Thursday, December 1, 2011

Powerwolf - Blood of the Saints

I hear their periods can attract bears...

Aesthetics can be a powerful thing.  For example, you know what you're getting yourself into when you come across an album adorned with a silly doodling of a virgin sacrifice entitled Goat Fucking Moonpocalypse, but every once in a while (if you're a clueless dork like me) you'll catch a curveball.  Apparently Powerwolf had quite a bit of buzz surrounding them thanks to their two previous efforts, Lupus Dei and Bible of the Beast, and despite my enjoyment of the over the top style of heavy metal they play, they managed to completely slip me by.  The aesthetics point comes in here because after seeing a promo photo of the band all in corpse paint and hearing their 2011 release was titled Blood of the Saints, Running Wild-esque German speed metal was about the furthest thing from my mind.  And maybe my initial surprise is one of the reasons I'm so nice to this album, but I'd like to think its merits speak for themselves.

First off, Attila Dorn is a beast of a vocalist.  In all honesty, the sheer depth and power of his voice is the main draw of the band to me, not the silly image or huge riffs.  Most of the tracks feature a choir effect of his voice, which works fantastically well with the big latin choruses and orchestration.  Even when his voice is going it solo, it commands a fierce presence around it and really takes center stage.  Unfortunately the lyrics are pretty silly for the most part.  This gothic horror image they shoot for gets props from me for at least being different in terms of heavy/power metal bands, but the lyrics themselves are usually incredibly blunt and ridiculous sounding.  The dearth of complexity on that front really gets hammered into your head when the voice shouting these things is so powerful.  It also doesn't help that he, like so many other German bands, I've noticed, can't seem to pronounce many simple English words properly.  Therefore his thick accent just makes the already silly lyrics even more amusing.

After falling in love with this album, I went and gave their back catalogue a look-see, and I can see that this band doesn't do a whole lot in the way of evolution.  This is essentially a bizarro Bible of the Beast, as both albums are arranged in the same way, with similar songs placed in similar spots of the album.  Opening with the booming latin chorus, ending with the slower hymn, it's just all there two years prior, thus making Blood of the Saints kind of a redundant release.  That said, it's still damn awesome.  There are a few double bass filled speed metal numbers like "All We Need is Blood" and "Dead Boys Don't Cry", heavy hitting heavy metal anthems like "We Drink Your Blood" and "Son of a Wolf", some downtempo numbers like "Die, Die, Crucified" and "Ira Sancti (When the Saints are Going Wild)", and even a few that really channel the best metal band to walk the earth, Running Wild, with "Phantom of the Funeral" and "Sanctified with Dynamite", the latter song trailing only "St. Satan's Day" from the previous album for the title of Powerwolf's best song.  Each song has a huge, fist pumping, singalong chorus and it's hard not to get swept up into the grandeur that the band commands.  Yes, it's hard to deny the goofiness, but it's taken so seriously that I just can't help but buy in to it.  The theatrics take center stage and the music provides a fine conductor for the spectacle.

Have you ever seen Rocky IV?  It's the most ridiculous, overblown, corny, goofy movie I've seen in pretty much all of my years of existence, but goddamn isn't it awesome?!  This is exactly how I feel about Powerwolf, they play a pompous and over the top style of heavy metal that's really more about flair than substance, but it's just plain awesome.  This is fun, and sometimes that's really all I need to be satisfied.  Yeah, Ulcerate is pretty great and Immolation rocks my socks and all, but neither of those bands are particularly fun to listen to.  I can pop this album in at any moment barring a funeral, and it will surely be a hit with me.  It's good, mindless, fist pumping fun and I can't think of any other way I'd rather have it.  Sure the album is flawed in the sense that long term fans won't find much new and it really loses steam at the end barring the middle section of "Ira Sancti", but everything is really well written and does its job perfectly.  The best tracks are probably "Sanctified with Dynamite", "We Drink Your Blood", and "Phantom of the Funeral", but I don't say you could really go wrong with anything other than maybe "Die, Die, Crucifed".

Bonus trivia: The way Attila pronounces "Kyrie eleison" sounds like "Period song", therefore making "We Drink Your Blood" way funnier.

RATING - 89%

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Executioner - Fear the Blade

Kentucky Fried Killin'

As a short, three track, 15 minute demo, there's only so much I can say about Fear the Blade before I begin repeating myself endlessly, so this'll be a short one.  Basically what this boils down to is "ultra green thrash".  The two original tracks here are full of energy and the band clearly has boundless enthusiasm for the style of music they play, but the issue here is that is just sounds really amateurish.  I'm not going to knock this for the lo-fi production or weak guitar tone, because I understand that this is the best the band could do on their presumed budget, but the songs themselves just reek of a bunch of new metalheads with only a year or so of experience on their instruments.  The first band I ever formed never even had a name, it was just me and two buddies, I was thirteen and they were both fifteen.  We wrote one song front to back and apart from one train wreck of a cover gig at a Halloween party, never played any gigs.  The songs we were writing at that time sounded a lot like what Executioner here has given us with this demo.  We weren't very good songwriters at all, but we really wanted to be a part of the metal scene, we wanted to make a name for ourselves while paying tribute to our heroes.  As such, many of the riffs I wrote were highly reminiscent of Kill 'em All or Seasons in the Abyss.  I couldn't write a bass line more interesting than just following the guitar, the guitarist didn't understand key signatures and thus couldn't write a good melody if he tried, the drummer couldn't play double bass cleanly for very long so he stuck with simple back beats like Lars Ulrich would.  We were kids, amateurs, young fans of metal who wanted to make our own despite lacking the skills to make anything with lasting impact.

Executioner here aren't quite kids, but their songwriting skills definitely need to take one hell of a spike before they contribute anything with lasting appeal.  One thing I must compliment right off the bat are the vocals, as Nathaniel Vowell sports a manic, crazed voice that just fits the style of thrash metal perfectly.  He's a manic frontman, with a crazed, harsh rasp that gives one the image of him on stage, purple faced, shouting his lungs out while blood squirts out of his eyes.  It's just unfortunate that such an unrestrained vocal performance is backed by relatively tame instrumentals.  I do like the songs presented here, as there's an inimitable charm in their simplicity, but with both of them boasting above average lengths (both are six minutes or above) they do tend to get a bit dull.  "Tomb of the Pharaoh" is the better of the two, riding off a cool middle-eastern motif with an interesting extended solo section, but for the most part it's pretty sloppy in the chorus and repeats itself a bit too much.  "Last Stand" is decent as well, but the riffs lack the aggression necessary for this style.  Both tracks predominately feature the really early style of thrash riffing ala Kill 'em All or Show No Mercy when they were still a blend of NWOBHM and punk, before the thrash riff was it's own defined thing, and that's something I actually appreciate.  I find it more interesting to try and go back to the roots of what made the genre a thing in the first place as opposed to taking influence solely from established acts from the mid 80s.  That said, the third track featured here is a cover from one of the albums I just mentioned, the early Slayer classic, "Black Magic".  The cover is honestly probably the best part of the album, as Nathaniel does a pretty killer Tom Araya voice and apart from what sound like a couple missed cues from the drummer, it's certainly a double whammy of both the most well written song plus the best performance.  The old film adage of "Never reference a better movie in the middle of your movie" doesn't quite apply here, as while it does highlight the songwriting shortcomings of the two original tracks, it also shows what the band is capable of when their writing matures a bit.  When the riffs get more interesting in the future, this band will do some great things.

RATING - 54%

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Judas Priest - Painkiller

The best can suck it, THIS is what I'd rather hear

Oh lord, another glowing review for Judas Priest's foray into the heavier side of metal.  Let's face it, the praise isn't thrown this way on accident, this is a beast of an album.  There is one thing I'd like to address before I even really get down the grit of the review here, and that is that Painkiller is NOT Priest's best album.  Not at all, I'd never claim otherwise.  Sad Wings of Destiny, Sin After Sin, and Stained Class are all better albums from a musical standpoint.  The holy trinity of S albums in the '70s carry a monstrous wealth of musical depth and complexity that Painkiller can only dream of reaching.  The dynamics and vocal acrobatics are completely otherworldly and quite ahead of their time.  I mean really, how many straight up heavy metal bands, that can still be classified as such by today's standards, were there in the mid '70s?  Priest wasn't only in a league of their own, but their seminal works of the time still  hold up today as absolute milestones of songwriting.  Painkiller can't claim any of those technical landmarks as its own, not at all.  It's nothing but big stupid speed metal riffs and mindless double bass.  But honestly, given the choice, I'll pick Painkiller every single time, without even hesitating.

