Monday, March 11, 2013

Gamma Ray - Land of the Free

The sun will shine for all of us again...

As my clock ticks downwards, I continue my quest to tackle albums that are special to me on a personal level.  And really, despite listening to this album for a decade, it's only recently reached that special sentimental level to me, and it really isn't because of any silly reason like "It reminds me of grandma" or "I lost my butt-ginity while 'Time to Break Free' was playing" or anything like that.  Simply put, this album just... makes me feel good.

Really, this is a very optimistic album.  I've mentioned in my review for The Crimson Idol that when I'm feeling down, I usually listen to equally depressing music that would allow me to just wallow in self pity for a time.  If I'm sad, I don't want to be cheered up, I'll feel better when life gets better, dammit.  And then there is Land of the Free, the glorious exception to the rule.  This, above any other metal album ever written, inspires feelings of hope and optimism.  Instead of "Life sucks, let's write about it", Kai seemed to approach this album with the mindset that "Life sucks and everything is unfair, but it can get better and you can help".  The chorus of "Man on a Mission" can nearly move me to tears if I hear it when in a perfect spot of emotional vulnerability.

What we need right now is a miracle on Earth...

Yeah yeah, I know the literal themes are the same thing Kai always goes on about, aliens and illuminati and such, but unlike darker, more bitter albums like Majestic, this shows the spirits of the band still being in rather high order.  Doomsday isn't here yet, and we can still prevent it if we all band together as brothers and sisters and stand up for what is right.  A lot of instances indicate that the efforts may be futile, but it's wishful thinking that keeps our spirits up before the big fight.  Land of the Free is basically just a giant rallying cry against... negativity in general, and I can really relate to such hopeless naivete and dogged well-wishing in the face of overwhelming bleakness.  Most people can, and even if they don't, there's a chance it could inspire such feelings (as it does for me, even when it the darkest of corners).

So the overarching theme, tone, and feel of the album are marvelous, but I must admit that it stumbles a couple times throughout the duration regardless.  The ballad, "Farewell", is heartfelt and genuine and features a great cameo from the mighty Hansi Kursch, but it's overall entirely forgettable.  The random forty second interludes that pop up from time to time are essentially useless and add nothing to the songs they tie into.  "Fairytale" is basically a fifty second fake-out ending to "Man on a Mission" that could have easily stuck on to the back of that preceding track and not felt out of place at all.  And the closer, "Afterlife" ends the otherwise stellar album on a pretty mediocre note, which is a bit of a bummer since the journey to reach that point is so wonderful.  And strangely, tracks that are great, high speed power/speed metal numbers like "Gods of Deliverance" and "Salvation's Calling" end up being forgettable in the grand scheme of things thanks to one of the more absurd and baffling problems of all time... the best songs are so good that the rest of the album feels somewhat flat in comparison.

Yeah, that amazing atmosphere of hope and optimism that I love so much certainly prevails throughout the course of Land of the Free, but the title track, "Man on a Mission", and "Rebellion in Dreamland", are all so thoroughly perfect that they obliterate the rest of the songs utterly and completely.  I mean, I love the mid paced epic in "Abyss of the Void", but damn it has nothing on the mid paced epic that is "Rebellion in Dreamland".  "Salvation's Calling" is an awesome speed metal song, but it's nowhere near as good as the awesome speed metal of "Man on a Mission".  Seriously, these three tracks make up 90% of the greatness on the record.  The trademark Gamma Ray formula of putting a huge, epic break/buildup in the bridge of all the best songs are present on these three tracks, of course, and all three of them are just stunning.  The solo in "Man on a Mission" is also nothing short of exhilarating. I'm willing to say that that track is actually one of the greatest power metal songs ever written.  And then there's "Rebellion in Dreamland", generally regarded as the band's best song, and I really can't take too much contention with that claim.  It's almost nine solid minutes of the most grandiose power metal ever recorded, and even nearly twenty years later I personally think it's still unsurpassed in terms of one mini-epic track.  The chorus is iconic, the middle break with all of the fastest riffs is incredible, the entire track is the result of taking that magical subbier-than-subniche of mid to late 80s German speed metal, polishing it up and honing it's precision until it juuuuuust becomes power metal, and then injecting it with a tremendous sense of scope and grandeur.  It's basically the entire album in a nutshell, and encapsulates the theme perfectly.  This is it, folks. The eyes of the world are closing forever, but we can reverse it.  Shit's about to go down, but if we all band together, we can save the world.  And the title track?  Essentially a combination of the two.  It's a short, fast, punchy power metal song with an iconic chorus and huge sense of wonder.

