Thrawsunblat – Metachthonia

Five years ago in December, Woods of  Ypres’ frontman and Thrawsunblat’s drummer, David Gold, tragically died in a car accident. So it’s fitting to review some new material from a band he was involved in. While Woods of Ypres split up, Thrawsunblat, a band founded by ex-Woods of Ypres guitarist Joel Violette, continued and released their third studio album (and second without Gold) back in june. The vinyl version which I am going to review was released at the beginning of December 2016, nearly half a year after the CD release,  via what appears to be the band’s own label in collaboration with Broken Limbs Recordings. Since the vinyl was not available through a european merch I had to order directly from the band which added a ton of shipping costs – and in this case It was worth it!

Quick Facts: 
Artist: Thrawsunblat
Album: Metachthonia
Version: 2LP, Limited Edition, Winter Sky (white/blue swirl and clear with blue haze) – Discogs Link
Label: Ignifera Records/Broken Limbs Recordings

Quality/artwork:
Let’s start with the good – the LP’s are among the best looking of 2016 in my collection (and I bought roughly 200) especially the clear with blue haze second LP. The white/blue swirl reminds me a lot of Blood Music swirl releases of the past. This being a non heavyweight vinyl release actually adds to the looks this time. The spindle hole is cut out perfectly, the stickers are well aligned, the records are neither warped nor off-center. Great quality pressing.  The records come in a plain black paper sleeve unfortunately and not in anti-static ones.

The gatefold however is another story. While the quality is pretty good (although I received it bent, a risk you have to take when ordering overseas) the whole artwork is not very appealing (to me). I usually like nature as cover art (see Negura Bunget – Tau) but this looks like a random image in the woods with a bright flood light, a photoshopped sky and some instagram filter put over it. The back of the gatefold is black with the track list in  a hard to read font and the bonus tracks in another font. The inner gatefold is a grayscale image with the lyrics printed on it. Due to very little space in between it looks rather cramped. All three images could easily be from three different albums.

Metachtonia looks like a patchwork. Colourful cover art, grayscale gatefold, black back, blue/white record and clear/blue record. It’s a bit much but fortunately I do not care, as the music is a completely different story!

Music quality:
The album is definitely among the better sounding releases of 2016. It was mastered for vinyl by Garry Brents of GAB Recordings. The sound quality is excellent – There have been a lot of issues with the DR Offline Meter lately so I won’t be able to provide the correct rating this time. I got a lot of confusing readings like the lossless version of the album (which comes with the album via a download code) having the same FDR Rating as the MP3 and Streaming version (FDR of 5) while the vinyl version showed a rating of as high as 13. Apparently there are some issues with the connection from my turntable to the line in of my computer as the analysis in Spek (see pictures below) suggests. Nevertheless – the vinyl version seems to be on par with the losless flac version of the album. At least that’s what my hearing suggests. The streaming version (Spotify/extreme Quality) and the MP3 version (320bit) sound less dynamic and worse. When comparing this album to other high quality releases like the FDR reissue of At the Gates – Slaugther of the Soul or Moonspell’s recent reissue of Irreligous the quality is roughly the same. So an excellent release in terms of sound quality.

The music:
Thrawsunblat managed to make a stunning album which stands out in a genre where many bands sound alike. There are passages reminding me of older and newer Woods of Ypres, Agalloch, Winterfylleth without plain copying them but rather weaving those influences into a very distinctive and unique sound. The cuts between harsh singing and the slower, almost peaceful clear vocal parts create an atmosphere I have only experienced on AHAB’s – The Giant so far. The folk elements are refreshing and have nearly nothing in common with the usual folk influences in metal. This album is definitely in my top 5 of 2016 and I am really looking forward to any future releases of Thrawsunblat.

Up next:

I know I’ve said in my last review that I’d ditch the up-next part. But in this case I already know what my next review is going to be about. As I finally got my hands of the recent Spinefarm/Candlelight reissues of the Emperor albums I will finally be able to compare “In the Nightside Eclipse” to the awful Back on Black reissue I reviewed last year.

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Moonspell – Irreligious (2016 reissue)

It’s a bit frustrating that it takes me so long to write a review. Working my ass off, being a parent and numerous other things takes their toll. Nevertheless, I’ll at least try to get a review out once a month – Ending 2016 with a review of an album by one of my favorite bands. Moonspell has bene accompanying me for over 15 years. The band way my gateway to more extreme metal music and especially Irreligious will always have a special place in my heart.