Perhaps this makes me a dullard, but god damn I'd rather hang out with the cavemen than the physics professors if this is how they party.  This album is a perfect example for dissecting the difference between an album being "the best" and "my favorite".  Some examples, like Megadeth's Rust in Peace, are both my favorite and what I would also consider the band's best work.  But Priest is different, they completely fucking nailed it early on and only got dumber as time went on.  This, to me, seems to be their zenith.  This is the perfect combination of retarded silliness, the leather and rock n' roll attitude of their '80s era, and the modernization of their music with heavier, faster songs and a much more aggressive approach.  I mean look at the album cover.  That ridiculous image right there sums up this whole album perfectly.  It looks like Silver Surfer finally got his wings and then celebrated by stealing Wheel Gator from Sigma's Fortress.  If that one-two punch of nerd references was lost on you, I'm sure you can still just look at the damn thing and see how over the top and silly looking it is.  It's the perfect visual representation of what you'll find underneath.

The album begins with the title track, which probably still, after all these years, ranks as my #1 most favorite metal song of all time, across all subgenres.  There's nothing wrong with it, this is Judas Priest working out some immeasurable amount of pent up anger and aggression, and the addition of drummer Scott Travis shows its merits right away as the album begins with a moderately short drum solo.  It's fast, it's pounding, it's double bass out the wazoo, and it shows what Priest is now capable of with this young fellow behind the  kit instead of the droning, mustachioed kiddie fiddler of Dave Holland.  Once the song itself picks up, Rob Halford also shows off his pipes in a way he hasn't done since the glory days of those magical three S albums I mentioned earlier.  Some of the passages he belts out are amongst the most heartfelt and agonized of his career, you can really tell he's giving it his all on this record.  At not one single moment on the entire album does he sound content or laid back, he is always a snarling, raging beast behind the mic and is determined to scare off all of the infidels in the area.  The title track also contains some of the best soloing that heavy metal has ever witnessed, the legendary Tipton and Downing team are also completely on top of their game here.  They shred like they never have before, pushing themselves to the limit and beyond, which is quite remarkable considering Tipton was well into his 40s at this time. 

With all of the band members pushing themselves so hard and possibly even trying to outdo each other, the whole album carries an inescapable frantic pace.  Even the half ballady track, "A Touch of Evil", carries a sense of urgency unlike anything the band had ever done.  In a way, this is kind of like the Judas Priest counterpart to Anthrax's Persistence of Time, which came out around the same time.  Both albums are the band's darkest and heaviest works to date and were a result of outside factors and tension within the band.  On tour for this album, as we all know, Rob Halford managed to wreck his motorcycle onstage, which somehow acted as a catalyst for him to essentially give the band the finger and walk away, thus ushering in the oft maligned Ripper era of the band.

And again, that tension and aggression shows itself throughout the duration of Painkiller.  "All Guns Blazing" is one of the more violent tracks in their repertoire lyrically, and the title track, "Leather Rebel", and "Metal Meltdown" are all completely balls out speedfests.  "Between the Hammer and the Anvil" and "Night Crawler" are both sheer heavy metal anthems with catchy choruses and huge, hard hitting riffs.  This is abundant in the one element that I always felt the '70s era lacked, fun.  This is one of the most fun albums in heavy metal history, and while this is overblown and idiotic, I never feel like going out on a Friday night and cranking Sad Wings.  This is over the top, headbanging fun and there's no other way I'd rather have it.  This straightforward speed metal is something that Priest apparently completely rocks at, and even though they never really expanded upon the sound found here, it's still an everlasting testament to what makes Painkiller so damn awesome.  It was a glorious one-off in an already glorious career.  The internal strife and pent up frustration with the band members resulted in some of the most high octane music heavy metal as a whole has ever put out, nothing gets the blood pumping quite like throwing on "Metal Meltdown".  It retains their '80s signature of being incredibly infectious while providing the goofy AOR anthems with a much needed shot in the arm. 

And that's what makes this close to being the perfect album in my eyes.  It's a magnificent mixture of everything that made the band so noteworthy up to this point while also keeping it fresh and interesting.  The aggressive style really works with Priest's songwriting skill and Painkiller is absolute proof of it.  I'll be the first to admit, despite my vigorous masturbation, that this is a flawed masterpiece.  The album loses steam at the end, with "One Shot at Glory" not being quite as big, over the top, or anthemic as it wants to be and preceding the kind of disappointing ending with the ballady track really seems to give it a weak back end, but in the context of the entire album it's just a quirk that I don't think brings the album down all that much, if at all.  You'd still bone Marilyn Monroe, regardless of whether or not she's got that mark on her face, and I'd still bone this album, even if it does have that mark on its butt.  I still recommend this to every newcomer who seems interested in metal, to every jaded veteran who for some stupid reason hasn't heard this, to anybody with a pulse who seems to realize music exists, really.  I write love notes to this album weekly, and this time I decided to publish it.

Call me!

RATING - 100%

Monday, September 26, 2011

BITE SIZED: Absu - Abzu

Alright, this album doesn't come out for a few more days and I only just finished through my first listen, but I just have to blurt out right now that this is almost assuredly in my Top 5 for the year.  While Absu (the album) was very good, as is Proscriptor's standard minimum, it was more melodic and less frenzied than the thundering megalith that was Tara.  I'd still certainly recommend it, but it never stuck with me as much as some of their other work.  Now here, the strangely titled Abzu, manages to completely blow Absu out of the water, possibly putting itself in contention for the best Absu album.  I'm not entirely sure I'd rank this over Tara just yet, but it gets rather close in terms of attitude and quality.  The execution is far more intense and unrelenting than the previous album, hearkening back to the band's glory day, which is obviously a marvelous thing.  I'd say the most memorable sections appear in "Earth Ripper" and "Ontologically, It Became Time and Space", but nearly the entire album is insane blackythrashy bludgeoning along the same ideas.  Unlike the last album, this one doesn't start to wear itself out, as the running time is only around 35 minutes, and only features six tracks.  My only real complaint would be the final track, the nearly 15 minute long, multi part monstrosity that is "A Song for Ea".  The issue with it is that it really doesn't have to be as long as it is, as the different sections of the song really sound like potential standalone tracks.  The transitions between movements is really clunky and honestly feels like a new track is starting each time anyway, which makes the bloated runtime a bit annoying.  Apart from that stylistic quibble, this is incredible.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Running Wild - Masquerade

Master ride!  Hiding in Bangkok!

For OG fans of mine and long time review readers at the good ol' Encyclopaedia Metallum, y'all may remember that I used to have about six or seven reviews for Running Wild up there, and then them all mysteriously disappearing around the time Rolf decided to hang up his robe. What had happened was that I decided to review each and every album in a tribute to my favorite band, and in reading my own reviews, I decided they all sucked and just deleted them instead. Well two years later here, I'm finally getting around to making good on my promise. And instead of some long winded series like I had planned, spanning their career chronologically, I once again decided against my initial wishes and instead figured it'd be best to just do them in whichever order comes to me.

Now that my self referential, expository masturbation is out of the way, we're gonna start our journey with one of the more controversial albums in Running Wild's catalogue, 1995's, Masquerade. If any average listener were to explore the vast, wonderful backlog of the German speed metallers' exploits, they might be hard pressed to explain why this album is such a big deal to so may fans of the band. Well for some reason, a few folks (idiots) seem to feel like this is the album where they fell off the wagon and began to stagnate. There aren't enough words in the English language to accurately express how much I disagree with that sentiment. One reason I've been given is that this album marked the precise point they ran out of ideas and just started ripping themselves off senselessly. The truth of the matter behind that is that this is simply a continuation of the style they were playing on Black Hand Inn, which was a continuation of Pile of Skulls, which was a continuation of Blazon Stone, et cetera and so forth. Running Wild had this amazing ability to write albums that didn't sound too different from one album to the next, but worlds apart if you look back a mere three or four albums. They were always changing, ever evolving, and this is one of the traits that made them such a special band. Why this particular album catches shit for doing what literally each and every album before it had done, I'll never understand.

Master ride! Evil is dumb!

