Monday, May 30, 2011

Deligma - Forever Faded

Deligma
Forever Faded
River City Records/M.G.M. Distribution

Australia has produced some truly world class acts over the years, many of which have emerged from either the east coast or from as far away as the west coast. Surprisingly enough, very few acts from the far south have managed to make their mark on a national level. But one act that has managed to do that is Burnie/Devonport (Tasmania) based outfit Deligma, who have just released their debut E.P. ‘Forever Faded’.
Having spent their early years piecing together a line-up of like minded musicians, Deligma eventually settled on their current formation in 2009 and have spent the better part of the last two years refining their songs and playing alongside a host of local and bigger name acts (Including Dead Letter Circus and ex-Mammal outfit Black Devil Yard Boss) throughout the state.
Having found their sound, the five piece act (Who comprise of vocalist Dylan Smith, guitarist Simon Jeffrey, bassist Damien Gale, keyboardist/sampler/programmer Dave Venter and drummer Guy Jeffrey) entered the studio to record, with renown studio producer/engineer Lachlan Mitchell (The Amenta, Nazxul, Astriaal) called upon to work on the mix, and Ryan Smith (Lamb Of God, Slipknot, Boy Sets Fire) handling the final phase of mastering. Given the impressive production team behind the scenes, my expectations for the band’s debut were fairly high. Needless to say, Deligma have more than managed to produce one impressive debut.
Following along a similar musical direction to that of Dead Letter Circus, Sydonia and Cog, Deligma can be best described as a progressive metal act that combine heavy guitar riffs with huge choruses structures, but with sufficient splashes of keyboards and aggression driven vocals to give the band’s overall sound enough dynamics and variation to keep things interesting, catchy and brutal in all the right measures.
The opening track ‘Goodbye’ starts out with a great upfront guitar riff in the mix alongside some prominent keyboard work, but its Smith’s wide ranging vocal mix of clean, screams and growled efforts that really compliments the song’s ever changing moods and tempos, and ultimately gives the band their killer core component sound.
The fast paced ‘Vendetta’ is up next, and once again it’s Smith’s strong use of melodies against the infectious waves of keyboards and the huge guitar riffs that really gels everything within the song together as a whole, while ‘Misfire’ and ‘Bury My Life’ showcase the band’s ability to delve more into gentle atmospherics in places, without losing any of the flow from the heavier passages that bookend both tracks.
Although the opening clutch of songs were impressive in their own right, it’s the final track ‘Devastation’ where Deligma really deliver the aggression on all fronts, with the song not only standing as the most guitar driven of tracks, but also one that boasts some of Smith’s most vitriolic efforts on the vocal front alongside his huge hook driven choruses.
Part progressive, part nu-metal and part modern metal, Deligma is anything but a one-dimensional band. But if there’s a few things I’m certain of, it’s that there’s plenty of talent within the band, and that if they keep things moving forward, we’ll be hearing plenty more from this band in time to come.

For more information on Deligma, check out - http://www.facebook.com/deligmaofficial

© Justin Donnelly

Ruins - Chambers Of Perversion

Ruins
Chambers Of Perversion
Negative Existence Records

German based one man outfit Ruins (Who are otherwise known as Ru-i-ns) aren’t what you would call a well known act within the global metal scene, with the band’s sole output amounting to a couple of demos, a clutch of split E.P. efforts and one lone full-length release (2008’s ‘Satanic Bitchpenetration’, which was released through Greece based label Fistbang Records). But despite the band’s cult underground status, all two hundred and fifty copies of their limited vinyl only E.P. release ‘Chambers Of Perversion’ sold out in virtually no time at all, making it a highly sought after piece of the band’s vast back catalogue amongst diehard vinyl collectors.
Given the overwhelming success of the vinyl pressing of ‘Chambers Of Perversion’, Negative Existence Records has decided to re-release Ruins’ latest E.P. effort in C.D. form, which has once again been made available to Ruins fans almost a year to the day after it was initially released.
If it wasn’t already obvious by the rather graphic artwork that adorns the cover (Courtesy of artist Mark Riddick, whose worked with Grave, Hypocrisy, Slayer, etc.), Ruins is a blasphemous blackened thrash outfit that draws their influences from old-school acts such as Darkthrone, Voivod, Hellhammer and Bathory. But while there are quite literally hundreds of thousands of bands within today’s metal scene that draw upon the same said influences, there are few that manage to successfully capture the vibe and the sound of the above mentioned acts with such authenticity and energy.
The title track ‘Chambers Of Perversion’ is the first to open up the E.P., and typifies Ruins’ blackened brand of blasphemous thrash. The guitars are as every bit as raw, sharp and buzzing in sound as you would expect, and with a vocal approach that more than compliments the musical backdrop with a rasp that evokes a harshness and evil that could well have emerged from Satan himself. But what really shines through is the sheer infectiousness of the choruses and the riffs, and the ease at which the listener can head-bang along. ‘Chambers Of Perversion’ is anything but groundbreaking or original, but I’ll be damned if it isn’t a whole lot of fun!
From here, Ruins rarely strays from the template laid down by the opening track, but tracks such as ‘Primitive Evil’ (Which features a great shredding solo), the slow and brooding ‘War In Heaven Part 4 (Megalomania)’ (Which is a continuation from part three that appeared on ‘Satanic Bitchpenetration’), the speeding ‘Slutlust And Perversion’ and the full-on thrashing/shredding attack of ‘Sperm Of The Antichrist’ are the definitive stand out cuts.
Comprising of eight songs, and running for just under twenty-two minutes in total, you’d be hard pressed not to enjoy ‘Chambers Of Perversion’ in its absolute entirety.
Ruins’ black masterpieces may have eluded me in the past, but with another full-length recording rumoured to be released before the end of the year, you can be sure I’ll be keeping a keen eye out for their next release.

For more information on Ruins, check out - http://www.myspace.com/ruins666

© Justin Donnelly

Turbocharged - AntiXtian

Turbocharged
AntiXtian
Chaos Records

With blackened thrash outfit Gehennah maintaining their out of action status as the years roll on (The band’s last release was their ‘10 Years Of Fucked Up Behaviour’ back in 2003), it’s wasn’t all that surprising to see the group’s original founder/vocalist/bassist Ronnie ‘Ripper’ Olson go it alone with his debut solo album ‘Socially Challenged’ last year (Which was released through the small independent label Bottom Records).
Following on from his solo effort, Olsen has returned with his new outfit Turbocharged, who have recently released their debut offering ‘AntiXtian’.
Despite being founded as far back as 2000, the Swedish based outfit have undergone several line-up changes within that time, which has meant that the band have been anything but serious for some years. But in 2009, Olson put together a solid line-up (The trio is rounded out by guitarist/backing vocalist Old Nick and drummer/backing vocalist Freddie Fister), and Turbocharged was reactivated on a more permanent basis. Needless to say, it wasn’t long before the band had enough tunes to release a full-length album, and after receiving an official release on vinyl late last year through Polish label Hellrocker Records, ‘AntiXtian’ has finally been given an official C.D. release through Chaos Records.
Given Olsen’s impressive work within Gehennah and Vomitory, I was expecting quite a bit from his latest venture. And while ‘AntiXtian’ does have its fair share of great moments, I must admit that the band’s debut did leave me feeling that something was missing.
Despite a suitably evil sounding intro (The anti-Christian themed spoken word track ‘The Uprising’), the band remain primarily within the punk influenced/thrash ‘n’ roll mould, with the title track ‘AntiXtian’ giving listeners a taste of what the band pretty much deliver for the remainder of the album. Structurally, ‘AntiXtian’ is well put together, with the simplicity of Turbocharged’s sound allowing the lead guitar work to stand out alongside the over the top lyrical content. But while everything seems to be in place, the song does feel a little flat in places, which means that for all of the unhinged energy the band claim their music has, it just simply doesn’t quite manage to translate in the recording sense.
Some tracks, such as the catchy ‘Lionbait’, the more thrash based ‘Globalize The Blasphemy’, ‘Golgotha 33 A.D.’, ‘Wake Up And Smell The Christian’ and chaotic speed of ‘Blasphemachine’, do manage to liven up the album in places, but overall the production on ‘AntiXtian’ just doesn’t seem to really allow the raw energy that exists within the band to bleed through, which only leaves the album sounding quite bland and patchy outside the above mentioned tracks.
For all of their promise, Turbocharged haven’t quite produced the gem I was expecting, but more a solid effort that only hints at what they could possibly produce in the future. And while they might appeal to some, I for one can’t help but feel a little disappointed by that.