Quick Facts: 
Artist: Moonspell – official facebook
Album: Irreligious (2016 reissue)
Version: LP transparent green vinyl + CD album, Remastered, Ltd. 200 pcs. – Discogs Link
Label: Century Media

Pressing quality and gatefold/sleeves:

The reissue comes as a single sleeve containing the record sleeve, the green transparent vinyl, a poster and the CD version of the album. The sleeve itself is of mediocre quality and has not been glued together perfectly. This unfortunately happened a lot lately with a number of releases. The LP is housed in a black, anti-static record sleeve – seriously, this should be standard by now. The heavyweight LP has significant fraying around the center hole but is otherwise in perfect condition. Side A is a bit off-center to the left (~1mm) but that does not have an effect on sound quality. It almost seems that the production was a bit rushed. When you compare this to other recent releases the lack of quality in production is not uncommon. Still, I’d expect more from a label like Century Media.

Sound quality:

I’ll make it short this time. The sound quality is amazing in every way possible. First of all, the release has an FDR Rating of 11 . I’ve tested quite a few releases in the past and this is definitely top 10. Every instrument is clearly distinguishable even on lower volume and Fernando’s voice sounds as harsh as in real life. There are also no signs of compression when looking at the songs via Spek. Compared to the CD Album (which comes with the vinyl version) – the sound quality is way superior. There have been some discussion lately about the accuracy of the FDR Meter especially when a CD and vinyl release use the same master (read more here). As this release was remastered for vinyl it should be pretty accurate though.

 

The music:

“Irreligious” is definitely in the top 3 of Moonspell albums along with “The Antidote” and “Wolfheart” and contains some of Moonspell’s most popular songs with Opium, Mephisto and Full Moon Madness. It’s only their second full studio album but their black metal roots completely vanished, thus following the trend set on their previous release. While their roots were audible sometimes on “Wolfheart” they have completely vanished on “Irreligious”. The song Opium, a strong opener – is among Moonspell’s most popular releases along with the even more amenable songs from “Night Eternal”. If you’re a fan of moonspell you may already appreciate what the band has done on this album. If you’re new to the band this is the album to begin with. It’s a perfect display of the capability of Fernando’s vocals and of what the band will become till 2016.

Conclusion:

While this Century Media release has its flaws when it comes to the quality of the pressing and the sleeves, it is still a superb release music wise. One of the best sounding releases of 2016 which could only be topped as a 45rpm double LP release. A big bonus is the price as it comes rather cheap and can be had for under 20 bucks currently (the black version). A wholeheartedly recommendation for any fan of Moonspell.

Up next:

I decided to ditch the up next as I get so many different albums between blog posts and I don’t want to decide a month in advance what to review next. So consider it a surprise in the future.

Mantar – Death by Burning, Ode to the Flame, The St. Pauli Sessions

Despite Mantar being praised in the german metal scene since their debut “Death by Burning” I’ve managed to overlook them for quite some time. They manage to create an amazing genre mix which really stands out at their live performances. Mantar is able to create a very unique atmosphere with only vocals, a guitar and drums. They are raw, they are unpolished and very straightforward. Don’t expect complex melodies or deep and meaningful lyrics – Mantar is pure hate and destruction embedded in a mix of black metal, post-punk, groove metal and a bit of doom and sludge. Besides their music, there’s more to Mantar. They communicate with their fans, they live for playing live and they are “living the low live” – whether it’s touring Canada and the US in ready to scrap cars or drinking beer in small outdoor community pools in the Austrian alps.

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Album: Death by Burning
Label:
Svart Records
Version:
Single LP, black
Album: Ode to the Flame
Label: 
Nuclear Blast
Version:
Single LP, black, 180g
Album: St. Pauli Sessions
Label:
Svart Records
Version:
1 LP, black, limited

Pressing quality and gatefold/sleeves:

This is going to be a bit tricky as Death by Burning and St. Pauli Sessions were released via Svart Records and Ode to the Flame via NuclearBlast. So there are other companies involved in the pressing process (GZ Media vs. Optimal Media).

