Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Concrete Sun - Sky Is High

Concrete Sun
Sky Is High
Independent Release

I’ve been sitting on Concrete Sun’s debut album for some time, and in all honesty, I wasn’t all that keen to rush reviewing it. Perhaps I wasn’t paying enough attention to it, or I just wasn’t really in the mood, but either way, ‘Sky Is High’ simply didn’t grab me in the first couple of spins after receiving it.
But despite this, I persevered, and slowly but surely, Concrete Sun started winning me over, and eventually led to where I am now – in front of my computer listening to the album while writing up a review of their debut effort.
Concrete Sun is proof that Serbia does have something to offer the music scene, even if it is something completely unexpected. And I say unexpected, because while Serbia isn’t exactly the kind of place I would expect to find a southern metal based outfit, their take on the southern metal sound is quite well done.
The five piece act (Comprising of vocalist Cerovina Strahinja, guitarists Mijatović Bojan and Živković Budimir, bassist Petrović Strahinja and drummer Topić Miloš) start off the album with the mid-paced ‘Just A Beginning’, which immediately reveals the extent that Down have influenced the band’s overall sound, with traces of Pantera and Godsmack thrown in for some good measure. Strahinja has a great voice, with just enough rasp and character in his vocals to pull off the song’s southern sound convincingly (A slight early Layne Staley influence and sound can be heard from Strahinja in places), while the dual guitar work from Bojan and Budimir is solid, without going over the top.
The follow-up track ‘Euphoria’ shows a little more energy from the band, with the stronger groove elements (Both in terms of riffs and percussion) within the band’s song writing coming to the fore, while on ‘Last Man Under The Sun’ adds a little more diversity amongst the early half of the album with the song evoking a heavy blues/alternative rock feel. Worthy of a mention is the great solo and choruses that are included in this track, which definitely makes the song stand out as one of the album’s stand outs.
Both ‘D.A.N.U.B.E.’ and ‘Ruff Song’ are energetic hard rockers that seemed rooted more in the classic rock domain, but with a southern edge on the guitar riffs and vocals, while ‘Junkyard Dog’ and ‘God Forsaken Prostitute’ owe more to Pantera’s ‘Cowboys From Hell’ (1990) with their stronger emphasis on metallic grooves and aggression.
Finishing up the album is the title track ‘Sky Is High’, which is perhaps one of the album’s more generic and forgettable sounding efforts, and ‘Hide Behind’, which apart from the Zakk Wylde/Dimebag Darrell sounding guitar squeals, is another fairly average effort.
Concrete Sun are a solid group who know how to write a good song, and deliver southern metal that strikes the perfect balance between aggression, melody and groove. Unfortunately, inconsistencies within the song writing and an obvious sense of familiarity throughout the album do bring ‘Sky Is High’ down as a whole.
Concrete Sun isn’t one of the southern metal’s hidden talents, and ‘Sky Is High’ is far from a perfect release. But at the very least, the band have certainly debuted with a solid release, and proven that Serbia has more to offer than initially thought.

For more information on Concrete Sun, check out - http://www.myspace.com/concretesunns

© Justin Donnelly

Steve Hackett - Beyond The Shrouded Horizon

Steve Hackett
Beyond The Shrouded Horizon
Inside Out Music/Century Media Records/E.M.I. Music Australia

Alongside Peter Gabriel, Steve Hackett is undoubtedly one of the more consistent and interesting members to ever emerge from Genesis in terms of solo output, with the ever prolific vocalist/guitarist/songwriter having spent the better part of the last three and a half decades since leaving Genesis producing an incredible body of exceptional solo releases. Two years after the release of ‘Out Of The Tunnel’s Mouth’ (Excluding 2010’s live album ‘Live Rails’), Hackett once again returns with his 22nd solo effort ‘Beyond The Shrouded Horizon’.
In terms of musical direction, ‘Beyond The Shrouded Horizon’ isn’t a huge departure from what you would generally expect from a Hackett release. Over the course of the album’s thirteen tracks, Hackett delivers progressive rock, some world music, a touch of the blues, classical and a bit of pop/rock. But in terms of quality, Hackett has again excelled - delivering exactly what fans have come to expect on his latest effort.
After a slow building introduction, Hackett cranks out a heavy riff to get ‘Loch Lomond’ off to a huge start. But for all of the dark and heavy atmospherics accompanying the big guitar riffs, the song soon breaks away with some low key acoustic guitar work, and gentle vocals from Hackett and Amanda Lehmann. Of course, the heavier (Almost metallic) elements are interchanged with the gentle throughout, with only Hackett’s exceptional leads breaking up the pair. Hackett’s vocals are as strong as ever (Which hasn’t always been the case in the past), and his guitar work is first class, but it’s the song writing here that really stands out, and reinforces Hackett’s talent as a song writer.
The follow up track ‘The Phoenix Flown’ is essentially an instrumental follow-on from ‘Loch Lomond’, with Hackett providing a climatic finale on the solo front, while the short acoustic ‘Wanderlust’ is primarily an instrumental introduction to ‘Til These Eyes’ –which is a gentle and beautiful acoustic based track that is enhanced with some great use of strings, some wonderful guitar fills from Hackett and vocals that achieve their objective of creating a melancholic mood.
On ‘Prairie Angel’, Hackett turns things up once again to deliver a heavy blues rock inspired riff after a lengthy progressive rock introduction, complete with touches of saxophone and Hackett himself on the harmonica. As the song fades, ‘A Place Called Freedom’ eventually makes its way into view. It’s here that Hackett combines progressive rock, shades of folk and some picking on the twelve-string guitar that definitely brings to mind his time in Genesis. ‘A Place Called Freedom’ is a fantastic song, and typically in the vein of what Hackett does best.
‘Between The Sunset And The Coconut Palms’ is a very breezy and delicate sounding track, with the choir like harmonies and the use of keyboards adding to the overall soothing effect of the song, while ‘Waking To Life’ and the instrumental piece ‘Two Faces Of Cairo’ managing to take the listener on a completely different musical journey – this time to the middle-east, and with Lehmann taking on the lead vocals.
Much in the same soothing vein of ‘Between The Sunset And The Coconut Palms’, ‘Looking For Fantasy’ is another softer ballad like effort where gentle instrumentation (Acoustics, keyboards and strings) take a backseat to Hackett’s choral like vocals and subtle guitar work, while the short acoustic instrumental piece ‘Summer’s Breath’ is primarily an extension of the former track, and Hackett’s foray into more classical realms.
‘Catwalk’ picks up the pace once again with Hackett dealing out some rocking blues riffs alongside Chris Squire (Yes) on bass and drummer Simon Phillips (Toto/Derek Sherinian) in tow. This song is another album highlight and by far one of Hackett’s heaviest efforts in years. This simply rocks!
Finishing up the album is the twelve minute epic ‘Turn This Island Earth’, which is part progressive rock/part cinematic film score. While I’ll freely admit that ‘Turn This Island Earth’ doesn’t entirely work as a whole (Some pieces seem a little tacked onto each other for the sake of it, and the orchestral score in places is a little overbearing), there’s more than enough great moments contained within (Especially the Hackett/Squire/Phillips opening sequence) to keep Hackett fans pleased to no end.
Overall, while ‘Beyond The Shrouded Horizon’ isn’t remarkably different to anything Hackett has done before; it does at least prove that Hackett remains as strong as ever, creatively.
Whether you’re a diehard Hackett fan, a devout Gabriel era Genesis freak or a complete newcomer, you’ll find plenty to enjoy within ‘Beyond The Shrouded Horizon’.