For more information on Turbocharged, check out - http://www.myspace.com/turbocharged4life

© Justin Donnelly

Winds Of Plague - Against The World

Winds Of Plague
Against The World
Century Media Records/E.M.I. Music Australia

Despite trying their hardest over the course of three former full-length releases, Californian based outfit Winds Of Plague haven’t convinced me that they’re any more than a run of the mill deathcore act. Now returning with their latest effort ‘Against The World’ (The follow-up to 2009’s ‘The Great Stone War’), it’s clear that Winds Of Plague aren’t going to radically change direction or sound any time soon.
A large part of the problem with Winds Of Plague is their over the top ‘tough-guy’ hardcore sound mixed with melodic death metal influences, and the clash of sounds the pair make when ill-fittingly combined together. While some bands have made it work (Bleeding Through are one of the few that comes to mind), Winds Of Plague sound less than serious for the most part, and down right unintentionally funny at other times.
The short introductory piece ‘Raise The Dead’ is solid, with its sinister keyboard sounds (Courtesy of new keyboardist Alana Potocnik, who was a former member of Abigail Williams and The Breathing Process), a children’s choir and some chugging guitar riffs and Jonathan ‘Johnny Plague’ Cooke’s matching monotone growled vocal efforts. But despite bleeding into ‘One For The Butcher’, the song doesn’t really seem to take off anywhere different from what was presented in ‘Raise The Dead’, bar a fairly simplistic chorus that features gang vocals, a little more guitar riff expansion in places and a slight variation in the keyboard fills.
Although aggressive, ‘Drop The Match’ is pretty much standard ‘tough-guy’ deathcore fair, with the band barely putting any stamp of originality into the song, while the title track ‘Against The World’ falls into a similar ‘heard it all before’ trap of song writing, even if the flourishes of keyboards presented give the song a bit more variation than its predecessor.
Not all of the album is a complete waste however, with ‘Built For War’ being given a much needed kick of urgency and venom with Hatebreed/Kingdom Of Sorrow vocalist Jamey Jasta putting in a brutal guest appearance, while the first single ‘Refined In The Fire’ (Featuring Mattie Montgomery of For Today on guest vocals), ‘Monsters’ (Which features Drew York of Stray From The Path), ‘Strength To Dominate’ and ‘Most Hated’ are at least solid and enjoyable slabs of deathcore, even if they are a little plagued by relentless breakdowns and an overall lack of technical finesse in the guitar riff domain.
Unfortunately, the rest of the album isn’t quite up to par. The cheesy spoken word piece ‘The Warrior Code’ by former WWF/E world champion The Ultimate Warrior is downright cringe-worthy, while the pseudo ‘tough-guy’ rap of ‘California’ (Which features Time For Change vocalist John Mishima and Terror guitarist Martin Stewart) sounds just downright out of place on the album.
Overall ‘Against The World’ sits alongside the bands past work in terms of sound and direction. But in terms of song writing consistency and originality, Winds Of Plague’s latest falls short of eclipsing their former releases by a long shot.

For more information on Winds Of Plague, check out - http://www.myspace.com/windsofplague

© Justin Donnelly

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Black Label Society - The Song Remains Not The Same

Black Label Society
The Song Remains Not The Same
Riot! Entertainment/Warner Music Australia

Zakk Wylde certainly doesn’t like to remain idle for long, with the vocalist/guitarist making sure that fans have something new from his Black Label Society outfit to get their hands on with each and every passing year. As a follow-up to last year’s impressive ‘Order Of The Black’ album, Wylde and his S.D.M.F. are back with ‘The Song Remains Not The Same’.
As the title implies, ‘The Song Remains Not The Same’ (A clever play on Led Zeppelin’s live film/album ‘The Song Remains The Same’ from 1976) boasts a collection of semi-acoustic reinterpretations that aren’t the same as their original counterparts, with the album following on in similar fashion to Wylde’s former acoustic efforts (Namely 1996’s ‘Book Of Shadows’ and 2004’s ‘Hangover Music Vol. VI’).
Black Label Society (Who comprise of vocalist/guitarist/pianist Zakk Wylde, bassist/backing vocalist John DeServio and drummer Will Hunt) start off proceedings with four semi-acoustic reworked efforts from ‘Order Of The Black’, beginning with ‘Overlord’. ‘Overlord’, which is the only fully acoustic based effort on the album, remains true to the original in terms of its structure and reproduced guitar riffs (Apart from a very brief electric solo) and is definitely a stand out cut in its re-imagined form, while ‘Parade Of The Dead’ is given a complete overhaul, with piano and keyboard played strings giving the song a real emotional depth that was otherwise masked by loud guitars on the original.
‘Riders Of The Damned’ also comes out a winner in its conversion to acoustic, with the lyrical prose retaining the menace of the original, which is balanced out with the keyboarded strings, the subtle electric guitar effects and the rockier acoustics base. Unfortunately, as good as ‘Darkest Days’ is as a song, there’s not a real lot that separates this re-recorded from the original.
Next up are the collection cover versions that made up the bonus tracks on the various editions of ‘Order Of The Black’ released around the world. The pick of the bunch is undoubtedly the amazing reworking of Black Sabbath’s ‘Junior’s Eyes’ (According to Wylde, Ozzy Osbourne loved it), with the faithful rendition of Traffic’s classic ‘Can’t Find My Way Home’ coming a close second. The cover of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s ‘Helpless’ is quite good, but sadly Simon And Garfunkel’s ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ just sounds too overdone on the vocal front.
Finishing up the album is an alternate version of ‘Darkest Days’ with country singer/song writer John Rich sharing lead vocals alongside Wylde (Which is interesting, but kind of pointless given this is the third version of the song there now is), and an inclusion of the band’s piano/acoustic rendition of the traditional Christmas tune ‘The First Noel’ that was released digitally late last year.
Some have criticised ‘The Song Remains Not The Same’ for not being up to par with either ‘Book Of Shadows’ and ‘Hangover Music Vol. VI’, but to do so would be missing the point. This album is really a compilation companion to ‘Order Of The Black’, which compiles the various bonus tracks and some acoustic versions of previously released material. And on that basis, die-hard fans would be hard pressed to find a fault with this release, or at least solid at its worst.

For more information on Black Label Society, check out - http://www.blacklabelsociety.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Dredg - Chuckles And Mr. Squeezy

Dredg
Chuckles And Mr. Squeezy
Superball Music/Century Media Records/E.M.I. Music Australia

Dredg would have to be one of the most underrated and hardest working bands within the underground alternative rock scene today. Over the last fifteen years, the four piece act (Comprising of vocalist/guitarist Gavin Hayes, guitarist/backing vocalist Mark Engles, bassist/keyboardist Drew Roulette and drummer/pianist Dino Campanella) have released four studio albums and countless E.P.’s to continual critical acclaim. But despite boasting a devoted diehard following, mainstream success has still eluded the Californian (Los Gatos, U.S.) based outfit.
Two years after the conceptually based ‘The Pariah, The Parrot, The Delusion’ (Which was undoubtedly the band’s most successful and critically acclaimed album to date), Dredg are back with their fifth full-length effort ‘Chuckles And Mr. Squeezy’.
Dredg have never been the kind of band to stick to one direction or sound, with every one of their releases sounding vastly different from each other through continual reinvention. But even though fans won’t be expecting a carbon copy of their last release, there is a certain expectation that the band will retain some of their core sound and direction. Well Dredg fans, let me tell you right now – ‘Chuckles And Mr. Squeezy’ is definitely nothing like the Dredg you’ve come to expect. In fact, I would go as far as to say that most Dredg fans aren’t remotely prepared for what the band deliver on their latest offering.
In the lead up to the album’s release, Hayes referred to the band’s new direction as akin to ‘dark pop’. And in all honesty, he couldn’t have summed it up more accurately.
With renowned remixer/hip-hop producer Dan The Automator serving as producer and co-writer (Of three of the album’s eleven tracks), ‘Chuckles And Mr. Squeezy’ sees a lot of the band’s familiar rock sound being stripped back to allow for a greater keyboard and synthetic beats. While there’s nothing wrong with experimentation (In fact, I wholeheartedly embrace change), the minimalist direction taken by Dredg on ‘Chuckles And Mr. Squeezy’ doesn’t always work.
‘Another Tribe’ doesn’t waste any time introducing fans to Dredg’s new sound, with its unmistakable rap intro and dominance of keyboards making up the bulk of the instrumentation. Vocally, Hayes is unmistakable out front, and the lyrical prose (An ode to unoriginality of sorts) is as interesting as ever, which in some ways helps give the song an edge over some of the album’s further offerings.
‘Upon Returning’ is as heavy as anything is on the album with its occasional big sound and angular riffing, and is fitted around what is essentially a quirky pop tune, while the first single ‘The Thought Of Losing You’ is probably as close as the band gets to their past both in the sound and song writing sense.
From here, the album really is a mixed bag of the good, and the bizarre. The chilled out and emotive ‘The Ornament’ is absolutely stunning in its simplicity and restraint, while the acoustic based ‘Kalathat’ is as every bit as naked as the former, and just as beautifully constructed.
Elsewhere, ‘Somebody Is Laughing’, the keyboard drenched ‘Down Without A Fight’ and the Ennio Morricone influenced ‘Before It Began’ are solid and interesting enough, but it’s tracks like the beat enhanced ‘The Tent’, the bland ‘Sun Goes Down’ and the downright odd sounding ‘Where I’ll End Up’ that lack a genuine spark of imagination and real emotion that let the album down in a big way.
Dredg have crafted an album that strips away the rock edge of their former sound, and ended up with something quite bold and different. The only problem is figuring out who ‘Chuckles And Mr. Squeezy’ is targeted at, because I’d be surprised if old fans will embrace this, and whether newcomers will actually notice this release. Either way, ‘Chuckles And Mr. Squeezy’ is very much an oddball release and one that I think will alienate as much as it attracts in the long run.

