AFTER EARTH, Ruin (2012, self-released)

The skull:
You probably think it’s just perspective that makes the skull loom so large in the frame, but no, this is a giant wrecking skull and it just knocked down that building. Who knew the Morlocks were such an ornamental people, and that their flair for embellished design would extend even to their heavy construction equipment?

The music:
Remember back in 1997 or so when pretty much every death metal outfit was trying to sound like Dark Tranquillity and/or In Flames? Those were the good ol’ days, at least for After Earth, who were sadly too young to have ripped off the Gothenburg bands when it was still fashionable to do so. But they’re here now, and if you miss those halcyon times when Night In Gales and Gardenian rode high on the hog, you can party with After Earth like it’ll be 1999 in a year or two.
— Friar Johnsen


SPIDER KICKERS, Recognize the Corpse  (2001, self-released)

The skull:
Now how are we supposed to recognize the corpse when there’s nothing but a partial skull and petrified French fries strewn about? That’s nothing to go on — everybody eats French fries! It doesn’t help that this is viewed through some kind of infra-red lens or something. Nope, not gonna be any corpse-recognizing happening here today. Whaddya think we are, CSI or some shit?

The music:
What an incredibly stupid band name. Taken literally, these guys must be jerks if they go around kicking spiders. I’d like to see them kick something a bit less defenseless and puny, like a scorpion, or a badger. They’re from Greece, so maybe something’s getting lost in translation here. These guys wallowed in demo/self-release purgatory until the Sleaszy Rider label came calling in 2007, although even that doesn’t seem to have raised their profile much. It’s probably because their music skirts that crowded line where hundreds of others sit, thrashing away furiously, shouting about alcohol, sodomy and death. Speaking of death, the Kickers play thrash metal that sits on the death metal side, comprising a true death/thrash synthesis, for whatever that’s worth to you. Now and again a sneaky, snaky, cool thematic lead line will emerge out of these songs, and I like the conviction with which the vocals are spit out, and they’re pretty tight and ferocious…but in the final analysis, it’s competent yet nothing-special sort of stuff. Investigate further only if you must…you gullible metalhead, you. — Friar Wagner


DIVINE EMPIRE, Nostradamus  (2003, Century Media)

The skull:
In the U.S., this was released by Olympic with a different cover, a bunch of skeletal remains, so we applaud Century Media Germany for releasing it over there with the only skeletal remain that matters. The skull sits in the foreground against a backdrop of one very dark night, or perhaps any given day of a nuclear winter — the black could be ash and other pollution permeating that distant collection of ruins. The dried blood in the eye sockets is disturbing. So, just what does this cover have to do with Nostradamus, the seer? Who knows. Maybe it’s his very skull? Or maybe in all his witchy mystic seeing, Nostradamus used a skull to divine the future. Divine…Nostradamus…waitaminute, have I stumbled upon Divine Empire drawing a clever and subtle line from their band name to the prophecies of Nostradamus? Nah, probably not.

The music:
Bread-and-butter, nothing-special death metal right here. It’s what Divine Empire have always specialized in. Might as well be a latter-day Malevolent Creation album for all I can tell. If competently played death metal is something you can’t get enough of, even if it is of the totally flavorless variety delivered here, then go for it.
— Friar Wagner