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With the likes of Ice Age, Lady Beast and Savage Master there’s no shortage of quality traditional metal. St. Johns, Newfoundland, Canada heavy/power metal revivalists Category VI already left a favourable impression in 2013 with their charming and unassuming little debut “Fireborn”. Since the last record the band has acquired the services of a new drummer and inked a recording contract with German imprint Killer Metal Records. In other words, Category VI is ready to bring its music to a wider public. “War Is Hell” is very much cut of the same cloth as “Fireborn” but is more muscular, rugged and possesses a greater focus and combativeness. Ideal for a record dealing with the horrors of war.

The primary appeal of Category VI lies in its blue-collar charm and down-to-earth approach to their craft. They live and breathe the music they produce. On “War Is Hell” the Category VI core remains unchanged with Geoff Waye’s burly riffs and fiery soloing, Keith Jackman’s lively bass guitar licks, and Amanda Marie Gosse’s soaring vocals. Evinced by her choice of melodies Gosse is an ardent disciple of the late Dio. Befitting of the war thematic “War Is Hell” is still traditionally inclined, but far more muscular and combative all around compared to the more conservative “Fireborn”. The midpace is occassionally broken for a mildly faster section, but unlike Lady Beast “War Is Hell” is more about atmosphere and feeling than it is about speed. Not that Category VI would describe itself as a speed metal band in the first place. Would it benefit Category VI to let loose and put the pedal to the metal? Probably, but they are obviously comfortable in their midpace. Some changes in pace would lend it a considerably greater sense of dynamics and scope.

‘Strike Of the Axe’ opens the gates after a bit of guitar psychedelia and it’s rather evident that guitar solos have been given a more prominent place. Moreso than on “Fireborn” at any rate. The riffs are more muscular without becoming thrashy and drummer John Angelopoulos is given more to do than simply keeping time. ‘Full Metal Jacket’ has a pumping groove and ‘Crossing the Avalon’ is one of the band’s fiercest tracks to date, even with all the psychedelic guitar noodling that it engages in. Interestingly, 'The Traveller / The Dark Warrior' and ‘Crossing the Avalon’ are two songs from "Dark Warrior", the 2002 independently released and distributed demo from Waye's erstwhile band Oberon, here given a due re-recording. ‘Arise’ isn’t a Sepultura cover instead its a pulsating cut reminiscent of something off Iron Maiden’s “The Number of the Beast”. With Waye’s guitar pyrotechnics and Jackman’s clanging bass just waiting to break out it’s puzzling that Category VI insists on a midpace as often as it does. These three men obviously have the chops to write and play something more demanding and adventurous. Evidently it isn’t frontwoman Amanda Marie Gosse that is holding them back from doing just that. What an amazing set of pipes this redheaded lady has. Not only is she powerful, expressive and commanding, her falsetto and higher register is equally full of emotion and girth. Category VI has obviously experienced a considerable growth spurt since its debut. Are they living up to the potential that “Fireborn” hinted at? Well, not entirely. The band has yet to pen its own ‘Rime Of the Ancient Mariner’ and they still tend to second-guess themselves every step of the way. Up the Irons already, guys!

Category VI is all about efficiency. At 47 minutes “War Is Hell” is about 5 minutes shorter than the debut. Their unpretentiousness is translated in the matter-of-fact production work and accompanying visuals. It’s functional, it’s earnest and oozes with the kind of heft and body that a lot of today’s overly sterilized productions lack. Amanda Marie and her men obviously have their heart in the right place and the disarming honesty of their music is ultimately works in their advantage. In a world where everybody’s a crook, and in an increasingly disingenuous scene, they are a welcome breath of fresh air. Arguably the metal scene needs more people just like them, but in all likelihood they will probably remain criminally overlooked just because they do things on their own terms. Admittedly the visual aspect remains on the amateurish side for a band now on a professional label. Imagine what Category VI conjure forth with a canvas from Jan Meininghaus, Péter Sallai, Samwise Didier, Thomas Ewerhard, or Jan Yrlund? In the grand scheme of things it’s a minor qualm considering how well-developed Category VI’s music is for a band of their age.

“War Is Hell” has Category VI on the verge of greater things; of finally unlocking their innate potential as a band, of Gosse elevating herself from a mere frontwoman to an underground icon, and their blooming songwriting finally matching their ambitions. “War Is Hell” is that kind of record. One where a band's entire future hinges upon. The Great White North has given the underground its fair share of now-classic bands in a variety of metal genres. Whether or not Category VI becomes the next institution depends on how they handle this record. There are plenty of bands with not half their promise that remain inexplicably popular with the masses. It’s high time for Category VI to claim their rightful place in the Canadian – as well as the international scene. If “War Is Hell” is any indication they are on the threshold. Together with Pennsylvania stalwarts Lady Beast (fronted by the indomitable Debbie Levine), Category VI is the best traditional metal is likely to get.