Let us walk away together...

All of the other songs on display have elements of these three masterpieces on display, but none of them are as strong.  "Salvation's Calling" has a great main riff that brings to mind Kai's early time with Helloween (think Walls of Jericho), but... but it just isn't as good as "Man on a Mission"!  "Gods of Deliverance" is another awesome, speed metal influenced number, but it doesn't hold a candle to "Land of the Free".  "Time to Break Free"... well that on I genuinely think is kinda bad, but that might have something to do with the fact that fucking Michael Kiske sings on it, and that man can't help but wussify every goddamn thing he touches with his stupid, syrupy voice.  That's really the only issue with the seven full tracks that aren't those magical three I raved about earlier, they're just... not those three songs.  It's not for lack of effort or ideas, thematically they contain everything I enjoy about this album and they're generally well executed ("Farewell" not withstanding).  They're just a bunch of little Torry Holts, while those monumental three songs are all Jerry Rice. 

On the whole, the album still manages to be greater than the sum of its parts.  "Rebellion in Dreamland", "Man on a Mission", and "Land of the Free" are all among the best songs in the genre, I can't stress that enough, and that unfortunately makes the rest of the songs seem somewhat tame in comparison, but as one big unit (hur hur) it works marvelously well and there's very little I would change.  The overarching theme of optimism and hope acts as a huge rush of fresh air from the darkness most metal was wallowing in during the mid 90s, and even within its own genre, as the fantasy element is quite underplayed here.  If you're anything at all like me, Land of the Free will put a smile on your face and a warmth in your soul, because listening to it reminds you that things are going to be just fine.  It's time to put The Crimson Idol and From Fathoms away, it's time to move on with life.  Land of the Free is the perfect soundtrack for that.  Life's not so bad, y'all.  I know you can't just snap your fingers and feel better or change your outlook on life at the drop of a hat, but if there's any non-pharmaceutical aid in such an endeavor, this album is it. 

I'm not kidding when I say this helped change my life.

Let the fairytale be real...

RATING - 89%

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Megadeth - Countdown to Extinction


To me, Countdown to Extinction is pretty much the Megadeth album that most accurately and succinctly sums up the band's mission statement.  What would that be, you ask?  For my money, it'd be "Be more successful than Metallica".  Not "be better", not "be more extreme", but "be more successful".  Dave's undying resentment for being kicked out of Metallica for what he perceived as hypocritical reasons (matters of degree is a concept utterly incapable of existing inside a brain as malformed as Mustaine's) has never been a secret, but it seems like a lot of people seem to brush it off or view it as a kind of motivation to make much better music.  Personally, the first three Metallica albums are all better than the first three Megadeth albums, but ever since then Megadeth has pretty solidly had the upper hand.  I will not deny for one second that Rust in Peace blows pretty much everything Metallica has ever released out of the water, and it's a personal Top 10 All Time album for me, but Megadeth on the whole has always annoyed me for being a blatantly one-dimensional band with only one goal in mind, and no album illustrates that better than Countdown to Extinction.

You see, most Megadeth albums have a corresponding Metallica album(s), everything the band has ever done has simply been reacting to what Metallica was doing at the time and trying to beat them at their own game.  Admittedly, they usually succeed, but I just can't bring myself to respect the band (or really just Dave Mustaine, since he's always been the band) as much as their symbolic big brother.  Metallica did the whole sellout thing in 1991, we all know that, but after achieving that monstrous amount of money, fame, and money, they've always just kind of been doing whatever the hell they felt like doing.  They'd reached that point of security where they'd always be famous, people would always clamor to hear a new album, and so they started doing the whole laid back rock thing and whatever the hell St. Anger was.  Megadave on the other hand just seemed to go "Metallica's songs are getting longer and more adventurous?  Well so are mine!  What?  They play commercial hard rock now?  SO DO I!  They're getting heavier again?  Well two can play at that game!".  It's actually really frustrating to me to see a man with such immense songwriting talent and knack for assembling great musicians around him to tie his songwriting to the one-track mindset of "try to do the same thing this one band I have a grudge against does, but do it better than them".  I'd like to see the alternate universe where Dave was never a part of Metallica and instead just had a ton of his own ideas he wanted to unleash.

