Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Rhapsody of Fire - Triumph or Agony

Rhapsody grows tired of being awesome

I feel like I've been pretty clear about this in the past, but I'm going to reiterate it really quickly: I love the shit out of Rhapsody.  They're pretty much the textbook example of what I love about power metal.  The songwriting is as busy as it is infectious and as theatrical as it is overindulgent.  It's a style that doesn't lend itself well to restraint, and that's why I can publicly love a stupid band like Dragonforce and not feel the slightest hint of shame.  This style is fun, and it's at its most fun when it's just throwing caution to the wind and letting loose all over the place, enthusiastically just throwing me on the back of Odahviing and sweeping me across magical lands and epic adventures.  That's what Rhapsody nailed so much with their original Emerald Sword Saga (the first four (five?) albums (Rain of a Thousand Flames is still an EP in my mind)).  The band simply did not give one single shit about subdued atmosphere or intelligent complexity, their sole goal was to tell a silly, cliched, over the top fantasy tale and cram as much epic sounding choirs and orchestrations they could into their journey.  Some people may not take well to the overindulgent ear candy style they aimed for, but I ate it up happily.

By the time their second story (The Dark Secret Saga) began, something had... changed.  Symphony of Enchanted Lands II was a much more subdued effort, much less focused on showy bombast and moreso focused on sweeping grandeur.  It was pretty I suppose, but "pretty" isn't the kind of feeling I want to envision whilst listening to Rhapsody.  I want to feel swept up above magical wars with entire worlds in the balance, not take a pleasant ride over a lush, green landscape.  The second chapter, Triumph or Agony, manages to fall in a similar pit, though for different reasons.

Rhapsody's entire tenure with Magic Circle Music can pretty much be summed up with the observation that one of their biggest criticisms early on was that there was always just too much going on in their music, and so they overcorrected and started writing droning songs where nothing at all would happen.   That was the biggest issue with Symphony of Enchanted Lands II; it was full of overlong filler songs with a couple great ones scattered around, whereas Triumph or Agony here gives us the worst of both worlds by giving us even more filler in the form of shorter but even more boring songs and filling almost the entire album with dull ballads.  Here's all you really need to know from this album, "Triumph or Agony", "Heart of the Darklands", "Son of Pain", parts of "Silent Dream", and parts of the trademark epic closing track, "The Mystic Prophecy of the Demon Knight".  That's three full songs and a handful of sections from two others, only one of any of those songs being one of the low tempo ballads/dullards.  This album is completely plagued with the sort, and many of Rhapsody's trademarks are missing.  There's no folksy bouncy track like "The March of the Swordmaster", "The Village of Dwarves" or "Danza di Fuoco e Ghiaccio", nor are there any out-and-out burners like "Holy Thunderforce", "Agony is My Name" or "Rain of a Thousand Flames". 

"The Mystic Prophecy of the Demon Knight" may not hold a candle to previous and future album closers like "Symphony of Enchanted Lands", "Gargoyles, Angels of Darkness", or the near perfect "Heroes of the Waterfalls' Kingdom", but it's pretty serviceable for what it aims for and does a good job of bringing the album full circle by repeating the motifs of the overture.  It has a nice, typical Rhapsody style chorus, full of over the top projection and fluff, it's exactly the kind of thing fans want to hear.  So even though it isn't quite as good from a songwriting standpoint as we know the band can be, it's still pretty refreshing after seven or eight tracks that sound like an entirely different, and entirely less inspired band.  The first proper song, the title track, is also extremely good.  It's actually somewhat frustrating because it starts the album off on such a high note and lulls you into a false sense of security, feigning a fast, energetic journey to contrast the previous album's more laid back sightseeing tour.  The pre-chorus in particular is among the catchiest vocal lines that Lione has ever sang.


It's unfortunate that the darker, more intense yet overly bombastic sound of the first track fades away so quickly.  The next track is another fun, shreddy track, but after that the album just drops anchor and shits out three ballads in a row.  I mean, I'm not going to pretend that ballads automatically suck (I actually like "Son of Pain" pretty well), but they have never been the band's strength, and the fact that they always manage to shoehorn in at least one per album has always irritated me and has always held the band back from releasing any full, start to finish genre-defining classics.  Rhapsody is an energetic band and is at their best when gripping their hilts with vigor and determination, not languidly stroking their flaccid shafts while trying so desperately to emote anything other than enthusiastic spunk.   Trudging through nearly 45 minutes of a Rhapsody album nearly entirely devoid of Turilli and Starpoli's absurd guitar/keyboard soloing is like... man I sat here for like fifteen minutes with that sentence half finished because that is so unheard of.  Things like the completely obnoxious soloing and oversaturation of choirs and overblown orchestration is exactly what made the band what they were, and the dearth of all of these qualities leaves us with a very hollow, uninspired album.  The entire thing just runs by as if on autopilot, and save for the handful of exciting sections, it's just completely unstimulating.