So to counteract my claim of logical continuation, this is also the album where Rolf starts reaching back and combining past efforts with his new ambitions. For example, tracks like "Soleil Royal", "Black Soul", and "Wheel of Doom" could have easily fit on Black Hand Inn with their similar riffing ideas and slight power metal tint at times, whereas "Men in Black", "Demonized", and "Rebel at Heart" carry a more hard rocking and traditional heavy metal bent than the others, sounding akin so something that wouldn't be out of place on Blazon Stone, and still we have tracks like "Underworld", "Lions of the Sea", and "Masquerade" that are straight up speed metal through and through and really would have sounded right at home on Pile of Skulls. So yes, I can concede that Masquerade explores less new territory than previous efforts, but I counter that it's a beautiful amalgam of what made the last three albums, (and really, their entire 90s era) so great, while still pushing forwards into new territories.

Really, every trademark of Rolf and crew are still just as mighty as ever, no matter what people may try to tell you. They lyrical concept is a bit different than what fans may suspect, as this album kicks off a trilogy of "concept" albums, so there's less piracy and history here in favor of some obscenely loose concept of rich people being evil and controlled by Satan or something. Really, nobody knows what the hell the idea is, but there's supposed to be one here, and if my little between-paragraph gimmick hasn't been clue enough, Rolf's hilarious accent doesn't make things a whole lot easier. I've listened to each and every Running Wild album more times than I care to recount, and there are still several, several verses and passages I don't know the lyrics to simply because his voice, despite a great gruff delivery with a powerful sense of melody, carries such a mangled understanding of how to pronounce damn near anything in English that it's fairly close to impossible to decipher what the hell he's saying most of the time. This is just one of those bits of character that really makes the band so legendary, if you ask me. Nobody can imitate Rolf's voice nor his unique enunciation, it belongs to THIS band and no other.

Master ride! Trees in the night!

And speaking of which, this is indeed a band, and not just Rolf + cronies. I've alluded to the contrary in the past, but the supporting cast always does bring their own little bit of flavor to each new record. The long, melodious bass passages vanished with Jens Becker, and the drumming has gotten considerably more intense since the mighty Jorg Michael took his place behind the kit. This is the first album where the lineup did not change in anyway from the previous album, so perhaps that's another reason certain fools seem to feel the band started stagnating around this time. Just because there was no new member to inject his personality into doesn't necessarily mean that they all just got content with where they were and decided to churn out an album just like the previous because that's what they're used to. Black Hand Inn was and remains the closest to power metal Running Wild ever got, in my eyes. On Masquerade, there's a much stronger traditional heavy metal presence. There's much less double bass insanity, and much more fist pumping, anthemic choruses with huge, punchy riffs. The trademark tremolo melodies are here in spades and every bit as upbeat and catchy as they have been ever since Port Royal shoved them to the forefront. On the whole, the entire atmosphere of this album is much darker than pretty much anything they'd done apart from their debut up to this point, with a much more aggressive pace than before. Many of these songs focus on the idea of evil and its many forms, and while this isn't dripping with the malice and occult of their first two records, it contains some of the most overtly vicious venom they've ever come to spit.

I will admit that the album slows down a bit too much when the band takes their foot off the gas on tracks like "Demonized" and "Rebel at Heart", which are still good songs, but don't much fit with the high energy tempo of the rest of the album. I've always found this to be Running Wild's Achilles heel, to be honest. The tracks that are less speed metal and more traditional/hard rock never seem to be as captivating, regardless of how awesome Rolf makes the chorus (like "Rebel at Heart"). It's really only a small bump in the grand scheme of things, fortunately. I can't help but feel like the popular opinion of this being the band's turning point is completely and utterly wrong. Every element that made the band special is still abundantly clear and the biggest difference between Masquerade and the fan favorite of Black Hand Inn is that the former is more direct and less epic. Whatever story is being told here takes a back seat to a collection of hard hitting and exceptionally catchy heavy/speed metal, and that's exactly what Running Wild is best at. I wouldn't change a thing.

Master ride! Punish the Hebrew rite!

RATING - 91%

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Diamond Plate - Generation Why?


I've made some extremely bold claims in the past in regards to this band.  I've said that Diamond Plate deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Warbringer, Toxic Holocaust, Municipal Waste, and other big name thrash acts of the 21st century.  I've compared them to legends like Megadeth, Exodus, and Overkill.  I've declared their live show not only the best for a band as young as them, but among the best thrash performances imaginable. And possibly boldest of all, I declared them the unequivocal, indisputably best thrash band of the decade.  All this before they were even signed or had a full length album out.  Well since my last published review for the Relativity EP, Earache Records realized the potential the young trio possessed and snatched them up, finally giving my hometown prodigies the recognition and opportunity they so deserved.  And with this, their first full length album, Generation Why?, we can finally see what the band has matured into.

And frankly.... I'm not all that sure I like it that much.

I'm gonna review this in a slightly different way than usual, as I'm gonna give a whole journey, as opposed to simply my view on the album at hand.  I feel like there was more at stake for me here, this isn't as big of a disappointment as say, Nostradamus. And while that album features the dying whimpers of not only one of my personal favorite bands and also absolute legends of heavy metal, I wasn't there when Judas Priest started.  I didn't see Priest open for some legendary band and blow them away in the process, I didn't push an online praise campaign for them and yell louder than a jet engine about how badly they need to be signed and exposed.  I didn't see them in the early stages and witness their songwriting grow and evolve.  That's why this album is such a soul crusher for me, since I was around since relatively near the beginning, watching Diamond Plate open for Destruction and give the stalwart thrash legends a run for their money.  I was there when they debuted "Relativity", I immediately bought the EP when it was first made available and the only reason I don't own their first demo is because a buddy of mine bought the last copy.  I ranked them as the absolute, 100%, all around best thrash band making music in the 00s.  This was my pony, I was gonna ride this wagon all the way to superstardom and beam because I was there when they were still relative nobodies.  Earache signs them, they get a full length out, I honestly, seriously, feel extremely proud of these guys.  They've come a long way, and I feel good knowing that I helped them get where they are.

But with all of that said, I'm severely disappointed with the end result of this arduous process.  I'd like to consider myself "the average fan" when it comes to metal.  I'm not in a band, I'm barely a musician, I write about it as a hobby, I'm no better than Joe Schmoe McThrashypants in the grand scheme of things.  As the average fan, the thing I loved the most about Diamond Plate was their youthful energy and unbridled fury that manifested itself through layers of professionalism and finesse.  They were truly a unique beast.  I loved the aggression, the speed, the energy, the anger and disillusionment with the state of the world.  Everything shone through in their music, and it was the perfect representation of a youth brought up by the same shit with which I was brought up.  The age of the internet, unpopular, senseless wars, rampant corruption, just shit that doesn't matter and has taken away the human element of social interaction.  All the big Cold War and Reaganomics themes of the 80s thrash is still in effect in just a different form nowadays, and Diamond Plate realized that and made music to match.  They were confused and angry, and they only knew one way to express the pent up frustration.

But where is that now?  Where is that energy?  The rage, frustration, and anger?  It's all gone, it's now a shell of what it once was.  The fire of youth, the burning passion for this music has been put out seems, the youthful energy I loved so much has been replaced with a cold, unfeeling calculation.  Generation Why? feels manufactured in almost every way, instead of entering the studio with a dream of an album and a strong heart, the band approached the writing/recording process with a lab coat and tweezers.  I don't feel the soul in here anymore.  I think part of the blame falls on Neil Kernon's production.  When it was announced that he'd be producing, I was stoked for the band.  That opportunity they deserved so much was being given to them just like I'd hoped.  They got signed to a major label and were given a chance to work with one of the biggest names in the game right from the get go.  The one thing I seemed to forget was that Kernon is a lot like Andy Sneap in the sense that he specializes in a very sterile brand of production that many decry as one of the main offenders of the "loudness war".  And really, I finally understand how the old fogey thrashers feel when they bitch about how lifeless and sterile the production is for these new bands.  Diamond Plate always had pretty clean production, but here it is completely crystal clear and squeaky clean, there's no real aggression anymore.  It's all been replaced with anger from a bottle clearly labeled "rage" and just the exact right amount according to the measurements taken before recording was poured into the big DP vat.  The production adds to the whole package that makes this, in the end, sound like Trivium.