So around this time, Metallica had become one of the biggest metal/hard rock bands in the world, and so Megadeth of course had to follow suit.  When it comes to the album this was modeled after (The Black Album, obviously), I really like a few songs but overall think the album's just okay.  I think "Nothing Else Matters" is a pretty decent ballad, as is "The Unforgiven", and I really like "Through the Never", and I have a nostalgia-fogged love of "Wherever I May Roam" and "Of Wolf and Man", but I could go the rest of my life without ever hearing "Enter Sandman" or fucking "Sad But True" ever again.  Unsurprisingly, that view kind of parallels with Countdown to Extinction here, as the two big singles ("Symphony of Destruction" and "Sweating Bullets") are pretty far and away the worst songs on display.  It's not necessarily because of how overtly commercial and radio-friendly they are (the other big single, "Foreclosure of a Dream", is most definitely both of those things, and I like that song plenty), but more because they just sound half assed and written in half an hour.  They both ride on the most bewilderingly simplistic mid-paced chugs and place a huge emphasis on the vocals.  This has always been a giant obstacle for me, as let's face it, Dave Mustaine has a fucking wretched singing voice.  His signature snarl is pretty novel at times, and it's certainly recognizable, but as has been posited by people smarter than I, he's a voice you learn to get used to more than actually enjoy.  I've certainly gotten used to his voice I guess, but I still think it's ill-suited to hard rock/heavy metal on display in most of these songs, and is frankly just goddamn annoying.  Some high speed, punk tinged aggression like the first album?  Fine, it fits like a glove.  But for polished commercial mainstream radio metal?  Good god in heaven no!

Apart from the two chuggy, crappy "Sad But True" emulations, Countdown to Extinction also has a bizarro version of "The Unforgiven" in "Foreclosure of a Dream".  The main difference is that the Metallica song features loud verses and a quiet, acoustic chorus, whereas the Megadeth version flip flops it with acoustic verses and a loud, distorted chorus.  Otherwise they're structured pretty much the same apart from the fact that "Foreclosure" moves along at a higher general tempo.  I attribute this to Dave's eternal one-upsmanship, but I prefer this song to its Metallica counterpart so I'll cut it some slack.  The political bent that Dave's lyrics always seem to have is also here in full force, though it ends up being pretty funny in hindsight considering he now stands for the exact opposite of everything he championed on this album.  I guess his reactionary tendencies aren't just contained to writing music based on whatever Metallica is up to, but also to rally against just... whoever is in charge of the United States at the current time.

Past the three singles, I have to admit that this is actually an extremely solid album for a blatant commercial sellout.  I imagine most Rust in Peace fans were disappointed when this dropped since the band's ever evolving complexity has been stunted in favor of a more stripped down and simplistic approach.  The riffwork isn't nearly as creative as the previous four albums on the whole, though it's pretty inconsistent throughout the album ("Sweating Bullets" carries one of the most generic and half-hearted riffsets ever conceived, whereas "Ashes in Your Mouth" could have feasibly sounded at home on the previous classic record).  The guitar work on the whole is actually pretty stunningly hit or miss, hitting bullseye a few times (like the solo on "Skin o' My Teeth" or the chorus melody in the title track), missing the board entirely once or twice (the whole of "Symphony of Desctruction"), but mostly at least hitting 20 or double 15.  That's really what the album is when you pick it apart, it's a mixed bag of elements that they used to do much better, new ideas meant to coincide with the newer direction, and harbingers of some of the utter suckage to come later in their career.