I don't even know who Triumph or Agony is supposed to appeal to, honestly.  Old fans of the Emerald Sword Saga are going to find the utter lack of energy to be wanting, and the non-fans who disliked how busy and over the top the band previously was will likely find the exact same problem.  Like I said, the album just feels like a huge overcorrection in response to a criticism that called for something antithetical to the band's modus operandi in the first place.  They were a group of nerds and manchildren who didn't seem to realize how silly they were, but played everything so straight that it was endearing, and the goofy music was so enjoyable that there was no reason to hold it against them.  It seems that this album and its predecessor show a band who became self aware and then focused too much on trying to be more mature and dark, and it just ends up sounding like dull, plodding crap.  Thankfully, the following albums would rectify these issues (I'm going to just go ahead and blame Joey DeMaio's shitty label/attitude), but as it stands, the whole time spent with Magic Circle stands as the dead-ball era of Rhapsody's career, and Triumph or Agony illustrates the phenomenon brilliantly.  In the realm of over-the-top symphonic power metal, Rhapsody is one of the perennial heavyweight champions, and this is an album with only trace amounts of over-the-top, power, or even metal.  You do the math.

RATING - 27%

Monday, July 29, 2013

Diamond Plate - At the Mountains of Madness

Memories of carnage and Pink Camera John

Well... the first handful of advance reviews for my former pet hometown heroes, Diamond Plate, are beginning to pour in, and the forecast is looking pretty grim.  I'll tackle that album when the time comes, but right now the sting of disappointment has dissipated into the warmth of nostalgia.  I remember this band of shrimps when they were all still in high school and utterly unable to grow facial hair.  I remember the buzz surrounding them after they opened for Overkill and Destruction and other assorted shows and stood their ground and held the stage just as well as the 25+ year thrash veterans.  I remember them whoring themselves out by playing seemingly every single marginally thrash related show in the Chicagoland area for years, just building reputation with an exuberant live performance and boundless energy, not to mention some excellent songs to boot.  I think back and remember how goddamn awesome they were once upon a time, and so I ask that you join my in my malted reveries today, as I take a look back at Diamond Plate's first contribution to the metal world, the (what I hoped would one day be considered the legendary) first demo, At the Mountains of Madness.

It starts off with a pointless intro that nobody likes hearing (seriously bands, stop doing that bullshit, it's stupid), but once that single unnecessary minute is out of the way, we get treated to over twenty minutes of nonstop thrashing intensity.  I've cited the following EP, Relativity, to be the band's crowning achievement, and I still believe that, but At the Mountains of Madness is an almost equally excellent romp for different reasons.  It's a lot rougher, sloppier, and rawer than everything they did afterwards, and it translates their live energy quite well to the record.  At this point in time, the band is extremely young, like fifteen years old or something to that effect, and it shows clearly (especially in hindsight).  Despite three of the five songs here being featured on the following two releases, this stands as a very immature demo, but believe me when I say I mean that in the most endearing way possible.  The songwriting is pretty basic for the most part, not entirely the pop structure of verse-chorus-blahblahblah, but far and away more simplistic than the more longwinded and progressive tendencies they would find themselves flirting with on Generation Why?

But what the songwriting lacks in complexity, it makes up for with intensity.  "Maelstrom", "The Alchemist", and the title track are the most obvious examples to point towards when discussing the youthful fervor of the band.  The riffing is that awesome blend of Megadeth, Anthrax, and Destruction that they had made their trademark at this juncture, with the classic stomps of the New York thrash scene being showcased in "Casualty of War" and "Criminal Justice", while the more straightforward, Slayer-influenced ones on the earlier tracks set the pace somewhere a hair above mach 6.  I've written about most of these songs three times over now, so all you really need to know is that they're all a devilish blend of ferocious and infectious.  The chorus of "At the Mountains of Madness" can easily stick in your head for a week if you let it, and the main riff of "Criminal Justice", despite it's relative simplicity, is one of the best examples of how to take a really basic thrash riff and keep it interesting over the course of a song.  These kids pretty much figured it out early and harnessed their extraordinary riff writing ability for as long as they apparently could. 

The sound here is surprisingly thick for a three piece demo, if a bit guitar heavy in the sense that the bass is somewhat drowned.  It's not particularly bone breaking and it's not as polished up as they would later be, but it's pretty clean for a first demo.  Don't let that fool you though, At the Mountains of Madness is still very rough around the edges soundwise, and it helps keep them grounded in the DIY mentality of early thrash that they so readily exemplify.  Jon's vocals have always been a point of contention with many people, and they're just as divisive and controversial here as they've ever been.  It's a really hoarse shout, more along the lines of a dry bark than anything else.  It's not the best sound but I don't know what else would really fit with the band's style.  A more Araya inspired yell maybe?  I dunno, they could be better, but they've pretty much always been the only aspect of the band's early days that I wasn't entirely in love with, and even then I still like them, they're just kind of awkward sounding.

In my mind, this is the Diamond Plate I'll do my best to always remember.  The poofy headed Paul Baloff bassist and the prepubescent little blond kid on guitar, the high octane thrash with expertly written riffs and explosively melodious soloing, the huge Megadeth influence and overwhelming vigor.  This is what they used to represent; the next generation of metal bands.  Whether they still do or not is up for debate.  They've certainly exploded in popularity and branched out musically, but the thrash scene that helped nurture them has been abandoned in recent years.  These homegrown prodigies captured lightning in a bottle here on At the Mountains of Madness, and even managed to capture slightly more thunder in a slightly bigger bottle on Relativity the following year, but after that they've just been missing the bottle and end up getting struck. 

