Monday, April 30, 2012

Megadeth - TH1RT3EN

Megadeth
TH1RT3EN
Roadrunner Records/Warner Music Australia

There’s no question that Megadeth’s first six studio albums are highly regarded classics. And as a long-time follower of the band, I hold each and every one of those album’s up as the benchmark as the best Megadeth had to offer. And even though 1997’s ‘Cryptic Writings’ was a little patchy in places, it still had enough strong material to be enjoyable. Hell I like parts of 1999’s rather controversial ‘Risk’ album. But by 2001 (Around the release of ‘The World Needs A Hero’), I couldn’t help but feel that Megadeth had lost some of their original fire and drive, and as a consequence some of my own interest in the band.
While there’s many that have hailed each and every new Megadeth release since vocalist/guitarist Dave Mustaine reinstated the group after short hiatus, I haven’t entirely been sold on the band’s more recent output. 2004’s ‘The System Has Failed’ was essentially a Mustaine solo effort released under the Megadeth banner, and therefore seemed to lack some of the essential core Megadeth elements, while 2007’s ‘United Abominations’ hinted at greatness, but was letdown by overabundance of the filler efforts. 2009’s ‘Endgame’ did fare a little stronger, and the band appeared to be growing in strength with their solidified line-up, and the band’s contribution to ‘The Big 4: Live From Sofia, Bulgaria’ D.V.D. alongside Metallica, Slayer and Anthrax in 2010 only seemed to reinforce the notion. However, almost any goodwill the band had built up with those releases almost disappeared entirely with the release of the absolutely sub-par ‘Rust In Peace Live’ album/D.V.D. in 2010. Mustaine’s voice was merely a shadow of its past greatness, the band looked tired for the most part and the overall D.V.D. looked amateurish and rushed at best.
As is the case with every new album from Megadeth, ‘TH1RT3EN’ was hyped up to be another Megadeth classic, and after being given a taste of the first single (‘Sudden Death’), things did sound promising. But given the band’s recent track record, I was building my hopes up too much. And it’s a good thing I didn’t. Because even though the band’s thirteenth studio effort does have its moments, ‘TH1RT3EN’ is definitely one of Megadeth’s most disappointing efforts from their post-reformation era.
The opening track and first single ‘Sudden Death’ (Which was released back in 2010 on the ‘Guitar Hero: Warriors Of Rock’ video game) still stands out as one of the album’s stronger efforts. The band (Who aside from Mustaine, now comprises of guitarist/backing vocalist Chris Broderick, bassist/backing vocalist David Ellefson and drummer/backing vocalist Shawn Drover) sound inspired for the most part, with the interplay between the guitarists giving the melodic thrash based song some great lead work, and plenty of venom in Mustaine’s snarl gives the tune some added aggression on the vocal front.
The follow-up track ‘Public Enemy No. 1’ is a solid mid-paced semi-thrash effort that’s strong on melody, but a little lacking in terms of diversity (Especially on the chorus front, which gets a little repetitive after a while), while the rock based ‘Whose Life (Is It Anyways?)’ at least features a bit of attitude from Mustaine that gives off a bit of a punk vibe, which works quite well.
Unfortunately, this is where things start to falter. ‘We The People’, despite a great build-up and some great lyrical lines, lacks a memorable chorus to pack any punch, while ‘Guns, Drugs & Money’ is another song that is melodic enough, but is primarily only memorable for its overly repetitive choruses.
‘Never Dead’ is without a doubt the album’s stand out cut with its fast paced thrash riffs, memorable choruses and angry vocals from Mustaine, and proves that while Mustaine’s creative peak has well and truly passed, he can come up with a great song every now and then.
Next up three of the album’s more controversial additions - namely ‘New World Order’ (Which originally appeared as b-side to 1995’s ‘A Tout Le Monde’), ‘Millennium Of The Blind’ (Which was also released as a bonus track on the 2004 remastered version of the band’s ‘Youthanasia’ album from 1994) and ‘Black Swan’ (Which was originally the Japanese bonus track on 2007’s ‘United Abominations’). While I don’t have a problem with the band re-recording older material, I do have a problem when the said material has been released, and is still available. And I have a bigger problem when the changes to the original versions are minimal, and the songs themselves are average at best. Just why the band chose to re-record these three songs is beyond me. None of the tracks add anything to the album as a whole, and which seem suspiciously included only to boost the number of tracks up to a total of thirteen to coincide with the album’s title.
From here, things don’t get much better. ‘Fast Lane’ is essentially a lyrical rewrite version of ‘1,320'’ from ‘Endgame’ with nothing of note in the musical department, while ‘Wrecker’ (As in home wrecker) is simply throwaway with its below average lyrical prose.
‘Deadly Nightshade’ is an O.K. tune, but fairly forgettable, while the closing track ‘13’ simply fails to get off the ground, despite Mustaine putting a little more thought into the lyrics than most of the other tracks on the album.
Given the band’s recent track record of inconsistent efforts, the end result of ‘TH1RT3EN’ doesn’t exactly come as any great surprise. Mustaine seems to have lost much of his spark on the lyrical front, and the band act merely as a support team when it comes to producing anything worthy on the musical front.
Megadeth were once a vital and forward thinking group, both in their formative years as a thrash act and in the years that ensued as a heavy metal/rock styled outfit. But with the release of ‘TH1RT3EN’, it’s clear that Megadeth’s hunger and passion for writing music seems to be all but gone.

For more information on Megadeth, check out - http://www.megadeth.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Napalm Death - Utilitarian (Limited Edition)

Napalm Death
Utilitarian (Limited Edition)
Century Media Records/E.M.I. Music Australia

Despite a career that’s spanned more than twenty-five years, legendary grindcore/punk/death metal outfit Napalm Death still know how to craft a thought provoking and extreme album. And if any evidence needed to be provided, one only has to listen to the band’s last three studio releases (2005’s ‘The Code Is Red... Long Live The Code’, 2006’s ‘Smear Campaign’ and 2009’s ‘Time Waits For No Slave’) to know that if anything, Napalm Death still have the creative streak that has been with the band for most of their career. Two years on from their last studio effort, the Birmingham (U.K.) based four piece outfit (Comprising of vocalist Mark ‘Barney’ Greenway, guitarist/vocalist Mitch Harris, bassist/vocalist Shane Embury and drummer Danny Herrera) are back with their long awaited fifteenth studio effort ‘Utilitarian’. And as expected, Napalm Death are as thought provoking and political as ever, and still retain their place as leaders rather than followers within today’s extreme metal scene.
Starting out in much the same way as their last few albums, ‘Utilitarian’ is introduced via a foreboding and atmospheric/mostly instrumental piece ‘Circumspect’, which sounds huge, dark and epic (Despite its short running time). And as expected, as soon as the introduction is over, the band pile on the onslaught with ‘Errors In The Signals’, which is equal parts grindcore, grooving death metal and part progressive death metal with its constant shifts in tempo, unhinged barking vocals from Greenway and vast array of razor sharp riffing from Harris.
From here, Napalm Death delve into more experimental territory with ‘Everyday Pox’ (Which features some very avant-garde alto saxophone contributions from John Zorn), which works surprisingly well amongst the song’s grinding contributions, while tracks such as ‘Protection Racket’, ‘Quarantined’, ‘Think Tank Trials’, the military-like ‘Blank Look About Face’, ‘Nom De Guerre’ (Which translates from French as ‘Names Of War’) and sharp and direct ‘Opposites Repellent’ are typically Napalm Death in both their construction and delivery – diverse and aggressive in their ‘take-no-prisoners’ approach.
Outside of the more straight-forward crushing numbers, tracks like the ‘The Wolf I Feed’ - which features Harris putting in a fantastic punk inspired lead vocal performance, and a stunning clean passage which bears an uncanny resemblance to Fear Factory’s Burton C. Bell – and ‘Orders Of Magnitude’ hint at some punk/hardcore influences to varying degrees, while ‘Fall On Their Swords’ and ‘Leper Colony’ both utilise the huge choral vocals that the band have been experimenting with on the last few albums to stunning effect.
Elsewhere, songs like ‘Collision Course’, ‘Analysis Paralysis’, the savage ‘Aim Without An Aim’ and the jagged ‘Everything In Mono’ reveal a bit more melody within the Napalm Death song writing, which allows the songs throughout the album to stand out with their wide array of diverse sounds and styles.
Although there’s a sense of familiarity within ‘Utilitarian’ when compared to the band’s last few releases, there’s also enough experimentation in approaches on offer to make the album stand on its own as well.
Overall, ‘Utilitarian’ is another show of commanding force from the grindcore/death metal legends, and one that both existing fans and newcomers alike will agree is another classic Napalm Death title to add to their recent string of critically acclaimed efforts.

