Unknown & Underrated – Part 2

Welcome to the second instalment of my series that aims to shed some light on albums that I love but that for some reason have not found the interest and love that I firmly believe that they deserve. Yesterday’s post offered black metal in the form of Hecate Enthroned, thrash metal courtesy of Dearly Beheaded and melodic progresive metal from Vanishing Point.

Today, I have chosen some slightly different genres, namely ‘Barbarian Metal’ (read on and all will become clear), a modern melodic death metal hybrid and what I term as classic progressive metal. I really hope that there’s something within this list that will interest you and hopefully, help lead to a brand new discovery.

Bal Sagoth – Starfire Burning Upon The Ice-Veiled Throne of Ultima Thule

Now, this is one of my very favourite albums but for some reason, it seems to have remained little more than a cult classic.

Bal Sagoth are a UK-based extreme metal band under the stewardship of the talented and committed Byron Roberts. Tagging themselves as ‘Barbarian Metal’, Bal Sagoth straddle several genres and manage to sound pretty unique in the process. Black metal stands at the core of the band’s approach, complete with fast staccato riffing, blast beats and screamed vocals. However, there are touches of death metal and even power metal within the compositions, not to mention huge swathes of keyboards to add the symphonic and bombastic sheen to the whole thing.

The bombast is actually extremely important to Bal Sagoth and it is this, coupled with the lyrical themes that stand them apart from others. Byron is clearly inspired by fantasy themes and ‘Starfire’, recorded in 1996, really revelled in this. Spoken word segments in Byron’s unmistakeably deep timbre overlay quieter, more melodic passages to break up the aggression and the thunderous drumming which is unequivocally a focal point of the album. In actual fact, some of the melodies are variations of those from the ‘Conan The Barbarian’ film from 1982.

I also love the ludicrously long song titles; I mean, who cannot love a track entitled ‘The Splendour of a Thousand Swords Gleaming Beneath the Blazon of the Hyperborean Empire’ or even better, ‘And Lo, When the Imperium Marches Against Gul-Kothoth, Then Dark Sorceries Shall Enshroud the Citadel of the Obsidian Crown’? Cracking stuff!

Bal Sagoth are still active and have released several albums throughout their career, currently spanning twenty years. However, it is this album, their second, released on Cacophonous Records (labelmates of a fledgling Cradle Of Filth at the time) that I revere the most. From the opening drama and pomp of the instrumental opener, that sounds like it could easily have been the soundtrack to a Lord of The Rings scene ,this is a very special record. And although some may argue that it verges on silliness or is now sounds a little dated, I strongly disagree. It maintains regular rotation on my stereo and will continue to do so for years to come I’m sure.

If you like aggression and extreme metal but also like the overblown theatrics of film scores, this is a must-hear – it’ll have you grinning from ear to ear!

Raunchy – Confusion Bay

I discovered Raunchy as I was delving more deeply into the melodic death metal genre. Not content with In Flames and Dark Tranquillity, I made it my mission to discover as much as the genre had to offer. During my exploration, Raunchy popped up. And, whilst ‘Confusion Bay’ is not exactly melodic death metal in the true sense of the definition, there are certainly some similarities.

That said, the Danish metallers are one of those bands that are difficult to accurately describe full stop. But there is nevertheless something about them that I really like. As mentioned, there is a definite nod in the direction of melodic death metal, perhaps closest to ‘Stabbing The Drama’ era Soilwork by way of a rough reference point. In addition though, there are liberal doses of industrial rock/metal thanks to the bold synths as well as choruses which, thanks to the massive hooks and melodies, encroach into pop territory.

The other thing that reminds me of the pop genre is the lyrical content. It is fair to say that Raunchy don’t play music to get people thinking about the more complex or deep issues of the day. Instead, in general, you get immediate and rather straight-forward lyrics that admittedly fit well with the upbeat and rather groovy metal on offer. The vocals are not so much growled as rasped during the verses, whilst the choruses feature a powerful clean approach to further bolster the hook-laden choruses.

In many ways, I am also reminded of Amaranthe in the approach, although ‘Confusion Bay’ was released in 2004, a full seven years before the debut by the Swedish modern metallers.

Put simply, if you are looking for a hybrid of happy yet heavy music, with a feeling of warmth, this might just do the trick.

Madsword – The Global Village

Progressive metal has always been at the fringes of the metal community for one reason or another. However, there are some bands that are even further in the wilderness than others. Often, this can beggar belief because band’s output is just too good to be ignored. That’s definitely the case with Italy’s Madsword.

The Trieste-based quintet only released one album in their short career and perhaps that’s the main problem. The other difficulty was that the album, ‘The Global Village’ was only released on a small label which could offer little in the way of promotion or distribution. It is a massive shame because this is a great progressive metal album that should have led to big things, not their demise.

In the last few years, progressive metal has evolved almost beyond recognition but this album, released in 2000, is very much of the period and is what I warmly refer to as classic progressive metal. It takes its cue from the usual suspects, such as Dream Theater but it has its own unique style.

The songs are generally long and sprawling affairs with plenty of technicality but what draws me back for repeated listens is the feeling I get when I listen to it. That feeling is hard to articulate but the whole thing has a warm, friendly and welcoming sheen and listening to it feels like listening to an old friend. The technicality is not overly complex and the songs are generally of a mid-tempo. But it is the melodies, often acoustic guitar-led, that are the most addictive.

As with many albums that feature in this series, more could have been done with the production. It feels a little out of balance, with the guitars very high in the mix. Nevertheless, this detracts very little from the overall experience.

I’m not even sure if this album is readily available anymore. If it is, buy it. If it isn’t, hunt it down because if you like progressive metal, this is one for you.

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