For more information on Dredg, check out - http://www.dredg.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Monday, May 23, 2011

Argus - Boldly Stride The Doomed

Argus
Boldly Stride The Doomed
Cruz Del Sur Music

Although barely registering above and beyond the underground scene, the self-titled debut effort from Pennsylvania (U.S.) based outfit Argus was well received across the board, with many claiming that the band were an act to keep an eye out for with the release of their next album.
Two years on, and the five piece act (Comprising of ex-Penance vocalist Butch Balich, Oh Shit They’re Going To Kill Us guitarist Jason Mucio, Vrolok guitarist Erik Johnson, Oh Shit They’re Going To Kill Us bassist Andy Ramage and ex-Abdullah/ Vrolok drummer Kevin Latchaw) have returned with their second full-length effort ‘Boldly Stride The Doomed’ (Which is their first for Cruz Del Sur Music after moving on from Shadow Kingdom Records). And as expected, Argus has well and truly lived up to the hype that’s been surrounding them for the last few years.
While the band is generally lumped within the doom genre, there’s more to Argus’ sound than simply doom influenced metal in the vein of Candlemass, Grand Magus and Black Sabbath. While the doom aspects of the band’s sound is undeniable, so to is their classic/retro metal sound, where influences from the likes of Iron Maiden, Trouble and Slough Feg are evident throughout the ten tracks the band offer up this time around on their new album.
After a short acoustic based instrumental opening track (‘Abandoning The Gates Of Byzantium’), the band really get things underway with the mid-paced bruiser ‘A Curse On The World’. With a tandem guitar rhythm section that brings to mind Iron Maiden, a heavy bass presence throughout and a strong and commanding presence of Balich out front, ‘A Curse On The World’ is a huge sounding anthem, and certainly one of best examples of the timeless classic metal sound Argus admirably pull off in real style.
Both ‘Wolves Of Dusk’ and the slower paced ‘The Ladder’ are notable for their subtle complexities within the construction of their riff structures and dominance of melodic lead work, while the lengthy ‘Durendal’ unashamedly brings to mind classic early era Iron Maiden through and through.
‘42-7-29’ and the epic ‘Pieces Of Your Smile’ are by far the most doom metal sounding efforts on the album, with the melancholy feel of the former bolstered with some great piano work, and the latter slowed down to emphasise the dooming atmosphere the band are aiming for, while the title track ‘Boldly Stride The Doomed’ is quite the opposite to what the title otherwise would suggest, with the song turning out to be a short, fast paced metallic anthem.
Finishing up the album is the dual paced ‘Fading Silver Light’, and the closing instrumental piece ‘The Ruins Of Ouroboros’, which is essentially a reprisal of the opening intro.
Argus isn’t exactly the most revolutionary act, but then given how much fun their latest album is, does it really matter? Take it from me, fans of traditional heavy metal and those who enjoy a bit of doom metal will find plenty to enjoy within ‘Boldly Stride The Doomed’.

For more information on Argus, check out - http://www.argusmetal.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Ilsa - Tutti Il Colori Del Buio

Ilsa
Tutti Il Colori Del Buio
Dark Descent Records

With a name that’s taken from of a series of cult underground sexploitation films (The most renown being 1974’s ‘Ilsa, She Wolf Of The SS’), a title that loosely translates to ‘All The Colours Of The Dark’ (And which was also the name of Sergio Martino’s film from 1972) and a cover that could easily be mistaken for a long lost film poster from legendary cult U.K. film studios Hammer Horror Productions, it doesn’t take much thought to surmise that Ilsa’s ‘Tutti Il Colori Del Buio’ is going to be one uneasy listen. And sure enough, that’s exactly what it is.
Originally released on C.D. in 2010 through the band’s own Odium Generis Humani label, and later re-released on limited edition vinyl (Limited to three hundred copies) on Contagion Releasing, ‘Tutti Il Colori Del Buio’ has once again resurfaced, this time being given the deluxe treatment on Dark Descent Records.
On Ilsa’s sophomore effort (Their debut album ‘The Maggots Are Hungry’ was released in 2009), the five piece act (Comprising of ex-Time Of The Wolf vocalist Orion, guitarists Brendan and Garrett, bassist Sharad and drummer Joshua Brettell) have well and truly achieved what they initially set out to do, and that is create a truly dark, suffocating and dense sound that’s equal parts doom metal, crushing death metal and crust/sludgecore noise.
The opening track ‘Blood Rituals’ is definitely a good indication of what you can expect from the band, with the song revealing strong doom metal influences within its slower and crushing riffs, but with a production that recalls the early days of death metal (Think of Sunlight Studios and their earlier and more influential offerings) and just enough sludge to keep the band’s overall sound just that much heavier than you would otherwise think possible. Another important aspect to the band’s sound is Orion’s ravaged screamed vocals, which only adds to the intense and huge sound from the band.
The fast paced and relentless D-beat drumming heard within the rather short ‘120 Days’ and ‘The Butcher’s Castle’ are early highlights on the album, and help liven up the first half of the album, while the incredibly thick and dense sounding ‘Frostthrower’ recalls Asphyx’s take on death metal.
Unfortunately, for all of the good things I have to say about Ilsa, there are also quite a few criticisms. And one of the biggest flaws this album has is its lack of variation. While it does have its moments, ‘Blue Moon Haze’ does drag on longer than it should do, while tracks such as ‘Traphouse’, ‘No-Man’s Land’ and ‘Roving Blade’ tend to get a little lost towards the end of the album due to their somewhat similar structures and same sound heard on the previous half of the album.
When it comes to creating a truly dark and alienating sound, Ilsa are masters. ‘Tutti Il Colori Del Buio’ is far from a comfortable listen, and will appeal to those with a genuine craving for something depraved and primitive. But for those looking for something a little more dynamic and varied sounding, perhaps its best to let this one rot in its own filth where it dwells in the darker recesses of the shadows.

For more information on Ilsa, check out - http://www.myspace.com/ilsadc

© Justin Donnelly

Norther - Circle Regenerated

Norther
Circle Regenerated
Century Media Records/E.M.I. Music Australia

Although having been looked upon favourably with their first four releases, 2008’s ‘N’, the fifth album from Finnish based melodic death metal outfit Norther, wasn’t greeted with the same amount of enthusiasm that the band were expecting, with many citing the more melodic approach to the band’s sound a major factor in their dissatisfaction.
But while fans were far from pleased with ‘N’, they were even more dismayed when harsh vocalist/guitarist Petri ‘Pete’ Lindroos was dismissed from the group in 2009 after his involvement in Ensiferum started conflicting with his role in Norther. Since then, the band (Who comprised of clean vocalist/guitarist Kristian ‘Kride’ Ranta, bassist Jukka Koskinen, keyboardist Tuomas Planman and drummer Heikki ‘Kermis’ Saari) have replaced Lindroos with vocalist Aleksi Sihvonen (Ex-Imperanon) and guitarist/backing vocalist Daniel Freyberg (Who’s also a member of Naildown), and returned with their latest effort ‘Circle Regenerated’.
Having never been a really big fan of Norther’s work, I was quite keen to see what this new line-up of Norther could produce in ‘Circle Regenerated’. And casting aside the whole debate of the members from the core line-up that remained (Lindroos was the last original member of the band); I listened to the band’s latest effort with an open mind.
‘Through It All’ opens the album in a promising fashion, with the speed and energy levels running on high. Sihvonen’s harsh vocals are well done, if not quite as strong as Lindroos’, while Ranta’s cleaner efforts are kept to a minimum, allowing for a touch of melody in amongst the overall aggressive feel of the song as a whole.
Follow up track ‘The Hate I Bear’ is another solid track, but weakened a little with the greater melodic aspect of the chorus drowning out the heavier verses, while ‘Believe’ managed to retain a strong metallic stance, even with the strong rhythmic component being emphasised within the production.
Unfortunately, not all of the album’s ten tracks manage to keep up in terms of consistency or flow. ‘Truth’ and the semi-ballad ‘Falling’ sound a little too far removed from the familiar Norther sound that many will associate with the band’s past, while ‘Some Day’ could well have emerged from any one of Soilwork’s latter day releases.
Elsewhere, tracks such as the single ‘Break Myself Away’, ‘We Do Not Care’ and ‘Closing In’ sound like the band’s trying too hard to break free of their ‘Children Of Bodom clone’ tag, and in the process have produced tunes that seem devoid of any inspiration or emotional backbone.
As I mentioned earlier, Norther haven’t really done much for me in the past, and I can’t say that ‘Circle Regenerated’ has changed my opinion. While the album does have its moments, I can’t help but feel that the band are still trying to find their feet musically and direction wise after the departure of Lindroos.
Who knows, maybe Norther will finally get it together on their next album. But as it stands, I can’t see older fans fully accepting ‘Circle Regenerated’ as a whole any more than I can see them taking the album’s title on its word.

