Monday, May 28, 2012

Feeder - Generation Freakshow

Feeder
Generation Freakshow
Big Teeth Music Ltd

On paper, Welsh/U.K. based alternative rock outfit Feeder’s short lived experiment to play under the name of Renegades to reignite their spark and passion for playing was a sound one. Without the expectation of playing as Feeder, the band were able to let loose and do whatever they wanted – at least when they played live. And for the most part, the plan worked. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a complete success, with the band’s last album ‘Renegades’ (2010) coming across as disappointing. Sure, it rocked harder than anything heard on the band’s two former releases (2005’s ‘Pushing The Senses’ and 2008’s ‘Silent Cry’), but the inconsistent song writing and their attempts to return the heavier guitar sound of their ‘Polythene’ (1997) days fell well short of expectations.
Not surprisingly, the lukewarm reaction to the album from fans and critics alike resulted in the band scrapping plans to release a second album in 2010. Instead, the band decided to rework leftover material and two years after the release of ‘Renegades’, Feeder (Vocalist, guitarist, keyboardist and song writer Grant Nicholas, bassist Taka Hirose and Ben’s Brother drummer Karl Brazil) is back with their eighth album ‘Generation Freakshow’.
The opening track ‘Oh My’, while hardly a huge departure of sound for the band, is a strong start for the album with its huge melodic choruses, thick layered guitar chords and its solid keyboard sound all combining to make for the classic Feeder sound. But as good as the opener is it’s the first single ‘Borders’ where Feeder really hit their stride. Everything that fans love about Feeder is in this track, with Nicholas’ lyrics, vocals and chorus structures all coming across as inspired. Quite simply, ‘Borders’ is the best single to emerge from Feeder in years, and definitely one of the album’s real highlights.
Although starting off a little awkwardly with its opening guitar riff, ‘Idaho’ turns out to be a strong rocking effort with some great guitar riffs (Although it has to be said, the lyrics on this track are some of Nicholas’ clumsiest in some time), while ‘Hey Johnny’ (Which is a tribute to former drummer Jon Lee) is a mid-paced rocker that is infectious and uplifting (Despite the song’s sad story), and a far more mature sounding track for the band.
The mellow ‘Quiet’ is the kind of song writing style that Nicholas has been perfecting over the years, and could have easily slotted onto 2002’s ‘Comfort In Sound’ with its lush instrumentation and hooks that stay with you long after the song has finished, while ‘Sunrise’ is a mix of the band’s guitar driven/big chorus sound from ‘Polythene’ mixed with a sophistication and maturity that was all but absent on their last album.
The title track ‘Generation Freakshow’ and ‘Headstrong’ are ballsy rockers that come across as lingering leftovers from the band’s experimental phase as Renegades. But unlike a lot of tracks that emerged from that era (2009 to 2011), these tracks are actually strong efforts. To prove this point, ‘Tiny Minds’ is actually from those sessions, and although is notable for its brief guitar solo, ultimately comes across as one of the album’s weakest efforts.
The breezy, up-tempo and trumpet enhanced ‘In All Honesty’ is O.K., but another filler effort compared to the stronger efforts on the album, while ‘Fools Can’t Sleep’ is another effort that’s good, but far from Feeder’s best.
Towards the end of the album, ‘Children Of The Sun’ (Which is the second single from the album) stands out as a return to form deep into the album, even if it’s nothing we haven’t heard many times before from the band (The lighters in the air slower tempo melancholy rock anthem), leaving the short acoustic hidden track ‘Skylife’ to officially close the album.
Feeder has been really hit and miss since the release of ‘Comfort In Sound’, and in a lot of ways, ‘Generation Freakshow’ is no different. But while the album is a little front packed (Some shuffling of the track listing would have helped to spread the rockier efforts a bit more evenly) and features a couple of clunkers, Feeder seems to have emerged from the fog that has been surrounding them to deliver what is easily the best thing the band has produced in a decade.

