Friday, October 21, 2016

Helstar - Vampiro

Helstar have returned with their tenth full length album titled Vampiro, and at first glance it appears to be a continuation of Nosferatu...appears is the operative word here. If you truly dive deep down into this album, you see that it much more than a "sequel" or, and I despise this term, a "return to form." No, Helstar never lost their form. They may have lost their way in the mid nineties before their decade long hiatus but they never lost their true form. Their comeback, King of Hell, was a great album as were the two that followed. However, Vampiro is a culmination of everything that Helstar has done throughout their thirty-five year career.

From the first notes of this album, you can tell it's going to be something quite special and epic. Eerie sounds with a soft acoustic guitar riff start before a monster riff comes in and you know this album means business. "Awaken Unto Darkness" is the title of this killer opening track. The opening solo, with it's haunting eastern feel, fits so perfect. Halfway through the song it speeds it up with another kick ass riff that is reminiscent of older Helstar. New guitarist, Andrew Atwood, is an amazing fit because his solo on the song smokes with a great tone that compliments Larry Barragan's sound and style. Everything here seems to be falling into place perfectly.

Of course, this is a Helstar album so the real star of this show is James Rivera. His voice has changed little over the years but the changes it has made has only gone to compliment the band. His screams and shrieks have become his signature in their ferocity and his lower "clean" singing voice has only gotten better. He can bring that eerie, dark vibe to the songs but he also has created a way to bring out characters in his voice. "To Dust You Will Become" is a perfect example of how much dynamic his voice has taken on. I've personally known James since 1999 and seen him perform on multiple occasions as well as rehearsals, soundcheck's, etc. Prior to this album, Welcome the End from his Distant Thunder project was my favorite performance by James. This album has turned that all around. He's telling a story on this album and is using his voice, much like King Diamond, to create the atmosphere for the story and the result is just incredible.

The songwriting and the riffs on this album need mention because the opening riff on "From the Pulpit to the Pit" is catchy as fuck and the opening solo just shreds making this one of my favorite Helstar songs. "To Their Deathbeds They fell" is another killer song that seems to hearken back to the old days but is much deeper than that. The riffs are technical on this album and do remind me of Nosferatu but you can tell the modern Helstar elements are their. As I said earlier, this album is the culmination of everything they have done, mixing their modern elements with their classic riffing.

I think the fact that long time knob twister, Bill Metoyer, mixed this album is another factor that should be mentioned. I actually think the production on this album is much cleaner and more defined than on their previous three. At times it even reminds me of Destiny's End's first album. The guitar tone is especially amazing and compliments these songs so well. Combined with the brilliant song writing, killer solos, and James' skill at using his voice to actually put you into this story you get a result that is just brilliant.

As we approach the end of 2016 we start to think about what albums could be in the running for album of the year and this album is truly in the running. I knew it would be a great album just because it was Helstar but I never expected this. From beginning to end this album is pure heavy metal at it's finest. Fans of old and new Helstar can get on board with this album because, at the end of the day, one can not deny great heavy metal.


Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Moonsorrow - Jumalten aika

Moonsorrow is a band that combines folk metal, heathen elements, epic battles, and blackened metal to create something so unique and amazing that since first hearing them in 2003, they have become my all time favorite band. Will that make this review of their brand new seventh full length album, Jumalten aika, a bit biased? Perhaps, but the quality of their music speaks for itself. With every album they have seemed to take their sound a bit further. Their last three albums seemed to be going into a darker direction; inserting more black metal into their sound. But with Jumalten aika, we see the band combining their elements from entire career into one epic album that is nothing short of perfect.

This album is epic from start to finish but this emphasis on long epic songs seems to turn some fans off. Even though they were never known for having songs that were less than six minutes, they seemed to only include one or two songs over ten minutes in length. With Verisäkeet they began making the long epics the rule and not the exception. Why this was an issue is beyond me because Moonsorrow is not a song band but an album band. By that, I mean that their albums take you on a musical journey and should be consumed in their entirety and not on a song by song basis. Most of their songs segue right into each other anyway. Jumalten aika is an album that continues the cycle of predominantly long songs obviously because this album fills up an hour and seven minutes with just five songs. Not every band is able to do this and still create a coherent album. Moonsorrow not only pulls it off, with this album they have perfected it.