Really, think about it.  Approach this album with the mindset that this is the new Trivium album and you could easily fool yourself.  There are these strange metalcore tendencies thrown in all over the place that were never present on earlier recordings.  There are tons of chugging parts that would usually be considered "thrash breaks" or "mosh parts" in the context of a thrash song, but in conjunction with the vocal style and overall simplifying of what the band had been previously doing, it's approached more like a traditional metalcore breakdown.  The vocal style is something that had been a point of contention for a lot of people, and a quibble so severe that many people had cited them as the sole feature keeping them away from the band.  Jon has always had a really hoarse shout, and most (myself included) attributed it to his young age and figured he would grow into a more healthy bark as time went on.  Hell, we've all heard the barely pubescent James Hetfield shouting his adorable little peach fuzzed lungs out on early Metallica records and it was just part of their character.  But here it's only deteriorated, his voice has never improved.  I have a friend who refers to the vocals as "whisper shouts" and I can kind of understand what he's saying when he says that.  They're very hoarse and lacking in power, and unfortunately, remind me of Matt Heafy, once again reaffirming my Trivium comparison.

I also mentioned the oversimplifying of the songs earlier, and this is a HUGE problem to me.  Fans of the Relativity EP will certainly notice a few things upon first listen.  One is that the track "Relativity" is shorter, and the other is that "At the Mountains of Madness", the band's trademark song, is longer.  Both of these are for the wrong reasons.  "Relativity" is shorter because they cut out the thrash break (a legit, awesome, stomping, Anthrax-ish thrash break) and cut right to the fast section after the second chorus.  Seriously?  Yeah it was just a variation of the main riff but it was an awesome variation.  It added a bit of diversity to an already lengthy track that could easily use it.  It was one of those small things that I realized Diamond Plate was exceptionally good at, and that was writing one riff and finding several unique ways to play it, keeping it interesting.  A prime example would be "Criminal Justice", which spends roughly the first minute playing the same idea but with different back beats and rhythmic choices in between the defining chords.  If you'd like to actually hear what I'm talking about, you'll have to find a way to buy Relativity because for some reason, "Criminal Justice", despite being a fan favorite and their most masterful blend of intensity with melody, is not included on this fucking album.  I asked Konrad about this and he shrugged and said "It's something we'll bust out live occasionally for the old fans who have the EP, but for the most part 'out with the old and in with the new'".  Oh, and remember that awesome double bass passage after the first chorus in "Relativity" that I raved about in my review for that EP?  That's gone too, replaced with an alternating triplet and gallop pattern, totally sapping the energy out of that particular section.  "At the Mountains of Madness" has been raped as well.  Using simple problem solving skills, one could assume that because "Relativity" is shorter due to a section being cut out, then this song should be longer due to them adding something, correct?  Wrong again, jackass.  "At the Mountains of Madness" has just been slowed down to the point of once again sapping all of the energy out of it.  Where's that Lovecraftian insanity?  Fucking gone down the commercial drain in order to satiate some idiot exec or something, hell if I know.  It's only some thirty seconds longer, but you'd be amazed how much difference it makes when the entire song is a whole 15% slower.  That energy I loved so much... replaced with this completely calculated and soulless rendition of a track that once carried the fire of Olympian gods.  It's saddening to the point of being nearly repulsive.  What the fuck happened, Diamond Plate?  Did the major label force you to do this?  Surely this couldn't be the direction you were hoping for?

Apart from the butchering of old favorites, there are indeed a couple new tracks.  They've been playing "Waste of Life" since before "Relativity" was even written, so OG fans should recognize that one at the very least.  It ends up as filler on this album though, as even after listening to this countless times I still manage to forget it's even featured on here.  "Pull the Trigger" and "Tomb with a View" were both played live once or twice before this was recorded, so it's another one old school fans should at least halfway recognize, it's just unfortunate that they fit in with their new idea of manufactured aggression.  They both just kind of plod along with only a few standout sections between them.  So this leaves the only fully new tracks to be "Generation Why?", "Fool's Paradise", "More than Words", and "Empire Tomorrow".  "More than Words" is a simple instrumental interlude with some nice soloing and a very Nevermore-ish riff for a backbone, not much to sneeze at but I guess it serves its purpose.  The title track also gives me a huge Nevermore vibe, particularly with that opening riff.  Yes, it's thrashy, but it's also very "modern" in the derogatory sense.  There's no passion here, it's like this riff was designed to sound cool, so we will input the proper reflexes into our synapses and play that riff exactly as calculated or whatever.  I just can't get over how soulless and unfeeling this is in comparison to the fire of their previous recordings.  These kids are younger than I, and I'm barely old enough to drink in the US.  They're young, dumb, and full of cum, as they say.  Where is the youthful swagger that so perfectly intertwines with the aggression and unbridled intensity of thrash?  I can surely tell you where it isn't, and that's on "Fool's Paradise".  That sounds like a warm up song, this can't be the finished product, not if there's any real passion left in these guys.  They seriously chose a plodding, boring, half assed track like that over "Criminal Justice"?  I don't fucking understand the thought process that went behind this album, I really don't.  I guess "Empire Tomorrow" is part of this horrible disappointment as well, but it really doesn't stand out at all apart from the bass solo which is still pretty hard to care about at this point and the fact that the closing melody reminds me exactly of "The Heart Collector" from, once again you guessed it, Nevermore.

Actually, I know the mindset behind recording this.  It was heaviness, that had to have been the band's endgame here.  They've adopted the (frankly silly) slogan of "Why so heavy?", and promoted every bit of news about this album using the words "heavy" or "tight".  They wanted to make one of the heaviest thrash albums imaginable, and I can appreciate a goal like that.  The problem is that they lack the passion to undertake such a monumental task nowadays.  I really, really want to blame Earache for this, as all of my complaints manifested themselves either directly leading up to their signing and afterwards.  You want to make something more brutal than Slaughter in the Vatican or Tapping the Vein?  I applaud you for wanting to, but with what you're giving me, I can tell you that it will never happen.  The production is too weak and crisp, the songs lack energy and passion, the chugging parts all come off as plodding instead of crushing, just... everything is wrong.... This was supposed to be their magnum opus, their breakthrough into the consciousness of thousands more metalheads, and what they've delivered is a stale, sterile, manufactured disappointment.  This isn't a case of "Yeah well they're popular now so they suck", not in the slightest.  People always like to brag about their pet bands that woulda coulda shoulda been huge, and here's an instance where it's actually happening.  With a major label backing and their still phenomenal live show, Diamond Plate is still poised to make a worthy name for themselves, and I'm still happy for them.  But as a fan, I just can't get over how massively uncool Generation Why? is.

It's hard for me to really put into words why this is such a bitter letdown for me, I realize I keep using the same seven words to describe everything but I'm really at a loss for anything more complex that what I've been saying.  Listen for yourself.  I still obviously support the band and encourage everybody to do the same, because I can attest that these songs are all great when played live, but on record they completely fail to grab me in any way.  It's modern thrash by numbers with a slightly metalcore spirit in parts and bad vocals.  Even though I've done virtually nothing but tear this apart, I still suggest at least giving it a try.

Also, Konrad, you promised me the third track was going to be called "Napalm Satan".  You lied to me.

RATING - 47%

UPDATE: I have to point out a mistake of mine here, as I never realized until now that the final track, "Empire Tomorrow" is actually an older song as well, originally titled "The Omega Revelation".  I attribute me not realizing to the fact that I only saw them perform it live once or twice, and even at the time I thought it was underwhelming for what they usually write.  So my opinion hasn't changed, I just want to get my history right.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Nevermore - Nevermore

Confessions of a Former Fanboy - Vol. I: Secret of the Ooze

Well folks, it’s been years, but it’s high time for another review series of mine. This time, across the next seven reviews, we’ll be learning about, dissecting, and overall critiquing the music of one of the bigger names in metal and the owner of one of the most rabid and headstrong fanbases on the planet. If you’re reading this at all, you already know that the band in question is the mightily dubious modern-progressive-groove-whirlygig metal band from the land of Starbucks and grunge, Nevermore. 

