Monday, October 24, 2011

Excommunicated - Skeleton Key

Excommunicated
Skeleton Key
Underworld Records

After fifteen years in existence, and four full-length releases to their name, Baton Rouge (Louisiana, U.S.) based black/death metal outfit Catholicon decided to call it a day in 2009. Rather than simply fade into obscurity, vocalist Chad Kelly quickly put together a new line-up together, and with ex-Despondency guitarist/bassist Jonathan Joubert and ex-Suture guitarist/bassist Jason McIntyre, Excommunicated came into existence in 2010 (Kelly also foundered Underworld Records).
Twelve months after first coming together, Excommunicated, along with the help of session drummer David Kinkade (Borknagar), finally wrapped up their recording sessions, and have duly released their debut full-length effort ‘Skeleton Key’.
Not unlike Kelly’s work with Catholicon, Excommunicated is a conceptual project, with the lyrical content of ‘Skeleton Key’ based on the corruption and dark history of the Catholic Church in medieval times. Musically, the band doesn’t stray too far from where Catholicon left off either. But while Catholicon and Excommunicated are firmly rooted in the black/death metal genre, it’s clear that Kelly has definitely pushed his latest musical endeavour to incorporate a greater measure of diversity from song to song than anything he’s presented within his former group.
Excommunicated begin the album in a rather subtle manner, with the two minute instrumental piece ‘The Abandonment Of Hope’ featuring some great melodic lead work over a gentle backdrop. While the track itself is impressive, it does fade out a little too quick, which does take away from the impact it really should have had.
Next up is ‘The Incorruptibles’, which is more along the lines of what you would expect from the group. Bordering on black metal in the riff department, Kelly’s dual vocal approach (Guttural growls and high end rasping shrieks) adds a distinct death metal influence to the song, while Kinkade’s relentless and varied drumming work throughout adds a bit of a grindcore feel in places. Overall, ‘The Incorruptibles’ is definitely one of the album’s true highlights, and definitely one of the more eclectic offerings from the band.
‘Cry To Heaven’ is another strange hybrid track that’s clearly influenced in part by a strong folk metal vibe in its construction, but given a twist with Kelly’s vocals that gives the song a melodic death metal vibe within the choruses (Bringing to mind Amon Amarth), while tracks such as ‘Minutes Of The Corpse Trials’, ‘When Death Claims Its Most Righteous Dead’ and the technically executed ‘The Vatican Orgies’ are straight out blasts of sheer death metal brutality.
On the guest appearance side of things, ex-Wolfen Society/Nocturnus/Acheron guitarist Vincent Crowley adds a special vocal performance on the slower and menacing ‘The Birth Of Tragedy’, while King Diamond guitarist Andy LaRocque adds a distinctive guitar solo to the otherwise sinister and thrash like ‘Keys To The Kingdom Of God’.
Finishing up the album is ‘The Sum Of All Life’s Pain’, which like ‘The Abandonment Of Hope’ is a haunting and darker doom-like atmospheric piece, and one that sums the album up on a high note.
While the album does have some serious flaws (The fade out on some of the songs does seem a little hasty, and the song writing on the more straight forward death metal numbers seems a little unremarkable), ‘Skeleton Key’ is a solid and diverse sounding debut effort from Excommunicated, and the kind of album that will appeal to those who don’t mind their black/death metal a little more on the unconventional side of things.

For more information on Excommunicated, check out - http://www.myspace.com/excommunication

© Justin Donnelly

The Horde - Thy Blackened Reign

The Horde
Thy Blackened Reign
StormSpell Records

Hailing from Iowa City (Iowa, U.S.), The Horde are a speed/thrash act that emerged onto the scene with a vengeance with the release of their debut E.P. ‘From Empire To Ashes’ in 2008 (Through Scenester Credentials Records). Now two years on, and after a revamp of line-up, The Horde (Comprising of vocalist/bassist Duncan, guitarists Derek Joseph Ahrens (5th Dawn/Ageless) and Tim Matthews and ex-Lividity/Cygnus Loop drummer James Whitehurst) are back with their debut full-length effort ‘Thy Blackened Reign’ on the retro metal specialist label StormSpell Records.
Picking up exactly where their E.P. last left things, ‘Thy Blackened Reign’ sees The Horde maintaining their mix of N.W.O.B.H.M. (New Wave Of British Heavy Metal), speed/thrash metal and primitive black/death metal (In the vein of Venom and Bathory) in the sound sense, while retaining a distinctly Viking/ Norse mythology/war theme on the lyrical front.
The description mentioned above does lend its weight to a fair amount of expectation, especially given the rise of speed/thrash metal over the last five years. And while ‘Thy Blackened Reign’ is far from an absolute classic, The Horde has managed to produce one mighty fine album indeed.
The opening riff of ‘Death Foretold’ gives you the impression that The Horde is primarily a thrash act first and foremost. But it isn’t until you’ve really given the remainder of the track a good listen that you fully understand the many levels of influences that make up the band’s sound. Traces of melodic death metal, old-school metal (Which is more than evident in the raw and unpolished production values, and the Iron Maiden like dual guitar work and gallop) and thrash (Especially within the shredding lead work) all have their places within the song, and all come together to give The Horde a sound that’s hard to pin down, yet so appealing.
The title track ‘Thy Blackened Reign’ reveals a bit of a thrash/punk vibe with its faster passages and rather simplistic choruses yelled out in primitive form, while the darker feel of ‘Hell Beast Of The Pale Frost’, the hammering ‘Supertusk’ and the slower paced/doom like ‘War God’ are monumental slabs of old-school metal.
Elsewhere, tracks such as ‘Vengeance For A King’ (Which is preceded by the short instrumental piece ‘A Kingdom Cries’) and the closer ‘With Death (Comes The Horde)’ (One of the rare exceptions where the band explore atmospherics, moods and tempos within a single track to create something of an epic) are some of the stronger highlights to be found on the album.
Pinning down any one particular sound or genre to a band’s album can sometimes be a real drawback, especially if the songs on the album seem to drift from one genre to the next. But in The Horde’s case, it works in their favour. Their collective influences work in a way that doesn’t make much sense, but sounds great nonetheless.
In terms of the production, ‘Thy Blackened Reign’ could have benefitted from a bit more time, and Duncan’s vocals could do with a little more help or back-up (The choruses do lack in some places). But despite these few problems, ‘Thy Blackened Reign’ is a great album for what it is, and should be sought out by any self-respecting old school thrash metal-head.