For more information on Norther, check out - http://www.norther.net/

© Justin Donnelly

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Beardfish - Mammoth

Beardfish
Mammoth
Inside Out Music/Century Media Records/E.M.I. Music Australia

I’ve always had a bit of a love/hate relationship with Swedish retro-progressive rock act Beardfish’s work in the past, in a sense that I’ve always enjoyed their albums as a whole, but always found plenty of moments within their songs that I always found more than a little cheesy or goofy, or just downright awkward.
So with the release of ‘Mammoth’ (The follow up to 2009’s ‘Destined Solitaire’, and the band’s sixth release overall), I wasn’t expecting much in the way of change from the four piece act (Who comprise of vocalist/guitarist/keyboardist/percussionist/song writer Rikard Sjöblom, guitarist/backing vocalist/keyboardist David Zackrisson, bassist/backing vocalist Robert Hansen and drummer Magnus Östgren). But to my complete surprise, Beardfish have altered their sound and direction a little this time around, which is a move that I’m sure is destined to be welcomed by many, and damned by the minority of diehard fans who felt that the band’s odd sounds and song writing technique was a large part of the band’s unique character.
The opening track ‘The Platform’ reveals a slightly edgier and more guitar heavy sound from Beardfish, but not at the cost of their trademark keyboard heavy retro sound, which still maintains its presence throughout. But apart from a touch of extra guitar, what really stands out about ‘The Platform’ is the song’s overall structure, which appears to be a little more thought out and hard rock in its basic design. Gone are the quirky parts that seemed to be added randomly in the past, with a greater streamlined approach to instrumental structures taking its place.
Despite some new ideas, fans needn’t fear that the band have abandoned their heavy ‘70’s progressive rock sound influences one bit, with the fifteen minute epic ‘And The Stone Said: If I Could Speak’, which is fairly typical of Beardfish’s works. The song is full of twists and turns, and features plenty of saxophone and Hammond organ to give the song a classic rock sound. But unlike some of their epics of the past, the song doesn’t have any moments where the differing passages sound out of place or ill-fitting. No, ‘And The Stone Said: If I Could Speak’ is well a crafted (Especially on the vocal front, where Sjöblom experiments more with some aggressively shouting and some doubled up vocal harmonies), catchy and engaging throughout.
The rather short ‘Tightrope’ is an unexpected foray into mature pop-rock with a distinctly ‘60’s flavour mixed with a subtle hint of jazz, while ‘Green Waves’ unveils a side rarely seen from the band, with the song coming across as quite aggressive and guitar driven, with Sjöblom again producing a much rawer and angry vocal performance to match.
After a brief piano intermission (‘Outside / Inside’), the band delve into progressive/jazz territory with the saxophone enhanced instrumental ‘Akakabotu’, before finishing up the album with the infectious, upbeat and playful progressive-light/pop based ‘Without Saying Anything (Feat. Ventriloquist )’.
‘Mammoth’ is by far Beardfish’s most straightforward and thought out release to date, with the sometimes bizarre and jarring elements of their song writing kept to a bare minimum to allow for a far more enjoyable listen.
Overall, ‘Mammoth’ is a hugely enjoyable album, and definitely for those who are looking for a starting point in the band’s vast discography. Highly recommended for fans of retro-prog rock in the vein of The Tangent, Spock’s Beard and The Flower Kings.

For more information on Beardfish, check out - http://www.beardfish.argh.se/

© Justin Donnelly

Monday, May 16, 2011

Cough - Ritual Abuse

Cough
Ritual Abuse
Relapse Records

After releasing an E.P. and one full-length album through the small local label Forcefield Records (2007’s ‘The Kingdom’ and 2008’s ‘Sigillum Luciferi’), Richmond (Virginia, U.S.) based outfit Cough have signed up with Relapse Records for their latest effort ‘Ritual Abuse’.
Anyone who’s familiar with Cough’s last couple of releases will know what to expect on ‘Ritual Abuse’. But for those unaware, Cough is very much a band whose sound is as heavy as you could imagine anyone can get within the sludge/doom metal realm. Running for a little over fifty-three minutes in length, and boasting a mere five tracks, it’s fair to say that Cough (Who comprise of vocalist/guitarist David Cisco, vocalist/bassist Parker Chandler and drummer Joey Arcaro) aren’t afraid to stretch out their song writing and exhaust every possible avenue in the riff department and freely jam til their heart’s are content.
The opening track ‘Mind Collapse’ is fairly indicative of Cough’s latest album from start to finish, and that’s a sluggish tempo that rivals that a funeral procession, crushing heaviness in the riff department, demonic vocals that drift from ravaged black metal screams to wavering clean vocals, lots of distortion (On both the guitar and bass front) and a general overall atmosphere of suffocating depression. Cough’s music isn’t for the faint hearted, or those looking for something with a positive disposition. No, Cough are fairly grim, slow moving and crushingly heavy.
Apart from a couple of impressive retro sounding solos that liven things up a little, and a somewhat catchy chorus, the equally long (Twelve minute) follow-up track ‘A Year In Suffering’ pretty much follows along the same lines as the opener. It isn’t until ‘Crippled Wizard’ (Which clocks in at a tidy seven minutes long) that Cough really offer up something a little more palatable, with the vocals relying less on screams and more on melodic and cleaner efforts (Even if they sound a little nightmarish in places), and the riff structures and groovier passages sounding more thought out and distinctive, while ‘Crooked Spine’ is the obvious stand out cut on the band’s latest release with its further exploration of doubled up clean vocals, its loose psychedelic blues vibe and its rather odd, yet catchy choruses.
Finishing up the album is the title track ‘Ritual Abuse’. While trying its hardest to be the heaviest and most demonic track on the album (Especially on the vocal front), ‘Ritual Abuse’ fails in its mission when compared to the two that preceded it with its lack of clear direction around its instrumental middle section.
In terms of capturing the true atmosphere and vibe of depressing sludge/doom metal, Cough are out and out winners. So on some level, ‘Ritual Abuse’ is a real winner. But in terms of song writing, the five tunes presented here are very much hit and miss, giving the album a real inconsistency.
Cough are a solid act and ‘Ritual Abuse’ does have its moments, even if its appeal lies solely with those who love slow moving sludge/doom metal in its most depressive form.

For more information on Cough, check out - http://www.cough666.info/

© Justin Donnelly

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Protest The Hero - Scurrilous

Protest The Hero
Scurrilous
Underground Operations Ltd./V2 Records International Ltd./Spinefarm Records/Universal Music Australia

Whitby (Ontario, Canada) based outfit Protest The Hero are the kind of band that you could call the quiet achiever. Despite garnishing huge critical acclaim for their first two full-length albums (2005’s ‘Kezia’ and 2008’s ‘Fortress’), the five piece act (Comprising of vocalist Rody Walker, lead guitarist/backing vocalist Luke Hoskin, rhythm guitarist/keyboardist/backing vocalist Tim Millar, bassist/backing vocalist Arif Mirabdolbaghi and drummer Moe Carlson) still remain a somewhat underground act with an ever growing diehard following. Now returning with their third full-length effort ‘Scurrilous’ (Which is the follow-up to their ‘Gallop Meets The Earth’ live C.D./D.V.D. from 2009), it looks like Protest The Hero may have a chance of making a bigger dent within the progressive metal scene.
On the surface, ‘Scurrilous’ doesn’t represent a huge change of sound for the band when compared to their two previous offerings. But upon closer inspection, the subtle difference between their latest album and their past become more and more apparent, both with its mix of pro’s and con’s. ‘C’est La Vie’ (The album’s first single/promotional video clip) is an ideal introduction for newcomers to the band, with most of the band’s signature sound blended and spliced into a concise three and a half minutes. The much promised addition of progressive elements to the band’s sound this time around are evident in the guitarists technical wizardry, while Walker’s predominately clean vocals and the reliance on more straightforward themes on the lyrical front give the song a sense of accessibility that has at times eluded the band.
The follow-up ‘Hair-Trigger’ is a definite highlight with vocalist Jadea Kelly (Who also appeared on ‘Kezia’) taking on the role of Walker’s ‘sweet little redhead’, while outstanding tracks such as ‘Moonlight’ and ‘Tapestry’ show a greater melodic emphasis in the choruses working alongside a greater complexity of guitar riffs in the remainder of the song’s construction.
Elsewhere, tracks such as the driving ‘The Reign Of Unending Terror’, the dazzling flourishes of guitar work in ‘Tongue-Splitter’ and the off-kilter melodic chaos of ‘Sex Tapes’ (Which features a guest appearance from Propagandhi’s Chris Hannah) are the definitive picks from the remainder of the album.
Some fans will no doubt dismiss the band’s latest effort as a disappointment after the overwhelming positive praise of their first two releases, and that’s O.K. because ‘Scurrilous’ is a slight departure for the band direction wise. ‘Scurrilous’ certainly leans more towards the melodic side of things, but has enough technical finesse to keep the fans of progressive metal more than pleased. And for those who have yet to discover the band, this album may well be the best place to start.

