Saturday, May 27, 2017

Legend (US) - "Fröm the Fjörds" [1979]

Artist: Legend
Title: Fröm the Fjörds
Genre: Heavy Metal, Folk/Prog Rock
Country: USA
Release date: 1979

Track List:
  1. The Destroyer
  2. The Wizard's Vengeance
  3. The Golden Bell
  4. The Confrontation
  5. R.A.R.Z.
  6. Against the Gods
  7. The Iron Horse
  8. From the Fjords
Another extremely overlooked release from the late 1970s that's a direct precursor to the viking metal scene of today. Like in case with many obscure early metal albums, I found out about Legend through the awesome Vibrations of Doom zine, which was one of my main sources of info about metal and industrial music back in the mid-2000s. They managed to do an interview with the former bassist of Legend, and I couldn't agree more with their desciption of this album:

"What can I say about one of THE best albums in the classic albums section! If this doesn't get number one of all 1,000 albums in my classic albums section, it's EASILY in the top three. Legend (U.S.) made a fantastic album entitled "From The Fjords," a piece of vinyl which is not only vastly superior to nearly ANYTHING else that came out that year, but also is one of the rarest and most expensive pieces of vinyl you will ever find. Despite a CD reissue which STILL has yet to see the light of day ANYWHERE, and almost NO information about ANY of the band members, somehow we were contacted from the original bass player to obtain a good copy of his one and only record. This masterpiece was recorded in 1979 and was light years, fuck, seemingly hundreds of years ahead of it's time, especially when you consider it's a U.S. band playing up the Viking and mythological imagery in the lyrics; something that the Scandinavian folk and viking metal community wouldn't fully embrace AT LEAST until 1988/1990 when Bathory's "Blood, Fire Death" and two years later "Hammerheart" would mold into recognition..."

...Well, I can certainly agree that at least the side A of this LP is indeed a masterpiece. Surely it isn't quite "metal" yet, more like heavier-than-average 70s prog rock with strong Scandinavian folk influences, but it doesn't make any of these 4 songs (especially the opening one, "Destroyer") any less great. The side B is slightly less interesting (and this album as a whole would be better without a song like "R.A.R.Z." or too lengthy drum solos in "The Iron Horse"), yet it's still quite enjoyable.

Unfortunately, the band, which was way ahead of its time, released only this one album and then disappeared competely. Their frontman Kevin Nugent started another metal band called Mercenary in 1981, yet they also have released only one 7'' single before Nugent died in 1983 due to an accidental overdose on back pain medication (however, there was also a "Tribute" cassette released in 1989, featuring 4 songs from early Mercenary demos that were then re-worked to be finished after the death of Nugent as a tribute). I haven't listened to any of that stuff yet, but it looks as promising as this Legend album, as it was recorded by apparently very talented musicians. Returning to "From The Fjords", I can only repeat that it's an unique album which I'd recommend to everyone who is interested in the early history of metal. It isn't very similar to the other early attempts at playing "epic" heavy metal (i.e. "Invasion" by Manilla Road or "Full Speed at High Level" by Heavy Load), yet it's a killer release which shouldn't be missed.

Heavy Load - "Stronger Than Evil" [1983]

Artist: Heavy Load
Title: Stronger Than Evil
Genre: Heavy Metal
Country: Sweden
Release date: 1983

Track List:
  1. Run with the Devil
  2. The King
  3. Singing Swords
  4. Dreaming
  5. Stronger than Evil
  6. Free
  7. Saturday Night
  8. Roar of the North
Heavy Load were arguably the first metal band to come out of Sweden, formed in 1976 and released their debut album "Full Speed At The High Level". In addition, the closing track on that album, "Son of the Northern Light", might be the first viking metal song ever, with lyrics more expected from some black or pagan metal band from the mid-1990s. However, when it comes to music, it's rather sloppy and uninteresting compared with their later releases - in particular, this one.

Of course you shouldn't expect this album to be viking metal as we understand it nowadays - it's a fairly traditional heavy metal release which, however, has influenced both many viking metal bands, and traditional heavy metal bands like Manowar. Too bad they broke up shortly after releasing this album, and their two comebacks in 1985 and 1987 were unsuccessful. Most metal fans nowadays probably wouldn't be familiar with them, if Hammerfall haven't covered their song "Run with the Devil". It's a pity because they were a seminal band for the whole Scandinavian metal scene, and they certainly doesn't deserve to be forgotten. My personal favourite on this album is the closing track, "Roar of the North".