For more information on The Horde, check out - http://www.myspace.com/hordemetal

© Justin Donnelly

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Atriarch - Forever The End

Atriarch
Forever The End
Seventh Rule Recordings

The groundswell of praise for Portland (Oregon, U.S.) outfit Atriarch has been slow and steady over the last couple of years, with many hailing the band as one of the best up and coming acts within the blackened/doom metal scene in some years. And with the four piece act (Comprising of ex-El Cerdo/Tree vocalist Lenny Smith, guitarist Brooks Blackhawk, ex-Graves At Sea bassist Nick Phit and ex-Get Hustle drummer Maxamillion Avalon) having signed to Seventh Rule Recordings for their debut full-length offering ‘Forever The End’, we can finally determine whether Atriarch can live up to the hype.
Comprising of four tracks, and running for a little over thirty-six minutes, it’s clear that ‘Forever The End’ is not the kind of album for those with short attention spans. Atriarch isn’t in any rush to get their point across, and it’s well and truly clear from the running length of the four songs presented here.
Musically, the blackened/doom metal tag given to the group’s sound gives the listener some idea of what to expect from the band’s compositions. But if you dig a little deeper, you can also find traces of some old school gothic influences dotted throughout the album as well (We’re talking Bauhaus and Christian Death rather than anything new here) through some of the atmospheric touches on guitar tones and the album’s overall dour and morbid vibe.
In terms of the songs themselves, ‘Plague’ opens up proceedings and sets the tone of the album with its slow tempo, smothering and suffocating mix of rumbling bass and drums, haunting guitar work and a rasping vocal performance from Smith that is part screaming and part agonised mourning moan. Although it’s hardly the most complimentary description of Atriarch’s sound, there’s a dark and foreboding feel to the band’s song writing and sound that definitely works here in a way that ensures that despite the simplistic nature of the song’s construction, it never overstays its welcome, or loses its cold and distant mood for a single moment.
From here, the formula doesn’t stray too far from what Atriarch laid down on the opener, with ‘Shadows’ sounding every bit as bleak and devoid of any real light, but stands apart with some cleaner vocals, a little extra rawness on the instrumental side of things and the hint of melody and gothic edge to the guitar riffs (And vocals too to some extent), while the epic fourteen minute ‘Fracture’ is the album’s obvious centrepiece, with the slow building introduction and its eventual move into a crushing doom metal direction proving to be one of the album’s definite highlights.
Finishing up the album is ‘Downfall’, which is not only the shortest track on the album, but also one of the more traditional doom/black metal based efforts as well. Although a little faster than what the rest of the album has to offer, the change of direction and vibe doesn’t take away from what was offered up previously, and instead showcases another side to the band’s overall sound.
‘Forever The End’ is not an easy listen, and one that will most likely appeal to those who enjoy doom metal in its purest form. But if you happen to be a doom metal fan, and prefer the darker and ‘devoid of light’ side of the genre, then you’ll find that Atriarch certainly delivers that in spades.

For more information on Atriarch, check out - http://www.myspace.com/atriarchmetal

