LUTHOR, A Shadow Out of Time (2012, self-released)

The skull:
There’s a lot going on here, but are those horns made out of snakes? Because that would be pretty awesome! Not awesome enough to redeem this mess of a cover, probably, but it couldn’t hurt. Rainbow covers like this are maybe even worse than brown covers. I mean, this was obviously meant to be brown all over, but someone, maybe the artist, maybe the band, realized near the end that they were looking at a very lame brown cover, and they tried to fix it by inexplicably adding some more color, like throwing a green gel over the projector when Frankenstein appears on screen. This is not a solution. The solution is to recompose the entire scene in a way that allows for a realistic spectrum of colors. You can’t just spray paint your lame brown cover and call it a day. It doesn’t work that way! And anyway, the reason this cover is a BDS is probably just that no one in the band could really parse Lovercraft’s descriptions of the Elder Race. We should be looking at a Big Dumb Rugose Cone, possibly the first of its kind, and yet here we are, puzzling over the 553rd Big Dumb Skull. I’d say that’s a hell of a missed opportunity.

The music:
From my years spent in the prog metal trenches, I know this type of band well. All these dudes probably grew up on Queensryche and that sort of operatic progressive metal, but when Nevermore came out, they realized the days of Mindcrime-worship were over, and they’d have to heavy up if they wanted to get anywhere. A huge part of the Nightmare Records catalog documents this phenomenon. That’s not to say that these bands are bad. Plenty of them are fine, maybe even good. But I think at the core, there’s a compromise in evidence here that taints the work in some fundamental way, if you know where to look. Or maybe it’s just me. Anyway, Luthor are pretty good at what they do, musically at least. Their singer is another story. Despite a Halford-esque range, his voice is charmless, his melodies dull, and his lyrics painfully on-the-nose, plus he’s very loud in the mix. As you might have guessed from the title, this is a concept EP based on the H.P. Lovecraft story of (almost) the same name, and if you bother to listen to the words you’ll get a Cliff’s Notes summary of the plot. As a concept album, this is about as successful as Nostradamus, although it has the benefit of brevity – it’s under 20 minutes long. There are some fine riffs scattered about here, the playing is tight, and the production is top notch, but I just can’t get excited by Luthor. They do show some potential, and maybe I’ll check out their new album, because if they can get their singer under control, they could probably do some damage. Maybe.
— Friar Johnsen


TOME, Demo MMXXII (2012, demo)

The skull:
This is a pretty awesome drawing of a (black, as in evil and darkness) magician levitating a skull between his two hands, but it’s even cooler when you see the back of the cassette j-card, whereon is depicted the (presumably) same hands levitating the jaw missing from the skull on the cover, plus THREE TONGUES. It looks like something straight out of the AD&D Player’s Handbook (first edition, of course!) and I couldn’t be more pleased by it. I mean, this sorcerer is clearly even wearing some kind of flouncy robe with tattered cuffs. Save against magic (-3) or the Tome guy is totally gonna levitate your skull, too!

The music:
Maybe it’s just the cover that’s put me in a forgiving mood, but Tome’s sludgy funeral doom sounds pretty damned fine. The vibe here is utterly sinister — this is not doom for the stoner set — and although of course there’s not a lot of originality on display, Tome puts the formula to best use, cooking up a genuinely evil-sounding couple of tunes. If pressed for criticism, I’d have to say that there’s way too much ‘verb on the vocals (which would be better sung than growled, too), but otherwise, this is about as good as it gets for this style, and I’m curious to hear what the band comes up with next.
— Friar Johnsen