The title track starts it off with some flute, drums, and mouth harp. Right away you are taken back into time where the ancient gods ruled. The English translation of the album title and this song is The Age of Gods so the music fits right in with the subject matter. As the vocal chants lead to the bombastic riffing you can feel the epic nature of this song. At almost thirteen minutes in length, there is no time where this song meanders or bores you. Instead is slowly builds as it moves along, only slowing briefly in the middle, then continues it momentum to this magnificent crescendo. The song ends abruptly but segues right into the next song, "Ruttolehto incl. Päivättömän päivän kansa." This fifteen plus minute epic is sheer brilliance from beginning to end using their tried and true formula of taking you on that journey to the old world. There is an amazing folk part in the middle that includes flutes and chanting then the choirs come in to give you the chills. The last few minutes of the song are clean choirs and folk melodies including the unmistakable vocals of Jonne Järvelä of Korpiklaani fame.

"Mimisbrunn" is ,quite possibly, the best song that Moonsorrow has ever done. The opening melody reminds me a bit of "Jotunheim" from Verisäkeet as the song slowly builds to this amazing melody with vocals that are so intense. The English translation of this song is Mimir's Well, the well that contained so much wisdom that Odin gave his eye to drink from it. There are so many layers to this song and each one is more intense and more incredible than the other. The melody in the middle with the flutes providing melodies simultaneously with the guitars is just chilling. Mere words can not describe the feeling I get from this song. The album ends with another amazing epic, "Ihmisen aika (Kumarrus pimeyteen)." Clocking in at sixteen minutes flat, this epic song is the album's crescendo as all of the songs were building to this monster of a song to close the album. The intensity of the melodies and the pure emotion in the vocals are absolutely mesmerizing. The brief acoustic break in the middle fits just perfectly as the song builds to a finale only to end with just vocals over what sounds like campfire.

Once again, Moonsorrow has created an album that is the epitome of perfection. The fact that they took their time to create an album of this magnitude shows throughout the entire album. This is not just a mere collection of songs put together to fill up an hour. Instead, this is a composition in five parts. Each part can stand on it's own but when they put these parts together they created something absolutely brilliant. This album is why they are my all time favorite band.


Monday, February 29, 2016

Megadeth - Dystopia

So Dave Mustaine is back with his newest incarnation of Megadeth. After the last two albums did not sit well with most fans of this classic band, one was forced to begin thinking that Dave was done. Topped with half of the band calling it quits I was left to wonder where would Dave go from there. Once it was announced that highly skilled axeman Kiko Loureiro (Angra) was joining the band on the new album there seemed to be some hope but even then I realized that, even with the inclusion of such a talent, at the end of the day it would be the songs that matter. So when their fifteenth full length, Dystopia, dropped, I was pleasantly surprised with the finished product.

I think the one thing working in Dave's favor here is his decision to allow Kiko and guest drummer, Chris Adler (Lamb of God), to have some creative input into the album. It's apparent because this is a well thought out album with some great moments, even some moments that are not typical of Megadeth's sound but are still great metal nonetheless. The opener, "The Threat is Real," comes out of the gate with a cool Eastern feel before it kicks your ass. The solos are incredible as one would expect from the talent on display here. Then the title track kicks in sounding very melodic with some cool lead riffing. This is not a real heavy thrash song. Instead you have a well constructed heavy metal song that has a lot of power metal elements in it. Kiko's solos are fucking incredible and some of them actually remind me of Marty Friedman. So this is where I begin to think that this is going to be a winner.

Of course you have songs like "Fatal Illusion" that has Mustaine's signature all over it. A fast thrasher with some killer guitar battles going on. I'm not a big fan of Lamb of God or that metalcore style but Chris Adler proves here that he is a pretty impressive drummer, especially on this song. "Bullet to the Brain" and "Post American World" are interesting songs that have some cool grooves to them. Dave's singing in a lower register and almost sounds like Chuck Billy in places on the former and the latter is pretty much one of Dave's pedestals to which to let us all know his political views but in a rather catchy song. It's by this time that you'll discover that the inclusion of Kiko Loureiro into this band was a brilliant idea. I can't mention his solos enough as he just shreds through every song.