© Justin Donnelly

Deadfall - New Light

Deadfall
New Light
Independent Release

Worcester (Massachusetts, U.S.) based outfit Deadfall is a newly formed musical project from recent Berklee Collage Of Music graduate Eddie Kim (Guitars and drum programming) and Sean Dusoe (Bass), who have released their debut E.P. in the form of ‘New Light’. Deadfall’s sound and direction is very much within the ‘djent’ mould, which means that stylistically, the band’s music is in the same musical vein as Periphery, Tesseract and Meshuggah.
Comprising of five tracks, Deadfall open up proceedings with ‘Shades Of Inception’, which starts off gently, before the pair settle into a grinding groove of bending riffs coupled with warm rich bass tones. Unlike some of the other ‘djent’ acts mentioned above, Deadfall manages to keep things quite melodic and progressive in places, giving the instrumental duo a sound that’s different enough to be quite interesting. The only real negative that can be drawn from ‘Shades Of Inception’ is that the programmed drums do sound artificial at times, and that the production (Courtesy of Kim and Dusoe) is a little thin in places. But despite these small niggling points, the song itself is strong and original enough to stand out for all the right reasons.
From here, Deadfall don’t alter the formula too much, with the follow up track ‘The Divergence’ sticking closely to the direction the opener took (A slow build up, followed by some brutal riffing over an atmospheric backdrop), while ‘In Death’s Path’ does signal a slight departure in tone, with the overall vibe exuding a slightly heavier and menacing feel with its jagged riffing and complex Meshuggah-like odd time signature notes adding the songs darker vibe.
The title track ‘New Light’ is definitely a favourite with its strong melodic slant and progressive overtones, while the closer ‘Utopia’ is another stand out cut with the song sounding like a culmination of all the different ideas and sounds that Deadfall have in their repertoire. Aside from that, the song is also graced with some tasteful melodic lead work around the latter half of the track.
Forging a new sound in the growing ‘djent’ movement is not an easy task, especially given that acts such as Meshuggah and Tesseract pretty much cover everything the genre has to offer. But despite this, Deadfall have managed to put their own individual stamp on things, with ‘New Light’ injecting a little more melody into the sound, and all without the aid of a vocalist.
Fans of the ‘djent’ movement will definitely find plenty to enjoy here. My only hope that is that by the time Deadfall are ready to put together a new album, they fill out their sound with a drummer, and that their music will still retain its instrumental prowess without resorting to a vocalist to provide the necessary melodic edge.

For more information on Deadfall, check out - http://www.deadfall.bandcamp.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Trivium - In Waves

Trivium
In Waves
Roadrunner Records/Warner Music Australia

Orlando (Orange County, Florida, U.S.) based outfit Trivium have always had the drive and enthusiasm to be the biggest band in the metal scene, but if there’s one thing that’s always held them back, it would have to be their music. Trivium is hardly a terrible band, having produced their fair share of stellar moments throughout their near decade long career. But that’s where the crux of the problem lies. Despite writing some great material here and there, Trivium has yet to translate that consistency over the course of a whole full-length effort.
Three years after the release of their rather confused sounding ‘Shotgun’ in 2008, Trivium has returned with fifth full-length effort ‘In Waves’. And while the band have always laid claim that each and every one of their new albums is their strongest to date, this time around Trivium seem to actually have a point. Although far from perfect, ‘In Waves’ is no doubt Trivium’s most daring and diverse release ever, and one where the band’s song writing seems to have finally found that comfortable balance between the melodic and the aggressive, without drifting too far into either extreme.
The album is opened up in an intriguing fashion with the slow building piano/militaristic mark instrumental piece ‘Capsizing The Sea’. As the track comes to its conclusion, the band (Comprising of vocalist/guitarist Matt Heafy, guitarist/backing vocalist Corey Beaulieu, bassist/backing vocalist Paolo Gregoletto and new/ex-Maruta drummer Nick Augusto) get the album off to a crushing start with the title track ‘In Waves’ (Which is also the first single released from the album). It’s immediately clear that they’ve experimented a little more on the song writing front, with the forsaking of complexity in the guitar riffs for something a more straight forward and crushing, which the mix of melodic verses and guttural choruses sound far more thought out and playing to their strengths. In a sense, the band seem to have tried hard not to make the song sound like an epic classic, and have instead gone with their natural instincts. And the result speaks for itself.
Augusto’s performance on the relentless ‘Inception Of The End’ is a real stand out, and as a consequence adds a sense of urgency to the brutal/melodic track, while on ‘Dusk Dismantled’, ‘Chaos Reigns’ and ‘A Skyline’s Severance’, the band rely heavily on strong simplistic grooves alongside straight forward chorus structures, which in turn provides the album with just three of the album’s more memorable efforts.
But ‘In Waves’, it’s not all about brutality and aggression, with tracks such as ‘Watch The World Burn’, ‘Black’, the latest single ‘Built To Fall’, ‘Forsake Not The Dream’ and ‘Of All These Yesterdays’ showcasing a greater melodic influence. Unlike Trivium’s melodically inclined efforts in the past, all these songs work, with Heafy’s mix of clean vocals and growls working perfectly together to give the songs enough bite when required, and enough hooks to give the listener something to latch onto.
As mentioned earlier, ‘In Waves’ is far from perfect - there are weaknesses (The lyrics are a little cliché in places, and there’s a couple of songs that don’t stand out as memorable as the others), but there’s a whole lot more in terms of strengths. Given the patchiness of the previous albums, it’s not hard to see that Trivium have definitely raised the bar with ‘In Waves’, and created one of their best efforts to date.

