Monday, February 29, 2016

Megadeth - Dystopia

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

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

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

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

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

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


Monday, February 8, 2016

Borknagar - Winter Thrice

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

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

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

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

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