RATING - 91%

Friday, July 19, 2013

Powerwolf - Preachers of the Night

Lukewarm, predictable, awesome, ehhh

"Look! Up in the sky!  It's a bird! It's a plane!  It's.... Captain Obvious!"


"Yes, kids, it is I, Captain Obvious.  BastardHead really likes Powerwolf."

"Wow, thanks Captian Obvious!"

"You're welcome.  Also, nobody excitedly points to the sky when they think they see a bird unless they're a child or handicapped.  That saying is stupid and you should feel bad."


And with that extended superfluousness out of the way, let me remind you all again, Powerwolf is fucking awesome.  They're a one trick pony, but goddamn do I love that one trick.  They're all about huge choirs and huge riffs and huge everything, and that's really about as deep as they go.  There're no hidden meanings, no layers to peel away to reveal some masterfully crafted depth or complexity, they're a band meant to be taken at face value; a group that revels in the big, the silly, and the juvenile.  It's all pomp and bombast, and it's a ton of fun and that's all I really ask out of the band.  They rock at simple heavy metal with giant church organs, latin choirs, and epic choruses, that's what they should stick to.

Preachers of the Night, their insanely anticipated fifth full length, is... uhhh, kind of disappointing.  It's strange, because some of the songs just fucking nail it, and right out of the gate we're treated to a flood of great tracks, with "Amen and Attack" being one of the best songs the band has ever written.  But before long, you find yourself wondering where the energy of the band wandered off to during the middle stretch of the album.  Yeah, the overall tempo has been reduced, which really shouldn't matter considering the band was never all about speed, and instead more about just getting a massive feeling, which is arguably easier to do with a slower tempo anyway.  But let's be honest, tracks like "Murder at Midnight" and "Living on a Nightmare" aren't anywhere near as awesome as "Seven Deadly Saints" or "Saturday Satan".  Most of the tracks on Preachers of the Night are of the former school of thought, and it's depressingly hit or miss.  "Sacred and Wild" takes this more laid back approach and knocks it out of the park, with one of the most maddeningly infectious hooks the band has ever written, with a memorable and fist pumping chorus.  And then it's followed up by "Kreuzfeuer", which is a pure and true filler track of the most obvious kind.  Unfortunately, a lot of this album feels like that, just simple filler, playing it safe and not challenging themselves in the slightest.

On one hand, I didn't mind that they consistently kept reaching into the same bag of tricks for each album leading up to this one.  I was introduced via Blood of the Saints, and I loved it.  I said "Man, this is so much fun, it's just so gigantic and magniloquent, I want more songs like these".  And so I set out to hear their previous albums, and my thoughts after hearing them were "Man, this is so much fun, it's just so gigantic and magniloquent, I want more songs like these".  The point is that Powerwolf reliably scratched the same itch for me, time and time again, and I guess Preachers of the Night here is just the point where I scratched myself raw.  The second, third, and fourth albums were all pretty guilty of reusing song structures and vocal melodies between themselves, but hell, I let Gargoyle and Deicide and whatnot get away with it, so big effin' deal, right?  Powerwolf essentially just went from "consistent, like Vader" to "shameless self plagiarism, like Amon Amarth". 

That's not to say they don't also emulate Amon Amarth in the sense that there are still some stunningly great tracks to be found here.  I've said it time and time again, but "Amen and Attack" is potentially one of the best songs the band has written yet.  It's a high octane heavy metal number with all the signature Powerwolf traits (the organs, the choirs, the lyrics) but it's just written extraordinarily well in how catchy and entertaining it is.  Also, as I said, "Sacred and Wild" is a magnificent entry into the "kinda slower Powerwolf tracks" catalog, and is potentially the best song on here apart from that damn opener.  And as always, there are a slew of good tracks scattered throughout the rest of the album ("Coleus Sanctus", "Secrets of the Sacristy", "Extatum et Oratum"), but there are also a couple completely unmemorable stinkers to be found ("Kreuzfeuer", "Lust for Blood", "Nochnoi Dozor"). That's the biggest problem here, actually.  It's just not as memorable as the previous three albums.  I mean, they've all ended on a more grandiose and lengthy track, but "Last of the Living Dead" is probably the least interesting of them all.

For all my complaining about repeating themselves, I do have to give special mention to the exception to the rule, "Secrets of the Sacristy".  That particular one stands out for being the closest thing to straight up europower they've ever done.  It's probably their fastest song, and is just structured, riffed, and designed in such a way that it could easily be a Gamma Ray song if there was a different vocalist.  And on that note, Atilla Dorn is still goddamn awesome as a frontman.  I love his powerful, theatrical style; and even if he uses the same five vocal melodies for every song, I don't really mind because he's so goddamn charismatic.  The predictable climaxes and giant choral arrangements are always made all the more bearable merely with the inclusion of his thu'um.  The gothic horror themes just lend themselves to his operatic style, and I wouldn't change it for the world.

