WILD ZOMBIE BLAST GUIDE, Wild Zombie Blast Guide (2012, self-released)
This is some serious Rob Zombie meets HP Lovecraft shit right here. We’ve seen a lot of skulls wrapped up in the coils of snakes, but I’m not sure if we’ve seen any tentacled skulls before, and this quality of this illustration is quite high to boot. Of course, on a self-titled album by a band called Wild Zombie Blast Guide (which is a band full of dudes actually made up to look like zombies) you’d expect a cover that was at least vaguely zombie-like, and at the very least you’d expect to see a shotgun blast hole in the forehead, but if this is how the zombie band sells out its core principle, with a gloriously goofy big dumb skull, then who am I to complain?
Wild Zombie Blast Guide don’t appear in Metal Archives, which is usually a sign of a crappy metalcore band, but there’s really very little to distinguish this band from Soilwork, and I’m not even talking about late-period Soilwork, but their more vibrant early work. Certainly, this album isn’t on par with The Chainheart Machine or even Steelbath Suicide, but it’s of a piece with the better clones that arrived in the wake of those first two or three awesome albums by Helsinborg’s second-finest (Darkane still rules the roost!) It’s true, Wild Zombie Blast Guide suffers from generic vocals and lacks a distinct identity, but they do this sort of upbeat melodic death metal quite well, and while their lyrics are surely stupid, they’re not unavoidably intelligible, so it’s all good on that front. I really expected nothing but misery from this release but I’ll be damned if this ridiculous joke band isn’t secretly alright.
— Friar Johnsen
WITHERIA, Spiral of Madness (2005, demo)
Here’s a fine skull, emblazoned with some kind of logo sigil or something and hovering dead in the center of the cover. But, I dunno, wouldn’t it maybe be better if he was in the middle of a motherfucking spiral? Don’t even try to tell me that all that reticulated crap at the margins is a spiral. It is not a spiral. Shit like this makes me crazy, and the title is not Missing Spiral of Madness, or Where’s the Spiral of Madness? Am I asking too much? Am I being unreasonable? I am not.
9 times out of 10, a bad name equals a bad band, and let’s be frank: Witheria is a bad name. It conjures the memory of all those shitty goth metal bands of the mid 90s, something with violins and a woman with a reedy voice singing about swans and/or sadness. And yes, yes, we should not judge books by covers, bands by their name, etc, but we all do, and sometimes we get burned. I have a friend who stays amazingly on top of pretty much all the thrash and melodic death metal that comes out every year, and he posts epic lists of his findings every year, and he’s recommended this band THREE TIMES, and I think probably I just blanked out at “Witheria”. Well, my loss, because this band is pretty damned cool. They’re semi-complex thrash with crazy riffs and interesting arrangements, but they don’t come off as retro at all. The only older band they remind me of at all is my beloved Rosicrucian, and the resemblance is spiritual more than anything. The vocals are the only sticking point, and even they aren’t bad, tending toward the high raspy growl that was popular in the Gothenburg heyday. It’s just that it’s easy to imagine a more interesting vocal approach than this, considering the strength of the music. It’s pretty rare that a Big Dumb Skull band impresses me like this, and more or less as soon as I listened to these three tunes, I started tracking down their studio albums. And those even have great art as well (even if they sadly lack skulls in the conventional sense.) Here’s to unexpected gifts!
— Friar Johnsen
WHITE SKULL, The Ring of the Ancients (2006, Frontiers)
Standard issue stuff here, nothing to get excited about — not even enough here to make jokes about. Just a skull poised at the center of a forged-in-iron sigil that seems to mix elements of Irish and Norwegian folklore/mythology. The skull is just barely big enough to make it into these hallowed halls. Naturally we wish the skull were a lot bigger, but we’ll give it a pass. Probably one of the least remarkable skulls in the BDS Skullection…but wait till you see skull #203 — it’s one of the finest. If you want to, go ahead and use your imagination regarding a ring and the ancients who possess it, but you probably have better things to do.
The long-suffering White Skull (this is their seventh of nine albums so far) have never quite managed to rise above the morass of middling power metal bands that litter the European landscape. That’s because they’re mediocre. Musically, this album is full of decent performances, anthemic melodies, the requisite amount of Euro power metal speed, and a vocalist whose accent totally betrays their Italian origin. I certainly have nothing against Italian musicians, it’s just that their vocalists often sound a bit silly when grappling with English lyrics. What’s more, the riffs are totally assembly-line “true metal,” ones you’ve heard a zillion times already, unless you’re new to this stuff. And if that’s the case you could probably get something out of White Skull. The strongest element of The Ring of the Ancients are the several AOR-leaning moments. It’s not exactly in line with, say, the last couple Nocturnal Rites albums, but you can hear it occasionally, as in the pre-chorus break of “Ninth Night” and the subtlest corners of “From the Mist.” This partly answers why the album ended up on the Frontiers label. Oh, and they do a pretty decent cover of Black Sabbath’s “Valhalla.” Bonus points to them for choosing a song from Tony Martin-era Black Sabbath but, no real surprise, it’s ruined by the vocals.
— Friar Wagner