For more information on Napalm Death, check out - http://www.napalmdeath.org/

© Justin Donnelly

Tornado - Amsterdamn, Hellsinki

Tornado
Amsterdamn, Hellsinki
Listenable Records

What do you get when you throw Dutch, Finnish and American musicians together playing a style of music they call ‘swinging thrash’? The answer is Tornado.
Formed in recent years (Originally under the name of Nemesis Divina), the Netherlands based five piece act (Comprising of vocalist Superstar Joey Severance, Fuelblooded guitarist Michiel Rutten, guitarist Daddy B, bassist Johnny Wow and Amoral/Shear drummer Juhana ‘Starvin Marvin’ Karlsson) soon signed a deal with French label Listenable Records, entered the studio with producer Peter Tägtgren and have now released their debut effort ‘Amsterdamn, Hellsinki’.
So it does beg the question, just what does ‘swinging thrash’ actually sound like? Well, if you were to take elements of Death Angel, Exodus and Testament, and mixed it with Nuclear Assault, Suicidal Tendencies/Infectious Grooves and Agnostic Front, then you’ll have some idea of what to expect (Or be completely baffled!).
The opening punch of the brief introductory piece ‘A Bold Statement’ (Which boasts the line, ‘Like Muhammad Ali, we’re coming out swinging!’) and its fast paced sequel ‘Hate Worldwide’, Tornado definitely lay down a statement of intent – and that is to well and truly thrash listeners – albeit in a somewhat unique manner. Musically, the band’s understanding and execution of the classic thrash sound is nothing short of first class, with all of the bands mentioned above coming to mind immediately when the band sink their teeth into the song’s powerful riffs and shredding solos. On the vocal front however, there’s a completely different influence to be heard, and it’s the one component to the band’s sound that is an acquired taste. Sounding like a cross between Mike Muir and Roger Miret, Superstar Joey Severance may be far from an easy listen for some, but unique to say the least. As a song, ‘Hate Worldwide’ is a strong effort, and the subtle Living Colour reference with the gang vocals (The band’s classic ‘Type’ from 1990 is worked into the choruses) is really well done.
The fast paced environmental themed ‘3 Of 8’ is a take-no-prisoners blast of relentless thrash that is a definite favourite, while the equally driven ‘Massive Extinction Impact’, ‘Blue’ and ‘Rise Disciples, Rise’ are further examples of where Tornado deliver some great speed based thrash efforts.
But Tornado are anything but a one-trick pony in terms of tempos, with ‘Ignorance Is Thy Name’, ‘Priesthood Pedophilia’ (There are no prizes for guessing what this song is all about) and ‘Tunisia Uprising’ just some of the tracks showcasing just how varied Tornado can mix things up in terms of tempos, sounds and styles.
Unfortunately, while there’s a lot of great things offered throughout ‘Amsterdamn, Hellsinki’, there’s also a couple of glaring misfires as well. While it’s no doubt a tribute to Pantera’s ‘Walk’ (1992), ‘Eugenics’ is a little too repetitive as a whole, while the short ‘Noora’ (Which features a guest appearance from Austrian vocalist Dorota Malek) clashes with the thrash based album and inevitably sounds tacked on more than sounding deliberately placed.
Overall, what Tornado offer on ‘Amsterdamn, Hellsinki’ is kind of unique, and yet at the same time kind of familiar. And while the album does have a couple of fillers, and won’t appeal to all fans of thrash, there’s more than enough here to earn the album a strong recommendation.

For more information on Tornado, check out - http://www.myspace.com/tornadoamsterdam

© Justin Donnelly

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Asphyx - Deathhammer

Asphyx
Deathhammer
Century Media Records/E.M.I. Music Australia

When Netherland’s based death/doom metal outfit Asphyx released their comeback release ‘Death...The Brutal Way’ in 2009, you would be hard pressed to know that the band had been virtually inactive for the better part of a decade. Essentially, ‘Death...The Brutal Way’ was a monumental release, and one that rivalled anything the band released in their formative years.
Proving that they had lost nothing in their time away, the band released their ‘Live Death Doom’ live album/D.V.D. in 2010, which was universally hailed as the definitive live Asphyx package and a true testament to the band’s presence on the stage.
Two years on, and Asphyx (Comprising of Hail Of Bullets vocalist Martin Van Drunen, guitarist Paul Baayens, bassist Alwin Zuur and drummer Bob Bagchus) is back with their second album since their reformation some five years ago. And again, ‘Deathhammer’ is another classic death/doom metal release from the long running band. With seven full-length albums to their name, you can say that Asphyx have well and truly established their style and sound – so much so that ‘Deathhammer’ doesn’t really break any new ground for the long running act. But while the album isn’t a huge departure from what you would otherwise expect, it is at least another powerful and defiant release from the band, and one that fans will hail as a worthy addition to their vast catalogue of past classics.
The opening track ‘Into The Timewastes’ boasts Asphyx’s trademark simplistic riffs that give the band their crushing sound, the rumbling ever-present bass that underpins throughout, and Van Drunen’s distinctive ravished half-screamed vocals. It’s a take-no-prisoners approach right from the start with its fast pacing, but with enough twists and turns here and there (The somewhat melodic doom inspired passage around the middle) to earn the track its place as one of the firm favourites from the album.
The title track ‘Deathhammer’ is another fast song and one of the album’s real stand out cuts with its relentless energy and its infectious one line chorus, while on the lengthy ‘Minefield’, Asphyx deliver their trademark slower doom inspired sound to pure perfection with their masterful suffocating atmospherics and gloomy riffs.
From here, the band alternate between speedier numbers and slow doom based efforts, with tracks such as the raging ‘Of Days When Blades Turned Blunt’, ‘Reign Of The Brute’ (The title track from their E.P. released earlier in the year) and the surprisingly catchy effort ‘The Flood’ the pick of the fast paced efforts, and ‘Der Landser’ (Which translate from German as ‘common soldier’, and which also appeared on the band’s last E.P. release), ‘We Doom You To Death’ (Which was originally released on their split E.P. with Hooded Menace back in 2011) and ‘As The Magma Mammoth Rises’ the best of the soul destroying dooming efforts.
‘Death...The Brutal Way’ was a phenomenal release, and one that was always going to be a challenge for Asphyx to top. And while ‘Deathhammer’ doesn’t quite succeed in eclipsing the glory of their former effort, it does at least rival it in terms of greatness. In other words, Asphyx has delivered another stunning release of pure old school death/doom metal, and once again set the bar for the rest of the scene.

For more information on Asphyx, check out – http://www.asphyx.nl/

© Justin Donnelly

Black Tide - Post Mortem

Black Tide
Post Mortem
DGC Records/Interscope Records/Universal Music Australia

When Black Tide signed with Interscope Records in 2007, the label wasted little time in hyping up the Miami (Florida, U.S.) act well before getting them into the studio. And it was that same hype that had many chomping at the bit to hear the young band’s debut effort ‘Light From Above’ in 2008.
But despite all of the build up prior to its release, ‘Light From Above’ was nothing more than an O.K. album, with just as many solid tracks as there were fillers. But the more interesting thing most took from Black Tide’s debut was the potential the young band had. Many were hoping that by the time the band returned with their sophomore effort, Black Tide would eventually go on to become metal’s next big thing.
Well, three years and a line-up change later (Ex-Crimix/The Panix rhythm guitarist/backing vocalist Austin Diaz replaced Alex Nuñez in 2008, and joins vocalist/lead guitarist Gabriel Garcia, bassist/backing vocalist Zachary Sandler and drummer Steven Spence), Black Tide has returned with their highly anticipated sophomore effort ‘Post Mortem’. And the results are most likely going to be what most people weren’t expecting from the band.
The opening track ‘Ashes’ (Which features a guest vocal appearance from Matt Tuck of Bullet For My Valentine) starts the album off in a fairly solid metalcore sounding fashion, even if the band’s raw edge of old has been given a more polished appeal. The aggression is certainly there, as well as the song writing. Garcia’s vocals have definitely matured, and the musicianship has well and truly taken a step up in the three years since we last heard from the group.
With the follow on track ‘Bury Me’ (Which was released as a single in 2010), it’s clear that Black Tide have forsaken their early metal sound for something more akin to metalcore. While there’s nothing wrong with this, it has to be said that ‘Bury Me’ doesn’t offer anything new that hasn’t already been heard a thousand times before from the likes of Bullet For My Valentine or Trivium. But while the song writing is a little unremarkable, the musicianship is a clear winner, with the band showing great improvement on a musical level.
The heavy mid-paced effort ‘Let It Out’ sees the band move into a more alternative rock realm with its huge catchy choruses and harmonised vocals, while tracks such as the Lostprophets sounding ‘Honest Eyes’ (Which was also released back in 2010), the driving ‘That Fire’, ‘Take It Easy’ and the slower paced and mainstream radio rock sounding ‘Fight ‘Til The Bitter End’ are by far the album’s most accessible tunes, and the ones most likely to disappoint those who hoped for the band to steer more towards a heavier and more metallic direction.
Both ‘Lost In The Sound’ and the aggressive ‘Walking Dead Man’ do offer a little more metal to the listener (Not to mention with a whole lot of melody to boot), while the sweeping ballad ‘Into The Sky’ offers the complete opposite with its acoustic first half, and it’s symphonic tail end to close the album. All three tracks give listeners a sense of just how varied the band has moved to spread their sounds to realms beyond straight out metal on their second album.
For those pinning their hopes on Black Tide taking the hint of metal on their debut to new extremes on ‘Post Mortem’ will be sorely disappointed with this album.
Instead, Black Tide have clearly gone for a more metalcore sound on ‘Post Mortem’, along with some more heavy rock tunes to keep things interesting beyond one core direction. It’s a plan that does work, provided of course you don’t mind catchy songs, familiar and safe song structures and lyrics that don’t require too much thought.
Overall, ‘Post Mortem’ isn’t so much a failure, because it’s actually quite an enjoyable album. Instead, it’s a good (If inconsistent) album from a band who still seems a little confused as to what style of music they want to play.