For more information on Trivium, check out - http://www.trivium.org/

© Justin Donnelly

Monday, October 17, 2011

Black Country Communion - 2

Black Country Communion
2
J&R Adventures/Fontana Distribution

Nine months after the release of their overwhelmingly well received self-titled debut effort, Black Country Communion has returned with their highly anticipated second full-length effort ‘2’.
Given the chemistry between those involved within the group (Ex-Deep Purple/Black Sabbath vocalist/bassist Glenn Hughes, lead/rhythm guitarist/vocalist Joe Bonamassa, ex-Dream Theater keyboardist Derek Sherinian and drummer Jason Bonham – along with unofficial fifth member Kevin Shirley as producer/mixer) on their debut effort, it’s not all that surprising to find that the group’s follow up album is every bit as strong as their debut. But while the short gap between recordings will have many assuming that ‘2’ is nothing more than a continuation of ‘Black Country Communion’, the truth is that the albums really do have completely different personalities and vibes.
The opening track ‘The Outsider’ (Which is the album’s first single) sees the band shifting up a gear from where they last left listeners, with Sherinian’s playing alongside Bonham around the latter half of the energetic hard rock tune taking on a greater prominence than anything heard on their first album, while Bonamassa showcases a slightly harder edge within his playing, which gels perfectly with the heavier sound the band were clearly aiming for this time around.
The follow up track ‘Man In The Middle’ (Which is the first song to be given the promotional video clip treatment) maintains the heavy feel of the opener, with the grit and deep tones from the bass and guitars balanced perfectly against Hughes’ aggressive vocals.
It isn’t until ‘The Battle For Hadrian’s Wall’ that Black Country Communion taper their heavier stance for something a little laid back and traditional sounding (In the classic rock stance), with Bonamassa taking over the vocal duties, and the acoustic guitars guiding the bulk of the song. While Hughes is no doubt a big driving force within the band, Bonamassa’s contributions don’t fade into the background one bit. Boasting some subtle Led Zeppelin influences, and featuring some stellar keyboard work from Sherinian, ‘The Battle For Hadrian’s Wall’ is easily one of the album’s strongest cuts, and one of the clear examples of just how much the band have come together as musicians since the release of their debut.
The lengthy ‘Save Me’ is another track where the band channel their Led Zeppelin influences on the musical front, with the song bringing to mind ‘Kashmir’ with its touches of orchestration and middle eastern chord progressions within its classic hard rock casing.
‘Smokestack Woman’, the funk driven ‘Crossfire’ and ‘I Can See Your Spirit’ are full-on rocking efforts that demonstrate the spark and energy within the band’s line-up, while on the Hughes led blues based ‘Little Secret’, Bonamassa really gets his opportunity to step up to the plate and play up a storm.
The Bonamassa sung ‘An Ordinary Son’ is another personal favourite where the gentle ebb and flow from gentle atmospheric passages and total rock out passages and seamlessly interwoven throughout flawlessly, while Hughes saves his best performance until the end, with the slower and haunting blues atmosphere within ‘Cold’ evoking the mood that was last heard from the legend on his overlooked classic ‘Addition’ from 1996.
The gap between Black Country Communion’s first and second release wasn’t a huge length of time, but the differences between the two are more than evident. Their debut certainly had its fair share of great tracks, but I can’t help but feel that on ‘2’, there’s more of a collaborative, band-feel to the songs and playing.
Often, supergroups have a lifespan of one or two albums at best. On the strength of ‘2’, I can’t help but feel that Black Country Communion is only just starting to get warmed up. Let’s hope that’s the case.

For more information on Black Country Communion, check out - http://www.bccommunion.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Goregast - Desechos Humanos

Goregast
Desechos Humanos
F.D.A. Rekotz

Originally conceived as the short lived Distress as far back as 1993, Goregast came onto the scene in 2004, and have since then managed to produce two well-received full-lengths (2005’s ‘Viva El Animal’ and 2007’s ‘La Revancha’). After a lengthy period of down time, the German outfit have returned with their third full-length effort ‘Desechos Humanos’ – which is their first for F.D.A. Rekotz.
With a Spanish title accompanying an album from a Berlin based death metal/grindcore act, I really didn’t know exactly what I was going to get here. But after giving the album a few spins, I can attest that if your musical tastes lean more towards primitive death metal with a crushing production, you could do a whole lot worse than checking out F.D.A. Rekotz.
On ‘Desechos Humanos’, Goregast (Who comprise of vocalist Rico Unglaube, guitarists Steve Kleinert and Rico Krause, bassist Ronny Thiel and new/ex-The Ocean/Mozek Motors drummer Torge Ließmann) have managed to produce a fairly solid death metal release, and one that incorporates flourishes of grindcore in places. And while my initial prediction suggested that the band would be a cross between Brujeria (Given that some of the songs are sung in Spanish) and old Entombed, the band actually have more in common with acts such as Deicide, Nasum and Carcass, for the most part.
The opening title track ‘Desechos Humanos’ (Which translates to something along the lines of ‘Human Waste’) provides an impressive start to the album with a haunting introduction that eventually settles down into an absolutely punishing barrage of primitive death metal that is strangely enough every bit as chaotic sounding as it is measure. Unglaube’s vocal efforts sound ravaged and harrowing, but it’s the way the guitarists lay down their buzzing guitar groove that makes the whole thing work in ways you wouldn’t expect.
‘Puerco De Dinero’ (Which could be interpreted as ‘Pig Money’) is a short blast of intensity, but sadly doesn’t have enough song writing finesse to make it really stand out as anything special, while ‘Honor The Dead’ in comparison is infinitely more thought out and interesting in terms of offering up some diversity and innovation in the riff and tempo department.
And it’s that duality in quality that really makes for an inconsistent and frustrating listen. For every good track, such as the blast beat enhanced ‘Corta La Coleta’ (‘Cut The Queue’), ‘The Boozer’ and the Napalm Death-like closer ‘Unslave Yourself/Outro-bliteration’, the band fall well short of really making an impression with some plodding and predictable efforts like ‘Nice Guy Next Door’ and ‘Capa’.
In some ways, Goregast prove that they have what it takes to really produce some truly intense and quality death metal songs. The unfortunate thing is that sadly, they obviously can’t do it all the time.
‘Desechos Humanos’ is far from a complete disaster, but had the band been a little more selective in terms of the final track listing and offered listeners an album that featured only the best of what they had, it really could have been a more recognised piece of work.

