Unknown & Underrated – Part 1
Recently, a group of fellow rock and metal fans made a new musical discovery and it got me thinking. The discovery was not of a particularly underground band. In fact, the name Soilwork is known quite extensively throughout the metal world.
Contemporaries and compatriots of In Flames, Dark Tranquillity and a whole host of other bands, the Swedes offered their own take on the ‘New Wave Of Swedish Death Metal’ genre, or the ‘Gothenburg Sound’ as it quickly became known. Blending the extremity of death metal with hooks and melodies more associated with the classic metal and NWOBHM worlds, topping it all off with a clean and growled vocal approach, it isn’t hard to see why the genre really took off in the mid-late nineties. The approach of many of these bands, Soilwork included, has changed over the years; Some would argue the change is for the worse, whilst others accept and embrace the fact that these bands need to remain current and contemporary. Whilst I maintain that their early albums are more to my preference, I still enjoy their newer material.
But I have seriously digressed. What this recent discovery by fellow metal heads has made me realise is that, if a band of this stature has evaded the radar for so long, what other bands and albums are out there that have yet to be discovered?
Therefore, hopefully, this is the first of many blogs where I try to shine the spotlight on albums that I have come across over the years that deserve to be discovered by a larger audience. In order to keep things succinct, I have chosen an initial three albums that span the genres with more to follow in the weeks to come.
Vanishing Point – Tangled In Dream
Vanishing Point are an Australian band that play a melodic power/progressive metal hybrid. Over the years, the band from Melbourne have released four albums, but it is ‘Tangled In Dream’ from 2000 that I consider to be their best.
In keeping with many of my discoveries, this happened by mistake and was a purchase based partly on the front cover and partly because of the record label. I had purchased a couple of really good albums in the past that were signed to Limb Music and so was naturally tuned into them. In addition, the anguished individual on the cover framed in flames stood out on the shelf of the flagship HMV store on Oxford Street. I purchased the album knowing nothing about the band and immediately found it to be a great shot in the dark.
The huge melodies and choruses bathed in atmospheric keyboards were what immediately attracted me to this little gem – once heard, never forgotten! Then there are the interesting quasi-progressive guitar riffs and time signatures, which keep the songs fresh after all this time. The production is not stellar, but the guitars have more than enough crunch and the songs have a real depth. And anyway, in all likelihood, with such a small budget, what do we expect?
If you like solos, there are enough of these to keep you happy and they just feel so damn epic it isn’t funny. The guitars also act as a second singer in a way because they float and soar over the rhythm section conveying their own emotions.
But it’s not these things that make ‘Tangled In Dream’ such a winner. That accolade goes to the vocals. Silvio Massaro has some of the most powerful lungs and, coupled with his emotionally-charged approach, he is hard to beat on this record. You really feel what he is singing. He really adds another layer to the tracks and when he holds a note over double-pedal drumming and a soaring melody, it sends a shiver down my spine. I’ve heard some people suggest that it gets a little too close to being cheesy for their liking. In my opinion, this is nonsense.
Admittedly, the best tracks are front-loaded on the album, including the utterly breath taking ‘Bring On The Rain’, but even those at the end are worthy of your time and attention. There really isn’t a weak track on this disc, it’s just that the killer songs are up first.
If melodic metal is your thing, or if you like music with emotion and feeling, you need to hear this record.
Hecate Enthroned – The Slaughter Of Innocence, A Requiem For The Mighty
Hecate Enthroned are an interesting band. They are English and surfaced around the time that Cradle Of Filth et al were beginning to turn a few heads with their Gothic, symphonic and melodic approach to black metal (a discussion on what is black metal can wait for another day!)
They released two albums clearly influenced by Suffolk’s most famous metal export, but then, all of a sudden, went all death metal on us. That’s not a bad thing, just a tad unexpected. They never made it into the same league as the likes of Dimmu Borgir or Cradle, and yet, with 1997’s ‘The Slaughter Of Innocence, A Requiem For The Mighty’, they released one of my favourite black metal albums ever.
Admittedly, the album is hampered by a pretty poor production and this will have put many people off as they searched for the lush sounds of their contemporaries. But listen beyond that and you’ll be rewarded with something rather special.
Forget the fact that they follow a similar approach to Cradle of Filth circa their ‘Dusk…And Her Embrace’ period, this is great stuff. Actually, scrub that – if you’re a fan of Cradle of Filth around this era, you need to hear this! Huge synths bathe the aggressive and raw staccato riffing that typified black metal at the time. The screams are other worldly, almost pitched beyond human hearing and there’s a definitely ominous brutality on show.
What makes this record so great for me though is the juxtaposition between the aggression and the awesome beauty. Breakneck riffs and drumming suddenly give way to some of the most grandiose and beautiful synth-led symphonic passages. Plus, on occasion, as demonstrated by ‘Beneath A December Twilight’, the brutality is delivered with real groove. And the closing crescendo to ‘Within The Ruins Of Eden’ is unbelievably good.
To be honest, if it had benefitted from a better production and hadn’t been recorded a year after ‘Dusk…’, this may have been the benchmark album at the time, not the other way around.
Dearly Beheaded – Temptation
It’s not big and it’s not clever. Well, one out of two isn’t bad for Dearly Beheaded I suppose. There’s definitely nothing particularly clever about their debut album, ‘Temptation’ but it’s certainly big.
Big riffs, big groove, big on heaviness and big on aggression – these are the major attributes of this seriously cool but seriously underrated and relatively unknown heavy/thrash metal album. About as subtle as a lump hammer and as sophisticated as a tripe sandwich, Dearly Beheaded don’t care as they’re all about the ‘heavy’.
Formed in the UK in 1993, they released two albums before disbanding shortly after in 1997. I happened to notice their debut in the Virgin Megastore in Ipswich and being sixteen years old, I was completely seduced by the band name. The A5 digipack was tempting too, so I picked it up blind and was instantly impressed.
Technical, deep and emotional music is great, but there are times when I just want to bang my head and revel in some simple brutality. When I’m in this kind of mood, ‘Temptation’ is one of the first albums that I reach for. It sounds like a monster in the car and is perfect for clearing your head at the end of a hard day in the office.
Admittedly, the vocals are an acquired taste and aren’t the best in the world, but with riffs this powerful and with a groove so damn hypnotic, who cares eh?!