REVIEW: Winter Gate - disIllumination

As I run amok in all manner of indie and underground band, never delving deep enough to touch the horrid likes of 'noise', I generally tend to miss out on what they like to call 'melodic' bands. Its not that I avoid them or anything, I think its just that after such a powerful era full of IN FLAMES, SOILWORK, INSOMNIUM, and their countless clones - people are sort of tired or weary when the thought of investing time into yet another melodic death metal band.

Now, I'm not saying WINTER GATE doesn't know what they are talking about - I know India has some great bands and they are up there - but to me, at least, they are not the 'Classic Progressive Death Metal' they claim to be. You see, WINTER GATE isn't bad by any means but they very much feel like a slightly darker version of INSOMNIUM. Even the vocal style, for the majority of disIllumination, is almost identical. When the band attempts to sound different they quickly, intentionally or not, slip back to a melodic and atmospheric styling almost identical to INSOMNIUM. To me, this really isn't to the determent of WINTER GATE but they certainly aren't too Classic Death and even the 'progressive' element just seems to be a little flimsy - only 'Deaths Embrace' really progresses.

Still, I feel this band has a charm to them. I'm not usually able to get a hold of much material from India or Eastern Countries so its nice to see their interpretations of metal that aren't something stupidly stereotypical. Instead, WINTER GATE shows me something very inspired by bands you wouldn't think had too much presence in that area of the world. Sure, they really are just a atmospheric melodic death metal band but that isn't so band and either is the strong resemblance to INSOMNIUM.

If you enjoy a small trip, as disIllumination is merely 2 semi-lengthily tracks, to the yonder-years of decent melodic death metal and a little bit beyond - I suggest supporting WINTER GATE!


I've been a fan of SHINING (NOR) for a few years now. As expected, I sort of fell in love with their experimentation on BLACKJAZZ and then trailed my way back to their non-metal days. To say that SHINING (NOR) is typical is to say that Gasoline is nutritious and great with cereal. However, with ONE ONE ONE - I can confidently say that your getting a very safe album compared to BLACKJAZZ. I'm not fully sure why, maybe due the intense and experimental nature of BLACKJAZZ being a little too so for mainstream audiences. Or, maybe the band just wanted to keep things playable without butt-loads of equipment and effects. Who knows, though I can say that if your expecting the same thing with every subsequent album when it comes to SHINING (NOR), you've been gravely misinformed when it comes to the nature of this group.

Now, I ordered this vinyl from Amazon. And, if you know Amazon, they always seem to leave you guessing
Nice simple little setup. 'One One One' somehow
manages to standout vibrantly in my collection,
which is something I can appreciate.
as to what version of a vinyl you can get. If your a all-black purist - this can be detrimental to your purchase decisions and if your not, it can be too if you want that cool colored version. With this I got a great deal (only 10 bucks) so I didn't want to miss out on picking up one of my favorite albums - I got black, which is OK and better since I got it on 180g. However, the album has scuffs even with being sealed and had signs of use and a non-typical label - this copy looks to be a test pressing of some kind. Its official though, for sure. Its just odd that I got this one random copy out of Amazon's random pit of vinyl despair.

Packaging is great on the exterior but I really hate the white inserts. This, sadly has no special inclusions or additional effort. Though, I'm not too surprised as SHINING (NOR) has always just been about music and the album was pressed to be listened to - so I can forgive it. Though, the odd simplicity of the cover is extremely attractive somehow. One gripe, however, is that my version has no markers as to which side is which. Thankfully I like almost every song on here.

Sound wise, you are going to get a pretty damn good pressing. As mentioned, SHINING (NOR) is about the music so they press their stuff on durable 180g solid vinyls. Its almost like, even with all the effects and that, this was mastered specifically for vinyl first. It opens strong and ends strong, no skipping or hiccups of any sort. Which is great since I've started to hear vinyl horror stories lately.

If you like SHINING (NOR) and vinyl - obviously it goes without saying that you should pick it up. If you've never experienced them then you should probably check the band out. And hey, this also comes with a download code.


