Wednesday, July 27, 2011

August Burns Red - Leveler

August Burns Red
Leveler
Solid State Records/E.M.I. Music Australia

Lancaster (Pennsylvania, U.S.) based metalcore act August Burns Red’s gradual rise in the scene has seen them become leaders in their own right, with the band’s three full length releases garnishing an increasing amount of critical acclaim from both fans and press alike.
The band’s successful studio efforts also translated to stage success as well, with the five piece act (Comprising of vocalist Jake Luhrs, guitarists JB Brubaker and Brent Rambler, bassist/backing vocalist Dustin Davidson and drummer Matt Greiner) undertaking several headlining tours in support of their 2009 album ‘Constellations’, which provided the opportunity for the band to put together their first C.D./D.V.D. package last year in the form of ‘Home’.
Now returning with their fourth full-length effort ‘Leveler’, August Burns Red prove they have no interest in rehashing a proven formula, with their latest album showcasing a broadening of sound beyond their trademark metalcore sound, and a depth of musicianship that eclipses anything heard on their three studio efforts to date.
The opening track ‘Empire’ sees August Burns Red determined to bludgeon the listener into submission right off the bat with the songs savage guitar work, Griener’s dominant drum work and Luhrs’ own passionate screamed vocals and guttural growls. But while there’s no questioning the song’s heavy nature, the injection of melody around the middle and the gang vocals towards the tail end offer the listener more than just straight ahead aggression, and breaks from what could have been just another predictable starting point for the album.
‘Internal Cannon’ (The first song to be given the promotional video clip treatment) is an interesting follow up track, with the band incorporating some Latin flavoured guitar work in the vein of Between The Buried And Me to spice the song writing up, while on ‘Carpe Diem’, the use of slower tempos and sparse atmospheric slide guitar work showcase the band’s willingness to experiment beyond the preconceived parameters of the typical metalcore genre.
Elsewhere, the use of spoken word and gang vocal passages within ‘Salt & Light’ is one of the true stand out cuts on the album and allows the band to present a different side of themselves to listeners.
But outside of the more experimental efforts, what really makes ‘Leveler’ stand out against ‘Constellations’ is its crushing heaviness and refined musicianship. Tracks such as ‘Boys Of Fall’ (Which is preceded by the brief instrumental piece ‘1/16/2011’), the fast paced pairing of ‘Divisions’ and ‘Pangaea’, the dual heaviness and melodic appeal of ‘Poor Millionaire’ and the title track ‘Leveler’ are all impressive demonstrations in technical finesse, as well as standing out as some of the most memorable songs the band have written to date.
‘Constellations’ was an accomplished effort, and definitely the band’s strongest musical statement at the time. But with ‘Leveler’, August Burns Red has managed to outdo themselves, and raise the bar for other acts to follow.

For more information on August Burns Red, check out - http://www.augustburnsred.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Entrenched - Preemptive Strike

Entrenched
Preemptive Strike
Independent Release

The mix of war related themes with death/thrash metal is hardly a new concept, with acts such as Bolt Thrower, newcomers Hail Of Bullets and Jungle Rot all incorporating war related lyrical concepts into their chosen take on extreme metal. Another newcomer to the realm of war based death/thrash metal is Entrenched - a Rochelle Park (New Jersey, U.S.) based two man outfit that first came together in 2009.
On ‘Preemptive Strike’, Entrenched (Who comprise of vocalist/guitarist/bassist Sean Fitzpatrick and ex-Antares vocalist/drummer Charles Snyder) have managed to put together a fairly impressive debut effort, with the pair showcasing their firm grasp on capturing an old-school death/thrash sound that sits comfortably amongst the bands mentioned above, but without sounding too derivative of any one act in particular.
The opening track ‘Intro (Mobilize)’ sets the scene perfectly, with the band relying more on creating the idealistic killing mood with a grooving metallic instrumental piece rather than relying solely on sound effects.
The follow-up track ‘Bred To Kill’ quite literally picks up where ‘Intro (Mobilize)’ fades out, and quickly establishes the sound and stylistic template that encompasses Entrenched’s song writing. Fast paced in places, and grooved out in others, punctuated with Slayer-influenced solos (Courtesy of guest guitarist Mike Mullins) and a dual vocal attack that adds a bit of variation into the mix, ‘Bred To Kill’ fulfils its objective of laying waste the listener in true killing form.
The thrashier based ‘ICBM’ (Which is opened with a spoken word sample from the 1982 B.B.C. documentary 'Nuclear War - A Guide To Armageddon’) tapers back the aggression to make way for a bit more groove, while the slightly faster and heavier ‘Landbrecher 666’ follows on in similar fashion, but faring a little weaker with its inclusion of solos that sound a little tacked on in places (Most notably the one that introduces the song).
‘Frenzied Amputation’, ‘Burnt And Destroyed’ and ‘Tooth And Nail’ (Which features a great quote from 1991’s ‘The Last Boy Scout’) are all solid battering ram efforts with a perfect blend of speed and aggression that only highlights the more groove based moments of the songs, while the slower and more doom based ‘Anesthetic Death’ is heavily influenced by Asphyx.
‘Dropping The Tsar Bomb’, which is by far the album’s heaviest and most punishing effort, and is a more than fitting way to bring the album to a close.
Overall, while ‘Preemptive Strike’ does have some minor issues (Some of the solos don’t slot into the songs like they should, and some of the songs aren’t quite as strong as others), it’s still a great album, and a worthy way for Entrenched to make their mark on the war/metal scene, and comes highly recommended.

For more information on Entrenched, check out - http://www.myspace.com/entrenchedusa

© Justin Donnelly

Lock Up - Necropolis Transparent

Lock Up
Necropolis Transparent
Nuclear Blast Records/Riot! Entertainment/Warner Music Australia

It’s hard to believe that its taken more than six years since we last heard anything new from the all-star grindcore/death metal U.K. outfit Lock Up - namely 2005’s Japanese only live release ‘Play Fast Or Die - Live In Japan’.
But after a lengthy hiatus, Swedish vocalist Tomas Lindberg (At The Gates/Disfear/The Great Deceiver), Chilean guitarist Anton Reisenegger (Criminal/Inner Sanctum; who joined the group in 2009 after Jesse Pintado’s death in August 2006), bassist Shane Embury (Napalm Death/Venomous Concept/Brujeria), drummer Nicholas Barker (Ex-Cradle Of Filth/Dimmu Borgir) once again regrouped, and over the last two years, have been working on the band’s long awaited follow-up to 2002’s masterpiece ‘Hate Breeds Suffering’.
Despite the years between albums, and the change of guitarists within the line-up, Lock Up’s third release ‘Necropolis Transparent’ picks up where they last left things, with the album unashamedly forsaking experimentation in favour of delivering an old school sounding mix of grindcore and death metal that is designed purely to crush and destroy everything in its path.
Comprised of sixteen tracks, and clocking in at just over forty one minutes, Lock Up don’t waste time in getting straight down to business with the fast paced blast of ‘Brethren Of The Pentagram’. Boasting plenty of razor sharp riffing, a huge bass sound underpinning the guitars riffs, relentless blast beats on the drum front and a ravaged and biting presence out from Lindberg, Lock Up aren’t exactly reinventing themselves on the two minute opening track. But what the band lack in innovation, they sure make up in heaviness, speed and inspiration, which is exactly what fans want from a new Lock Up album.
From here, the album virtually never lets up, with each ensuing track delivered with the same level of venom, and in the same breakneck speed. But despite this, ‘Necropolis Transparent’ has enough variation from track to track to keep things from sounding too stale or repetitive.
In terms of highlights, there’s plenty to be found throughout the album. But those worthy of a special mention include ‘The Embodiment Of Paradox And Chaos’ (One of the many tracks to feature a guest appearance from Carcass front man Jeff Walker on backing vocals), the grooving mid-paced ‘Parasite Drama’, ‘Rage Incarnate Reborn’, ‘Life Of Devastation’ (Which originally appeared on the band’s split E.P. effort with Misery Index earlier in the year), the Slayer-like ‘Infiltrate And Destroy’, ‘Through The Eyes Of My Shadow Self’ (Featuring original vocalist/Hypocrisy/Pain front man Peter Tägtgren on backing vocals) and the closing instrumental ‘Tartarus’ (Which sounds reminiscent of Napalm Death’s ‘Weltschmerz’ on 2006’s ‘Smear Campaign’).
There have been a lot of years between releases for Lock Up, but you wouldn’t know it by the sound of ‘Necropolis Transparent’, as the band sounds just as potent and intense as they did a decade ago on their debut. And really, who would expect anything less given the strength of their two earlier efforts, and from the names of those involved within the band.