The true star of this album is "Poisonous Shadows." This is a complex song with many layers and this is the song that sounds like a true group effort. After a nice clean intro the song get's that Eastern feel to it with the opening lead being so melodic and clean. Then comes the thunder with Chris Adler showing his meticulous timekeeping mixed with some serious skills. The song's darker feel is done with class and skill with the chorus adding to the epic feel of this song with it's eerie melody. This is possibly the best song that Megadeth has done in a very long time.

This album does have a few flaws which, fortunately, do not take too much away from the great moments on this album. "The Emperor" is not that great of a song and could have been left off the album. I have the Limited Edition with the two bonus tracks and you're not missing much here either. "Last Dying Wish" is the better of the two because between the silliness in which he presented the lyrics there's a pretty good tune here. The message is that he did listen to the fans and he's right, this was his last chance for me because one more turd and I would have given up on this band for good. "Look Who's Talking" is one of those songs that gives the Dave haters ammunition. As mature as this album is, this song is an immature attempt for Dave to keep his bad ass image intact, I guess. I'm not sure but whatever the case, I have little use for "I'll kick your ass" songs.

So at the end of the day, it seems Dave has redeemed himself with me, for now. He does seem to have a history putting out a monster album only follow it up with a turd so we'll see what the future has in store. All I know is that this is a really good effort by a classic band and one that caught me by surprise. I was not expecting to like this but I'm glad I was caught off guard. Now let's see how he follows this up.


Monday, February 8, 2016

Borknagar - Winter Thrice

I am a huge Borknagar fan and believe that this band has never released a bad album. Some might disagree due to how far removed their current sound is compared to their first album, which was more of a raw black metal sound but with enough melody to make it stand out. True, they do not resemble their "original" sound but neither does any other album that came after their debut. Every album after has been more focused and thought out. Vocals stand out as much as the music creating a balance of beauty and aggression, just like the forces of nature in this band's homeland of Norway. Nature is also the most common lyrical theme for this band and their newest album, Winter Thrice, is no exception.

I'm going to cut right to the chase here and say that Winter Thrice is their crowning achievement, their magnum opus. The reason I say this is because of what they were able to pull off with absolute brilliance. Anyone who is a fan of this band knows it's history of vocalists with Kristoffer "Garm, Fiery G" Rygg on the debut and sophomore before handing the torch over to Simen "ICS Vortex" Hestnaes. After two albums Vortex is gone and Andreas "Vintersorg, Mr. V." Hedlund steps in adding his own brand of legendary vocals to the band. However, beginning with 2012's Urd, ICS Vortex is once again a full time member and both he and Vintersorg share vocal duties along with keyboard player Lars R. "Lazare" Nedland, who has an incredible voice and has appeared on all of Solefald's releases as well as guesting on such incredible albums like Ásmegin's incredible debut and some of Vintersorg's solo albums. So here, again, we see a band that takes it vocals seriously. So what would be the next step in this pattern that is obviously emerging?

Well, what would have seemed so unlikely a few years ago has now happened and the result is nothing short of brilliant. This album has two songs in which every vocalist that has ever been in Borknagar is singing together. The title track, could quite possibly be the best song they've ever done, even beating out "The Earthling" from Urd. The song is epic as fuck with amazing riffs and a melody that has so much atmosphere. But the best part is where you hear the unmistakable voice of Mr. Rygg and then you know this is something magical. They could have played it safe and just had him come in a sing a few bars so they can say they did it. No, instead every moment of this song is written for the person who sings it, including Garm's moments, which are quite a lot on this song. It's as if he never left and was still a part of this band. That's what makes this song so special. "Terminus" is the other song that Garm sings on and is a monster of a seven minute epic. This song is a bit heavier in spots than the title track and Garm's input here is not as prominent as on the title track but his amazing presence is felt in both of these amazing songs.

