Wednesday, August 28, 2013

GOSPEL OF GARGOYLE: Gargoyle - Tenron

V: Heaven Theory

I've gone this far into this overwraught and hackneyed analysis of a band with a crazily dedicated fanbase without really talking about one of the biggest draws, She-ja's guitar playing/writing.  I go on and on about how much I love Kiba and Toshi, and while I don't blab as much about him, Katsuji as well (seriously, the guy has the skill and intensity of Dave Lombardo coupled with the creativity of Pablo Picasso on mushrooms), but She-ja really helped define the band's signature sound.  The blazing thrash/trad metal hybrids of his riffs worked so incredibly well under his huge Helloween/Gamma Ray styled lead lines and impeccable ear for melody that I feel like any other guitarist would have never helped forge an identity as strong as this one.  Both future guitarists that would end up in the band are excellent players and writers, but She-ja laid the groundwork for what they would do (yeah yeah I know Yotaro was an original member and had a hand in writing a some of the early songs, but She-ja is the one on record and the one we'll all remember, sucks to suck), and he did it spectacularly.  I haven't talked about him as much because it's pretty normal for a band of this style to have a great guitarist, so he's a little unfairly overlooked by me for that reason, but believe me, She-ja is the real deal.  For this early segment of the band's history, he was the only guitarist featured on each full length, and his final involvement with Gargoyle before leaving to focus on the slightly-less-so-but-still-awesome Volcano (or for being kicked out for being the Zapp Brannigan of Japanese metal, your choice), was 1993's foray into focused aggression and flat out wicked insanity, Tenron

While the attitude is on a level as lighthearted and fun as Aratama, Tenron is infinitely more aggressive.  The amount of metal songs have been upped here, with only one kinda light rocky song in "Inochi Yukashi Inochi Nagashi", and the rest either being fast barnburners like "Ame Ni Mo Makezu" or "Haretsu Ganbou", uplifting rippers like "Shinpan no Hitomi", fun bouncy romps like "Amoeba Life", or the greatest song ever like "Doumushishubai".

I say that a lot, I say tons of songs are the greatest songs ever.  Hell, just two days ago I claimed that about "Hito no Tame", but today, the greatest song ever is "Doumushishubai", and as far as I'm concerned at this very moment, it always has been and always will be.  Remember how "Hito no Tame" was the happiest goddamn song you've ever heard?  Well I lied, motherfucking "Doumushishubai" is the happiest song ever written.  Listen to how upbeat and poppy it is, listen to the female gospelpop singers belt out in the chorus, listen to how syncopated and how exuberant Kiba is to be singing this lines over such a fucking beautifully cheery beat.  Seriously, it sounds like it could be part of a children's television show, and it's incredible.  How could this not put a smile on your face?!  NO ONE HATES HULA HOOPS!

Seriously, I can't wipe the smile off my face while it's on if I tried.  There is nothing in the world better.

With that one (fucking sublime) exception, almost everything else to be found on Tenron is heavy and aggressive as all get out, spewing out some of the most intense swagger since Furebumi.  And what makes it so special when compared to the great-but-not-spectacular Aratama is that the different styles they toy with are a lot less cut and dry here.  What I mean is that there's a lot of cohesive blending of blistering thrash, uplifting heavy metal, melodic piano passages, funky party jams, and everything in between.  "Haretsu Ganbou" rivals "Dilemma" for the heaviest song written at this point, and "Wa ga Tousou" takes the route of "Propaganda" and just plays out like the musical representation of a psychotic episode.  "Ishikikyuu" is the first of many imitators to the monumental throne of "Ruten no Yo Nite", though (like the album as a whole), it's considerably more upbeat in execution than the somber dirge of that previous classic.  Apart from the mood being a bit lighter, and the track a bit shorter, it does emulate that song in it's pace, direction, and sheer weight.  "Shinpan no Hitomi" is another faceripping thrasher, but it's one of the most uplifting songs in the genre, with those patented Gargoyle melodies and the beautiful solitary piano notes punctuating said melodies in the outro, all backed by furious double bass and Kiba's trademark howling. 

If Aratama was a bit of a salad bowl in how all of the different elements intermingled with one another, Tenron is more of a melting pot, and the constant underscore of uplifting harmony gives the album a very special aura about it that makes it stand as potentially the crowning achievement of the She-ja era.  In fact, if there were no Furebumi, I'd be 100% confident in making that assessment, but as it stands, they have one more slightly more awe inspiring album already.  Like always, the slower lighter rock styled moments don't strike the same chord as the hard rocking and soaring numbers or the bone breakingly fierce thrash rippers (except for "Doumushishubai", which I reiterate is the best and happiest thing ever written holy shit), but it's a mere stumble instead of a completely comical faceplant.  It's a very positive sounding album, and even when it's being preposterously aggressive on shorter tracks like "Wa ga Tousou", "Haretsu Ganbou" or "Amoeba Life", it manages to put a smile on my face.  Yet another notch in Gargoyle's increasingly phallic bedpost.

RATING - 90%

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

GOSPEL OF GARGOYLE: Gargoyle - Kaikoroku

IV: Memoirs

Kiba and company must have anticipated the complaints about Aratama from brain dead thrashers like myself, because less than a month after the release of that lighter and funkier album, they released a short little EP by the name of Kaikoroku.  What this feels like to me is basically an olive branch to the fans of their heavier style, saying "Here guys, we haven't forgotten about you".  Considering everything here is a reworked version of songs from previous demos, singles, and whatnot, one could be forgiven for interpreting this as some sort of statement that the band was moving away from metal as a whole, and was thus giving their OG fans one last hurrah.  Spoiler alert: Tenron obliterates that assumption mightily, but after an album sprinkled with lighter and more progressive moments, Kaikoroku is a fun little bonus to be tacked on to the end.

Of the five tracks here, none of them are quite so standout awesome that I need to spend an entire paragraph ranting about it like I have with the previous albums, but nothing disappoints.  I initially had something here explaining my confusion with why the track on Furebumi named "Hunting Days" has so little (read: nothing at all) in common with the "Hunting Days" here, and it's been since brought to my attention that it's because "Hunting Days" was actually a bonus track on some versions of Furebumi, and whichever dickdolt translated the version I downloaded fucked that part up and mislabeled the last track.  So WHOOPS, oh well.  The point is that the track here starts with Kiba burning his hand on a stove and cussing out every neighbor he's ever had by name before the rest of the band pounds on some of the most headbangable rhythms ever written and tearing into the soundtrack to a burnt-hand-retribution spree killing.  Clearly two very different approaches, and the rest of the EP follows suit.  I'll admit to being unfamiliar with the original versions of the rest of the songs involved, but I imagine that they're either ever so slightly improved or ever so slightly worsened.  I doubt Gargoyle is the kind of band to completely butcher their own music.

