Sunday, December 7, 2014

Evig Hat - Evig Hat

So winter has come a bit early in my part of the world and when winter comes I love me some good old fashioned, icy, dark black metal. So in my quest to acquire some good black metal, I ran across Norway's Evig Hat. Formed in 2011 by Satan ( imagine that, Satan starting his own black metal band) who pretty much did all of it by himself up until recently, I found a band that really did not bring much originality to the table. But they really make up for it in Satan's ability to write catchy songs and having an evil as fuck sound. This is straight up black metal that kicks your ass with it's execution but has just enough melody to make the songs good and believable.

So in 2014, this band has released five full length releases and two EPs. All releases are digital, but man that's an impressive feat for anyone.The self titled full length being reviewed here is his fourth. What we have here is raw and aggressive black metal riffing that is more than just interesting enough to catch your ear. The opener, "Evig Hat" is starts out with some blasting and aggressive riffing that just sets the mood. The vocals are evil sounding and adds to the dark mood even more. The tempo slows a bit with some killer, almost doom sounding riffs leading to a melodic part that adds an epic element to this song. I'm liking this so far. The production is rather raw but I wouldn't say lo-fi. The drums can be over loud in a few spots like on the blasting parts of "Undermennesket." A great song with some really cool things going on but that snare drum. However, this does not take anything away from the song.

"Døde skrik" kinda reminds me of Shadowthrone era Satryricon in the beginning with the riffs and melodies. As I said, the vocals on this album sound really evil and actually are good black metal vocals. This song is just fierce, that's all I can say. The riffs just keep coming and when it does slow down it just flows with melody then it kicks your teeth in again. In contrast, "Ensomhetens Offer" just pummels you from beginning to end with sheer black metal mayhem. It slows a bit halfway through but for the most part this is fast riff laden black metal on this one. The album is closer is a nine and a half minute affair and is much slower with much more atmosphere. That does not take away from the heaviness or the darkness that just oozes from the song. It begins a bit chaotic, almost sounding like Zappa gone black metal, but seems to get that dark atmosphere as the song goes on. Quite different from the other songs on the album, this song still displays a black metal feeling because of the eerie sounds. I think it's a cool way to end the album.

So here we have an album that I ran across by accident but has now become an essential album for me. There is much more than just second wave worship going on here. This is about as real as it gets. I'm interested in hearing the other releases because if they are of this quality then we have something really special here. If you like black metal, this is for you.


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Harmony - Theatre of Redemption

I must say that I'm not too familiar with Sweden's Harmony and their brand of progressive power metal. I probably still would not know of this band if it were not for Ethereal Magnanimus (Daniel Heiman for those who are noobs) providing guest vocals for their third full length, Theater of Redemption. Given that Mr. Heiman's post Lost Horizon output has not even come close to living up to his glory days since leaving the band. Needless to say that this was an album that gave me some hope that Mr. Heiman would align himself with some musicians worthy of his magnanimus (pun intended) voice. The teasers seemed promising so I was highly anticipating this.

While this isn't a horrible album, it just does not leave much of impression on me. Being that this is the first time hearing this band I would say they are a second tier prog/power band that has plenty talent but they lack that magic that makes an album special. The album opener, "The Window of my Soul," is a good song that has a catchy chorus and some nice riffing with keys providing a nice backdrop. Heiman sounds as godly as ever on this song and one would think that a band with this type of sound could keep the momentum going but honestly, this is the best song on the album. The songs just seem to get more forgettable as we get into the album. This Heiman fanboy's huge bubble is about to burst. "Inhale" could have been so much better if Heiman would have had total control over the vocals here. The riffing is okay but this has a much more poppy sound to it. I have no problem with poppy sounding power metal but this doesn't go anywhere. The organs give it a nice 70s vibe in places but the song begins to plod along with nothing catchy except for the guitar solo. Sadly it's becoming apparent that this band is full of talented musicians but lacking in the songwriting department.

The rest of the album contains songs that try real hard to be heavy and proggy and it times it kinda works but most of the time they fall flat. I guess "Crown Me King" is decent but at the end of the day it just doesn't stand out. "Son of the Morning" tries to put on that eastern vibe but it doesn't seem to work for me. These completely out of place clean guitars on the bridge lead to a ridiculous sounding chorus that tries to invoke "Kashmir" or something. The solo is more wankery, which I'm not opposed of in most cases. The title track has some nice melodies and it tries to be epic and gets away with it for the most part. The problem is that the song is not memorable enough for me to really care to think about it again. There just isn't anything there catchy enough to draw me in. The background vocals are clearly not Heiman and tend to get in the way of his vocals. Actually even his vocals tend to be sound phoned in at times. ."You Are" is a just awful. It's a ballad that is the perfect example of what I said about his vocals sounding phoned in. The song just plods and doesn't do anything interesting. I know it's a ballad but it's almost six minutes of how not to write the metal ballad.

So the million dollar question here is, after creating and signing on one of the greatest albums ever made in heavy metal does Daniel Heiman lend his voice to those who are so clearly unworthy of his talent? This should have been so much better. This album is so hit or miss that it's hard to enjoy in whole. I'm not a song guy, I consume albums. With just a couple of songs worthy enough to be considered good and the rest consisting of bad ideas inserted into less than passable songs this could be in the running for disappointment of the year. Heiman is so much better than this. If you were like me and got all worked up over this, save yourself the disappointment. It's not what is seems to be.


Monday, October 27, 2014

Galneryus - Vetelgyus

Power metal, in the neo-classical or symphonic style, has been one of my favorite genres of metal to the point that for a while, in the early parts of this century, I listened to nothing else. Sonata Arctica, Stratovarius, Rhapsody (before "of Fire"), etc. were the leaders of the genre. But it seems all three of those bands just ran out of steam, putting out several albums that were not even close to their previous glory. Actually some were even less than mediocre. Luckily when I need that speedy, riff laden metal, those insane solos, and soaring vocals I can still count on Japan's Galneryus for my Euro-power metal.

Seriously, this band has not put out a bad album, from what I heard of them. So I jumped at the chance to scoop up their eleventh full length, Vetelgyus. Wow, what a beautiful breath of fresh air. This album is as close to perfect as any album of this genre can be. Even the intro is catchy. Yeah...the minute and a half instrumental that most usually skip on a power metal album? Well, don't skip it this time. It's actually catchy and powerful. Then you get the storm of speed and riffs with "Endless Story," the first song. The riffs are catchy and the keys are cheesy. The tempo is speedy and Masatoshi Ono's vocals are just spot on. He sings predominantly in Japanese with some lines of English thrown in. His melodies are infectious and his voice is powerful. The guitar solos are fucking godly on this song as well as the rest of the album. Another song with a monster solo is "Ultimatum." But this is not all wankery and no substance. The opening keyboard goes right into a main riff that is heavy as fuck. The chorus is catchy, but that's to be expected here. Then comes this fucking godly keyboard solo followed up by a guitar solo that gave me goosebumps.

And just when a song is finished and you say, "Goddamn that song was amazing," comes another one. "Enemy of Justice" is one of the longer songs and is absolutely amazing. Clocking in at almost seven and a half minutes, this song showcases the dynamics that make up this band. The melodies, the bombastic orchestral sound of the keys with the guitars. There's some acoustic passages as well. Everything you would want in an epic song like this. The title track is another of the longer songs. It's actually just over eight minutes and it's an instrumental. Yep, you read right, instrumental. But have no fear because they are the band who can pull that off. Of course it's a wank fest but when you can write great songs and play as good as this, a wank fest is a beautiful thing. There is a cool part in the middle where the song slows down and even incorporates some traditional Japanese music sounds. Those traditional sounds carry over to the melody leading to the last few minutes of the song. For an instrumental, it really grabs your attention and holds it.