Basically, four tracks in, I publicly declared that Powerwolf is firmly in the ranks of bands like Enforcer and Hour of Penance in the sense that they'll keep ranking on my year-end lists as long as they just keep doing what they're doing.  By the time the album was over, I was regretting saying such a thing.  The songwriting is just finally dull to me, these ideas worked brilliantly for the first seven rounds or so, but I guess they just don't quite have the power to be reheated for an eighth time.  Powerwolf's music was a lot like pizza or donuts in the sense that it was extremely delicious, and you could leave it on the counter for a week and it would still be good.  Their theatrical heavy/power metal style doesn't ever really expire (I maintain that "When the Moon Shines Red" and "St. Satan's Day" are timeless classics), but Preachers of the Night is the stage where the ants have wandered their way into the box.  It's still good pizza, but you just need to brush off the filth and then do your best to forget that it was there before you eat, but it still tastes fine (don't judge).  The strange thing is that I don't really want the band to leave their comfort zone in the future.  I mean, it'd be neat, but at the same time, shit I like how they sound already.  They just need to make the songs interesting again, because their niche is still goddamn awesome and I wouldn't change it for the world. There's a great EP in here made up of the first four tracks plus "Extatum et Oratum", but otherwise it's easily the most forgettable album since the debut.  Shame, since those five tracks are just as great as the band usually is when running on all cylinders.


"Remember!  Powerwolf is a silly band and was never meant to be taken too seriously.  If you do, that's fine, but you're completely missing the point if you do.


RATING - 70%

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Oh, Sleeper - Children of Fire

More of a rant than a review here.

Okay, this is going to be a slightly different  review than normal, because it's going to be less about the music itself, and more about the themes, concept, and what the band represents.  This is also going to be kind of weird because I'm going to try and explain some of my own views of morality and religion, especially within the context of metal/hardcore/heavy music in general. 

Now, allow me to be a hypocrite here for a second and say something that completely goes against my opening sentence; the ostracizing of Christian metal bands is fucking stupid because a style of music is not a religion, and so the members' ideology and/or lyrical themes can't really go against what it "stands for" because it doesn't "stand for" anything.  It's purely audial, and unless you're one of those really fervent "black metal is a mindset, not a sound" bigots or "If you're not into metal, you are not my friend!" Manowarrior zealots, you probably can at least understand that.  If a band is made up of members who love Darkthrone but are also devout Christians, what happens?  You get Horde or Antestor or something, and then who cares?  Saying that Christian metal is an affront to the ideologies of metal because so many of the second wave black metal acts were so profoundly anti-Christian and burned all those churches in Norway and such is like saying that anybody who plays metal at all but isn't a working class white guy from Birmingham goes against what metal initially stood for because that's the demographic that makes up Black Sabbath and Judas Priest.  Hating Christians that much because they are all apparently bigoted drones is just the most staggering display of irony I've almost ever witnessed, and then despising their music that may be sonically pleasing to you simply because you disagree with their themes is just blisteringly thick.  Fuck, if I can realize that Arghoslent's themes are despicable but that doesn't suddenly make their riffs any less ear catching, then surely so many of you "enlightened" dickturds can do the same with your precious, untouchable ethos of all that is dark and evil.  Is the concept of irony really so foreign?

Okay, now that I've incinerated the shit out of that strawman (who is much less straw than I'd hope, spend some time at MA or any black metal board and talk about Christian metal and see how little of that I made up), I suppose I should get to the point here, Oh, Sleeper's third album, Children of Fire.  I'm gonna get the musical aspects out of the way first, because A) that at least gives this rant the framework of a review, giving me personal validation for publishing it in the first place and B) it's by far the least interesting part.  It's metalcore, but there's really very little metal at work here.  Bands like As I Lay Dying or For Today can lay big heaping slabs of melodeath, strong string skipping riffs, and pummeling double bass to give the music a more metallic base, but Oh, Sleeper here pretty much just sticks to the hardcore side of the equation, with very little metal influence at all.  There are tons of noisy, dissonant sections and seemingly nonsensical tapping melodies flitting away in the background at nearly all times, with a very chaotic pace and purely hardcore screams.  One thing I need to point out are the clean vocals, which (unlike most bands in the metalcore/post-hardcore genre) are really good.  They sound more alternative and powerful than most.  As opposed to the hilarious wimpiness of As I Lay Dying or the god fucking awful autotuned bullshit of We Came as Romans, what we have here are very assertive and either commanding or soothing, depending on the mood they're going for in that particular section.  The music is all very well done, though it lacks identity in spots.  I mean, there are some vocal patterns that stand out (like the "All we need is FAME FAME FAME" from "Dealers of Fame", for example) and there are excellent chugging sections and breakdowns strewn all about the album, but few of the songs really stand out for their musical content.  Normally this would be a huge problem (it is a problem, but it's very minor for reasons I'm about to explain), but there's a superfluous element of Children of Fire that make it very special, and pretty solidly one of my favorite albums in the Christian metalcore subniche.

It's the concept.  Oh, Sleeper's last two albums have been concept albums, but this second one here just absolutely nails a theme that so many of their peers completely miss.  Their previous album, Son of the Morning, is good, but it's not great.  There are a couple excellent songs like the title track or "The Finisher", but I don't think it's anything truly special.  Just an above average metalcore album to me.  But it too is a concept album, and it sets up the wonderful Children of Fire here.  The story in Son of the Morning is pretty basic, it's just about a war between God and Satan, a physical manifestation of the classic good versus evil trope.  In the end, God of course wins the battle and in doing so, severs Satan's horns (resulting the the (admittedly very cool) band logo with the broken pentagram).  Children of Fire begins right at that moment, with Satan's horns falling to the ground.  The twist, and what makes this album so interesting to me, is that when they land, both Satan and God just straight up disappear.  That's it, right there, God just died and humanity just witnessed it.  He sacrificed Himself to eliminate the manifestation of evil and now mankind is on their own.  This sets up a world where there is no fear of Hell, nor reward of Heaven, and it deals with how humanity deals with this new predicament.  It follows the idea that without these things, humanity will devolve into utter chaos (though there is a chink in the armor in the sense that it provides a universe with irrefutable evidence of the afterlife and yet completely fails to address the elephant in the room in "well, if there's no longer a heaven or hell, then where the fuck do all the people who die after that battle go?").  The story follows two characters, at first a devout religious man who now feels betrayed that he gave his life to God only to be abandoned, and his previously staunchly atheist daughter who just witnessed firsthand that the teachings of Christianity were 100% true, leaving her with innumerable questions about the nature of everything she knows, leaving her feeling confused about her previous life and where she's heading now.