For more information on Goregast, check out - http://www.goregast.jimdo.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Sick Puppies - Tri-Polar (Deluxe Edition)

Sick Puppies
Tri-Polar (Deluxe Edition)
Virgin Records/E.M.I. Music Australia

Almost two years after its initial release, Australian bred/L.A. based alternative/heavy rock outfit Sick Puppies have put together a deluxe version of their third full-length effort ‘Tri-Polar’ in celebration of the album’s overwhelming success. The first disc of this double disc effort is essentially made up of ‘Tri-Polar’ – a thirteen track slab of aggressive alternative metal that showcases the heavier side of the trio’s sound to that shown on their last release (2007’s ‘Dressed Up As Life’). But for all the gloss, thick production values and attempts by the band to add a little more aggression to their sound, ‘Tri-Polar’ is a bit of a hit and miss affair as a whole.
On tracks such as ‘War’, ‘Survive’ and ‘I Hate You’, you can’t help but think that the band (Who comprise of lead vocalist/guitarist Shimon Moore, bassist/backing vocalist Emma Anzai and drummer/backing vocalist Mark Goodwin) are trying too hard to give their music an aggressive edge that doesn’t really come across as comfortable. And yet despite this, tracks such as ‘Riptide’, ‘You’re Going Down’, ‘So What I Lied’ and ‘In It For Life’ do benefit from a heavier approach and sound, if only because the choruses do maintain a melodic and catchy line that is more akin to their older material.
Elsewhere, the single ‘Odd One’, ‘Maybe’ and the stunning closer ‘White Balloons’ are the album’s definitive highlights – particularly the latter where Anzai adds a completely different feel to the song with a greater role on lead vocals.
While the first disc on the ‘Tri-Polar’ deluxe edition is an inconsistent effort at best, the second disc is something different altogether. Kicking off this eleven track effort are seven tracks from 2010’s ‘Polar Opposite’ E.P., where the band transformed many of the tracks from ‘Tri-Polar’ in unplugged/acoustic form, with some additional light orchestration to help fill out their sound. Again, with the aggression turned down, the songs take on a whole new life, and seem to work just that much better. All are quite enjoyable, but the definite stand outs include ‘You’re Going Down’, ‘Don’t Walk Away’, ‘White Balloons’ and the band’s breakthrough hit ‘All The Same’.
Aside from the unplugged tracks, the second disc also tidies up all of the bonus tracks that were added to the various versions of ‘Tri-Polar’. While ‘Dead Space’ and ‘Til Something Breaks’ are hardly the most amazing and memorable tracks the band have ever produced, they are at the very least solid enough. ‘The Pretender’ and ‘Monsters’ on the other hand are definite winners, and again show that if the overtly heavy handed aggression is toned down, the best of the band’s skills as song writers really does shine through that much more.
‘Tri-Polar’ may not have been the strongest album the band has released to date (At this point, that honour is still held by ‘Dressed Up As Life’), but with the addition of the bonus disc, it does at least help balance out the killer/filler ratio, with a slight lean more towards the stronger side of things overall in terms of consistency.
If you already own a copy of ‘Tri-Polar’, then this deluxe edition is worthy of upgrading to. If on the other hand you don’t already have a copy, then definitely grab the two disc version. In short - The second disc definitely makes this package.

For more information on Sick Puppies, check out - http://www.sickpuppies.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Silverstein - Rescue

