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Burned Out Pack Mentality Leads To Failure - 33%

OzzyApu, January 1st, 2013

When I first heard this album, I had one major complaint. Where did all that intensity go? Even counting the Mika Tönning era, there was this distressing tension and energizing zest that kept each album minutely distinct or on a whole different performance plateau. Something about those albums (even the bad ones) were undoubtedly the melodic black metal band that still had something to say. That melodic black / death / power metal vibe from those albums is still here in the safe form of melodic death, but it mostly sounds dry and with no direction to keep it interesting.

Losing their keyboard abilities means losing a primary element to the band's sound - atmosphere. While not essential on its own to produce enchanting backdrops and whatnot, Catamenia is a band with a formula that doesn't capture the same charm with core instruments alone. In fact, the very subtraction of the keys has left the band drained of the life, much like how Stratovarius' self-titled album was a dull, lifeless crock of shit. Somewhere between losing expressive band members, the writing, and the recording, Catamenia fucked up big time in delivering something that ends up being nothing except an imitation of their sound. The focus shifts from sleek and monumental to run-of-the-mill melodic death.

With poor inspiration comes meager production (odd since they went through essentially the same process). The album is marked with scratchy playing, weak distortion, flimsy bass support, and a dull vocal performance. Sad as shit, since the previous album had the strongest vocal performances by the band in their entire career. The band loses Mustonen as their frontman and with him goes the acidic, nasty screams. They're replaced by strained, frail harsh gurgle / screams subdued by the scuffling music.

Take the plodding "Fallen" peeling off the fervor of "Coldbound" from the previous album as an example of a shadow of the band's own material. A simple structure with piercing vocals, catchy leads, and a memorable chorus made "Coldbound" an inspirational, almost regal, example of melodic black metal with some teeth to it. "Fallen" on the other hand is a muddy mess with no backbone and pathetic vocals with no hook. Vähäkuopus struggles with giving a compelling performance through his own strained, accented cleans that bellowed proudly on Location: COLD. This clumsy fight for the glory of mediocrity is embarrassing, and that's what every song here amounts to being at best.

It's not even the lack of keyboards at fault, since the same blast beat toiling, riff blitzkrieg formula hasn't gone anywhere. The energy in "Uhrimalja" and "Road Of Bones" and rummaging of character throughout the album are proof that there was a major disconnect with the execution of enthusiastic ideas overall. The foundation is still here to prop up this untidy jumble, but it needs the proper direction to give it a voice. The band hasn't deviated too far, but somehow the appeal of what made this era of Catamenia so cool is gone.

The Time Unchained - 49%

Sknyliv, December 22nd, 2009

Catamenia are one of an extremely small cult of bands that never had to change their sound. They had perfected a formula of fast, aggressive, crystalline ice-cold melodic black metal with their debut, Halls Of Frozen North. While listening to an entire Catamenia album straight might have revealed some monotony in the band's music, its fusion of frozen, yet razor-sharp guitar riffs, precision drumming, cold harsh vocals, and perhaps most prominently the incredibly atmospheric keyboard melodies would seal in permafrost arguably seven great albums of sonic winter madness.

Then Catamenia shit this one out, VIII - The Time Unchained. While newcomers to this band may not see the crime committed here (listen to any other album first), it is painfully easy to explain to seasoned Catamenia fans why The Time Unchained is so horrendous. Olli-Jukka Mustonen, the band's vocalist of 5 years (starting after another great, Mika Tönning left), has disappeared. While his vocals were not all that varied, he had one of the harshest voices in metal, and it suited Catamenia's music impeccably. The vocals are probably one of the most prominent parts of this album, and they really suck. One of the guitarists has filled the vocal position, and he possesses a terribly passive and at times whiny growl that will undoubtedly let down anyone who enjoyed the previous albums' vocal harassment. There's now also a really generic death grunt thrown into the mix that only adds to the new stripped down dimension the music occupies. The death grunts don't replace the band's signature clean vocal sounds - the clean vocals are still present on this album. This does not mean they're any good, they're actually pretty bad as well. At least on the old albums the band could somehow weave tolerable (at the least) melodies out of the guitar and vocal lines. This is not the case here. Clean vocals are just placed randomly in the music, sound like James Hetfield (but even worse), and add nothing to (or subtract from) the music.