For more information on Black Tide, check out - http://www.blacktidemusic.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Sarah Jezebel Deva - The Corruption Of Mercy

Sarah Jezebel Deva
The Corruption Of Mercy
Listenable Records

For many years, Sarah Jezebel Deva made her name as backing vocalist for groups such as The Covenant, Therion, Tulus, Mortiis, Angtoria and most importantly and extensively, with extreme U.K. metal act Cradle Of Filth (An association that has lasted for some sixteen years). But after spending years playing support to many acts (Both in the studio and on the live front), Deva decided to step out on her own and forge ahead with a solo career. Deva’s debut effort ‘A Sign Of Sublime’ was released in 2010 (Through Rising Records) to much hype, but was quickly dismissed as a disappointment from the press with its confused direction. Surprisingly enough, Deva herself admitted that she wasn’t pleased with ‘A Sign Of Sublime’, and was determined to ensure that her follow-up release wouldn’t be released unless she was totally satisfied with the album. So after assembling an entirely new outfit (Joining Deva are guitarists Dan Abela and Jonny Gray, Sariola bassist Ablaz and drummer Jamie Abela), the London (U.K.) based vocalist has returned with her sophomore solo effort ‘The Corruption Of Mercy’.
For the most part, ‘The Corruption Of Mercy’ is a huge step up from ‘A Sign Of Sublime’, in terms of production, consistency, song writing and overall performance. But despite the improvements, it’s clear that Deva’s second solo effort still has its issues.
The opening track ‘No Paragon Of Virtue’ starts off on the wrong foot, and immediately brings to light some of the problems that plague Deva’s musical path. The mix of electronic effects and symphonic black metal is quite well done; giving the song an overall vibe that brings to mind something Cradle Of Filth or Dimmu Borgir would conjur up. The problem is how Deva’s vocals fit into this mix. Sure, the operatic efforts that Deva delivers are O.K., but her lower register vocals just clash too much to really come across as organic, and instead feel like they’re tacked on over a backing track. In other words, while this is a good song, the vocals simply don’t gel well enough to pull it all off successfully.
The follow-up track ‘The World Won’t Hold Your Hand’, while mining a similar path of the symphonic melodic black metal terrain, seems to work on a whole different level, and showcases the strong song writing abilities within the band. The subtle choir effects and the well executed guitar solos certainly add to the quality of the song.
‘A Matter Of Convenience’ moves in a completely different direction, with a gothic rock vein taking over from the symphonic metal direction of the former tracks. And it’s a sound and style that works incredibly well. Unfortunately, it’s the only song of its kind.
Both the experimental ‘The Eyes That Lie’ and ‘Silence Please’ are primarily rooted in an operatic/orchestrated framework, with the band providing the creepy atmospherics and black metal elements to great effect, while ‘Sirens’ (Which is preceded by the short symphonic instrumental piece ‘What Lies Before You’) is a curious excursion into gothic blackened metal, which again works – if only because Deva retains vocals throughout.
Not everything works on the album though. The piano ballad ‘Pretty With Effects’ is O.K., but a little bland in terms of melody lines (Deva rarely deviates from the predictable path), while the cover of The Cranberries’ ‘Zombie’ (From 1993’s ‘No Need To Argue’) is fairly faithful to the original, with no real surprises.
The final track is saved for the title track ‘The Corruption Of Mercy’, which like the opener, is virtually a mix of everything the band is capable of. But unlike the opener, the blend of styles (And not to mention vocals) seems to work well throughout the mini-epic, and closes the album on a sound note.
Deva has come a long way between releases, but still hasn’t quite settled on a sound and style that works over the course of a full-length album. Sure, you can have a lot of diversity of styles on any given album, but unless those varying styles gel, it’ll only ever sound like a confused mess. And while ‘The Corruption Of Mercy’ still sounds a little confused in places, it’s at the very least an improvement over ‘A Sign Of Sublime’.

For more information on Sarah Jezebel Deva, check out – http://www.myspace.com/jezebeldeva

© Justin Donnelly

Toxic Holocaust - Conjure And Command

Toxic Holocaust
Conjure And Command
Relapse Records

With the resurrection of thrash metal in the new millennium (Commonly referred to as the N.W.O.T.M., or the New Wave Of Thrash Metal), a whole host of acts soon flooded the scene, thrusting thrash metal back into vogue with a vengeance. While there were some great bands to come out of the reinvigorated scene (Evile and Warbringer are two immediate names that spring to mind), there was a longer list of acts that barely ranked above imitation level. One name that stood high above most was Portland (Oregon, U.S.) based act Toxic Holocaust, who took the thrash metal scene by storm with their critically acclaimed debut effort ‘Evil Never Dies’ in 2003.
Since then, the speed/blackened thrash metal outfit have maintained their status as a force to be reckoned with, with their subsequent albums ‘Hell On Earth’ (2005) and ‘An Overdose Of Death...’ (2008), not to mention their incredible number of singles and split E.P.’s in the meantime, only garnishing more and more praise amongst the growing number of thrash fanatics in the years that followed. Now Toxic Holocaust has made their highly anticipated return with their fourth full-length release ‘Conjure And Command’. And while the album is another slab of pure thrashing metal, it also represents a slight change of sound for Toxic Holocaust.
The first real noticeable difference between this album and the ones that proceeded it is that vocalist/guitarist Joel Grind has decided to share recording duties alongside his fellow band members (Namely ex-Rammer bassist/backing vocalist Phil ‘Gnaast’ Zeller and Kingdom Of Sorrow drummer Nikki Bellmore), rather than record the album himself. Although it’s hard to determine just how much of an impact this has made on the album, the fact that this is more of a band effort does signify a big difference from previous efforts.
Aside from the recording line-up, the other real notable changes can be heard throughout the ten tracks Toxic Holocaust offer up on ‘Conjure And Command’. While the band’s trademark speeding thrash sound remains intact in part, there’s also a greater emphasis on slower tempos and melodic structures, which means that while ‘Conjure And Command’ is undoubtedly a Toxic Holocaust album, it’s far from a carbon copy of their previous releases.
The album opens up in a speeding fashion with ‘Judgment Awaits You’, which under two minutes, well and truly announces the return of the band in truly destructive form.
Despite its slower build-up, ‘Agony Of The Damned’ is a potent mid-paced thrasher that showcases Grind’s measured and gravelly semi-melodic style of punked-up/blackened vocal style, while ‘Red Winter’ and ‘Nowhere To Run’ follow a similar path in terms of tempo.
Unfortunately, not everything works in terms of the band’s newfound slowed down pace, with ‘I Am Disease’ and the slightly faster ‘In The Depths (Of Your Mind)’ a little lacking in the chorus department with their somewhat bland delivery.
Thankfully, the stronger tracks outweigh the weaker efforts, with the classic ‘Bitch’, the driving ‘The Liars Are Burning’, the savage ‘Revelations’ and the call to arms anthem of ‘Sound The Charge’ the real picks on the latter half of the album.
‘Conjure And Command’ isn’t going to be hailed as one of Toxic Holocaust’s strongest efforts, but it will at least go down as one of their more diverse and varied efforts, with more than its fair share of killer tracks.