For more information on Steve Hackett, check out - http://www.hackettsongs.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Nephelium - Coils Of Entropy

Nephelium
Coils Of Entropy
Independent Release

Originally founded in Dubai (United Arab Emirates), Nephelium has gone through multiple changes throughout their decade long existence, including changes in musical direction, continual line-up reshuffles and a complete relocation to Toronto (Ontario, Canada). But after a few years of uncertainty, Nephelium finally solidified a line-up (Comprising of vocalist Devlin Anderson, guitarists Alex Zubair and James Sawyer, bassist Florian Ravet and drummer Alan Madhavan), and started playing live supporting the likes of Skinless, Neuraxis and Deicide.
Having proved themselves a formidable live act, Nephelium then set about recording some new music. And eight years after the release of their debut E.P. effort ‘Ignite The Wrath Of Silence’ (Which was independently released back in 2004), Nephelium have finally delivered their debut full-length effort ‘Coils Of Entropy’.
The most immediate thing about the opening track on Nephelium’s latest effort is just how brutal their take on death metal is. ‘Burial Ground’ (Which is also the first single lifted from the album) is every bit as unrelenting and crushing as you would expect from a band that aim to remain true to death metal’s roots (The band mention acts such as Death, Testament, Carcass, Cannibal Corpse, Obituary and Napalm Death as examples of those who have chosen the same path). Melody is limited solely to the guitarist’s lead breaks, which means that for the most part, Nephelium deliver an uncompromising and brutal sound in every other respect. But where the band excels over most is in their diversity of riffs, Anderson’s aggressive but clear vocals and their ability to keep things interesting throughout for the listeners, regardless of the songs’ long running time.
‘Merciless Annihilation’ (Which originally appeared on the band’s debut E.P.) is given a bit of a revamp and reworking here, and ties in perfectly with the album’s overall sound and direction, while the slower paced ‘Hellborne’ sees the band incorporate a bit more groove into their death metal sound (Which when combined with Anderson’s vocals, sounds in the vein of latter day Cannibal Corpse), which showcases the many styles the band are capable of, without sacrificing any of their aggression or bludgeoning approach to old school death metal.
Elsewhere, ‘Malediction’ is a stand out favourite with its greater technical edge and solid use of strong grooves on the guitar front (Although the unintentionally humorous vocals at the end of the song should have been reconsidered), while the ten minute closing title track ‘Coils Of Entropy’ shows that even over such an lengthy track, Nephelium has the song writing qualities to keep the listener enthralled at all times.
Nephelium isn’t necessarily bringing anything new to the table in terms of death metal, but what they deliver on ‘Coils Of Entropy’ is incredibly well done.
Nephelium may have spent their formative years in the underground scene’s shadow, but I have no doubt that with the release of ‘Coils Of Entropy’, things won’t be so quiet for the band.

For more information on Nephelium, check out - http://www.facebook.com/nephelium

© Justin Donnelly

Monday, February 27, 2012

Harpoon - Deception Among Birds

Harpoon
Deception Among Birds
Seventh Rule Recordings

Chicago (Illinois, U.S.) based outfit Harpoon have been around for a few years now, and while they haven’t really achieved any real commercial success, the trio (Comprising of 7000 Dying Rats vocalist Toney Vast-Binder, guitarist/drum programmer/keyboardist Dean Costello and ex-Lair Of The Minotaur/7000 Dying Rats bassist/guitarist/backing vocalist Donald James ‘D.J.’ Barraca) have earned considerable praise from the underground scene with their various split releases and their debut full-length effort ‘Double Gnarly/Triple Suicide’ (Which was released in 2009 through Interloper Records). Now making a return with their second full-length effort ‘Deception Among Birds’, there’s every possibility that Harpoon may finally get some long overdue recognition, if only because this latest effort from the band is something that is interesting, and definitely hard to pin down.
The trio start off the album with ‘To The Tall Trees’, which originally appeared on the band’s split E.P. with Locrian back in 2009. Direction wise the song is a throwback to aggressive metallic hardcore, with a bite in the guitar tones and the equally scathing vocal presence from Vast-Binder evoking a feel of controlled chaos that’s delivered in a deliberate and forceful manner. But despite its aggressive start, the song does eventually break away towards its tail end to reveal a more atmospheric, darker and slower mood, showcasing the extremities within the band’s overall sound.
The follow-up track ‘Prequel To A Lifetime Of Disappointment’ is an interesting departure from what the band offered on the previous track, with the song bringing out a mix of black metal and straight out melody to the fore. While the description is a little hard to picture, the song does seem to work quite well, and again shows the broad spectrum of sounds the band can present listeners.
‘Dreadnought’ is a surprisingly melodic effort with Vast-Binder’s predominately clean vocals providing a striking contrast against the harsher/fast paced guitar riffing (Which still retains some of the black metal influences of the former track), while ‘Phlegm’ is a full-on scathing attack from the moment it begins, even if the track does get broken up from time to time with huge groove filled slower passages.
The seven and a half minute ‘Troglodyte’s Delight’ is by far the album’s longest and most epic track, and perhaps the one track where the band experiment more in terms of tones and atmospherics to deliver their message, rather than relying solely on pummelling the listener into submission. The song feels a lot more progressive and deliberate in its approach than many of the other songs on the album, even progressive in parts with its softly sung clean vocal lines, repetitive riff structures and subtle intricacies in the densest of instrumental passages. Overall, it earns its place as one of the album’s more interesting and stand out cuts.
Towards the tail end of the album, the band return to the all-out rapid fire approach of song writing with the surprisingly melodic and aggressive ‘The Cut Of His Jib’ and the rockier and more riff driven ‘Shit Wizard’, before finishing up with the title track ‘Deception Among Birds’ (Which debuted on the band’s split E.P. with The Muzzler back in 2010), which is another experimental effort with plenty of feedback, loops and piano that combine to make one chaotic climax to the album.
‘Deception Among Birds’ isn’t the kind of album to make you rethink the way music is made, but it will at least have you taking notice of Harpoon as a band. And that in itself is a successful result.

For more information on Harpoon, check out - http://www.myspace.com/harpoonrockin4u

© Justin Donnelly

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Fucking Wrath - Valley Of The Serpent’s Soul

The Fucking Wrath
Valley Of The Serpent’s Soul
Tee Pee Records/Impedance Records

After breaking a three year recording drought with their stop-gap E.P. release ‘Terra Fire’ in 2010, Californian (Ventura based) stoner/thrash metal outfit The Fucking Wrath have finally delivered their long awaited follow-up to 2007’s ‘Season Of Evil’ in ‘Valley Of The Serpent’s Soul’. Although the gap between ‘Terra Fire’ and ‘Valley Of The Serpent’s Soul’ has been a relatively short one (Eleven months to be exact), The Fucking Wrath (Who comprise of guitarist/vocalist Craig Kasamis, guitarist Brent Woodward, bassist/vocalist Nick Minasian and drummer John Crerar) have definitely taken their song writing and performances to a whole new level on their latest effort, as well as broadening their song well beyond the formula stoner rock sound documented on their former efforts.
The opening track ‘The Question’ is the first to show off the advancements the band has made in recent times, with the song showcasing a greater southern based rock ‘n’ roll vibe than anything the band has presented before, which brings to mind Every Time I Die toying around with a Motörhead cover, while maintaining the expected trademark aggressiveness. Of course, the stoner rock component of the band’s sound is still very much there (Especially around the slowed down tail end of the track), but overall ‘The Question’ is something different for The Fucking Wrath, and in a good way.
The follow-up track ‘Rebellious Axe’ is an energetic thrashing rocker that features some great lead work and some great sounding twists throughout that bring to mind some of Mastodon’s latter day work, while ‘Swan Song Of A Mad Man’ is a slow and doom-like early era Black Sabbath effort that boasts plenty of Tony Iommi riffs and melodies on the guitar front, but diverse enough in tempo and groove to avoid many of the clichés attached to those who mimic the legendary act’s sound and style.
The mid-paced ‘Altar Of Lies’ is a definite favourite with its thrash-like tail end (Which is essentially a nod to the legendary thrash pioneers Metallica), while ‘Goddess Of Pain’ (Which is preceded by the short instrumental piece ‘Grandelusion’) is an angry hardcore/southern rock thrasher that is devastating in an Alabama Thunderpussy meets Maylene And The Sons Of Disaster kind of way.
Last but not least is the lengthy centrepiece effort ‘The Neurodyssey’, which is an sprawling epic split into three movements (The slow and doom based ‘Valley Of The Serpent’s Soul’, the mid-paced grooving piece ‘Caverns Of Fire’ and the thrashing tail end ‘Endless Black Flags’), and one that emphasises the diversity in sound the band has pushed themselves into within recent times.
Everything on this album is a big step up for the band (Including the production, which was handled by the band and Armand Anthony), and while The Fucking Wrath has always been a solid and enjoyable act in the past, ‘Valley Of The Serpent’s Soul’ is by far their accomplished release to date.