The stop-start bounciness of "Kuro" stands out a bit, as do the more folksy elements of "Dying Message", the adventurous basslines of "Jaaku", and the sheer primal enthusiasm of "Crazy Sadism", but the fact that these are all relatively older songs is painfully apparent.  They're all tight, well composed and well played, but they don't feel as developed as as the last album prior to this.  But with that said, I'm going to completely counterpoise my argument from Aratama and say that the more immature and frenzied style on display here works brilliantly.  Aratama wasn't as refined as Furebumi, and Kaikoroku is more simplistic than either, but there's a lot of heart at play here.  The rhythm section is just as awesome as usual, showing that the bass and drums can do more than merely support the guitar, while Kiba and She-ja are incredibly charismatic as always.  There isn't as much to say here as there normally is because it's simply just a very short EP with each song following the same basic idea.  Luckily, that basic idea is "deathrape mouthfuck thrashnutting", so the heightened intensity and soaring power metal style leads over the creative yet pummeling riffage creates that signature Gargoyle sound that I and you and so many others love.  Despite not being quite as interesting as the band usually is, there isn't a lot wrong with Kaikoroku, and it's definitely worth hearing.

Especially for "Hunting Days".  There are few intros as effective at making me want to sucker punch wolves than the first 33 seconds of that song.

RATING - 83%

Monday, August 26, 2013

GOSPEL OF GARGOYLE: Gargoyle - Aratama

III: Uncut Gem

Right off the bat, Aratama shows itself as a different beast from the already spectacular Furebumi.  Where "Destroy" and "Ounou no Goku" eased you in to a very exciting romp through the cultural oddities and nut windmilling intensity of Gargoyle's inimitable brand of melodic thrash, "Shin Ou" starts off with Kiba yelling at the top of his lungs while the rest of the band just rips into an irresistibly moshable, rip-roaring thrashfest.  Straight away, Aratama attempts to cement itself as an even wilder version of the band that we've already grown to love, and for the most part it succeeds.

For the most part.

Now don't get me wrong, Aratama is still a great album (as evidenced by the mere fact that Gargoyle released it (you'll be a fanboy too someday, just you wait)), but I feel like despite the fact that it once again one-ups every aspect from it's predecessor, it's lacking that certain X factor that pushed Furebumi over the top.  It's the same reason Hangman's Hymn and In Somniphobia are better than Scorn Defeat and Infidel Art.  You'd have to be insane to suggest those latter two albums are anything other than great, but they lack the refinement that made the other albums that much better.  I realize this is coming from a guy who prefers Painkiller over Sad Wings of Destiny, but I feel like it just doesn't work quite as well here as it could have.

But really, that unquantifiable intangible is pretty much the only thing I find myself holding against this album (that and the redone version of "Cogito, Ergo Sum" is kinda bland and lacks the mysterious splendor of the original), because everything else is just fucking awesome in every capacity.  That completely unbridled insanity I had alluded to in the opening is fully realized on "Propaganda", which is basically just She-Ja riding on a creepy minor key riff at a very high tempo while occasionally interjecting wild dissonant guitar slides while Kiba rocks back in forth in a corner, rabidly yodeling like a mad dog killer trying feverishly to break out of his straight jacket.  And of course we have "Gaika", wherein Toshi basically just puts on a clinic and morphs into the bassist of Hibria for a song.  I mean seriously, the bass should not be this interesting and showy, it's just too damn cool.  And like usual, there are a couple bona fide fist banging thrash classics, like "Shin Ou", "Propaganda", and "Atama Ga Kowareta", the lattermost of which features yet another one of Kiba's most charismatic vocal performances, with his bizarre tics and manic delivery.

The special mentions this time around go to "Dogma", for replicating "Destroy" in the sense that there's another awesome dueling shredding guitar/violin solo.  Really, why don't more non-folk metal bands do this?  I didn't realize it was the greatest thing ever until I actually heard it, but holy fuck it truly is the greatest thing ever.  The rest of the song is a metal thrashing masterpiece anyway, but goddamn that one section is just more than pure awesome.  And then we have the non-metal highlight, and probably the overall highlight of the album regardless, "Hito no Tame".  I wish I could explain what the fuck style of music this is, but it's the same style as the stellar "Naidzukushi" from the previous album.  It's the happiest song ever recorded, seriously, it's just overflowing with this upbeat funkiness, slap bass, jovial trumpets, super lighthearted backing female vocals, and this super catchy rolling surf motif that pops up throughout the song.  It reminds me of the music from the Casino Night Zone in Sonic the Hedgehog 2 interspersed with the non-punk elements of ska, and it's just the smiliest, poppiest shit ever and holy crap is it great.  It's so catchy, it's so lighthearted, it's so... therapeutic.  Really, PTSD sufferers should listen to "Hito no Tame" while playing with like, six or seven puppies at a whack and they'll be back to functional in no time.  I can't stress enough how amazing this song is, I want to marry it.


Overall, Aratama is a minor step down from the thundering Furebumi, featuring two redone tracks from previous albums and less metal than its predecessors.  Gargoyle is usually pretty great at their non-metal experimentations, and most of this album shows that in spades, but apart from "Hito no Tame", all the best songs on Aratama are the more metal songs, so it's no coincidence that the minor backing off from them makes this album not resonate as strongly to me.  But still, it's Gargoyle in the early 90s, as you'll soon find out, that's pretty much a stamp of approval no matter what.

RATING - 87%

Sunday, August 25, 2013

GOSPEL OF GARGOYLE: Gargoyle - Furebumi

II: Manifesto

A mere thirteen months after the definitive Misogi, the Osakan bizarros unleashed their sophomore effort, Furebumi.  That's a bland opening sentence, and I realize that, but in my defense, it's very difficult to do justice to an album as eclectic, imaginative, and fucking great as Furebumi.  Every idea that was presented in the debut is expanded upon here, and any awkward missteps the band was taking as a result of being young and unique are already completely expelled, and from this point forward it'd be impossible to claim that Gargoyle was anything if not completely sure of themselves.  This album revels in the upbeat, the jovial, the dark and the brutal.  Every facet of the band's career is once again present here, but unlike Misogi, I don't find any of the songwriting to be shaky or underdeveloped.  From the unrelentingly brutal "Dilemma", the almost obscenely fun and happy "Naidzukushi", the haunting "Hunting Days", and the weary, existential soul searching journey of "Ruten no Yo Nite", Furebumi runs the gamut and hits bullseye on almost everything.