For more information on Toxic Holocaust, check out – http://www.myspace.com/toxicholocaust

© Justin Donnelly

Monday, April 23, 2012

Exhumed - All Guts, No Glory

Exhumed
All Guts, No Glory
Relapse Records

After five years of self-imposed exile, long running San Jose (California, U.S.) based death metal outfit Exhumed finally got back together in 2010, and soon began to formulate plans for a new gory full-length effort.
And here we are, some eight years after the release of their highly acclaimed ‘Anatomy Is Destiny’ effort, Exhumed is back with their highly anticipated fourth studio effort ‘All Guts, No Glory’. Of course, Exhumed have been anything but quiet over the last eight years, with Relapse Records releasing the comprehensive compilation effort ‘Platters Of Splatter: A Cyclopedic Symposium Of Execrable Errata And Abhorrent Apocrypha 1992-2002’ in 2004, and the band releasing a covers album in the form of ‘Garbage Daze Re-Regurgitated’ the following year. And then there was the band’s split with Ingrowing in 2006 (‘Something Sickened This Way Comes/To Clone And To Enforce’) and the split with Cephalic Carnage, Impaled and Retaliation in 2008 (‘HF Seveninches Collection Vol. 1’). But despite the prolific output from the band on the E.P. and split side of things, it’s on the full-length front that Exhumed seem to be more absent than not. Hence the reason a new album from Exhumed is something every diehard fan of the band has been waiting for.
Even though the band has been on hiatus, you’d be hard pressed to know it. ‘All Guts, No Glory’ sounds like Exhumed (Who now comprise of vocalist/guitarist Matt Harvey, guitarist Wes Caley, ex-Impaled/Intronaut/Murder Construct bassist Leon del Muerte and Intronaut/Murder Construct drummer Danny Walker) have picked up exactly where they last left listeners, only stronger and better than ever.
After opening up the album with the brief instrumental ‘All Guts, No Glory’ (Which is a crushing mix of thrash and Kerry King (Slayer) like squeals on the guitar), Exhumed officially get the album off to a blasting start with ‘As Hammer To Anvil’. Boasting quick fire drumming throughout, razor sharp riffing, melodic clean solos and a catchiness underpinning the gory lyrical prose, ‘As Hammer To Anvil’ is a crushing opening act, and only proves that Exhumed have lost nothing in their time away from the scene.
‘Your Funeral, My Feast’ takes the bar set by the former track and raises it even higher (Especially on the solo front), while ‘Through Cadaver Eyes’, the speeding ‘Death Knell’ (Which happens to be one of this scribe’s personal favourites) and the d-beat driven ‘Distorted And Twisted To Form’ (Which reminds me of early Dismember rather than the band’s more familiar Carcass worship) maintain the incredibly high standard.
The riffing within ‘I Rot Within’ and ‘Funereality’ are as infectious and memorable as they are pulverising, while the vocal melody lines on ‘Dis-assembly Line’ and the Carcass-like ‘Necrotized’ hook the listener in much the same way as the former tracks, without weakening the band’s punishing delivery of brutal and surgically crafted death metal.
Finishing up the album is the hyper-fast and memorable ‘So Let It Be Rotten… So Let It Be Done’, which is without a doubt one of the album’s catchiest efforts, as well as standing out as one of the album’s real brutal efforts.
For a band that’s been around for more than twenty years, you could be excused for thinking that Exhumed’s days as a creative force to be reckoned with were all in the past. But the truth is that even though ‘All Guts, No Glory’ has been a long time coming, it’s without a doubt a classic showcasing Exhumed at their best – guts and all.

For more information on Exhumed, check out – http://www.myspace.com/exhumed

© Justin Donnelly

Lacuna Coil - Dark Adrenaline

Lacuna Coil
Dark Adrenaline
Century Media Records/E.M.I. Music Australia

Long running Italian act Lacuna Coil is a band that have polarised many in recent years, with the line drawn between the release of their stunning 2002 release ‘Comalies’ and it’s disappointing follow-up ‘Karmacode’ from 2006. Essentially, what it comes down to is those who prefer the band’s early gothic metal/rock sound (1998 through to 2002), and those who have embraced the band’s current alternative rock direction (2006 to the present).
While I really enjoyed the band’s early albums, I can honestly say that I’ve liked some of their latter day efforts as well. Nothing the band has released has been a complete disaster, even if their last two releases (‘Karmacode’ and 2009’s ‘Shallow Life’) lacked the spark, the darkened edge and inventiveness of their early efforts. So with the release of the Milan based outfit’s sixth full-length release ‘Dark Adrenaline’, I kept an open mind and cast aside all expectations and hopes that the band had decided to rethink their current direction, return to their early roots and deliver the album fans have been waiting for.
With no preconceived ideas of what to expect, I can honestly conclude that ‘Dark Adrenaline’ is by far the strongest album the six piece outfit (Comprising of vocalists Cristina Scabbia and Andrea Ferro, guitarists Cristiano Migliore and Marco Biazzi, bassist/keyboardist Marco Coti Zelati and drummer Cristiano Mozzati) have released in years.
The opening track ‘Trip The Darkness’ is perhaps one of the album’s more radio friendly and melodic efforts, and not surprisingly, one of the album’s more forgettable efforts. Given that the song could have easily fitted on ‘Shallow Life’ without sounding out of place, it’s not surprising that the song was chosen as the album’s first single. Still, the track does have a greater guitar presence than anything from their last couple of album’s (Courtesy of Don Gilmore, who previously worked with the band on ‘Shallow Life’), which is at least a good sign for the rest of the album.
The follow-up track ‘Against You’ is an interesting effort that seems to contain elements of both the band’s past and present sounds, as well as a brief solo (Something that is rarity in Lacuna Coil songs these days), while the guitar heavy ‘Kill The Light’ is an absolute classic with its huge guitar sounds and infectious choruses.
From here, the album seems to alternate between a mix of the old and new, with tracks such as ‘Give Me Something More’, the slower rocker/ballad ‘End Of Time’ (Which features some great dual vocal harmonies) and ‘The Army Inside’ (Which again features another great solo) representing the band’s modern alternative rock approach, but with just enough influences from their past to spice up the song writing (And inevitably overshadow anything featured on ‘Shallow Life’).
Elsewhere, tracks like ‘Upsidedown’, the darker ‘I Don’t Believe In Tomorrow’, ‘Intoxicated’ and the moody and atmospheric slower paced closer ‘My Spirit’ sound more like a conscious effort from the band to recapture the spirit of the roots – which they succeed at more than not.
In fact the only track that really doesn’t work aside from the opener is the band’s cover of REM’s ‘Losing My Religion’ (From 1991’s ‘Out Of Time’). While I’ve never been a big fan of the song (Or R.E.M. for that matter), the band’s rendition here sounds a little too predictable and safe, and therefore comes across as nothing more than filler at best.
Overall, ‘Dark Adrenaline’ is a return to form for Lacuna Coil - perhaps not to the extent of rivalling ‘Comalies’, but at the very least sounding stronger than their last couple releases.

For more information on Lacuna Coil, check out - http://www.lacunacoi.it/

© Justin Donnelly

Scythia - ...Of Exile

Scythia
...Of Exile
Independent Release

Hot on the heels of their debut release ‘...Of War’ from 2010, Vancouver (Canada) based folk metal outfit Scythia has returned with their sophomore effort ‘...Of Exile’. While Scythia’s debut was hardly the greatest folk metal release that I’d ever had the pleasure of listening to, it did at least entertain, and give the band something to build upon with their next release. And now having given ‘...Of Exile’ several spins, it’s clear that the band have improved in their twelve months between releases. But having said that, ‘...Of Exile’ still has some glaring problems – most of which were issues that were raised with their debut.
Scythia (Who comprise of lead vocalist/guitarist Dave Khan, bassist Terry Savage, keyboardist Scott F. Thompson, oboe player Morgan Zentner and drummer/backing vocalist Celine Derval) begins the album with ‘Prelude’, while essentially a slower keyboard based piece that features the dual vocalists laying down the conceptual storyline in musical/vocal form. The song itself is good, and the vocal performances are quite well done (Especially Derval, who is a great vocalist).
It’s with the follow on track ‘Spirit Of The Quest’ that Scythia really gets the album underway, and immediately shows their limitations. On a musical and composition scale, this track is definitely one of the better examples of what the band are truly capable of. Their blend of folk and metal is well done, and the dual vocal approach is far stronger than when Khan sings solo - And ultimately shows his obvious limitations. But what really brings the song down is the thin production (Which was again handled by Shaun Thingvold and the band themselves). Had the production been fuller and more dynamic, things may have been different. But as it stands, the song seems a little held back with its lack of punch and power.
After a short interlude piece (‘Sleeping Village’), the band ramp things up once again with ‘Forgotten Forest’, which happens to be one of the best compositions the band have written to date. There’s a touch of everything included here, but not to the point where it all sounds forced and random. Essentially, this is one of the album’s real stand-out cuts.
Despite the band’s attempts of creating a cinematic experience and sense of the epic on ‘Fallen King’, the production holds the song back too much to really fulfil its objective. Things do take a turn for the better with the metallic blast of ‘Voice Of The Sword’ and ‘Fortress’, where the aggressive vocals and the greater emphasis on guitars mask some of the deficiencies in other areas, while the varied and solid effort ‘For The King’, the rather impressive ‘Dies Irae II’ (A sequel to ‘Dies Irae Pt. 1’ from ‘...Of War’) and the Alestorm-like closer ‘Hobarth’s Inn’ at least finish the album in a consistent manner.
Having heard both of Scythia’s albums to date, it’s hard to say which one is the stronger of the two given that the pair has the same problems. In the end, I’ll say that while Scythia haven’t progressed much from one album to the next, they have at least taken a small step up in terms of making their sound gel a little more, and in their song writing. It’s just a shame that Khan’s vocals and production issues still blight what is otherwise a solid folk/metal album.