The Hard Truth: Just a Few Asian Metal Bands That Are Insanely Better Than BABYMETAL

Now, in recent light of BABYMETAL basically not being a real metal band (then again, that was always obvious) - i feel the need to show that not all Oriental metal is over-hyped sugar-soaked nonsense. Now, a good deal of these bands are heavily guarded by relentless and sometimes nonsensical J-or-K fans - but if your willing to just ignore their relentless fascination with effeminate males you'll probably find something redeemable. Of course, I'm not mentioning just immediately obvious bands - or at least not the inevitable eras where these bands succumbed to marketing pressure (a common issue overseas).

Anyone who knows me knows I'm a fan of some really Raw Metal and that I'm a massive fan of almost anything Tom Warrior has ever done. Now he isn't directly involved with Gallhammer but this crust/blackened punk band was heavily inspired by the Hellhammer years and I'd like to think that if Tom and gang were a bunch of insane Japanese women - this would be the end result.

The obscurity of this band is no doubt due to its completely un-google-able/youtube-able name. Unless you know the song titles or somehow stumble upon them (as I did many years ago) - you aren't really going to find anything. Though, if you do, you'll find that there is a lot of strangeness going on with this band. Of course, their videos mainly are label-picked slow songs (with the exception of Zenith and Detox) but everything else contains a rather peculiar progressive edge to it. And, as you can guess - their initial releases far outweigh anything they've done recently.

DIO~Distraught Overlord
Obviously there is no relation to the late Ronnie James Dio contained within this band, no influence to speak of either. Man though, DIO~Distraught Overlord really kills it with originality. The band doesn't really seem to know how to handle to subject of evil and demons in their image, as they try to do, but the effort to connect sound and vision is there. Later down the road they had a few clean songs but I really didn't mind too many of them - but the older stuff is obviously better. There is something entirely epic about how the band thinks they are more hardcore than they actually are.

I don't think I'll ever understand the title of this band, no doubt something lost in translation. However, Unsraw sort of reflects a need for extremity in Asian music - and how it can be done pretty well. I sort of feel the band, though, sort of didn't know how to handle their semi-death-metal influence and ended up with small sort of singy-parts that I'm not fully sure worked in their favor.  Still, I have some love for this extremely unknown band and their strange look. To this day, they haven't dropped the ball on their metal roots.


Its sort of hard to explain SILENT HELL. They sort of have insanely good production values but just go all out in volume and extremity. At times they remind me of bands like iwrestledabearonce ('Late for Nothing' era) but other-times there isn't much to compare them to - at least for me. And wow, that lead singer? She is a freaking beastly sounding vocalist.

Well Deserved Mentions
Obviously there are way more bands you should check out in order to purify your expectations on the Asian/Oriental Metal-scene. I try to stick to stuff that is rather unheard of but there are definitely major choices I do support.

  • (Early) D'ESPAIRSRAY

And so much more...


Yeah, those two little girls? They're 16. 
For those who don't know, I'm no stranger to Japanese Music. I'm willing listen to it just about as much as any other foreign music. It just happens to be that - in the realm of Metal, you are going to have to ride the language barrier at least a few times. Especially if you've written for webzines in other countries, such as I have in the past. I hold no real grudges against the Japanese, though their pop-scene is insanely unique and far too upbeat (even with dark lyrics present).  If you look deep enough, you'll find some great bands such as CHURCH OF MISERY, UNSRAW, and DIR EN GREY. Granted the latter loves to hop between experimental metal and ironic J-pop, the Japanese really do have a certain confidence when it comes to experimentation - especially in metal.

Now, enter BABYMETAL A sweeping, strange, phenomenon which has broken the international barrier like no other act (I dare not call them a 'band'). Once a pop (or 'Idol' in Japan) singer, the vocalist 
Suzuka Nakamoto and two companions Yui and Moa were barely even aware of what metal actually was. Actually, BABYMETAL was the product of Kobametal who envisioned Nakamoto being surrounded by 'little angels' - as if that isn't creepy. In fact, Kobametal said the idea for BABYMETAL was a 'divine message.' Initially a lot of hate was thrown towards the group, with mostly everything they did sounding like utter crap to most. But somehow, that changed within the last little while - with the band hitting hard and selling out live performances across the USA.