I think that the problem with most of the bands of this genre, and especially the aforementioned bands, is the the lack of memorable riffs. With this band you get the riffs. The keys are predominant but the guitars still drive the songs. The riffs give that punch that lets you know that this is still heavy metal. "The Guide" is one of those songs that have some kick ass riffs driving the song even if the keys are in your face. This is the proper way to do this type of music. "I Wish" is a song that has some killer riffing but with some 70s sounding organ going right along with the riffs. I think of it as the "Jon Lord" effect because of that organ sound. The guitar solos on this one is fucking they all are but this one needed to be mentioned on it's own. He goes by the name of Syu and he is just incredible on this one. Just when I thought the previous one was good. Closing out the album is, "The Voyage." This is an instrumental that feels more like a ballad than an outro. Slow, tasteful and melodic, this is the perfect way to end a perfect album.

This album is amazing, there's no other way to put it. There is not one song on this album that is less than amazing. I could listen to this album over and over again and not get tired of it. All the elements that make an exceptional power metal album are here on this album. This band is no joke. They are masters of their craft and this album is the proof. If you love, or have ever loved, symphonic power metal, then you must get this album. It's essential.


Sunday, September 14, 2014

Abigor - Leytmotif Luzifer

Austria's Abigor is a band that is most well known for it's mid 90s output. Their first two albums are lauded by the metal community as black metal classics. It's also the band that contained Silenius of Summoning fame. It seems the band ended in 2003 only to be brought back to life in 2006. Their newest and tenth full length album, Leytmotif Luzifer, brings the band full circle as the vocals on this album are provided by original vocalist Silenius, although he is only listed as a session member and is not back in the fold. This album shows is a more mature band but with a renewed energy and aggression. The album's subtitle is The 7 Temptations of Man and each song is titled after each temptation. So with the album title, subtitle, and vocals provided by Silenius, expectations are high. Well let me tell you that you won't be disappointed.

Let me tell you straight up that there are no synths, electronics or other influences at play here. This is pure black metal at it's finest. The album opener, "Temptation I - Ego" slays from the start with some serious guitar work and evil as fuck vocals. the riffs here go from thrashers to tremolos. The layered guitar sound is a staple for this band and is one of the things that makes this a return to form for this band. The tempo is a mixture of blast beats and pummeling double bass speed. There is an evil chaotic part in the middle that just gives this album such an atmosphere. There are so many layers to this band as you have this pummeling first song, then you have a darker and more sinister track "Temptation II - Stasis." This song slows it down a bit but does not let up on the aggression and sounds so fucking evil. There is some killer soloing going on in here as well as some evil sounding vocal chants in the background. This song is all over the place without being the least bit incoherent. Instead it shows the band's creativity on this album.

"Temptation IV - Indulgence" is pure evil through and through. This song has so many elements that make this one of the standouts. Although not as fast and aggressive as some of the others, it has this slow eerie sound that invokes sinister feelings. There are deep clean vocal chants and some strange guitar sounds and riffs. But it also has some melodic parts in the middle of the song. It speeds up towards the end adding yet another layer to the song. Then you have "Temptation V - Neglect" which is a classic black metal song if I ever heard it. Speedy and loaded with tremolo riffing this song is has some of the most eerie vocals I've ever heard in a metal release. The deep cleans show up again on this song but, for me, the guitars are the stars of this song. The riffing and the leads are just in your face and the tremolos add melody to this song making this a great example of how to mix aggression and melody into a song and make it sound believable.

The greatest temptation on this album is the final one, "Temptation VII - Excessus." This is an eleven minute epic that could be one of the best songs this band has ever done. It begins with such an evil sound with the vocals sounding like they are coming from the fiery pits of Hell. It starts a bit slower then speeds up with the tremolos added to give it more atmosphere as well as a bit of melody. It even sounds a bit incoherent in places adding to that feeling of madness that shows itself in places here. But when taken in context of the entire song is not incoherent at all. Instead it necessary for this song so you get the feeling they are trying to convey. All of it is building to a climax that is just massive in it's approach. After the midway point the chaos subsides and some melody shows up. There even seems to be a doom vibe going on here but with some beautiful tremolos. The clean vocal chants are just perfect for this where this song is at this point. It's almost as if they are trying to convey the message that out of chaos comes order.

This album is just one roller coaster of emotions from beginning to end. Some places are bit more chaotic than others and there are some that are just too chaotic for me, but they are far and few between because I get the overall vibe they are giving off here. Bottom line, this is possibly the best black metal release of this year. The combination of melody and aggression; of chaos and order shows that these guys are rejuvenated and have found their creative niche once again. If you have ever been a fan of this band, this album is essential and if you are a black metal fan at all, you should devour this album. I did.


ElvenStorm - Blood Leads to Glory

It seems that in this day and age, the thought of a female fronted metal band brings to mind bands like Nightwish or Epica...symphonic metal with opera type vocals. However, back in the day a female fronted metal band brought to mind bands like Warlock, Hellion, Chastain, etc. ElvenStorm is a band that nods to the old school of female fronted heavy metal. I found this band while looking at the Facebook page of a similar band, Crystal Viper. Formed in 2008 this French quartet's second full length, Blood Leads to Glory, is an all out heavy metal assault that can stand up to any of the more established metal bands, female fronted or not. They also pay homage to the real female fronted metal from days gone by.

Now one would be amiss if they did a review of this album and not mentioned the obvious German power metal influence that seems to be all over this album. And the reasons for this comparison could be that the album was produced by Lars Ramcke of Stormwarrior and mastered by none other than the great Piet Sielck of Iron Savior fame. The appearance of these two help give this album a sound that just reeks of fist pumping, horns high heavy metal. After the intro, the first proper song, "Reign in Glory," lets you know that this band means business. Even though they are from France, this band plays German style speed/power metal and this song is a prime example of their ability to kick your ass with speed and aggression but still have those infectious melodies that the genre is known for. Imagine Stormwarrior with Doro Pesch or Marta Gabriel (Crystal Viper) singing. But they are much more than that as their own ideas show brightly on this album. Vocalist Laura Ferreux has the perfect metal voice. It seems that in places she is holding back but all in all she can hold her head high because she can stand side by side with the aforementioned ladies any day.

"Werewolves of the East" is another song that is loaded with speed, melody, and speed metal riffs galore. The soloing on this song, as well as the rest of the album, is just amazing. The dual leads and the lead riffing just add that touch that makes this type of metal so enjoying. The melodies that are produced by this style of playing are, as I said, infectious. "Temple of the Sun" is more of a mid paced rocker that slows the tempo down a bit but makes it no less metal. This song has some excellent riffs and melodies. Ms. Ferreux shines a bit more here and gives a powerful performance. This may be the "weak" song on the album but only because it relies too much on the melodies. It's not a weak track, it's just not as strong as some of the others, that in no way makes it a skipper or a throwaway. I also previously mentioned Marta Gabriel and her band Crystal Viper. Well she guests on the album lending her powerful voice to "Mistress From Hell." The title of that song says it all. This song will make you get out your metal studded wrist bands and throw horns high!

"Where Angels Dare to Die" is the band gong into epic territory for this one...and they do it well. The song is just over six minutes but there is never a dull moment in the song. It begins with slight intro section that just screams epic. After that it's mid paced with some kick ass riffing and some lead riffs adding melody. There is a riff that kinda reminds me of "For Whom the Bell Tolls" in there but all in all this just rocks. It slows down a bit in the middle only to lead up to the solo part that just gives me the chills. This shows that this band is capable of melding speed metal with traditional and epic metal without it sounding forced. Then a song like "Fallen one" just slay with an all out speed metal assault with massive riffs and screaming solos. "Sirens of Death" is another of those kick ass speed metal songs that has all the ingredients, including the gang shouted background vocals. The song slows down a bit in the middle with some cool riffing on the bridge leading to a massive solo. As I said, Ms. Ferreux sounds like she is holding back in places but not on the bonus track, Into The Fire", which is a Savage Grace cover. Here she lets loose and shows her range. It's a great cover and the band shows where their influences lie.