Silverstein
Rescue  
Silverstein Music/Roadrunner Records/Warner Music Australia

Although failing to hit their intended target on a few of their albums, for the most part, Ontario (Canada) based post-hardcore outfit Silverstein have remained fairly consistent throughout most of their decade long recording career.
After a somewhat lukewarm reception to their 2007 effort ‘Arrivals & Departures’, Silverstein returned with a vengeance with their follow-up effort ‘A Shipwreck In The Sand’ (2009), with their live 2010 C.D./D.V.D. effort ‘Decade (Live At The El Mocambo)’ only reinforcing their return to form. Now some two years later, the five piece outfit (Comprising of lead vocalist/additional guitarist/keyboardist Shane Told, lead guitarist Neil Boshart, rhythm guitarist Josh Bradford, bassist/backing vocalist Billy Hamilton and drummer Paul Koehler) are back with their highly anticipated fifth full-length album ‘Rescue’ – which is their first album to be released after ending their long standing relationship with Victory Records.
Looking over the whole of Silverstein’s recorded output over the last decade, it’s clear that the band have a fairly established sound and direction, with the only variation coming in the form of strength and quality of the songs themselves. So in a lot of ways, it’s not too hard to imagine exactly what ‘Rescue’ is going to sound like well before hitting the play button on the C.D. player. In that respect, there are no real surprises in store to be had. But in terms of consistency, ‘Rescue’ is undoubtedly one of the band’s strongest releases to date, with virtually no filler tracks to be found anywhere.
‘Medication’ is everything you would expect from an album opener, with the song’s slow build up eventually making way for a hard hitting track that really leaves a lasting impact. Told definitely puts in a powerful performance, and combined with the aggressive guitar work and well executed moody and melodic tail end, ‘Medication’ is definitely one of the album’s more memorable efforts.
‘Sacrifice’ (Which originally appeared on 2010’s ‘Transitions’ digital E.P.) is a worthy addition here once again with its infectious and catchy structure, while ‘Forget Your Heart’ and ‘Good Luck With Your Lives’ takes the melodic lead of the former track and runs with it, with Told sticking primarily to clean vocals for the most part on the tracks – and with great results.
From here, Silverstein deliver quality song after quality song, with those standing out including the guitar driven/screamed ‘Intervention’, ‘The Artist’ (Which features a guest vocal appearance from Counterparts’ Brendan Murphy), ‘Live To Kill’, the rocking ‘Darling Harbour’ (Another track resurrected from the ‘Transitions’ E.P.) and ‘Texas Mickey’ (Which features a guest vocal appearance from Bayside’s Anthony Raneri).
As an added bonus, this deluxe edition features a whole swag of bonus tracks, starting out with acoustic renditions of ‘Burning Hearts’ and ‘Replace You’, both of which translate well in their newfound form.
The inclusion of three demo tracks (‘Texas Mickey’, ‘Intervention’ and ‘In Memory Of...’) are interesting, but pretty much unessential after an initial listen, as too is the piano version of ‘Forget Your Heart’. But while some of the bonus cuts border on the filler side of things, the inclusion of ‘Dancing On My Grave’ from ‘Transitions’ is well and truly worthy.
While ‘Rescue’ doesn’t see Silverstein step outside their comfort zone, the album doesn’t have any real weaknesses, which means that while the album isn’t likely to win over any new fans, existing devotees will definitely view ‘Rescue’ as another great release from the band.

For more information on Silverstein, check out - http://www.silversteinmusic.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Cryptborn - In The Grasp Of The Starving Dead

Cryptborn
In The Grasp Of The Starving Dead
Dark Descent Records

Put together as a side project outside of death metal outfit Maveth, Cryptborn is a relatively new group to emerge from the Finnish death metal scene, with the five piece act (Comprising of Maveth vocalist Christbutcher, Maveth drummer Ville ‘V.M.’ Markkanen (Although he contributes guitars to this outfit), guitarist K.L., Maveth bassist Jani ‘J.N.’ Nupponen and drummer AtomosM) having only formed in 2010.
‘In The Grasp Of The Starving Dead’ is Cryptborn’s debut E.P. effort, and was originally released earlier in the year in limited numbers (Three hundred and fifty apparently) on cassette through Belgium’s Detest Records. But within a couple of months, the band caught the attention of Dark Descent Records, who have duly re-released the E.P. in C.D. form.
Given Dark Descent Records’ track history in the past, it doesn’t take much to figure out what style of death metal Cryptborn hope to deliver to listeners. And sure enough, it’s every bit as old school as you can get.
There’s nothing new under the sun in terms of old school death. After all, bands such as Entombed, Dismember and Grave virtually laid down the template on which most bands model their sound on. But while some bands manage to surprise with their reinterpreted and reheated rehash of the classic sounds of old, some acts just can’t seem to add enough of their own personality into their sound to make it stand out as anything more than simply sounding like a complete carbon copy of the original.
In Cryptborn’s case, it’s very much the latter.
Things start out impressive enough, with the short introductory piece ‘A Feast For The Grave’ boasting an oppressive guitar tone and sound that is equal measure of doom and death, and Christbutcher’s low guttural growls adding plenty of menace and death to proceedings.
The faster paced follow up track ‘Gift Of Rotten Flesh’ is a worthy effort, and one that showcases the band’s firm grasp on what makes up the classic death metal sound. But while the song does have its merits, it also has its fair share of drawbacks as well. Most notably is the dreadful production. Whether this was the kind of sound the band were aiming for is unclear, but the dull thump of the drums adds nothing to the power the band are obviously trying to project. The other niggling point is the band’s song writing. Yes, it’s hard to be totally original, but even after giving the song several listens, it’s still hard to remember much about the song, let alone thinking it was all that fantastic just after it was finished.
Unfortunately, the issues that bring down ‘Gift Of Rotten Flesh’ tend to carry through to most of the E.P.’s remaining five tracks. The title track ‘In The Grasp Of The Starving Dead’ does have a strong groove, and some cool lead guitar passages, and ‘A Nebulous Parting’ and ‘Atonement From Hell’ are generally the pick of the remaining tracks, but overall Cryptborn’s debut effort is a fairly by-the-numbers effort.
Cryptborn do show some promise on their debut, and there is some hope for the future should the band focus on writing songs that sound a little more distinctive and unique, and put a little more thought into the production side of things.
If you’re after some old school death metal, you could do a whole lot worse than checking out ‘In The Grasp Of The Starving Dead’. But I could also say in the same breath that you could also do a lot better too, because while Cryptborn are good, they’re still far from great.