Everything from the debut has been polished up to an extent, with the production being marginally beefier (I didn't touch on it, but it was kind of thin in spots there) and Kiba's voice a bit deeper.  I didn't touch on his vocals either, but man are they something else.  He carries this distinct and absolutely bizarre rattle, it sounds like he's been smoking two packs a day since he was an embryo.  He sounds like Pee Wee Herman, and I love it.  It seems to be very much a Japanese thing, but bands out of that country seem to favor charisma over technical skill a vast majority of the time, and it's no exception here.  He warbles his way through this album and the band's entire career, and once you get acclimated to his voice (he's very much NOT the kind of vocalist you instantly love), he becomes a rock that refuses to budge.  Every member of the band obviously plays a huge part in shaping their identity (like Toshi's always warm and interesting bass lines (listen to the man lose his fucking mind on "Shoumetsu") and Katsuji's meth crazed skin beating), but Kiba is the face and the voice of Gargoyle, and his ridiculous, theatrical style is completely inimitable.

As previously alluded, every possible style the band would ever fuck with is present on this album, and all of it is done exceptionally well.  The funky surf's up party anthem in "Naidzukushi" is probably the biggest departure from rock hard thrashing intensity that the band generally revels in, and surprisingly it is potentially my favorite song on the album, and then there's the long and proggy "Ruten no Yo Nite", which is actually my favorite song on the album.  I love everything about it, it's a nearly eight minute dirge, replete with monolithically slow riffing, hollow, dread-filled vocals, completely bizarre yet somehow well done shrieky falsettos, and the absolute best marching snare drum plus somber violin combo in the history of music. Contrast that with the blisteringly fast and double bass filled "Halleluyah" and "Shoumetsu", which are actually for realsies my favorite tracks on the album.

But honestly, the this-time-I-mean-it-I-swear-I'm-not-fucking-with-y'all-anymore best track on the album is none other than the opener, "Ounou no Goku".  Remember back in my review for Wintersun's colossal trainwreck, Time I, I mentioned how one of the few things about the album I really liked was how beautiful and smooth the transition between the Japanese folk instrumental intro track was and the bombastic opening song?  Well Furebumi actually nailed that precise little niche brilliance a whopping twenty two years prior.  The opening with the pleasant twangs shows that the band isn't afraid to shove outside influences to the forefront (it's only one of the roughly twelve trillion examples throughout their career), and the flawlessly smooth transition is damn near breathtaking in its inherent genius.  Each instrument kind of slowly makes its presence known one by one, but unless you're paying extraordinarily close attention, you probably won't notice when each new sound appears.  It's all done so flowing and naturally, it stuns me.  The female vocals give way to a thick, stomping groove, which in turn eventually transmutes into a fast heavy metal riff with one of the first trademarked Gargoyle melodies.  Now, you know how Running Wild has a very distinct style of tremolo lead melodies that take precedence during basically any given instrumental section from roughly 1989 onwards?  Gargoyle has their own similar watermark in these very uplifting, power metal style melodies which overflow with both emotion and passion.  There are a couple classic ones here, especially on "Halleluyah", "Shoumetsu", "Dilemma", and most obviously, this goddamn perfect "Ounou no Goku".  Just like "Destroy" from the previous album, "Ounou no Goku" cements the trend of the opening track to any given Gargoyle album almost always being a definite highlight.

I haven't even touched on the jubilant "Tokimeki" or the face rippingly intense "Execute", there's just so much to find within Furebumi that the best I can do is just list off songs and then rant for a paragraph about how awesome they are.  But with that said, I will admit that I'm not much a fan of "Tell Me True", as (and this is a recurring theme you'll likely notice throughout this series) Gargoyle is frankly just not nearly as good at touching on J-rock as they are touching on balls to the wall heavy fucking metal.  When they start headbanging like epileptic marionettes and thrashing as if possessed by the restless spirits of particularly ferocious crusaders, they knock it out of the fucking park.  And to be fair, "Tell Me True" is only half ballady, but it's the first time they hit a lighter track with a kind of carefree innocence and saccharine nausea.  It just doesn't resonate like the more overtly silly or soulful light songs like "Ningyou no Mori" or "Naidzukushi".  And really, Kiba's voice just isn't well suited to that kind of thing.  I mean really, listen to the verses of the aforementioned "Naidzukushi" or the frenzied shouting at the end of "Shoumetsu".  This is the kind of wild, unhinged vocalist who punctuates every syllable with crossed eyes and an outstretched tongue, not the kind to sit spread eagled on a stool and try to swoon the panties off of me.


But other than that slight misstep, there's really nothing to dislike about Furebumi.  Gargoyle laid the groundwork with their debut, faced the imposing threat of a sophomore slump, and responded by promptly firing the notion into the sun.  While this isn't quite my favorite album by the band (though it's close), I do consider it the definitive album, even above the debut.  Just like it's predecessor, Furebumi is pretty much a snapshot of Gargoyle's entire whacked out and diverse portfolio, but the songs are just that much better.  It thrashes harder, it haunts more profoundly, it grinds more powerfully, it punches like Mike Tyson, it just does everything right barring one kind of wonky half J-rock track.  If all of the sperging over this band turns you off, do me one favor; listen to "Ounou no Goku" and "Ruten no Yo Nite".  If you don't like those, then fair enough, Gargoyle is not the band for you.  But if you consider yourself a fan of music even marginally similar to this, and those two tracks alone don't win you over to the side of myself and my compatriots, then I don't know what will.

RATING - 92%

Saturday, August 24, 2013

GOSPEL OF GARGOYLE: Gargoyle - Misogi

I: Ritual

It's time.

I mean it, I'm actually going to do it.  I'm going to review every, single, goddamn, fucking Gargoyle release worth covering.  Now, all that really means is that I'm going to tackle only the full lengths and notable EPs (Kaikoroku, Junreiin, Bushin, and Super Battle Gargoyle), and not necessarily every live video, compilation, demo, and single.  But still, that's sixteen full lengths and four EPs.  That's twenty fucking reviews, but really, unlike my oft-cited but never undertaken project of reviewing all the Running Wild albums, Gargoyle manages to load each and every album with so many different things, and each album is so wildly different from one another while all being similar enough in quality to clearly be from the same band, that I feel like it'll be much, much easier to talk about all of them.  Ergo, no constant repeating myself and writer's block like I always faced with my Running Wild saga.  And honestly, I already have a head start by having a review for Kijuu already done and posted, so really I'm already 5% done!

