RIVERGE, Rebirth of Skull (2009, Rock Stakk)

The skull:
This has to be the worst reincarnation ever: reborn as a cheap-ass Giger knockoff, a crappy biomechanical skull poked full of ugly dripping tubes. At least he’s a little scary-looking, maybe. I wonder what this guy was in his previous life? Probably an accountant or something. An evil accountant.

The music:
This is medium-sloppy Japanese thrash that generally fails to impress. It almost has the feel of crossover, but there really isn’t any hardcore in Riverge’s sound – it’s almost like they took their Leeway and Crumbsuckers albums and excised the NY hardcore, leaving only hyperactive caveman thrash. The singer sounds like a Japanese Tom Araya, but not young and awesome Tom. Instead, the Riverge dude sounds like late 00s Tom, a yelling, greying gorilla, now with a thick Japanese accent. That said, Riverge are not exactly a Johnny-come-lately thrash act; they have existed in some form or another since the mid 80s, and some of the songs on Rebirth of Skull, their first actual album, date from the band’s earliest days. Japanese thrash generally doesn’t do much for me, and that’s more or less the case here, although I’ll admit that overall, Riverge are better than most of the other Japanese thrash I’ve heard, and in fact a bit better (if only barely) than most of the rethrash I encounter. Their newer album sounds a bit better, so that’s probably a better starting point for those interested in Riverge, but you’d have to be a pretty serious thrash maniac to bother.
— Friar Johnsen


THUNDERSTONE, Dirt Metal (2009, Sony)

The skull:
This skull has it all, and when I say, “all,” I mean “all the shit that drives me crazy.” It’s crammed full of gears, tubes, and other cheap biomechanical nonsense, and it’s completely brown but somehow not with dirt, which might have actually justified the brownness vis-a-vis the album title. Like the music within, this cover is totally competent, probably expensive, and thoroughly uninteresting, the kind of pointlessness only Scandinavian-branch-of-a-major-label money can buy.

The music:
Thunderstone started as a cheap Stratovarius clone, but over the course of a handful of albums they’ve evolved into a cheap Symphony X clone (minus any trace of that band’s progressive leanings). They’re a perfectly fine, if utterly generic, prog/power band, with a great singer, strong playing, solid songs, and no spirit. If you’re a diehard of the genre, and you routinely spin DGM, At Vance, Bloodbound (the albums without Urban Breed), or Masterplan, then you’ll probably love this. It’s really a pretty good disc, assuming you either haven’t heard much other stuff like this, or you listen to nothing else. I happen to own enough stuff exactly like Dirt Metal that I’m not likely to buy it, but I would probably grab the disc if I saw it for a couple bucks in a used bin. I might never listen to it, but I wouldn’t exactly be ashamed to own it. If I ever found myself in the mood for modern power metal like this, though, I’d probably reach for some Nocturnal Rites, if only out of habit, because this is more or less as good as anything that band’s done post-Afterlife. It’s just no better, which is the problem.
— Friar Johnsen


MAGOR, Túl Mindenen  (2008, demo)

The skull:
This poor skull! All manner of junk is going into his boney being, for a reason we will likely never know. Túl Mindenen means “beyond all” in Hungarian, and the torture this skull is enduring here is truly beyond all reasonability. Some big ol’ stubby cylindrical thing has been jammed into the top of his head while various tubes run in and out of both sides of the skull. He’s chained in four spots, like he’s gonna get drawn and quartered, and to add insult to injury his forehead’s been stamped with a barcode. Wisps of smoke or some gaseous stuff trails from the tubes on the right. He silently screams “I’m not an animal, I’m a…skull!!!” There’s just no dignity in what’s happening here.

The music:
Lately I’ve been real hard on newer bands here at BDS, but admit something: if you’re a modern band putting a skull on your cover and playing fifth-generation tough-guy metal, you have no reason to exist. Hungary’s Magor are another band that toss together one-dimensional riffs and terrible yelled vocals and call it metal. But they do have some distinctive elements that make them a bit more enjoyable than the bland norm. One thing Magor does is throw in sublime lead guitar lines and thematic passages, as heard near the end of this demo’s third and final song, “Rejts el Magadban.” More of that and less of almost everything else would be cool. I appreciate the tightness displayed in “Arccal a Feny Fele,” so credit drummer Zoltan Csatai on that, and the doom-ish element within “Túlélő Vagyok, Nem Aldozat” keeps things interesting, so that’s appreciated. Still, Magor will likely sound pointless to any seasoned metalhead. But if you just got turned onto Sepultura, Metallica and Pantera yesterday, and you live in Hungary, you’re gonna love this.
— Friar Wagner