Though, is BABYMETAL actually anything to take serious? Will a wave of Japanese 'Idol' Metal groups hit the scene and change everything? Is it really 'ruining metal'? The shortest answer is: no.

The group, though they have their merits in creativity, exist far outside even the borders of Nu-metal and Lite-metal groups such as LIMP BIZKIT and DISTURBED. Sure, you'll find all walks of life drawn to this group - be it cynical Metal fanatics, DJENT Fanboys, Metalcore/Hardcore moshers, nerds looking for some stroking material, or those who delve into the cheap animation that the country is known for. But BABYMETAL isn't actually a band and therefore doesn't really pose a threat - especially when the group itself seems to barely even know the waters in which they wade. This is the reason that BABYMETAL carries a strange innocence in its music - singing about Chocolate and tackling grade-school issues such as Bullying is just what they know. The chances of encountering a deep metaphorical song about the corruption of the Japanese Government (like you'd find with DIR EN GREY) are slim to... never. You are never going to hear such things from BABYMETAL - and its doubtful that the group is going to start picking up BLACK SABBATH, CELTIC FROST, and VENOM records to work on their integrity within the metal spectrum. Its just three young girls dancing to metal music. Its almost like saying that MURP is going to shake the foundation of death metal.

Is it really that bad that people want a more positive outlook in a genre crowded by meat heads, depressive poets, and angry ex-boyfriends? I, though I don't enjoy BABYMETAL, can see how people are beginning to crave some variety in Metal - and how the group arrived at a opportune time to provide it. Sadly, there won't be any earth-shattering longevity and innovation from BABYMETAL - the band will no doubt fizzle out as fast as it came to North American audiences - but I'm hoping it can at least open the way for more experimental international music to make itself known. However, I could do without the dancers.

-Keith J Ham-

REVIEW: ANCST 'In Turmoil' (Compilation)

My thoughts on the strangely melancholy anthems of ANCST were initially mixed. At first, with the opening track 'Ascetic', I was under the impression that perhaps ANCST was taking cues from the notorious 'Black-gaze' masterminds of DEAFHEAVEN (which there isn't anything wrong with that at all). Though, by the time the final track 'Peripheral' graced me with its wonderful 'The Dark Knight' opening - I wasn't so sure what I'd just heard.

Yes, there is definitely a good bit of Black-gaze on 'In Turmoil'. The band really doesn't attempt to hide its roots in anyway and instead opts to allow the entire Compilation -rather than just a song- progress into something completely different. This allows the bitter-sweet semi-angry tunes of ANCST to act as a single entity rather than every song being a overblown melancholy epic as is the case with nearly all Blackgaze bands. By the time the album ends you feel like a genuine transformation has happened somewhere within the music. Though this also means that tracks vastly differentiate at times - making some tracks feel a little bit like filler while some are masterful exercises in emotion and extremity. Prime example being that the aforementioned 'Peripheral', though a good song, feels more like something you'd hear from the (now defunct) CROWPATH rather then then carrying on the Black-gaze influence of previous tracks. Though there isn't really too much wrong with this, considering that the entire package is simply a cleverly assembled Compilation, I do feel like the progression was a little too obvious in the end.

Simply put, despite this being a handful of wayward tracks and demos, I feel like 'in Turmoil' almost acts like its an actual album rather than what it actually is. I love its Black-gaze inclusions and even the most Crust/hardcore elements. Somehow, what is here is entirely fantastic and somewhat epic in execution. If your looking for a more-varied (and more angry) cousin to bands like DEAFHEAVEN, RITUALS, and even something along the lines of LOCKTENDER - I'd definitely suggest adding ANCST's 'In Turmoil' to your collection.