For more information on Protest The Hero, check out - http://www.protestthehero.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Hypno5e - Des Deux L’Une Est L’Autre

Hypno5e
Des Deux L’Une Est L’Autre
Overcome Records

Having just recently visited these shores as support to South Australian thrashers Truth Corroded on their recent run of headlining dates up the east coast, French based avant-garde metal act Hypno5e have given their debut effort ‘Des Deux L’Une Est L’Autre’ a long overdue release here in Australia.
Originally released in early 2007, ‘Des Deux L’Une Est L’Autre’ (Which translates to English as ‘Of The Two, One Is The Other’) has been getting some high praise since its initial release, and for good reasons. Quite simply, Hypno5e’s debut is every bit as perplexing as it is brutal, with the band’s sound sounding like a collective mix of genres such as progressive rock, art rock, death metal and ambient/electronica.
Hypno5e (Who comprise of vocalist/guitarist/programmer Emmanuel Jessua, guitarist Jérémie Lautier, bassist Gredin and drummer/programmer Thibault Lamy) start the album off with the first of a two part epic ‘Maintained Relevance Of Destruction’. The first part is initially opened up with some spoken word over gentle guitar work, but is soon taken over with some huge riffing, and a bass sound that’s every bit as dominant as the other instruments. It isn’t long before the listener is thrown around with the band’s constant shifts in structures and tempos, from the downright pummelling, through to the lush and atmospheric. At times, ‘Maintained Relevance Of Destruction’ is quite mellow and serene, and other times jarring and schizophrenic in a warped grooving kind of way. The second part of ‘Maintained Relevance Of Destruction’ starts out with a completely different direction, with Jessua singing alongside Ilène Grange to create something altogether haunting and operatic, before the slow build up of aggression brings the song to a climatic close.
‘Daybreak At Slaughter-House’ (The first single/promotional video clip filmed for the album) is by far one of the album’s more aggressive efforts, and just one of the tracks on the album that could easily draw comparisons to Opeth with its ebb and flow of gentle passages and heavier death metal segments (Which could very well be described as Meshuggah meets In Flames), while the instrumental track ‘H492053’ does offer a bit of a rest for the listener with the track predominately maintaining a tranquil atmosphere, with the crushing wave of riffs emerging briefly around the halfway mark.
Next up is the lengthy epic ‘The Hole’, which boasts a host of audio samples and a guest vocal appearance from female vocalist Milka (Of fellow French art-metal act My Own Private Alaska) amongst a variety of shifts in moods and extremities musically, while the equally lengthy ‘Scarlet Fever’, apart from some carefully placed atmospheric passages, ventures forth into the opposite direction, with the band showcasing their technical prowess on their respective instruments in full progressive mode.
‘Tutuguri’, much like the former track, is a chaotic piece filled with a lot of time signatures and aggression, and the track that marks the end of the vocals on the album. From here, the latter half of the album is pretty much instrumental, with the epic two part ‘Naked Lunch’ opus (An obvious nod to William S. Burroughs and his novel of the same name) standing out as a particular favourite with its use of film samples, drum loops, orchestration and its overall progressive cinematic scope on the first part, and its beat heavy/guitar crunching evil twin on part two, while ‘Remords Posthumes’ is primarily a coda piece filled with distorted audio samples overlaid over a gentle keyboard accompaniment.
Despite the fact that half of the vocals and samples featured on ‘Des Deux L’Une Est L’Autre’ are in French, and that the album only works as a whole rather than just on a song to song basis, Hypno5e’s debut is an absolutely captivating piece of art, and one that has to be heard in full to truly understand.
A long time has passed since the release of this album, but the band has recently stated that they plan to release something new before the end of the year. I don’t think I’d be the only one to say that I’ll be keen to get me hands on something new from these French avant-garde artists, and interested to see in which direction they plan to take listeners after all this time.

For more information on Hypno5e, check out - http://www.myspace.com/hypno5e

© Justin Donnelly

Mastodon - Live At The Aragon

Mastodon
Live At The Aragon
Reprise Records/Warner Music Australia

Mastodon’s fourth album ‘Crack The Skye’ (2009) represented a huge step forward for the Atlanta (Georgia, U.S.) based group, with the band adopting a greater progressive element to their previously established heavy groove metal sound. While some old-school fans had issues with the band’s newfound progressive sound, it certainly didn’t take away from the album’s overwhelming success, with the album garnishing critical acclaim from all quarters.
It’s been two years since then, and within that time, the four piece act (Comprising of bassist/vocalist Troy Sanders, lead guitarist/vocalist Brent Hinds, guitarist Bill Kelliher and drummer/vocalist Brann Dailor) have toured countless times in support of the album. And as expected, Mastodon has decided the time is right to finally put together their first official live C.D./D.V.D. in the form of ‘Live At The Aragon’.
Recorded while out on tour with Dethklok in late 2009 (October 17th to be exact), ‘Live At The Aragon’ showcases Mastodon’s powerful performance at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago (Illinois) while performing ‘Crack The Skye’ in its entirety. Unlike the band’s previous live compilation D.V.D. ‘The Workhorse Chronicles: The Early Years 2000 - 2005’ (2006) and their appearance on 2007’s ‘Unholy Alliance’ D.V.D., ‘Live At The Aragon’ presents Mastodon in all their heavy progressive glory as a headlining act, and it’s a powerful performance that certainly does the band justice.
Mastodon isn’t the sort of band that generally promotes themselves on stage with huge spotlights or allowing the camera operators to spend large amounts of time focusing on the members themselves (Although there are plenty of shots of the band performing). No, Mastodon is all sticking to the shadows and allowing the music to do the talking, and the huge projection screens at the back to give those attending something to feast their eyes on (And the projected images really are something to see!).
Admittedly, the band start off the show a little shaky on the vocal front with the opening track ‘Oblivion’, but it certainly doesn’t derail proceedings with the band’s musical performance standing out as nothing short of stunning throughout.
For the next hour, the band perform ‘Crack The Skye’ in its chronological order, without missing a beat, with songs such as the multi-chaptered ‘The Czar’, the huge riff-fest ‘Quintessence’ and the energetic epic ‘The Last Baron’ given a whole new lease of life when played live.
Of course, after presenting their latest masterpiece, Mastodon offer up some gems of the past for old-school fans, with favourites such as ‘Circle Of Cysquatch’ (From 2006’s ‘Blood Mountain’), ‘Aqua Dementia’ (From 2004’s ‘Leviathan’), ‘Where Strides The Behemoth’, ‘Mother Puncher’ (Both from 2002’s ‘Remission’) and a cover of the Melvins’ ‘The Bit’ (Which the band recorded for the Melvins tribute album ‘We Reach’ back in 2005) to finish the show up with.
As an added bonus, the D.V.D. also comes with the fifty-one minute ‘Crack The Skye: The Movie’, which features the entire visual being played behind the band during the performance of ‘Crack The Skye’.
Overall, despite some rough patches on the vocal front at times, and a general lack of theatrics from the band while performing (Which isn’t all that surprising if you’ve seen the band live before), ‘Live At The Aragon’ is a testament to the brilliance of ‘Crack The Skye’, and an absolutely worthy addition to any Mastodon fan’s collection.

For more information on Mastodon, check out - http://www.mastodonrocks.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The New Jacobin Club - This Treason