The rest of the album is no less amazing. Songs like the opener, "Rhymes of the Mountain," grab you with it's hooks immediately and let you know that this will be another amazing effort by this incredible band. "Cold Run's the River" has some really cool melodies and some nice tempo changes, which also shows newcomer Baard Kolstad on drums as a force to be reckoned with. This kid looks like he's twelve but can play his ass off. He can stand in the ranks of Hellhammer and Asgeir Mickelson at his young age and that's an accomplishment. Vintersorg's vocals also stand out as he seems to be using his "old style" baritone, which I think suits him much better. It's actually a blessing we get to hear Mr. V. at all because of his accident last year, which kept most of us wondering if he could continue to perform. Have no fear. It's safe to say that Vintersorg is not throwing in the towel anytime soon. Epics like "When Chaos Calls" and "Erodent" are some of Vintersorg's best performances in years.

So yes, this could be considered the band's magnum opus but I don't think they are finished surprising us with monumental albums. The creative core of this band is firmly in place and their formula for making huge, epic songs without sacrificing hooks and creativity will continue to grace our ears. This band has done no wrong and I think they never will.


Friday, January 1, 2016

The Year in Metal 2015

Due to some life changes in 2015, I was not as active as I wanted to be. However, I did review some really killer albums and, although we did lose our beloved Lemmy just a few days ago, 2015 was still a great metal year. So without further adieu, here is my top 10 metal albums of 2015.

10. Tanagra - None of This Is Real

This was one of the biggest surprises of the year. This Portland band does power metal some serious justice and is one of the best finds I've made in a while. Do yourself a favor, get this album.

9. Solefald - World Metal. Kosmopolis Sud

This band is notorious for taking black metal to the next level. Cornelius and Lazzare are geniuses and this album reflects that. This is an album worthy of any and all praise. If you take metal, mix some Zappa and a hint of Sergeant Pepper like weirdness, you have an album that stands out from the rest.

8. Symphony X - Underworld

I was not a big fan of this band's work after the New Mythology Suite but this album was nothing short of brilliant. It was Symphony X doing what they do best. Amazing songwriting, killer melodies, and amazing musicianship made this album a great return to form for me.

7. The Storyteller - Sacred Fire

This album is straight up heavy fucking metal. This is what HammerFall should be doing now but won't. This album is just pure metal from beginning to end. I always loved this band but this album is their "comeback" album. This is heavy metal...nothing more, nothing less.

6. Enslaved - In Times

Enslaved just keeps pumping out brilliant and amazing albums and this is just another top notch album by these Norwegian veterans. To me, this band can do no wrong and this album is and example why I feel that way.

5. Visigoth - The Revenant King

Throwback metal? I think not. This is a band that will define metal for the coming ages. As Stained Class and Number of the Beast defined metal during it's infancy, this album shows that, in the words of the mighty Piet Sielck, heavy metal never dies. Epic compositions, killer melodies, amazing solos, everything you would want in a metal album is here. A classic in the making.

4. Satyrasis- ...Of the Dead

Another amazing discovery. This band plays progressive death/thrash metal with a hint of traditional thrown in. They have been around since 2003 and this is only their second album but this Lansing, Michigan band is something that's not heard every day. This is a brilliant album.

3. Blind Guardian - Beyond the Red Mirror

Blind Guardian has never released a bad album, in my opinion. Those who think they went in the wrong direction after their second album are missing out on some really great power metal. This album shows the band perfecting their mix of epic, bombastic compositions with killer speed metal riffing.

2. Ancient Rites - Laguz

Here is another band that can do no wrong in my eyes. Ever since their move towards an epic viking/black metal sound, there has been no stopping this band. This album is pure genius from beginning to end. Their brand of epic metal is simply amazing. The songwriting, brilliant. I love this band and this album.

And here is it folks, album of the year....

1. Amorphis - Under the Red Cloud

I listened to this album non-stop for close to a month or more. That is the first time an album has impacted me like that in a very long time. Everything they have done since the arrival of front man Tomi Joutsen has been leading up to this album. The riffs, the melodies, the folk elements, and just the sheer brilliance of every song on this album is why this album is album of the year for 2015.

Of course with the great there is the bad. So here is my biggest disappointment of the year. I actually prefer the tile of....

Turd of the Year!