For more information on Lock Up, check out - http://www.myspace.com/lockup

© Justin Donnelly

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

All Else Fails - The Oracle - What Was, Is, And Could Have Been

All Else Fails
The Oracle - What Was, Is, And Could Have Been
Suicidal Bride Records

It’s hard to really stand out as an individual within today’s metalcore scene, especially when almost every new act that emerges out of the overpopulated scene claims originality, only to sound like a clone of some of the bigger name acts that tower above the masses. But it’s not impossible to present listeners with something a little different, and proof of that is well and truly evident in the sound that Canadian (St. Albert, Edmonton, Alberta based) band All Else Fails produce.
Following on from an independently released self-titled E.P. (2006), a live C.D./D.V.D. (2007’s ‘Of Ashes And Accusations’) and a full length album (2009’s ‘Against The Darkening Sky’), the four piece act (Comprising of vocalist/guitarist/programmer Barrett Klesko, guitarist Mike Sands, bassist/vocalist Seedy Mitchell and drummer Tom Wolf) have finally unveiled their latest release ‘The Oracle - What Was, Is, And Could Have Been’. And to put it in simple terms – it’s a pretty solid release.
After a lengthy orchestral/band introductory piece (Which is unimaginatively titled ‘Overture’, but definitely a very cool start to the album), All Else Fails gets things underway with ‘This World In Flames’. As the title that adorns the album hints at in the most subtlest of ways, ‘This World In Flames’ represents a piece of the band’s past, with this version a re-recording of the same song that appeared on their debut E.P. Sound wise, there’s plenty of heavy and upfront guitars in the band’s sound, but what separates All Else Fails from most acts is the different keyboard sounds that run throughout the track, the mix of light and shades in terms of tempos, and the careful mix of both clean and growled vocals utilised throughout the song. Sure, the production isn’t a million dollars, and the clean vocals do sound a little weak in places, but there’s no mistaking the fact that underneath the mask of imperfections, there is a good song there.
Outside the acoustic version of ‘This World In Flames’ that appears in the latter half of the album, Fallen’ is the other older track that has been given a revisit, having only previously appeared in live form on their live C.D./D.V.D. The studio version is definitely a worthy reworking of the live favourite, and shouldn’t disappoint those who are already familiar with the original.
In terms of the ‘Is’ in the album title, this album does consist mostly of new tracks, and plenty of gems amongst them, including ‘Twilight Of Mankind’, ‘Monster Eats The Pilot’, the crushing ‘Rebirth’ and the symphonic/metallic based stand out effort ‘Obsidian Walls’.
Making up the remainder of the album (‘Could Have Been’) is a fairly faithful cover of Alice In Chains’ ‘Sludge Factory’, and a totally bizarre tune titled ‘Robots!!! KOLTG’, which was apparently supposed to be included on a game, but was obviously never used.
After sitting through an endless supply of metalcore acts that seem to all originate from the same song writing pool, it’s refreshing to hear an act like All Else Fails who obviously strive for a sound that is different from most.
Sure, ‘The Oracle - What Was, Is, And Could Have Been’ has some flaws, and not everything on the album is quite up to scratch. But if I was offered another rehash of something I’ve heard a million times over or this album, there’s no question All Else Fails would win every time.

For more information on All Else Fails, check out - http://www.allelsefails.ca/

© Justin Donnelly

Monday, July 25, 2011

Communic - The Bottom Deep

Communic
The Bottom Deep
Nuclear Blast Records/Riot! Entertainment/Warner Music Australia

As good as Comunic’s first two releases were (2005’s ‘Conspiracy In Mind’ and 2006’s ‘Waves Of Visual Decay’), I couldn’t help but think that the Norwegian based outfit were nothing more than an inferior clone to U.S. progressive power metal outfit Nevermore.
But with the release of their third album ‘Payment Of Existence’ in 2008, it seemed as though the three-piece act (Comprising of vocalist/guitarist Oddleif Stensland, bassist Erik Mortensen and drummer Tor Atle Andersen) were starting to shed a bit of their similarities to Nevermore, and forge a path that revealed a bit more of their own personality.
Three years since then, and Communic are back with their fourth full-length effort ‘The Bottom Deep’, and I was genuinely looking forward to seeing what the band had to offer.
Conceptually based, deeply personal and retaining the darker and heavier influences that really took a hold of their last album, ‘The Bottom Deep’ is anything but an easy listen, and like any of Communic’s releases, ‘The Bottom Deep’ requires a lot of patience from the listener to really allow the band’s compositions to sink in. But while the band’s former releases have eventually made an impact, there’s something about ‘The Bottom Deep’ that doesn’t stick as steadfast as their former efforts.
The opening track ‘Facing Tomorrow’ is a huge opening number that really does impress from the moment the huge wall of guitars amplify the powerful opening riff. ‘Facing Tomorrow’ is a densely constructed song that brings out a crushing sound from the band, with the only respite coming in the form of the slower choruses, where Stensland’s positively exudes power and emotion.
Slowing down the pace to highlight some of the more atmospheric elements within Communic’s overall sound is the impressive ‘Denial’ and ‘In Silence With My Scars’, while ‘Flood River Blood’ and ‘Voyage Of Discovery’ show a cutting back on the heavier sounds to make way for a little more dynamics, which gives the tunes more variation than some of the other more punishing efforts.
‘Wayward Soul’ is something a little different for the band, with the song’s combination of melodic riffs and choruses balanced out perfectly with the darker themes presented on the lyrical front, while the acoustic based title track ‘The Bottom Deep’ is a decidedly shorter epilogue effort that finishes the album perfectly.
Despite the long list of positives, ‘The Bottom Deep’ does have its drawbacks. The most notable is a problem that has plagued the band for some time, and that’s the general running length of the songs. I’ve got nothing against long tracks, but some of the tracks here seem to drag a little too long without really altering their course, which in turn makes the album feel stretched.
The other is the density of the album overall. I’m all for heaviness, but some of the dynamics and subtleties of the band’s earlier releases have gone by the wayside to make way for that heavier sound, which is disappointing.
Overall, ‘The Bottom Deep’ is a good album, but not quite up to matching ‘Payment Of Existence’. Regardless, fans will no doubt be pleased with Communic’s new offering.

For more information on Communic, check out - http://www.communic.org/

© Justin Donnelly

George Lynch - Kill All Control

George Lynch
Kill All Control
Rocket Science Inc.

Despite the low profile his releases may get these days, and the somewhat ill-advised direction some of those releases have taken at times, former Dokken guitarist George Lynch is at the very least a prolific survivor who refuses to live life in the past, or live off his former glories.
Following hot on the heels of his patchy orchestral/instrumental release ‘Orchestral Mayhem’ from last year, Lynch is back in more familiar territory with ‘Kill All Control’.
Originally envisioned as a follow-up to Souls Of We’s debut effort ‘Let The Truth Be Known’ (Which was released back in 2008), ‘Kill All Control’ eventually took on a completely different life after vocalist London LeGrand (Ex-Brides Of Destruction) was unable to commit to the project at the time, which meant that Lynch and his band (Run Run Run bassist Nic Speck and Powerman 5000 drummer Adrian Ost) decided to utilise the services of several vocalists, which was a similar approach Lynch adopted for his own debut effort ‘Sacred Groove’ in 1993.
Lynch opens up the album with the title track ‘Kill All Control’, which is a great hard rocking number featuring the combined vocal talents of BulletBoys front man Marq Torien and Earshot’s Will Martin. Musically, Lynch allows the vocalists plenty of space to put in some great performances, but still manages to add enough shredding moments to keep fans of guitarists more than pleased.
Both Torien and Martin team up again on the huge sounding ‘Fly On The Wall’, which is undoubtedly a definite stand out cut on the album, and finishing up their collaborative efforts on the fast paced ‘Sun’, which is another great cut, barring a sole out of range scream from Torien that would have best been left on the cutting room floor.
On the solo front, Martin adds an obvious modern edge to tracks such as ‘Done’, the moody ‘Brand New Day’ and the Alice In Chains like ‘Voices In My Head’, so much so that it’s hard to recognise Lynch anywhere on the tracks outside the solos, even if they do stand out in their own right.
Although unable to commit to the entire album, LeGrand did manage to make his mark on the album with the impressive semi-acoustic based ‘Wicked Witch’ and the up-tempo rocker ‘Go It Alone’. But if there’s one track where LeGrand really makes his own, it’s ‘My Own Enemy’. Both lyrically and musically darker than what you would normally expect, ‘My Own Enemy’ boasts a killer performance from both, and is undoubtedly the album’s highlight.
Rounding out the vocal tracks on the album are three tracks fronted by Montrose/Burning Rain vocalist Keith St. John (Namely the stunning ‘Resurrect Your Soul’, ‘Rattlesnake’ and ‘Man On Fire’), all of which are more in line with the classic Lynch Mob sound with their huge melodic choruses, hard rock sound and Lynch’s ever present guitar work.
Finishing up the album is Lynch himself with ‘Son Of Scary’ – an official sequel of sorts to his trademark infamous instrumental classic ‘Mr. Scary’, which originally appeared on Dokken’s ‘Back For The Attack’ album from 1988. As expected, the song doesn’t stray too far from the original in terms of its overall theme and feel, but is different enough to distance itself from the original to be considered something new.
Lynch has always been his own worst enemy in musical terms, with almost all of his albums showcasing Lynch’s willingness to try his hand at a whole new genre. At times, the results are less than impressive, and more often than not leave diehard fans confused.
But with ‘Kill All Control’, Lynch has managed to put together a fairly consistent effort, and a release that will appeal to fans who have been hanging out for Lynch to just rock out, without trying too hard to fit in with the ever changing ‘in sound’ of today’s hard rock scene.