Before I get to the meat, I want to preface this with a quick explanation of the series title and my motivation behind this. When I was 12 years old, I heard my first Nevermore song (“I, Voyager” from Enemies of Reality, if you were curious), and was blown away. This was the perfect time for me to discover the band, as my nu metal phase had passed and I had gotten back into real metal, but I still couldn’t quite wrap my head around extreme metal and frankly couldn’t stand listening to anything too abrasive.  This was easy on the ears that couldn’t handle the cacophony of death or black metal, but was still heavy and undeniably metal while retaining melody and accessibility.  The main draw for me was actually Loomis’ solos. I was a young bassist but guitar theatrics always interested and impressed me, and it’s hard to deny the man’s skills. Everything fell into place at the perfect time, there was no other band I could have discovered at that time that could have interested me as much as Nevermore did.  From ages 12 through 16, Nevermore was always within the top 3 of my favorite bands, and many times claimed the top spot.  I won’t claim that my taste “improved” over time, but it certainly changed.  I really got into Mercyful Fate and other classics, Gamma Ray to help introduce me to power metal, Children of Bodom as a gateway to basically anything heavier than Death Angel, and others. My musical taste branched in so many directions that Nevermore ended up neglected and malnourished.  Now, several years later, I’ve gone back and revisited the band’s catalog.  The years and intrepid exploration of music coupled with my analytical experience as a once popular critic have forced me to see the band differently. Perhaps it’s all perspective, maybe the kids can see something that the jaded veterans can’t, but I’ve made the transition from one of those raving fanboys to one of those hard-to-impress cynics who made a name for himself by comparing Wolf to lasagna.  Since I’ve undergone this change, I feel I’m qualified to really detail the inner workings of the band as I have several years’ experience within the ranks of the surreally loyal fanboys.

Now, I won’t spend too much time delving into the history, since nobody reads the reviews to learn where the members grew up.  Therefore, I’ll just come right out and say this, Nevermore’s self titled debut is worlds different from what they have become known for.  Is this difference a positive or negative thing?  I suppose if you were introduced to the band through Dead Heart onwards, it’s a bad thing.  Apart from Loomis’s fiery leadwork, there is a much more simplistic approach to songwriting on this record.  The issue is that a lot of times the songwriting… well just plain blows.  Take the opener, “What Tomorrow Knows”.  The first track on your debut album, to me, should really define what your band is about and not only set the tone for the album, but the band itself. If Nevermore agrees with me, they give the impression that their band is all about driving one boring, not catchy, uninteresting riff into the ground for about six minutes longer than necessary.  Even when I considered myself a shameless promoter of the band, I never really “got” this song.  It just kind of happens, there are some guitars and vocals and some other noises but none of it means anything. 

This brings me to a point of contention amongst haters and a controversial topic in general whenever the band is discussed, Warrel Dane.  Fanboys are IN LOVE with Dane’s lyrics and seriously, this man is probably the most overrated lyricist on the planet.  He drifts in and out between laughably pretentious and bat shit crazy.  His metaphors are either painfully obvious and delivered with a subtlety akin to Scrubs or make absolutely no fucking sense.  Check the chorus for “Godmoney” for an example.

Send your money to Jesus Christ
Mail order your eternal life
Bend your mind, make you turn around
Don't believe it when they tell you
That even god needs money
God needs money from you

There really wasn’t a more eloquent way to put that?  For a band that seems to pride itself on intricacy and a fanbase that endlessly slobbers over the virtuosic ability of each and every member, that is painfully stupid.  I whole heartedly believe that Dane writes shitty poetry and then tries to tack it on to whatever song the real musicians are writing.  There are tons of times in where the vocals completely distract the listener with just how poorly they fit with the music underneath, but there are better examples later down the road, so I’ll save the remainder of this point for later.

All this blabbering about Dane has yet to even touch on his main contribution to the band, his actual voice.  As a fanboy, I loved it.  It was unique, it fit with the music, there was nobody like him, he dared to actually sing as opposed to scream at a time when all these different kinds of abrasive styles were taking the market by storm.  Now that I’ve grown up and listened to thousands more bands, I really have a hard time stomaching his incessant warbling.  I’ve heard claims that he was classically trained as an opera singer, but if that’s the case I understand completely why he ended up in a complicated groove band from the asshole of Seattle.  There are plenty of instances where an over the top vocalist has worked marvelously, Messiah Marcolin sounds (and looks) like he was kicked off of the Broadway rendition of The Rocky Horror Picture Show on Ice for being too ridiculous, but find me a guy who thinks his work with Candlemass sucks and I’ll show you a guy who is in dire need of an ass kicking.  Mr. Dane here, on the other hand, is fucking annoying.  He always sounds like he’s projecting too hard, straining his voice, swapping between high and low registers at totally inappropriate times, and warbling out of key.  His work with Sanctuary shows that the man carries an absolutely killer falsetto, but it’s used so sparingly with Nevermore that he may as well have just said “Fuck it, I have one legitimate talent and I think it’d be awesome to squander it, just because I’m a douchebag”.  His performance on this debut is completely representative of everything to come.  The straying out of key, the bizarre and nonsensical fluctuations between stylings, and the straining/whining over either ridiculous and/or retarded lyrics, it’s all here.

Of the core group (Dane’s vocals, Loomis’s guitar, Sheppard’s bass, and William’s drumming), the former two get the most attention.  Dane for his inability to not raise my blood pressure, and Loomis for his fucking mindblowing guitar skills.  Seriously, he may look like the little girl from The Exorcist, but he is probably the most gifted guitarist in modern heavy metal.  His riffwork tends to fall flat about half the time, but give this guy a soloing section and tell him to have at it, and he’ll melt the faces off the Easter Island Heads.  He has a couple really noticeable sections here, particularly in “The Sanity Assassin” and “C.B.F.”.  I fully believe that this band is holding him back.  His solo project proved what he could do with a progressive metal premise and total control, and I really want to hear more of that.  Hearing him reduced to slightly complicated chugging patterns for the majority of a record is like Michael Romero playing in Machine Head, it’s fucking heartbreaking.

Fanboys call this album “diverse”, but I call it “disjointed”.  This is such a totally different style compared to what half the band did with Sanctuary beforehand.  Two words I’ve used a lot so far are “progressive” and “chugging”.  This surely brings one particularly popular Swedish band to mind, but let me assure you this sounds absolutely nothing like Meshuggah.  There is one thing that Nevermore is obsessed with that Meshuggah seems to be afraid to touch, and that is melody.  Many songs here kind of break down on themselves in order to cram a slower, half assed melodic section that barely fits with the rest of the song.  “Sea of Possibilities” is a great example.  The opening measures give the impression that it’s going to be a fast paced, thrash influenced piece reminiscent of the Sanctuary days, but by the time the chorus rolls around, it barely sounds like the same song anymore.  It turns into this slow, horrid attempt at being haunting and just ends up sounding stupid and ill fitting.  That songs stands as the closest they get to touching the brilliance of Refuge Denied, there’s a section near the end of “Timothy Leary” that carries a sweet USPM riff that could have been featured on the aforementioned album, but on the whole that song is a terrible exercise in meandering plod riffs, much like “What Tomorrow Knows”.  “The Sanity Assassin” and “The Hurting Words” stand as the two ballads, and while the former retains a slow pace, it manages to switch between a haunting acoustic verse and a legitimately crushing heavy section in the bridge that helps keep it interesting.  The latter on the other hand is an overlong, whiny, boring sack of clean guitars and awful lyrics.

Overall, it’s hard to rank their first outing as Nevermore amongst their later works.  This self titled album is really a wholly different beast in comparison to the progressivism and overindulgence their later records would come to exemplify.  On the whole though, it isn’t their worst, but it's close.  There are some truly terrible tracks here (“What Tomorrow Knows, “The Hurting Words”), but when they manage to hearken back to the Sanctuary days (“Sea of Possibilities”) or just focus on a nice groove (“Garden of Gray”), they aren’t all that bad.  Unfortunately, “aren’t all that bad” really isn’t “fantastically great”, and they spend most of the album sucking hardcore.  If somebody was looking to get into metal, progressive or otherwise, I’d never recommend this album. 

RATING - 44%

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Rings of Saturn - Embryonic Anomaly

Can we agree to just forget about this, please?

I'm tempted to just copy and paste my Brain Drill review for a third time here (a trick that surprisingly not one single person called me on, shame on you all), but I'd rather not overdo one of my gimmicks like I'm so prone to doing.  But really, every problem I have with the merry band of Californian sodomites is amplified here to a level I thought unimaginable.  The technicality isn't even impressive at this point, it's so in your face and unabashed that there's nothing to marvel at anymore.  When every percussive instance is part of a blast beat and every guitar note is part of a breakdown or sweeping section, there's just nothing to impress anymore.  It's akin to an exploitation film beginning with an incestuous rape scene that climaxes with Bigfoot barging into the room and jerking off on a corpse before shitting on the victim and eating them both, but then the movie ends with the main character just being stabbed.  Sorry, a sword to the sternum isn't all that shocking when compared to the sheer insanity of the hypothetical opening scene, and that's what Embryonic Anomaly really is.  The first few seconds off the album feature intense sweeping and other assorted fretboard noodlings before degenerating into a cliche breakdown.  This formula repeats itself over and over and over and over again throughout the album and the only different element that gets introduced later is some lame keyboard effect that bangs out a chord or two occasionally.