Good lord I'm only 5% done...

But really, like I mentioned in the Kijuu review, it's practically impossible to write about Gargoyle without constantly referencing everything else the band had done up to that particular point in time.  Reviewing a Gargoyle album is akin to describing a smell, you simply cannot do it without referencing another smell to give some sort of base to work off of.  That's why the Kijuu review was more of an experiment to see if it was possible to review an album in its own little microcosm.

The other reason I'm undertaking such a monumental endeavor is because, honestly, I feel like despite the few very (VERY) vocal fans that the band has on MA here, they really do deserve all the exposure they can get.  Somewhere nestled into the southern portion of Grorious Nippon, there has been this unbelievably unique and hard working metal band whose efforts have gone completely unnoticed in the grand scheme of things.  They have a respectable fanbase in Japan, but clearly the band has absolutely no plans to globalize and spread themselves further than they're comfortable going, which is unfortunately nowhere outside of their home country.  As an American, physically obtaining any of their music requires the ability to navigate through confusing webpages littered with naught but Japanese writing and absurd import costs, or using some sort of shady back alley dude who probably steals the albums off the corpses of prostitutes he murders.  So whatever I, as a mere internet music critic, can do to spread the gospel of Ga-Goiru, I will fucking do it.

And with that preliminary shit out of the way, where else to start other than the heralded debut, Misogi?  When it comes to the band, this seems to be their most visible album by a long shot.  When first seeking them out, this is the easiest album to find a working download of, and it's the most reviewed album you'll find anywhere on the internet.  And this is weird to me because honestly, this is in the bottom third of Gargoyle releases for me.  I mean, on one hand, this is pretty much the archetypical Gargoyle album, since it introduces pretty much every single little trademark quirk the band would carry throughout their career, and it's extraordinarily varied and carries a couple absolute classics with "'Gi'", "Ever Green", and especially "Destroy".  But on the other hand, it's easily the most repetitive album in their repertoire and despite the wide array of song styles on display, their writing is still pretty flukey in the sense that some of them just fall flat on their faces. 

I feel like the band was still trying to find their footing at this point in their career, and while this is certainly close to being amazing and definitely solidifies their signature sound right from the get go, I can't help but think tracks like "Purple Heaven" and "Mushikera" just go on and on and on and on.  It's ironic because the only two tracks on the album to breach the five minute mark ("Destroy" and "Ever Green") are pretty handily my favorite tracks, and they both sport a wide array of ideas and creativity that keep them from getting stale, while the more mid-length songs feel like they're seven minutes long because the same sections repeat so goddamn often.  "Certain Feel" would have this problem as well if not for the awesome several minute elephant solo that leads the track out.  But take something like "Purple Heaven", it's a neat, mid paced, crawly track with a cool, creeping main riff and some awesome choir-like vocals in the background for the chorus, but each segment repeats what feels like five or six different times throughout the song and it just feels like it never ends.  It reads like a collection of random ideas that the band had and just looped them a few times. 

And while that little quibble of mine does encompass the stretch of songs between "'Gi'" and "No Gas" (though "Ningyou no Mori" is a bit of an exception, being a soulful instrumental ballad with a pretty poignant emotion), the two bookends of the album are fucking incredible, and pretty much set the tone for the band's career.  It seems a little strange that a guy like me, who is very obviously a huge fan of the band, could shirk the more bizarre songs on the debut, considering songs of that nature are one of the reasons the band would stand out so much as their career went on, but really I would be lying to you if I said the band's strength was in anywhere other than fast, hooky thrash songs and gigantic guitar theatrics.  Of the five songs I'd consider thrash on the album, four of them are obscenely energetic and fiery, while the last one, "Ever Green", indeed carries those same qualities, but has a much more poignant essence of fun intertwined with (and maybe this is just me, but) unsettling creepiness.  I dunno man, there's just something about those childish backing vocals that send shivers down my spine, but it's juxtaposed against major melodies and triumphant lead lines and the absolutely awesome chorus of "Yummy yummy yummy yummy yummy gay Kool-Aid".  But really, that quality is understated, it's really all about the jovial fun.  Misogi as a whole, despite the dark cover (by the way, I fucking adore the simple theme behind Gargoyle's album covers) is a very lighthearted album.  Those odd songs I'm not really in love with are all for the most part entertaining and goofy, and even one of the classic heavy songs ("'Gi'") can't really be described as anything other than "goofy".

I do feel like I need to take some time to talk about one track in particular, "Destroy".  According to people more familiar with the band's history, fanbase, and setlist history than I, "Destroy" is to Gargoyle what "Angel of Death" is to Slayer.  It's their "One", or "Hammer Smashed Face", or "Ace of Spades", it's their trademark song.  Honestly, while there are other songs down the line that I like more than this one, I can completely understand why.  It's far and away the standout track on Misogi, carries itself with some of the best riffs the band would ever lay down (simplistic as they may be), and has what I feel is hands down the best soloing section in the band's history.  Honestly, it goes on for something like two or three solid minutes, features a repeating harmonized running section, incredible dueling leads (despite She-ja being the only guitarist in the band at the time), plus sections devoted to traditional Japanese instruments and fucking violin shredding.  The entire middle section of the song just throws everything at you and all of it hits bullseye.  Toss in the fact the song has two fakeout endings coupled with ear catching, blisteringly fast palm muting riffs and some of the most memorable vocal patterns in the band's history, and "Destroy" is just tailor made to be an instant classic.  "'Gi'" follows suit in a way with how simplistic and catchy it is.  It's a simple theme, Kiba spells out a word and the band then shouts it.  That's it, that's all there is to it, but it's awesome.  Sesame Street should take notes.