-Keith J Ham-

REVIEW: Swine Overlord 'Parables of Umbral Transendence'

The most surprising thing about Swine Overlord, at first, is the fact that its massive sound is the product of only three members. Granted, there is definitely multitracking going on with 'Parables of Umbral Transcendence' (duh) - I still find it surprising that the guitar voices are so varied. Secondly, I found it more surprising that Swine Overlord is probably the most accurately titled band ever. Either these guys knew exactly what they were going for or accidentally made the happiest of coincidences when it comes to guttural vocals and off-the-wall band names.

Now, when it comes to the typical tropes of the 2013-2014 Death Metal era - most bands opt for the 'traditional Death.' Swine Overlord, however, opts to bring back a Death Metal style akin to those more prominent before today's vintage kicks - Swine Overlord simply just cuts to the chase and provides you with some seriously solid Guttural Death Metal.

Now, Swine Overlord doesn't quite stick always to their excellent and honestly brutal stylizations. On tracks like 'Porkchop, the Man-Butcher' the band decided to mix things up with the inclusion of more 'blackened' vocals. This really adds contrast and variety to the formula. As well, experimental inclusions such as vocal layering and bare (as well as obviously heavy) bass lines. There isn't really any moment that you'll find yourself tired of the music (granted you enjoy death metal) or feeling that the trio lacks in skill. Actually, on almost any given track, Swine Overlord's members are almost always given a moment to show off their talent.

If your looking for some damn heavy death metal - you'll be hard-pressed to find anything that trumps Swine Overlord.

Swine Overlord:
Anthony Davis (Vocals)
Will Peplinski (Guitars, Bass)
Devin Alford (Vocals, Drums)

Notable Tracks:
Cadaveric Pantomime
Umbral Transcendence
Porkchop, the Man-Butcher

REVIEW: Siftercide 'Self Titled'

It isn't often that a band as completely insane as Siftercide reminds me of Free-form Jazz. But, I happen to feel that the 'who knows whats next' nature of the band almost allows it to act as a sort of Extremity to its equally unpredictable cousin. Though the real question at hand is if it shares the same quality.

One minute your listening to what I can only describe as somewhat standard grindish-deathish underground mayhem - then all of a sudden there is some (seriously sub-par) synth trumpets or something going down within the music. This sort of feels like a attempt to mash Ska and metal together but the result is completely awful - every track with this style is completely jarring and out of place. I'm sure with a little progression, this early inclusion on the album would've worked pretty well except the band functions with the blistering pace of hardcore punk song-writing styles - meaning that nothing really exceeds two minutes. Because of this, it almost feels like Sifterecide decided to just throw as much as you as fast as possible in the hopes that someone might like at least one song. And, my god, the vocals on this album take every form of 'death', 'hardcore' and 'black' generics possible - leaving you tired of hearing the singer or singers (the band does not disclose their names or identities in order to act as though Siftercide is some sort of music entity of its own) almost instantly due to the complete lack of originality.

Thankfully, in this muck of a Self-titled debut - a few songs did manage to stand out. Particularly 'Fluffers' and 'Maaht' are pretty good and feel a little more composed than the rest of the album. This is, no doubt, due to the fact that they lack the horrible method that Siftercide takes in its experimentation. There is no synth trumpets, punk riffs, aggravating off-tempo composition, and (thank god) no extremely bad attempts at 'blackening' the vocals. Which makes these two tracks sort of refreshing compared to everything else.

The worst part of Siftercide's debut is that there are some great ideas hidden within - sadly they are massacred by a slew of problems and completely terrible attempts at experimentation. Sorry Siftercide, I know this album is probably your baby but this album is simply too cocky for its own good - some serious focus needs to be had and the 'experimentation' needs to be dialed back or removed completely.

=Keith J Ham

INTERVIEW: Cody Daniels of Giant Of The Mountain

Recently Direnotes got the chance to interview Texas-based Blackened Progressive Death Metal band 'Giant Of The Mountain'. This intensely creative band has been doing it DIY for a while now and has begun to catch some traction with their newest full-length release Moon Worship. So after reading this interview, why not go check out their newest album for yourself?