All three records come as a single, black LP in a gatefold with a single sleeve. So far, so unspectacular. The quality of all the gatefolds is pretty much the same. The only difference is that Death by Burning and St. Pauli Sessions have a glossy finish while Ode to the Flame has a rough one.  Ode to the Flame comes as 180g black vinyl in an antistatic paper sleeve while the other two come in a plain black paper sleeve. The difference in weight is negligible. Death by Burning is slightly off center on Side B. I tested extensively if this had any effect on the sound quality and at least to me, it made no difference at all. The other two albums are perfectly centered.

Sound quality:

From this review on, I am going to provide more data regarding sound quality. I made some additions to my setup and am now able to record each track seperately to Audacity and export it to 16bit WAV format. With those recording I can measure the Dynamic Range of the release (and upload the data to dr.loudness-war.info) and analyze the compression via Spek. I’m still learning – so if my conclusions are faulty please let me know.

The good part right away: All albums are superior in terms of sound quality compared to streaming and their MP3 versions. I tested this with extreme quality streaming on Spotify with volume normalization turned off. Let’s take the opener “Spit” from Death by Burning for example. The original version has a mediocre FDR Rating of 8 but still sounds good. When you listen to the Spotify version afterwards (FDR Rating of 5) the drop in audio quality is quite noticeable. Even more with the MP3 Version which has a FDR Rating of just 4. When compared to the version on St. Pauli Sessions (FDR Rating of 10) you hear why FDR is quite important in Heavy Metal music and moreso with Mantar. Louder is not always better. With a lower FDR Rating the vocals disappear in a wall of sound. I looked at the songs in Spek to determine if the pressing was done with a compressed master. Fortunately this was not the case on any of the three albums. The differences to the Spotify version are surprisingly small though when you look at the frequencies. I included Spek analysis of the MP3 version below to better understand the differences. There you can nicely see the cut at 20khz.

Surface Noise is only audible on Death by Burning – fortunately this does not interfere with the music. Once the music starts you won’t hear a bit – even on the spoken parts. “Ode to the Flame” and “St. Pauli Sessions” are on par with good sounding heavy metal vinyl releases. “Death by Burning” is a little bit behind which is unfortunately audible. But you still have the option to go for St. Pauli Sessions instead.

The music:

As I alread wrote initially – I am a huge fan of Mantar and especially of their live shows. Death by Burning is as good as a debut album can get. Songs like “Spit”, “Astral Cannibal” and “The Berserker’s Path” make you want to destroy your next hotel room. Ode to the Flame comes close with gems like “Praise the Plague”, “Era Borealis” and “I, Omen”. I still feel that Death by Burning is a tad better. St. Pauli Sessions on the other hand is essentially the recording of a studio live session of Death by Burning with some altered transitions and slighty different song order. I’ll recommend this album mostly because of the higher FDR Rating. I still hope for a true live recording from a club to really capture the atmosphere Mantar creates.

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Live at “Metal on the Hill” in Graz, August 2016

Conclusion:

Mantar is a surprisingly simple (in a positive way) and straightforward band. No gimmicks, no complex compositions, no deep lyrics. And that’s what makes them so refreshing and stand out from the metal mass. I can wholeheartedly recommend all three albums. If you want the best sound quality available you habe the option to buy St. Pauli Sessions instead of Death by Burning. If you manage to catch a gig of Mantar – and due to them touring non-stop there’s a pretty high chance they are coming into a town near you – go. You won’t regret it. Although I’d recommend a club show instead of a festival due to decibel restrictions, awful time slots and whatsoever. And if you can – support those guys. Like their Facebook page, follow them on Twitter, visit them on Bandcamp and help spread the plague!

Up next:

A review of Moonspell’s recent reissue of Irreligious

Resurrection of the Beast

When your equipment malfunctions, you have three options: 1: repair it yourself 2: trash it or 3: bring it to someone who knows how to repair it. Skilled as I am number three was my only choice. I got my Dual 1219 turntable in working condition – it was old, was never serviced but it played fine. The automatic was broken and the tonearmlift was malfunctioning. So a couple of month ago – 8 month and 18 days to be exact I brought it in for repair. Finding an someone who was able to repair this beauty proved to be difficult. The few HiFi-Stores around where I live had no clue where to repair an old turntable. Even in the record stores I had no luck – one had a customer who claimed to be able to repair vintage turntables but they had no name or contact information. I had given up all hope to find someone near me and settled to look a bit further away when I got an e-mail from a HiFi-Store I contacted a couple of weeks earlier. They sent me a tip to contact a very small local electronics shop. And to my surprise – the owner said that he has been repairing vintage electronics and turntables since he was 12 years old. The next day I brought my turntable in, explained what I wanted (service and repair of the automatic and the tonearm lift) and left with the information that it might take a couple of weeks due to them eventually having to order spare parts. Since I had a replacement turntable – which broke a couple of month later – this was no problem at that time. But then… silence…