So the next time you think of female fronted metal, maybe you should remember that there is much more out there than the goth metal fronted opera singers. This is proof that there are still female metal singers that actually sing metal. This is an album that took me by surprise because I was not expecting it to be this good. I'm looking forward to what the future might bring this talented band. Horns up, this is essential.


Sunday, September 7, 2014

Accept - Blind Rage

Accept is not just any band, they're an institution in metal. Officially formed in 1976 their roots go back to 1968. This band is an absolute favorite of mine, and most metal heads, based on their contribution to metal during it's infancy. Albums like Restless and Wild and Balls To The Wall were instrumental in getting me into metal and hold a special place in my "Metal Heart." After numerous splits, reunions, and hiatuses, the band went back to the drawing board and in 2009 the band reformed with a new vocalist and a new energy. They released two balls out metal albums and it appeared that not only were Accept back, they were back with a vengeance.

Accept's newest and 14th full length album, Blind Rage, is actually the perfect successor to the two previous albums. Once again we have guitar driven heavy metal as only Accept can do it. This album is just full of quality riffs and enough hooks to grab you. What's different here is that the songs seem more thought out. You have straight up rockers like the opener, "Stampede." This was a teaser that the band released back in July. I thought it was a great song then and I stand by that. It's melodic but with enough aggression to make it believable. The guitar work is just amazing. There's solos galore...which is right up my alley. Then you have "Dark Side of my Heart" that could have been on any of the 80s albums. This song just reeks of the 80s with the slow verse leading up to the arena rock sounding chorus and 80s metal gang vocals. Another bad ass solo on this song makes it an Accept classic already. Then you have an all out ass kicker like "Trail of Tears." This is a speed metal Accept at it's finest, fast but yet melodic and catchy.

But even with the diversity in the sounds, this is still an Accept metal album. It does seem a bit laid back in it's approach but I think it's because of the production. The production on this album reminds me a bit more of the old school sound. It doesn't sound so compressed and over loud. The guitars aren't as ballsy and crunchy as Sneep usually likes them. And it fits the music well. As I said, the songs feel more thought out. There's everything that we all love about Accept, the melodies, the ballsy riffs, the gang backing vocals but with songs that have more meaning. And the lyrics are really heavy on this one. I think that's where the Blind Rage comes in. Some said that the title of the album is a bit misleading because this is such a laid back album but I think they are overlooking the lyrics. "200 Years" is a fucking ominous prediction that sends a message that we need to think about what we, as humanity, are doing to this planet and each other. Rage means a lot of things and after listening to these songs, the title of the album fits like a glove. The aforementioned "Trail of Tears" is another example. You want to get pissed, look that up truly happened.

"Fall of the Empire" is the epic number on this one. This song is a mid paced song that is an all out metal epic from the riffing to the melodies to the choruses with those Accept backing vocals. A song about mutual destruction we see the blind rage showing up once again. But the song just rocks with that main bluesy riff and the solos that sound almost like Ritchie Blackmore. To contrast you have a song like "The Curse" that shows that Accept does cheesy right. Yeah, the song is a bit cheesy but it's such a great song. With a slow main riff and verse it picks up a bit at the chorus. It spotlights Mark Tornillo who's voice sounds quite good where he cleans it up a bit...not so much of the gargling with glass sound. But the song is catchy and well written. Again the guitars are just amazing with the riffing and solos adding melody and providing the texture of the song. Those leads in the background make me love the song even more. The lyrics aren't really as cheesy as I've heard some say but are actually quite thought provoking. "Final Journey" is the closer and is there to make you never forget that you just listened to an Accept album and you are much better for it. A faster number it has some great riffing and an infectious melody.

There's a few moments on the album that didn't work for me but they were very small issues with a few parts on a couple of songs. Nothing that really takes that much away from the album. This is a great Accept album that is a touch better than the last two just based on the maturity of the songwriting. These guys have had an interesting career but it seems that after all of these years they have finally found the ingredients to consistently release quality albums. Bring 'em on.


Monday, September 1, 2014

HammerFall - (r)Evolution

HammerFall is one of those bands that some love and some loathe. I actually discovered "The Metal Age" right at the dawn of the internet age. The release of 1997s Glory to the Brave was one of the most exciting times for me because it seemed that old school metal was still not only being made but being made well. I hopped on the HammerFall bandwagon right away and Legacy of Kings sealed the deal for me. I was a fan boy. Their formula for fast melodic power metal songs with anthemic choruses and cheesy chivalry lyrics was exactly what I love about traditional metal. So what do they do? They slowly move away from that formula to become a band I hardly recognize anymore.

Lets face it, their last two albums were absolute shit. No Sacrifice, No Victory was just weak with no ideas. It sounded phoned in. Infected was another turd that did nothing but pick up where the previous had left off. Gone were the anthems that defined this band. Don't get me wrong, not everything they did after Legacy of Kings is as lackluster as those last two but you could see where they were heading. So, of course, leading up to this album we get teasers that Hector looks like he did on previous album because Andreas Marschall did the artwork like on the first three. Frederik Nordstrom was at the knobs again. Here we go...another "back to roots" album. Then they release two teaser tracks, "Bushido" which sounds like it could have fit well on Renegade and "Hector's Hymn," a kick ass HammerFall song that could have been on either of the first two. My anticipation is growing now. Then the album drops...and drops hard. The two previously mentioned songs and a song called "Origins" is all that's worth it on this album. Yeah, there are some nice solos and good guitar work in places but the songs are just sad.

I already mentioned the album opener, "Hector's Hymn." This is classic HammerFall through and through. Speedy and melodic. The warrior lyrics are back in full force. So I'm starting to think that this might turn out to be a true return to form. As I mentioned before, "Bushido" could have been on Renegade. The title track has some okay ideas but it just sounds phoned in. The gang backing vocals seem out of place with the rest of the song. Not horrible but just not up to the standards they set for themselves in the beginning. "Live Life Loud" sounds like it's trying to be an anthem but instead it just comes off as sounding way too cheesy, and not in a good way. It plods along and just doesn't have any personality. This is where the disappointment starts to come in. Those fuckers! Did they really think that we would buy this shit just because there's a real HammerFall song on it? Now my disappointment is turning to bitterness. "Ex Inferis" is "Templars of Steel" all over again. So now they're recycling their more stale riffs to try and pull the wool over our eyes. The chorus is the only thing worthy on this song.

"Origins," as I mentioned previously, is the other really powerful track on the album. It's fast and the riffing is quite good here. The chorus is true HammerFall and is catchy and melodic. The bridge is the middle is the only thing that seems out of place. Great song but they infused some bad ideas into the middle to make it seem a little less believable. the solos are kick ass. The ballad before it is just awful. HammerFall has made some good ballads and some really bad ones. This is one of those bad ones. But a lot of times the bad ballads can be overlooked but not here. It just adds another notch in the filler section. It's sad that there is this much filler on an album by a band that can write songs like "Hector's Hymn" or "Origins." I don't think that they are out of ideas as much as I think that they have rock star disease. Maybe they think they don't have to work so hard to create memorable songs because their fan base is large and loyal enough to allow them to get away with being lazy. Fuck that! I've been a fan since the beginning and I'm pissed.

At the end of the day, it could be said that this album is better than their two previous because it actually has good songs on it. It may be only three but it has good songs. Oh well, as long as I can still listen to Legacy of Kings I will do so, and forget that this album even exists.


Opeth - Pale Communion

I stumbled across Opeth just shortly after the turn of the century at a show where they were second after Angel Dust and before Nevermore. I had never heard of them up to this point. I was floored by that hybrid of old 70s prog and death metal and swore to get everything they had done, up to that point. I was hooked ever since that concert. The first metal show I took my children to was Opeth in 2004. I think this band gets so much more undeserved shit by some in the metal community because they are so misunderstood. There newest release, Pale Communion, should settle all misunderstandings. This is truly Opeth, sans the death metal approach, and it's just incredible.