To elaborate on that last part, take a look at "Architecture of Aggression", mainly the chorus.  It's really the first instance I can think of where Dave's lyric writing started being egregiously hamfisted.  I feel like he wrote down those lines as one long sentence, and then tried to find a way to awkwardly fit it into a four line chorus based on this riff he'd already written.  It doesn't match at all and feels like he just starts rambling off words that don't coagulate with the riffs in even the slightest sense.  This problem pretty much reached it's zenith in the mid 00s, with The System has Failed and United Abominations being just absolutely loaded with awkward vocal patterns that mesh with neither the lyrics nor the riffs.  Check out "Of Mice and Men" and "United Abominations" for the most preposterous examples.  This sort of rears its head on tracks like "Captive Honour" and "This was My Life" here, but the aforementioned "Architecture of Aggression" is the most obvious example of Dave trying way too hard to make a point and letting the songwriting suffer by not reworking the music, vocals, or lyrics to match the other elements at play.

I've been pretty negative so far, constantly knocking the band for being Metallica Jr and Dave's increasingly oddball songwriting decisions, but I can't stress enough that I like this album plenty.  "Skin o' My Teeth" is a high speed rocker worthy of any greatest hits collection, featuring an ear catching main riff reminiscent of the very early thrash records like Kill 'em All and Megadeth's own Killing is My Business.  "High Speed Dirt" follows in the same path, though it isn't as memorable (apart from the strangely well executed blues break), while "Ashes in Your Mouth" could well be the most "Megadeth-y" song on display, sounding like an outtake from the Rust in Peace recording sessions with the adventurous riffs, bouncy energy, instantly hooky chorus, and eye melting soloing sections.  Not even all of the dominantly groovy tracks are bad, as "Psychotron" is pretty fun and despite the wretched chorus, I think "Architecture of Aggression" is pretty sweet too.  And then there's the title track, which is somehow really, really good despite having all of the ingredients for a perfect trainwreck.  It's a very simple, almost power ballady paced ode to overt environmentalism with one of Dave's signature awkward chorus, but man they somehow nail this one.  Regardless of the message, usually a track with extraordinarily blatant political messages (not veiled in clever metaphors) are rarely well done enough in my eyes to actually get the message across, but this one manages to be okay by making the song around the lyrics so interesting that I never really need to cringe at the shoehorned message.  The bass line in the beginning is quite memorable and sets the stage for the moody subject matter.  The main draw for me is actually just one simple element, and that's the guitar melody in the chorus.  Holy crap, it's so good.  I have no idea what the lyrics are, I don't care, I sing along to the guitar part instead.  It's incredibly simple yet executed masterfully and ends up being on par with Amon Amarth in the realm of "making very basic, simple riffs/melodies sound fucking awesome". 

The strange thing is that I could also probably say an equal amount of negative things about the album, with the bad tracks alternating between being wholly forgettable ("This was My Life", "Captive Honour") and offensively annoying ("Symphony of Destruction", "Sweating Bullets"), but I really can't help but like the album on the whole.  Really, this is quite similar to Fear of the Dark in the sense that it's really inconsistent and not at all what the band in question is best at, but it was also my first exposure to the band so it'll always have a special place in my heart.  It's very accessible, much more so than the somewhat oddball So Far So Good... or the heavily dark Peace Sells.  At this point in time, Megadeth was doing the whole "do what Metallica do" thing just as obviously as always, and this is probably the most overtly obvious example throughout their whole career with how far removed it is from the previous album, but the popular consensus is correct this time, as it's superior to it's sister album in Metallica's discography.  It's more basic and restrained fairly inconsistent with a few high profile stinkers, but overall you could do a whole lot worse in the realm of commercial metal.  As far as mainstream metal goes, this is definitely a bit of a gem in the sense that the actual singles released into the mainstream mostly suck, but the rest of the album can be pretty good despite the formula not being that much different from said singles.  So basically if you can ignore or skip over the dreadfully boring tracks, it's a pretty solid commercial metal album.  Would I recommend it?  Not really, my love of it is pretty tainted with nostalgia.  Like, I'm sure "This was My Life" is a terrible song, but I like it anyways.  If you've got a hatred for The Black Album, chances are you won't like this instead, and those who say they do are simply being contrarian for the sake of it.  NOT NEGOTIABLE.  NO HYPERBOLE AT ALL.

