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I was asked to do this review about four months ago and never was able to figure out what to say about Astrum's "Tales of Witchlore." I get what Astrum is trying to do. Simple, straightforward metal with hints of punk. In one sense, they have accomplished this. The short, spastic songs have the simplicity of the early hardcore punk stuff and the chugging, more metallic riffing and soloing harnessed from the power of metal. The songs move like three-chord-punk in a back and forth, to and fro, heave - ho motion which could be a fun thing to experiment with and something you don't hear a whole lot of in the metal genre what with everyone pre-occupied with being evil, growing hair long, or guitaring faster than Yngwie Malmsteen playing renditions of Bach's inventions in a human centrifuge. I appreciate the attempt, but in the case of Astrum, it doesn't work as well as intended. In fact, it doesn't work at all and sounds like a sloppy bored mess of a band.
It's really just a straight-forward how-to-exercise in compositional and rhythmic variety gone terribly awry. Eleven songs, in just under twenty-nine minutes all sounding a like, with little variation, a whole lot of monotony and exuding about as much energy and excitement as watching your neighbor lay out on his back porch trying to get a tan - for clarification, your fat bearded geriatric neighbor, not your scantily clad super-model neighbor - on an overcast day. Additionally, every harmonized riff sounds not only out of key, but also out of tune. This isn't on one song... it's on every song in at least a shirtful of places. It's the kind of harmony that if I encountered it live, I would wonder if I had hit a wrong note. After playing the riff twice, I would be dead certain someone wasn't tuned or didn't know the proper harmony or something. It sounds as sour as rubbing your tongue on your neighbors sweaty body while he lays out on his back porch trying to get a tan on an overcast day... See what I did there? That's this whole album in a nutshell, the same joke over and over.
While song titles like Triumph of the Black, or Blood and Sand, or especially Spectrum of Death conjure up images of grand bestial armies, swollen half cauterized wounds and the facade of death painted upon the lifeless bodies of fallen combatants, other song titles form memories of Sesame Street trying to portray evil; Wizard King, Helllegion, or Queen of Hell. Additionally, two songs seem like, contextually, they have absolutely no place on the album. Those two songs, Master of Rock and Rock Your World, being like the exclamation marks on an album confused by it's own character. It's almost as if instead of the album simply being "bad," it's now "bad!!."
I also forgot to mention the solos on the album. Never before have I heard worse leads. The worst lead I've ever heard has to be the solo in Triumph of the Black. It's so bad I can't even come up with a serious analogy for it. I know, it's not a big deal to claim something is the worst or best or most this or that, that you've ever heard. Everyone does it all the time; loose lipped accusations of no real value. This album has the worst solos of all time.
On a more positive note, I found the best song on the album to be the last track, Grey. Tossed on a completely different album with a different set of tracks which didn't wear me down four or five songs in, it would be an awesome addition. It's a slower, doomier track, with a more hard-nosed, rough-necked burliness which the other tracks lacked. I can imagine a bunch of toughguys pushing each other around in a pit and stomping like Gorons dancing to this... then the solo comes in with 30 seconds left to the track and wham, song ruined. I just don't know how the band let these solos stay on the album. At least one or two of the members had to think they sounded awful.