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Vintersorg - "Ödemarkens Son" [1999]

Artist: Vintersorg
Title: Ödemarkens Son
Genre: Folk/Viking Metal
Country: Sweden
Release date: 1999

Track List:
  1. När Alver Sina Runor Sjungit
  2. Svältvinter
  3. Under Norrskenets Fallande Ljusspel
  4. Månskensmän
  5. Ödemarkens Son
  6. Trollbunden
  7. Offerbäcken
  8. I Den Trolska Dalens Hjärta
  9. På Landet
While most fans of Vintersorg love Andreas Hedlund for his viking metal albums, I personally prefer his more "progressive" works. This, however, doesn't mean I don't enjoy his early releases - in particular, this one. Along with the 1998 debut "Till Fjälls" (which, unfortunately, has a relatively poor quality of production, but the songwriting itself is still great), this albums presents viking metal the way it should be. During the last few years, Hedlund made several attempts of returning to this kind of sound - in my opinion, without much success, and "Ödemarkens Son" remains my favourite among his "viking" albums (although I do have high hopes for "Till Fjälls, del. 2", which is going to come out this summer).

Friday, May 12, 2017

Vintersorg - "Cosmic Genesis" [2000]

Artist: Vintersorg
Title: Cosmic Genesis
Genre: Progressive Metal
Country: Sweden
Release date: 2000

Track List:
  1. Astral and Arcane
  2. Algol
  3. A Dialogue with the Stars
  4. Cosmic Genesis
  5. Om Regnbågen Materialiserades
  6. Ars Memorativa
  7. Rainbow Demon (Uriah Heep cover)
  8. Naturens Galleri
  9. The Enigmatic Spirit 
The first album in the "progressive" era of Vintersorg, where some folk/viking metal elements can still be heard - otherwise it's quite similar to the consequent two albums, and it's just as great. Very few progressive metal albums sound as good as this one, and I'd certainly recommend it first if you haven't heard anything by Vintersorg yet:

Vintersorg - "Visions from the Spiral Generator" [2002]

Artist: Vintersorg
Title: Visions from the Spiral Generator
Genre: Progressive Metal
Country: Sweden
Release date: 2002

Track List:
  1. Quotation
  2. Vem Styr Symmetrin?
  3. A Metaphysical Drama
  4. Universums Dunkla Alfabet
  5. E.S.P. Mirage
  6. Spegelsfären
  7. The Explorer
  8. A Star-Guarded Coronation
  9. Trance Locator
This is the first album by Vinstersorg that I ever have listened too, and still the best in my opinion. That was during my university years, when the access to good music was quite difficult for me. With the slow internet connection that I had back then, I was able to download only the short intro track, but that was enough for me to decide that I want to hear the whole thing. After I saw this cassette in a store, I immediately decided to buy it, and certainly wasn't disappointed. This album has everything that I love Vintersorg for: quite complex yet very catchy songs (Andreas Hedlund has a rare talent for such kind of songswriting!), powerful vocals, and awesome lyrics about the nature, cosmos, and science. While this album would be better without the last track (which is thankfully short), everything else is just great and fits my taste in progressive metal very well:

Vintersorg - "The Focusing Blur" [2004]

Artist: Vintersorg
Title: The Focusing Blur
Genre: Progressive Metal
Country: Sweden
Release date: 2004

Track List:
  1. Prologue Dialogue - The Reason
  2. The Essence
  3. The Thesis' Seasons
  4. Matrix Odyssey
  5. Star Puzzled
  6. A Sphere in a Sphere (To Infinity)
  7. A Microscopical Macrocosm
  8. Blindsight Complexity
  9. Dark Matter Mystery (Blackbody Spectrum)
  10. Curtains
  11. Artifacts of Chaos
  12. Epilogue Metalogue - Sharpen Your Mind Tools
After posting all 3 Oxiplegatz albums here, I realized that I haven't posted anything by Vintersorg yet, while it's one of my favourite bands of all times and certainly my #1 favourite one in the ill-defined "progressive metal" scene. Surely they're better known for their viking metal works, but their "progressive" side appeals to me more - not in the least because I've studied most of their lyrical subjects in the university, and I used to listen to this exact album while preparing to the most difficult exams. This is probably the most complex release by Vintersorg, featuring quite rich and elaborate song structures and many different vocal styles within one song, and it'd probably be hard for you to get into if you already aren't familiar with the band. While I'd recommend to start exploring the "progressive" side of Vintersorg from "Cosmic Genesis" or "Visions from the Spiral Generator" instead, this one is definitely worth attention too.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Oxiplegatz - "Sidereal Journey" [1998]

