When Substratum broke up, I mourned. Though they were only around for a few short years, they put out three full length albums, a couple of demos, and a couple of splits – not to mention that they put on a hell of a live show. Things seemed to be on the rise for the band when out of nowhere they broke up with the sudden departure of guitarist and riffwriter Max. Fortunately for fans, Substratum’s loss doesn’t mean the loss of all of the musicians involved, and both guitarist Matt Vogan and vocalist Amy Lee Carlson have carried on and started a new band – Sölicitör.
We were fortunate enough to sit down with Michael Denner (Mercyful Fate, Denner’s Inferno, Brats) to discuss his 40+ year career as one of metal’s most legendary guitarists.
BW: Did you ever expect back in the Brats days that you’d be a household name for heavy metal maniacs decades later?
Michael Denner: I had hopes and I had a feeling that we had something special going on, cause there were not one single band in Denmark who played the music we did back then and got it released on a big label (CBS).
One of the most exciting things in music is getting new material from a band you’ve known and loved for years. Even more exciting is when the material actually lives up to the band’s previous albums, and to the legacy of the members’ collective musical output. Magic Circle are a veritable supergroup at this point (though it wasn’t always that way, unless you’re a hardcore fanatic!), with musicians from bands like Pagan Altar, Torture Chain, Sumerlands, and Innumerable Forms just to name a few of many. These guys are crazy prolific, and somehow, that doesn’t mean that they’re putting quality control to the wayside. Rumor has it that many more songs have been written for some of their groups that were then abandoned for the sake of having high standards, which is just wild with how busy they stay.
Some people hear Chile in association with death metal and think of fantastic bands such as Pentagram and Dominus Xul. Some people, who I think are sadly ignorant of one of the world’s richest metal scenes, don’t think of much at all. Unaussprechlichen Kulten are firmly on my list of classic Chilean bands worth listening to. Much like Drawn and Quartered and Funebrarum, they’ve been operating since the ‘90s but got started just a little too late to be considered a classic band, or to debut when their style of death metal had many fans active. Add that to the issues that all South Americans have with breaking out and you get one of death metal’s most consistent and killer bands being sadly unappreciated in the larger scene, something that I hope will finally change with the band’s fifth full-length album, Teufelsbücher.
It’s not often that an old favorite completely surprises you. Whatever band it is, they’re an old favorite for a reason—they’ve been consistent, and maybe had some serious evolution along the way, but they’ve been good at what they do for a long time and probably haven’t done anything too out of left field since they were a much younger band.
Chile is, and has been since the ‘80s, a hotbed of metal that is most appreciated by the extreme diehards of the genre and by people that actually live in Chile. There are not many breakout bands that have enjoyed the same universal success as American, Canadian, or European groups; for whatever combination of reasons, Chilean bands do their thing and mostly never escape South America. This is a real travesty, as some of the genre’s best have been Chilean, and even those on bigger international labels just don’t get the attention of comparable bands from more marketable locales.
Epic metal and my taste go hand in hand. I got into heavy
metal through Slough Feg and Brocas Helm after years of stagnating at Maiden
and Sabbath’s doorstep, and once I found Slough Feg I didn’t have to look very
far to start finding more stuff that I was into thanks to a similarly-inclined
friend. What I am trying to say here, before even getting into this review, is
that I am automatically biased just because of the style- and, moreover, I am
friends with several of the band members, one of them going back years. Anything
I say should be ignored in favor of just immediately buying the album yourself
so you can see how great it is.
Failing that no-thought impulse buy (or wanting something to read while waiting for your copy to arrive or download), however, read on. To give a a single line description, Smoulder are slow, full of doom metal and epic metal tendencies (not often you hear Tales of Medusa riffs in another band!), and really, really love writing fantasy anthems. Once the tolling intro is through and the music starts, those tendencies are made immediately clear; “Illian of Garathorm” is mid-paced or slow throughout, pounding in the style of the faster Solitude Aeturnus or the slower Manowar bits while serenading listeners with tales of Elric and friends.
For the most part, this sets the tone pretty much as it is
for the entire album- fairly repetitive and drawn out songs that are carried
not by mile-a-minute riff changes, but by the building of atmosphere, passionate
singing, and subtle instrumental developments that keep even the slowest parts
of the album interesting. That is not to say that the album is without variety,
and right after the album’s only true doom metal track comes a song that sounds
more like slow speed metal than like the epic doom that Smoulder claim as their
heritage; past that, Sarah’s singing manages to reach enough catchy choruses
and memorable crescendos to carry bits that might falter with less-interesting
Even when the album doesn’t really need it, the bass always stays interesting as well with little harmonies, fills, or brief excursions from the root always just a riff change away- definitely a pleasant surprise, given how many heavy metal bands let actual bass songwriting take the back seat. The lead guitar also does a great job at adding in extra layers, with harmonies, melodies, and tasteful soloing dropping in and out a few times a song to keep the pounding rhythms from becoming too monolithic. Additionally, the drums do a great job of maintaining dynamics without sacrificing the feel of each song or sacrificing some killer playing- “Shadowy Sisterhood” in particular showcases some absolutely killer playing that really makes the song for me. There really isn’t a weak point here performance wise, or anything that stands out over anything else.
The production, which is both very clear and very powerful, also deserves mention. Rising superstar producer Arthur Rizk once again worked his magic here, and the atmosphere is very mystical without being too drowned in reverb to see clearly, which is certainly a rarity for the sonic landscape that Smoulder have gone for here. Also perfectly matching the music is a fantastic piece licensed from Michael Whelan, providing one of the best covers I’ve seen on an album in recent years. The overall effect, from the songwriting to the aesthetic to the production, is one of absolute devotion to metal and one of absolute passion for the music that the band is writing. This is an album worth buying, friends worth supporting, and, to boot, on a label worthy of all of these great things. Not often does everything align so that a band such as Smoulder is can make it, and even less often does it happen where that band actually deserves their success, so help Smoulder carry on the steamrolling that they’ve been doing across their two sold out pressings of the album and go buy whatever is left before it’s too late.
Follow Smoulder on Facebook here, and buy their music here.
The esoteric side of heavy metal has been around since the very start. The strange, the magical, and the fantastical have driven songwriters to great heights for the genre’s history, and one of the current masters of the weird is here right now to do an interview. The Great Kaiser, aka Derek DiBella, is perhaps best known for his years with Demon Bitch, but is also the driving force behind White Magician, Isenblåst, and more.
Not many heavy metal bands have, unbowed, stood the test of time without breaking up or falling apart quality-wise. For every hallowed name that’s kept their quality level up since the start, scores more have fallen- but not Twisted Tower Dire. A venerated name in the heavy metal scene, Twisted Tower Dire have been going strong since 1995, and their newest album, Wars in the Unknown, comes out in just a few weeks. In support of the album, I asked guitarist Dave Boyd some questions.
Ancient witchery is alive in America. Boston is more known for its
punk scene than its metal one, but there’s always an exception, and Malleus are one of Boston’s best right now, playing primordial black metal noticeably inspired by groups like Hellhammer, Bathory, Sodom, and Venom.
Though the band is fairly new they’ve made waves in the underground, and fresh off the release of a new two-song mLP titled Night Raids guitarist The Hammer has agreed to do an interview with me to talk a bit about the band.