The preacher at first expresses his utter disdain for what just happened, fearing for the future without his God and blaming him for whatever comes.

You can't just up and leave, abandonment is the thumbprint of that cur who just hit the ground

He pretty much declares this the end of humanity, and embraces the new world of chaos as a means to continue the teachings he had spent his entire life abiding by, telling the world that God is now dead, and it's because we as a collective have failed in His teachings, and now He's left us and we're on our own and must survive in this new wasteland.

Well if all that remains is our avaricious wit,
Then an eye for an eye is the only law that can exist.

What sets him off is finding his daughter raped.  In a rage, he finds the offender and kills him, taking his head in the process.  Once he does this, he finds a new calling in avenging the victims of unspeakable crimes, and eventually gathers followers in his quest.  They spend the next couple songs taking out some real-life murderers in the name of justice (like Samir Kuntar's murder of a family in 1979 in "Hush Yael" and the 3guys1hammer kids in "Dealers of Fame"), and in the end coming to blame humanity as a whole for these people becoming what they were.

But we measure their doses and give them a flame
So the charge is on us; we are the dealers of fame

Eventually, his daughter begins to see the hypocrisy of what he's become by standing for God and becoming something so opposite in the process.  The teachings of mercy and love were completely lost on him and his followers, who were shown to merely have a shallow understanding of God, instead focusing on the personal gain to be had through vengeance and violence.  One of the basest views of Christianity I've been able to see in my life is "God creates, Satan perverts", and here are a group of men and women who have so thoroughly perverted the initial message of the teachings and yet are completely oblivious to the fact, instead further perpetuating the chaos in the aftermath of God's departure. 

Beware for there's a zealot unleashed and sighting the end
Through a scope of righteousness that's blinded by blood on the lens

And now this daughter, while everybody else has lost their faith, is just beginning hers, trying to make sense of this new world where it was proven that her beliefs were wrong and that those who are supposedly following the teachings of what was right are in turn so evil.  She searches for a reason, anything to help guide her to the light that her father is so desperately missing.  She yearns for a means to believe, unable to let go of her previous scrutiny due to the hell on earth in which she now exists.  She eventually does find a group of believers, who help answer her questions and provide her with some clarity, teaching that even though God is dead, his message should not be abandoned, and that love and mercy are still the pillars by which one should base their life on in order to spread peace and wellbeing throughout the world.

Spread wide your wings
Let the draft lift you up
You've heard the call of the future flock
You're coming home

The daughter begins to grow more resentful of the perverted teachings her father is perpetuating, enraged by his hypocrisy, and despite her newfound faith in mercy, she finds herself in a moment of weakness and succumbs to opportunity and murders her father in his sleep.  

He's got the voice of a con, the same one
Who cut down in the name of his God,
Who took on the robe of a judge,
Without a license to kill without cause.
He's not worth it.
Remember what he did that made you question all the words he cited

This is the only part where the narrative seems to slip up a bit, because she seems to be forgiven for her crime extraordinarily quickly, but it may also have something to do with the fact that she's truly remorseful for straying from the path and succumbing to the same eye for an eye mentality that her hypocritical and misguided father had been living in.  She prays for forgiveness and realizes her folly, vowing to become a beacon for what His teachings truly meant.  True virtue and love, mercy and understanding.  She learns through guilt that it is not man's place to judge another's worthiness of existence.  It's not mankind's place to remove those who aren't fit, it's up to God.

But... there is no God anymore, what good does this revelation do her?

Well psyche!  I'm gonna quote Tommy Lee Jones here and say "Elvis is not dead, he just went home".  The closing title track shows the skies opening up and God raining down his judgment on the world.  Yeah, apparently God dying just sends him right back to Heaven, fucking durrrr.  Cleansing rain falls from the sky, healing and lifting those believers (like the daughter) up to salvation in Heaven for spreading love and mercy (apparently she repented juuuuust before the deadline), while zealots of her father are showered in fire. 

It's so far from rain, the lot will feel pain.
As it singes their skin but for you it will soothe

And thus the world ends, the good are saved and those who took everything the wrong way are punished.  The end.

