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.