RATING - 71%

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Slayer - Reign in Blood

It'll have you down... ON YOUR KNEES

Okay, I know, nobody wants to read the fifteen zillionth Slayer review, I'm sorry.  I never planned on writing this, it'll be the 30th review currently on the MA page, and really, why bother with it?  Everybody already knows how awesome Reign in Blood is, it's the same reason I have absolutely no plans to review Rust in Peace.

Or so I thought.

Seriously, the amount of bullshit criticism this album has retroactively pulled in from dipshit kids is nothing short of mindblowing.  "It's two/three good songs and a bunch of filler".  No it fucking isn't, have you mongoloids listened to "Epidemic" or "Jesus Saves" or "Altar of Fucking Sacrifice Holy Shit You Dumb Cunts"?  "Hell Awaits was so much better because it was more adventurous and progressive".  Are you just saying that because it's the least popular of the first five?  Hell Awaits is awesome, but let's not start calling it progressive simply because it sports a couple long songs.  "Show No Mercy was so much better because of the NWOBHM  and Judas Priest influence".  Holy shit I'm about to staple your fucking lips shut and pour some Draino in your ears.  Show No Mercy is awesome (and my second favorite Slayer album), but the band continually evolved from that sound and that's part of what made it so special.  It was a primordial soup, a nebulous mash of influences that helped shaped a yet undefined genre, whereas Reign in Blood is the logical endpoint of what they'd started three years prior.  And Slayer was always at their best when pushing envelopes or just trying to one-up themselves.

I know it's stupid and unprofessional to make broad, sweeping generalizations about people's motives or opinions, but it seems to me like a lot of people who dislike this album seem to claim that Darkness Descends is more extreme and deserves this album's place in history (it doesn't), or they were born after 1989.  Yeah yeah, I'm a young guy who falls into that timeframe, and I've been into metal for a long time too, but I can't help but notice that the amount of people who dislike it that were around when the album first dropped is much, much smaller than the amount of people who grew up with the internet and a couple loudmouthed fools who just consistently told them how it wasn't very good.  Same obstacle Metallica's early work faces nowadays.  I can totally accept that some people just don't like it or that any given album didn't age well or something like that, but even if you take away the monumental influence the album had or it's stunning historical context, this is still the be all end all of thrash metal.  I will stick to that until the day I die.

Is this as "evil" as their previous works?  In a way I guess not, because it isn't quite as dark as Hell Awaits, but it's really only by a notch and it's because Slayer spent precisely zero time fucking around with anything that wasn't the most absurdly over-the-top madness they could conjure up at the time.  Fuck the three minute intro to "Hell Awaits", they can almost cram two full songs into that allotted time on this one.  In fact, if you take all of the long, drawn out intro sections with fifteen riffs featured on the previous album, it might last as long as a third of Reign in Blood.  This shit is fast, it is hungry, and it is focused.  It's twice the intensity in half the time, and despite what so many mouth breathing neckbeards seem to think, everything is fully developed and thought out.  I don't know where the fuck this idea came from that 70% of the tracks are brainless filler, perhaps from jilted Hell Awaits fans who are bummed that nothing here pushes seven minutes like "Crypts of Eternity"?  What the fuck else could you add to these songs?  Do you really think you can improve something like "Criminally Insane" by making it longer?  It's just fast as hell with a ton of riffs and ideas crammed into it.  What do you want?  To slow it down and rob the riffs of their intensity?  To let the riffs breathe by repeating them more often and ruining the pacing?  Evolving them by adding more variations to them and thus fucking up the theme and turning the songs into an even more literal collection of riffs like you already complain about?  There's nothing you can do to make these songs better, and if you already don't like them simply because you want them to be something they aren't, then you'd be best to just fuck off to your lounge chair, postprandial handrolled and finger of grappa, you sophisticated creature, you.