For more information on Feeder, check out - http://www.feederweb.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Monday, May 21, 2012

Atom Smash - Beautiful Angel

Atom Smash
Beautiful Alien
Independent Release

The music industry is a cutthroat business these days. In simple terms, if you’re signed to a label, you have to have a hit on your hands, or you’re dropped. And one band that found that out the hard way was Miami (Florida, U.S.) based hard rock/post-grunge outfit Atom Smash. With two successful E.P. releases to their name (‘Sacrifice’ and ‘Kill Me’ – both of which were independently released in 2009), the band signed to Jive Records, and released their debut full-length effort ‘Love Is In The Missile’ in August 2010. From the outside looking in, the future for Atom Smash looked bright. The album earned praise from almost all, the album sold quite well and the band toured alongside the likes of Drowning Pool, Buckcherry, Filter, Saliva, Halestorm and Tantric. But despite this, the success the band earned clearly wasn’t enough for Jive Records, and the band was subsequently dropped a mere four months after they were signed. Undeterred, Atom Smash regrouped (Trimmed down to a four piece, comprising of vocalist Sergio Sánchez, guitarist Luke ‘Cowboy’ Rice, new bassist ‘Crazy’ Dave Carrey and drummer Mark ‘Taco’ Annino), assembled a bunch of new songs in their rehearsal garage, returned to the studio and recorded their new album ‘Beautiful Alien’.
The album is opened with the title track ‘Beautiful Alien’, which is somewhat of a strange song with its mix of slide guitar, spaghetti western styled whistling and subtle use of strings. But despite its strange mix of sounds, ‘Beautiful Alien’ is a great mid-paced rocker that highlights Sánchez’s smooth and infectious vocal presence, and the band’s ability to craft a quality hard rock song without resorting to clichés.
The follow-up track ‘Square One’ is delivered with a grinding riff that is perfectly balanced with a vocal that is given a bit more bite in terms of aggression (Which kind of brings to mind some of Lostprophets more recent direction in sound), but still remains as melodic as you would expect given the band’s past work, while the slick blues swagger of ‘Hangman’ shows a different side to their regular heavy rock sound. I’m not so sure about the middle section where the track is slowed down and the chants take over, but the rest of the song is pretty cool.
Although it takes a while for the chorus to kick in, ‘Good Times, Dark Ages’ is a solid track that keeps the heavy end of the band’s repertoire in balance with the more melodic efforts, while ‘The World Is Ours’ (The first single lifted from the album), the acoustic enhanced rocker ‘Cocaine Angel’ and the modern rock styled and heavy grooved ‘2012 Baby’ are slick sounding slices of hard rock that have the potential of taking off on the airwaves.
Initially, I wasn’t all that sold on the idea of the band covering Seal’s classic ‘Kiss From A Rose’ (Which originally appeared on seal's second self-titled effort from 1994), but was totally surprised how well the band reinvented it into something a little more rocking, and Sánchez proves he can hit the notes, which helps maintain the integrity of the original for the most part. On the heavy side of things, ‘Don’t You Forget It’ is a real stand out cut on the album, with ‘Hole In My Head’ following close behind in terms of quality.
Finishing up the album (Outside the somewhat strange eastern sounding new-age instrumental hidden track that appears after eight minutes of silence) is the easy going/semi-acoustic ‘Kids Got Moves’, which is another album highlight.
Atom Smash’s debut was a strong effort, but with ‘Beautiful Alien’, the band has really shaken up their song writing to diversify their direction and sound – which ultimately works in their favour. Coming across as part hard rock and part post-grunge, overall ‘Beautiful Alien’ is a winner for Atom Smash – and nothing short of a real loss for their former label.