For more information on George Lynch, check out - http://www.georgelynch.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Queensrÿche - Dedicated To Chaos

Queensrÿche
Dedicated To Chaos
Loud & Proud Records/Roadrunner Records/Warner Music Australia

There’s no question that Washington based outfit Queensrÿche were considered one of the most thought proving progressive metal acts in their early days. But after losing guitarist Chris DeGarmo following the release of 1997’s rather disappointing ‘Hear In The Now Frontier’, the lack of creative spark within the band has only become more and more apparent with every new release.
Having weathered the vocal majority of old school fans’ disapproval of 2009’s rather mixed effort ‘American Soldier’, the four piece act (Who comprise of vocalist Geoff Tate, guitarist Michael Wilton, bassist Eddie Jackson and drummer Scott Rockenfield) are back with their twelfth studio album ‘Dedicated To Chaos’.
Much in the same vein as their former releases, ‘Dedicated To Chaos’ was hyped up by the band as an updated take on their classic ‘Rage For Order’ album (1986), but with a streamlined song writing structure that was evident on their ‘Empire’ album from 1990. Although having heard similar things in the past, the idea sounded intriguing, and when coupled with the cover artwork and talk of experimenting more this time around than ever before, I was definitely interested in what the band would deliver.
But for all of the talk leading up to the album’s release from within the band, ‘Dedicated To Chaos’ is just another middling effort from Queensrÿche.
The band get off to a solid enough start with ‘Get Started’ with its hard rock styled sound, upfront guitar sound, the song's catchy chorus and Tate’s own performance, who sounds stronger than he has done in some time. Unfortunately, while the song is O.K., it does have its pitfalls. Lyrically, Tate seems content to stick to a rather bland cliché, and the absence of anything remotely daring within the song’s construction (Including the notable non-appearance of a guitar solo) means that while it’s a good song, it’s hardly a Queensrÿche classic.
Although a little heavier, ‘Hot Spot Junkie’ just sounds too disjointed and out of key to be really enjoyable (Tate sounds likes he’s desperately trying to fit a square chorus into a rounded song structure), and the brief solo sounds like a rehash of the classic Queensrÿche sound in an attempt to convince fans that it is cutting edge.
The middle-eastern influence on ‘Got It Bad’ is an interesting touch, but is overshadowed by the abysmal lyrics Tate provides for the song, while the slower cabaret vibe of ‘Wot We Do’ and the funky/jazz elements within ‘Higher’ are more along the lines of songs that would fit better on a Tate solo effort than on a Queensrÿche album.
Despite veering more towards the mainstream side of rock, and lyrically naive and overly-optimistic (I’m thinking U2), ‘Around The World’ has its moments, but it’s the modern rock approach of tracks like ‘I Take You’ and ‘Retail Therapy’ that really give the album its blandness around its second half.
While the album has many flaws, it would be unfair to write it off as a complete failure. The darker and colder feel of ‘Drive’ is well done, with the assortment of whispers and voices heard throughout the song adding to the tracks cinematic vibe. And then there’s the driving/heavier delivered ‘The Lie’ and the moody ‘Promised Land’ (1994) like ‘Big Noize’, which proves that when put to the challenge, Tate can still have something to say.
Like nearly all of Queensrÿche’s releases since 1994, ‘Dedicated To Chaos’ is an album that has a mix of both the good and the bad, which also makes the album a frustrating listen for any fan.
I understand what the band was trying to do with ‘Dedicated To Chaos’, but sadly they just haven’t pulled it off, either musically or lyrically. Yes, some of the songs have some elements of the past included (Tate’s use of vocal effects and saxophone recall some of the sounds used throughout ‘Promised Land’), but their effects are lessened by the fact that as song writers, Queensrÿche these days struggle to stand out from the shadow their classic past work casts over them.
If you’ve enjoyed the direction the band have been taking since the departure of DeGarmo (Excluding 2006’s ill-fated sequel ‘Operation: Mindcrime II’ and 2007’s poor covers album ‘Take Cover’), then you’ll no doubt enjoy a few tunes on ‘Dedicated To Chaos’. Diehard fans that have been slowly losing faith over the last few years with the band’s lack of vision and progression will only view this album as the straw that finally broke the camel’s back.

For more information on Queensrÿche, check out - http://www.queensryche.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Friday, July 22, 2011

Apollo Pathway - Dress For Success

Apollo Pathway
Dress For Success
Independent Release

Having announced themselves on the scene with their debut single ‘Crème De La Cranka’ in late 2010, and following it up with their second single release ‘Never Ending Story’ earlier in the year, Banyule (Melbourne, Victoria, Australia) based pop/indie rock outfit Apollo Pathway have returned with their debut E.P. effort ‘Dress For Success’.
While the band’s first single was O.K., it was hardly a captivating effort.
But on the strength of their second offering, there was an element of growth evident that did at least hint at some future potential within the band.
As predicted, ‘Dress For Success’ is another step in the right direction for the young four piece act (Who comprise of vocalist/guitarist Tex Erwin, lead guitarist Cristian Barbieri, bassist Ryan Tregonning and drummer Patrick Carrick), and the kind of release that’s sure to pave the way for even greater success.
The opening title track ‘Dress For Success’ (Which is the band’s latest single, and the latest to be given the promotional video clip treatment) sounds like an amalgamation of the band’s obvious influences, with traces of Weezer’s simplistic rock template spliced together with Jimmy Eat World’s penchant for huge chorus hooks - both of which will no doubt help give the song plenty of attention on radio.
Despite having already been released, the harder hitting ‘Never Ending Story’ is included here to showcase the band’s broad array of sound in their song writing arsenal (Which certainly isn’t a bad thing), while the equally impressive ‘Are You Free’ helped keep the E.P. moving along in rocking fashion, and stands out as one of the E.P.’s strongest cuts with it’s huge melodies (Which bring to mind latter era Bodyjar without the speed or punk elements) and huge guitar sounds.
Finishing up the E.P. is the energetic ‘Rewind’, which again brings to the fore another of the band’s influences - this time The Cars.
While ‘Dress For Success’ is a little short on length with a total of four songs - there’s something to be said for quality over quantity. Apollo Pathway sure knows how to write great songs, and every cut on this E.P. is nothing short of perfect.
With the E.P. now on the shelves, and a string of live dates lined up around the country, Apollo Pathway needn’t have to worry about looking the part in order to achieve success - because sound wise, the band are already a runaway success story. This release comes highly recommended for fans of pop/indie rock with a touch of class.

For more information on Apollo Pathway, check out - https://www.facebook.com/pages/Apollo-Pathway/104377799642389

© Justin Donnelly

Black Stone Cherry - Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea

Black Stone Cherry
Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea
Roadrunner Records/Warner Music Australia