The problem I touched on when reviewing Origin is present here to a degree, and that's that there is so much going on that it's hard to take it all in and really digest it.  The main problem is that Rings of Saturn throws exclusively piles of shit at you, so it's hard to even WANT to take it all in.  There are two things you're gonna get, excessive weedly weedly noises and ultra distorted chugdowns, and the band isn't very good at writing either.  The noodly parts aren't even Weedling as much as they are Beedrilling themselves into your brain and absolutely refusing to back off.  I bet the waveform looks like a brick wall.  There's no variety despite there being a bazillion different notes being played each track, there's no way to differentiate which song is which since each sweepy doodle, each breakdown, and even each occasionally real riff sounds exactly like each one that came before it.  I'm having trouble even describing this shit in detail because there aren't any details to analyze.  Everything is to be taken at face value, which isn't much to gawk at.

There are a few common praises that I just have to dispel here, both regarding the sound of the album.  One is how the pristine production for once completely adds to the album.  This is legitimately bullshit because the sound isn't all that clean.  Sure, it isn't muddy, but I don't have to be smothered in wet dirt to need a shower.  Does everybody remember the uproar that Death Magnetic caused with it's insanely compressed production?  The same fucking thing is here, 100% exactly the same.  There is audible clipping and horrid oversaturation throughout the whole deal, it's torture for the ears.  Even if the album was well written, I'd still have trouble listening to it because it's akin to having a brick shoved into your ear for 35 minutes.  The other issue I have is how this was heralded as being very "spacey", which is the descriptor that made me interested in checking the band out in the first place.  Let's get something straight, Space Invaders is NOT spacey.  A bunch of high pitched beeps and boops is not spacey in the least fucking bit, it sounds "electronic" or "technological" or "malfunctioning".  Space is a vast, infinitely desolate place, larger than any human mind can conceive and overwhelmingly devoid of life.  Fucking Wormphlegm is spacier than this and they sound like they're recording in the center of the Earth.  Even if you don't take the desolate approach to space and instead look at it as a majestic canvas which we can project our wildest imaginations upon, this is still an utter failure as it feels manufactured in every way.  Every bit of this noodly mess is completely calculated and meticulously designed to fit this ridiculous tech-deathcore template.  I know space and science seem to go hand in hand, but outer space is about as organic as you can get.  There is virtually nothing man made in the great expanse of nothingness, and yet people consistently associate this entirely unnatural and manufactured mess of an album with it.

Would you stare at a strobe light for 35 minutes straight?  If so, then Embryonic Anomaly is definitely for you.  It's just a flashy trick being done over and over again for the whole album and very rarely gets interesting.  Rings of Saturn disappoints the hell out of me because on a purely technical level, these kids have some real skills for their age (I think the guitarist only recently grew hair on his testicles or something).  It's just upsetting that their songwriting skills aren't nearly as mature and developed as their ability to move their fingers incredibly fast.  "Corpses Thrown Across the Sky" and "Final Abhorrent Dream" actually have pretty good riffs in the middle of them, and the beginning of "Seized and Devoured" sounds like I just beat a level in Sonic 2, but otherwise there's nothing of interest.  Lame, predictable music for the average, droolingly stupid tech death fan. 

RATING - 24%

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Fleshgod Apocalypse - Agony

Fleshgod of Fire

Fleshgod Apocalypse is a strange breed.  They're insane tech death, no doubt, but they take the intensity factor and turn it up to 11 as opposed to widdly-widdlying the living hell out of listeners.  Yeah, their drummer knows basically one beat and then just make believes a drum solo whenever he isn't blasting, but riff wise they're basically peerless in their genre.  As if that wasn't enough to set them apart, they interspersed their mind bending insanity with classical passages on Oracles and introduced clean, operatic vocals on Mafia.  Now there is literally no metal band on the face of the earth that sounds exactly like them, and they've built a pretty considerable fanbase at this point.  After signing to Nuclear Blast Records, they were officially at the top of their game, poised to become one of the world's most popular and creative death metal bands, what else could they possibly do?  They could either take the Krisiun route and stick to what they know they're good at, or they could continue to introduce the classical elements in their music and continue to forge this new path.  I would have said the correct choice was the latter, but now that they've released Agony, I'm only half sure it was the proper choice.

You see, their image and aesthetics helped them stand out as much as their creative take on tech death, and since the first details released about an upcoming album are purely aesthetical, it's understandable that I prepare for the worst when the aesthetics take a nose dive.  The band's stage gimmick hasn't changed (described as "undead gentlemen" or "Akercocke got in a car wreck") but let's face it, the album art and new logo really, really suck.  Worse yet, was that upon the release of the cover, the band commented on its meaning by giving this very long winded description of what it symbolized when really it was an extremely verbose way of saying "Mankind has a dark side that they must learn to control".  No, really?  I thought the raggedy man bound in chains symbolized the Disney's dominance of children's animation in the 1990s.  Silly me.  Also, every track barring the intro and outro is titled "The [Word]", much like Dimmu Borgir's fantastically hated In Sorte Diaboli... not the best precedent to go off of.

So the band is pretentious and artwork has been dumbed down, doesn't necessarily mean the music is gonna suck, does it?  Of course not, but the music here finds itself balancing upon a slack wire several stories in the air between "awesome" and "terrible".  I'm really, honestly not sure if I like this album or not.  The metal portion of the music is largely unchanged.  The percussion is extraordinarily loud and furious, almost never slowing down for a more relaxed beat.  Even the slower songs, "The Egoism" and "The Forsaking", are slow by guitar only, as the drums continue to blast and double bass their way along.  The riffing style has also been left fairly intact, consisting of hyperfast tremolo chords or hyperfast chugging chords.  I don't think any note outside the aforementioned slower tracks are longer than an eighth note, and considering the speed at which the songs fly by, that's pretty impressive.  "The Oppression" and the album's lead single, "The Violation" are probably the fastest tracks on hand, and some of the most intense that Fleshgod has ever put to tape, which is saying a whole hell of a lot.  The intensity is overwhelming, but that's exactly what made Oracles such an enjoyable release.  And when it comes to solos and leads, this is actually a huge step up, as they're both prominent, melodic, and memorable every time one appears.  When one focuses on the traditional metallic instruments, this is every bit as incredible as the previous stuff.

But therein lies the problem with Agony, the actual metal is buried under layers upon layers upon layers of symphonic overtones.  The classical touches that would occasionally appear for a few brief moments in Mafia have been given center stage here.  There is literally about a ten second section in the middle of "The Betrayal" where there are no strings or horns blasting through the speakers, and after repeated listens that ten second section is still the only piece of pure metal I've managed to find on the record.  That isn't to say the symphonic stuff is BAD, per se, it's just such a strange mixture with the hyperspeed tech death insanity that lies beneath.  It doesn't help that the synths are by far the loudest thing in the mix.  It isn't even like it's going on in the background, it's right in your face like David Lee Roth's nuts.  I want to compare it to fellow Italians, Rhapsody of Fire, but with my favorite absurd flower metallers the keys are always carrying the melody or building and epic atmosphere.  If the keys aren't building atmosphere or accentuating the melodic themes, what exactly are they doing?  The correct answer is nothing.  That's right, the symphonics don't really ever do anything. They rarely carry a noticeable, repeating melody, and whenever they're playing solo they don't do anything to build atmosphere or introduce the song's main theme or anything. They always seem to just be there for the sake of it and that's really irritating. I'd like to think I'm a pretty creative person, but using the symphonics on their own and in conjunction with the death metal as a backdrop, I can't imagine a scene in my head. It doesn't paint a picture of inner struggle like the band seems to imply it should convey, the symphonics make it sound neither epic nor foreboding, and the blasty blasty weedly woo is just as in your face and intense as it was previously, so it just seems like there's an annoying, unrelated orchestra playing completely different themes and ideas next door to the recording studio.  There's no cohesion, it's rare that the riffs and synths relate to one another in any way, so there's always this disjointed something-or-other happening in the foreground.