In every Opeth album there is at least one section on each song that is acoustic, psychedelic, or reminiscent of old 70s prog and space rock. I guess it's just me but anyone who likes metal, I'm sure likes Pink Floyd, or Yes, or early Genesis...maybe even early Kansas. That mixture of  the death metal with those prog sections made this band so unique. Some found this boring and uninteresting. I found it truly amazing. So the most natural progression for this band would be to strip away the death metal and go completely prog. They flirted with it on 2003s Damnation and it seemed they were on to something. You could tell that with each passing album after it, they were just going through the motions when it came to the death metal parts. Anyone who pays attention could tell that where they are now was inevitable. They just needed to say fuck it, and go for it. So they release statements that there will be no death metal vocals on what would become 2011's Heritage. Heritage was a good, but flawed start to this new sound. With this new album all the kinks have been ironed out and they could release album after album that sounded like this and I would be happy.

The biggest difference on this album compared to the last is the guitars. They have much more balls to them. Heritage seemed almost timid to they were walking on eggshells. This time out they just went for it to create an album that shows their true identity. "Eternal Rains Will Come" is heavy on the organ but the guitars come to the front when they are required to. This is everything I love about 70s prog with the jazzy/fusion rhythms and the solos that just shred. Mikael's layered vocals sound quite good. The Moody Blues sounding Mellotron gives the song so much atmosphere. "Cusp of Eternity" is a bit more riff driven and a bit heavier. This guitar sound on the solo of this song is just mesmerizing. The vocal lines are sung well on this one as well. He seems to be refining his clean vocals and doing a good job of it. But that fucking solo...I guess his voice isn't the only thing Mikael's been refining.

It wouldn't be an Opeth album without the long epic number and "Moon Above, Sun Below" is that song. This song is just a rollercoaster of feelings and sounds. From softer acoustic passages and leads that sound like David Gilmore to heavier sounds to complex rhythms and an amazing solo. His layered vocals also are prominent here as they almost have an old school jazzy inflection to them in places and then to softer more melodic melodies as well. There is enough going on to keep you interested in this almost eleven minute opus. On the other hand, the opening to "River" sounds like an almost southern rock song with the acoustic opening and harmonies. The solo and the keyboards just scream Allman Brothers in places on this song, then is replaced by this jam where the solos are just battling it out. Trying to actually describe this entire song, as with most songs on this album, is impossible because of all the dimensions at play here.

You have some songs that are on the "heavy" side like the aforementioned "Cusp of Eternity." "Voice of Treason" is another song that has this heavy feel about it. It has some eastern sounding melodies fused with some heavier melodies and tempos. The last two minutes are fucking epic and Mikael's voice gives me chills here. The melancholy lyrics are one thing that Opeth has not changed. The album closer, "Faith in Others" is prime example of that darkness. This is a softer song not reaching anything more than a ballad in terms of it's rhythm or melody. But it's one of those ballads that borders on epic and makes this the perfect way to close this incredible musical journey.

I'm an unapologetic Opeth fan. I have enjoyed all of their albums and absolutely love most of them. This band has created some of the most incredible music I've ever heard. Why they are so divisive in the metal community is beyond me. I guess because I feel that the 70s prog was the path that led me to heavy metal every metalhead should love this band. All I know is that after going through their progression I think they've released the perfect album for where they are as a band. If you don't understand what Opeth is about after this album then, maybe, you won't ever get it. I think this album is flawless.


Sunday, August 17, 2014

Unisonic - Light of Dawn

When Michael Kiske left Helloween (and metal) in 1993 it seemed to have caused an unbalance in the universe. Sure, Helloween had just released a ghastly album that was as far from metal as anything could be, but we at least thought he would resurface in something metal. He has the voice for metal. His vocals on the two Keeper of the Seven Keys albums were textbook metal. Those two albums alone pretty much created what would become power metal. But, instead, he removed himself from the music he was born to sing...the music he was destined for. He did some guest spots teasing us as if he would return to metal but it appeared his future in metal would be just guest performances.

However, in 2009, the planets seem to align and balance returned to the universe as Mr. Kiske decided to form a band with Dennis Ward from Pink Cream 69. Funny thing is that Kiske's replacement in Helloween  was from that very band. So Unisonic was formed and played the first onstage performances for Kiske since leaving Helloween. Then he brings in Kai Hansen, of all people, on the guitars. Could this be? Could it be that Michael Kiske is going to return to heavy metal after all? Well yes he did, folks. The first Unisonic album was the beginning of something quite incredible as we hear Kiske singing as if this was 1989 all over again. It was as if the split between Helloween, Kai Hansen, and Michael Kiske never happened. Are we in the Twilight Zone? No, this was really happening and it was beautiful. Now the question on everyone's mind was, is this a fluke or would they keep this momentum going?

Well folks, I'm happy to say that not only did they keep the momentum going, they surpassed the debut by leaps and bounds with their second full length, Light of Dawn. They teased us with an EP earlier this year so it was no secret that they were working on new material but I had no idea it would superior to the debut. As a matter of fact, the more I listen to this album, the more likely this will become one of my favorite power metal albums of the year. Then again, to call this merely power metal would be a bit inaccurate. Instead, what we have here is a fusion of power metal with arena rock with straight up heavy metal. And it doesn't stop there as there are so many dimensions to this album. Sure, there is some straight up power metal on here like the album opener, "Your Time Has Come." It is here that we see that Michael Kiske is capable of sounding better than he did 25 years ago! This song could have been on Keepers I or II. We have all the elements here: double bass, speedy riffs, neo-classical dual lead riffs, and a monster solo. And we have Mr. Kiske's amazing vocals delivery.

"For the Kingdom" was part of the EP teaser they released earlier this year and this is another power metal song that has some interesting tempos and riffs. It also has a chorus that is catchy and just outright amazing. The solo on this song is just a shred fest, as you would expect on a power metal album. "Find Shelter" is probably the third and final song on this album that would fit into the typical power metal mold. Kiske is hitting high notes that are so massive and perfectly pitched. Although not as fast and heavy as the previous two, this is an amazing power metal song with so much melody and atmosphere. But it is also full of the other components that are visible on this album. Yeah, the typical double bass and fast riffing is present. Yeah there are monster solos on this song. But there is some melodies on here that tend to go in a more arena rock direction. I won't use hard rock because nowadays that just means something totally different than it did back in the day.

Of all the songs that would not really fit into the power metal mold, "Exceptional" is one of the best. Kiske's vocal delivery goes from his lowest register to his highest in this song. The song is driven more by a quirky guitar sound looping through the song. There are some metal riffs going on and the song has pretty much the same mid paced tempo throughout but it's the melodies that are just infectious. The chorus is catchy and melodic that you can't help sing along. Towards the end when the chorus repeats to the end, Kiske hits this fucking high note in the background that is out of this world. Time has been very good to this man, yes it has. Then you have "Night of the Long Knives." This is a monster of an epic song. This may not be the heaviest metal but this is one of the best songs that Kiske has ever been involved in. It has some nice riffing and monster solos but the melodies are what drives this song. They're beautiful...that's all I can say. This is the best song on the album, hands down. You have to listen to get it, there's no other way to describe it.

"Throne of the Dawn" is a straight up metal rocker. No power metal and nothing flashy, just a kick ass metal song. Kiske is in top form, as he is with the rest of this album. The riffing is crunchy and metallic. The solos shine once again on this song. This is just fun heavy metal almost reminding me of a Gamma Ray song in places. I guess Kai had more of a hand in this one. In contrast, the band slows it down a bit on two songs here, "Blood" and the album closer, You and I." I think "Blood" is the better of the two since it's not just a slow meandering song but has some catchy melodies after a slow opening. Kiske's range is, again, on show here as the song begins with him singing some really lower register notes. He reaches a higher register on the chorus but not like some of the others on here. I'm not sure why I'm drawn to this song rather than the other but I am. Maybe it's because "You and I" just doesn't go anywhere.