For more information on Scythia, check out - http://www.scythiafolkmetal.com/
© Justin Donnelly

Tormented - Rotten Death

Tormented
Rotten Death
Listenable Records

Given the names associated with Tormented, it’s surprising that the Swedish death metal act hasn’t attracted more attention. I mean after all, vocalist/guitarist Andreas ‘Dread’ Axelsson has been a member of renown progressive death metal outfit Edge Of Sanity and Marduk, guitarist Claes Holmberg has made a guest appearance on Intestinal’s recent effort (2012’s ‘The Rottening’), bassist Roberth Karlsson with Edge Of Sanity, Scar Symmetry, Devian and Pan.Thy.Monium and drummer Jocke Ölund in Tortyr (A hardcore/punk band that features all the members of Tormented).
Even after releasing a full-length effort (2009’s ‘Rotten Death’ through Iron Fist Productions), a split with Bombs Of Hades (2011) and an E.P. (2012’s ‘Graveyard Lust’ through War Anthem Records), for reasons unknown, Tormented seemed to have passed under the radar by most. But that’s not to say they’ve been completely ignored, with Listenable Records recently signing up the band, and making it a high priority to get them exposure with a re-release of their overlooked debut effort ‘Rotten Death’.
Apart from a revised packaging, ‘Rotten Death’ is virtually the same as the original, which is a shame because at a total running length of just over thirty-three minutes, a few bonus tracks would have been a nice incentive to reinvest in a new copy of the album.
Despite the lack of extras, Tormented’s debut effort is worth keeping an eye out for if you’re after an album that is unashamedly old school death metal. From the buzzing guitar tones, the lack of noticeable bass, lyrics that centre solely on all things death related and a vocal performance that delivers his lines with a guttural (Yet decipherable) ravished growls, ‘Rotten Death’ is every bit the real deal, even if it was released some twenty years after the birth of classic old school Swedish death metal.
Although nothing stands out as an absolute classic within the nine tracks the band offer up throughout ‘Rotten Death’, tracks such as the title track ‘Rotten Death’ (Which hints at a slight punk rock influence amongst its speedy riff work), the catchy ‘Vengeance From Beyond The Grave’, the gore drenched ‘Drowning In Decaying Flesh’, ‘Tomb Of Corpses’ and ‘Reversed Funeral’ (The latter two feature guest guitar solos from ex-Guidance Of Sin/Vicious Art guitarist Tobbe Sillman) are the definite highlights.
Tormented aren’t giving listeners anything they haven’t heard before from within the death metal realm on ‘Rotten Death’. But then when it’s done this well, and by such revered names that played their part in helping to shape the Swedish scene’s early history, is there really any need to reinvent the wheel?

For more information on Tormented, check out - http://www.tormented.nu/

© Justin Donnelly

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Klone - The Eye Of Needle

Klone
The Eye Of Needle
Klonosphere/Season Of Mist Records

Klone isn’t an overly well-known act within the metal scene, but they’re certainly one of the more interesting offerings from the French scene, with each and every one of the band’s releases over the last eight years seeing a change direction, with listeners offered something completely unexpected.
Originally accessible as a free download last year, Season Of Mist Records (The label that released the band’s last couple of releases) has decided to pick up their last E.P. ‘The Eye Of Needle’ and re-release it in expanded physical form.
The first two songs on this E.P. comprises of the title track ‘The Eye Of Needle’, which is split into two parts. The first part of this seventeen minute epic starts out with a long and gradual build up of guitars, saxophone and drums, all of which give a post-rock feel, for the most part. With the eventual emergence of vocalist Yann Ligner, the sound changes a little to something more akin to Textures (With clean vocals) mixed with a bit of Oceansize and The End, without sounding directly like any of the bands mentioned. The use of saxophone (Provided by keyboardist/sampler Matthieu Metzger) throughout the song does give Klone a unique and intriguing sound, while the subtle waves of heavy, slow moving riffs from the guitarists (Mika Moreau and Guillaume Bernard) and the increased use of keyboards towards the end transforms the song from something groove metal based into something more progressive. It’s an interesting and compelling journey, and one worth taking.
On the second part of the song, things take on a completely different tone, with the band’s direction sounding closer to alternative rock than metallic, with influences from ASG and Cky immediately coming to mind with the way Ligner delivers his vocals and the way the guitarists churn out their choppy riffs. But despite the images the comparisons may conjure up in the mind, the catchy and hypnotic vocals and the thrash-influenced riffing in the latter half of the song really make the song stand out as something a little different and worthwhile.
Finishing up the E.P. is the previously unreleased ‘Monster’, which was originally recorded during the sessions for their last album ‘Black Days’ (2010). Unlike the other tracks on the E.P., ‘Monster’ is a heavier and most aggression driven beast, with Ligner’s vocals noticeably more guttural than his cleaner efforts. Although fairly straight-forward and groove driven, the chorus structures are well written and catchy, while the brief passages where the band step up the tempo to take on a more thrash metal direction do help give the song a bit more variation.
Just how indicative the title track is of the direction the band plan to take their new full-length release is anyone’s guess. But as a stop-gap release, ‘The Eye Of Needle’ is an interesting keepsake for fans, and well worth checking out.

For more information on Klone, check out - http://www.kloneband.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Mortal Sin - Psychology Of Death

Mortal Sin
Psychology Of Death
Independent Release/Riot! Entertainment

It took a few years, and several line-up changes within that time, but two years after reforming, Sydney (New South Wales, Australia) based thrash metal act Mortal Sin finally delivered their long awaited comeback album ‘An Absence Of Faith’ in 2007. And while the album wasn’t the absolute classic many had hoped would rival their critically acclaimed debut effort ‘Mayhemic Destruction’ (1986), it was at least better than anything the band had produced since the release of their sophomore effort ‘Face Of Despair’ in 1989.
It’s been four years since the release of their last album, and after some extensive touring across the globe to announce their long overdue return to the scene (Which was documented on their live D.V.D. ‘Out Of The Darkness’ in 2007, and their live album ‘Into The Inferno - Live In Oslo’ in 2009), Mortal Sin (Who now comprise of vocalist Mat Maurer, guitarist Nathan Shae, new guitarist Ryan Huthnance of The Seer/Indisperse, bassist Andy Eftichiou and ex-Vaticide/The Seer/Killrazor drummer Luke Cook) are back with their highly anticipated fifth full-length effort ‘Psychology Of Death’.
If there were any doubts amongst fans as to whether or not Mortal Sin could ever return to their glory days of pure unadulterated thrash, then ‘Psychology Of Death’ will settle the matter once and for all. ‘Psychology Of Death’ is without a doubt the comeback album Mortal Sin promised they would deliver, and then some.
After a minute long build-up, the band gets right down to business with the opening title track ‘Psychology Of Death’, and what a track it is! The guitar team of Shae and Huthnance is a powerful one to say the least, with the pair delivering some truly crushing riffs and an assortment of solo fills that well and truly announce the band’s return to their classic ‘80’s thrash roots. Cook’s proficient drumming helps add an edge that was somewhat lacking on their last release, while Maurer’s distinctive monotone vocals sound stronger than ever. In simple terms, this is a completely rejuvenated Mortal Sin from the one we heard four years ago.
From here, the band rarely let up their full-on thrash assault, with the fast paced ‘Blood of My Enemies’ taking no prisoners with its added aggression and venom over the opener (Especially on the vocal front), the catchy (And perhaps a little repetitive) ‘Paralysed By Fear’, the anthem-like ‘Burned Into Your Soul’ and the powerful ‘Deny’ all delivered in the classic thrash metal vein of old Mortal Sin.
It isn’t until ‘Doomed To Annihilation’ and ‘Kingdom Of Pain’ that the band deviates from the breakneck speed of the early part of the album. But despite the lack of speed, both tracks still manage to deliver some solid thrash grooves with its tight knit and diverse array of riffs, Cook’s incredible drumming throughout and Maurer’s distinctive aggressive vocal snarls.
Towards the tail end, the band once again ramps up the speed with the classic Overkill sounding ‘Down In The Pit’, before closing the album with the full-on blitzkrieg of ‘Hatred’.
Mortal Sin may have marked their return to the metal scene with ‘An Absence Of Faith’, but their real comeback comes in the form of ‘Psychology Of Death’. This album is a relentless thrash assault from start to finish, and just the kind of release that lives up to the reputation Mortal Sin initially built way back in 1986.
Where Mortal Sin go from here remains to be seen (Especially since Maurer announced his resignation from the band just months after the release of this album), but as it stands now, Mortal Sin is seriously back in true thrashing form on ‘Psychology Of Death’.