When Edmonton (Kentucky, U.S.) act Black Stone Cherry released their major label self-titled debut in 2006 (Which was technically their sophomore effort given they released an independent album titled ‘Rock N’ Roll Tape’ in 2003), it wasn’t exactly hailed as a classic, or went on to become an overnight success. But you could say that it was well received, and at least hinted at the real promise within the band.
And sure enough, the band’s follow-up release ‘Folklore And Superstition’ (2008) delivered on that potential shown on their debut, and proved that Black Stone Cherry’s clever blend of southern rock (In the vein of The Black Crowes, Blackfoot and Black Oak Arkansas) and classic hard rock was something sadly lacking in today’s scene – a void the band were more than happy to fill.
Three years on and the four piece act (Comprising of vocalist/rhythm guitarist Chris Robertson, lead vocalist/backing vocalist Ben Wells, bassist/backing vocals Jon Lawhon and drummer/backing vocals John Fred Young) are back with their highly anticipated new album ‘Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea’.
Given the progression and maturity in their song writing up until this point, you could surmise that the band’s latest release will not only be their strongest release to date, but quite possibly the album to really break the band into the mainstream.
Well, to be perfectly honest, ‘Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea’ will certainly get the band out to the masses, and in a major way. The problem is that it’ll do it for all the wrong reasons.
The opening track ‘White Trash Millionaire’ (Which is also the album’s first single/promotional video clip) isn’t exactly the sort of song I was hoping to hear from Black Stone Cherry and it’s nothing short of disappointing. While the song itself is musically O.K. (If a little over-simplified in the riff department), lyrically this is fairly cliché territory, and kind of like the stuff you would expect from the likes of Kid Rock. Add on top of that a production (Courtesy of hit-maker Howard Benson) where the dynamics are sacrificed in favour of a wall of noise, ‘White Trash Millionaire’ is clearly a step back for Black Stone Cherry in every possible way.
After a somewhat dubious start to the album, the band do manage to redeem themselves a little more with the heavy handed ‘Killing Floor’, which sees the band gear their sound and style more towards Alice In Chains, while maintaining the kind of chorus you would otherwise expect of them.
‘In My Blood’ is a solid track, and indicative of Black Stone Cherry’s familiar sound, but a little too polished to shake off the ‘made for radio’ tag, while the hard rocker ‘Such A Shame’ (Which features Halestorm vocalist Elizabeth Hale on backing vocals) could have come from the likes of Alter Bridge.
The band’s cover of The Marshall Tucker Band’s ‘Can’t You See’ is well done, if a little overbearing and dulled by the huge production, while the heavy ‘Change’ and the easy going ‘Like I Roll’ represent some of the album’s strongest efforts.
Despite their best efforts, ‘Blame It On The Boom Boom’ and ‘Let Me See You Shake’ are the big dumb arena anthems that you would expect Hinder to come up with, while the lightweight rock ‘Stay’ and the semi-acoustic ‘Won’t Let Go’ (Which again features Hale on vocals) are clear attempts of the band experimenting with a more mainstream sound, which I can’t say is ill-fitting, but more disappointing.
Finishing up the album is ‘All I’m Dreamin’ Of’, which at least ends the album on a high note. Although simplistic (Especially on the lyrical front), the country flavoured guitars and unusual percussion in the background given the song a real dynamic that’s probably closer to the real Black Stone Cherry soul than most of the tracks on the album.
If I hadn’t come across Black Stone Cherry’s previous releases, I would have considered ‘Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea’ a good album, if a little cliché in places and lacking in originality.
But because I am familiar with the band’s earlier albums, I’m disappointed by the shift towards stripped back song writing, the lowered standard on the lyrical front and the overbearing production on the album as a whole (Which has robbed the band of any sort of dynamics).
I still like Black Stone Cherry, but I sure hope that ‘Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea’ is a one off, and that the band will bounce back with something a little more substantial and interesting on their next effort.

For more information on Black Stone Cherry, check out - http://www.blackstonecherry.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Decapitated - Carnival Is Forever

Decapitated
Carnival Is Forever
Nuclear Blast Records/Riot! Entertainment/Warner Music Australia

After the tragic bus accident in 2007 that claimed the life drummer Witold ‘Vitek’ Kieltyka and put vocalist Adrian ‘Covan’ Kowanek into a coma, few would have genuinely expected Waclaw ‘Vogg’ Kieltyka to ever resurrect the name Decapitated. But against expectations, Vogg reassembled a whole new line-up (Including ex-Forgotten Souls/Ketha vocalist Rafal Piotrowski, bassist Filip ‘Heinrich’ Hałucha and drummer Kerim ‘Krimh’ Lechner), and toured the world under the Decapitated banner in honour of his fallen band members.
Having spent the last couple of years re-establishing themselves as a live act, the Polish outfit have now taken things to the next level and recorded a new album in ‘Carnival Is Forever’ – which is the band’s first album of new material since 2006’s ‘Organic Hallucinosis’.
Given that the line-up that makes up Decapitated these days is an entirely new one (Bar Vogg of course), some slight changes in sound and direction is something that can be expected from ‘Carnival Is Forever’. And sure enough, this album does represent a shift in direction for the band – and it’s a change that some may take a little getting used to.
The opening track ‘The Knife’ is a blasting fast paced introduction to the newly reborn Decapitated, and it’s an intense, heavy and darker return of the band. Technically dense, and yet strangely groovy at times (In a Meshuggah kind of way), ‘The Knife’ sounds like a natural step forward from where the band were heading with their last album, but different enough to showcase a progression in their time away.
‘United’ and ‘404’ are definite stand out tracks with their intricate guitar work, huge melodic grooves, relentless drum structures and aggressive vocal applications, while the slower and epic title track ‘Carnival Is Forever’ uses  subtle atmospherics in the background to add a sinister feel to proceedings, fuelling the bludgeoning effect of the song as a whole.
‘Homo Sum’ is surprisingly straightforward for most of its construction, and sounds oddly wide open and different with the guitar solo primarily backed only by the sounds of drums and gentle atmospheric noises, while the haunting acoustic instrumental piece ‘Silence’ is a little unexpected as an album closer, and only goes to show the band’s willingness to experiment and push their sound beyond their established technical death metal sound of old.
Further emphasising the band’s experimentation with direction can be found within the rhythmically catchy pairing of ‘A View From A Hole’ and ‘Pest’.
Decapitated have always been forward thinkers in terms of death metal, especially with their last couple of releases. In that respect, ‘Carnival Is Forever’ really isn’t that different. But while many would expect ‘Carnival Is Forever’ to be something more than just another death metal album, the change of sound and direction Decapitated have taken on this album may take some fans by surprise.
As long as you have an open mind (And ear), and remember that this is an entirely new make up of Decapitated, you’ll understand that ‘Carnival Is Forever’ really is another step forward for the band.

For more information on Decapitated, check out - http://www.decapitatedband.net/

© Justin Donnelly

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Death Strike - Fuckin’ Death

Death Strike
Fuckin’ Death
Dark Descent Records

Vocalist/bassist Paul Speckmann is a well known figure within the U.S. death metal scene through the long running underground cult act Master, who after twenty years are still going strong and delivering quality death metal to fans (As evident with 2010’s ‘The Human Machine’). Prior to forming Master, Speckmann started out with a couple of short lived projects, namely the doom based act War Cry, and the follow-up outfit Death Strike.
Death Strike didn’t have much of a history, but the brief period of time the band were active played an integral role in helping to establish the foundation that eventually led to Master.
Recorded in 1985, the band’s self-titled demo was a highly sought after four track recording that made some waves within the underground metal scene of the day. The said recording was later re-released on C.D. through Nuclear Blast Records in 1991 with four additional bonus tracks, cementing the band’s reputation and an important stepping stone to what would eventually establish Master onto the scene, and establish Speckmann as one of the U.S. underground extreme metal scene’s true founding figures.
Having long been out of print, Dark Descent Records has decided to re-release this long lost gem in expanded form with full consent from Speckmann (Who along with Olivier ‘Zoltar’ Badin from Terrorizer Magazine, provides some additional liner notes and some previously unseen early photographs for the expanded and lavishly revamped booklet).
The eight tracks that made up the track listing of the original Nuclear Blast Records release haven’t changed, with the opening four tracks on the album making up the tracks that appeared on the band’s sole demo tape ‘Fuckin’ Death’.
While all four tracks were later re-recorded by Master (Both on their self-titled debut from 1990, and on 2003’s ‘Unreleased 1985 Album’), there’s a definite sound and feel to the four tracks here (‘The Truth’, ‘Mangled Dehumanization’, ‘Pay To Die’ and ‘Re-Entry And Destruction’), which suggests that while in Death Strike, Speckmann was clearly influenced by the likes of Venom, Hellhammer and Motörhead, with traces of punk, primitive death ‘n’ roll and crossover/thrash evident throughout.
On the second half of this re-release, there’s an obvious change in style, with the lengthy ‘The Final Countdown’ revealing a definite doom influence, while the equally epic ‘Man Killed America/Embryonic Misconceptions’ (Which has its own twisted take on ‘God Bless America’ into its opening section) is far more punk edged with its d-beat drum underpinnings and faster tempo. ‘Pervert’, while great in its own right, is quite primitive in its structure and a little sloppy in terms of performance (Namely the drums), while ‘Remorseless Poison’ is a Hellhammer/Celtic Frost styled doom like classic.
Aside from the additional packaging, Dark Descent Records’ re-release of ‘Fuckin’ Death’ is expanded with the addition of four previously unreleased rehearsal tracks (‘Live For Free’, ‘The Truth’, ‘Pay To Die’ and ‘Master’).
While the additional tracks are interesting, the sound quality is really quite bad, and not the sort of thing that is likely to get anyone excited after a single listen except absolute diehards.
If you’ve never heard Death Strike before, and you’re a fan of early Master, then this re-release comes highly recommended. Death Strike may not have been as innovative or as renown as some other death metal/thrash ‘n’ roll acts in their time, but the recordings they made sure are one hell of a great listen.

