Sunday, March 29, 2015

Athena - Twilight of Days

Toys R Us Metal

I'm gonna give it to you straight, like a pear cider made with 100% pears, Twilight of Days is really a terrible album.  There is so much wrong here.  The riffs are completely unengaging, the vocals are weak and mousey, the keys sound like a Fisher Price toy, and the production as a whole is flat and plasticky.  So many issues of this nature swirl into this sugary goop in the middle of a standard power metal album that has wallowed in obscurity for the better part of 14 years for damn good reason.  In a just world, that would be all the review I bother to write.

RATING - 20% 

Unfortunately for all of you, this isn't a just world, and instead it is a world where my taste stands in defiance of all common decency.  And with that I declare, Twilight of Days absolutely fucking rules despite the myriad of problems it carries.  If anything, this album is one of the greatest testaments to substance over style and the importance of good songwriting in the history of power metal, and it's tragically overlooked by so many other bands who try to stand out via bloated twenty two minute snorefests and fifty layers of dueling banjos.  No, fuck that, Athena take a very traditional approach to power metal, and write songs so god damned tight and warm that they might as well be your mom.  

I'm often criticized for generally sticking to more popular bands when it comes to metal.  You'll catch me bumping Blind Guardian a dozen times before I spin a Perpetual Fire album, so it's really sort of odd that this random obscurity from Italy honestly ranks amongst my favorites in power metal.  Really, the songwriting is so infectious and well done that I can honestly put Twilight of Days in the same company as Gambling with the Devil, Somewhere Out in Space, Evolution Purgatory, and many others of that ilk.  Granted, none of those albums really sound all that much alike (I just find this to be of similar overall quality), and Athena keeps in line with that by not really adhering to the over the top bombast of Rhapsody, nor the down to earth riff onslaught of Persuader.  I've seen them tagged as "progressive power metal", which I personally don't buy.  Really all that seems to mean is that they have a penchant for very low, heavy chugging riffs akin to Morgana Lefay, not long, flowing song structures and complex melodies like early Symphony X.  So if you've been able to sift through all the names I dropped there, the point is that Athena play a rhythmic style of power metal with a huge emphasis on vocal hooks and melodies, with speed, bombast, and flashy soloing taking a very distant back seat. 

But BH! In the opening fake out you called the vocals weak and the riffs boring, how can you praise the album if it has those problems when you say that's what the songs are based off of?  Doesn't that mean the entire idea of the album is broken? 

Not quite, this is an example of sheer charisma and character overpowering very obvious technical flaws.  Power metal was never an especially riff-centric style of metal in the first place, so the fact that the songs need to rest on the power of the hooks doesn't bother me much, nor should it you.  Tracks like "Falling Ghosts", "Hymn", and "Touch My Heart" all showcase what I'm talking about.  They're some of the lighter songs on the album, and they take poppy hooks and slather them liberally over admittedly mundane riffage.  Songs like "Lord of Evil" and "Til the End" take a darker approach, but still the sugary smiles can't stay away forever.  A huge amount of the album is highlighted with elements that mask the band's flaws.  Who cares that the riffs are boring when the hooks are so good?  Who cares that the production is ass when the choruses are so catchy?  Twilight of Days is an album that knows what it's good at, and thus focuses on precisely those elements.

I also said the vocalist was mousey, and that's really the best word for him.  Really, he sounds like his head is the size of a grapefruit.  It's high pitched almost to a fault and really just sounds like it's an adorable guardian of Redwall instead of a leather clad manchild like all PM singers actually are.  But despite this, there's a lot of confidence in this tiny voice, and he manages to have an almost indescribably booming grit to his squinting alto.  It's a paradox I still can't adequately explain, but I love it.  He takes center stage over every instrument barring maybe the keys during one of their several solos, and he just owns every moment of the spotlight.  Listen to the out-chorus of "Falling Ghosts" and tell me that this little four foot tall dork with a bad mustache doesn't have his feet planted in a power stance and his fist clenched tightly and outstretched towards his bedroom wall when he nails that balls out falsetto wail at the end.  