Cryptogenic is a term that refers to something of obscure or unknown origin. It also is a band from Charleroi, the Francophone region of Belgium. Cryptogenic, who never formally demoed, was formulated in 2014 and instead opted to release its debut barely a year after forming. “There Is No Hope …Beyond Mutation” is a concept album about a viral disease that turns mankind into ravaging, bloodthirsty mutants. The biggest selling point, for both band and album, is frontwoman Catarina Craveiro Salsinha.

Salsinha’s growl is impressive but the unflattering, overly dry production tends to make her sound unintendedly monotonous. That isn’t to say to say that Cryptogenic wouldn’t benefit from better developed vocal lines. As the Mike van Mastrigt-fronted Sinister and the various Incantation and Monstrosity frontmen have proven in spades it is perfectly possible to implement variation while staying within a certain vocal style. For the most part Catarina’s vocals are similar to those of Edda Tegeder Óskarsdóttir from Icelandic death metal outfit Angist. A number of songs include mood setting atmospheric sections with piano playing, church organs, sound effects and the like. A multitude of emotive, carefully-phrased and beautifully laid out solos stand in stark contrast to the rather matter-of-fact and robust death metal that the band chooses to specialize in.


‘Deep into Flesh’ aims for that classic morbid, desolate atmosphere of desiccation and decay. It is helped immensely by the sudden piano melody and the eerie opening section. 'The Last Glow Of Humanity' is one of the more traditional cuts of the record. The slow midsection in ‘Unchained Hatred’ borders treacherously close on deathcore - and slam-death territory, neither of which is advisable. Thankfully it is redeemed by a spectacular solo. Why ‘Requiem For Ashes’ is its own song, and not integrated as an intro piece to ‘A Den Of Iniquity’ probably has to do with that it can be used as an interlude or introduction in during live shows. ‘Dismember’ and ‘Obsessed By the Screams’ are the strongest cuts of the record, the former because it is the most straightforward and focused. The latter retains the focus and tight structuring and adds a number of truly exhilarating leads portions.

“There Is No Hope …Beyond Mutation” is plagued by an uneven and somewhat schizophrenic mix of American death metal, melodic Swedish death metal, technical metal, and stomping death-groove. The songwriting, while not lacking in atmosphere, is often confused and directionless with songs either containing too much ideas, or not enough. Often Cryptogenic will start a song with an American sounding section only to move through a brief almost hardcore chord progression only to transition into saccharine Swedish melodic death metal territory. The disconnect between all three parts couldn’t be more glaring and obvious. While the versatility of players is to be commended, it naturally results in a lack of cohesion within the songs individually, and the album as a whole. Cryptogenic wants a bit of everything, and ends up with mostly nothing. What the band overcompensates in percussive vocal delivery and punch, it lacks in character and colour. The album, and the band, lacks the stylistic cohesion that made institutions as Aborted, Ancient Rites and Emeth the household names that they are considered today.

The album was recorded at Rising Recording Studio in Houffalize, Luxembourg. It combines a guitar tone not dissimilar to the early work of Sunlight Studio and Tomas Skogsberg (the formative works of Necrophobic, At the Gates and Unleashed come to mind) with a concrete bass guitar that recalls "The Bleeding" by Cannibal Corpse, and sets that to an organic, warm drum sound. The production is crunchy without being overproduced, nor does the album sound compressed, sterile or brickwalled. It does lack a sense of gloss and polish that is expected of contemporary death metal. The drums are the best produced on all fronts. The digital artwork by Hybrid Graphic suitably fits the album narrative and thankfully avoids both the comical over-the-top gore of this genre’s more underground practitioners and the video game scene recreations of its more market savvy adherents. It, however, is not the second coming of "Fearless Undead Machines" or any of the canvasses Wes Benscoter crafted for infamous New York death metal institution Mortician.

Cryptogenic is a typically Belgian band in the sense that it bathes in a veneer of contemporaneousness and modernity but can’t quite escape the looming shadow of its various influences, both old and new. In that sense Cryptogenic squarely falls into the category of fellow Belgian bands as Insanity Reigns Supreme, Pestifer and Serial Butcher that all have established potential, and reliably release albums – but never quite manage to grow beyond the tenets of the underground. Cryptogenic obviously aims high, but not high enough to truly become an international player. “There Is No Hope …Beyond Mutation” is far from terrible, but some finetuning is needed to properly hone Cryptogenic strengths into something more potent and threatening. The album is limited to 1000 copies worldwide so pick it up while supplies last.