Despite Misogi being clearly flawed and one of my less favorite albums, you'll see this still comes out with an incredibly favorable score.  That should give you an idea of what's in store for this band.  Kiba, Toshi, Katsuji, and whichever of the three guitarists they're employing at the time have some sort of mythical Midas Touch unlike anything metal has ever seen.  We know how much I sperg over Running Wild, but you'd have to be delusional to think their initial run went out with anything other than a whimper and that their current Giant X albums are anything other than a complete embarrassment.  Gargoyle on the other hand has a grand total of three releases I'd put at less than "great", and spoiler alert, they're still a ways down the line.  Misogi stumbles a bit with the middle section dragging a bit and with the weird ideas coming off more awkwardly than they would in the future, but the good parts are so good that it still ranks up as a great album worthy of pretty much any metal fan's curiosity.  There are weird cultural quirks all over the place and a slew of guest musicians and atypical instruments (including a very helpful "crazy guitar"), but the base is still bare knuckle thrashing with an interesting Oriental twist for roughly a little over half of the album.  This pretty much laid down the base for what Gargoyle would expand upon and pretty much own throughout the rest of their career, so even if the songs all sucked (which they don't), this would be worthwhile for the historical significance alone.

RATING - 80%

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Nephren-Ka - The Fall of Omnius

Spank Sherbet's Poon

If you'd asked me to wrap up my thoughts on 2013 in a nutshell, I'd say that the French death metallers in Nephren-Ka's debut full length, The Fall of Omnius, pretty much sums everything up.  Out of all the albums I'd heard in 2012, the albums I'd rank as the exact middle of the pack would probably rank as 60-63% scores, which seems about right to me.  Obviously I'm going to listen to more things I assume I'd like, so it makes sense that the average score would be on the positive end of the spectrum.  2013?  So far here, coming up near the end of August, I'd say the middle albums are closer to 70% scores.  But with that said, in my top thirteen, there are only three albums this year that I'd rank at above 90% so far, whereas last year I'd say the full top ten was 90% or above.  So basically 2013 is the Imaginations from the Other Side to 2012's Nightfall in Middle-Earth, where there are less standout classics but it's more even and overall good on the whole.

And that's how I feel about The Fall of Omnius, nothing at all stands out in the grand scheme of things, but overall it's very well done and there isn't much to complain about.  Of course, with a name like Nephren-Ka, the comparisons to Nile are pretty much inevitable, and just like Nile, Nephren-Ka is pretty solid.  They're nothing particularly special, but they're solid-to-decent when it comes to pretty much everything.  The vocals are deep and brutal, but don't have any special X factor like Haruhisa Takahata or Frank Mullen to push them over the top, the drumming is relentless and intense, but is kind of smothered in a dry production that prevents it from breaking out like somebody like George Kollias or Pete Sandoval could muster, and the riffs are very high octane and well done, mostly keeping towards the fast chugging mindset of death metal as opposed to murky dissonance or over-the-top technicality, but they aren't supremely well written to the point of instant memorability like the Hoffman brothers or Bob Rousay could manage to write back in the day.

Yeah, it's a little unfair that I'm constantly comparing this young(?) band's debut to a bunch of classic death metal legends, but that really just kind of shows the pedigree the band is up against.  It's rough for a new death metal band to stand out nowadays when nearly everything has already been done and done well.  That's not to say that playing death metal is redundant at this point, not at fucking all, but unless you're just brimming with creativity, enthusiasm, or incredible songwriting skills, you're probably going to stand out like a dune in the Sahara.

And stealing that legendary droneriot simile brings me to my next point, the lyrical themes.  Yeah, that's probably the biggest reason this band is getting press at the moment, all of their stuff is based of Frank Herbert's legendary sci-fi series, Dune.  I don't know much about Dune, but apparently it's about some dork that everybody hates who gets transferred to some distant space world where he is instantly hailed as a messiah and then lives out eight or nine or a bazillion books living out this ridiculous wish fulfillment that he did fuck all to prove himself for.  So it's Gor, or maybe that one segment of Heavy Metal, or maybe I'm just talking out of my ass and know nothing except for the Spoony Thong and that the Sega game was nut-punchingly impossible.  The point stands that for a guy like me who knows nothing about the series, the lyrics don't do much for me.  I don't get a sense of something bigger than myself like I feel like it's supposed to evoke, so they're pretty much a non-thing for me.

Other than that, Nephren-Ka doesn't really do anything wrong, per se, but they don't do anything exceptionally right either.  They're good, don't get me wrong, I think The Fall of Omnius is a good album, but I don't see this becoming anything other than an occasional listen in the future.  Everything about it is well written and well executed, but there's nothing special about it.  There are some songs that manage to stomp out an excellent groove to go along with the pummeling double bass and strong, chunky riffing (like "Butlerian Djihad" or "Legend of Selim (Pt 1: The Seeds of Discord)", and I feel the epic closing track in "To the Golden Path" deserves mention for having some of the most heart pounding and exciting moments on the record.  But other than that, it's fairly typical riff-based tech death that doesn't have any surprises nor pull any punches.  You basically know what the entire album is going to sound like after merely a few seconds of the opening track, but it's still good shit.  I recommend it, but I don't see it becoming anything greater than just "solid".

You know, just like 2013 as a whole.

RATING - 75%

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Obtained Enslavement - Witchcraft

The Taste Swap hits bullseye for a change

So a few months ago, I hit up some of my more talented fellow reviewers whose work I respected despite having very little taste in common with, and undertook a Taste Swap Challenge.  Well today is round three, wherein I swap with yet another Canadian, this time the cascadian "holy shit maaaaan this is so transcendental" genius in RapeTheDead.  True story, he was the first guy to track down my personal Facebook page and send me fanmail that way, so even if he was a shitty writer (which he isn't), I'd love him anyway.

Anywho, just like with the last one, I didn't quite get what I was expecting when I proposed the swap challenge.  I mean, he certainly provided me with black metal, no doubt, but I was expecting something along the lines of Gris or Agalloch, but instead what he gave me was more along the lines of Emperor.  And even better, it's apparently an extremely well regarded album within the black metal scene.  And even better than that, all the heaps of praise that get piled on top of the album are 100% deserved.

That's right, out of the fjordiest fjords of northern fjordland, we have Obtained Enslavement, and despite being much less of a black metal guy than certain other genres, I feel pretty confident in calling their second album, Witchcraft, one of the finest symphonic black metal albums in existence.  Obviously I'm a fan of symphonic metal in general anyway, I've been defending Rhapsody of Fire for years, but this is one of the very, very few albums to incorporate the classical influence so bloody masterfully.  At no point do the strings, keys, horns, or that goddamn awesome timpani feel tacked on as an afterthought, and at the same time, the same can be said about the traditional metal instrumentation.  It can be difficult to tell which aspect of the overall sound is leading the other at times, which is brilliant because it shouldn't really be one or the other anyway, and Obtained Enslavement not only realized that, but managed to execute it very well.