This is the most hard nosed, to-the-throat thrash album to ever exist, and it was done by simply removing every element that didn't immediately lend itself to deranged neck-wrecking.  Not one moment is wasted, if the music ever slows down or cuts out for an intro (which pretty much only happens in "Criminally Insane" and "Raining Blood"), it's only for a short time, and it's only so the pummeling percussion and batshit nardcockingly rigid riffs hit you that much harder when your false sense of security gets obliterated.  And while it would later be surpassed in terms of heaviness by Epidemic of Violence and brutality by Tapping the Vein, nothing puts the whole package together like Reign in Blood.  This is a violent, rabid album, completely off its own hinges, swinging wildly at anything and everything.  I would say that every element comes together perfectly, but really there's only one element at play, and that is "violence".  You'll see the phrase "watered down" thrown around a lot when talking to somebody who doesn't like this album, and that is potentially the most bewilderingly stupid comment one could make in regards to Slayer.  This is the most concentrated attack the band has ever put to tape, much more so than the awkward attempts at melodic songwriting on South of Heaven or the feeble attempt to please everybody on Seasons in the Abyss.  They have but one goal in mind: to unleash the most profane, raw, and blistering essence of pure aggression ever recorded, and all four members give the maximum effort to achieving this goal, and it shows.  How in the living hell can something be watered down when it's diluted with literally nothing.  It's pure hatred concentrate.

Another element that gets trashed a lot is the soloing, and I just have to refer to two paragraphs ago, what the fuck do you people want instead?  In technical terms, Kerry King's solos are garbage.  There's no phrasing or skill beyond picking and area of the fretboard and hitting as many notes as you can while paddling your whammy.  Hanneman is much better in a technical sense, but he still flails forth naught but utterly atonal chaos.  And again, what would improve them?  Michael Romero?  Kirk Hammett's pentatonic wah-wahrbling?  The leads need to be equally as chaotic as the frenzied riffs and vocals, they need to be as high tempo and relentless as the drumming, what they do here is perfect, nothing less.  If you'd prefer this to be more thoughtful or artsy or feelsy, then feel free to not listen to a thrash album and congratulate yourself on not looking for love at a carnival.

Speaking of the vocals, they also feature Tom Araya at the top of his game.  Again, he was technically better early on, with more ear penetrating shrieks and vocal acrobatics, but he followed the form that Hanneman and King set with their songwriting and stripped it down, focused on one aspect he was good at, and just went all out with it.  He shouts for all but three high pitched wails, and it works perfectly for what the rest of the band was doing.  I love the falsetto in "Necrophiliac" as much as any Slayer fan should, but man that wouldn't fit anywhere in "Reborn".  He focuses on spitting as much vitriol as possible, and gives no thought to finesse, which is great because the last thing this album needs is something fruity and not completely berserk like finesse.  He crams so much blasphemy and hatred into each line, to the point where I'm convinced he's just shouting gibberish because that's the only way to accurately sum up just how much he hates Jesus.  I'm going to try to transcribe the chorus to "Jesus Saves" without cheating, to make my point:

Jesus saves!
Doneetaprydagodolonegwaitooseems you've lost your waaaaay!

THAT IS FUCKING AWESOME.  He's like a tape on fast forward, enunciating every syllable, all sixteen of them in a vocal pattern that should logically fit six.   This is the embodiment of simply not giving one solitary fuck, and I wouldn't change that for the world.  Essentially every song is loaded with classic riffs or vocal patterns, and if you can't hear that, I really don't know what to tell you.  As I alluded earlier, "Altar of Sacrifice" is one of the best songs the band ever wrote, and that chorus is just magnificently infectious, as is the main riff to "Epidemic".  It saddens me that so many people get lost in the meat of the album thanks to the monolithic opener and closer.  Yeah, "Angel of Death" is potentially the band's best song, and everybody knows how fucking awesome "Raining Blood" is, but the fact that so many people seem to focus on those two (and sometimes "Postmortem", if their minimum time limit on a song is three minutes instead of four) and miss out on all of the brilliance in between them for stupid petty reasons like "they're too short" or "it's just speed and nothing else" makes me such a sad panda that I might as well be on the endangered species list.  One theory I've heard on this (from a person who isn't a goddamn dolt) is that the reason for such a view is because those endpieces of the album work great on their own, whereas the rest of the songs only work in context of the entire album.  I can see why somebody would feel that way, but then again I could also see why some people believe vaccines cause autism.  Sometimes something can make sense to you, despite the fact that you're factually wrong in every way.  The only track I think you can make a case for that applying to is "Piece by Piece", which is the only song that isn't stellar from start to finish, riding on a pretty basic riff and a not entirely interesting chorus (unsurprisingly, this was the only track written solely by King), but if you can listen to "Altar of Sacrifice", "Epidemic", "Criminally Insane", "Jesus Saves" or anything else and say "eh, it's just speed and I can only enjoy it if I hear twenty more minutes of it, otherwise it's worthless", then you deserve to be slapped with an entire country.