I waited a couple of weeks and as I had not heard a word I contacted them but only got to speak to the son of the owner. He put me off for another two weeks and assured me they would contact me once it’s finished. As another month passed by I wrote an e-mail asking about the turntable but never got an reply. When I finally got someone on the phone two weeks later I got a story of the owner having to undergo surgery and having to do physiotherapy for another three weeks afterwards. Having no means of doing anything (no other repair option) I had to accept this but demanded to be contacted once he was back at work so I could get a timetable for the repair. Another month passed and I never got a call. So I decided to show up in the store and again only got to speak to the son who told me his father just forgot to answer. I made myself very clear that time and left the store. A couple of days later I surprisingly got a call from the owner who apologised and promised to keep me informed about the process. I got a couple of e-mails detailing what was broken and what he has to do to repair it. This involved ordering some harder to get spare parts from Germany which delayed the repair further and further.

Early in september I got the news that the turntable is fully serviced but he needs to replace some part of the tonearm lift which would take another three weeks (ordering from Germany). After I had not heard from him I contacted him again after three weeks. I got fed a story of him being on vacation and so the package with the spare part was sent back and promised that it would be ready in two weeks. He contacted me two weeks later on a friday asking me for another weekend. I already had a couple of scenarios in my mind on what his next excuse might be -but to my surpise I got a message on sunday that the turntable was ready and I could pick it up the next day. After 8 month and 18 days I finally got my turntable back – and in perfect condition. It has been serviced and cleaned properly, lubed and fully repaired. To be honest – I was really sceptical. I believed I’d plug it in at home and nothing would work. But to my surprise everything was working perfectly and smoothly. He even adjusted the tracking force and anti-skating according to my Shure M91-MGD cartridge. The 8 month were damn annoying but I have to say the outcome is fantastic and due to the huge delay I got two years warranty on everything. I had forgotten how much of a difference a good turntable makes compared to a crappy one.

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Spinning Melancholia² by Coldworld

I missed my chance to review many new releases in time and have a lot to catch up to. In the meantime I’ll focus on a few gems I added to my collection the past couple of month. I also plan add a permanent recommendation section for standout albums (in terms of vinyl and sound quality) and a stay away section (like the infamous Emperor repress I reviewed earlier this year). So for my first review post in months will be about a rather new band I discovered just this year – the amazing german duo “Mantar” with their amazing genre-mix of black metal, doom metal, groove metal and post-punk. And since one album does not suffice this will be a review of their two LPs and their live studio sessions.

 

There’s a light at the end of the tunnel!

I finally got an update on the repair of my turntable. I bought my Dual 1219 used from someone in Vienna. The TT was apparently part of a heritage and in acceptable condition. Once removed all the resin the core functions (speed selector, anti-skate and of course platter movement) worked like a charm. The Automatic was non functioning so was the tonearm lift. That’s the reason why I decided to bring it to someone who knows how to repair these beauties. After a  long time and the repairman being in hospital for quite some time I finally got some definitive news. The Automatic is functioning, the tonearm lift works, all parts have been serviced according to the guides released by the official manufacturer. However, the pushing rod is a bit damaged and may cause issues in the future if not replaced. So that’s the last step in this month long journey and it should be done in approximately three weeks as the supplier does not have the item in stock. So he has to order it elsewhere and send it to the guy repairing my turntable.

So I hope to get back into reviewing pretty soon!

Update on lack of recent posts

As some of you might have noticed, there have not been any posts in the past couple of weeks. I have some major troubles with the company doing the service of my Dual1219 (getting delayed further and further) and the speaker jack on my spare turntable broke too. So obviously I can’t do any reviews without reviewing the sound quality. I really hope I can go back reviewing as soon as possible.

