectly and balances his soaring vocals well with the raspiness in his voice and the guitarwork, courtesy of axemen Mario Dorantes and Eduardo Gutierrez, is simply killer.

Where their former works often sounded messy, tinny, and needlessly loud, Ragnarok is an absolute blast to listen to, and I enjoyed pretty much everything it threw at me. Between the mighty orchestrations, choruses, and riffs, there’s enough pump-up fuel here to energize even the mighty Mjolnir.

Mighty Thor – El Regreso del Rey

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