Skip to content

The queen of candy-colored Rococo – and frou frou dresses Julia Nishimura and her revolving cast of sharply dressed men (generally referred to as princes) are back. On their debut "Birth Of Romance" Cross Vein played completely over-the-top flowery power metal that sounded like a perfect synthesis of Italian – and Scandinavian variations of the genre, "Royal Eternity" continued largely in the same vein, but hinted at a more measured approach. "Gate Of Fantasia" fully capitalized on their newfound restraint and was significant for exactly the same reason. “True Castle” – surely a stopgap EP to whet our appetite for their fourth album – harkens back more to the pre-“Gate Of Fantasia” days and offers two new songs (including instrumental versions) or 20 minutes of brand new music.

Since 2017 things have been relatively stable in the Cross Vein camp. There haven’t been any notable changes in personnel since “Gate Of Fantasia” other than bass guitarist Ookatsu Shōyō being replaced by Zary. The once so volatile line-up has solidified and (besides Julia eventually embarking on a solo career) it’s unlikely that there will be any more Cross Vein splinter projects. 2013-2014 rhythm section Nakano Yosuke (bass guitar) and Kouichi Shimizu (drums) branched off with frontwoman Miki (実稀) to form Octaviagrace in 2015. Even though Ibuki (息吹) left in 2009 (and later fronted Art of Gradation and Disqualia, both tragically shortlived constellations with plenty of initial promise) her solo debut didn’t materialize until 2018. “True Castle” is a twofold release that not only premieries two new songs, but offers the same two songs in instrumental form as a bonus, or padding, whichever you prefer. It follows the same template as the “The Revival” single from 2017 and as always the artwork is pretty amazing. Like “The Revival” before it “True Castle” indulges the central duo's aggressive inclinations after the more measured direction that "Gate Of Fantasia" took last year.

These two new songs ‘True Castle’ and ‘Existence’ offer the best of what the two principal songwriters typically specialize in. ‘True Castle’ is a high-speed power metal rager that very much sounds like something from “Royal Eternity” and “Birth Of Romance” and is likely a Yoshinari Kashiwagi composition. Well, maybe “rager” is a bit of a stretch for what is by all accounts a triumphant, uptempo cut with an arrangement and orchestral – and choral accoutrements that oozes classic Rhapsody (Of Fire) vibes. As a bonus there’s a guitar – and keyboard solo trade-off that could’ve come from a pre-2003 Children Of Bodom album (or back when they still worth taking seriously.) In comparison ‘Existence’ is more measured sounding and probably from the hand of Masumi Takayama. While there always has been a sense of technical flair and something of an progressive undercurrent to Cross Vein’s music it has never been so pronounced as it is here. It’s difficult, if not to say impossible, to estimate whether that is indicative of the band’s future material or not, but it’s an interesting development for a unit that has largely set its formula in stone over the last couple of years.

While Ibuki (息吹) was the early voice of Cross Vein Julia Nishimura certainly has become their most identifiable and iconic frontwoman since debuting in 2010. Shrill would be one way of describing Julia’s vocals, glass-shattering another. Over nine years and three albums Nishimura’s golden pipes are one of Cross Vein’s greatest assets. On “True Castle” Julia is her kawaii self and, thankfully, she continues to sing in her native Japanese (despite both tracks being Englisht titled). There are no instances of forced heavily accented English, something which prevented Lovebites highly-publicized Nuclear Blast Records debut “Clockwork Immortality” from unlocking its full potential. Not encumbered by having to appeal to the international market Cross Vein is content to remain a titan force domestically. Due to the sheer intensity of their attack, the relentless optimism, and triumphant technicality Cross Vein is best enjoyed in limited dosages. Offering 2 new tracks, and a total of 20 minutes of music, “True Castle” has the ideal duration while offering a glimpse of where Cross Vein is headed in the future.

“True Castle” doesn’t so much chart new waters as it offers a slight refining of the direction Cross Vein has been specializing in since “Royal Eternity”. Just like on the earlier “The Revival” single Julia doesn’t feature on the cover (even though she did on the earlier “Profusion” and “Maid Of Lorraine” singles) and “True Castle”, at least visually, seems to be a callback to the “Moon Addict” days with artwork that very much looks like a stylistic continuation of “The Revival”. Those pining to see Julia and her dresses again will in all likelihood have to wait for the fourth Cross Vein album. There’s a point to be made that Cross Vein might just be a tad much for the average power metal fan, but bands like Twilight Force, Frozen Crown, Elvenstorm, and Dragonforce are drawing massive crowds despite, or maybe in spite of, their inevitably tacky conceptual nature. The closest thing you could call Cross Vein is fairytale metal, or Tim Burton metal. Whichever description you prefer, “True Castle” very much manifests that the Yoshinari Kashiwagi-Masumi Takayama songwriting partnership continues to pay dividends. As sugary and shiny as Cross Vein tends to be they are emblemic of Japanese power metal in the sense that they do it better than the European masters. That fourth album cannot come soon enough. Let’s hope Julia’s on the cover again.