The New Jacobin Club
This Treason
Somnambulist Sound System/Indie Pool

Canadian (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan based) outfit The New Jacobin Club have been on the scene for the better part of fifteen years, and in that time have managed to produce three full-length albums (2001’s ‘The New Jacobin Club’, 2003’s ‘Retake The Throne’ and 2006’s ‘Wicked City’), and a host of other releases pressed exclusively on vinyl and cassette (Mostly demos, singles and live albums).
But despite their prolific output, the band haven’t really managed to make a huge dent with their gothic/metal on a musical level, primarily because the visual aspect of their show (Which has been described as the evil version of ‘Cirque De Soleil’) is an equally important aspect of their overall presentation. That was prior to the release of their latest effort ‘This Treason’, which is easily their most accomplished effort to date.
Conceptually based on tragedies and atrocities surrounding the 14th century warlord Sir Hugh Despenser and King Edward II, ‘This Treason’ is an ambitious gothic rock opera that could well have turned into a complete disaster in the wrong hands. And while it’s no classic masterpiece, The New Jacobin Club has managed to make an album that’s as entertaining as it is varied.
The opening title track ‘This Treason’ is a fair indication of what you can expect from the group, and that’s part orchestral, part gothic rock and a fair chunk of metal thrown in with the heavy guitar and bass work. Lead vocalist/rhythm guitarist The Horde gives the band a slight latter era-Misfits sound on the vocal front, while the heavy riffing from The Fury, The Swarm’s bass work and Rat King’s drums give off a slight Slipknot influence, if only with the strong rhythmic groove they all contribute to.
‘Private Hell’ is a definite favourite with its strong pop melodies and punk rock vibe wrapped around some impressive lead work, while the semi-acoustic/keyboard driven ‘Breath Like Wine’ is another worthy effort.
Despite their best attempts at evoking a heavier and creepier feel, the keyboards in ‘Countess Scorned’ don’t quite manage to convince the listener enough to really work, while the rocking dirty blues effort ‘Like Dogs’ sounds like its built on a solid foundation, but don’t really go anywhere during its full five and a half minutes.
The faster speed and aggression within ‘The Fall’ is a definite lift around the halfway mark of the album, even if the theatrics around the latter half of the song feel a little tacked on for the sake of a cinematic feel overall, but the rocking instrumental ‘Kronos Devours His Children’ does manage to put the album back on track.
The big centrepiece of the album has to be the thirteen minute mini-opera ‘All Mourning Long’. Much like some of the former tracks, ‘All Mourning Long’ does have its genuinely interesting moments (The acoustic work at the tail end is well done, as to are some of the heavier moments that punctuate here and there), but seems a little too drawn out in places to really justify running for such a length.
The use of stringed keyboards add a real sense of drama to ‘The Bishop And The Executioner’, earning the song a place amongst the short list of favourites from the album, while the closing number ‘Penance At The End Of Days’ (Excluding the hidden ‘Breath Like Wine (Clubmix ‘84)’) provides a fitting heavy and catchy conclusion to the album.
On a theatrical level, few can match The New Jacobin Club with their live presentation. But on a musical level, the band has always lagged behind many with music running a distant second to presenting a visual feast for the eyes. But with ‘This Treason’, the band has certainly written some solid tunes, all of which can be enjoyed on their own.
Of course, there’s still some niggling issues in terms of production, mixing and the ratio of fillers compared to album worthy tracks, but when you weigh up the past and the present, it’s clear that The New Jacobin Club have come up with a worthwhile release this time around with ‘This Treason’.

For more information on The New Jacobin Club, check out - http://www.newjacobinclub.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Rotten Sound - Cursed

Rotten Sound
Cursed
Relapse Records

Outside of Napalm Death, Finnish (Vaasa based) act Rotten Sound has to be one of the longest running acts within the grindcore scene.
Founded some seventeen years ago, Rotten Sound have weathered numerous line-up changes, pumped out a colossal amount of releases (Which aside from five full-length releases, includes a ton of E.P.’s and split releases) and all the while managed to remain at the top of their game within that time.
Following on from their stop-gap E.P. release ‘Napalm’ from last year (Which was essentially a tribute to the grindcore legends Napalm Death and three new songs), Rotten Sound (Who comprise of vocalist Keijo Niinimaa, guitarist Mika Aalto, bassist Kristian Toivainen and drummer Sami Latva) are back with their sixth full-length release ‘Cursed’.
Grindcore isn’t particularly known for its innovation or reinvention, and Rotten Sound isn’t about to stand out as the exception to that rule. ‘Cursed’ isn’t all that removed from what the band served up listeners with their last album ‘Cycles’ back in 2008. But while that may be true, it has to be said that within today’s grindcore scene, there are precious few acts that can rival Rotten Sound in terms of consistency, sheer aggression and making songs within the grindcore mould as memorable as these Finns.
Running for just under the twenty-eight minute mark, ‘Cursed’ is just the right length for a grindcore album, and plenty of time for the band to belt out sixteen tracks of pure venom from start to finish, with the minute long ‘Alone’ (Featuring Misery Index vocalist Jason Netherton as special guest) leading the charge. With its rumbling bass tone, sharp and raw guitar sound and chaotic blast beats, Rotten Sound have certainly perfected their grindcore sound, and created what can only be described as the sound of the apocalypse.
The initial full on blast of ‘Superior’ (Which features Entombed’s LG Petrov) and ‘Self’ (Featuring Victims’ vocalist Johan Eriksson and Total Destruction guitarist Saku Hakuli providing the lead work) are cleverly balanced with some crushing groove based tail ends, while the slow burn of ‘Choose’ (Again, featuring Petrov), ‘Power’, ‘Declare’ and ‘Exploit’ allow the band to shake up the tempo enough to keep the album varied from start to finish.
Elsewhere, Hakuli’s frantic solo work at the start of ‘Hollow’ is a stand out, as too is Aborted’s Eran Segal on the hectic ‘Plan’, while former Rotten Sound guitarist Juha Ylikoski (Who is now in Throes Of Dawn) helps out on ‘Ritual’.
Overall, ‘Cursed’ is another exercise of sheer brutality from Rotten Sound, and pretty much the sort of album you would expect from the band given their extensive history.
But unlike a lot of other grindcore acts, Rotten Sound know how to shake up the formula enough to keep the album interesting throughout, and keep the listener totally enthralled throughout. In a lot of ways, this is Rotten Sound’s most refined and diverse effort to date, and just the kind of release that’s sure to became one of this year’s most acclaimed grindcore efforts for 2011.

For more information on Rotten Sound, check out - http://www.rottensound.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Sounds Of Sirus - Singularity

Sounds Of Sirus
Singularity
Independent Release

Drawing members out of the ashes of several local acts (Most notably (Revolución Street, The Grand Arcanum, Girl Pilot and Omniana), Melbourne based rock outfit Sounds Of Sirus formed in late 2009, and have spent the better part of the last couple of years gigging around the scene (Which have included support to names such as The Getaway Plan, House Vs Hurricane, Cog, Behind Crimson Eyes and Twelve Foot Ninja), all the while writing songs and refining their sound.
Having drummed themselves up a bit of a buzz in the underground scene, the five piece act (Comprising of vocalist Josh Day, guitarists Rory Bond and Peter Morianos, bassist Liam O’Reilly and session drummer Sam Osborne of House Vs Hurricane drummer) entered Basin Studios with Matt D’Arcy (Who recorded and mixed), resulting in their debut E.P. (Or ‘albumette’ as the band prefers to call it) ‘Singularity’.
The opening track ‘Day By Name’ is by far one of the E.P.’s harder hitting efforts, with the guitars sounding very upfront and in your face. But while the song does boast a bit of muscle, it’s not at the expense of the underlying melodic structure that flows from the verses and comes out in all its hooked glory in the choruses. Sounding in part like a cross between Dead Letter Circus and early Karnivool, but without the overly progressive and heavier elements, Sounds Of Sirus know their way around a good song with strong melodies – even if it does take a few listens for the character of the song to really reveal itself.
‘I Won’t Be Listening’ doesn’t stray too far from the feel and vibe of the opener in the musical sense with its dominating delayed guitar effects, but stands out as one of the E.P.’s stand out cuts with a powerful performance from Day with his inspired and daring vocal lines, while the title track ‘Singularity’ is perhaps one of few obvious examples of where the pre-chorus borrows from Birds Of Tokyo’s school of song writing.
‘Twisted Little Mind’ is a definite favourite with its huge sing-a-long chorus and heavier guitar output, with the E.P. first single ‘A New Line’ and ‘Pantomime’ close runners up, while the semi-acoustic and laid back ‘Close My Eyes’ provides an insight to another side of the band’s sound, with great results.
On a cursory listen, it’s easy to dismiss ‘Singularity’ as sounding a little too ‘samey’ all the way through. And it’s a fair criticism too, as the delayed guitar effects that feature on the first song features throughout the E.P. But after several listens, the songs do eventually reveal themselves as sounding different from one another.
If you have the patience, then ‘Singularity’ will reward you with some great songs. And even though there are a couple of weaker tracks amongst the seven presented here, there is enough presented to know that there’s potential within Sounds Of Sirus to release something really impressive over a full-length sometime in the future.