For more information on Death Strike, check out - http://www.myspace.com/deathstikeusa

© Justin Donnelly

Enforce - Biblakill

Enforce
Biblakill
Independent Release/Green Media Distribution

Technically, Perth (Western Australia) based melodic death metal outfit Enforce have been around on the Australian metal scene for the better part of fifteen years (Having been founded way back in 1996), which means that from a time perspective, they could well stand as one of the country’s more enduring and resilient acts.
But in reality, Enforce have spend quite a lot of the last few years keeping a fairly low profile, with supporting slots alongside the likes of Destroyer666, The Berzerker, Cryptopsy, Behemoth, Obituary and Kreator giving an indication that the band was still an ongoing concern.
But after a lengthy eight years since the release of their second full-length effort ‘Message Of Death’, the revamped Enforce (Who comprise of vocalist/guitarist Guy Bell, lead guitarist/backing vocalist Rob Hartley, bassist/backing vocalist Scott ‘BoltZ’ Bultitude-Paull and drummer Troy Watson) have finally managed to put a solidified line-up together, and record their third album ‘Biblakill’.
After a brief instrumental introductory piece (‘Apocalyptic’), Enforce get the album underway with the fast paced and thrashing ‘Tank’. Musically, the band aren’t delivering anything that hasn’t already been heard before, but what they do serve up is fairly brutal (Especially on the vocal front, where Bell’s gruff vocal style comes across as a bellowed kind of bark), with a strong emphasis on groove and shred in just the right measure.
From here, Enforce don’t mess around too much with the formula, with tracks such as ‘Saint Of Killers’, the church scathing title track ‘Biblakill’ and ‘Ghost Of Fuhrer’s Past’ all delivered with the same attitude and aggression of the opening track.
In terms of highlights, ‘Strong Will Remain’ and ‘Armed With Sheer Hatred’ are definite favourites with their catchy hooks/grooves and melodic lead work, while the speeding duo of ‘Sacked’ (Which is preceded by the spoken word piece ‘Anger Management’, and is a not so subtle dig at a former member of the band) and ‘Pain Of F*****g Death’ are the strongest efforts within the heavier side of Enforce’s repertoire.
I’m not entirely convinced that the album really needed two versions of ‘Self Mutilation’ (The other being ‘Mutilation II’), even if the two tracks do have some distinct differences. I personally would have liked to hear another new track.
Production wise, ‘Biblakill’ is a little muddy sounding, which doesn’t help give the songs enough separation to really stand out against one another.
But aside from those couple of issues, ‘Biblakill’ is a solid enough album, and should at least give the band another excuse to hit the road once again.

For more information on Enforce, check out - http://www.myspace.com/enforceofficial

© Justin Donnelly

Iwrestledabearonce - Ruining It For Everybody

Iwrestledabearonce
Ruining It For Everybody
Century Media Records/E.M.I. Music Australia

Few bands within today’s metal scene polarise listeners quite like U.S. based outfit Iwrestledabearonce. While their debut full-length effort ‘It’s All Happening’ (Which was released in 2009) managed to attract some praise amongst critics who found the band’s metallic avant-garde mix of everything under the sun as refreshing as very different, others however weren’t as impressed, and merely dismissed the band as deliberately making their music difficult and quirky to both alienate and annoy listeners - lacking the necessary skills in song writing to ensure their songs had any long lasting appeal.
While my opinion of the five piece act (Comprising of vocalist Krysta Cameron, guitarists/programmers Steven Bradley and John Ganey, bassist Mike ‘Rickshaw’ Martin and drummer Mikey Montgomery) well and truly fell into the latter category, I was interested to see if they would mature as song writers between releases; as well as seeing how the band would fare in the long run with their second full-length effort. Well, two years and one remix E.P. (2010’s ‘It’s All Dubstep’) release later, Iwrestledabearonce are back with ‘Ruining It For Everybody’.
The most immediate impression I got when listening to their latest effort is that the bizarre and downright weird elements that were evident on their debut release is still very much present once again.
Musically, the same schizophrenic mix of metalcore, electronica, grindcore, lounge music and everything else you can think of remains true to the sound that made them stand out in the first place. And on the vocal front, Cameron pushes the envelope in terms of utilising a wider range of vocal effects this time around, including a far greater prominence of cleaner passages to break up the monotony of her guttural growls.
But while the core elements of what makes up Iwrestledabearonce are still in place, it’s the band’s song writing that really stands out, and ultimately separates ‘It’s All Happening’ from ‘Ruining It For Everybody’.
Fleshed out with flashes of cheesy keyboard passages, passages of grindcore, metallic funk and clean vocals that add a symphonic touch, the opening track ‘Next Visible Delicious’ is a hybrid clash of everything you would expect from the band, but clearly with a bit more thought put into its overall construction.
The single/promotional video clip ‘You Know That Ain’t Them Dogs’ Real Voices’ doesn’t stray too far from the template laid down by the opener, with the exception of some heavier guitar passages and a brief Elvis impression around the three quarter mark, while the choral effects toward the tail end of ‘Deodorant Can’t Fix Ugly’ is a definite highlight.
The chilled out ‘This Head Music Makes My Eyes Rain’ is something a little more straightforward and maturer sounding from what you would normally expect of the band, and is easily one of the strongest songs on the album for that very reason, while the multifaceted ‘Gold Jacket, Green Jacket’ and the strings enhanced, disco infused and catchy ‘Karate Nipples’ are further strong moments on the album.
Unfortunately, not everything on ‘Ruining It For Everybody’ works. Song writing is still a big stumbling block for the band, and one of the major reasons why many of the tracks seem to sound alike after a while.
Overall, ‘Ruining It For Everybody’ is an improvement on the band’s debut, and should please those who enjoyed the band in the past. But despite the positives, this album isn’t likely to change the minds of those who weren’t convinced of the band’s musical credentials in the first place.

For more information on Iwrestledabearonce, check out - http://www.iwrestledabearonce.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Symphony X - Iconoclast

Symphony X
Iconoclast
Nuclear Blast Records/Riot! Entertainment/Warner Music Australia

Looking over their long and distinguished seventeen years together, it’s near impossible to point at any one particular moment where progressive power metal act Symphony X have faltered, taken the wrong step or fallen below the expectations fans have of their music.
And a good reason for that is that the New Jersey (U.S.) based outfit take their time when making albums, ensuring that quality outweighs quantity, and that nothing is ever rushed and released until it’s absolutely ready.
Not surprisingly, four long years have passed since the band released the highly acclaimed ‘Paradise Lost’ album, and fans have been waiting patiently for the group’s next magnum opus with huge anticipation.
But after an endless wait, the five piece act (Who are vocalist Russell Allen, guitarist/principal songwriter Michael Romeo, bassist Mike LePond, keyboardist Michael Pinnella and drummer Jason Rullo) have finally lifted the veil on their eighth full-length effort ‘Iconoclast’. And sure enough, it’s another amazing piece of work.
Thematically based on the increase in technology hastening the demise of mankind, the title track ‘Iconoclast’ opens up the album in a heavy fashion that sounds like a natural step forward from where the band last left things with ‘Paradise Lost’, with the gang vocals utilized in choruses bringing to mind Quennsrÿche around the ‘Rage For Order’ (1986) era (Which, not surprisingly, was an album that also addressed a somewhat similar theme). Although quite heavy in terms of riffs and modern groove passages, the song still bears plenty of Symphony X’s trademark sounds with its subtle orchestration and choral passages, while Pinnella provides the neo-classical component with his flashes of keyboards in and around the epic eleven minute track. Allen’s aggressive vocal approach sounds a little more confident than it did on the band’s last album, while Romeo’s guitar playing is a real stand out.
The first single ‘The End Of Innocence’ relies less on bludgeoning the listener with metal and steps up the more progressive elements within the band’s overall sound, and features a gloriously catchy/towering performance from Allen, while ‘Dehumanized’, ‘Bastards Of The Machine’ and ‘Heretic’ dwell more on the other end of the band’s sound spectrum with aggression filtering out through the vocals (Without losing any of the essential hooks that are prevalent in all of Symphony X’s songs) and the hard and heavy riffing.
Sounding somewhere between the two styles mentioned about sits ‘Children Of A Faceless God’ and ‘Electric Messiah’, both of which sounds reminiscent of the material that featured on the band’s classic ‘The Odyssey’ release from 2002, albeit with a slightly heavier guitar dominance, while Romeo showcases his technical abilities on the pseudo-thrash based ‘Prometheus (I Am Alive)’.
Finishing up the album is ‘When All Is Lost’, which starts out in ballad form, but eventually twists and turns through a variety of tempos and moods to close the album in a truly powerful manner. This track is again another that brings to mind the direction the band took with ‘The Odyssey’, particularly in terms of Allen’s clean vocals and the melodic nature of the choruses themselves.
Symphony X has yet to disappoint me, and ‘Iconoclast’ is no exception. Sure, the neo-classical and progressive influences of the band’s earlier years have taken a backseat over simplified song structures and heavier guitar presence, but the song writing is still as strong as ever, and the musicianship (Including the vocals) never fall below par.
In the end, if you have enjoyed the direction the band have taken over the course of their last three releases, you’ll find that ‘Iconoclast’ is a must have release.