Artist: Oxiplegatz
Title: Sidereal Journey
Genre: Progressive Metal, Industrial Black Metal
Country: Sweden
Release date: 1998

Track List:
  1. A Black Hole Is Swallowing the Sun...
  2. They Learned of Its Existence...
  3. For Persistence...
  4. Bringer of Obliteration...
  5. Into Nowhere...
  6. For Persistence...
  7. So It's Our Final Hour... 
  8. The Light from the Perishing Sun...
  9. Ahead - The Universe! 
  10. No Longer Will We Be the Meek Ones...
  11. How Could We Ever Know...
  12. Head for That Star...
  13. As One Surveys This Ocean...
  14. The Iondrive a Silent Vibration...
  15. Several Planet in Orbit...
  16. Enemies!?
  17. Once More Proven - We Are Not Alone
  18. Lightspeed - Plunge into Hyperspace
  19. No Clue to Where This Jump Is Taking Them... 
  20. Breathless...
  21. Turning Up the Power, Accelerating Again...
  22. This Time Passage Was Violent...
  23. Rings, Spread like Rippled Water...
  24. They Stare Unblinking...
  25. Eternal Night...
  26. How Many Worlds...
  27. These Beings Failed and Perished... 
  28. Ahead Once More... 
  29. This Journey Has Taken Us... 
  30. The Moon Was Land in Orbit... 
  31. Can This Be What We Hore For...
  32. Terraform - Alter the Environment... 
  33. And So One Day the Sleepers Waken... 
The third and the final release from Oxiplegatz contains 33 tracks, all under 3 minutes long (the average track length is less than 1:30). Like all Oxiplegatz releases, it's a sci-fi themed concept album with dual vocals (male and female, although the female vocals are far from predominant). Reminds me of "The Invasion Discography" by Giganic Brain, even if the sound is very different.

By now, Alf Svensson doesn't seem to be active in the music scene at all - as far as I know, first he decided to focus on his tattoo shop, and now he's an art designer in a video game development company. Anyway, his work in Oxiplegatz is remarkable and definitely deserves more recognition than it got at its time.

Oxiplegatz - "Worlds and Worlds" [1996]

Artist: Oxiplegatz
Title: Worlds and Worlds
Genre: Progressive Metal, Industrial Black Metal
Country: Sweden
Release date: 1996

Track List:
  1. Battle of Species
  2. First Contact - Conflict
  3. Aftermath
  4. Quest
  5. Graveyard Dream
  6. Usurpers
  7. The End Is Nigh
  8. Abandon Earth
  9. Journey 
The second release by Oxiplegatz, widely considered to be their best, is considerably better recorded and produced than the debut one - and yet again, it features a quite "un-metal" cover art (but who cares about that, if the music itself is decent?). It's indeed very good, and I certainly can hear its influence on some of my favourite albums by Vintersorg:

Oxiplegatz - "Fairytales" [1994]

Artist: Oxiplegatz
Title: Fairytales
Genre: Progressive Metal, Industrial Black Metal
Country: Sweden
Release date: 1994

Track List:
  1. Starseed
  2. Fairytale
  3. Northern Stars
  4. His Time Has Come
  5. I See It Now...
  6. Dark Millennium (There Shall Never Be Another Dawn)
  7. Conclusion
  8. Lust for Life
  9. Numb
  10. Departure
  11. Vision
  12. Adrift
  13. Oh No...
  14. Outro
Oxiplegatz was a rather obscure side project of Alf Svensson (ex-At The Gates), started around 1993. Unlike many metal bands at the time, Oxiplegatz actively used sci-fi/space aesthetics and lyrical topics, and probably were one of the first bands to be called "industrial black metal", although their music is quite different from what's usually meant by it now. I'd rather call it with the all-encompassing term "progressive metal" (even if this term has a different meaning nowadays as well).

The quality of production on this album is rather low compared to the later releases, but it's fairly good for a self-released metal album in the 1st half of the 1990s. Yeah, the cover art is ridiculous, but no more so than the cover art for "Acid Motherhood" by Gong :)