You notice something different about this from most typical preachy Christian bands?  Not once are non-believers addressed.  At no point are those who don't believe punished, not once are followers of other religious ideals portrayed as villains.  Sure, it's implied that they died in the apocalypse as well, but it's never stated explicitly; this entire story focuses on the beliefs of Christianity itself and paints half of it's own members in an antagonistic light.  Where I, the Breather and For Today go for an "if you're not with us, you're against us" mentality, Oh, Sleeper instead lets be those who don't impede on their lives or spread evil.  They turn the other cheek and let people be people, knowing that there are naturally good folks who don't support the destruction of humanity purely for not expressly praying every night.  If somebody comes seeking answers, they'll point them to what they believe is right, but their message is not to convert all the non believers, lest they perish on the same level as those who seek to destroy what they believe.  No, they provide a guiding light to those who seek it, and their efforts are otherwise spent on trying to purify those who pervert the initial message of their faith.  This is a thinly veiled criticism on people like the infamous Westboro Baptist Church, the entire point of Children of Fire is that true evil comes from those who use something holy and righteous as a vehicle for violence, bigotry, and hate.  It's essentially the musical manifestation of the old saying "God prefers a peaceful atheist to a hateful Christian".  Children of Fire acknowledges that not all Christians are perfect, and that many can indeed sin in the name of God, entirely missing the point of what they're supposed to believe in.

There's even an interview where the vocalist, Micah Kinard, explains the concept behind the album, and then caps it off by saying that not all experiences with God are going to be the same, and they're not here to preach to you about how those who haven't seen the light are wrong and horrible sinners.  Everybody has their own thing and the point of Christianity is not to aggressively convert everybody.  It's exactly like the zealots in the album, wanting to lead as many people to salvation as possible is one thing, but becoming a forceful, hateful, arrogant person in doing so is entirely the wrong way to go about it.

In short, bands like I, the Breather and For Today (as much as I like some of the latter's albums) just don't get it.  Oh, Sleeper freakin' gets it, and I, as a non-believer, respect the absolute shit out of them for recognizing the folly of so many of their peers and just trying to be good people for the sake of being good people, instead of hating and antagonizing in the hopes that people will follow their views through sheer attrition.  Children of Fire has a great message that many bands in this little subcircle need to take notice of.  Musically, Children of Fire is very good, but conceptually it's something else entirely.  It's very refreshing as a guy who has an interest in this scene despite not necessarily following the beliefs many of the bands so fervently wish I would follow to see a band taking the message of love and mercy to heart, and not spreading hate and anger for those who aren't on their side, instead showing that the path is here if they so choose, but first they need to expunge the poison within themselves before worrying about everybody else.

I love you Oh, Sleeper.  Please continue to be awesome people in addition to making really good metalcore.  And metal fans the world over, if you don't like Christianity, that's fine, but don't be a fucking cock about it, the irony in such a mindset is so thick that it could kill a canary.  That's really just me scratching an itch more than anything, but goddamn, seriously.

RATING - 85%

Monday, July 8, 2013

Rotten Sound - Exit

All hail the head vein!

I know very little about grindcore.  I can't listen to any one band and tell you why they are good for their style.  I have no idea what grind fans love about grind and what makes Grind Album X grind grindier than Grind Album Y.  I only grind a grindful of grind bands and I'm not even sure if they're the grindiest.  Grindcore rarely even grinds what I'd refer to as "grinding" in the first place, since it grinds at far too high of a grind to truly grind the feel of grinding some grind.

The point is that "grind" is a really stupid word, and now you all agree with me.

But no, the real point is that, while I'm not as intricately familiar with grindcore as I am with death, thrash, or power metal, I do know good music when I hear it, and Finland's Rotten Sound is damn good.  Their fourth album here, 2005's Exit, ranks as the strongest to me, and it may well be because of the splendid marriage of both sheer, nut-shattering intensity and bleak, apocalyptic nihilism.  Exit, to me, is the kind of album that angry fifteen year old outcasts would write if they actually had any idea how to properly convey their ideas.  Every track is just chock full of fast, to-the-throat evaluations of our places in society as merely cogs in the machine, the inevitable downfall of us all due to the overwhelming greed of those in power, and the depression of soldiering forward as a faceless drone weighed against the futility of trying to break free from the mold.  There's no way out, life is terrible, you know it and I know it, let's get together to demolish a house with our fists and then eat a gun.

The band gets these themes across with the utmost fervor, blasting away with a wall of sound moving at light speed, completely overwhelming you as if you're standing under a waterfall; except instead of water, it's bile.  The opening title track takes about forty seconds or so before it really starts, but when the distorted ambiance gives way, we're treated to twenty seconds of the most blisteringly fierce music imaginable.  And it never lets up from there.  Apart from the fake-out ending of "The Weak", Exit never takes its foot off the gas, and the album would only suffer if it were to take any other path.  Every last track is just stuffed to the gills with blasty poundy rippy shreddy deathgastic fuckfarting.  That doesn't make sense, but at the same time it totally does.  There are riffs here and there, and in fact this is quite riffy for grindcore (based on my admittedly loose grasp on the genre), but it takes a back seat to the overwhelming intensity.  There's pretty much no room to rest here, and it's just a constant barrage of blasts and shouts, but really what else could this possibly consist of?  There are some cool flourishes like the drainpipe gurgle at the end of "Maggots" or the bass break in "Mass Suicide" or the mosh riff in "Western Cancer", but they're relatively few when weighted against the brick wall of clipped relentlessness.