For more information on Symphony X, check out - http://www.symphonyx.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Monday, July 18, 2011

Def Leppard - Mirror Ball – Live & More

Def Leppard
Mirror Ball – Live & More
Bludgeon Riffola Ltd./Frontiers Records/Riot! Entertainment/Warner Music Australia

Throughout U.K. hard rock act Def Leppard’s long and illustrious thirty years together, they have released a whole host of live bits and pieces to fans, whether it be the odd b-side to a single, on a live video (1989’s ‘Live: In The Round, In Your Face’, 1993’s ‘Visualize’ and 1995’s ‘Video Archive’, all of which have since been released on D.V.D.) or as additional extras to deluxe remasters of both 1983’s ‘Pyromania’ (The bonus disc features an energetic performance from the band at the L.A. Forum from the same year) and 1992’s ‘Adrenalize’ (The somewhat hard to find ‘Live: In The Clubs, In Your Face’ E.P. from 1992). But while there’s been no shortage of live material released, to date, Def Leppard has never officially released a full-length official live album for fans. That was until now.
After spending most of 2008/2009 touring the globe in support of their ‘Songs From The Sparkle Lounge’ album (2008), the five piece act (Who comprise of vocalist Joe Elliott, guitarists/backing vocalists Phil Collen and Vivian Campbell, bassist/backing vocalist Rick Savage and drummer/backing vocalist Rick Allen) have finally put together their first live release ‘Mirror Ball – Live & More’.
Comprising of two audio discs and a D.V.D., you would think that the band have put the ultimate package together for fans. And in some ways, you could say that they have. But having said that, I can’t help but feel a little short-changed after discovering what has been seen fit to include on this package.
The two audio discs is essentially a collection of the band’s greatest hits performed live from several performances throughout their ‘Sparkle Lounge Tour’. The twenty-one tracks that make up the set list will no doubt be familiar to most (Even those with only a passing knowledge of the band’s vast back catalogue), with six tracks lifted from 1987’s ‘Hysteria’ (‘Rocket’, ‘Animal’, ‘Love Bites’, ‘Hysteria’, ‘Armageddon It’ and ‘Pour Some Sugar On Me’), five from 1983’s ‘Pyromania’ (‘Rock! Rock! (Till You Drop)’, ‘Too Late For Love’, ‘Foolin’’, ‘Rock Of Ages’ and ‘Photograph’), two from 1992’s ‘Adrenalize’ (‘Make Love Like A Man’ and ‘Let’s Get Rocked’) and two from 1981’s ‘High ‘n’ Dry’ (The Steve Clark classic ‘Switch 625’ and an acoustic rendition of ‘Bringin’ On The Heartbreak’). The remainder is made up of tracks from 2008’s ‘Songs From The Sparkle Lounge’ (‘C’mon C’mon’, ‘Bad Actress’ and ‘Nine Lives’), 2006’s ‘Yeah!’ (A cover of David Essex’s ‘Rock On’) and 1993’s ‘Retro Active’ (‘Two Steps Behind’ and a cover of Sweet’s ‘Action’).
Highlights are a bit of a challenge to select given that, as expected, Def Leppard’s performance throughout the live discs is nothing short of great. But if a choice had to be made, ‘Switch 625’, ‘Two Steps Behind’, ‘Animal’ and ‘Rock! Rock! (Till You Drop)’ are definite favourites.
Although the sound of the recordings themselves is nice and sharp, the crowd noise is mixed a little too low at times, but it’s only a small niggling point to make about the recordings themselves.
The bigger issue I have with the audio discs is the track listing. I can understand Def Leppard’s desire to please the masses with a greatest hits live set, but surely it wouldn’t have been too hard to throw in a couple of obscure tracks for the diehard fans. I mean after all, it would have been great to see at least one track from the four albums that aren’t represented at all (In particular ‘1980’s ‘On Through The Night’, 1996’s ‘Slang’, 1999’s ‘Euphoria’ and 2002’s ‘X’). It’s impossible to please everyone, but after getting more of the same songs live on this live release once again (The singles from ‘Hysteria’ come to mind), I can’t help feel that Def Leppard have opted to go with a safe bet on the set list rather than gamble on some more daring decisions to include some lesser known efforts. The live recordings are great, but all in all, still a little disappointing.
As for the three new studio tracks, well it’s another mixed bag.
The Elliott penned ‘Undefeated’ is a hard rocker that’s easily the pick of the bunch with it’s hard rocking riffs, huge backing vocals and solid groove, while Collen’s ‘It’s All About Believin’’ is another great tune that sounds like classic Def Leppard.
Unfortunately, as much as I appreciate Savage’s love of Queen, his ‘Kings Of The World’ just doesn’t work for me. If you enjoyed Savage’s ‘Love’ from ‘Songs From The Sparkle Lounge’ album, then you’ll no doubt love this. Needless to say, that song didn’t do that much for me either.
The third disc on this triple set is a D.V.D., and it was the one disc that I really was looking forward to. But while the package looked promising, the offerings were nothing short of disappointing.
Running just a touch over fifty-eight minutes, the D.V.D. comprises of two promotional video clips from the band’s last studio album (‘Nine Lives’ and ‘C’mon C’mon’), some behind the scenes footage of the band on the ‘Sparkle Lounge Tour’ (Which is mildly interesting), some footage of the band recording the new studio tracks (Again, interesting, but hardly essential) and four live songs (‘Rock! Rock! (Till You Drop)’, ‘Armageddon It’, ‘Pour Some Sugar On Me’ and ‘Hysteria’).
I really don’t understand why Def Leppard didn’t focus on including more on the D.V.D.’s, and relegating the audio discs as the bonus component. At the very least the D.V.D. should have include an additional live show of tracks that weren’t included on the live album. But as it stands, the D.V.D. is nothing more than a curiosity piece, and something that won’t be watched more than a couple of times, making it a wasted opportunity for the band.
Live albums were seriously big business years ago, and had this album been released fifteen/twenty years ago, it would have been a runaway success. But these days, it’s all about D.V.D.’s, with the live discs merely a bonus to deluxe packages.
‘Mirror Ball – Live & More’ is a great live album, and one that more than proves that Def Leppard are still rocking. Casual fans will no doubt snap this release up, and be pleased with what it has to offer. But I can’t help but feel that the band is losing touch with some diehard fans who still remember the band both before and after 1987 through to 1995.

For more information on Def Leppard, check out - http://www.defleppard.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Origin - Entity

Origin
Entity
Nuclear Blast Records/Riot! Entertainment/Warner Music Australia

If you were to compile a list of leaders within the extreme/technical death metal scene, Kansas (U.S.) based outfit Origin is certainly a name that would make an appearance, even though their profile isn’t quite that of some other well known acts. Over the course of four full-length albums, Origin has made a considerable name for themselves within the scene with their sheer brutality, their technical prowess and the speed at which they deliver their music.
But despite their impressive display of skills on the instrumental front, the one thing Origin lacked over most others was their ability to write songs that really stuck in the mind as memorable. Speed and technical finesse are definitely strong attributes, but don’t amount to much when you can’t remember a single song after the album has come to a close.
With three years having passed since the release of their last album (2008’s ‘Antithesis’), Origin have once again returned with their fifth effort ‘Entity’ – their first for Nuclear Blast Records after parting ways with Relapse Records.
Within that time, the band has undergone a serious transformation, with the five piece outfit now trimmed down to a three piece after vocalist James Lee and guitarist Jeremy Turner parted ways with the band in 2010, leaving vocalist/guitarist Paul Ryan, bassist/vocalist Mike Flores and drummer John Longstreth as the core line-up. Initially, I wasn’t expecting a great deal from their latest album, especially given that both Ryan and Flores provided back-up vocals in the past. But to my complete surprise, ‘Entity’ is a new start, and one that I believe is a positive step up from anything the band has released in the past.
The opening track ‘Expulsion Of Fury’ is exactly the sort of track you would expect from the band, with the track a barrage of speeding riffs and drums delivered with unrelenting fury. Straight away, you can tell that the production and mix are far superior than anything from the band’s last effort, while the shifts in tempo throughout the song allows the listener to pick up on certain passages that might otherwise have been missed.
The shorter pair of ‘Swarm’ and ‘Purgatory’ follows along the same lines of the opener, with both sounding incredibly tight, intense and relentless from the moment they start to their eventual conclusions, while ‘Conceiving Death’ again sees the band try something a little different by slowing down certain passages, which not only adds a little more structure to their chaotic musical approach, but allows the listener a little more breathing space than usual.
Around the middle of the album, Origin’s latest effort really starts to take off, with ‘Saligia’ the first of many highlights. From its speeding/technical outset, through to its melodic lead work in the middle section through to the effects thrown on the pummelling tail end, this track really one of the strongest and memorable efforts on the album.
Origin return to blast territory with the rapid fire punch of ‘Fornever’ (Which is preceded by the rather unexpected and moody instrumental piece ‘The Descent’), the different and experimental (But no less worthy) ‘Committed’ and the grinding/Napalm Death-like ‘Banishing Illusion’, before compiling all the many aspects of what makes up their varied sound into the epic showcase that is ‘Consequence Of Solution’. Continually shifting tempos and changes of direction within a single song is not a new technique for Origin, but never has it worked so well for them in the past like it does in this track. Again, this is another stand out cut from the album.
Finishing up the album is ‘Evolution Of Extinction’, which is another full-on blast, but unmistakably also one of the catchiest efforts from the band (In terms of a chorus hook), and therefore another of the album’s unexpected highlights.
I’ve always liked Origin, not so much for their ability to craft memorable songs, but for their unrelenting brutality. But with ‘Entity’, the band has managed to put the two components together, without compromising one bit of their former strengths. And it’s that combination that has allowed ‘Entity’ to grab a hold of me in ways their former releases didn’t. ‘Entity’ will no doubt take some listeners by surprise with its shift in direction, but for me, this is by far Origin’s strongest musical statement to date.