Music, speaking of music, Catamenia have also neglected to include any real icy riffs or blizzard-like passages on this album like they attempted and succeeded in doing on the last seven. Here we have an extraordinarily less colored (if you will) and watered down version of old Catamenia that at times leans more towards the likes of boring power metal or even worse Gothenburg melodeath. The absolutely stale and meaningless riffs presented here are definitely not helped by a now less distorted, warmer guitar and bass tone, which you oughtta know don't fit in Catamenia's work worth a shit. As if Catamenia were not already melting enough, the other absent member of the band is the keyboardist. During the breaks between musical hailstorms on previous releases, where you had extremely entrancing keyboard melodies to suspend each song's already well-established atmosphere, there are now what seem to be horribly failed single-guitar attempts at fundamental powerchord fiddling. It goes without saying that you will immediately notice the keyboardless choo-choo train riff loops and how much they suck.

The absent band members and resultant lack of musical content are not the only surprises that await you with this album. Without those great guitar or keyboard lines, Catamenia have nothing good or unique to feature, and so the whole mix sounds almost like it was intended to be background noise for something else. I don't know how it's possible that everything in a mix could buried under everything else, but Catamenia have managed to figure it out here. The crappy production is yet another surprise, considering the producer and recording studio has not changed for the last three albums. One more surprise and then I'll wrap this up - that is, I'm simply dumfounded by the fact that this band could sit in the studio and listen to these recordings and say "Aw yeah, man! This sounds good! Save that!"

I mentioned early in the review that Catamenia once managed to pull together a ton of elements to compose consummate hymnals of frozen assault. Well on this album, two of those elements are missing, and the remaining ones have turned to shit. So what we are essentially left with are thawing crapsicles piling on top of each other until you have one massive heap of melting, oozing turd. When I review an album, I like to pick out some of the standout tracks so readers might listen to those tracks first before committing to the entire album. Unfortunately I can't really find anything worthy of note (on good terms) here, and I wouldn't endorse this album even if I could.

Worst Catamenia album thus far. Ignore it, unless of course you're looking for subliminal and otherwise boring, molten turd background noise metal.

Too bad 'bout some o' them vocals - 60%

autothrall, October 23rd, 2009

In the mid to late 90s there was a noticeable surge of what we'd call 'melodic' black/death metal coming out of Sweden and Finland. The harsh black metal vocals were present, but they resided over more glowing, warm guitar riffing and generally solid studio productions. Catamenia has been a staple of this style throughout their career, unswerving as this is now their 8th album and they have yet to change tunes. This has been both a blessing and a curse, while much of their music has been basically 'fluff', they've put out a few decent records, like their debut Halls of Frozen North.

Unfortunately, while this new record maintains the level of melodic sheen and warmth they are known for, there are some clear weaknesses dragging it down. The opening track "The Garden of Thorns" features some all around weak vocals, from the kind of poorly mixed snarls to the atrociously weak 'clean', tortured vocal which just sounds like shit. Unfortunately these vocals are used to the detriment of other tracks like "Alive...Cold...Dead!" and "The Time Unchained", which would have been so much better without them. "Dominion" is another example, would be a great song without these shitty, post-Hetfield vocals.

Otherwise the guitars are mixed all shiny and nice, the riffs are catchy, and the production is killer. It just really, really sucks in the vocal department. The only exception would be the death metal vocal parts, and if the entire album had consisted of only these, it would have actually been quite a lot better. As it stands, it's kind of like waking up for a nice bowl of Frosted Flakes only to find out the frosting is actually bird excrement.

-autothrall
http://www.fromthedustreturned.com