I know I've been defending one of the most popular metal albums of all time like it's been unfairly treated by the majority of listeners.  Believe me, I realize I'm preaching to the choir when it comes to people who know their shit and can understand how near flawless the idea and execution is here, but it really does blow my mind when I see such ridiculous criticism so frequently directed at something for doing exactly what it sets out to do better than anybody else.  Yeah yeah music is subjective and everybody has an opinion, spare me your crocodile tears.  The point is that there is a vocal contingent of metal fans (especially amongst the younger crowd, for whatever reason) who seem to believe this shouldn't represent thrash as a whole (despite being one of the purest thrash albums ever written) and that it is woefully overrated, and it was definitely something that I feel needed to be addressed.  If you're one of those people who abide by the belief that tracks 2-8 are pointless filler, all I can say to you is "I'm sorry, that is incorrect, please try again".  Go into this with the mindset that you've been a goddamn idiot up until this point in your life, and instead pay a little bit more attention than none at all.  Every last one of these songs has an identity, nothing is a faceless blur of chaotic atonality and double bass, everything is instead masterfully crafted with blistering, frenzied riffwork designed to both pulverize and stick with you for years to come. 

Teal;Dear - This is pure and unadulterated havoc, and it succeeds wildly at what it sets out to do and still stands as a testament to what Slayer stood for and was capable of.  Even if you ignore the fact that it was monumentally influential within the established genre of thrash and the then-not-quite-existent death metal, this is still just about flawless on the whole.  "Piece by Piece" is the only small stumble, with it's "meh" chorus that kind of drags the rest of the song down a notch, but that's literally the only moment of Reign in Blood that I'm not in love with.  Everybody knows that "Angel of Death", "Postmortem", and "Raining Blood" are Slayer classics, but I'd be a happy camper if I saw a setlist that also included "Jesus Saves", "Criminally Insane", "Necrophobic", fucking "Epidemic", and "Sweet Mother of Christ Altar of Motherfucking Sacrifice".  And I haven't mentioned it yet, but I'm assuming most of you are familiar with the 1998 reissue that fixes the tracklisting error between "Postmortem" and "Raining Blood", and this is a good thing because the faster, rerecorded version of "Aggressive Perfector" that is included as a bonus track on that version is actually my favorite Slayer song of all time, despite how much I've jerked off "Epidemic", "Angel of Death", and "Altar of Sacrifice". 

If you're one of the people who doesn't like this because it's just speed for the sake of speed and the solos aren't pretty or melodic enough or the vocals are too one dimensional and the only dynamic is blastissimo, then just go to the playground and listen to Testament's first album, because that's essentially what you're asking this to be instead.

RATING - 98%

Friday, March 1, 2013

Bolt Thrower - Those Once Loyal

I can't think of a Warhammer pun, forgive me

Okay, two things really quick, you following me?

1) Bolt Thrower is awesome

2) Bolt Thrower is overrated

Still with me?  Good.  Now, I don't mean "overrated" in quite the same sense as when I use the term in reference to Overkill, because most Bolt Thrower fans will readily admit that Mercenary and Honour Valour Pride are nowhere near the level of quality that the band is capable of and would regularly produce between the years of their inception and 1994.  And I don't mean to imply that their good albums aren't as good as people say they are either, absolutely not.  I jerk off The IVth Crusade and Realm of Chaos just as much as the next fanboy.  When Bolt Thrower is on point, they are on point.