So, yes, all is right with the world. We can be rest assured that Michael Kiske has returned to heavy metal where he belongs. With two albums in, it appears that Unisonic is a band that will keep gaining momentum. This album is much stronger than than the debut with better and stronger songs. If you loved the Keeper of the Seven Keys albums then you should love this because, in my eyes, this is the true follow up to the two.


Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Dark Tranquillity - Construct

I think that Dark Tranquillity is one of the most consistent bands in metal. No, they may not have always released albums that appealed to all fans. No, they may not have always been as heavy as a melodic death metal band should be but their creativity should never be called into question. As a matter of fact, I think there are some albums by these Gothenburg originals that get way more shit than they deserve. Their tenth full length, Construct, is one of those albums. It's taken me a lot of listens to actually come to appreciate this album for what it is. There is some really good music and a killer atmosphere on this album and it's time people recognize it. It's not without flaws but it's not the abomination some make it out to be.

Some people think that the band was trying to create another Projector here but I don't see it that way. What I see is the perfect successor to We Are The Void, an album that I enjoyed. It didn't blow me away like Damage Done or Character but it was filled with an atmosphere that had me drawn to it for some reason. Don't get me wrong, Construct is not without its flaws as I feel the album opener, "For Broken Words," is a weak track that should not have opened the album. "The Silence of Noise" is a much better song where the keys provide melody and the riffs are pure Dark Tranquillity. Mikael Stanne's voice is as solid as it's ever been. The leads towards the end of the song are nice and melodic even if they don't provide anything else. "The Silence In Between" is another that has some decent riffing as well as some really melodic parts provided by the keyboards. The softer passage in the middle adds atmosphere adding another dimension to this album. "Apathetic" is a beast of a song that just kicks your ass. This song has some of the heaviest riffing the band has done in year as well as a godly solo.

I will admit that "What Only You Know" would not have been out of place on Projector or Haven. It's a good song with some wonderful melodies provided by the keys. Mikael Stanne's clean vocals are better than they were on any previous release. It appears that he has been working on his vocals because they were not flat in any place. I've never been a huge fan of his cleans but I can't deny that they work here. They tried their hand at it again on "State of Trust" but it did not work near as well as on "What You Only Know." The song is quite chaotic trying to go in too many places at once. Stanne sounds good but not enough to save the song. Then you have a song like "Endtime Hearts" that is a nice mix of the aggressive riffing and melodies. The chorus has a catchy melody that makes the song that much better. The keyboards in the background create a nice atmosphere that mixes well with the rest of the sounds on this song. There is a nice solo going on in this song making it that much better. "Weight of the End" is another song that has some nice riffing as well as those signature DT keys providing the melodies. This song could have been on Character. It's heavy in places and melodic in others but the mix of both has always worked for this band and it works on this song as well.

It's funny that this album is a culmination of everything that makes Dark Tranquillity the great band that they are but it takes some serious heat. I'm not afraid to admit the album's faults because there are a few. "None Becoming" is one of these moments. This is a song that just does nothing for me. It's slow and plodding. It could have been much more because the keys provide a nice atmosphere. However, I think the highlights I have mentioned here is enough to not disregard the album as a whole. Even the worst moments here are not horrible. I suggest that you get the limited edition 2 CD for "Immemorial" alone. Even though this is a slower song it's got some beautiful melodies, nice riffing and a melodic solo that just makes the song a nice addition as a bonus track. The second disc is a live disc and if you have ever heard this band live you know that it is a nice treat. Love them or hate them, they can pull it off in the live setting.

So here it is, I have made my case for this album. With all it's flaws and given the fact that they have moved away from the sound that a lot of DT fans have come to love, this album has some damn fine moments and should not be disregarded in any way. This is the direction the band seems to be going in right now. Who knows what the next album will bring. This band seems to reinvent itself every few albums so the sky's the limit for this band. But in the mean time, I'm not afraid to admit that I like this album. I suggest a few more listens as I have done. You may see that it can grow on you.


Serpent Warning - Serpent Warning

There seems to be a huge classic doom movement in Finland in the vein of Saint Vitus and Count Raven. Serpent Warning is one of those bands but the band has enough of their own identity to make them quite unique. Vocalist Samuli Pesonen has a great baritone sound to his voice giving this band it's unique sound. Sadly he jumped ship right before this, their self titled full length debut, was released. His replacement is a female vocalist which is quite the other end of the spectrum. We'll see what the future brings for this band but for now the focus is on this debut. What we have is some really well done classic doom that is loaded with killer riffing and enough atmosphere to make this thoroughly believable.

As I mentioned before, the vocalist on this album has this really cool eerie sounding baritone voice that just fits the music perfectly. The atmosphere of the album just screams doom and gloom. The riffing is eerie and dark and with those deep chanting vocals I could see this being the music played at my requiem mass. One look at the album art should tell you where they are going with this. "Evil River" starts things off on the right foot with it's fuzzy and slow riffs. The production helps create the atmosphere here. The title of the song is perfect for the feel of the song. These guys know how to make you feel the vibe they are putting out. "Beyond the Wisdom" keeps it going with it's fuzzy riffing and eerie sounding atmosphere. Each song on here seems to have it's own personality but without making the album incoherent or lacking a direction. Instead the music creates an experience that actually sets a mood. A couple of bong hits and some headphones would probably make the experience more intense.

Usually with these (and I hate to using this word) retro doom bands they try to be slower and plodding and make the longest and most epic songs on the planet...meaning they bite off more than they can chew. Not this band. Each song is the perfect length and, thank the GODS, not just some plodding slow doom but actual riffing and melodies. The perfect example of this is "Luna" which is just over six and a half minutes long but is loaded with riffs that there is no time that where you would start to doze off or become uninterested. Instead it is catchy and has a chorus that is melodic and catchy. This could easily by my favorite on the album. I keep saying atmosphere because it's the only way to describe the feeling here. "Thousand Names" actually speeds things up a bit adding another dimension to this album. It has a Saint Vitus vibe to it in places but at the end of the day this album has it's own identity. This being the shortest song on the album at just over three and a half minutes it leads right into the final and longest song on the album, "Ceremonies of the Sun." This song is epic as fuck and loaded with riffs and melodies.

My only true complaint about this album is it's lack of solos. As with most classic or epic doom bands they include some shredding solos. This album has solos but not that many and they don't have the technical aspects that I look for. Yes, I think wankery in metal is essential sometimes. However, it does not take that much away from this album because the songs are good, the riffs are plentiful, and the melodies are infectious. Doom is usually not my go to genre and I am picky about it but this is an album that satisfies everything I look for in doom metal. I think that this album could transcend genres and appeal to any fan of old school classic metal.

A special thanks to I Hate Records for the promotional copy.


Monday, August 4, 2014

Dust Bolt - Awake The Riot

Germany's Dust Bolt is a band that was formed in 2006 and released an EP and two full lengths, the most current being Awake The Riot, the subject of this review. I'm not sure why they have flown under the radar since both of their full lengths were released by Napalm Records. Nevertheless what we have here is old school German thrash for the modern age. It seems that a lot of metal heads are not big fans of the throw back thrash bands and I can see why in some instances. However, Dust Bolt is not that band. As a matter of fact the riffing and tempos on parts of this album reeks of Kreator, however, they also have their own identity.

You can tell right out of the gate that this band is not fucking around and are here to annihilate you. "Living Hell" sounds a lot like Kreator in the riffing but the vocals sound nothing like Mille Petrozza. In fact, guitarist and vocalist Lenny B. has more of a mix of a shout and a rasp. At any rate, the end result is that this song kicks ass. The riffs are monstrous and the solos are fucking godly. There is a touch of melody thrown in to make the balance perfect. This is thrash at it's finest. "Soul Erazor" follows with more pummeling riffs and neck breaking speed. The solos, once again, are just amazing and add so much to this song. Two songs in and you'll need a neck brace. These guys may not be doing anything groundbreaking or earth shattering but that's the beauty of it. They play thrash metal as though they were right out of 1984 with all the ingredients and more. The tempo changes and constant riffing will make you stand up and take notice.