For more information on The Fucking Wrath, check out - http://www.thefuckingwrath.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Ghoul - Transmission Zero

Ghoul
Transmission Zero
Tankcrimes

Ghoul is one of those acts that have earned considerable acclaim within the underground scene, but still remain a relatively unknown cult act to most, due in part to limited coverage, being on a smaller label (All of the band’s three previous full-length releases were released through Razorback Records) and the band’s take on humour and horror over a death/thrash/grindcore musical template.
After five years of virtual inactivity from the band, the four piece Creepsylvania (Romania) based outfit (By way of Oakland, California, U.S.) broke their silence by signing up with underground label Tankcrimes, and announcing their follow-up to 2006’s ‘Splatterthrash’ with ‘Transmission Zero’.
Ghoul (Who comprise of Impaled guitarist/vocalist Sean ‘Digestor’ McGrath, vocalist/guitarist Dan ‘Dissector’ Randall, Impaled vocalist/bassist Ross ‘Cremator’  Sewerage and vocalist/drummer Dino ‘Fermentor’ Sommese) have often been seen as nothing more than a parody act, albeit one that knows how to string together some strong riffs and melodies. In other words, Ghoul has always been a band of substance, rather than image (Although their image has always been a strong part of their horrific/humour shtick). And for the most part, ‘Transmission Zero’ sees the band maintaining that high standard of musical accomplishment before image. But in saying that, while Ghoul have managed to maintain a high standard, ‘Transmission Zero’ does show some cracks in the band’s foundation in places, which makes for a solid, but ultimately inconsistent new release from the band.
The opening instrumental ‘The Lunatic Hour’ is an early highlight on the album with its meaty mid-paced thrash riffs mixed with classic ‘80’s speed induced crossover sounds, while the follow-up track ‘Off With Their Heads’ picks up where the former track trails off in perfection, with the tongue in cheek horror lyrics balanced nicely with a sound that veers more towards a modern death/thrash sound, with just a hint of black metal mixed with crossover thrash on the vocal front.
Although far from amazing, the groovier and melodic ‘Destructor’ is a solid and likeable track that features enough riffing to keep things from sounding too generic and forgettable (Although the occasional use of Cylon (‘Battlestar Gallactica’) effects on the vocals is kind of unnecessary), while the punkish blast of ‘The Mark Of Voodoo’ is a welcome blast of sheer bludgeoning horror thrash.
Both ‘Brain Jerk’ and ‘Blood Feast’ bring to mind latter day Exodus with their mid-paced tempos and gang vocals, which isn’t so much a bad thing, and works in its own way, while the faster paced title track ‘Transmission Zero’, the savage and more grindcore influenced ‘Tooth And Claw’ and the infectious ‘Metallicus Ex Mortis’ are examples of where the band really hit the mark in terms of writing some truly outstanding tunes, without losing any of their trademark humour.
Unfortunately, not everything on the album is quite so inspired. The metallic rockabilly vibe of the rather short ‘Death In The Swamp’ is fairly predictable and lacklustre at best, and the lengthy ‘Morning Of The Mezmetron’ is really a struggle to get through with its dooming musical approach, and the band’s attempts to project a creepier atmosphere with what adds up to nothing more than b-movie atmospherics and clichés.
‘Transmission Zero’ isn’t a terrible album – in fact it’s far from it. But with the inclusion of a couple of less than stellar efforts, Ghoul’s latest doesn’t eclipse the greatness of their former efforts.
Despite that, if you like Horror/humour that does offer something a little more credible on the musical side of things to almost all parody acts; you could do a whole lot worse than this.

For more information on Ghoul, check out - http://www.creepsylvania.com/

© Justin Donnelly



Metallica - Beyond Magnetic

Metallica
Beyond Magnetic
Vertigo Records/Universal Music Australia

In celebration of the band’s thirtieth anniversary (Which was marked by four intimate shows at the Fillmore in San Francisco in December 2011), Metallica have released a new E.P. entitled ‘Beyond Magnetic’. As the title suggests, ‘Beyond Magnetic’ is somewhat of a companion release to their 2008 full-length release ‘Death Magnetic’, with the four tracks on the E.P. written and recorded from the same sessions that produced the said studio album.
Not surprisingly, ‘Beyond Magnetic’ doesn’t stray too far from the sound and direction heard on ‘Death Magnetic’, with the opening track ‘Hate Train’ sounding very much like it could have slotted easily onto the album without sounding out of place. Given the familiarity of sound and direction, the issues that plagued ‘Death Magnetic’ are still evident within ‘Hate Train’ – most notably Rick Rubin’s soul sucking/dry production sound, Lars Ulrich’s clunky and overbearing drum sound and vocalist/rhythm guitarist James Hetfield’s rather uninspired lyrics. But despite the song’s inherent flaws, ‘Hate Train’ is a solid track, with the band’s recent thrash-like rocking sound working more in their favour than not (Provided of course you can overlook the similarities in riffs between this effort and their 1998 single ‘Fuel’), and Kirk Hammett’s various lead breaks marking a welcome return to form for the guitarist.
In terms of genuine highlights, ‘Just A Bullet Away’ is a clear stand out with Hetfield putting in a commanding (And somewhat different) performance both vocally and lyrically, which expertly disguises the song’s striking simplicity. If there is a flaw in the song, it would have to be the pointless breakdown around the four minute mark. The abrupt end allows for an atmospheric build up that eventually bleeds into a return to the song at full speed. While it’s not the first time Metallica have tried this trick (Their classic ‘Master Of Puppets’ from 1996 is built upon the clever use of musical shades), here it sounds a little too forced and unnecessary, and ultimately leaves the song feeling a little too padded and stretched out for the sake of it.
If you overlook the overly repetitive chorus, ‘Hell And Back’ is an effective track that showcases the band’s ability to mix both rock and aggression within their song writing without sounding like they’re rehashing their past too much, while the closer ‘Rebel Of Babylon’ shows that the band still have plenty of thrash left in them. But despite its strong thrash elements and some great lead work from Hammett, Hetfield’s lyrics and the overall inconsistency of flow in the song writing department (There’s great riffs, but a rather tacked on chorus) hinders the song as a whole.
The prospect of a new E.P. from Metallica that contains leftover material from the ‘Death Magnetic’ sessions isn’t the most enticing of prospects for some fans (Especially for those who were disappointed with ‘Death Magnetic’). But despite this, ‘Beyond Magnetic’ is a solid enough release, and something that can easily be placed alongside ‘Death Magnetic’ in every conceivable way. And provided you’re a fan of that album, you’ll get something out of this release.

For more information on Metallica, check out - http://www.metallica.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Steven Wilson - Grace For Drowning

Steven Wilson
Grace For Drowning
Kscope Music

Steven Wilson really is a relentless workaholic. No sooner had he released his debut solo effort ‘Insurgentes’ in 2008, Wilson threw himself into another Porcupine Tree album (2009’s double C.D. ‘The Incident’) and a new Blackfield release (2011’s ‘Welcome To My DNA’), as well as serving as both a producer and a mixer for Opeth (2011’s ‘Heritage’), Anathema (2010’s ‘We’re Here Because We’re Here’) and Orphaned Land (2010’s ‘The Never Ending Way Of ORWarriOR’). Outside of those projects, Wilson also found time to work with Opeth’s Mikael Åkerfeldt in Storm Corrosion (Whose debut album will soon see the light of day), as well as remixing albums for Jethro Tull and King Crimson. But somewhere in amongst his incredibly busy schedule, Wilson has managed to allocate some time out for himself, and complete work on his highly anticipated second solo effort ‘Grace For Drowning’, which he described prior to its release as an album that takes the listener on a journey in sound beyond anything heard previously on ‘Insurgentes’.
Split into two halves (Hence the reason for the two discs); Wilson starts off the audio journey with the first disc ‘Deform To Form A Star’, which is opened up by the short title track ‘Grace For Drowning’. Working more as an introductory piece, this track features a simple piano melody (Played by Dream Theater keyboardist Jordan Rudess) and a multi-layered vocal choir from Wilson, which combined eases the listener into the album in a soothing and dream-like manner.
The follow-up instrumental track ‘Sectarian’ is a completely different piece to that of the opener, with the first half sounding a bit like Porcupine Tree at their most progressive in terms of complex time changes and the avant-garde use of heavy keyboards and saxophone, while the second half drifts towards jazz territory with its off beat drums, keyboards and clarinet, but still retaining a progressive edge with its ominous overlapped keyboard sounds.
The title track of the first disc ‘Deform To Form A Star’ is a stunning ballad-like effort from Wilson that really stands out, and will appeal to those who favour Wilson’s lush vocal melodies and beautiful vocal harmonies (Rudess’ understated piano work and Wilson’s incredible guitar work are also noteworthy), while ‘No Part Of Me’ projects a haunting and emotional pained Blackfield/No-Man vibe on its first half, before twisting into a heavier and more technically challenged progressive workout (With the help of King Crimson guitarist/bassist Trey Gunn and drummer Pat Mastelotto).
Much like ‘Deform To Form A Star’, ‘Postcard’ (The first single from the album) is another stunning melancholy effort from Wilson, and another of the first disc’s stand out tracks with its powerful use of strings (London Session Orchestra) and choir (Synergy Vocals) arranged by Dave Stewart.
Things take a turn into darker territory with the short and haunting instrumental piece ‘Raider Prelude’ (Which again features Synergy Vocals), which serves as a precursor to the equally darker and eerie closer ‘Remainder The Black Dog’, which in itself is one of the album’s more challenging and chaotic pieces with its avant-garde use of saxophones, flutes and clarinet (Courtesy of long-time Wilson collaborator Theo Travis) and some fusion guitar work from the unmistakable Steve Hackett.
Disc two (Which is entitled ‘Like Dust I Have Cleared From My Eye’) is introduced via the short acoustic/strings based instrumental piece ‘Belle De Jour’, which eventually bleeds into ‘Index’. The lyrical content of ‘Index’ brings to mind the isolation and alienation of Porcupine Tree’s ‘Fear Of A Blank Planet’, and musically isn’t that far removed with its slow build and ambient/chilled tones, while ‘Track One’ is a true masterpiece in term of creating what starts out as a melodic and easygoing track into something that contorts into one of pure menace and impending terror with its outstanding use of the Mellotron. This song is without a doubt a work of pure genius.
The twenty-three minute plus ‘Raider II’ is the big epic piece on the album, and the one track on the album that’s hard to pin down due to its continual shifts in moods and instrumentation. What can be said however is that almost every aspect of every track featured elsewhere on the album is featured in this track, with elements of free jazz, avant-garde progressive rock, pop and moody soundscapes. Although interesting, this track is Wilson at his most self-indulgent, and can at times test the patience of any listener if they’re not in the right frame of mind. Having said that, if you’re a fan of the free-form jamming efforts that typified some of Porcupine Tree’s earlier works (In particular their 2001 album ‘Metanoia’), you’ll enjoy every aspect of ‘Raider II’ in its entirety. ‘Raider II’ is not necessarily a bad track, but one that does take patience to digest, and time to fully appreciate.
Finishing up the album is the second disc’s title track ‘Like Dust I Have Cleared From My Eye’, which is by far one of the album’s simpler constructed and written efforts (The instrumental aspect is at its bare minimum, with Wilson’s vocals and melodies essentially carrying the song), which makes it the perfect closer for the album.
While ‘Insurgentes’ is officially Wilson’s debut solo effort, traces of his various side projects (Porcupine Tree, No-Man and Blackfield) still dominated over any real risk of baring his own path musically. But with ‘Grace For Drowning’, Wilson has abandoned his inhibitions and ventured boldly into true solo territory with an album that is both daring and familiar, and yet artistically something quite unique and different from what we would normally expect from Wilson.
On ‘Grace For Drowning’, Wilson doesn’t play it safe, and has instead risked all his artistic integrity with an album that takes more than a singular listen to understand, comprehend and ultimately appreciate. And quite simply, it’s a risk that’s paid off.
It’s a shame that more albums like this aren’t made more often these days.