For more information on Origin, check out - http://www.myspace.com/origin

© Justin Donnelly

Suicide Silence - The Black Crown

Suicide Silence
The Black Crown
Century Media Records/E.M.I. Music Australia

California (Riverside) based deathcore/metal act Suicide Silence didn’t make much of a lasting impression on me with their debut offering ‘The Cleansing’ (2007), with the band’s music coming across as nothing more than style over substance. With their follow-up release ‘No Time To Bleed’ (2009), there were some minor improvements heard in the band’s attempts to diversify their sound, but apart from a couple of songs, the vast majority of the album seemed to suffer from the same faults that plagued their debut - their inability to write songs that truly stood out as anything memorable. Given the slight improvement in sound and direction I found between the band’s first two offerings, I had held out some hope that the five piece act (Comprising of vocalist Mitch Lucker, guitarists Chris Garza and Mark Heylmun, bassist Daniel Kenny and drummer Alex Lopez) would once again show some progression from ‘No Time To Bleed’ to their latest release ‘The Black Crown’. But despite claims made by the band about the progression their sound has made over the last couple of years, Suicide Silence’s third album is pretty much business as usual for the U.S. act.
The opening track ‘Slaves To Substance’ is certainly one of the album’s more interesting efforts, with the band trademark all out aggressive assault on the senses combined with elements of strong groove, a slower tempo and some rather cool atmospheric passages to break up the monotony of straight ahead deathcore/metalcore.
‘O.C.D.’ (Which otherwise stands for obsessive-compulsive disorder, a condition Lucker is afflicted with) is noteworthy with its brief inclusion of clean vocals, while ‘Human Violence’ benefits from a shredding solo. And then there’s ‘You Only Live Once’, which is undoubtedly one of the band’s catchiest efforts to date. All of these differing elements help give the songs enough variation from what you would typically expect from the band, which earn themselves a place amongst some of the band’s more solid and thought out efforts.
But as strong as the opening four tracks are, the band can’t seem to maintain the consistency, with the lyrically vacant ‘Fuck Everything’ and the rather pointless interlude piece ‘March To The Black Crown’ adding nothing to the album.
Korn vocalist Jonathan Davis does add a little something extra to ‘Witness The Addiction’ with his clean singing through the choruses, but otherwise the song is fairly run of the mill for Suicide Silence. The same too can be said for ‘Cross-Eyed Catastrophe’, which would have been a fairly predictable offering had it not been for Eyes Set To Kill vocalist Alexia Rodriguez' atmospheric backing vocals.
‘Smashed’ on the other hand is a little more impressive, with Suffocation vocalist Frank Mullen putting in a towering performance and the music drifting more towards death metal rather than metalcore. But while the track does have its strong elements, it’s ultimately letdown with some rather cliché lyrics from Lucker.
Finishing up the album are ‘The Only Thing That Sets Us Apart’ and ‘Cancerous Skies’, both of which are solid, and pretty much typical of Suicide Silence’s standard fare.
‘The Black Crown’ does show a little progression for Suicide Silence from their first couple of releases, but not enough to honestly call the album a huge departure from what you would expect from their past efforts.
Musically, the band is stretching their field a little, relying less on metalcore’s generic sounds, and embracing a little more of their collective deathcore influences. But in terms of lyrical content, and the memorability of their latest offerings, the band remains unchanged.
If you liked Suicide Silence’s first couple of albums, then you’ll enjoy ‘The Black Crown’ to some extent. Others will merely pass this off as another variation of the same thing for a third time around.

For more information on Suicide Silence, check out - http://www.suicidesilence.net/

© Justin Donnelly

Trillion Red - Two Tongues

Trillion Red
Two Tongues
Independent Release

Trillion Red is a two piece act comprising of vocalist/guitarist/bassist/keyboardist Patrick Brown and drummer Max Woodside, who hailing from San Francisco (California, U.S.) initially came together to collaborate on music back in 2009. Having spent the better part of a year piecing together songs, Trillion Red has finally unveiled their debut E.P. effort ‘Two Tongues’ into the underground metal scene.
Influenced by a diverse array of music from a variety of genres, the musical output of Trillion Red’s debut effort is every bit as hard to describe as you would expect, and even harder given that the band themselves have difficulty labelling themselves without being pigeonholed.
But if I was to summarise their sound, I would say that the four tracks that make up the pair’s release is best described as progressive/avant-garde metal with a distinct doom metal/gothic rock edge.
The opening track ‘No Visible Help (Hold Tight!)’ gives you an idea of what to expect from Trillion Red’s vast array of sounds and textures, with the guitars providing a strong groove throughout, the drums quite up-front in the mix, and Brown’s vocal presence giving the song a really experimental and bizarre feel with everything from tortured whispers, off keyed howls, some growls and straight forward melancholy clean sounding vocals packed into its five minutes. Despite the pair’s difficulty in determining the song’s true musical direction, ‘No Visible Help (Hold Tight!)’ is definitely a strong opening effort.
The schizophrenic piecing together of the two songs ‘Forging Two Tongues/A Reckoning’ into the one is a strange hybrid mix of extremities, with one half of the song taking on a depressive/half speed shoegazer vibe, while the other is a fast paced/blast beat filled Voivod approach to experimental rock. The move from one piece to another has a bit of a jarring feel at times, which makes it a difficult listen over the course of eight minutes. In other words, while it does have some good ideas, they don’t quite work seamlessly here like the pair had undoubtedly intended.
‘Right Over To The Helm’ is definitely an interesting effort with its laid back first half allowing Brown to showcase the diversity of his vocals, while the second half of the song allows the pair to push the song’s riff structures beyond the first half’s parameters in full on psychedelic/metallic rock mode.
The final track ‘Lullaby’ reminds me a bit of Candlemass bassist Leif Edling solo album ‘Songs Of Torment, Songs Of Joy’ (2008) with its doom overtones and spoken word vocals, and easily stands out as the highlight of the E.P.
Trillion Red’s debut effort, while having some real positives, also has a few negatives - namely the production and mixing, which is a little weak in places, and the overall song writing, which sometimes doesn’t quite flow on the first three tracks.
But despite its obvious negatives, ‘Two Tongues’ does at least point to some creative potential within Trillion Red which will hopefully reveal itself with the band’s promised return with a full-length follow-up release next year.