"Agent Thrash" is just a beat of a song that comes along and just pounds you with the riffing and the speed. They change the tempo a bit in the middle to sound like some of the mid tempo Slayer riffs then back to the breakneck speed and a killer solo. That's the beauty of this band, that they can throw these time changes at you without making it sound too technical or pretentious. Instead they just throw more riffs at you along with catchy melodies and awesome solos. But then they also hit you with a song like "Awake The Riot - The Final War" which is just under two and a half minutes of pounding riffs. Mostly mid tempo they throw some speed in there but the riffs just keep coming. "Drowned in Blind Faith" is another one of those short but right to the point songs that manage to kick your teeth in and do it in under three minutes. Another mid tempo number, the riffing is not as intense as on other songs making it the weakest track on this album....if such a thing exists.

One thing that made me really enjoy this band is how they don't confine themselves to German thrash worship. They know how to mix it up a bit and show us that they also are influenced by the thrash from this side of the pond. "Eternal Waste" borders on Slayer worship but they do tend to add their own identity to the song. It's the riffing and the time changes that give it that vibe. I have to say that I do like the soloing on this song, as well as the rest of the album, more than most Slayer songs. The solos are just better constructed and add melody than just being chaotic trying to hit every note on the fret board. "Distant Scream (The Monotonous) is the perfect example just how well the soloing is on this album. This song is a longer song and it seems the band is trying to be epic with this one. And works in places and not in others. It could have had some parts shaved from it but it's still a good song. There's a really good solo in the middle that is awesome and it actually saves the song.

There is a huge divide between metal heads when it comes to the retro thrash bands that seem to be popping up all the time. I agree that not all of them are that great but that doesn't mean that the whole movement is shit. Dust Bolt is one of those bands that stand out because they know how to use the riff, the tempo, the time changes, and the solo in a way that makes for a most enjoyable thrash album. I think that one listen to this album might put some of you skeptics to rest. Go ahead...I dare ya!


Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Overkill - White Devil Armory

There is no doubt that Overkill is, quite possibly, the hardest working band in metal. At one point they were touring like mad men to the point that front man Bobby "Blitz" Ellsworth had a stroke on stage in 2002 and it still didn't stop him or this band. They were surely hit or miss in the 90s after going into a more groove metal direction but in 2010 they did a return to form with Ironbound and again with the follow up, 2012's The Electric Age. So here we are in 2014 hoping this veteran band will make it three in a row and keep the momentum going with their new release, White Devil Armory. Strange title, I know, but for the most part this album is on par with last two.

This band has always had the ability to throw down some killer thrash riffs and this album is chock full of them. After a useless intro, they kick your ass with "Armorist." Although this song has some of the dumbest lyrics in metal this song is a kick ass opener. It may not have the staying power of other songs on this album but the riffs slay and the thrash tempo is a neck breaker. Halfway through they groove it up a bit then go into a monster solo. "Down to the Bone" has that classic Overkill mix of thrash and groove to make for a really good song. The riffing, along with that signature D.D. Verni bass sound, just reeks of the old days. Again we have another killer tasty solo making this song one of the more memorable on the album. And Blitz sounds like he's still 25. His range has not changed a bit and his screams and laughs are pure fuckin' evil. "When There's Smoke..." is just a monster song with some serious riffing and an angry thrash tempo that will give you a stiff neck if you're not careful. I mean, come on, with D.D. Verni's background shouts "When there's smoke, there's fiiiyerrr" what's not to like?

"Bitter Pill" has a dark feel to it but has some kick ass riffing and is even a bit on the epic side. The bridge leading to the chorus is catchy throwing some melody into the mix here. This song is quite different than most on the album as it has many components to it. The groove riffing in the middle adds even more dimension to the song. My only complaint is that the solo seems to be incoherent and all over the place with no direction to it. This song is almost six minutes long but it doesn't seem over long like the previous song "Pig." That song has some nice riffing but it seems to lack direction. The chorus seems to irritate me a bit and the solo is just lack luster. What a difference in songs, one right after the other. "It's All Yours" is so beautifully simplistic but is so catchy. The riff has a cool groove to it and even when it slows a bit in the middle it keeps your attention. The solo on this song is another great shredder and makes up for some of the lack luster soloing on some of the other songs. One thing you can't accuse this album of is lack of variety.

"King of the Rat Bastards" is a thrasher through and through with some killer thrash riffs and some grooves and melodies that make this song quite catchy. Then you have just a straight up riff fest called "Another Day To Die." This song has some of the best riffs of the album and with just a hint of melody thrown in makes this one of my favorites on this album. The solo could have been a little better but overall it doesn't take away from the song. This is just another example of the variety of sounds on this album.

At the end of the day this is an excellent album with just a few flaws. It doesn't hit me like the previous two did but it's still nothing to turn your nose at. This is the band's seventeenth full length album and that, in and of itself, is an accomplishment. They are keeping the momentum going and it appears that they are not slowing down at all. Instead, they are writing a new chapter in the annals of the Green and Black and, by all means, you should be part of it.


Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Crystal Eyes - Killer

Sweden's Crystal Eyes is not a name one usually hears during a discussion about power metal which is a shame since they are quite the diamond on the rough. Forming in 1992 and releasing several demos and a compilation, they released their debut full length in 1999.  I have to admit that my knowledge of them is rather limited since I only have ever owned their 2005 release, Confessions of the Maker, which featured none other than the incredible Daniel Heiman of Lost Horizon fame as session vocalist. That album was really good despite the surprisingly uninspired vocal effort by Mr Heiman.

So now we are in 2014 and Crystal Eyes have released their seventh full length, Killer. Back on the vocals is their original vocalist as well as guitarist, Mikael Dahl. I actually like this guy's vocals. He is all over the place sounding like everyone from Atilla Dorn in places to Kai Hansen others to screams that could have been done by Eric Adams, all the while having his very own sound and personality. His return to the mic is a welcome return and has even made a really good album better with his delivery. The songwriting here also must be credited since the songs are well done and catchy with plenty of hooks to keep you interested. Why this band isn't one of the more well known in their genre is beyond me because this album can stand with any of the more established bands. The title track and album opener is the perfect example of what I'm talking about. Kick ass riffing starts the song off with a "killer" (seems that the album name is perfect) verse leading to a catchy chorus that reminds me of Gamma Ray a lot. The solo on this song is really good and their is many more on the album that are even better.

"Warrior" is another song that is just catchy as fuck with a verse that is melodic with massive traditional metal riffing leading to a bridge that hooks you in and then they lay an awesome chorus on us. That's how heavy metal is done. Dahl's vocal delivery is one of the best on the album here with just an amazing sound and range. The beginning of "Hail the Fallen " has another vocal delivery that shows that Dahl's range is a force to be reckoned with. As much as I love Daniel Heiman, I think Dahl fits this band's music much better. Then we have "Forgotten Realms" which is a cross between metal ballad and epic metal. The melodies are just infectious on this song and the epic feel of the verses and chorus just adds to the beauty of it. Starting off with some nice clean sounding guitars this song just builds to become an epic monster with massive riffs and a killer solo all without forsaking the melodic hooks. This is, easily, the best song on the album. "The Lord of Chaos" is a riff fest with more of a speed metal feel. It's loaded with hooks and melodies but the riffing is what's impressive the most here. The chorus reminds me of Gamma Ray in a way. The guitar work on this song is actually impressive when you combine the riffs and the solos.