For more information on Steven Wilson, check out - http://www.swhq.co.uk/

© Justin Donnelly

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Zombi - Escape Velocity

Zombi
Escape Velocity
Relapse Records

Pittsburgh (Pennsylvania, U.S.) duo Zombi really is a genuine oddity within the music scene. The fact that the band is signed to Relapse Records, and that the pair (Keyboardist/bassist Steve Moore and drummer/keyboardist Tony ‘A.E.’ Paterra) rarely relies on guitars to flesh out their space/progressive rock sound has confused many within the metal community, and just as many who reside outside the scene. Despite the general confusion surrounding the band, and the love/hate relationship the band shares with the overall progressive rock/metal scene, Zombi continue to forge a unique and interesting niche for themselves, with their latest (And fourth) full-length album ‘Escape Velocity’ guaranteed to fuel further debate about Zombi’s rather different take on the standard progressive genre.
Those familiar with Zombi’s past works will already know that Zombi never set out to emulate the same sound and direction on an album twice in a row, as evident on their darker and atmospheric 2006 effort ‘Surface To Air’, and its guitar enhanced and overall heavier sounding follow-up ‘Spirit Animal’ from 2009. So with that in mind, I was expecting something quite different with ‘Escape Velocity’. And sure enough, ‘Escape Velocity’ proved to be completely unexpected.
On their latest album, Zombi appear to have taken a huge leap back in style and sound, with the duo taking influences from Krautrock bands such as early Kraftwork and Neu!, and shades of Vangelis, and filtered it through a distinctly ‘80’s musical filter to come out with a completely new take on minimalist progressive/new wave rock.
The best example of the band’s newfound minimalist approach to song writing can be found on the opening title track ‘Escape Velocity’. The basis of the song is really quite simplistic, with the central keyboard theme rarely deviating from its basic sweeping key changes, but it’s underneath where the pair really gives the song its heart. The ever-present rapid synths that run throughout provide a solid footing for the whole track, while the gradual introduction of rhythmic drums give the song some human elements that otherwise wouldn’t exist without them. ‘Escape Velocity’ is essentially a really simple song, but produced in such a way that it’s hard not to get drawn into its hypnotic beat and heavy percussive driven flow.
The short ‘Slow Oscillations’ doesn’t stray too far construction wise from that of the opener with a pulsating keyboard structure underpinning huge sweeping keyboard tones that provide the song’s character (Outside the steady flow of drums of course), while ‘Shrunken Heads’ is a product of Krautrock with its repetitive keyboard motifs, ‘80’s synthesised drum beats and almost ‘Blade Runner’ like washes of keyboard contrasts thrown over the top throughout.
Rather than rely on one central idea, ‘DE3’ seems to branch off in several different directions, with the pair giving more thought to creating greater textures of overlaid rhythms, keyboard riffs and textures. As a result, this song definitely comes across as the album’s strongest, accomplished and memorable efforts.
Finishing up the album is ‘Time Of Troubles’, which closes out the album in a slower and more reflective manner with its John Carpenter-like thick keyboard tones and laid back drums.
Zombi has never been the easiest of band’s to categorise, or to describe. But that’s not my objective here, because if you weren’t a fans of Zombi’s work in the past, this release isn’t about to change your mind.
If however you enjoyed Zombi releases in the past, and have found yourself totally absorbed the subtle shifts in direction from one release to the next, trust me - you’ll thoroughly enjoy ‘Escape Velocity’.

For more information on Zombi, check out - http://www.zombi.us/

© Justin Donnelly

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Chickenfoot - III (Deluxe Edition)

Chickenfoot
III (Deluxe Edition)
earMUSIC/Edel

If there’s a curse that plagues nearly all supergroup’s throughout history, it’s always been their second album. For some, all of their creativity seems to have been used up on the first album, leaving little left for a second effort. For some, it’s sometimes been a pulling in different directions that has brought them down a second time around. For others, it’s merely a case of the group falling apart in their attempts to have another go at making an album. But in the case of Chickenfoot (Who comprise of ex-Montrose/Van Halen vocalist/rhythm guitarist Sammy Hagar, guitarist virtuoso/keyboardist Joe Satriani, ex-Van Halen bassist/backing vocalist Michael Anthony and Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith), it would appear that they’ve defied all the odds, with their highly anticipated sophomore effort ‘III’ exceeding the bar set by their self-titled debut from 2009.
It’s evident from the hard rocking opening track ‘Last Temptation’ that the band’s time spent on the road touring in the last couple of years (As documented on 2010’s live D.V.D. ‘Get Your Buzz On Live’) has really brought the four piece act closer together in the musical sense. Satriani’s guitar playing comes across as more relaxed and in sync with the band musically, while Hagar’s vocals and melodies don’t seem as off the cuff and improvised as they did in the past.
‘Alright Alright’ is an easy going rocker that features some great solo work from Satriani and Anthony’s trademark back-up vocals through the song’s infectious choruses, while the heartfelt ballad/rocker ‘Different Devil’ (The second single from the album, and which again features Anthony’s distinctive back-up vocals) is a classic Hagar tune that could have easily slotted on any of his solo efforts or any of the Hagar era Van Halen albums.
Satriani really shines on the thumping ‘Up Next’ with a killer solo that’s delivered more along the lines of his solo work, while the album’s lead single ‘Big Foot’ sees Satriani abashedly borrow from Led Zeppelin’s riff book to create one of the funkiest rock tunes ‘III’ has to offer listeners.
Unlike the band’s debut, ‘III’ also offers up a couple of more subdued and serious efforts, as evident in the soul drenched ‘Come Closer’ and the stunning closer blues based ‘Something Going Wrong’. While the band shines throughout both tracks, and Anthony’s harmonies alongside Hagar’s are noteworthy, it’s Hagar that really stands out as the star here. Hagar can inject a party atmosphere into anything (One only needs to look at his more recent solo efforts for proof of that), but when he turns towards something a little more serious and heartfelt, he really can produce something long lasting and meaningful.
Rounding out the album is the driving rocker ‘Lighten Up’ (Which brings to mind Deep Purple in places with its ever present keyboards) and the blues based ‘Dubai Blues’ (Which not surprisingly written around The Yardbirds’ classic ‘I Ain’t Got You’).
The only song that doesn’t work quite like it should is ‘Three And A Half Letters’. The message might be a sound one (Hagar reading letters sent to him from fans who are out of work and down on their luck), but the chorus sounds weak and underdeveloped. It’s a shame, because there is the making of a good song there.
As an added bonus, ‘III’ also comes with a bonus D.V.D., which features the thirteen minute documentary ‘The Making Of Chickenfoot III’ (Which is both funny and informative), a seven and a half minute ‘Behind The Scenes’ documentary (Some footage of the band goofing around in the studio, and Hagar’s story behind ‘Different Devil’), a two minute chat on the album’s 3D packaging (‘The Packaging’) and a two minute ‘Greeting’ from the band.
Also included are the promotional video clips for ‘Big Foot’ and ‘Sexy Little Thing’, and a live version of ‘Turnin’ Left’ from their ‘Get Your Buzz On Live’ D.V.D.
Looking past ‘Three And A Half Letters’, ‘III’ exceeds all expectations of the band’s debut, and proves beyond all doubt that Chickenfoot is more than just a supergroup, but a real band. And on the strength of this album, I can’t see Chickenfoot winding down anytime soon. The bottom line is that ‘III’ is a great rock album, and will definitely please those who enjoyed Chickenfoot’s past effort.