The real draw is honestly just the tightness and focus of the songwriting, and that's unfortunately the hardest thing to really elucidate in review form.  "Making the History" is a phenomenal power metal track, rife with aggressive double bass and a soaring chorus guaranteed to get stuck in your head.  On the other hand, "The Way to Heaven's Gates" is a phenomenal power metal track, rife with aggressive double bass and a soaring chorus guaranteed to get stuck in your head.  And yet on another hand, "Twilight of Days" is a phenomenal power metal yeah yeah yeah you get the idea.  The base components of every song are the same, but it's such a well written formula here that the songs all vary just slightly enough to have their own identity.  You won't find any recycled melodies here, and every chorus is striking and distinct.  The only expansive difference between some songs is the tone they take, with some ("Til the End", "Your Fear", "Lord of Evil", et cetera) being darker and heavier, while others ("Hymn", "Touch My Heart", "Twilight of Days", et cetera) take a notably lighter and more optimistic approach.  I'm just gonna take some time at the end of this paragraph to make absolutely clear that "The Way to Heaven's Gates" is absolutely one of my all time favorite power metal tracks, and any fan of the genre at least owes it to themselves to seek out this album for that track alone.

Really the only bad thing I can say about the album that can't be covered up by its strengths being just that damn strong is that the ballad near the end, "End of my Life", is total ass.  But then again the only power metal band in history who could ever write a ballad worth a shit has been Blind Guardian, so no logical person was going to go into that song expecting it to be any good anyway, so even that is easily overlooked.  Twilight of Days is a strong effort from a band with very notable flaws that should really hinder the music to the point of worthlessness, but the intangibles at play are just so fucking inspiring and entertaining that I can't help but fall in love anyway.

Basically this album is Tim Tebow, but I don't hate it.


Friday, March 27, 2015

Mulletcorpse - Disinfect


Part of me wants to just do the Spinal Tap thing and write a two word review, but even that sounds like more effort than Mulletcorpse is worth.  I mean, on one hand, they have a band name so blisteringly stupid that I can't help but try to convince myself that the band itself has to be good, but on the other hand, they truly do just suck.

They suck in a sort of weird way though, because they can play their instruments just fine, the recording sounds immaculate for the death/grind style they go for, I even think the low, roaring deathcore bellows sound nice.  The issue lies in their complete and utter inability to write anything with even the minutest semblance of coherence.  If you can follow me for a second into a completely different genre, I'd like to talk about Il Était Une Forêt... by QCDSBBQ stalwarts, Gris.  I'm not particularly a fan of the album (it's just not my style), but I absolutely adore the quiet closing track, "La Dryade".  I've heard it criticized as a poorly written classical piece because there's absolutely no flow to it.  It's just like eight separate parts all cut up and placed in a random order, and ergo, no matter how good those individual pieces are, the hasty assembly hinders the overall quality.  I don't agree in that context based on how fucking gorgeous those eight parts are, but I understand it.  Mulletcorpse does the same thing, except all of their individual parts are comprised of hackneyed blasts and grind riffs with out-of-nowhere Brain Drill sections and breakdowns that aren't quite ignorant enough to be enjoyable.

That's really the whole album in a nutshell, it doesn't lend itself to deep analysis because there's nothing to analyze further than face value.  Every haphazardly slapped together moment lacks the sort of charisma or flashiness to draw attention to it.  Mulletcorpse is basically the stitched together, Frankensteinian monster of twelve different bands that could never make it past the demo stage.  Like, I could point out the brocore shouts in "Life: Unwritten" or the incongruent consonant shredding on "The Fermented", but none of it matters because the entire album is made up of fifteen second snippets of different songs with nothing to tie them all together.  It's not particularly limp or anything, on paper it sounds fine enough to groove along to every now and again, and the jerky transitions between ever-so-slightly-different styles isn't nearly as jarring as I might make it seem, but it's still shitty because none of it stands out.  It's almost more offensive in its mediocrity than any abject awfulness.  Basically it's not worth listening to for the handful of cool sections amongst the swamp of Rings of Saturn emulation and Veil of Maya theft.