Dark Tranquillity – Fiction Expanded Edition

After some technical difficulties (e.g. pressing the wrong button when trying to correct an embarrassing mistake) the whole entry was gone and I had to re-write it from scratch. So sorry for the delay and/or the change in words. At least now I know I made a fool of myself for writing base-guitar instead of bass for a couple of month. Since I rushed this entry it may contain more errors than the original version.

sometimes you have to travel hundreds of miles to discover new music – and in this case a whole genre. I participated in a language study travel to Florence, Italy back in 1999. My taste in metal music was somewhat limited and mostly consisted of german power metal, gothic rock with Sin/Pecado era Moonspell and some Paradise Lost being the only exception. Heavier genres like Norwegian Black Metal or Death Metal were completely unknown to me at that time. On my last day I had a couple of bucks left and two options: Save the money or blow it on records. As the responsible teenager I was back then I certainly chose option number two. I went into the only record store I discovered during my stay and grabbed the first album with appealing cover art from a band with a cool name: Dark Tranquillity – Projector. This was my entry to the world of heavier metal genres and Dark Tranquillity accompanied me ever since. I still own this record I bought 17 years ago and although it’s scratched from being played up and down for a couple of years it still sits among my few CD albums I will never sell.

Quick Facts: 
Artist: Dark Tranquillity – official webpage
Album: Fiction Expanded Edition
Version: LP transparent red vinyl, 7″ black EP, Reissue, Limited Edition – Discogs Link
Label: Think Fast Records

Unfortunately it’s not “Projector” I am going to review but their eight studio album “Fiction”. This reissue is actually the vinyl version of the CD/DVD combo released in 2008 and was released on Record Store Day 2016. I am not the biggest fan of Record Store Day as a lot of releases  get pushed back around this date as major labels are clogging the pressing plants. Furthermore, a lot of RSD releases end up on webstores anyway thus undermining the concept of store exclusivity. I like the concept behind RSD but apparently the direction it took in the past years makes it just another cash cow for major labels. Despite that, I still hope Earache will release Woods of Ypres Woods IV and V in the future. I had not planed to buy this album but when it popped up on one of my favorite webstores for a reasonable price I pulled the trigger.

Quality and artwork:
The album comes in a single sleeve and has the same cover as the 2008 expanded edition release. There are actually three different covers for one record. The one of the CD version, the one of the original LP and this one. The original artwork was done by Dark Tranquillity’s very own guitarist Niklas Sundin. Unfortunately I was not able to gather any information about whether he also did this awesome artwork.  The cardboard sleeve has a mat finish and is rather thin compared to other single sleeves in my collection. The quality is awful though. The cutting edges are crooked, the whole sleeve is glued together badly and the edges at the opening of the sleeves are frayed. I might have gotten some B-Ware thus the cheap price. I talked to other people owning this release and they had no problems. The 12″ LP sits in a record sleeve with the lyrics printed on one side while a simple black paper sleeve holds the 7″ EP.
The transparent red vinyl is a real beauty and perfect in every way. The black 7″ EP had some frayed edges I had to remove.
I love that they decided to keep the artwork from the original expanded edition release. The original LP cover is not bad but this one is way more aesthetically pleasing.

Sound Quality:
With all the quality issues of the sleeve I feared that the music quality was also bad. The original release of “Fiction” on vinyl has decent sound quality and a surprisingly good FDR Rating. Fortunately this is also true for this version. There’s no FDR Rating available for the Expanded Edition on vinyl yet but compared to the original CD version I also own, the sound is definitely better. This is especially noticeable with Stanne’s vocals and the bass guitar which get swallowed by the drums on some of their releases on CD in the past. The quality is not top-tier but surprisingly a lot better than on some major releases this year.

Music:
I won’t lose much words about the music. “Fiction” is considered to be the most mass appealing release of Dark Tranquillity which contains popular songs like “Misery’s Crown” and “Terminus (Where Death is most alive)”. This release also marks the first time Stanne used clean vocals since their 2000 release “Haven”. Despite the popular songs “Fiction” has some real gems like “The Mundane and the Magic” or my personal favorite “Icipher”. The original 2008 expanded edition release added 4 songs and 2 live songs. The former are pressed on the 7″ vinyl while the latter are unfortunately missing.

Conclusion:
The expanded edition was way overdue for a release on vinyl and despite some (apparently uncommon) issues with the sleeve quality the release is decent with an above average sound quality. This is a viable option for people who don’t own the original LP as the price for this release is actually lower.

Up next:
A review of Dark Funerals reissue of “Secrets of the Black Arts” and some experiments to include reviews of the actual pressing quality into the review.

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