For more information on Chickenfoot, check out - http://www.chickenfoot.us/

© Justin Donnelly

Lynchmada - To The Earth

Lynchmada
To The Earth
Truth Inc. Records/M.G.M. Distribution

When Gold Coast based metalcore act Lynchmada released their debut full-length effort ‘The Other Mexico’ back in 2007 (Through RabbitBird Records), it was without a doubt a huge step up from their previous E.P. release (2003’s ‘The Biggest Disappointment Is You’, which was released through Ward 69 Records). Over the last four years, the band have maintained their status as one of the Australian metal scene’s up and coming acts with plenty of support slots alongside national and international acts (Lamb Of God, God Forbid, Death Angel and Armoured Saint), which has helped the band keep their name out there on the scene.
Despite having undergone some changes in personnel in the last couple of years (Vocalist Joel Harris and guitarists Cameron Wallace and Simon Connors are now joined newcomers in ex-Minus Life/Silver Ocean Storm bassist Kent Haines and drummer Daniel Trickett), Lynchmada have  finally managed to put together their highly anticipated sophomore effort ‘To The Earth’. In much the same way their debut was a step up in confidence and quality compared to their E.P. effort, ‘To The Earth’ is another step in the right direction for the Queensland crew in every way conceivable.
Serving primarily as an introductory piece, ‘What Fresh Hell Is This?’ is a slow, heavy and atmospheric piece that features a combination of spoken word and screamed vocals. Although sounding a little stretched out, it does help set the tone of the album.
‘Throat Of Stone’ is up next, and its here that you can tell how far the band has come in their song writing over the last four years. The riffs sound a whole lot more distinctive and varied, and Harris’ combined growls and clean singing (Albeit brief at best) sound a lot more balanced and in sync with one another than ever before.
From here, the band goes straight for the throat with a vengeance on the aggressive mid-paced bruiser ‘Broken Bones’, the groovier sounding ‘Earth I Walk’ and the ever changing twists within ‘Blackout’, which moves from some truly crushing passages to some well written and performed melodic passages.
‘Burial Ground’ is definitely a favourite with its diverse riffing and powerful drumming from Trickett, while ‘Twenty Seven Years’ (Which is preceded by the brief guitar based atmospheric instrumental piece ‘Harbinger’) and the lengthy ‘Relic’ are undoubtedly two of the album’s catchiest and more rock based efforts, and help give the album a sound that really provides plenty of variation in sounds and direction over the whole album.
Another track worthy of singling out is the acoustic ‘City Of Lungs’, which not only showcases Harris’ growth as a vocalist, but also his ability to construct vocal lines that play to the song’s strengths.
While a couple of the songs tend to overstay their welcome, and the opening intro doesn’t quite hit its intended target, ‘To The Earth’ has everything you could possibly ask of a new Lynchmada album. It has stronger song writing, a greater mix of sounds and tempos from one track to the next and a sound that brings out the best in the band’s performances (The band co-produced the album with Nik Carpenter, and had it mixed and mastered by Chris ‘Zuess’ Harris). Lynchmada has every reason to be pleased with their new album, and I’m sure fans will agree wholeheartedly that ‘To The Earth’ is Lynchmada’s strongest release yet.

For more information on Lynchmada, check out – http://www.facebook.com/lynchmada

© Justin Donnelly

Serpentcult - Raised By Wolves

Serpentcult
Raised By Wolves
Listenable Records

Within the doom metal scene, Belgium based outfit Serpentcult forged out a unique sound for themselves with the aid of their vocalist Michelle Nocon. Granted, Serpentcult aren’t the only ones to have ever had a female vocalist at the helm (California’s Jex Thoth and Canada’s Blood Ceremony also had female lead vocalists), but none came close to matching the brilliance of Serpentcult’s ‘Weight Of Light’ album from 2008. It’s been three years since then, and things have changed dramatically, with Nocon parting ways with the band. In addition to that, the band parted ways with their label (Rise Above Records), which meant a serious rethink of direction was in order for the remaining members.
Serpentcult have never had the best of luck when it comes to vocalists (The band’s original vocalist Steve MacMillan was arrested back in 2006, which in turn forced the band to change their name from Thee Plague Of Gentlemen to their current moniker), so it comes as no surprise to find that Serpentcult have decided to remain as a trio (Who comprise of guitarist Frederic Caure, bassist Steven ‘LQW’ Van Cauwenbergh and drummer Frederik ‘Cozy’ Cosemans), and provide whatever vocals they required, themselves. Years have rolled by since the release of ‘Weight Of Light’, but after securing a deal with Listenable Records, Serpentcult are back with their new album ‘Raised By Wolves’. And as you would expect, there’s been plenty of change in the meantime.
Comprising of a mere four tracks, the band kick start the album with the title track ‘Raised By Wolves’, which initially begins with the sounds of rain, thunder and crows, eventually making way for the sound of guitars. Song wise, ‘Raised By Wolves’ is based all around a simple groove that’s hammered home endlessly in a heavy doom like fashion over the course of some nine minutes. While the description makes the song sound long and mundane, that couldn’t be further from the truth. The band have managed to create a dark and dense atmosphere throughout that brings to mind Neurosis and Triptykon in part (Without sounding entirely like either), while Caure’s vocals only add to the overall dark and desperate vibe of the dooming epic without interrupting the songs flow one bit.
Without so much as a gap, the instrumental ‘Crippled And Frozen’ bleeds on from the opener and in the process introduces something a little different from the band than what you would normally expect – and that’s stoner rock played in an almost doom metal manner. The up-tempo riffs are pitted against a low rumbling bass, which really does sound different. But regardless of how this sounds on paper, ‘Crippled And Frozen’ is an infectiously groovy number, and definitely one of the album’s more memorable (And accessible) efforts.
‘Longing For Hyperborea’ is by far the album’s most adventurous track, with the bulk of the song taking on more of a jam feel, but in an alternative rock vein rather than the usual doom metal format you’d expect of the band. While the change of sound and direction is something unexpected, it’s certainly not a bad thing, with the droning hum of the instruments and the barely audible vocals (Which was supposedly supplied by some friends of the band) helping maintain a dark atmosphere throughout.
Finishing up the album is ‘Growth Of The Soil’, which is by and large a fairly basic doom/sludge track, and exactly the sort of thing you would expect of the band given their past record. Caure again provides vocals in places, but they’re utilized in a way to create another tapestry of sound, rather than delivering anything from a spoken point of view. A little jamming like in places, atmospheric dips in other places and chaotic and powerful by its eventual conclusion, ‘Growth Of The Soil’ is a hugely dense and aggressive sounding number, and one that closes the album perfectly.
The Serpentcult of today isn’t exactly the same as the one from three years ago, with the band seeming to be open to experimenting more in creating moods, rather than simply knocking out doom metal measured by its riffs and vocal melody lines and choruses.
Serpentcult’s sound has always been based around the doom metal sound, but looking over the band’s body of work, it’s clear that they’ve never been one to do the same thing twice in a row (Even if that’s because of an ever changing vocalist within their ranks). And if you look at things that way, you could view ‘Raised By Wolves’ as not so much a departure, but just another chapter in Serpentcult’s bizarre and ever changing musical offerings.