Fleshgod introduced another new aspect to their ever distinguishing signature sound on last year's monolithic EP, and that's Paolo Rossi's clean, high pitched vocals.  There seems to be a split amongst fans regarding the quality of his voice, and I stand firmly on the bad side.  This dude has an awful voice for what the band is doing.  I understand it's supposed to be this classy operatic thing over the chaos below, but it's done so poorly that I can't help but loathe it here.  On Mafia his two choruses were interesting touches, and while he didn't really sound all that great, they worked fantastically in the context of the songs and really helped give the band an identity.  What the band did with that identity is the equivalent of a man realizing that he's gay, and then proceeding to wear exclusively neon pink, see-thru mesh shirts, assless chaps, and Elton John sunglasses.  They took this one identifying feature and sculpted their entire personality around it.  It's annoying when a person does it and it's no different when a band does the same.  Virtually every track features his hilariously bad falsettos, and not a one of them keeps him within a reasonable range.  He is always straining his voice to go much higher than it can go, and it makes me wonder why he even did it in the first place.  His first passage on "Thru Our Scars" has him stretch for at least one note he clearly can't reach, but the rest stays in a range where his voice is at least bearable.  "The Violation", "The Deceit", and "The Hypocrisy" all showcase wonderfully how much of his lesson he didn't learn, as his note choice is even worse on this album and is overfeatured to high hell.  The worst part about it is that the vocals are weak in the first place.  It's bad enough that there's almost no power behind the screeching when he ISN'T spreading his voice far too thin.  They really ought to have kept this particular trait relegated to a track or two, and not given it a starring role.

Despite all this negativity, I still kind of like this album.  It's insanely hard for me to judge, as there is certainly a lot wrong with it, and my favorite aspect (the intensity) is overpowered completely by their newfound love (the orchestra).  And yet, I can still feel the old Fleshgod underneath, and even though it's fighting against meandering symphonics, it still shines through to this fan.  I think the lesson learned here is the age old "everything in moderation, kids".  The adolescent band experimented with a few substances and found one they thought improved them, and then proceeded to go completely overboard and OD.  Perhaps future works will show whether this particular overdose killed them or not, but it definitely addled them.  The once thundering juggernaut is now chumming around scuzzy old apartments, hitting up passers by for change.  You got your fix, Fleshgod, not clean yourself up and get back to being a weekend warrior.  You've shown that too much is detrimental to your abilities.

RATING - 66%

Friday, July 1, 2011

Midterm Exam: The best and worst so far

Well the year is nearly halfway through, and several big name bands and a few underground heroes have churned out their releases in an attempt to blow listeners' minds everywhere.  Some have succeeded greatly while others have failed miserably.  As a critic, it is my job to present my belief as fact and prove to all of you the true merit of these albums.  Let's take a look at the good first:


Autopsy - Macabre Eternal
Yeah, this is exactly what you were expecting.  And yes, it's just as awesome as you were expecting as well.  The sound isn't quite as murky and dirty as it was on Mental Funeral or Severed Survival, but these underground giants are back with a vengeance.  Monstrously crushing death metal that will surely make an appearance on several people's year end best of lists.

Christian Epidemic - Pusztítástan / Primordial Soul 
Maximalist symphonic black metal of the highest order.  This isn't really my area of expertise, but I really like this album for whatever reason.  I'm not very good at explaining why or even comparing it to anything since I'm usually hanging out with death and thrash bands.  Using my limited knowledge of the genre, I could say it sounds like Anthems era Emperor or newer Dimmu Borgir if they didn't suck.

Beyond Creation - The Aura
One of the best tech death releases so far.  A nice healthy mix of Necrophagist, Obscura, and a non shitty The Faceless.  Very brutal while also very proggy at the same time.  Melts brains and eyes with flashy showmanship and strangely solid songwriting.  There's a couple cliche style breakdowns but they fit very well here and don't end up being distractions like they do in so many otherwise cool albums.

Nervecell - Psychogenocide
Band and album name bring to mind some corny industrial metal ala Fear Factory but what you get is some really good death metal.  It has a technical edge but it doesn't stray into the cliche tech death territory and end up sounding like Origin or something.  It keeps the old school death metal ideal of riffs down while also showcasing their chops.  The last track also features the best build up and release of the year.

Bolero - Voyage from Vinland
Basically a less riffy and more epic Ensiferum.  Bolero blends the folk metal with power metal like the aforementioned Finns, but don't quite stand out as songwriters nearly as strong.  Regardless, I find myself constantly coming back to this album so it must be doing something right.  Ensiferum/Kalmah fans could check this out and walk away satisfied.

Demonical - Death Infernal
Beastly, beastly Swedish death metal in the vein of Dismember or Entombed.  I really find myself at a loss to describe this, as I've tried to review it a few times and just can't explain why it kicks so much ass.  I just know it does.  Listen or die, death metal album of the year so far.

The Project Hate MCMXCIX - Bleeding the New Apocalypse (Cum Victriciis In Manibus Armis)
The newest in a long line of creative, industrial death metal band The Project Hate (I hate the stupid number at the end).  I haven't heard any of the band's previous work, so I don't know how different this is (if at all), but the strange mix of groovy death metal, industrial samples, tripped out spacey interludes, and obnoxiously in-your-face operatic female vocals is a bizarre mix that it manages to work extremely well.  I suppose Mirrorthrone is a black metal version of this band, if that helps.


Miasmal - Miasmal
This has been getting a lot of praise lately, and I suppose I can understand why.  It's definitely old school with no pretenses of modern technicality that overwhelms most death metal nowadays, and it was released on the great Dark Descent label, which is a pretty good indicator of quality.  That said, I just don't see anything special here.  It isn't bad or anything, but it doesn't hold a candle against contemporaries like Demonical.  It just goes in one ear and out another, no lasting punch.

Deicide - To Hell with God
Have you ever heard a Deicide album before?  You have?  Well then carry on, this is nothing new.  The cycle is repeating itself here.  Deicide, Legion, and Serpents of the Light were great, and then they released a string of pedestrian, uninteresting, blasphemy by numbers death metal records.  The Stench of Redemption introduced new ideas and was a rush of fresh air, but now they're just doing it all over again, releasing boring tripe over and over.  What a shame, each individual member can do and has done better than this. At least the title track slays.

Deathraiser - Violent Aggression
This is by far, no contest, the most insanely blatant Kreator rip off I've ever heard in all of my years as a metalhead.  Check some of these song titles, "Command to Kill", "Terminal Disease", hell even the TITLE OF THE ALBUM would make any thrasher immediately expect a lackluster bunch of kids with no original ideas of their own.  The music backs up that assumption 100000%.  If you think Kreator would be awesome if they just ripped themselves off senselessly, go listen to Violent Revolution by (you guessed it) Kreator themselves.  Sooo shamelessly bad.

Breathless - Thrashumancy
Is it like against some sort of law for new thrash bands to even try anymore?  Every new thrash band has to have a similar logo, at least one song about how awesome thrash metal is, Ed Repka reject album art, and a staunch hatred of creativity.  This is yet another dull regurgitation of better bands from the past.  This one is at least a little more interesting than the awful Deathraiser album, but it's still lacking in any sort of creativity. 

Rise Against - Endgame
I think this is my first non-metal mention outside of my initial "Best of 2010" post, and I intended to keep this list metal exclusive, but this album is such a huge fall from the lofty heights of The Sufferer & the Witness that I just have to bring it up.  The aforementioned 2006 pop punk milestone had a little bit of everything the band was good at.  Mid paced, catchy poppy stuff, some more aggressive and high octane numbers, an acoustic track and even a throwback to their first two albums with "Bricks".  This album here is basically a bunch of half baked B-sides all borne from the same idea.  "Satellite" is basically the only track worth anything due to the unabashed catchiness reminiscent of their previous hit, "Savior".  Everything else is lame and uninspired.

Macabre - Grim Scary Tales
By far my biggest disappointment of the year.  Chicago death/grind/what-have-you stalwarts, Macabre, release an album roughly once a generation, so this was highly anticipated by fans.  Unfortunately, the opener "Locusta" completely rips face in the way only Macabre know how to do, and then we're treated to a band who blew its load and must putter through the rest of the album as a hollow shell of itself.  The trademark insanity and energy is almost entirely absent, and about 70% of the vocals are done in some bizarre baritone bard voice instead of the death growls and "LEMME DO IIIIT" Stuart shrieks the band is known for.  Killers throughout history, awesome concept, worst Macabe album.