For more information on Mortal Sin, check out – http://www.mortalsin.com.au/

© Justin Donnelly

Redemption - This Mortal Coil (Limited Edition)

Redemption
This Mortal Coil (Limited Edition)
Inside Out Music

With three absolutely stunning releases emerging from the band in as little as the last six years (I’m excluding their self-titled effort from 2003 because I was far from impressed with Rick Mythiasin’s vocals, and 2009’s live D.V.D./C.D. release ‘Frozen In The Moment - Live In Atlanta’ for obvious reasons), I was really looking forward to Redemption’s last effort ‘This Mortal Coil’ – not to mention expecting great things. But if I’m to be perfectly honest, I’ll admit that while the band’s fifth album is a solid and likeable release, ‘This Mortal Coil’ isn’t quite the follow-up to 2009’s classic ‘Snowfall On Judgment Day’ I had hoped Redemption were going to deliver.
In a lot of ways, Redemption (Who comprise of Fates Warning/Engine front man Ray Alder, guitarist/keyboardist Nick Van Dyk, guitarist Bernie Versailles, bassist Sean Andrews, keyboardist Greg Hosharian and drummer Chris Quirarte) haven’t altered their progressive rock sound and approach to a large extent on this album, much like their last few releases. But in saying that, there’s no denying that ‘This Mortal Coil’ is by far their heaviest album to date, and in some ways, it’s that heavier sound that works against the band’s tried and true sound of the past.
The opening track ‘Path Of The Whirlwind’ is a prime example of the new and heavier sound that Redemption have adopted for their latest release, and a good indication of what to expect from the bulk of the album. The guitars are definitely up front and high in the mix, with an added crunch that wouldn’t sound too out of place on a modern thrash album. But while there’s nothing wrong with a heavier sound, when it comes at the expense of the vocals, it’s a high price. In the past, Alder has always been a major asset to Redemption’s overall sound. But on this track, he sounds pushed back in the mix, and to some extent, out of his comfort zone with the band’s heavier approach. ‘Path Of The Whirlwind’ isn’t necessarily a bad song, but far from one of the band’s finest compositions.
‘Blink Of An Eye’, albeit a guitar heavy track, is a little more of what we’ve come to know and love about Redemption, with the song’s choruses and Alder’s vocals the song’s strongest selling point.
‘No Tickets To The Funeral’ is one of the album’s stranger tracks in that the song seems to lie somewhere between the melodic past and the heavier presence of the present, which means that while the choruses are quite strong and memorable, the verses can be a little hit and miss at times.
The nine minute epic ‘Dreams From The Pit’ is undoubtedly one of the album’s real stand-out tracks where the band manage to make the aggressive work in tandem with Alder’s great melodies and vocals (Alder absolutely shines throughout this song), while the fast paced ‘Noonday Devil’ is another favourite with its somewhat experimental and different sound to anything else the band offer up on the album.
In the past, Redemption has always delivered a winner on the ballad front. But such is not the case here, with ‘Let It Rain’ and the mid-paced ‘Focus’ coming across as formula based and too simplistic, which means that the tracks lack energy and sound dull for the most part, which is a real disappointment.
‘Perfect’ does fare better than the former couple of tracks, as does ‘Begin Again’ to some extent (Which features a guest solo appearance from Shadow Gallery Keyboardist Gary Wehrkamp), but it’s ‘Stronger Than Death’ and the epic closing track ‘Departure Of The Pale Horse’ (Which reprises elements of ‘Stronger Than Death’) where the band really showcase their strengths in terms of memorable song writing and technical finesse.
As mentioned earlier, this is a review of the limited edition version of ‘This Mortal Coil’, which means that aside from the album itself, the band have included a second disc that comprises of six covers, which the band claim are tracks ‘that one would not expect be performed by a progressive metal band’. But despite Redemption’s bold claim, their first offering is Elton John’s classic ‘Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding' (From 1973’s ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’) – a track that most would already know was covered by Dream Theater way back in 1995 on ‘A Change Of Seasons’. Regardless of the band’s somewhat misleading statement, their version is a great one, and different enough to stand apart from any former versions that exist. Alder practically owns Jefferson Starship’s ‘Jane’ (Which appeared on 1979’s ‘Freedom At Point Zero’) and Journey’s ‘Edge Of The Blade’ (From 1983’s ‘Frontiers’), while the band’s take on UFO’s classic ‘Love To Love’ (From 1977’s ‘Lights Out’) is absolutely first class.
The cover of Toto’s ‘Hold The Line’ (From 1978’s ‘Toto’) isn’t so much bad, but more a case of predictable, which means that it’s passable and fairly standard.
But while all the former covers have their strong points, it’s the final track that really stands out.
Although having been previously released on the Japanese pressing of 2007’s ‘The Origins Of Ruin’, Redemption (With a guest vocal performance from Anna Kristina taking over from Alder) really does make an impression with their take on Tori Amos’ ‘Precious Things’ (From 1992’s ‘Little Earthquakes’), which closes out the bonus disc on a high note.
Overall, ‘This Mortal Coil’ is a good album, but a confused effort to say the least. In their attempt to toughen up their sound, the band has sacrificed some of the key elements that made them stand out from a lot of other progressive rock acts on the scene – namely emotion, atmospherics, melody and their biggest selling point - Alder’s vocals.
‘This Mortal Coil’ is good, but hardly Redemption’s best. Hopefully with their next album, the band will find the right balance between aggression and heaviness and their former sound. But as it stands, this album is for the diehard fans.

For more information on Redemption, check out – http://www.redemptionweb.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Monday, April 16, 2012

Anguish - Through The Archdemon’s Head

Anguish
Through The Archdemon’s Head
Dark Descent Records

When you think about the doom metal scene, the first band that generally springs to mind is Swedish outfit Candlemass. And the reason for that is the band have been around long enough to have inspired a whole generation of outfits, and have remained the best at producing classic doom metal for the better part of the last twenty-five years. So whenever a new act emerges onto the densely populated doom metal scene, it’s hard not to compare them to the genuine pioneers of the genre. And one of the latest groups hoping to make a name for themselves with their debut effort is Swedish (Uppsala based) outfit Anguish.
Having already released a demo (2010’s limited/cassette only ‘Dawn Of Doom’) and a split E.P. (2011’s effort alongside Black Oath) to positive press, I had certain expectations of Anguish’s ‘Through The Archdemon’s Head’. And having given the album several runs through, I can honestly say that while Anguish aren’t the worst doom metal act ever, their album does fall well short of what I was hoping for.
First and foremost, it must be said that the four piece act (Comprising of vocalist/bassist J. Dee, guitarist/bassists David and Christoffer and drummer Rasmus) have modelled their sound on Candlemass in a major way. Sure, there are a few differences here and there, but for the most part, Candlemass is an obvious influence on the band, and therefore the similarities between the two acts on a musical level are hard to deny.
The second thing is that while there’s a connection between Anguish and Candlemass on the musical side of things, the same cannot be said for the vocals. Unlike Candlemass, Anguish has opted for a completely different approach, with J. Dee’s vocals coming across as a mix of Thomas Gabriel Fischer (Ex-Apollyon Sun/Celtic Frost/Hellhammer/Triptykon), Cronos (Venom) and Quorthon (Bathgory). While the combination may sound intriguing to some, it has to be said that the actual results couldn’t be further from the truth.
After a solid and rather enjoyable opening instrumental slab of pure crushing doom (‘(Intro) Through the Archdemon’s Head’), ‘Book Of Fox’ picks up where the first track ended, and only shifts in tempo once Dee makes his appearance on the vocal front. Unfortunately, while the band is capable of executing some great ideas on the musical front (Even if they’re more or less rehashed Candlemass ideas), Dee’s raspy and sometimes wavering vocal delivery only brings the quality down several notches.
Despite some cool riffing within ‘When The Ancients Dare To Walk’, the presence of Dee’s vocals overshadow any of the great work the band deliver on a musical level, while ‘Dawn Of Doom’ doesn’t prove to be much different in terms of quality on the vocal front.
It isn’t until ‘Lair Of The Gods’ and ‘Illusive Damnation’ that Anguish’s debut effort really starts to provide any real highlights. And even then, it’s only due to a change in tempo (Opting for something a little speedier from the standard funeral doom of the other tracks) rather than a genuine change of style or a general lift in overall quality on the vocal delivery from Dee.
Finishing up the album is ‘The Veil’ (Which originally made an appearance on the band’s split E.P. from last year) and the dark and oppressive ‘Morbid Castle’, which at near twelve minutes, well and truly overstays its welcome.
If Anguish has proven anything on their debut effort, it’s that they have some great musical ideas, but are letdown with vocals that take away from music. And that’s a real shame, because if the vocals had been as good as the music, Candlemass may have seriously had some worthy competition on their hands.

