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Metal/Prog Metal CD Reviews

Various Artists

Alternate Endings: Compilation of The End Records Artists

Review by Mike Korn

 If record labels have personalities like people, then The End records can be compared to the eccentric cousin who swears a lot and acts tough but has a secret soft side and an intellectual bent. That's the impression I get from seeing the diversity of artists on this off-the-wall label. The End is strongly rooted in extreme metal, but has a number of excursions into acoustic, symphonic, jazzy, progressive and just plain weird side alleys.

Alternate Endings dishes up 15 servings of the label's current best. It's a melange of wild flavors, but by the finish of the comp, you are left with the fiery aftertaste of brutal extremity.

The diversity here makes for a very interesting listen. If you don't think you can stomach a whole album worth of Unexpect's craziness, then maybe just one track will satisfy your curiousity. The same approach can be used for most of the artists here. One thing's for sure, The End is not afraid to take risks. "Alternate Endings" is a great introduction to their eclectic style.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2006 Volume 3 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Voi Vod - The X-Stream
The band's phenomenal guitarist Dennis "Piggy" D'Amour passed away last year from advanced colon cancer, perhaps bringing an end to this unconventional Canadian metal band. A track from Piggy's last album with Voi Vod, Katorz, this is a tremendous high note for him to go out on. This is straight ahead rocking metal with irresistible riffs and incredible catchiness. I dig it when vocalist Snake counts up from a thousand: "One thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three..." This cut is the stripped down side of the band at its best.

The Gathering - Shortest Day
This Dutch post-metal outfit has amassed quite a following with their mostly mellow, spacey alt-rock. Not metal in the slightest, this is based on a simple electric guitar motif and a poppy feel. The vocals of Anneke van Giesenburg are simply heavenly. This woman is one of the best female pop singers on the planet. This is a good moody cut for the angry metalhead to chill out to.

Green Carnation - Alone
This is more evidence of The End's mellower side. This tune is almost entirely acoustic in nature and sounds like some of the softer stuff from Opeth. The violin and well-placed keyboards help embellish the folkish tune. It's almost impossible to believe that guitarist Tchort plays in the man-eating death metal band Blood Red Throne and cross-burning black metal terrorists Carpathian Forest!

Head Control System - Wonderworld
This band is a two-man project featuring Kristopher "Garm" Rygg of Arcturus, Ulver and numerous other avant-garde bands as well as Daniel Cochado from Portueguese band Sirius. Their music can be described as a kind of progressive, romantic nu-metal based on powerful grooves and smooth vocal melodies. I wouldn't say this is the best track from their debut "Murder Nature" but it might be the most unpredictable, as it demonstrates a number of vocal tricks, like the weird Munchkin-like singalong at the end. They are very much an acquired taste.

Giant Squid - Neonate
It's my first experience with this band and they have got a pretty weird approach to say the least. It sounds to me like a cross between High on Fire and System of a Down. It starts with a crushing doomy riff but soon goes into a mellow bridge with a delicate keyboard sound. The nasal vocals remind me a lot of Serj from SOAD. There are some female background vocals, too and the cut gets really nutty with dissonant horns and an ethnic/Middle Eastern section with fruity organs and wailing reeds. Somehow the band keeps it all from flying apart and the track is really intriguing. I look forward to more from this bunch.

Agalloch - Falling Snow
These dreary ambient rockers have been around for a number of years now and I have not been too impressed with their past output. But this lengthy epic is an exception that caught me by surprise. It's a long tune combining mournful Gothic metal with a black metal sensibility. It reminds me of old Paradise Lost (when they were good) with troll-like whispering vocals alternating with occasional clean singing. The track flat out jams with a lot of good riffs and never bores despite its length.

Virgin Black - Adelaide Symphony Orchestra Sessions
Virgin Black is an ambitious Australian band that is apparently going to release 3 different records simultaneously that all tell one story. The first record is entirely symphonic in nature, the second mixes symphonic with metallic and the third will be brutally hammering metal. Here we have brief excerpts from the completely symphonic album and it all sounds like bits lifted from Hollywood hits like "Lord of the Rings," "Gladiator" and other such fantasy/period films. It's about as metal as Liberace but shows once again that The End takes some unorthodox risks.

Sleepytime Gorilla Museum - Sleep Is Wrong:
This band is even odder than their name would suggest. In fact, they're too odd for me. This tune is a freaky disjointed collection of off the wall rhythms, annoying vocals and a general feeling that they are trying too hard to be weird. There's a thin line between eccentric and pretentious and SGM falls on the wrong side of the fence.
Dissection - Starless Aeon
Back in action after Jon Nodtveidt's leisurely tour of the Swedish prison system, this ground-breaking melodic black/death metal band demonstrates a more restrained side with this track. It sounds more like a dark power metal cut with grim black metal vocals than the more hell-raising stuff from the band's classic Storm of the Light's Bane record. It's a good tune but perhaps not as rabid as some of their devoted fans could have wished.

Unexpect - The Megalomaniac Trees
This Canadian band is even nuttier than Sleepytime Gorilla Museum. If you could imagine a train carrying circus musicians colliding into a bus of extreme death metallers and a cab full of avant-garde jazz artists, you'll be in the ball park. This is all over the place, with vocals ranging from wheezing gasps to crazed choirs to angelic female singing. Yet the track remains remarkably listenable and holds up to repeated listenings more than SGM. It's a treat for the adventurous listener.

Thine Eyes Bleed - Cold Victim
This deathcore band has started to make some waves. This track is an aggressive, fast paced ripper characterized by throat-rippingly angry vocals. It's not an earth-shakingly original cut but it admirably avoids clichés like mosh breakdowns and clean emo singing.

Sadus - Sick:
These speed-crazed veteran thrashers are as close to early Slayer as you're likely to get on this track. This is a killer assault that kicks it from the word go and includes a disturbingly catchy refrain of "Bullet goes in/Brain comes out!" The bass wizardry of Steve DiGiorgio is pretty "sick" in itself and the vocals of Darren Travis sound like a rabid wolverine on the prowl.
Impaled Nazarene - For Those Who Have Fallen
The world's most misanthropic band starts this cut with a whispered voice announcing "This is a harvest of hate, so let's f***ing die," followed by shots ringing out. Yes, it's another love song from the charming Finns. Actually, this makes even the preceding Sadus track sound relaxed. These guys are just pure no-messing blackened thrash with no mercy at all in their attack. They prove that The End's foundations are still in extreme metal.

Laethora - Black Void Reassurance
I'd never heard of this band before, but they've come up with an intriguing mixture of gloomy atmosphere and slower paced crushing death metal complete with brutal vocals. This is some very heavy stuff that sports some surprising melody at times.

YYrkoon - Signs:
And the best is perhaps saved for last. The new Yyrkoon album "Unhealthy Opera" is a complete monster and bonus track "Signs" is one of the catchier tunes on that CD. That being said, this is definitely high-speed death metal that sports fantastic riffs and a unique clean vocal chorus. This band is simply tremendous and they should be the label's top priority because they have the capacity to be a huge act.

 
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