Fractals - Paradox
I'm a bit out of the loop here so forgive me if I'm assuming incorrectly, but if this band isn't hugely popular, they soon will be.  Djent in the vein of Meshuggah, Periphery, and the like.  It's tailor made for the latest trend and somehow managed to get the "progressive" tag stuck onto it (despite sounding exactly like the front runners of the genre) so bonus intellectual cred there.  Basically this is just one of the noisier bands in the swelling djent ocean.  Oh yeah, and there's deathcore mixed in via breakdowns and vocals, as if the band wasn't irritating enough.

Hell - Human Remains
I'm gonna get stabbed for this one, so I'm gonna defend myself right out of the gate by saying this is less "worst" and more "disappointing".  The band has such an inspiring Cinderella story in the world of heavy metal, this is a triumph for the little guy with big dreams and bigger music to become noticed.  This really should be a victory for every aging headbanger.  Why don't I like it that much?  Well this suffers the same issue as the latest Accept and most other old school style heavy metal bands, it's just too fucking long.  Don't get me wrong, the songs are good, but there are just too damn many and too many of them are too long.  Interludes intrude before damn near every song and drag out between tracks.  For all the hype this got, it really fell flat of my expectations.  Worth a listen no doubt, but I'll rarely listen to it.

Mass Madness - Mass Madness
Well that was a thing that happened.  So utterly inconsequential it's actually offensive.  Nothing here ever... HAPPENS.  So dull, so little to say.  I don't understand how the band heard this and said "Yes, THIS will light the world on fire." and then released it expecting fanfare.  Not even the usual "OUR VOCALIST IS A HOT CHICK WHO GROWLS!!!" gimmick works here.

 Morbid Angel - Illud Divinum Insanus
Surprising absolutely nobody, Morbid Angel's ill advised foray into experimentation ranks as the worst release of the first half of the year.  The problem isn't THAT they experimented, but that they did it TERRIBLY.  The industrial bits are painfully amateurish and drawn out, the death metal tracks are boring and carry none of that patented Morbid insanity they usually carry with them (instead swapping it with lame simplicity), and even one bonafide nu metal track in "Radikult", which is by far the worst song I've heard in years.  I wouldn't even recommend this to Hitler.

Essence - Lost in Violence
My little rant on how lame modern thrash has become doesn't even come close to applying to these Danish maniacs.  I sense a strong Artillery influence here, but that could just be the shared heritage toying with my mind here. This is everything that Deathraiser isn't.  It's creative, it's memorable, it's intense, and well written.  This is devastating and heaps of fun to listen to (and not "fun" in the lame party/pizza/nachos/beer vein that a lot of retro thrash bands like to hark about).  Dynamic and lethal, Essence combines all that is good about thrash metal and presents it in a fresh, youthful way that doesn't reek of plagiarism and phoning in.  Definitely my favorite of the year thus far and will surely rank in my year end list.

Well that's where I stand on the first half of the year.  There were plenty of good releases I didn't touch on (Hibria, Portrait, Protest the Hero, Crucified Mortals, Iperyt, Neuraxis, Nader Sadek, Wormrot, Rhapsody of Fire, et cetera) that may grow on me and make my year end list.  But for now these are my recommendations to check out and avoid for the first half of the year.  Hope you've all enjoyed reading my rambling.  I'll be back in six months with the final judgment.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Warbringer - Waking into Nightmares

On the right track it seems...

Expectations weren't set particularly high for Warbringer's sophomore effort, Waking into Nightmares, in my camp.  War Without End was okay the first time, but held absolutely no lasting value and isn't even fun for a romp nearly three years later.  It happened, they got exposure, put on a killer live show and garnered a strong fanbase.  I'll be the first to admit, Warbringer puts on one hell of a show.  Their youthful enthusiasm for their craft is rivaled only be the mighty Diamond Plate, and it really shows when on stage (which is ALL THE DAMN TIME.  I swear they were on every remotely thrash tour for at least two and a half solid years).  It's just unfortunate that the studio effort fell flat in fully capturing that energy and in turn brought light on the unoriginal thrash that they actually played.

Every problem has been addressed with Waking into Nightmares.  The production has been cleaned up and presents one of the better (and most fitting) jobs in modern thrash, the songwriting is more interesting, the band seems more energetic, and everything on the whole just sounds more akin to their famous live show.   The energy is conveyed so well on this record that it can actually be difficult to fight the urge to get up and engage in sweaty man bumping when tracks like the ode to the aforementioned mosh pit, "Living in a Whirlwind", start shredding through your speakers.  Riff wise, they still aren't the freshest chips in the pantry, but they're the best flavor so it really isn't all that worrisome to indulge yourself regardless.  These kids still love the early borderline death metal thrash bands like Slayer and Demolition Hammer, and as such still continue to flatter them by consistently taking cues and borrowing ideas, but they're done in such a way that it's neither thievery nor laziness.  It also helps that they're lighter than the aforementioned bands, emulating them mostly through tempo and attitude.  Tracks like "Scorched Earth" and "Prey for Death" carry a more second-tier bay area vibe ala Testament or Exodus, while tracks like "Abandoned by Time" and "Shadow from the Tomb" fill themselves with double bass and riffs possibly taken straight from Reign in Blood b-sides.  The latter pairing actually ends up being a far better pairing simply because Warbringer is better at taking heaps of influence from Slayer than Testament in the riff department.  Now on the flipside, their leads and solos take much more melodic cues, akin to those of the very same second tier California acts whose riffs they aren't all that good at lifting. 

Earlier, I mentioned Demolition Hammer, a much smaller name in comparison to the other two bands I've mainly used for comparison, and one may be wondering where that comparison comes from.  Simply put, John Kevill must have had Tortured Existence on repeat outside of his crib as an infant, because he grew up to have a voice nearly indistinguishable from the one found on Demolition Hammer's first two records.  This isn't even close to a bad thing, considering the vicious snarl is just as awesome in 2009 as it was twenty years ago.  The hoarse barks work extremely well with the melodic Slayer mishmash underneath, and any other style of vocals would just feel out of place.  The songwriting itself is actually fairly diverse despite heavily taking every cue from a whole two different bands.  "Jackal", "Severed Reality", and "Forgotten Dead" are rip roaring thrash numbers that take an equal amount of prisoners as they do shit (hint: it's none), "Shadows from the Tomb", "Senseless Life" and "Abandoned by Time" really harken to Slayer's mid eighties heyday of brutality with an early proto-death edge, and there's even a mellowish instrumental interlude in "Nightmare Anatomy".

I'd say there's something for everybody here, but that isn't quite the truth.  Despite the surprising variety and overall energy, everything still basically boils down to this sounding like a super group with Kerry King writing the riffs, Alex Skolnik writing the solos, Dave Lombardo behind the kit, and Steve Reilly on the mic.  While that basically sounds like a dream band, it does tend to borrow a little too heavily from the source material.  On the whole though, these kids have their hearts in the right place and will probably continue to produce legit thrash metal long after this retro resurgence dies out.  Time will only tell if Waking into Nightmares was a fluke, but for now I'm gonna give them the benefit of the doubt and say they're just maturing and will continue to improve. 

RATING - 81%

Friday, June 17, 2011

BITE SIZED: Iperyt - No State of Grace

I have absolutely no idea how industrial black metal works or is supposed to sound, all I know is that whatever Iperyt put out last February is something to be reckoned with.  No State of Grace is just totally suffocating in its atmosphere and overwhelming in its brutality.  The production heavily favors the enraged vocals and computerized percussion, with the bass and guitars pushed to the background.  It works really well for what the album is trying to do, which is to just completely isolate the listener in a desolate wasteland of misanthropy and despair.  Everything about this is angry and vengeful, and the industrial overtones help hammer it home like none other.  The traditional misanthropy that just comes with the black metal territory works hand in hand with the dead mechanization and isolation of the industrial elements and they blend together so well that it's hard to call this more of one style.  I dunno, it's hard for me to really formulate the words behind why I like No State of Grace so much, which is why this is a short BS review instead of a full one like I was planning.  Just know it's great.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Diamond Plate releases teaster track for debut album

Check it here!!

Diamond Plate has released a track from their upcoming Album of the Year contender, Generation Why?  Check it out, rerecorded version of my personal favorite, "At the Mountains of Madness".  Whaddaya all think?  Still best thrash band of the decade?  Bitter disappointment?  Lukewarm?  Regardless, spread the word, this band is gonna take over the thrash world.