The ballad is a staple of traditional/power metal but it seems that even the more established bands have been faltering in that aspect lately. However, I'm happy to say that Crystal Eyes has actually created a power metal ballad that not only can I listen to, but actually like...a lot! "Dreamers on Trial" is not cheesy or sappy, but instead it's a ballad that has that metal anthem feel to it. The metal has not been sacrificed as there is plenty of riffs and a solo that gives me goosebumps. This is how the metal ballad is done. "Dogs on Holy Ground" rounds out the album with a chorus that reminds me of "Dogs On Leads" by Accept for some reason. As a matter of fact, the riffing on most of this song has an old Accept feel to it making it stand out a bit from the rest of the album. 

As I said earlier, I do not know why this band is not as well known as their peers because they can deliver an album just as powerful and just as good as any out there, and this album is proof of that. The album is called Killer because it is just that, a killer heavy metal album.


Sunday, July 13, 2014

Judas Priest - Redeemer of Souls

Where to begin with this review? I mean, come on, it's Judas Priest. The Metal Gods. This band defined heavy metal for the generations that followed. There's no question that this band single-handedly took what Sabbath started and refined it to create heavy metal as we know it. It actually pains me to write this review because Judas Priest was my first metal band back with the release of Unleashed in the East. I blew my the speakers on my parent's console stereo while losing my voice trying to emulate Rob's vocals on The Green Manalishi at 13 when my voice was changing, facing possible damage to my young tender vocal chords. This was music like I've never heard...a young metal head had been born!

If you look at it, this band has only had a few periods where they had consistently quality albums. The 70s were the period where the band produced some the finest metal the world has ever known. The 80s were loaded with radio friendly songs due to the band having commercial success. Painkiller in 1990 is lauded as setting the bar for future Priest releases. The 90s and into the early 2000s...well, we won't even go there. In 2003 Rob Halford returned to the fold and it seemed all would be right with the world. After one okay album and one absolute catastrophe 2014 brings us a new Judas Priest album, Redeemer of Souls. The hype leading up to this album was the band making statements of this being the heaviest they've done in years. The teasers released were even decent enough for me to be cautiously optimistic. Sadly, the finished product is not what I expected at all. Instead we have an album that is inconsistent with a few songs being good but most being mediocre at best.

So let's start with what's good about this album. The band starts off good with "Dragonaut." The title is silly but the song is pretty good. The song has a nice riff in the beginning and has high energy. It is a decent album opener. Actually the only other high energy song on the album worthy of being an opener would have been "Battle Cry." The title track is also a song that can be catchy at times and is one of the songs that got my hopes up for this album. "Sword of Damocles" has a really cool 70s vibe in the opening riffs, a catchy chorus, and is actually a pretty cool song. The solos on these songs are good as Ritchie Faulkner is a worthy replacement for K.K. Downing as far as solos go. Another song that just screams 70s Priest is "Crossfire." This song could have been on Sin After Sin...maybe only as filler but it still could have been on there. That bluesy riffing has always worked with Priest and it still does after all these years. Even Rob hits some high notes, which is rare on this album. His voice is competent since he's always had a good tenor and baritone to his voice. This is the best song on the album and the best song the band has written in a long time.

Well, that's it folks. The rest of the album is just plain mediocre. "Halls of Valhalla" shows the band over reaching as they did on Nostradamus. It may have been a better song if they shaved about two to three minutes from it but at six minutes long it becomes redundant. Same with "Secrets of the Dead." In fact that song sounds like a leftover from Nostradamus. "March of the Damned" sounds so safe and Halford's vocals are so monotone he actually sounds like Ozzy in places. "Hell & Back" is just awful. It begins like a ballad and although it picks up the pace a bit, it just doesn't keep me interested. Instead it plods along with no balls or direction. The chorus isn't even that catchy. "Metalizer" is the worst offender because you can tell the band is trying way to hard to be heavy and it just doesn't come off the way it should have. Not sure if it was the production or what but it just doesn't work. The riffing is just chugging riffs that sound like they could be heavy but instead they just plod along. It's speedy in places but not enough to save it. The solos are the only thing that's good about this song.

I'm torn because this could have been a better album. There is proof on this very album that this band still has some chops and can still write catchy tunes. I'm not sure what they were trying to do with some of these songs but sometimes the "let's try to be heavy again just to be heavy" doesn't work. Instead it comes off as old men trying to capture some of their former glory. It's embarrassing. Some claim this is the best they've done since Painkiller, and they are right. But what is that really saying? It's the best of their worst? I'm not sure what the future holds for this band. I really wanted to love this album but there's so little to love.


Saturday, July 12, 2014

Grave Digger - Return of the Reaper

Grave Digger. The name, in and of itself, just screams heavy metal. Forming in 1980 the band is still going stronger than ever. I'm not a huge fan of their 80s material as I think they hadn't found their own identity yet. At that time, I thought they were a second rate Accept worship band. Yeah, their 80s albums were fast and heavy but lacked direction. We all know how Chris Boltendahl and company tried to break through commercially with epic fail to say the least. The band returned with 1993s The Reaper and it was pretty much a success with fans and critics alike. As the 90s progressed it seems the band was finally finding their own identity and sound.

So here we are in 2014 and it seems there is no stopping this band. Their sixteenth full length album, Return of the Reaper, is just that, a return of some seriously bad ass heavy metal as only Grave Digger can release. What can we expect, you ask? What they have always good at, massive riffs, killer hooks, and Mr. Boltendahl's gargle with glass vocals that just add to the awesomeness of this album. After a short intro, which is the title track, we get the ball rolling with "Hell Funeral." This is a classic Grave Digger speed metal song with some serious riffing. As a matter of fact these are some of the best riffs this band has ever produced, and that's saying something. The guitar tone is crunchy as fuck and fits the riffing well. The chorus is catchy which is nothing new for Grave Digger. There is such an aggressive overtone here and that is another thing that adds to the beauty of this album. "Wargod" comes immediately after and just crushes you with the riffs, speed, and aggression of the opener.

And it doesn't stop. All through this album you have crusher after crusher. "Road Rage Killer" is a speed metal number with pummeling riffs, crushing speed, and a chorus that will stick with you. These songs are seriously catchy and it all has to do with the riffing. The guitar work on here, as far as the riffing goes, is just incredible. As I said earlier, the riffing on this album is some of the heaviest and best that this band has ever written and I'm sure the credit can go to Axel Ritt. "Satan's Host" is another one of those speed metal numbers that just slay, and does so in under three minutes as does "Resurrection Day" The riffing and the hooks are undeniable on both of these songs. Then you have "Tattooed Rider" that starts off with a synth part that almost makes you think you're listening to "Turbo" by Judas Priest for the first few seconds. But then you realize that the riffing is so much heavier and the chorus on this song is probably the best they've done in a long time.

Which leads me to "Season of the Witch." This is a song that was hit or miss with a lot of people but it was truly a hit with me. That slower tempo with the crushing riffs just reeks of "Avalon" and no one does this kind of song better than Grave Digger. The chorus is absolutely killer and has become one of my all time favorite Grave Digger tracks. Another bone of contention has to do with Axel Ritt. His riffing is just incredible, no one can deny that, but sometimes his solos just don't cut it for me. My biggest fear when hearing the samples of this album would be that Ritt's solos would turn me from this album. Some of his solos are good and catchy and some just leave me wanting something....not sure how to put it. Schmidt and Lulis played such good solos, I was afraid that Ritts solos would cause the songs to suffer. Thankfully they didn't suffer and, although there is not as much wankery as I would like, the solos are classy and well done.

This band has been around for over 30 years and it seems there is no stopping them. The riffing is some of the heaviest they've ever done and Boltendahl sounds incredible. This album is heavy fucking metal defined. The energy here is just amazing for a band that's been around as long as they have. I have a feeling that this band will keep delivering quality metal for many more years to come.


Thursday, July 10, 2014

Halberd - Remnants of Crumbling Empires

Halberd is an epic doom/death band that is rather unique since it's members are from three different continents (North America, South America, and Asia) and even though they proclaim their music to be doom/death there is a huge amount of epic metal to their sound. There is so many more dimensions to their music, so to pigeonhole them into a specific genre is actually doing this band a disservice. Their debut release, Remnants of Crumbling Empires, is an impressive four song release clocking in just seconds over forty-one minutes and is a perfect mixture of atmosphere, brutality, melody, and epic metal.