Take the metal portion of the record, for instance.  In a sense I suppose you could call it "typical", since the vast majority of the guitar work is comprised of tremolo patterns and the drums seem to blast along for a good amount of the running time, but the inherent melody in these riffs are just overwhelming.  I can't even point out specific examples because every single track manages to nail this flawlessly.  That's actually one of the most prevalent aspects about Witchcraft, the melody.  It's pretty much overwhelming in its complexity and saturation, but it never crosses into the territory of being sugary and harmless.  This album manages to beef up classical passages with aggressive morbidity whilst simultaneously giving raw and hateful black metal a sense of beauty and fullness.  The two halves of the pie complement each other in a way that has yet to be replicated in the realm of metal as a whole, and truly must be heard to be believed.  I mean, I like Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk just as much as the next guy, but this here is just in a class of its own.  Basically, if you take the elements that make up that mid era of Emperor and just make them... I dunno, better, you'd end up with something along the lines of Obtained Enslavement.  The songs are just bewilderingly well written, following twisting and linear progressions that keep the compositions interesting while never traversing the same path twice.  It's rare to find themes repeating themselves, as instead the album is treated like a journey as opposed to a collection of songs.  And I love how well it works, it takes you by the hand and leads you down a path of twisted horrors that manage to be gorgeous in their evil.

I feel pretty much unqualified to write on Witchcraft, because it feels like it deserves a much more pretentious and in-depth analysis than I'm able to provide, but like I've said plenty of times in the past, I know good music when I hear it, and goddammit Obtained Enslavement is some damn good music.  Every time I listen, I'm blown away all over again and the sheer depth and complexity provided by one would assume (if one were to judge a book by its cover, which we all do all the fucking time) to be a fairly typical black metal affair.  I feel like the album gets a little less adventurous as it goes on, with the first couple tracks being essentially classical pieces with black metal instruments and the later tracks being more black metal songs with symphonic influence, but it's really not even a flaw because it keeps the album from becoming tedious and one dimensional (not that that was possible with such a wide array of themes, ideas, and instrumentation in the first place).  I haven't even found a place to mention that the vocalist of this entire affair is fucking Pest, which is just yet another one of the dozens of marks in this album's favor (I'm not much of a Gorgoroth fan, but the albums I do like (Antichrist and Under the Sign of Hell) feature Pest, so quality just seemed to follow this man in the mid 90s).  I don't know what it is about him, but his vocals are just otherworldly to me, taking a wet, throaty rasp and just blasting it past realms of mortal capability. 

Obtained Enslavement pretty easily just watched themselves catapult into the upper echelon of black metal bands I'll listen to relatively frequently.  What they managed to do was make a black metal album melodic and complex enough and attract fans of other subgenres while keeping it as misanthropic and dark as the genre usually is, thus managing to not alienate established fans of the genre.  By virtue of that alone, this is one of the more perfect metal albums of all time from a technical standpoint.  Now, I'm not about to chuck this up next to hallowed personal favorites of mine like Melissa or The Crimson Idol or anything, but considering I have no negative things to say about an album that so brilliantly combines so many different aspects of music without ever coming across as disjointed or confusing, it's pretty hard to deny the significance of the imagination that Witchcraft captures.  From huge, sweeping majesties being grounded in morbid hatefulness in "From Times in Kingdoms..." to the raw evil being uplifted by gorgeous strings in "The Seven Witches", nothing misses the mark.  I'm astounded at how well crafted and executed this album manages to be, and it pretty solidly cements itself as the most successful entry into my infrequent Taste Swap Challenges.  RapeTheDead, thank you, you fucking owned this round.

Once again, this guy doesn't have a personal site (and only a small handful of reviews compared to the others I've done this with), but his talent is undeniable. True story, a while back I was toying with the idea of bringing in a second writer for Lair of the Bastard for the purpose of covering the genres I have a habit of neglecting, and RapeTheDead was the first and only candidate I had in mind. So yeah, read his stuff.

RATING - 97%

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Smash Potater - In Buffet There Is No Law!

You'd be amazed how fucking awesome this is

I go on about hometown thrashers all the time, usually referring to Chicago bands, but I have a confession to make... I'm not from Chicago.  Nope, I live in Oswego, which is about forty-ish miles from the city limits, about an hour drive with traffic.  Oswego itself is kind of a nebulous entity, with a southern half absolutely smothered in farmland, and everything else I thought to be within the city limits actually residing within the territories of neighboring areas (how we have a population of thirty thousandish is a fucking mystery to me).  But one of those areas right next door is Aurora.  Yes, the Aurora from Wayne's World (though the movie was filmed in Toronto, the more ya know!).  It's the second most populous city in Illinois (it's basically a 45 square mile ghetto with a casino wedged along the Fox River), but in the world of heavy metal, it should be known for a grand total of two things; the cult speed metal juggernaut of Amulance, and the current kings of homegrown crossover, Smash Potater.

In a way, Smash is probably the most frustrating band in the universe, because they are good.  They are very, very good, but their predilection for silly toilet humor and general carefree attitude will likely prevent them from growing very far beyond the borders of local celebrity status.  I mean, they've cozied up with big name acts like Lich King, but I fear their superficial appeal is limited.  I mean let's face it, a crossover band who clearly has lighthearted irreverence in mind over nut ripping intensity is going to turn off a vast majority of metal fans.  And therein lies the problem: Smash Potater is nut rippingly intense.  Their riffs are extraordinarily well written, their songs are succinct, punchy, and powerful, and since the addition of Brian Koz, the backup vocals have taken a sharp turn into the deep and guttural. 

Obviously, there is a gargantuan influence from the obvious punctuated suspects like D.R.I. and M.O.D. to be found on their newest EP, In Buffet There Is No Law!, but unlike most bands slapped with the "crossover thrash" label, the deja vu never gets irritating.  The energy here is absolutely through the roof, with all ten minutes of this short release being packed to the rafters with ripping riffage and vitriolic shouting.  Koz's deep growls are an awesome complement to Esquivel's frenzied yelling, and they help the band stand out a little bit amongst the glut of samey sounding crossover in America.  Even without the excellent gutturals, the riffwork stands firmly on the thrash metal side of the dichotomy of their genre, sounding much more like Municipal Waste than any given hardcore punk band.