For more information on Anguish, check out – http://www.myspace.com/anguishdoommetal

© Justin Donnelly

Caliban - I Am Nemesis

Caliban
I Am Nemesis
Century Media Records/E.M.I. Music Australia

In their early days, German based outfit Caliban were a force to be reckoned with. The band’s early albums helped establish the current metalcore movement, long before the scene and genre was firmly established and taken over by a multitude of followers. But somewhere along the way, Caliban seemed to lose a bit of their footing, which meant that while they were still a worthy outfit, their recorded output seemed to pale in comparison to some of the scene’s newcomers.
After releasing their less than well received ‘Say Hello To Tragedy’ full-length effort in 2009, the band decided to have a bit of fun and release a rather short covers E.P. in ‘Coverfield’ in 2011. It was hardly the sort of release that showcased what Caliban were about, and left many feeling that the band’s better days were long behind them.
A year on, and the five-piece act (Comprising of vocalist Andreas Dörner, guitarists Denis Schmidt and Marc Görtz, bassist Marco Schaller and drummer Patrick Grün) are back with their eighth full-length effort ‘I Am Nemesis’. And what a turn around the release is for the band.
After a string of releases that seemed to focus more on melody and breakdowns, Caliban have managed to craft an album where the balance of aggression and melody has been restored to all its former glory, and inspiration is found in abundance throughout the twelve new tracks the band have to offer throughout the album.
With the spoken words of ‘You gotta be fucking kiddin’ me’, the band gets the album off to a punishing start with the opening track ‘We Are The Many’. With the combination of melodic death metal riffs, upfront keyboards, Dörner’s dual vocals (Screams and cleaner lines) and a host of guest vocalists throughout the choruses (Heaven Shall Burn’s Marcus Bischoff, Suicide Silence’s Mitch Lucker and The Mercury Arc’s Benny Richter), ‘We Are The Many’ is a killer opening track, and one that clearly states Caliban’s return to form.
Despite its dodgy title, ‘The Bogeyman’ is a hammering track where the drumming and breakdowns takes centre stage during the verses, while the keyboards flesh out the choruses, while the follow-on track ‘Memorial’ follows a similar path, albeit with a greater breakdown section towards its tail end.
‘No Tomorrow’ is definitely a favourite with its rather straight-forward metallic direction, harmonised guitar solo and catchy choruses, while tracks such as ‘Edge Of Black’, the darker sounding ‘Davy Jones’ and the scathing/soaring ‘Open Letter’ are further stand out cuts.
But Caliban’s latest release isn’t all about catchier elements thrown together with the aggressive, with songs such as rhythmic and groove driven ‘Deadly Dream’, ‘Dein R3.ich’ (Which again features guest vocalists Bischoff, Lucker and Richter) and the mildly catchy ‘Broadcast To Damnation’ prove.
The atmospheric and somewhat experimental ‘This Oath’ is an interesting diversion with its semi-ballad like moments and heavier passages, while ‘Modern Warfare’ (Which features Christoph Koterzina on clean vocals) finishes the album on an incredibly high note with its hard hitting metallic foundation and stunning choruses.
After a couple of unremarkable efforts, ‘I Am Nemesis’ signifies a huge return to form for the long running German metalcore act, and one that’s sure to have fans who faded away over the last six years coming back in their droves.

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

© Justin Donnelly

Echidna - Dawn Of The Sociopath

Echidna
Dawn Of The Sociopath
Rastilho Records

It took several years for Portuguese outfit Echidna to finally get around to releasing their debut effort ‘Insidious Awakening’ (Released in 2008 through Rastilho Records), but the wait proved to be worth it, with the band earning considerable acclaim in both their home territory and throughout the world. But despite their success, Echidna decided to take their time before rushing into releasing a second full-length effort – instead focussing on ensuring that their song writing was refined, and the sound they pictured in their mind could actually be transferred onto their new album.
Not surprisingly, three years passed by before the band was ready to finally unveil their latest effort ‘Dawn Of The Sociopath’. And even less surprising is that Echidna’s latest effort is a big step up from their debut.
Armed with a new line-up (Ex-Breed Destruction front man Bruno Capela has replaced Pedro ‘Frik’ Fonseca, and joins guitarists Pedro Lima and David Doutel, bassist/vocalist Miguel Pinto and drummer Tiago Cardoso) and a bold conceptualised storyline to accompany their new release (The album charts the growth and gradual downward spiral of a sociopath), ‘Dawn Of The Sociopath’ isn’t exactly the most original sounding release, but definitely a strong release that showcases the growth the death/thrash metal outfit have made over the last three years.
After an obligatory short instrumental track (‘Synaptic Entropy’), the band gets right down to business with ‘The Antagonist’, which is a track where the guitarists demonstrate their abilities to churn out some punishing riffs and flesh out their designated solo passages with some memorable shred work, and Capela’s deep seated growls that show no remorse in their brutality.
‘Violent Compulsion’ is another strong song writing effort that brings to mind some Pantera and Lamb Of God influences in its riff constructions, albeit delivered in a distinctly death metal fashion, while songs such as aggressive sounding ‘Commanded By Demons’, the Meshuggah tinged ‘Obscuring My Reason’ (Which is preceded by the short interlude ‘Ágon’), the thrash like title track ‘Dawn Of The Sociopath’ and The Haunted-like closing effort ‘The Fallout’ (Which is again preceded to the spoken word interlude ‘Catharsis’) represent the best of what Echidna have to offer on their latest effort.
Echidna isn’t going to win any awards for their originality. But what they lack in that department, they more than make up for in strong song writing, masterful musicianship and consistency. Those qualities alone make ‘Dawn Of The Sociopath’ worthy of checking out.

For more information on Echidna, check out - http://www.reverbnation.com/echidna

© Justin Donnelly

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Lesley-Ann Jones - Freddie Mercury - The Definitive Biography

Lesley-Ann Jones
Freddie Mercury - The Definitive Biography
Hodder & Stoughton/Hachette Australia

Originally published back in 1997, Lesley-Ann Jones’ ‘Freddie Mercury - The Definitive Biography’ has been given a timely revamp and re-release to coincide with the film ‘Mercury’, which sees actor Sacha Baron Cohen (Whose known by his characters such as Ali G, Borat and Brüno) portraying the late Queen front man Freddie Mercury - documenting the band’s humble beginnings through to their triumphant and unforgettable performance on the 13th of July 1985 at Live Aid.
While there’s no shortage of biographies dedicated to Mercury, few have ever come as close to capturing the true spirit of who Mercury actually was as a person as Lesley-Ann Jones’ book. Unlike a lot of Mercury efforts in the past (Or Queen for that matter), Jones dispenses with the accomplishment Queen and Mercury made in their time together on the musical front, and for a very good reason.  This book is about Mercury rather than simply another Queen biography. But the other reason is that while everyone is keen to tell Mercury’s story from a musical point of view, few were willing to tell the story of Mercury on a more personal level. And again, there’s a very good reason for that. While there are plenty of people that have claimed to have known Mercury, there’s precious few that could wholeheartedly say that Mercury allowed them to know the whole him.
As with most biographies, Jones starts off the journey with a semi-introduction of herself, intermingled with a rather interesting tale of meeting up with Mercury whilst in Monteux (Which was far from her first time, having been on the road with Queen on several occasions throughout the years, and behind side stage while the band played Live Aid), where he, in not so direct terms, hinted that his time was short. It was a hell of a story, and nothing short of an exclusive. But despite this, it would have ultimately been a betrayal to Freddie, and was therefore never put to print.
From here, the story jettisons to Live Aid. While it was no doubt a monumental event, there’s more behind the band’s appearance than what meets the eye. It’s in this chapter that Jones really sets the story – one that sees Queen through one show stealing performance in front of a live audience of 80,000, and a global audience of 1.9 billion, resurrect their flagging career that was close to coming to an end.
Of course, such a story has to have a start, and it’s from here that Jones journey’s right back to start, where in Zanibar, Farrokh Balsara was born to a Parsee court clerk and homemaker mother. Mercury’s upbringing is explored in detail, with his family and friends interviewed. It also explores Mercury’s detachment from family after being sent to boarding school at an early age, his religious upbringing and his first forays into music.
In further chapters, the book goes into great detail about Mercury’s eventual move to London, his gypsy lifestyle, and the early origins of his musical outfits 1984 and Smile. As the story progresses, the assembling of Queen is presented to the reader, alongside a more detailed account of how Mercury was reinventing himself as a person with the more time he spent in the thriving London music and fashion scene of the times.
For around half the book, most of the story is dedicated to Queen’s formative years, documenting their gradual rise to fame and fortune, all the while lifting the lid on Mercury’s personal life. While the Queen story is a well known one these days, it’s the details surrounding Mercury’s own story that is less known, and one that Jones goes to great lengths to bring to light – who he was, and how he struggled throughout his whole life with his family, his devotion and relationship to Mary Austin (Who was essentially a wife and mother to Mercury throughout his life), his bisexuality and the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle that he lived to its fullest.
It’s around the second half of the book that the tone of the story changes, with a greater focus placed on unveiling Mercury’s broadening decadent lifestyle, the untangling web of partners that comprised of both men and women, and the complex relationships he had with his friends and associates. Mercury seemed to present different sides to himself to all, rarely allowing to totally reveal himself to anyone, including family members and lovers alike.
Jones appears to have covered all the bases here, with almost everyone who was closely associated with Mercury throughout his life being interviewed for the book (With the exception of former Queen bassist John Deacon, who has had little to do with anything Queen related since 1997). As a musician, opinions across the board are of a man brimming with huge talent, as a singer, a song writer and a showman. But in terms of a person, there’s little agreement about who Mercury really was. For some, Mercury was an honest, loyal, generous, quiet and shy kind of man. For others, he was the life of the party – a man who was the perfect host (A demanding perfectionist no less), and the ring leader whose decadence knew no bounds. The rest saw Mercury for who he really was – and that’s a man who tended to compartmentalise relationships in order to mask his loneliness and often confused lifestyle both in the public eye and in private.
Towards the tail end of the book, Jones takes a deeper look into the final stages of Queen’s career, Mercury’s battle with AIDS and the eventual aftermath. Like much of the book, Jones doesn’t take sides, or deliver the story through rose coloured glasses with a personal point of view. Instead, she attempts to paint a portrait of how Mercury spent his final years out of the public spotlight, and how much his death affected those closest to him.
In this revised edition, Jones has included some information on Queen’s more recent activities (Queen + Paul Rodgers, the ‘We Will Rock You’ stage show and the upcoming ‘Mercury’ film).
Overall, ‘Freddie Mercury - The Definitive Biography’ is a balanced and forthright take on Mercury’s life, even if its presentation comes across as little more than a glorified magazine article expanded to encompass an entire novel.
Many books have been written on Mercury, with precious few have anything new to add to what has already been told countless times before. And while I wouldn’t go as far as to call this the definitive take on Mercury’s life, I will concede that Jones’ book is something different. Jones’ tome manages to give fans an insight into who the real Mercury, without glossing over Mercury’s own imperfections and character flaws, or resorting to a story that reads like a glorified bio and nothing more.
Pinning down Mercury is a near impossible task given who he was and how much he meant to people. But Jones has more than managed to do just that. Highly recommended.