For more information on Trillion Red, check out - http://www.trillionred.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Monday, July 11, 2011

AC/DC - Live At River Plate

AC/DC
Live At River Plate
J. Albert & Son Pty. Ltd./Leidseplein Presse B.V./Sony Music Australia

After breaking an eight year drought with the release of ‘Black Ice’ in 2008, rock ‘n’ roll legends AC/DC once again hit the road in support of the album. The ensuing tour (‘The Black Ice World Tour’) was another mammoth undertaking for the veteran act, with the tour seeing the band play in front of more than five million fans in more than twenty-eight countries over a twenty month period.
In celebration of the tour’s overwhelming success, AC/DC (Who comprise of vocalist Brian Johnson, lead guitarist Angus Young, rhythm guitarist/backing vocalist Malcolm Young, bassist/backing vocalist Cliff Williams and drummer Phil Rudd) have put together a new live D.V.D. ‘Live At River Plate’.
Filmed in Buenos Aires’ renowned River Plate Stadium over three nights in December 2009 in front of two hundred thousand fans, ‘Live At River Plate’ is a defining testament to AC/DC’s continued status as the world’s biggest and hardest rock ‘n’ roll act.
Shot with thirty two high definition cameras, and directed by David Mallet (Who’s worked extensively with AC/DC over the years via promotional video clips and on 1992’s live film ‘Live At Donington’ and 1996’s ‘No Bull’), ‘Live At River Plate’ is a visual masterpiece, with every aspect of the band’s huge stage show (The train is quite impressive, and ‘Rosie’ seems to get bigger every year. And then of course there’s the bell, the lengthy ego ramp, the fireworks and the massive video screens, etc), their individual performance and the positively massive size of the Argentinean venue and those contained within captured in all its rocking glory.
Set list wise, ‘Live At River Plate’ doesn’t boast any real genuine surprises, with many of the band’s classics (‘Back In Black’, ‘Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap’, ‘Thunderstruck’, ‘Hells Bells’, ‘Shoot To Thrill’, ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’, ‘T.N.T.’, ‘Let There Be Rock’, ‘Highway To Hell’ and ‘For Those About To Rock (We Salute You)’) remaining true to the set list that AC/DC has delivered year in/year out. But that’s not to say that AC/DC are relying solely on their past, with tracks such as ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll Train’, ‘Big Jack’, ‘Black Ice’ and ‘War Machine’ from ‘Black Ice’ injecting some fresh blood into proceedings to keep both the band and the fans on their toes.
Performance wise, the band are in top form. Angus Young may not be moving around with the speed he used to years ago, and Brian Johnson’s vocals struggle a little more to hit some of the higher notes in some songs, but its hard to knock the band’s ability to serve up rock ‘n’ roll in its purest form, and keep the audience moving (And you really have to see this D.V.D. to believe it. These Argentinean’s really do move as one! It’s an incredible sight to behold) from the first chord struck, right through to the last note.
In terms of bonuses, there’s the three minute animation sequence that opens the show (Which cleverly mixes older AC/DC themes with newer ones) and the twenty-five minute documentary ‘The Fan, The Roadie, The Guitar Tech & The Meat’ (Which looks at the band’s stay in Argentina, their crew, the diehard fans and the band’s love of steak!).
AC/DC may be showing their age these days, but it certainly doesn’t affect their shows one bit. Brian Johnson pretty much sums it up when he says, ‘We don’t speak very good Spanish, but I think we speak rock ‘n’ roll pretty good!’ The crowd certainly agrees with the sentiment, and I do too.
‘Live At River Plate’ isn’t quite up to the task of robbing ‘Live At Donington’ of its classic status, but it’s still one hell of a show. Without question, this release comes highly recommended to AC/DC diehards.

For more information on AC/DC, check out - http://www.acdc.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Earth Crisis - Neutralize The Threat

Earth Crisis
Neutralize The Threat
Century Media Records/E.M.I. Music Australia

After a six year hiatus, Syracuse (New York, U.S.) based metalcore/hardcore vegan/straightedge act Earth Crisis reformed in 2007 for what was supposed to be a one-off show.
Four years on, and one post-reunion album later (2009’s ‘To The Death’), and Earth Crisis are still going strong, with the five piece outfit (Comprising of vocalist Karl Buechner, guitarists Scott Crouse and Erick Edwards, bassist Ian ‘Bulldog’ Edwards and drummer Dennis Merrick) returning with their seventh full-length album ‘Neutralize The Threat’.
The opening track ‘Raise’ provides a surprisingly slow and grooving start to the album. But what the track lacks in pace (Not to mention length at less than a minute and a half long), it more than makes up in density of sound from the guitars, a menacing and up-front bass presence throughout and a brutal vocal and lyrical punch from Buechner.
The follow on title track ‘Neutralize The Threat’ is a definite favourite with its crushingly heavy riffs and its inclusion of a brief solo, while the catchy (Not to mention downright punishing) ‘Total War’, the thrash-like ‘Counterstrike’ and the somewhat experimental and diverse grooving elements within ‘Askari’ are further definitive stand out cuts on the album.
While there’s nothing on the album that could be called below par, other solid tracks worthy of a special mention can be found in ‘By Conscience Compelled’, the fast paced/punk blast of ‘Black Talons Tear’ and ‘The Eradicators’.
Having well and truly re-established their sound and direction with their comeback release from a couple of years ago, you could hazard a guess and say that with ‘Neutralize The Threat’, Earth Crisis aren’t likely to make any real drastic changes to the well entrenched direction of their latest release. And sure enough, ‘Neutralize The Threat’ is an Earth Crisis album through and through. But while the band aren’t necessarily reinventing the modern metalcore/hardcore scene, the strengths within ‘Neutralize The Threat’ lie primarily with the band’s ability to write quality songs, which makes the veteran act’s latest addition to their catalogue a worthy effort fans shouldn’t hesitate to add to their collection.

For more information on Earth Crisis, check out - http://www.myspace.com/earthcrisis

© Justin Donnelly

Rhapsody Of Fire - From Chaos To Eternity

Rhapsody Of Fire
From Chaos To Eternity
Nuclear Blast Records/Riot! Entertainment/Warner Music Australia

After a two year hiatus that resulted in a less than amicable parting of ways with Magic Circle Music (The label run by Manowar bassist Joey DeMaio), Italian symphonic/orchestral power metal Rhapsody Of Fire wasted little time signing up with German label Nuclear Blast Records and releasing both a new album (2010’s ‘The Frozen Tears Of Angels’) and an E.P. (2010’s ‘The Cold Embrace Of Fear’) to make up for the lengthy wait for a follow up to their ‘Triumph Or Agony’ album from way back in 2006.
Rhapsody Of Fire’s lack of studio activity has obviously allowed the band to spend their time focussing on writing, with the six piece act (Comprising of vocalist Fabio Lione, guitarists Luca Turilli and Tom Hess, bassist Patrice Guers, keyboardist Alex Staropoli and drummer Alex Holzwarth) back with a rather quick follow-up to last year’s full-length effort with a new album in ‘From Chaos To Eternity’.
Aside from having something new from the band, what’s got fans really excited about Rhapsody Of Fire’s ninth full-length album is that it’s the final chapter of the band’s long running conceptual storyline that began on the band’s 1997 debut ‘Legendary Tales’. As you would expect, there’s a lot of hype surrounding ‘From Chaos To Eternity’, especially amongst the band’s hardcore fan base. And as usual, Rhapsody Of Fire manages to deliver on their promise of something special for the most part.
The album begins with the short introductory piece ‘Ad Infinitum’, which sees Sir Christopher Lee reprise his narrative role as Wizard King Uriel alongside a rather heavy and fast guitar showcase from the guitarists and some choir work. The title track ‘From Chaos To Eternity’ follows on immediately from ‘Ad Infinitum’ with the heavier guitar sound being maintained. But while the guitars have a starring role initially, it’s the strong and catchy song writing, Fabio’s powerful performance out front, the subtle aggressive vocals in the background and the overall intensity shown throughout the song that really makes this particular track stand out as one of the finest efforts the band have produced in a long time.
Both the Italian sung ‘Tempesta Di Fuoco’ (Which translates to ‘Firestorm’) and ‘Tornado’ are typically Rhapsody Of Fire fare with their blend of theatrics, orchestration and traditional power metal, while the Italian sung ‘Anima Perduta’ (‘Lost Soul’) is the album’s sole ballad, which is every bit as cinematic and heavily orchestrated as the band’s past efforts.
But while a large part of ‘From Chaos To Eternity’ is typically Rhapsody Of Fire kind of fare, the album does reveal some newer and more modern sounding influences within the band’s sound of old, specifically within the progressive tinged ‘Ghosts Of Forgotten Worlds’, the extremely heavy and black metal vocalised ‘Aeons Of Raging Darkness’ (Which is the first single released from the album) and the surprisingly catchy ‘I Belong To The Stars’. Whether or not these three tracks hint towards a musical direction the band may take in the future remains to be seen, but what is certain, is that they’re all quite different from what you would normally expect from the band, and their inclusion here gives the album a different feel.
Finishing off the album is the epic five piece suite ‘Heroes Of The Waterfalls’ Kingdom’, which sees a reprisal of Lee narrating the closing chapter of the lengthy story, which is closely followed by almost everything you could possibly think of (A bit of folk, power metal, symphonic theatrics, etc…) thrown into the song’s twenty minutes in length.
Although a solid effort, the narration is a little too corny in places, and the song feels a little too rushed (Especially towards the end), making it a bit of a letdown as a closer.
Overall, ‘From Chaos To Eternity’ is another solid album from Rhapsody Of Fire, and while some of the band’s newer influences may leave some a little perplexed, there's more than enough of the band’s core sound on offer here to keep fans more than pleased.

For more information on Rhapsody Of Fire, check out - http://www.rhapsodyoffire.com/

© Justin Donnelly