And that's the thing, if you're not a Municipal Waste fan, you are not the target audience for Smash Potater.  The main people behind the band are also behind Big Dick Records and write songs about absurdist lunacy and pop culture and food jokes (GEE I WONDER WHY I LIKE THEM).  It's a very juvenile, Adult Swim type humor that won't resonate with most people, and that's what makes them fall into such a weird niche that they'll probably never break out of.  On one hand, it's a shame because I've been watching this band release demo after EP after split after EP for a while now and they just keep getting better and better, whereas Diamond Plate nabbed the popularity I was so hoping for them to get before turning to shit.  On the other hand, Smash has found a home in these filthy halls of pizza nachos party thrash and have just been completely owning it since day one.  They clearly have no desire to break out from where they're comfortable, and at the same time, despite me wishing their exposure and fanbase would spread, I really don't think they should wander away from what they've been doing.  They're fucking good at this, and suddenly ditching all the fat jokes in favor of socially conscious lyrics would absolutely ruin the spirit of the band.  They have the musical chops, tightness, and compositional skills to rank in the mid-upper echelon of modern thrash, but instead choose to use this talent to write odes to buffet lines and reality television.  It's great seeing talented people harness their skills to simply have fun, and clearly nobody is having more fun than Smash.  I respect this band more than 99% of all modern thrash bands currently releasing music right now, because these guys are true to themselves more than anybody else, and they happen to be excellent musicians, songwriters, and most of all, thrashers.

The band's mascot is named Monstercock Smashington, and it's a man in a chicken suit who starts and maintains all the mosh pits during the band's shows.  If that doesn't give you an idea of the immature fervor that the band so greatly exudes, then I don't know what will.  I know the joke is THRASH RIFTS SO FUN and Smash is pretty much the perfect example of such a mindset, but unlike most shitty bands with this attitude, they actually fucking rule.  They're pretty much a massive exception to the common stereotype of post 90s thrash metal, and deserve a chance from any self proclaimed thrasher.

The best part about all this?  They release all of their music for free.  SO GET ON IT.

RATING - 89%

Monday, August 12, 2013

Crossfaith - Apocalyze


I'm... I'm speechless here.  Really, it's a rare feat to render a narcissist like me catatonic, but... damn.

I suppose I can start with something simple like the history of the band, eh?  Uhh... well, Crossfaith got their start in Osaka around 2006, and have released three albums to date, with this, Apocalyze being the third and most recent, coming out in 2013, and....

Fucking Christ this is such a strangely awfulsome album.

Look, I know nothing at all about this band.  I snagged this album on a whim because I like Japanese metal and that was the extent of my thought process.  I figured I'd be getting a darker Blood Stain Child, based on the "industrial metalcore" tag, since the metal part of metalcore is frequently melodeath anyway.  What I got instead was (and I swear I'm not making this up) a mashup of Disarmonia Mundi, The Browning, Limp Bizkit, modern pop, and dance music with the occasional obnoxious Skrillex-style bass wobble.  It's like some dastardly, Frankensteinian experiment to attract as many swagfag douchetards imaginable by just dominating every possible terrible style of music they might potentially listen to.  Seriously, the fact that Flo Rida doesn't have a guest verse is a mystery to me.

On one hand, it's the worst music I've ever heard, on the other hand, it's really adorably retarded in an almost cute way, not unlike a puppy.  I mean, I give the band credit in the sense that the music is almost never a weird, slapdash, stitched-together hodgepodge of styles, and instead manages to incorporate all of these bizarre influences into one cohesive sound.  There's almost no Winds of Plague style awkward switches in tone (though there are a few, as is almost inevitable with such a mixed pool of influences), which is commendable when working with such a head scratchingly diverse sound.  The breakdowns sound like they belong, the keys don't feel tacked on and superfluous, everything has its place in the machine and every member of the band is properly utilized, which again, is commendable if only for the fact that most weird, genre hopping bands so frequently fuck that up.

But back to that first hand, it's well thought out, but it's still a terrible idea.  You ever listen to a guy rant for hours about how every job interview should involve a test in equestrianism because of all the positive leadership it shows? (No? Just me?) That dude could have researched this for years, done studies, and personally believed the absolute hell out of this, and he could be incredibly well spoken and persuasive, but at the end of the day it's still a goddamn confusing and dumb idea.  That's what Crossfaith embodies to me, a very well articulated argument in favor of a blisteringly stupid idea.

If you can seriously explain to me a scenario where Nu Flames would be greatly improved with a funky Korn riff and an uplifting David Guetta chorus, I'll promptly remove my penis (which is undoubtedly made of lego pieces and shaped like a parrot) and eat it, because clearly we're living in a dream universe.  Despite all these strange examples I'm throwing out there (none of which I'm being facetious about), every song manages to be structured exactly the same, with identical tempos and almost every song length falling in the same twenty second window.  I mean, it's diverse, with some songs being pretty much straight up nu metal ("Hounds of the Apocalypse", "Gala Hala (Burn Down the Floor)"), while others are much more rooted in late era Gothenburg melodeath ("We Are the Future", "Countdown to Hell", "Only the Wise can Control Our Eyes"), while others are basically Linkin Park type pop songs ("Eclipse", "Counting Stars") while all having a huge slathering of dance synths over the top and brostep breakdowns sprinkled throughout, but at the same time it's homogenous, with so many of these clearly different songs with wildly varied influences sounding exactly the same as one another.  I fully expected this to suck once I realized the kind of music I would actually be getting, but man I would have at least expected it to be interesting.  You know, at least in some kind of wacky Mr. Bungle or Big Dumb Face type way, but no, we don't even get that.  We get Blood Stain Child's eccentric little cousin who's less into that weeaboo shit and more into masculine stuff like lifting weights, shutter shades, and lip tattoos.

The fact that there are Skrillex wobble breakdowns, and not one or two, I mean on damn near every single song, is just a complete dead giveaway that this band is manufactured and really and truly is trying to appeal to everybody at once, and in some utterly catastrophic way... it works.  I don't know, this is a really conflicting album for me because it's clearly unspeakably horrawful, but at the same time I could totally see myself putting it on of my own volition once this review is done.  It's so odd, the more I listen, the more I realize that the main influence on this band was probably a mix of Disarmonia Mundi and Linkin Park, two bands I really cannot stand for the life of me, but between the chugging riffs, the string skipping "that melodeath" riff (you know which one I'm talking about), the rap breakdowns, the heavy scratching, chunky bass, guest autotuned female vocals, WUBWUBWUBWUBWU-U-U-U-U-UB and all that, there's some endearing character behind it.  I can't explain why, I readily acknowledge that this is some transcendentally crappy music, but for some reason I just kinda like it.  I like how earnest the band is about their shitty genre blend, I like how well they mix all of these shitty ideas together, I really like some of the straightforward and more stupid riffs (like the main riffs of "Eclipse" or "The Evolution"), I like how aggressive and unabashedly brazen the band is with their one-dimensionality.  I dunno, it's well put together, but it just consists of god awfully wretched components.  Think of something like Turmion Kätilöt as covered by Far East Movement (Forget about those guys already?  Not on my watch!).