For more information on ‘Freddie Mercury - The Definitive Biography’, check out - http://www.lesleyannjones.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Alternative 4 - The Brink

Alternative 4
The Brink
Avantgarde Music

Vocalist/multi-instrumentalist and song writer Duncan Patterson first came to prominence as a guiding force in doom/death metal outfit Anathema, only to leave the band following the release of ‘Alternative 4’ in 1998 amid disagreements in musical direction, personal issues amongst certain members and Patterson’s growing concerns in regards to carrying the band on almost every level.
Since leaving Anathema, Patterson has maintained a career in music that dwelled solely within the experimental realm, and at times, bordered on the avant-garde.
With Íon now being placed on the backburner (Following the release of ‘Immaculada’ in 2010), and Patterson’s involvement in Antimatter now nothing more than a passing memory (His last release with the band was ‘Planetary Confinement’ back in 2005), it was only a matter of time before Patterson turned his attentions toward something new and different. And sure enough, Alternative 4’s debut effort ‘The Brink’ fits the bill.
With help from fellow band members in ex-Cryptal Darkness/The Eternal’s Mark Kelson (Who provides vocals, lead and rhythm guitar) and ex-Warbreed/Embodiment drummer/percussion Mauro Frison, Patterson has once again managed to produce an album that’s indicative of Patterson’s previous dark and deeply personal offerings, and yet different from anything he’s produced since his parting of ways with Anathema.
The album starts off with the title track ‘The Brink’, which is cinematic in its feel and sound, with haunting piano work and the half whispered/half spoken word providing a suitably creepy atmosphere that lures listeners in. The follow up track ‘False Light’ (Which is the first single released from the album) is by far one of the album’s heavier tracks, with Kelson’s lead vocals and guitar contributions really standing out up front. But while there’s no denying the heavier approach, it doesn’t completely overshadow the sombre tones that we’ve come to expect from Patterson’s song writing, nor the subtle experimentation heard in part by the use of string instruments (Courtesy of Filipa Vale) alongside the heavier doom-like guitar riffs, and the vastness of atmospheric passages to emphasise the use of piano and guitars to create and evoke different moods.
‘Alternate’ is a personal favourite with its delicate blend of guitars, piano and varied vocal approaches from Patterson mixed with elements of dramatic electronic influences and heavier moments, while the lengthy ten minute ‘Underlooked’ is quite a sinister and claustrophobic track that brings to mind No-Man (A project from Porcupine Tree’s Steven Wilson) at their bleakest.
‘Still Waters’ will no doubt appeal to fans of early era Anathema with its Anathema inspired heavy riffing in the latter half of the song and the use of three way vocals (Patterson, Kelson and Georgina Rios), while the three part suite ‘The Dumbing Down’ (‘I - The Travesty Waltz’, ‘II - Steakknife’s Theme’ and ‘III - Silent Approval’) is a compelling piece of sombre minimalism-based rock with a distinctly Pink Floyd touch with the use of effects.
‘Automata’ is noteworthy for its change of pace (Relying less on darker tones and greater use of piano), and Kelson’s combined vocals with Rios, while its follow-on companion piece ‘Autonoma’ is another personal favourite with its simple and soft piano foundation and use of choir.
Finishing up the album is a rather lengthy reprisal of the title track ‘The Brink’. Although a little on the long side (Running for over fourteen minutes), its hypnotic and reoccurring musical theme, spoken word passages, Morse Code and Rios’ soaring vocals above the choir does give the track an unmistakably haunting and captivating vibe that works in its own peculiar manner.
Patterson isn’t known for delivering the predicable and clichéd, and Alternative 4’s debut is no different in that respect. Odd, experimental and challenging, ‘The Brink’ isn’t the sort of album that is going to appeal to everyone – let alone be the kind of album that everyone will understand.
But for those who do ‘get it’, ‘The Brink’ is undoubtedly a mesmerising piece of avant-garde art, and something that’s sure to be remembered and returned to by Patterson fans in years to come.

For more information on Alternative 4, check out - http://www.alternative4.co.uk/

© Justin Donnelly

Fallstaf - Bastard Sons Of A Pure Breed

Fallstaf
Bastard Sons Of A Pure Breed
Independent Release

The use of horns within metal isn’t entirely new, with many acts throughout the years incorporating the use of horned instruments into their repertoire to add shades of funk, groove, jazz or the avant-garde to their overall sound. Examples that come to mind are acts such as Mr. Bungle and Fishbone, but in terms of incorporating horns into a metal act on a full-time basis, the list is relatively short.
On that rather short list is Montreal (Canada) based outfit Fallstaf, who have recently released their debut full-length effort ‘Bastard Sons Of A Pure Breed’ – the follow-up to their demo E.P. ‘The Hitman Plays Trombone’ from 2009.
Despite their striking image (Two of the members have bizarre contact lenses, and trombonist The Hitman dons a wrestling mask of sorts), and their own genre tag to describe their sound (Brass metal no less), Fallstaf (Who comprise of vocalist Iann, guitarist Simm, trombonist The Hitman, bassist Benn Forte and drummer Matt) haven’t quite managed to break into completely new territory with their latest release. But at the very least, ‘Bastard Sons Of A Pure Breed’ is an entertaining listen, and does give the band something to build upon.
The opening track ‘Dark Days’ is one of the album’s stand-out tracks, which not so surprisingly, allows the trombone to stand out right from the offset, and announces to the listener that while there’s plenty of aggression shown throughout the track (Particularly in terms of the riffing and Iann’s growled vocals), it’s the trombone that is the backbone of the band in the musical sense.
The follow up track ‘The Cost’ (Which is the first single lifted from the album) is another great track where the combination of heavy grooved based metal and trombone is well balanced and interesting, while on the slower paced ‘Eulogy’, Iann showcases his ability to shift between clean and aggressive vocals, which helps give the band a little more depth on the diversity front.
Unfortunately, not everything works quite as well as the opening trio of tracks, particularly on the song writing front. Although boasting plenty of aggression, ‘Not Welcome’ lacks a strong chorus to make the song really stand out, while Iann’s vocals on ‘Pull The Knife’ and ‘Fuck The Fence’ sound a little too out of place, which inevitably gives the song an overall inconsistency that borders on O.K. and unlistenable.
‘My Demons’ is a passable and solid enough track for the most part, but is surprisingly enough overshadowed with its acoustic brother elsewhere on the album (Which is by far my personal favourite on the album), while tracks such as the sinister sounding ‘The Hounds’ and the all-out chaos of the closer ‘Violent As Violence Can Be’ represent the pick from the remainder of the album.
Fallstaf has latched onto a sound on ‘Bastard Sons Of A Pure Breed’ that very few have really pursued. But while the band can be commended on that front, it’s their song writing that ultimately lets them down.
If the band keeps working on writing strong songs with choruses that really have a big impact, and incorporate the trombone in unison with the guitars beyond what the ska scene have been doing for years, then they’ll surely be a force to be reckoned with. But as it stands, ‘Bastard Sons Of A Pure Breed’ is nothing more than an O.K. album that is if anything, entertaining rather than groundbreaking.

For more information on Fallstaf, check out - http://www.reverbnation.com/fallstaf

© Justin Donnelly