I know that all comes off as kinda vague, but there's only so much you can say about Exit.  It's bleak and nihilistic and just takes a really balls out aggressive approach to the themes presented.  The world sucks, and sometimes you're not just sad about it, you're fucking pissed about it, and that's what Rotten Sound allows you to do.  Exit is the soundtrack for lashing out against the frustrations of everyday life and just taking absolutely no prisoners in your rampage.  There's nothing held back, and as a result it's actually kind of one-dimensional, but this approach is so good that I find myself not caring.  It's fast, unrelenting obliteration, and is a perfect album for venting your stress (aka: "punching shit to pieces while screaming your head off").

RATING - 91%

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Powerwolf - The Rockhard Sacrament

Duality: good content; not worth it

This really shouldn't even count as a real release.  It's just a little teaser EP that comes with the July 2013 issue of the German Rock Hard Magazine.  It's got two tracks from the upcoming (and (at least on my end) absurdly anticipated) new Powerwolf album, Preachers of the Night, two cover tracks, the b-side from the "Amen and Attack" single, and an orchestral arrangement of the lead hype track, the aforementioned "Amen and Attack".  As such, this is going to be a really short one, but I just can't keep my mouth shut and wait for the album to drop.  Why?  Every pre-release thing has made me jizz everywhere.

Take a look at that cover, Powerwolf is still just as corny and juvenile as they've always been, but man I wouldn't change a thing about them.  I love how seriously they take their theatrics while still having a blast while doing it.  Powerwolf has fun with their gimmick, but they never come off as those insincere dolts who will sneakily shoot an aside to their friends about how they're just doing this "ironically".  Like how 2 Chainz and Chainsaw Penis are apparently bad on purpose, Powerwolf is silly on purpose, but they play it so straight that it's just endearing.  I can see how this can turn people off, but the childishness is just infinitely charming to me, and it certainly helps that I love their music as well.

Yeah, musically, the offerings on The Rockhard Sacrament are just as stellar as ever.  The three original works are all for the most part pretty stunningly catchy and gigantic.  That's what I love about this band, I love the colossal bombast they throw behind what are otherwise pretty standard heavy metal songs.  They're full of high tempo riffing and big, anthemic, fist pumping choruses, but they back this already stadium-filling style of songwriting with gigantic church organs and massive choirs.  It's all so overblown and dramatic that it just perfectly appeals to my attention-whore qualities.  Everything Powerwolf does is in-your-face and deafening, and that's really all I want out of my heavy metal bands.  The three original works ("Amen and Attack", "In the Name of God", and "Living on a Nightmare") all fit this basic criteria, with the lattermost being a bit slower and more laid back, kind of in the vein of "Murder at Midnight" from the previous album.

That's one of the bigger problems with Powerwolf, and I'll freely admit it.  They are very guilty of sticking to sticking to a few set formulas and almost never deviating from them.  As much as I love "Amen and Attack" (and I have to stress I really fucking love it), it's pretty similar to something like "Sanctified with Dynamite", "Phantom of the Funeral", or "Seven Deadly Saints", and "In the Name of God" is basically "In Blood We Trust v.2.0".  So they're still pretty unoriginal in the grand scheme of things, but like so many other bands, they make up for it with an abundance of enthusiasm and a hugely energetic performance.  Because let's face it, Powerwolf is a band of showmen, they write some kick ass basic heavy metal with some neat gothic flourishes, but they're more about the spectacle overall.  And frankly, that spectacle shines through this music, and there's nothing I would change about their approach.  The Rockhard Sacrament is just an pointless little teaser, but it shows what the band is in a nutshell, and it's a really cool bonus for established fans like myself.

But with that said, it is pretty unnecessary.  I mean, "Amen and Attack" was already released online a while back, and "Living on a Nightmare" isn't even going to be featured on Preachers of the Night.  The covers are pretty cool, but they aren't worth seeking this out for ("The Headless Cross" sounds really cool, especially for a guy like me who just never got into the Tony Martin era of Sabbath, but "Nightcrawler" absolutely pales in comparison to Judas Priest's original (then again, Painkiller is just a goddamn perfect album and there's no way to improve upon its songs anyway (the fact that I love that album so much more than Sad Wings of Destiny also probably goes a long way in explaining why I love Powerwolf so much more than Virgin Steele (man this is one hell of a run-on parenthetical aside)))).  Basically yeah, this is a pretty pointless release, but it works well as a vessel for hyping up the new album, because here I am using my drool as lube while I pleasure myself in anticipation for it.  If you're not a fan of the silly childishness of the band's gimmick or the pretty standard Accept/Running Wild style heavy metal with gargantuan latin choruses or obnoxious church organ, this isn't going to change your mind.  Fans like me?  Eh... the content is good, but just wait and get the deluxe edition of Preachers of the Night if you want to hear the covers.

Basically, this has two ratings:

VALUE - 35%

Monday, July 1, 2013

5150 - Symphonic Touhou VI


I'm not sure when it happened, but somewhere down the line over the past few months or so, I started treading down that dreaded path of the weeaboo.  You know the type, the boy who sits around, whacking off to Rozen Maiden and the girl cosplaying as Mion from Higurashi no Naku Koro ni; the two of them cornholing each other in a storage shed.  Yeah, lately, I've been skipping happily down that unbearably fruity trail for reasons even I don't understand.  There's just some bizarre allure to Japanese culture to me.  I love the language, I love how it sounds when spoken and looks when written, I love the old history and how such a large and populous nation managed to stay isolated from the entire world for so long.  I love the weird little cultural quirks in media that seem to exist nowhere else (like anime and other obvious shit).  I wish I could explain, but all this means is that I've basically just been listening to more Gargoyle than usual and lying to myself as I try to shoehorn myself into a subculture I have nothing to do with.  But regardless, I feel like a human being walking into the Great Youkai Forest for the first time, which brings me to the subject today, the cult classic bullet hell shooter, Touhou Project.