So I've done nothing but namedrop terrible bands and describe the music in the most unappealing terms possible from the standpoint of a metal fan, but at the same time I've continually praised the band for some intangible reason that even I can't explain fully.  I think I'm just going to chalk it up to shitty taste and then run back to my HORSE the Band records, but the point stands that there is at least some appeal here.  Keep in mind I listen to Touhou cover albums and think Nightwish is pretty alright, but if you're not a fan of overly sugary synths, incessant dance beats, aggressive melodeath, bouncy rap rhythms, brostep, or uplifting Swedish happy hardcore, you're not going to find anything to like here.  The fact that this band is apparently on Warped Tour this year shows that they're finding their target demographic somewhere, and they have at least some level of crossover exposure here in the States.  It's confusing and I still don't know how this band came to exist or why I find myself humming these melodies so strongly.

It sucks, but it'll get stuck in your head.


Thursday, August 8, 2013

Nevermore - The Politics of Ecstasy

Confessions of a Former Fanboy - Vol. II: Enough Acid to Burn a Hole in the Floor 

Now, even when I was a shameless Nevermore fanboy, The Politics of Ecstasy was my least favorite album of theirs. Fans of the band were never there for crushing heaviness or chaotic noise, we stuck around because their mid-late era was so abundant in progressive melody and shredding soloing.  That was what I enjoyed the most.  I mean, I loved the whole package, but Jeff Loomis was always the main draw to me, and even if he plays the exact same diminished phyrigian and locrian scales in every single fucking sweeping run he's ever written, it sounds awesome.  That's why this album is pretty much the other black sheep in their discography (the other being the self titled), the band still didn't have much of an identity at this point, and the sound they'd eventually settle into and become synonymous with was still a few years away from fully solidifying.

The thing that's strange about The Politics of Ecstasy is that, despite what I just said like a dozen words ago, there are hints of their soon-to-be-signature style to be found here, but they're woefully underdeveloped.  There is a pretty high concentration of live staples and fan favorites to be found here ("Next in Line", "This Sacrament", "The Learning", "The Seven Tongues of God"), but it's all of a style that's only tangentially related to what they were doing before and afterwards.  Basically this album is a lot more dissonant and noisier than what they'd become known for, and it's not really for the best.

Not even anachronistically stacking this up against their later albums, it's totally underwhelming for the most part.  There are some absolute stinkers here, namely "Passenger", which is just slow and grinding and dull and pretty much every adjective along those lines you can think of.  Nevermore has always sucked at this kind of track, and this here is a brilliant example of why.  The whole album is also plagued with the band's utter inability to recognize a repetitive section and subsequently rein it in.  Almost every song here is too long (the title track and "The Seven Tongues of God" are the most obvious examples), and it's not because they're too slow or there are too many sections or the solos go on forever or anything.  No, it's usually because the riffs are just repeated ad nauseam.  It's a shame, because they're not even good riffs.  Loomis is a shredder, not a riffer, and Pat O'Brien is just painfully miscast.  The man is a death metaller, as evidenced by his immediate departure to join Cannibal Corpse (and stick with them even today) shortly after this album, and his influence here just makes the music more dissonant than it probably should be.  There are good moments, don't get me wrong.  The middle section of the title track rides on a great riff, "Lost" is one of the few that doesn't overstay its welcome, "42147" has a fucking beastly main riff, and I still really like the overlong and overprogressive "The Learning", but overall there's this feeling awkwardness that pervades throughout the entirety of the record, and it's really distracting.

But honestly, I feel like one of the biggest problems with The Politics of Ecstasy was Warrel's obsession with LSD and Timothy Leary and his writings.  Every single line is drenched in symbolism relating to his books and life, from the views on drugs as a gateway to higher enlightenment, to the views of the police and the government being misguided and oppressive, it feels to me like the man didn't have an original thought in his brain whilst writing this album (ironic considering many of the lyrics advocate acid and other hallucinogens as vehicles for unlocking one's true potential and creativity).  It feels like 80% of the album is just a really roundabout advertisement for Warrel's political and recreational viewpoints, and it's probably the only time in the history of music where the lyrics are too preachy while simultaneously being in favor of rebellion.  None of it comes off like merely a theme or a subject, it's basically just propaganda being shoveled at the listener from beginning to end.  Honestly, this should be one of the poster-children of the anti drug movement.  "Don't do drugs, or else you'll turn into a pigheaded and pretentious douchebag who thinks he has everything figured out because he tasted purple once.  JUST SAY NO".  I always go on about how lyrics really shouldn't factor negatively against one's enjoyment of any given metal album since they're usually non-things, but this here is one of the few exceptions for me.  The music isn't good enough for me to overlook them (like with Arghoslent) nor is the vocalist talented enough to really overcome them.  Warrel's penchant for taking shitty poetry and shoehorning it into the context of already written songs is most obvious here, with the verses for most songs just having no logical cadence.  His clumsy delivery is just goddamn irritating.

Despite the fact that there are a lot of fan favorites here, this stands as the weakest album in the band's discography for me.  The previous album was disjointed and ugly, but it still had some really good (if flawed) tracks like "Garden of Gray", "The Sanity Assassin", and "Godmoney".  The Politics of Ecstasy?  Well, there are plenty of good moments from time to time, but the only song I actually still like from beginning to end now that I'm no longer a ludicrous fanboy is "The Learning", which is ironic because it's the one I should probably hate the most on paper.  It's the most overtly sappy and emotional in the clean parts and by far the longest and most progressive track, but it's still full of great leads and well written riffs.  Plus it's its own little self contained story lyrically, being the only track not to enthusiastically fellate Timothy Leary, it's got that going for it.  I suppose it's more mature and thought out than it's predecessor, but it's still a very awkward and disjointed sounding album.  Were I a fan of Sanctuary during this time, I'd've completely abandoned the band by this point. 

RATING - 35%

PS - Some pressings have a cover of Judas Priest's "Love Bites" at the end of the album, and it's alright I guess.  It's the most fitting Priest song Nevermore could have covered I suppose.