For more information on Sounds Of Sirus, check out - http://www.soundsofsirus.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Wolf - Legions Of Bastards

Wolf
Legions Of Bastards
Century Media Records/E.M.I. Music Australia

Of all the bands carrying the flame of the old-school N.W.O.B.H.M. (New Wave Of British Heavy Metal)/traditional metal within the metal scene, Örebro (Sweden) based outfit Wolf has to be one of my personal favourites.
Over the last twelve years, Wolf have produced five full-length efforts, all of which have flown the flag of classic metal (Imagine Judas Priest meets Mercyful Fate), without sounding out of place within today’s metal scene.
Two years after 2009’s highly regarded ‘Ravenous’, the four piece act (Comprising of vocalist/guitarist Niklas Olsson, guitarist Johannes Losbäck, bassist Anders Modd and drummer Richard Holmgren) are back with their latest and sixth offering overall ‘Legions Of Bastards’. And as you would expect, it’s another slab of old-school heavy metal, with enough retro riffs, over-the-top solos and catchy (Sometimes cheesy) choruses to please fans of metal’s bygone classic era of the ‘80’s.
From the opening drum roll and the fast paced riffing that soon follows, it’s clear that ‘Vicious Companions’ is only the start of what is sure to be another classically inspired release from the band. Olsson’s vocals are perhaps a little raspier and rawer than usual, but it does give the band that little more aggression which wasn’t otherwise evident in the past. In terms of the overall song, there’s plenty of melodic lead work, and the chorus certainly leaps out at you, which is everything you would otherwise expect of a Wolf anthem.
The metallic inspired duo of ‘Skull Crusher’ and ‘Full Moon Possession’ are further favourites in the early half of the album, with their Judas Priest influences undeniably coming to the fore (Especially with the dual guitar work throughout, and Olsson’s higher end vocal performances during the choruses), while the serial killer themed ‘Jekyll & Hyde’ and ‘Tales From The Crypt’ slow the tempo down a gear, but still rock alongside the album’s opening trio of classics.
No Wolf album is a complete masterpiece, with the band’s back catalogue producing its fair share of lacklustre efforts amongst the gems. And in that regard, ‘Legions Of Bastards’ is no exception. Although sounding O.K. when listening to the album as a whole, individually, both ‘Absinthe’ and ‘Nocturnal Rites’ seem to lack that something to make them really stand out against the stronger tracks. Having said that, both do have some great riffing and solos, it’s just that they don’t come across as inspired around the choruses.
Aside from a couple of fillers around the midway mark, the remainder of ‘Legions Of Bastards’ is all killer, with the energetic ‘Road To Hell’, the lyrically biting ‘False Preacher’, the shredding ‘Hope To Die’ and the epic ‘K-141 Kursk’ (Which is based on the tragic Russian submarine accident from 2000) giving the album a much needed kick and some consistency toward the tail end.
‘Legions Of Bastards’, much like Wolf’s last few releases, is an absolutely fun listen, and a total blast of classic heavy metal. In other words, Wolf’s latest is well and truly recommended for metalhead’s of the old-school.

For more information on the Wolf, check out - http://www.wolf.nu/

© Justin Donnelly

Monday, May 9, 2011

Alter Bridge - Live From Amsterdam

Alter Bridge
Live From Amsterdam
DC3 Music Group/Liberator Music Pty. Ltd.

After a lengthy two year wait, Alter Bridge’s first live C.D./D.V.D. package has finally been given the go ahead for release outside of Amazon, where the stand alone D.V.D. had been selling well beyond the band’s humble expectations - garnishing critical acclaim from fans and critics alike.
Recorded in December 2008 at the Heineken Music Hall in Amsterdam (Netherlands) while in support of their just released second album ‘Blackbird’, ‘Live From Amsterdam’ showcases Alter Bridge’s electrifying stage show in front of a sold out crowd of eight thousand, and proves beyond any doubt that the band can deliver everything that’s present on their album, and them some.
The band (Comprising of vocalist/guitarist Myles Kennedy, guitarist/backing vocalist Mark Tremonti, bassist Brian Marshall and drummer Scott Phillips) gets the show off to a rocking start with ‘Come To Life’, where the crowd responds enthusiastically from the opening chords.
Throughout the one hundred minute concert, the band rarely set a foot wrong, with every single one of the eighteen tracks played performed to perfection. As you would expect, the show is drawn heavily from their newest release at the time, with tracks such as ‘Before Tomorrow Comes’, ‘Brand New Start’, the ‘heavier in the live setting’ crunch of ‘White Knuckles’, ‘Buried Alive’ and ‘Ties That Bind’ all given the live treatment.
But the real stand-outs from ‘Blackbird’ have to be the band’s intense rendition of ‘Coming Home’, the acoustic version of ‘Watch Over You’, ‘Rise Today’ and the absolutely classic title track ‘Blackbird’ (Which is introduced with a brief snippet of The Beatles’ ‘Blackbird’).
Of course, fans of the band’s debut ‘One Day Remains’ aren’t left out in the cold, with all of the album’s hit singles performed here (‘Open Your Eyes’, ‘Find The Real’ and ‘Broken Wings’), along with fan favourites such as ‘One Day Remains’, ‘In Loving Memory’ and ‘Metalingus’.
As an added bonus for fans, the band also throws the rarely heard ‘New Way To Live’ into the set-list (The b-side to the ‘Rise Today’ single), and an absolutely stomping cover of Robert Johnson’s ‘Mud Bone’ (Which replaces the band’s cover of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Traveling Riverside Blues’ on the original D.V.D. release).
In addition to the live C.D., this deluxe reissue of ‘Live From Amsterdam’ also comes with a fifty-three minute documentary (Where the band talk about their initial formation, their experiences touring together, their crew, their favourite Alter Bridge tunes and pre-show rituals) and a photo gallery (Which comprises of sixty-six shots).
All up, it’s hard to believe that it’s taken some two years for ‘Live From Amsterdam’ to finally see the light of day. But given the legal disputes (Between records label apparently), it’s probably not all that surprising really, because after a listen and viewing of this package, you can understand that neither party wanted to share the spoils of what is nothing short of a stunning package, and one hell of a live show.
Overall, this is an absolute must have for Alter Bridge fans. It honestly lives up to the hype, and has been well worth the wait.

For more information on Alter Bridge, check out - http://www.alterbridge.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Rabbits - Lower Forms

Rabbits
Lower Forms
Relapse Records

Like a lot of people, I know very little about Portland (Oregon, U.S.) based outfit Rabbits, apart from what I’ve read online and in fanzines. Some of the reasons behind this come down to the fact that the band is still largely an underground act. But another good reason behind having never heard their music before is because most of their past releases (2006’s ‘Sloth Vs. Bees’ E.P., 2006’s split with Under Mountains, 2010’s ‘Hide’ E.P. and their various live releases) have been released independently, and predominately on vinyl or cassette.
But despite the band’s low profile, Rabbits (Who comprise of vocalists/guitarists Joshua ‘Booze’ Hughes and Seth ‘Sethro’ Montfort and drummer Kevin Garrison) have managed to sign to Relapse Records, who have released the band’s debut full-length effort ‘Lower Forms’.
In a lot of ways, ‘Lower Forms’ is the kind of album you’re either going to love or hate. Rabbits aren’t the kind of band that is out to reinvent the sludge/doom/hardcore genre in any way, shape or form. Instead, the band seem more hell-bent on stripping music back to its rawest and primitive form, and making it sounds as abrasive, heavy and direct as possible.
And in some part, Rabbits have achieved their objective, with songs such as the opener ‘Burn, Sun, Burn’ combining elements of stoner rock, sludge and traces of hardcore (Which is featured more on the vocal front than anything else) in their purest and most basic level. Flourishes of psychedelic rock appear around the guitar solo, while the drum work presented throughout the song manages to keep it from drifting into the mundane.
The yelled melodic vocals on ‘A Tale Of Tales’ provides a bit of contrast to the pseudo thrash framework of the instrumental section quite well, but tends to get a little too much by the time the band wind up things close to the five minute mark, while ‘We Beat’ is executed with a greater hardcore influence present, which makes the song sound a little more in line with the band’s overall strength and vibe.
The rather short ‘Noise To Share’ and ‘No Depth’ are definite highlights on the album with their chaotic constructions and energy (And not to mention the fact that both are quick and to the point), while the odd melodic vocal structures and the constant tempo shifts on ‘Duck, The Pigs’ provides another worthy effort.
The slower and decidedly more stoner-like heavy groove on ‘Invisibugs’, ‘The Flow Below’ and ‘Weight Here’ are all solid efforts, but lack enough necessary distinctions between verses and choruses to make them stand out as anything really special, while the closer ‘Rot’ does manage to live up to its name in terms of sounding crusty and bruising, but is another track that tends to overstay its welcome by a couple of minutes.
For a debut, ‘Lower Forms’ is good, but hardly revolutionary. If you’re on the look out for something that’s bare bones and basic, then Rabbits may very well have just what you’re looking for. If, on the other hand, you’re looking for something a little more forward thinking and adventurous, this album will only ultimately promise you a headache by its conclusion.