For more information on Cryptborn, check out - http://www.myspace.com/cryptborn

© Justin Donnelly

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Crown The Lost - Cold Pestilent Hope

Crown The Lost
Cold Pestilent Hope
Gas Can Music

Two years after the release of their critically acclaimed second full-length effort ‘Blind Faith Loyalty’, Pittsburgh (Pennsylvania, U.S.) based power/thrash metal outfit Crown The Lost are back with their highly anticipated new release ‘Cold Pestilent Hope’.
A lot has changed within Crown The Lost since their last album, with the line-up of the band undergoing a huge makeover prior to entering the studio, leaving founders/guitarists Joe Bonaddio (Who plays lead, and provides additional vocals) and David E. Gehlke (Rhythm) the band’s sole remaining original members.
Joining Bonaddio and Gehlke is vocalist Leon Mallah (Who prior to joining the band, was primarily a guitarist), bassist Timothy J. Boyle (Who previously played guitar in Grave Desire) and drummer Argel Marchelletta. Under normal circumstances, replacing half of the band would generally result in a drastic change of sound and direction. But that’s not the case for Crown The Lost, with ‘Cold Pestilent Hope’ sounding very much like a natural progression from where the band last left listeners on ‘Blind Faith Loyalty’.
As if to prove that the band have not lost anything with the change of members, the revamped Crown The Lost open up their latest album with ‘Pray For Death’ – a downright groove based thrashing two and a half minute instrumental piece that showcases the band’s ability to totally shred (Especially on the lead guitar front), while maintaining a sense of catchiness and hook for the listener to really latch onto.
It isn’t until the follow on track ‘Separate Blood From Waste’ that we finally get to hear what Mallah has to offer up. On the surface, it would appear that the differences between Mallah and former vocalist Chris Renaldi are minimal at best. But after repeated listens, it soon becomes clearer that while there is a similarity in sound, Mallah does have a slightly broader range, which means that most of the issues I had with Crown Of Lost’s last album (A vocalist who was sometimes a little monotone in his approach) have been well and truly addressed. Musically, things have changed as well, with the band refining their song writing where the overall song structure seems to flow with a bit more thought into utilising the riff structures to their full extent, and allowing the choruses to really stand out. In other words, the focus seems to be more on writing songs, rather than simply dazzling the listener with their technical abilities, which means that songs resonate more and remain memorable long after they’re finished.
In terms of highlights, ‘Cold Pestilent Hope’ has plenty of great songs throughout. But those worthy of singling out include the ‘Breathe Into Emptiness’ (One of the select tracks where Mallah really shows what he’s capable of on the vocal front), the strong grooved based instrumental thrasher ‘Solitude And Failure’, the aggression driven title track ‘Cold Pestilent Hope’ and the duality of genres (The shift between melodic power metal and modern thrash) within the closing track ‘Inexorable’.
Although Crown The Lost has borne the brunt of some line-up upheavals within the last year, you certainly wouldn’t know it after giving ‘Cold Pestilent Hope’ a listen. If anything, Crown The Lost have taken bar set down by ‘Blind Faith Loyalty’ and raised it with their latest effort.
Overall, ‘Cold Pestilent Hope’ is another strong effort from Crown The Lost, and worthy of every bit of success it will no doubt achieve with the passing of time.

For more information on Crown The Lost, check out - http://www.crownthelost.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Leprous - Bilateral