No, what I mean is that I believe the band has two structural flaws, and while they're big enough for me to notice and wish weren't there, aren't enough to really deter my enjoyment of their classic works.  Oddly enough, they're the result of two of the more iconic members of the band, Karl Willets and Jo Bench.  I mean come on, let's be real here, Willets was never a particularly gifted vocalist.  He sounds like somebody's dad making fun of that devil worshipping music you kids listen to.  When it comes to music as heavy and crushing as this, I feel it could really benefit from having a vocalist who sounds more like a raging behemoth or an undead bringer of vengeance, and less like the villain from a particularly bad anime dub.  Bench's bass also tends to get a ton of kudos, on this album in particular, and I just can't bring myself to agree.  Bolt Thrower has always been really bass heavy and I won't deny that it's one of their defining features and also one of the reasons they're so damn good in the first place, but it has more to do with the guitars and how everything coagulates into one sound than it does her bass in particular.  Any time it gets a break where we get to hear it solo, I can't help but think that it sounds like an underwater fart.  "It sounds like a rumbling tank", yeah that's cool when used metaphorically, not when it literally sounds like a rumbling combustion engine.  It's just way too distorted and has very little tone of its own when not complimented by the guitars.

Now, those are both legit complaints that I feel keep this album from being perfect, but those are my only two complaints.  Those Once Loyal is the album that killed the band's studio career because they feel like they personally can't top it.  I can't help but agree with them.  Every single song has at least one instantly classic riff, be it one of their super fast ones like "Entrenched" or "Symbol of Eight" (the second best bonus track of all time), or one of their groovier numbers like "The Killchain" or "Salvo".  It's hard to really describe it, but every ounce of praise they earn for their riff writing is 100% deserved.  For a death metal band to have not used a blast beat since 1991 is pretty goddamn daring, and indicates that for them to still be monumentally popular and relatively successful (as successful as you can be in that nebulous realm of death metal that sits in between the mainstream like Cannibal Corpse and the underground like Fetus Stench) they need to be pretty damn good at some other aspect of their sound.  Fortunately, they really are.  Pretty much everything they do here ends up being instantly memorable, from that opening melody to "At First Light" to literally every single time a riff is being driven along by double bass.  I'm not even kidding when I say that the verse riff for "At First Light" (the one at 1:27) is my favorite non-trad metal riff of all time.  I've been spinning this album for years, and yet I was able to recall almost every track's main riff after the first two runs through.  This shit is hooky, and I love that about it.  It's the same impossible-to-describe quality that makes None So Vile such a classic.  It's brutal and relentless, but betwixt all the dark violence, it's also loaded with melody and hooks and bouncy riffs.

I know it's the most cliche thing in the universe to compare a Bolt Thrower album to something war related, but seriously, they really embodied the whole WWI theme of the album by making it so fucking groovy.  What do you think of when you hear WWI?  Mustard gas and trenches.  How would you musically personify deadly poisonous gas and deadly hidey holes?  Suffocatingly heave grooves, that's how.  There's very little "flair" here and almost zero technicality.  It's the exact opposite of "all style, no substance", and yet while it's very stripped down and basic, it's so incredibly well written and focused that it becomes its own style.  They've been reveling in this exclusive style for roughly fifteen years at the time this album came out, and still to this date I've heard almost no bands that sound anything like them. 

It's difficult to really go on at length in regards to Those Once Loyal.  It's the culmination of everything the band had been working towards up to this point in their career.  They've kept this lineup stable, and they've admit to themselves and to their fans that this is their best work and they won't disappoint anybody with a half-assed album, so this will continue to be their last album until they're fully convinced that they've written something better.  Frankly, I don't see it happening, this is the best their songwriting ever got.  Despite it's basic approach, it's extremely varied in execution.  The churning title track contrasts with the blisteringly fast "Last Stand of Humanity", and there are even whiplash inducing tempo changes within the tracks themselves (see: "Entrenched") that work marvelously.  The extraordinarily bass heavy mix and signature sound of the band do every possible favor for the songwriting, and it all ends up as this cohesive, well oiled machine.  I get tired of hearing Bolt Thrower get jerked off at every possible opportunity, but whenever I listen to them I can't help but find myself parroting the praise.  Believe the hype, kids.  If you only hear one Bolt Thrower album in your lifetime, make it this one.

RATING - 93%