For more information on Serpentcult, check out - http://www.myspace.com/serpentcult

© Justin Donnelly

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Funerus - Reduced To Sludge

Funerus
Reduced To Sludge
Ibex Moon Records

After announcing their return to the scene with a new track (‘Reduced To Sludge’) featuring on the ‘Afterparty Massacre (Death Metal Soundtrack)’ last year, long running Pennsylvania/New York based death act Funerus have finally broken an eight year drought with a new full-length release ‘Reduced To Sludge’. With their debut effort ‘Festering Earth’ released way back in 2003 (Again, through Ibex Moon Records), it’s no surprise to see the band’s line-up get shaken up a little. Of course, bassist/group founder Jill McEntee is still a guiding force within the band, but has since taken over the vocal duties alongside Incantation guitarist/mastermind John McEntee following the departure of Brad Heiple, who bailed soon after the release of their debut. In recent years, Funerus also parted ways with drummer Kyle Severn too, with Sam Inzerra (Ex-Morpheus Descends/Generation Kill) taking over the drum seat. So with eight years between releases, it’s logical to ask just how much Funerus has changed in the musical sense between releases. But if the truth be told, you would be hard pressed to know that years have passed since the release of their debut, because ‘Reduced To Sludge’ virtually picks up exactly where the band last left things.
The opening track ‘Behind The Door’ immediately lets you know what you can expect for the next thirty-four minutes, and that’s early ‘90’s death metal in the vein of Bolt Thrower, Asphyx, Hail Of Bullets, Obituary and of course, Incantation. On ‘Behind The Door’, Funerus don’t resort to any unnecessary extras to deliver their brutal brand of death metal. Instead, the riffs are kept fairly simple and straightforward, the bass is loud and clear in the mix throughout to give the band a full sound (Courtesy of Dan Swanö, who mixed and mastered the album) and a constant undercurrent of drumming that really adds to the band’s overall assaulting sound. Funerus’ song writing is neither complex nor challenging, but it is engaging and solid enough to ensure that the songs remain memorable and diverse enough over the course of the entire album.
In terms of favourites, the continual onslaught of ‘The Comfort In Depression’, the previously released title track ‘Reduced To Sludge’, the doom/death-like undertone of ‘Death Of A God’, the rather short ‘Sound Of Oil’ (Which is perhaps the complex sounding of tracks on the album) and the slow and crushing closer ‘E. Histolytica’ are the definite stand out cuts on the album.
‘Reduced To Sludge’ isn’t the kind of album that reinvents the death metal genre, nor is it an album that will appeal to those who only enjoy modern death metal. Funerus is an old school death metal act, and unashamedly so. And as long you know what you’re in for, you’ll find plenty to enjoy within ‘Reduced To Sludge’.

For more information on Funerus, check out - http://www.funerus.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Morta Skuld - Through The Eyes Of Death - The Early Demos

Morta Skuld
Through The Eyes Of Death - The Early Demos
Relapse Records

Formed in 1990, releasing four full-length albums in their time, and eventually parting ways in 1997 (After which two of the founding members went on to form MS2 and later 9mm Solution), Milwaukee (Wisconsin) based outfit Morta Skuld never really achieved the same success as fellow death metal acts Death and Obituary, and therefore slipped away into obscurity. But with a growing interest in resurrecting and re-releasing long forgotten gems from the past, it comes as no surprise to see that Relapse Records have dusted off some old Morta Skuld material from the confines of an abandoned vault and re-released them some twenty years later. As the title suggests, ‘Through The Eyes Of Death - The Early Demos’ compiles the band’s two original demos for the very first time on C.D.
Packaging wise, this re-release is quite attractive, with renowned artist Travis Smith providing the cool cover artwork. And on the audio side of things, the remastering of the demos (Courtesy of Chris Wisco at Belle City Sound) has certainly injected some life into the old recordings. On the surface, ‘Through The Eyes Of Death - The Early Demos’ would appear to be a worthy re-release. Unfortunately, it’s the music that ultimately lets this release down.
The opening five tracks are lifted from the band’s ‘Gory Departure’ demo from 1990, and showcases the band’s (Who at the time comprised of vocalist/guitarist Dave Gregor, guitarist Jason Zeitler, bassist Jason Hellman and drummer Jesse Rofritz) primitive and guttural approach to death metal. ‘Intro’ sets up a suitably creepy vibe to start things off, but the rest that follows certainly doesn’t muster up the same demonic tone. Having said that, ‘Sacrificial Rite’ and ‘Preacher Of Lies’ are solid tunes, and are the definite stand outs.
The band’s follow-up demo ‘Prolong The Agony’ (Which was also released in 1990) shows a huge improvement on both the performance and song writing front, with guitarist Jason O’Connell and drummer Jef Jaeger (Replacing Zeitler and drummer Rofritz respectfully) adding a greater technical edge to the group’s overall sound, which is evident in tracks such as ‘Feast From Within’ and ‘...Of Evil’.
Rounding out this compilation are two previously unreleased recordings, namely ‘Eternal Suffering’ and a cover of Metal Church’s ‘Metal Church’. ‘Eternal Suffering’ (Which was supposed to be released through Earache Records in 1991, but never saw the light of day) features Kent Truckenbrod taking over the drums from Jaeger, and sounds like a lost recording from Obituary with its sluggish and hammering sound and direction, while ‘Metal Church’ is from recordings the band made in 1998 with ex-Realm guitarist Takis Kinis providing the lead work, and remains true to the original, albeit with a more aggressive vocal approach.
Overall, Morta Skuld were never the most innovative or ground breaking act, and not surprisingly, they really struggled to find genuine success in their time.
If you’re a fan of Morta Skuld’s first couple of releases (1993’s ‘Dying Remains’ and 1994’s ‘As Humanity Fades’), then you’ll appreciate this re-release. If on the other hand you’re not familiar with the band, then don’t expect to be blown away by ‘Through The Eyes Of Death - The Early Demos’.

For more information on Morta Skuld, check out - http://www.myspace.com/mortaskuld

© Justin Donnelly

Thousand Year War - Tyrants And Men

Thousand Year War
Tyrants And Men
Abyss Records

Thousand Year War are a relatively new act to join the melodic death metal scene, with the band (Whose sole permanent member is former Old Path vocalist/guitarist Hiram Lohr) only coming together in 2008. Although they have only been together for a few years, they did manage to release their independent E.P. ‘Shadow Of The Colossus’ in 2009, which immediately caught the eye of Abyss Records. A couple of years later and Thousand Year War (Who comprise of Lohr, and session guitarist/bassist Kellen Sharp and session drummer Fredrik Widigs of Angrepp/Desultor/The Ugly) are back with their debut full-length album ‘Tyrants And Men’.
Prior to knowing anything about this Alaskan (Homer based) act, I could have sworn that these guys hailed from Sweden. The opening track on the album ‘Defiance’ has a strong Amon Amarth influence musically, and to some extent in the vocals (Lohr manages to get a bit more of a snarl in his delivery compared to those of Johan Hegg). While the similarities between the two acts are undeniable, ‘Defiance’ is a solid enough track, and a fitting start to the album.
‘The Sea’ (Inspired by Lohr’s passion for sea) is a powerful follow-up effort that features plenty of galloping riffs and aggressive vocals, which is emphasised all the more by the slower passages that allow the riffs to really stand out.
The faster paced pair of ‘No Gods, No Masters’ and ‘Thousand Year War’ have a strong Gothenburg vibe that brings to mind shades of Dark Tranquillity mixed with Amon Amarth with their dense riffing and greater emphasis of melody throughout the choruses, while ‘Open Casket’ reveals a trace of thrash metal with its fast paced and abrasive riffing.
The cover of I’s ‘The Storm I Ride’ (From their 2006 debut ‘Between Two Worlds’) is a strange choice, and while it’s a solid and faithful reinterpretation of the song, it does stand out on the album as a little too different in style (Death ‘n’ roll versus melodic death metal) to really blend in enough with the rest of the album.
The mid-paced ‘Warriors Of Deceit’ and the intense blast of ‘One Final Breath’ are effective, but a little unmemorable around the latter half of the album, while the spirit and influence of Amon Amarth once again infiltrates the mid-paced crushing groove of ‘Spartacus’.
Finishing up the album is the title track ‘Tyrants And Men’, which is by far the most original sounding track on the album, with the bass deviating away from the guitar riffs and the intense drumming from Widigs helping the song writing to distance itself from sounding exactly like its obvious influences.
For a melodic death metal album, ‘Tyrants And Men’ is a solid release. Unfortunately, Amon Amarth have well and truly been there and done that countless times over, which means that as good as Thousand Year War are, they will always be second best at it.
If you’re a fan of melodic death metal in the vein of Amon Amarth, you could do a whole lot worse than Thousand Year War. But if you’re looking for something unique, you may have to wait a while before Thousand Year War finds their own identity and sound.