For more information on Rabbits, check out - http://www.rabbitusmaximus.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Truth Corroded - Worship The Bled

Truth Corroded
Worship The Bled
Truth Inc. Records/M.G.M. Distribution

Over the course of three full-length releases (2001’s ‘Begin’, 2005’s ‘Our Enemy Is The Weapon’ and 2008’s ‘Upon The Warlords Crawl’), Adelaide (South Australia) based thrash/metalcore outfit Truth Corroded have grown in leaps and bounds, with each new release sounding more extreme than the last and more confident in the song writing. Now returning with their fourth effort ‘Worship The Bled’, Truth Corroded have once again taken their sound to a whole new level and created an album that is worthy of high praise.
As is the case on most of the band’s past releases, ‘Worship The Bled’ boasts a revamped Truth Corroded to the one from three years ago, with lead guitarist Darren McLennan and session drummer Kevin Talley (Who previously played with Dååth, Misery Index, Dying Fetus and Chimaira) joining vocalist Jason North, guitarist Mark Lennard and bassist Greg Damon Shaw. And if there were any concerns about Truth Corroded losing any of their firepower with the introduction of new members into the fold, it will only take one listen to the opening track ‘Knives Of The Betrayed’ to dispel doubts.
The band’s ability to write truly memorable songs has seemingly improved with time, and the trend continues through to their latest release, with ‘Knives Of The Betrayed’ packed full with killer riffs, catchy chorus structures and enough instrumental elements (Particularly on the guest guitar solo from Scar Symmetry’s Jonas Kjellgren, and from Talley’s ever present drumming) to give the album a truly impressive kick from the word go.
The consistency and aggression of the opener is continued through to the fast paced ‘Hunt All Heroes’, while the dominating percussive rhythmic patterns and riff structured grooves within ‘Pride Of Demise’ and ‘Nothing Left Alive’ give the album plenty of variation from one track to the next.
The use of strings (Provided by David Crowe of Mammoth Logic) on the crushing ‘The Great Waste Of Flesh’ and ‘Dragged Beneath’ are interesting contributions that give the songs a touch of the different and unexpected, while Talley’s skills are best showcased on the frantic ‘Scavengers’ and ‘Tear Out The Eyes Of Your God’.
Finishing up the album is the lengthier ‘Summon Abyss’, where the band manages to combine all of their various sounds and styles that make up their sound into a huge thrashing epic, with former guitarist Corey Grieve providing the song with its outstanding melodic lead work.
Truth Corroded has always managed to surpass their previous release with each new album. And true to form, ‘Worship The Bled’ is another stunning achievement from the band. This is definitely Truth Corroded’s finest hour, and by far one of the strongest metal releases I’ve heard from an Australian act this year.

For more information on Truth Corroded, check out - http://www.truthcorroded.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Caliban - Coverfield

Caliban
CoverfieldCentury Media Records/E.M.I. Music Australia

In the lead up to a quick tour around Europe and a return to the studio to follow-up their last full-length effort (Namely 2009’s ‘Say Hello To Tragedy’), long running German metalcore outfit Caliban have decided to put together a new E.P. in the form of ‘Coverfield’ to keep fans tided over in the meantime (Not to mention give the band an excuse to hit the road once again).As the title suggests, ‘Coverfield’ is a covers E.P., and one that covers a lot of ground in terms of the bands they have decided to pay tribute to. But while the idea sounds enticing, sadly, the results aren’t anywhere as successful as hoped.The first of the four tracks present here is a cover of Type O Negative’s ‘My Girlfriend’s Girlfriend’, which originally appeared on the band’s cult classic ‘October Rust’ (1996). Most of the gothic rock-like vibe of the original is forsaken here, with the guitars being beefed up in line with the keyboards to give the song a bigger and heavier sound. Vocally, Andreas Doerner puts in a good performance alongside the rest of the band (Guitarist/vocalist Denis Schmidt, guitarist Marc Goertz, bassist Marco Schaller and drummer Patrick Gruen), and their reinterpretation of the song overall is quite good, if a little heavy handed in places.The band’s choice to re-record Rammstein’s ‘Sonne’ (From 2001’s ‘Mutter’) is fairly straight forward, if a little lacking compared to the original, while their cover of At The Gates’ ‘Blinded By Fear’ (From 1995’s ‘Slaughter Of The Soul’) is a carbon copy of the original for the most part, and by far one of the E.P.’s more unsurprising and unremarkable efforts - a real shame.Finishing up the E.P. is The Beatles’ ‘Helter Skelter’ (From their self-titled album from 1968), which can be credited as one of the E.P.’s more daring and adventurous efforts, even if only in parts.In the end, die hard Caliban fans will enjoy this little E.P. from the band. But for those who feel that Caliban has fallen from grace in the years since the release of their ‘The Opposite From Within’ (By far their strongest release to date), don’t expect to be too amazed by anything offered up this time around.

For more information on Caliban, check out - http://www.calibanmetal.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Friday, May 6, 2011

Infestus - E x | I s t


Infestus
E x | I s t
Debemur Morti Productions

On the two previous full-length efforts (2004’s ‘Worshiping Times Of Old’ and 2008’s ‘Chroniken Des Ablebens’), I felt that while German black metal Infestus have shown some moments of promise, they hadn’t yet quite managed to make an album that retained a sense of consistency and truly engage the listener completely from start to finish.
Now returning with their third full-length effort ‘E x | I s t’, Infestus is primarily comprised of vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Andras following the departure of vocalist Dagon in late 2010.
In a lot of ways, Andras has been allowed a lot of freedom to do as he wishes on ‘E x | I s t’, without having to compromise on his ideas and overall vision with other members within the group. That singular vision and execution that shines throughout ‘E x | I s t’, and duly marks the album out as Infestus’ strongest release to date.
Based on Andras’ own personal demons, ‘E x | I s t’ is a grim and torturous slab of experimental black metal. But outside its harsh exterior, ‘E x | I s t’ reveals a more structured and thought out musical landscape than any of the band’s former releases, and that definitely works in their favour.
The opening track ‘Akoasma’ is primarily an instrumental scene setting piece that starts out with gentle/haunting ambient keyboards, before being pushed aside from the oncoming onslaught of unrelenting drums and a wall of guitars. While the early indicators suggest that the song will remain on the heavier side of the spectrum to begin with, the instruments do gently fade in/fade out in places, which make way for a distinct sense of melody and dynamics.
‘Down Spiral Depersonification’ sees Infestus get down to the sound many will be familiar with, and that’s cold and grim sounding black metal (Both musically and vocally), with just enough melody to keep the listener on their toes. At a little over eight minutes (Which is the case for most of the tracks on the album), the song is long. But despite this, Andras manages to throw in enough twists and turns to make it feel like a journey from one distant point to another.
The use of acoustic guitars within ‘Darkness Blazing In The Flame Of Fire’ is an interesting addition to what is essentially an intense and harrowing journey from start to finish, while the fast paced ‘Mirror Mind Reality’ is the centrepiece of the album, both in terms of its intensity and its complex construction of many differing layers.
The strong rhythmic groove underpinning within ‘Torn Observer’ is as catchy as it is cold, while the use of acoustic guitars and piano in the ravaged ‘Der Blick Hinaus’ and the closer ‘Descend Direction Void’ adds a distinctly human aspect to the cold atmospherics of black metal.
‘E x | I s t’ isn’t the sort of album that can be listened to in pieces. To truly appreciate this album, you have to listen to it as a whole. And it’s only then, you’ll truly understand just how majestic ‘E x | I s t’ is, and just how much despair Andras has put into Infestus’ finest effort.

For more information on Infestus, check out - http://www.infestus.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Stick To Your Guns - The Hope Division

Stick To Your Guns
The Hope Division
Sumerian Records/Shock Entertainment

Having visited our shores in December 2010 for the first time, Orange County (California, U.S.) based hardcore outfit Stick To Your Guns have finally managed to get their third full-length album ‘The Hope Division’ a long overdue local release after being available overseas for the better part of the last year.
Although I was impressed with their debut effort ‘For What It’s Worth’ (Released in 2005 through This City Is Burning Records), I was quite disappointed with their follow up effort ‘Comes From The Heart’ (Released in 2008 through Century Media Records), primarily because the band’s sound had shifted from something quite potent and powerful to downright predictable and tired. So based on their track record, I wasn’t expecting much from Stick To Your Guns’ latest effort, and the fact that apart from vocalist Jesse Barnett, the rest of the band (Comprising of guitarists/backing vocalists Chris Rawson and Reid Haymond, bassist/backing vocalist Andrew Rose and drummer George Schmitz) are all newcomers to the group.
But despite my low expectations, ‘The Hope Division’ marks a return to form for Stick To Your Guns, and proves beyond any doubt that the sound and direction of their last album was nothing more than an experiment that didn’t quite work for either the band or their loyal fan base.
‘Where The Sun Never Sleeps’ (The band’s tribute to their city Orange Country) provides a strong start to the album with its heavy riffs, infectious chorus and huge gang vocals, while the frantic ‘What Goes Around’, the relentless chug of ‘Wolves At The Door’ and ‘Faith In The Untamed’ proves the band’s old-school hardcore roots are still intact and bruising when in full-on attack mode.
‘Amber’, the album’s first single and promotional video clip, boasts a good balance of aggression and melody, while tracks such as the slower paced/post-hardcore effort ‘Some Kind Of Hope’, the moody ‘Scarecrow’ and its acoustic sequel ‘Erida’ showcase the band’s broadening sound beyond anything heard on their last release.
Towards the tail end of the album, ‘Life Through Western Eyes’ and ‘3/60’ are definite stand out cuts, before the band finish things up in punishing fashion with ‘No Cover’ and the towering ‘Sufferer/La Poderosa’.
Also worthy of a special mention is the uncredited ukulele rendition of ‘This Is More’ (Which appeared on ‘For What It’s Worth’) by Hannah Sciurba of She’s In The Band.
Overall, my faith in Stick To Your Guns has been fully restored. ‘The Hope Division’ is the sound of a band reinvigorated and inspired once again, and nothing like the generic mess that was ‘Comes From The Heart’ some three years ago.

For more information on Stick To Your Guns, check out - https://www.facebook.com/STYGoc

© Justin Donnelly