Of all the fallen members from the short-lived “Stop At Nothing” line-up sometime Dying Fetus drummer, Midnight Video employee and former Wicked Woods Haunted Forest House operator Erik Sayenga has done the best for himself. Since his ousting from the Fetus in 2005 Sayenga has kept releasing music with Warthrone, his Virginia symfo death/black metal project that sees him handling rhythm guitars, drums, and vocals alongside his wife Kristel Dawn who provides keyboards and bass guitar. “Crown Of the Apocalypse” is only Warthrone’s second full length effort and the first to feature Sayenga in the position of frontman as Richard Johnson bade his farewell prior to the studio sessions. Compared vis-a-vis to “Venomassacre” from 2014 “Crown Of the Apocalypse” is superior on all fronts. Hell, even the artwork is decent this time around. This is the record that Dark Funeral’s “Where Shadows Forever Reign” should have been…

Which is more than you can say from the remainder of the “Stop At Nothing” line-up. Mike Kimball helped co-write “War Of Attrition” (the only real black page in the Fetus’ storied history) and the less said about Vince Matthews’ various projects the better. No, Sayenga has done good for himself all things considered. Kristel’s association comes from Virginia-based death/black metal combo Witch-Hunt (which Warthrone is a spiritual continuation of) that released their sole album “Soul Enshrouded Fire” in 2000. It came brandishing unintentionally hilarious gothic horror cover art that it makes you wonder why it was never distributed internationally by Napalm Records, who were infamous at the time for their so-called Breast Brigade artworks from designer Tor Søreide and photographer Petter Hegre. We were on the fence about Warthrone when we initially were introduced to them with “Venomassacre” and pretty much completely forgot about them until “Crown Of the Apocalypse” turned up in our social media feed. The few years between releases have worked wonders for Warthrone, it seems. They have heeded the critics and honed their assault accordingly.

Warthrone might not be the most novel thing around, but at least it knows what it wants to be and how to get there. Instead of the symfo black metal atmosphere they no doubt were aiming for “Crown Of the Apocalypse” exudes clinical modern death metal vibes, mostly of the Myrkskog kind. There’s just something about Warthrone that screams “Superior Massacre” or records of similar predilection. There’s a lot of things you can say about a band like Warthrone, but the long and short of it is that the whole black metal aspect is fairly negligible all things considered. Before anything else “Crown Of the Apocalypse” is death metal, plain and simple. And with Sayenga’s resumé, did anyone truly expect anything else? Erik and Kristel sound positively devastating on their sophomore. Kristel’s keyboards felt unnecessary to say the least and somewhat amateurishly pasted over the music on “Venomassacre”. Here they are integral to the compositions without ever becoming a dominant force or portentously overbearing.

Sayenga and his wife always had a penchant for Halloween and dressing up. In the promotional pictures accompanying the release Sayenga and his wife can be seen sporting post-apocalyptic/medieval garb that looks as if it came straight out of a budget-starved 1980s Filipino (Cirio H. Santiago would be proud) or Italian post-nuke movie. Not that you’d expect anything else from the former proprietor of Wicked Woods Haunted Forest House. Horror houses - especially in deep religiously diseased and red Southern states where they serve to keep the gullible, the uneducated, and the superstitious subservient and thus the larger Chrisian constituency in line – after all are big business in America. The epilepsy-inducing music video for ‘The Blood Of the Prophets’ is an atrocity of epic proportions and makes Immortal’s ‘Call Of the Wintermoon’, Hecate Enthroned’s ‘An Ode for a Haunted Wood’, and Unholy Ghost’s ‘Under Existence’ look as paragons of unbound professionalism and restraint in comparison. They’re clearly very devoted to their specific artistic vision. That has to count for something too.

The merits of a death metal record are judged by the quality of its production values and Warthrone has improved in leaps and bounds on that front since their first outing. “Venomassacre”, while a decent enough record, was marred by the typical defects of a home-recorded affair. “Crown Of the Apocalypse” is also home-recorded but sounds notably more professional in the way it was recorded and mixed. It would behoof any band, irrespective of the genre they play, to record in a professional studio environment but that increasingly appears to be a dying practice in underground metal. It makes you wonder what Warthrone could sound like if they ever decided to record at Nightsky Studios in Waldorf, Maryland instead of the comfort of their home. The artwork by Santiago Francisco Jaramillo for Triple Seis Design is something you’d expect from a Marcelo Vasco, Daniel Valeriani, or Gyula Havancsák. It looks like something you’d expect to see on a Horncrowned album, or bands of similar persuasion. Also partaking on the record are renowned British singer Sarah Jezebel Deva, Egyptian-American artist Nader Sadek, and Kim Dylla, of Kylla Custom Rock Wear, who for a short time performed as Vulvatron in GWAR.

Any way you slice it, “Crown Of the Apocalypse” is a vast improvement over their debut. We’re far more interested in high-quality playthrough videos or dedicated drum cam recordings from Erik’s home studio. There’s always additional streams of revenue to be mined if they know where to look. If Warthrone does insist on making more music videos it’s perhaps advisable for them to gather the necessary funds and hire somebody like David Brodsky, Kevin Custer, Rick Carmona, Darren Doane, or Chris João. Music videos, at least in terms of underground metal and niche music markets, are something of a dying breed ever since streaming services have made DVDs and televised music programs increasingly, if not entirely, redundant. No. “Crown Of the Apocalypse” shows that there’s tons of potential that is yet untapped. If Warthrone manage to cultivate that potential by the time the next album rolls around and accompany it with a professional music video or two they might just make a big enough splash and break themselves to a larger audience. It never hurts to have a goal…