For more information on Thousand Year War, check out - http://www.thousandyearwar.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Anthrax - Worship Music

Anthrax
Worship Music
Nuclear Blast Records

No band within the metal scene has been guiltier of shooting themselves in the foot more than New York based outfit Anthrax. And if proof were needed, then one only has to look at the soap opera that has surrounded the band since 2004.
For those unaware, the story generally goes like this. After thirteen years in the lead vocal role, John Bush announced his split from the group mere months after the release of ‘The Greater Of Two Evils’. While some were disheartened by the news (Including myself), the announcement of plans to reunite the classic line-up of the band (Vocalist Joey Belladonna and guitarist Dan Spitz would once again join rhythm guitarist/vocalist Scott Ian, bassist/backing vocalist Frank Bello and drummer Charlie Benante) soon had fans in a frenzy over the possibilities of Anthrax reclaiming their rightful place amongst ‘The Big Four’ (Who also include Metallica, Slayer and Megadeth). Things seemed to be going well, with the band receiving high acclaim for the live album/D.V.D. ‘Alive 2’ in 2005.
But by early 2007, the honeymoon was over. Both Belladonna and Spitz were once again out of the band. By the tail end of the year, ex-Devilsize vocalist Dan Nelson was announced as Belladonna’s replacement and long-time lead guitarist Rob Caggiano was enlisted to fill the void left behind after Spitz’s split with the band. Not surprisingly, work on a new album was started.
Fast forward two years, and by all reports, Anthrax’s new album was near completion, with a release projected around May. But in July, it was confirmed that Nelson had decided to resign from the band, and that the completed album would be shelved indefinitely until the situation was sorted out. Of course, Nelson had a different recollection of events, and a war of words between the two camps ensued – much to the dismay of Anthrax fans who were hoping for a return of the band.
In a surprising turn of events, Bush returned to the band to help fulfil live obligations, and for all intents and purposes, seemed to be back with the band full-time. Needless to say, nothing about a vocalist’s position within Anthrax is set in stone, and by the tail end of 2009, Bush had moved on, and Belladonna was once again back as front man for Anthrax. Here we are, a year and a half since then, and Anthrax has finally released ‘Worship Music’, which is their first album of new material since 2003’s ‘We've Come For You All’.
If you’re a diehard fan of Anthrax (Like me), it's hard not to be sceptical of ‘Worship Music’. After all, this album has already been recorded twice – once with Nelson, and now with Belladonna. And it begs the question - just how much involvement did Belladonna have in the song writing if the album was already finished before he had rejoined the band?
Well, after giving the album plenty of time to sink in, all I can say is that while the details on who wrote what isn’t exactly clear, ‘Worship Music’ is quite simply a killer Anthrax album.
After a slow building instrumental piece (‘Worship’, which brings to mind ‘Contact’ from ‘We've Come For You All’), the band are quick to get down to business with the intense blast of ‘Earth On Hell’. Over the course of three and a half minutes, Anthrax thrash it out like its 1990, but with an edge of maturity that can only come from the perseverance the band have endured being the underdogs for the better part of the last two decades. While the riffs are executed with a viciousness, and Benante belts the hell out of his kit, its Belladonna here that steals the show. His voice has never sounded so in control and self assured, which really gives the song the edge needed to move away from sounding threatening, and actually going in for the kill.
‘The Devil You Know’ (The second single lifted from the album) is something different from the band, with the thrash choruses intertwined with huge catchy and infectious choruses, but works exceeding well, while ‘Fight 'Em 'Til You Can't’ sees the band returning to the thrash territory of ‘Earth On Hell’, but with an added injection of melody that pushes the song well and truly into the classic realm.
The heavy rock/metal sound of ‘I'm Alive’ is something that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on the band’s Bush led era albums (In particular ‘We've Come For You All’), but its Belladonna who really gives the song its personality and character with some great melody structures and his masterful performance throughout, while on ‘In The End’ (Which is preceded by the short intro ‘Hymn 1’), the band create a huge epic atmosphere with the song’s darker and melancholy feel, without losing any of their trademark crunch on the guitar front.
In terms of speedier material, the melodic thrash based ‘The Giant’ and ‘The Constant’ are infectious numbers that combine huge crushing grooves with choruses that simply beg to be cranked up, while the moody and darker tinged rocker ‘Crawl’ is without a shadow of a doubt Belladonna’s single stand out performance on the album, with the album’s heavy-handed closer ‘Revolution Screams’ coming close to the top spot at second place.
In fact, the only weak spot I could find came in the form of ‘Judas Priest’ (And its short instrumental intro ‘Hymn 2’). Although solid enough, and featuring some great breakdowns and drumming from Benante, the choruses didn’t grab quite the same way as some of the other tracks, and the lyrics have little to do with its namesake (Which only seems to confuse the issue).
Prior to this release, I doubt many had huge expectations of a genuine return to form from Anthrax on their new album. Sure, it was always going to be a solid effort, but I doubt many would have expected anything to rival the band’s classic releases of Belladonna’s early years.
To put it in simple terms, Anthrax has proven just about everyone wrong. ‘Worship Music’ is right up there with the best work that Belladonna and Bush have produced in the past, and have once again proven their worthiness amongst ‘The Big Four’.
Provided the band don’t shoot themselves in the foot and stay together in the future, Anthrax may once again return to glory, and find a fan base that has a mutual interest in worshipping music.

For more information on Anthrax, check out - http://www.anthrax.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Krisiun - The Great Execution

Krisiun
The Great Execution
Century Media Records/E.M.I. Music Australia

Few within the death metal scene can boast a career that has spanned more than fifteen years, without so much as a step out of place in terms of retaining a strong sense of consistency and energy in the musical sense like Brazilian act Krisiun. Following on from what was undoubtedly their strongest effort to date (2008’s ‘Southern Storm’); the three-piece outfit (Comprising of vocalist/bassist Alex Camargo, guitarist Moyses Kolesne and drummer Max Kolesne) have returned with their eighth full-length release ‘The Great Execution’. And not surprisingly, it’s another unrelenting death metal masterpiece that proves that Krisiun’s inner fire has far from extinguished, but more growing in strength with every passing year.
With some Brazilian flavoured acoustic guitar work leading up to the crash of the first opening riff (Provided by renown Brazilian guitarist Marcello Caminha), the opening track ‘The Will To Potency’ quickly builds into a huge metallic assault that combines some truly crushing riffs, venomous vocals and drumming that pummels the listener into complete submission. But while there’s no shortage of death metal acts that seem content to bludgeon the listener right from the outset, Krisiun prefer to hook the listener in with some truly catchy and memorable riff structures, and leave plenty of space in their overall sound to showcase the band’s remarkable abilities on their chosen instruments. Long-time co-producer/mixer Andy Classen has really given the band a sound that compliments the band’s aggressive approach to death metal (In other words, Krisiun are as brutal as you can get, and yet every member of the band can be heard clearly), while the band’s song writing is without question every bit as strong as their accomplishment on the performance side of things.
In terms of direction, ‘Blood Of Lions’ (Which features some great lead work) and the death/thrash based blast of ‘The Extremist’ are trademark Krisiun anthems where speed and extremities are the primary ingredients to create the perfect killing machine, while ‘Rise And Confront’, ‘Descending Abomination’ and ‘Shadows Of Betrayal’ (Which again features some awesome guitar work from Caminha) are more groove based efforts, but still manage to inflict plenty of damage all the same.
But where this album really shines is when the band broadens their song writing scope a little further afield than purely within the death metal realm. Tracks such as the title track ‘The Great Execution’, ‘The Sword Of Orion’ (Which features some great acoustic flamenco guitar work) and ‘Violentia Gladiatore’ all have some great progressive elements, without losing any of the firepower and aggression the band have built their reputation on.
Finishing up the album is the old-school intense/speed driven blast of ‘Extinção Em Massa’ (Which otherwise translates to ‘Mass Extinction’, and features a guest vocal appearance from Ratos De Porão front man João Gordo) and a re-recorded/revamped version of ‘Black Force Domain’ (Which was the title track from their debut full-length effort from 1995).
‘The Great Execution’ doesn’t quite eclipse the magnificence of ‘Southern Storm’, but only because perfection is near impossible to improve upon. But on its own merits, ‘The Great Execution’ is a stunning album in its own right, and if anything, proves that Krisiun are not only at their creative peak, but without a doubt one of the best extreme metal acts within the scene today.