I'll be honest, I know fuck all about Touhou, I just know that there are a gargantuan contingent of bands/guitarists who take arrangements from the game and either cover or rearrange them.  This basically means that there are throngs of completely sugary, cutesy, and over-the-top power metal bands with obnoxiously epic songs and guitar parts overflowing out of Japan.  How is that not the greatest thing?  My lord, it's like there's been this incredibly massive subniche just waiting underneath my feet for eons, brimming with huge, bubbly flower metal.  I mean, Timeless Miracle's themes are really dark, but the music is as light and fluffy as it comes, and I've always been chasing that proverbial dragon, trying to find something equally light, fun, and memorable.

I found it in 5150.

This is pretty much my first Touhou/Doujin artist (I'd heard Iron Attack! before, but it didn't do much for me (I definitely need to revisit this, though)), and his four zillionth album, Symphonic Touhou VI, is pretty goddamn light, fun, and memorable.  Oh boy would you look at that?  That's exactly what I was asking for ever since falling in love with Timeless Miracle all those years ago!  Apparently, of Ryu-5150's dozen and a half full length albums, only some of them are Touhou arrangements, while the rest are original work.  Judging by the title of this, it's a pretty safe assumption that this is a Touhou album, and by Jove it's really goddamn good.  Apparently there are fourteen official games in the series, and since I'm new to this, there's no goddamn chance I'm about to just start plowing through all of them to figure out where all of these songs came from, and if Iron Attack! taught me anything, it's that I wouldn't be able to tell anyway since most Touhou artists rarely full-on cover any given song, usually just taking main melodies or lead lines and formulating entirely new pieces around them, rearranging the given parts to create something completely unique.  So, Touhou fans, I'm assuming this is the same thing here.

But even if it isn't, Symphonic Touhou VI is a quite enthralling romp through light, happy power metal of the catchiest kind.  For real, if you can get the choruses to "Like a Universe" or "Providence" out of your head in less than two weeks after initially hearing it, you are a fucking android.  Everything here is just so obnoxiously infectious, it's almost infuriating.  The vocals are beyond sugary and syrupy, taking the Tommy Johanssen approach of sanding all of the grit out of your voice and leaving with the most crystal clear, smooth sounding singing voice imaginable.  It sounds like it should be lacking in power, but he manages to put a surprising amount of force behind something so innocent and cute sounding.  It's like the vocal equivalent of a fire hose, if that makes any sense.

The main guy here (who goes by the oh so creative name of Ryu-5150) handles every instrument, not one other person is involved in the recording process here, and it shows he's a pretty great songwriter, as standard as this stuff is.  It's pretty straightforward light power metal with huge choruses and an unhealthy slathering of keys and synths, but it's all so ear catching and poppy that it's hard to hold any vitriol against it for any perceived unoriginality.  The lyrics are, as far as I can tell, in hilariously accented Engrish (another reason I will always have a soft spot for cleanly sung foreign metal) that are about basically nothing.  Something about how the sun is down in Wichita so we must have slept the wrong way.  I HAVE NO IDEA, I DON'T CARE.  It's so bubbly and infectious, how can you possibly turn away from something like this?  Even Tard can't keep up her facade around something this happy.

And you know the strangest part?  Even that's not entirely true, because as happy and jovial and upbeat as this album is, there are still two huge exceptions to the rule.  Those exceptions are the tracks "Moment of Death" and "Sacrifice".  I swear on my mother's grave I'm not making this next part up, but those two songs are just straight up black metal.  Out of fucking nowhere come these super fast paced meloblack songs with some light keys in the background.  It's like somebody making a mixtape of Stratovarius songs and then just chucking in two Emperor songs for shiggles.  The best part is that they're just as good as the flower metal songs.  They're not as catchy, obviously, but they're well written and memorable, and no part of the performances comes off as phony.  Normally I'd lambast something like this for breaking the flow, but it's just so unexpected and (most importantly) well done that I don't even care.  I can't imagine this appealing to everybody, but hell, it appeals to me.  Are all Touhou albums like this?  I hope not, I want this to be special.

And you know what?  Symphonic Touhou VI is fucking special.  I don't give a shit that it's part of a scene that essentially just covers songs in a roundabout way, I don't care that this is the sixth album in this particular artist's series, I don't care at all.  I love this and I will cherish it forever.  This is the exact style of light, fluffy flower metal that the world can never have enough of.  Seriously, this isn't for everybody.  If you're the kind of person who thinks Rhapsody of Fire has no balls and is all just fruity keyboards and sissy vocals, A) you obviously haven't listened to any fucking Rhapsody songs and B) there's nothing you will enjoy about 5150.  Everything is so goddamn fun and cute and stupid and harmless and gah it's so damn fun.  Put on a skirt and just get lost in the fruitiness already, seriously.  If "Providence" were the national anthem, there'd be no war.  The only reason this doesn't get a perfect score is because fuck you that's why.

RATING - 94%