RATING - 40%

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Crypt Sermon - Out of the Garden

Eating my hat

It's sort of well documented that I don't care much for doom.  This isn't anything personal towards the bands that play it, I just generally prefer faster, more energetic music.  Perhaps this is why I prefer the "epic doom" style over the traditional Sabbath worship.  Sure, Sabbath is one of the all time greats and you'll find me spinning their 70s material just as much as any self respecting metal fan, but bands that try to evoke that occult atmosphere based in heavy, bluesy metal riffs just rarely reach the intended effect, whereas the bands like Candlemass and Solitude Aeturnus reach for something far greater.  Crypt Sermon follows more in their footsteps than the whole occult psychedoomic "let's just try to be Coven" sound that's gotten so popular lately, and as a result they spend less time grounded in reality and more time amongst the clouds, looking down as the peasants till the fields and the nobles diddle kids.  There's a very ancient, regal sound to Out of the Garden that just commands respect from every corner.

Crypt Sermon's approach to metal here is very classy and respectable, and it carries itself like a revered crusader.  You grew up listening to legends of Crypt Sermon, and then when you finally see them, you just stand in starstruck awe.  The old adage of "tune low, play slow" doesn't hold much water here, though they do indeed do both of those things.  There's a lot of thought and care that went into crafting these songs, as nearly every riff feels like something that was sculpted out of hours and hours in a sweaty, hazy practice space.  Nothing feels like a jam that they just wound up noodling with and recording, nor does anything sound like it was written down on paper and then copied and practiced meticulously.  No, instead this all sounds very organic, like a mixture between the two.  Somebody thought of a riff and the band all worked together to tweak it to their pleasure.  As a result, every track is lovingly crafted with a healthy dose of twists and turns, with a beefy spine of weighty riffs.

The vocals are also fantastic as well, as it really needs to be with bands like this that are far more about substance than style.  There isn't any showboating to be found here (though I would argue that the main riff that comes about a minute and a half into "Into the Holy of Holies" is really flashy, based entirely on the fact that holy shit it's like the best riff I've heard all decade), and despite the skill of the clean, powerful vocals and the majestic riff writing and evocative guitar soloing, nobody tries to take center stage.  This works like the Boston Bruins when they're at their best.  There's no clear star on that team, everybody uses their talents as one cohesive team and creates something unstoppable.

I can't gush enough about how much I love "Into the Holy of Holies", which is basically a modern reimagining of the Solitude Aeturnus classic, "Seeds of the Desolate", but no other songs fall short of "great".  I find myself sort of mentally checking out during the stretch of songs preceding the obvious epic, but tracks like "Temple Doors", "Heavy Riders", and the title track all stand out as masterclasses in songwriting.  The riff writing is deceptively complex and the hauntingly huge vocals work together seamlessly.  I can't really go on forever about this because it can be pretty accurately summed up by saying "classic epic doom with a strong roots in the dirt", which admittedly is probably a dumb metaphor that only makes sense to me.  What I mean is that it takes the slow to mid paced lumbering-Ent riffs of Trouble and the soaring, majestic fretwork of Candlemass to create a very strong, wholly riff based experience, with the bonus intangibles of a mystical atmosphere layered over the top.  I can throw vague superlatives on this all day, but just know that this is meaty, beefy doom with a fantastic atmosphere on top, and that's all you need.  Plus, it's a Dark Descent release!  So maybe they should just stick to doom, since I'd take one Crypt Sermon over fifty Thantifaxaths.

RATING - 89%