Firstly, I’d like to say thank you for allowing me to interview you here on Direnotes. It’s a pleasure and if I might say, I’m really diggin tracks like ‘Flesh Divinity’, ‘Cult of the Moon’, and ‘Call to the Depths’.

Thanks, it’s my pleasure.  I’m glad to hear you enjoyed our music.  

Giant Of The Mountain was formed with the idea of creating a new and original genre style, do you think GOTM has reached that goal since Yeti? Or do you think that you have more to expand on in the future?

In my mind, we’ve only begun to discover what GOTM really is.  Yeti was our first set of recordings, back when Randi was still a guitarist.  We’ve not only grown as musicians, we’ve developed new tastes and influences.  We’ll probably never reach a point to where we are satisfied with where we are.

Many of the tracks on Moon Worship carry a general occult theme, what would you say your major influences and inspirations are when it comes to the albums themes and lyrics?

More than anything, I’d say its Donald Tyson’s version of the Necronomicon, and its novelization “Alhazred”.  I also love reading Lovecraft, and a few songs come from the lore of “The Elder Scrolls” video games.  I love mythos and the arrangement of the Aedra and Deadra,  
For a 2008 group, I was surprised to hear a lot of old-school recording techniques - especially with the drums and reverb use. Was that intentional or just a happy coincidence?

It’s mostly intentional.  We record everything ourselves with a very minimal setup.  I’m not really into using a lot of crazy effects, or advanced plug-ins.  We don’t re-amp, or do drum replacement, and most of our rigs are pretty minimalistic as well.   

What would you say your best and worst experience has been working on Moon Worship?

The best experience working on Moon Worship is hearing the final product and hearing how much we’ve grown and improved as a band.  The worst part was right before we had the mixes finalized I spilt a beer all over my laptop and fried it, and we thought we had lost everything.  Luckily I took the hard drive out and put it in another laptop and everything was still there, and we got it finished and backed up before the hard drive eventually died. It was a terrifying experience.

Being married (Cody and Randi) to a band member has helped make or break some groups in the past. Has your relationship helped strengthen playing live and/or working out kinks when it comes to song-writing?

Yea, it definitely has.  Randi and I are best friends, and we have all the same interests.  That really makes the process of doing anything together fun.  We are also comfortable enough with each other that we can say things, and share opinions without worrying about hurting feelings or making someone mad.  It’s more awkward hashing things out with a group of dudes you only kind of know; as opposed to someone you’re comfortable sharing anything with.  Plus, Randi is the most hardworking person I’ve ever met.  She gets stuff done serious style, and I don’t think I’ve ever met someone else who takes care of business as well as her.  

I’m personally a huge supporter of independent groups in Metal (and beyond), has it been difficult for GOTM make an impact as a band who follows the DIY approach with their material?

Yea, it’s definitely harder.  The hardest part is touring.  People take bands more seriously when there’s a label attached to their name.  We don’t have that, so we rely on making friends and largely people we’ve never met taking a chance on us.  We love getting out to other cities and meeting new people, and we always try to make sure they are glad they gave us a chance to entertain them.  

Any chance for a Vinyl release with Moon Worship down the line?

Hopefully so!  I would love to get some Vinyl pressed.  I actually just got a turntable and starting getting into and collecting vinyl’s (yea, I’m a little late to the party), and I didn’t realize how much I like them more than other mediums.  I think it would be incredible to release Moon Worship on vinyl.

GOTM hails from Texas, any chance you’ll make a stop down here in New Mexico anytime soon?

Yea for sure!  We actually played Albuquerque at the Launchpad on our tour back in April.  I’d love to get back out there and make some metal happen, and even play other cities in NM.  

Thanks again for agreeing to do this interview here on Direnote - its extremely appreciated. And I hope I hear quite a bit more from GOTM in the future (maybe even catch a show sooner or later).

Hell yea, I hope we get a chance to play a show somewhere close to you in the near future!