I never go into any review lightly since I really want to know what's going on with any album before forming an opinion of it. I really needed to let this album sink in due to all the elements that are presented here. What impressed me with this band is how they use each dynamic to create a unique sound. The doom riffing at the beginning of "Northern Bloodletting" is heavy as fuck but as the song progresses we have the keys providing the epic orchestrations leading to some nice melodic tremolo riffing. Then it bursts into some massive thrash/death riffs that just slay. The guitar work on this album is incredible as the solo on this song, as well as the rest of the album, just fucking shred. These guys are serious about what they do and there is so much going on here that you need to absorb all the elements to really get the full effect. This song is all over the place as once the ripping solos and the blast beats are over we slow it back down to some epic doom loaded with atmosphere provided by the keyboards.

The vocals are mix of black metal shrieks and low guttural death metal growls. They know when to use each to create an experience with each song. Most of the songs are over eight plus minutes and that is what puts most of this album in the epic zone. However, they seem to take a break from the epic on "Barghash's Poison" to remind you that they are also capable of kicking your ass. This is straight up riff heavy death metal. The song is fast and brutal with just a touch of melody. The riffing just pummels you between the thrashing riffs and the tremolos. Once again, the solo on this song is fucking godly. Then we have "Ignorance of Morbidity" which is an epic song that pretty much maintains a mid paced doom sound throughout the song. The riffing is just pounding heavy with the vocals going back and forth from that low guttural to a black metal shriek that reminds me of Grutle from Enslaved at times.The keyboards are thrown in sporadically and only when they want to create the epic orchestrations that almost sound like battle horns but also sound like the horn section of an orchestra. Again, the star of this show is Andrés Felipe Murillo who just fucking shreds another classy solo.

The production is also noteworthy here because it just creates more of the atmosphere that's present here. The effects and the echoes just give this a sound that doesn't sound over produced but doesn't have that severely under produced sound just to be "kvlt." Even the programmed drums are believable. And no two songs sound the same on this album. Each song has it's own personality but each are essential to the other because this album needs to be consumed whole. This couldn't be more true than on the final and longest song on the album, "Dead Horses Cavalry." This starts with some serious epic doom rhythms but as the song progresses it just builds up to a massive climax as it blasts and the solo just shreds. Some eerie epic doom carries the last few minutes of the song as if the song itself is letting you know that this journey has come to an end. There is a story being told here and I think that the story drives the song and what we are going to hear.

This is one impressive album of epic metal, No, it's stunning, actually.  There's no way to give a full description of the music because of all the elements that make up the songs. After repeated listens to this album, I still hear something new each time I listen to it. This album should appeal to any fan of death, doom, or black metal. Actually, this album should appeal to any and all metal fans. This is serious music by a group of guys who know exactly how to create an amazing atmosphere. This album is essential.


Halberd on Bandcamp

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Zaum - Oracles

Normally this would not be my cup of tea since it seems rather minimalistic on the surface. Zaum play epic doom with more than a few twists. First, and foremost, there are no guitars anywhere on this album, therefor no riffing. They use bass, keyboards and sitars (of all things) create the melodies and the atmosphere on this album. Looking at the album cover it immediately brings to mind a middle eastern feel and after listening to it I was never more right. As I said, under any other circumstance I would have turned this off after 5 minutes, if I was able to stay awake at all. However, there is a magic here than keeps me listening. I'm not sure what it is but it's there and I'm kinda digging it.

I guess what really hooked me in was the psychedelic atmosphere and the middle eastern vibe that this album gives off. It's like I am immersed in a harem and smoking hash from a hookah. At the same time the bass that drives the rhythms here is heavy as fuck making any guitars obsolete. The bass has a little distortion to it making it part of the rhythm section as well as provide part of the melodies. The album is only four songs but clocks in at almost fifty minutes but for some reason it keeps me interested all the way through. The lyrical themes are middle eastern entirely and the subject matter seems to take place during the pre Christian biblical era. With a song title like "Zealot," which opens this album, anyone in the know would see exactly what this band's influences are for this album. The vocals are actually soothing to listen to and sound seriously 60s with the reverb and echo of something that my parents used to call "acid rock."

"The Red Sea" starts off with sitars are psychedelic vocal melodies and then leads to some classic sounding organ parts mixed with that heavy fucking bass. This song actually has riffing, albeit done by the bass, the riffs are cool and the vocals sound chanted. The song does kinda meander on a bit but the epic feel that it gives off keeps me listening. The song picks up the pace a bit at the end with more vocal chants. I think it's actually the weakest song on the album because then you have a song like "Omen," which is longer in length but has more going on to keep me interested. There is this distorted sitar sound starting the song but then it builds up to more of those heavy "riffs" that the bass play with the vocals being almost spoken as if you are being told of impending doom by a prophet. The psychedelic sounds and the chants are cool and the keys have that almost pipe organ sound to them in places adding more atmosphere to the song. This song really has an eerie feel to it which fits the title of the song perfectly.

I'm not supposed to like this. I'm not the biggest fan of the slower, more meandering doom metal. And the fact that this doesn't have any guitars and is not really displaying the metal riffs, there is something that draws me to it. It's interesting, to say the least. This may not be my go to when I'm in a doom mood, but I will revisit this album.

Special thanks to I Hate for the promo.


Sunday, July 6, 2014

Nox Aeternum - Vale nostri moriens spiritum

Nox Aeternum from Pittsburgh, PA is a one man band that formed in the autumn of 2013 by Andrew Hart. To describe the music or put in into a certain genre is kind of complicated since there are a lot of dimensions at work here. We have some melodic black metal mix with melodic death metal and some progressive sounds thrown in. So here we have the debut EP entitled Vale nostri moriens spiritum which translates to Farewell Dying Breath. The EP was released in December, 2013 and is slightly over sixteen and a half minutes with four songs. I'm happy to say that this is one extremely impressive debut and has me anticipating a full length hopefully soon.

So starting off here we have "Empire of Filth" with an opening riff that kind of reminds me of something from the new Vinterbris, which I loved. So, of course my interest is immediately piqued. The riffing here is a cross between the black metal tremolos and some melo-death thrashers. The vocals flow from a black metal shriek to lower guttural death metal growls. At the midway point of the song we have a brief soft passage that reminds me of Opeth that leads into a shredding solo which, in turn, leads to the climax of the song with the harsh vocals slightly under some decent clean vocals. So far this shows me Mr. Hart can throw some serious hooks into his songs. Immediately following is "Reprise (In Nature's Cleansing)." A really brief little acoustic number, it seems out of place in the track order. It seemed that maybe it could have gone at the end of the album as a nice outro, but it's a nice little piece nonetheless.

"We Are But Falling Leaves" begins with a nice acoustic passage that leads right into the riffing that is really atmospheric with some dual lead riffs giving this tons of melody. His vocals sounds like Mikael Stanne here, which is nothing bad at all. The keys are slightly in the mix giving the song atmosphere and the acoustic passage in the middle is nice. Finally we have "Dawn of a Dead Sun" which begins with a piano intro and keyboards providing the string sounds. Once again we have some melodic lead riffs building the beginning up. Some cool riffing mixed with some well placed chugs leading into the verse. This song is the longest at seven minutes and shows a bit more of this guy's epic side. Mixing in all of the elements that make up this band into one song, including some progressive rhythms and chugs with some acoustic guitars in there all leading to a melodic solo and song climax.  The acoustic part taking you to the end of the song was a nice touch

There's a lot going on in the short amount of time that makes up this EP. I'm really interested in hearing a full length from this guy. He knows how to write catchy songs with hooks and melodies that draw you in. If you are a fan of epic melodic metal that has atmosphere and melody than you should check into this band.