For more information on Krisiun, check out - http://www.krisiun.com.br/

© Justin Donnelly

Opeth - Heritage (Collector’s Edition)

Opeth
Heritage (Collector’s Edition)
Roadrunner Records/Warner Music Australia

Each and every album from Opeth has seen the band try something new and push their sound into uncharted territory. In doing so, the Swedish group’s nine full-length releases have shown a gradual transformation from one album to the next, seeing a band that started out as a progressive death metal act grow into something far more unique and individual through incorporating a greater ‘70’s progressive rock influence into their sound. While some of the Opeth’s releases have fared better than others amongst their fan base, there are few that could honestly say that the band had released anything below the impeccable standard they set for themselves, which has meant that while a new Opeth may not be viewed as one of their strongest, you could always count on the album being a strong release nonetheless.
Three years after the release of their critically acclaimed ‘Watershed’ release, Opeth (Who comprise of vocalist/guitarist/pianist Mikael Åkerfeldt, guitarist Fredrik Åkesson, bassist Martín Méndez, keyboardist Per Wiberg and drummer Martin Axenrot) are back with their highly anticipated tenth album ‘Heritage’.
In the lead up to the album, Åkerfeldt went to great lengths to explain to fans that ‘Heritage’ was an album that would see the band fully embrace their progressive rock tendencies, and that the album wouldn’t feature any of his trademark growls. In other words, ‘Heritage’ was always going to be a radical departure from what you would normally expect of an Opeth album.
Many (Not unlike myself) assumed that ‘Heritage’ would see the band produce something that would be a mix of ‘Damnation’ (2003) and ‘Ghost Reveries’ (2005), but with a greater progressive edge. Surprisingly, ‘Heritage’ is nothing of the sort, and instead sounds completely different to any preconceived expectations one may have had.
Unfortunately, ‘Heritage’ isn’t an entirely successful experiment, and sadly disappoints more than not. The album starts off with the piano (Performed by Joakim Svalberg) instrumental title track ‘Heritage’. Although short, and quite downbeat, the track does provide a great introduction to the album. The follow on track ‘The Devil’s Orchard’ (The first single from the album) immediately reveals the direction Opeth are going to take listeners within ‘Heritage’, and it’s well and truly a retro inspired progressive rock direction. The band’s signature complex riffs are still very much used here, and Åkerfeldt’s melodies are as stunning as ever. Wiberg’s greater presence on the keyboards and the thicker tones on the guitars help give the song a strong progressive vibe, and the instrumental passages really showcase the sparseness of sound instrumentally the band were aiming for with the album. But while the song has some really strong points, it also has some serious weaknesses. The song doesn’t really seem to flow all that well (Which means that some of the ideas seem to be thrown in, without making sure they fit into the song), and some of the more atmospheric instrumental moments don’t really add that much to the song as a whole.
Initially, ‘I Feel The Dark’ starts off in promising manner, with the gentle acoustics and Åkerfeldt’s captivating vocals lulling the listener in. But for all its promise, the same problems that plagued the former tracks come into play. This time around, the introduction of the heavy riffs around the half way mark are so out of place it kind of feels like two songs were amalgamated into the one, which again leaves you with the impression that while the song has some great ideas, some should have been set aside and developed into a completely different song.
‘Slither’ (Which is supposedly a tribute to Ronnie James Dio) is for the most part one of the more familiar Opeth styled song on offer throughout ‘Heritage’, and also one of the more thought out and complete sounding tracks. In contrast, ‘Nepenthe’ is one of the album’s more progressive and daring tracks, with some of the instrumental middle sections taking on more of a jazz feel at times. The song also feels a little more structured than others too, which earns its place as one of the album’s stronger efforts.
Unfortunately, while the same said jazz and progressive influences are carried through to ‘Häxprocess’, the strength of song writing doesn’t. The instrumental start seems a little lost and lacking direction, and fails to leave an impression on me. It isn’t until halfway through the song that a genuine song emerges, and sure enough, it’s a great one at that. Why the band decided to pad the song at either end with directionless, meandering and overly long instrumental passages is beyond me. The same problem occurs in the lengthy ‘Famine’, where the first three minutes seems to be made up of two mismatched musical ideas (A percussive heavy instrumental and a piano piece with Åkerfeldt’s gently crooning over the top) before the real meat of the song really gets underway.
‘The Lines In My Hand’ is an interesting twist on the staple Opeth sound, with the keyboards taking the lead and the guitars reduced to simply playing the rhythm. But while the idea is an interesting one, the disjointed patches of song writing here make for a confusing listen, and ultimately disappoints.
Finishing up the album is the lengthy ‘Folklore’ (Which is another track that seems to incorporate two distinctly different songs, with the latter half one of the album’s serious great moments) and the closing acoustic instrumental ‘Marrow Of The Earth’ (Which isn’t quite as engaging as the opener).
On the special edition version of ‘Heritage’, the bonus D.V.D. comes with a 5.1 surround mix of the album, along with two bonus tracks. The acoustic based ‘Pyre’ is a great track, and boasts a bit more of the traditional Opeth sound with some great melodic (Electric) lead work, retro keyboard sounds and intricate acoustic guitar structures, while ‘Face In The Snow’ is a sombre mellow tune that could have easily been lifted from Opeth’s last couple of releases. Both tracks are understandably absent from ‘Heritage’ because of the difference in style, but are stronger in song writing and more thought out than anything heard on the album.
Rounding out the D.V.D. is the fifty-eight minute ‘Making Of Heritage’ documentary, where Åkerfeldt explains how the material took shape prior to entering the studio, before giving the viewer an insider’s view of the band recording the album. The documentary is an interesting look into the inner mechanics behind the making of ‘Heritage’, and worthy of checking out. The only real negative is that most of the dialogue is subtitled, which could at times be a bit draining.
Ultimately, while ‘Heritage’ isn’t a terrible album per say, it is a flawed effort. I can understand what the band was trying to achieve, and in some places, they achieved their objective (Especially in the musical sense). Unfortunately, some of the songs have too many ideas, or too many shifts in moods, which leaves the songs feeling disjointed and pieced together unnecessarily.
Opeth has never been afraid to challenge their audience through experimentation and pushing the boundaries of fans’ predetermined opinions of what makes up the typical Opeth sound. Sadly, ‘Heritage’ is an experiment that doesn’t quite work, and instead only sounds confused and scattered, both for the band and the listener.

For more information on Opeth, check out - http://www.opeth.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Switch Opens - Joint Crash

Switch Opens
Joint Crash
Transubstans Records

Two years after the release of their self-titled album (Which was their four effort after releasing three under the name of Fingerspitzengefühl), Swedish (Stockholm) based outfit Switch Opens are back with their long awaited fifth effort ‘Joint Crash’ with their new label Transubstans Records.
In terms of direction and sound, Switch Opens (Who comprise of vocalist/bassist Jesper Skarin, guitarists Tomas Bergstrand and Mikael Tuominen and drummer Anders Bartonek) haven’t strayed too far from where they last left things on their previous album, with the bulk of ‘Joint Crash’ still based firmly in the progressive/psychedelic stoner rock realm. But as evident last time around, Switch Opens isn’t the kind of group to stick to the rules that most follow, with plenty of unexpected twists amongst the familiar, helping to give the band a sound that’s not entirely easy to pin down.
The opening track ‘Square’ sees the band starting off proceedings in a slower pace with some huge booming riffs and some heavy presence from the bass that’s constantly underpinning the whole song. But it’s when the vocals kick in that Switch Opens show some real change from their former sound, with the verses showcasing a far cleaner and melodic side to Skarin’s vocals, which is quite a departure from his tougher and bellowing growls. The clean vocals add a hypnotising/mantra-like effect to the song, which is perfectly offset with the heavier riff sections where the band really turns things up.
The follow-up track ‘Mirror Man’ is a little more straightforward sounding for the most part, with the band delivering their trademark stoner rock sound mostly throughout the song. But that’s not to say there isn’t a twist here and there, because there’s a distinctly psychedelic touch added to the guitars to give the song a slightly ‘70’s vibe (Much in the same way that The Atomic Bitchwax have done for years), while the addition of chaotic saxophone sounds around the middle helps inject a bit of unhinged experimentation to the whole equation.
‘Pompous Pumping Heart’ is a definite favourite on the album with Skarin putting in a great vocal performance with his newly unearthed cleaner efforts, while the song’s overall transition from the quieter and more foreboding vibe of the start, towards a heavier and densely guitar driven conclusion sounds like a natural shift of mood over the course of its epic lengthy running time.
Both the riff drenched ‘Freak Sect’ and the primitive drive of ‘Chemistry’ could have easily been mistaken as cuts from the band’s last release, barring the injection of huge melodic choruses that really make the songs stand out, while the spacey and hypnotic ‘Like Fire’ is a bizarre experiment that combines monk-like chants over a guitar soundtrack that brings to mind Soundgarden’s ‘Searching With My Good Eye Closed’ (From 1991’s ‘Badmotorfinger’).
But the real gems on Switch Opens’ latest release are found towards the end. On ‘The Reunion’, the band really stretch out their sound to allow keyboards to add depth to what is otherwise an epic nine minute spaced out jam, while the closing title track ‘Joint Clash’ sounds unlike anything the band have ever attempted before, with song retaining its calm demeanour and vibe throughout, and the harmony vocals taking the lead rather than the guitars.
On ‘Joint Crash’, Switch Opens have remained true to the sound that was heard on their last album, but pushed the experimental elements further afield to give their sound greater space to move around in.
Apart from a shift in greater experimentation, the band’s song writing has also come a long way, with none of the eight compositions overstaying their welcome, despite their lengthy running times.
In the end, ‘Joint Crash’ is far more interesting, thought provoking and memorable than the band’s last release. And as far as I’m concerned, that ticks all the right boxes in my book. ‘Joint Crash’ therefore comes highly recommended.

For more information on Switch Opens, check out - http://www.switchopens.com/

© Justin Donnelly