Leprous
Bilateral
Inside Out Music/Century Media Records/E.M.I. Music Australia

For a lot of so-called modern day progressive metal acts, influences generally begin and end with Dream Theater. Granted, some do vary their sound by incorporating a bit of a melodic edge, or taking their sound into more of the power metal side of things. But by and large, there are a lot of acts attempting to emulate Dream Theater’s style and sound, and it sounds like it.
But not all progressive acts have the same set of ideas; and positive proof of one act that’s definitely doing something fresh and different within the progressive rock/metal realm is Norwegian based outfit Leprous.
Founded ten years ago, Leprous have within that time produced an E.P. (2004’s ‘Silent Waters’) and two full-length efforts (2006’s ‘Aeolia’ and ‘Tall Poppy Syndrome’) - all of which have been met with a positive response.
But despite all this, Leprous have remained a fairly underground act for the most part, with the group gaining more attention for their role as ex-Emperor front man Ihsahn’s live backing band.
But after several years in the wilderness, the five piece act (Who comprise of vocalist/keyboardist Einar Solberg, guitarist/vocalist Tor Oddmund Suhrke, guitarist/backing vocalist Øystein Landsverk, newly added bassist Rein T. Blomquist and drummer Tobias Ørnes Andersen) have moved on from Sensory Records and signed up with Inside Out Music - delivering their latest effort in ‘Bilateral’. And what a release it is.
The opening title track ‘Bilateral’ literally lives up to its name, with the band fusing together strong melodies and unconventional approaches to progressive rock’s typical song writing structures. Yes, some of the familiar technically inclined musicianship traits still exist within the song, but it’s not the entire basis of Leprous’ approach to song structure. Instead, the band focus on giving the listener something a little unexpected (The odd time changes, and the equally odd sounds and textures on the musical front), all the while keeping things melodic, catchy and infectious with Solberg’s incredible voice.
The lengthy ten minute epic follow up track ‘Forced Entry’ is a definite stand out on the album, with the guitarists providing some innovative and varied passages of riff/lead work, while Solberg’s showcases his extraordinary range throughout, especially on the screamed efforts towards the song climatic close.
‘Restless’ brings to mind a melodic variation of U.K. outfit Oceansize in places, but is otherwise a deceptively complex and dense masterpiece of progressive rock, while ‘Thorn’ (Which features a guest vocal appearance from Ihsahn) is another noteworthy track with the song drifting into heavy territory, all the while incorporating trumpets into the hybrid mix of sounds. It all sounds a little avant-garde in the vein of Pain Of Salvation, and that’s a good thing.
Elsewhere, ‘Mb. Indifferentia’ echoes some of the more melancholy and free flowing/ever changing mood of Porcupine Tree (As to does the operatic influenced ‘Acquired Taste’), while the effects driven ‘Waste Of Air’ is by far the album’s strangest and heaviest track, and definitely a personal favourite.
For the remainder of the album, Leprous maintain the heavier sound of the former track through ‘Mediocrity Wins’ and the quirky ‘Cryptogenic Desires’, before closing out the album with the extended polyrhythmic jam of ‘Painful Detour’.
Progressive rock/metal is supposed to be exploratory and adventurous, and take the listener on a journey where expecting the unexpected is the norm. And if ‘Bilateral’ is anything to go by, then it’s clear that Leprous have a firm grasp on what the genre is all about.
How the album fares in the future is still unknown. But in my book, this is easily one of my favourite progressive rock/metal albums of 2011.

For more information on Leprous, check out – http://www.myspace.com/leprousband

© Justin Donnelly

Staind - Staind

Staind
Staind
Flip Records/Atlantic Records/Roadrunner Records/Warner Music Australia

For a five year period, Massachusetts (Springfield based) alternative rock outfit Staind couldn’t do a thing wrong, with a couple of multi-platinum selling albums to their name (1999’s ‘Dysfunction’ and 2001’s ‘Break The Cycle’) and a legion of fans that ensured that the tours undertaken were nothing short of record breaking. But somewhere along the line, things started to get a little stale creatively within the Staind camp, and over the course of the next few years (In which time the band released 2003’s ‘14 Shades Of Grey’ and 2005’s ‘Chapter V’), some of the fire within the band seemed to die out. By 2008, the band seemed all but defeated, with their last release ‘The Illusion Of Progress’ representing a dull and lifeless clutch of songs that sounded little more than a pale imitation of the once powerful group’s finer efforts.
It’s been three years since then, and the four piece act (Comprising of vocalist/rhythm guitarist Aaron Lewis, lead guitarist Mike Mushok, bassist Johnny April and drummer Jon Wysocki) have managed to produce a brand new album. According to the band, the making of their seventh album was anything but smooth sailing (Which is not surprising given Wysocki’s departure from the group following the completion of the album), but did result in an album that sees the band returning to the heaviness and aggression heard only on their earlier albums. While the same line was dished out from the band and their management prior to the release of their last album, it would seem that this time around, there’s truth in their statement.
The band lay down their mission statement with the opening track ‘Eyes Wide Open’, which is needless to say one of the heaviest sounding efforts the band has recorded to date. Lewis’ vocals are full of angst and venom, while retaining a sense of melody, while the guitars actually have a place within the song, rather than merely fading into the backdrop scenery (Which was a genuine cause for concern amongst fans on the songs from their last few albums).
The single/promotional video clip ‘Not Again’ is definitely one of the album’s stronger and more memorable efforts with its continued heavy sound direction of the opener, but with a chorus that really stand out, while the slower paced ‘Failing’ is a brooding Alice In Chains like number that bridges the band’s return to heavier territory and the remnants of their not too distant alternative rock sounding directional past.
‘Wannabe’, despite its nu-metal vibe and feel (I’m thinking Limp Bizkit), is noteworthy for the band’s collaboration with Snoop Dogg that doesn’t sound anywhere as bad as it does on paper, while ‘The Bottom’ (Which originally appeared on the ‘Transformers: Dark Of The Moon’ soundtrack earlier in the year), the energetic ‘Now’ and the metallic ‘Paper Wings’ are further highlights dotted on the latter half of the album.
Of course, Staind’s self-titled effort isn’t without its weak moments, with ‘Throw It All Away’ and ‘Take A Breath’ sounding a little mundane and pedestrian in comparison to most of what is offered up throughout the album.
The closing track ‘Something To Remind You’ does at least close out the album on a high note, with Lewis accompanied by nothing more than a sole electric guitar, which allows Lewis to put forward an emotive and passionate performance primarily through his vocals.
Staind’s latest effort isn’t a huge departure from what they’ve done in the past, but it is at least a return to form for the band after a few album releases that saw them stray a little into the void of mediocrity. In other words, if you preferred the direction Staind took on their first few releases, then you’ll certainly want to pick up their latest effort.

For more information on Staind, check out - http://www.staind.com/

© Justin Donnelly