Nightwish - Endless Forms Most Beautiful
I used to love this band. Their original sound was a mix of power metal and opera that I thought was so fitting since I believe that metal is more closely related to classical music than some would want to admit. When they lost Tarja Turunen and replaced her with such an inferior singer as Anette Olzon I wrote them off. However, they had Floor Jensen replace Ms. Olzon and I thought we may get a good Nightwish album again. Not so much. Dictator in charge Tuomas Holopainen was not to be out shined by another great vocalist so he made sure that she sounded as sterile as Ms. Olzon. This could have been a decent album if Floor was allowed to truly shine like she can.

So that is 2015 in metal. Happy New Year to all and may 2016 be more metal than 2015. There are some great things in store for this webzine in the coming year. Cheers...and keep it metal as FUCK!!

Monday, September 28, 2015

Amorphis - Under the Red Cloud

Let me cut right to the chase, I've been listening to Amorphis' thirteenth full length, Under the Red Cloud, non stop since I got my grubby little paws on it. I've listened to it at work a lot, I've listened to it with headphones on, etc. I know this album quite well and the reason that it's resonated so well with me from my first listen is that it is, simply put, the epitome of the perfect album. Yeah, I know that I'm quite liberal with giving scores that are perfect but for good reason...and this album is no exception. This is a band of amazing musicians and songwriters creating an album that just fits together in perfect harmony from the opening note to the closing.

This album is the culmination of everything that this band has done since the arrival of front man Tomi Joutsen. His growls are deep and harsh while his flawless baritone cleans have become the signature for this band. But a front man alone can not carry an entire band and it's the songs that this amazing front man gets to sing and how he uses his voice to create the atmosphere for the songs is what sets this band apart from the rest. These songs are just flawless and flow from one to another making this an album that must be listened to in full to properly feel the atmosphere. From the opening piano notes of the title track you know that this is a special album. As the song flows to some acoustic guitars with a clean solo mixed in over the piano the song picks up momentum leading to opening riffs where the melody is reminiscent of folk melodies. The majority of this song is sung in Joutsen's amazing cleans with a chorus that is just infectious. This will not be the only time I mention the choruses on this album because every song has these amazing choruses.

My favorite song on this album is "Bad Blood." It begins with some cool sounding keys playing a sort of folk melody leading to this simple but really cool main riff. Joutsen shows his growling skills here but the fucking chorus just gives me chills. His cleans are so full of emotion and feeling you can't help but feel this music while listening. There's a cool bridge in the song that has a single note lead melody over Joutsen's cleans that is absolutely beautiful. This is goosebump shit here. "Death of a King" is another one of these amazing songs that infuse folk elements into it by both modern means such as keys and traditional means such as a guest appearance by Chigrel Glanzmann of Eluveitie. The verse is growled over the folk elements leading to a nice bridge that flows to another one of those choruses full of emotion and atmosphere. The solo on this is very melodic and it helps the flow of the song instead of being just a solo. Just another example of creating a song where all the pieces fit perfectly.

The lyrical content on a good bit of this album is quite spiritual with a couple of references to "the skull of a bear" in a spiritual or something of an ancient religious nature. The opener and title track mentions this as well as "The Skull." "Sacrifice" is another that has a deeper spiritual feeling, and even being probably the most rock oriented song on this album it still reflects the sheer brilliance of this album with it's deep spiritual meaning and amazing musicianship. "Tree of Ages" also has a spiritual feel to it with more of the flutes and traditional folk melodies but still having some serious riffs in there. This is another song that has that infectious chorus and amazing solo. "White Night" is the perfect ending to an absolutely brilliant album. It begins melodic but with an epic feeling to it. Soft female vocals begin the verse with Joutsen's growls coming in. Once again, the chorus is the star of the show here. This song just feels like it should end this album and I'm not sure why I get that feeling and I'm sure that was the artists intention.

I have the digipak version which has two bonus songs, "Come The Spring" and the amazing "Winter's Sleep." The latter is a monster of a song that shows all of the elements of this amazing band. In it's 25 year existence this band really hasn't released anything that could be considered a bad album. However, they seem to have finally found a sound that truly compliments this truly talented band. Everything they've ever done has led up to this album. I'm even going to go out on a limb here and say that could easily be album of the year. This album is a musical journey where you feel the music instead of just listening...and that is why this is the perfect album.