For more information on Atom Smash, check out – http://www.atomsmashmusic.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Evile - Five Serpent's Teeth

Evile
Five Serpent’s Teeth
Earache Records

After an impressive debut (2007’s ‘Enter The Grave’), I had a lot of expectations for Huddersfield (U.K.) based thrash outfit Evile’s second full-length effort ‘Infected Nations’ (2009). But despite the album being good, I couldn’t help but feel a little letdown by what the band had to offer. Sure, their sophomore effort still maintained the band’s status as one of the best within the retro-thrash scene, but with the majority of the songs delivered more or less with a mid-paced tempo, overly long in length and delivered with a monotone on the vocal front, Evile fell a little short of delivering a true classic.
It’s been a couple of years since then, and Evile (Who now comprise of vocalist/rhythm guitarist Matt Drake, lead guitarist Ol Drake, new bassist Joel Graham (Ex-Rise To Addiction, who replaced Mike Alexander after his untimely death in October 2009) and drummer Ben Carter) has unveiled their third full-length effort ‘Five Serpent’s Teeth’ amid a wave of hype.
Once again reuniting with producer Russ Russell (Who also recorded, mixed and mastered the album, and who previously worked on ‘Infected Nations’), and with a new line-up, Evile have returned with a vengeance on their new album, with the title track ‘Five Serpent’s Teeth’ spearheading the band’s comeback. After a brief harmonised guitar tandem intro (Which more than bears a striking resemblance to Metallica’s guitar sound on 1986’s classic ‘Master Of Puppets’), Evile settle into a tight knit gallop of crushing riffs and speed that typify the sound that was presented on the band’s debut. The sound is crisp and sharp without sounding too dry, while Drake’s vocals sound far more expressive and emotive than his efforts on their last album.
Despite its speedy introduction, ‘In Dreams Of Terror’ is a groovier sounding track that adds a bit more melody into the early half of the album in amongst its thrashing grooves, while the single ‘Cult’ (Which features backing vocals from American actor/comedian/musician Brian Posehn) proves to be one of the album’s more straight-forward thrash efforts (Bringing to mind Metallica’s ‘Leper Messiah’), and one of the album’s real stand out cuts with its stunning lead work and Drake’s powerful vocals.
The sheer speed and energy of ‘Eternal Empire’ (The first single lifted from the album), the technicality of ‘Origin Of Oblivion’ and ‘Long Live New Flesh’ more than bolster the second half of the album with their mix of aggression and diverse array of classic sounding riffs, while calculated mid-paced tempo tracks such as ‘Xaraya’, ‘Centurion’ and ‘Descent Into Madness’ really gives the album some diversity – something that was a little lacking on the band’s former full-length effort.
The real surprise on the album is ‘In Memoriam’, which features a guest solo from Matt Drake (The Drake brothers’ father, and who’s otherwise a member of progressive/symphonic rock outfit Pilgrym) is essentially a slower ballad-like number written in honour of former bassist Alexander. While the song could have easily fallen into cliché territory, Evile manage to avoid the many pitfalls associated with ballads, and instead add some interesting twists to an otherwise standard song writing formula (Both musically and lyrically). Not surprisingly, it’s another one of the album’s stronger moments as well.
Evile have really managed to redeem themselves with the release of ‘Five Serpent’s Teeth’. The band hasn’t entirely shaken off the early era Metallica sound on their new album, but they have at least sharpened their song writing skills, amended the errors made on their last album and delivered an album that is more akin to the direction the band were heading in after the release of their debut effort. ‘Five Serpent’s Teeth’ is a damn fine thrash album, and one that should appeal to those who relish the classic old school thrash sound.

For more information on Evile, check out - http://www.evile.co.uk/

© Justin Donnelly

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Jeff Loomis - Plains Of Oblivion

Jeff Loomis
Plains Of Oblivion
Century Media Records/E.M.I. Music Australia

When Jeff Loomis released his debut solo effort ‘Zero Order Phase’ in 2008, it was primarily a side project to work within Seattle (Washington, U.S.) based progressive power metal outfit Nevermore. But times have changed dramatically since then, with Loomis now becoming a fully fledged solo artist after he parted ways with Nevermore in early 2011 - citing personal and musical differences.
Wasting little time, Loomis set about putting together his long awaited sophomore solo effort, and in as little as two years after the release of Nevermore’s last album ‘The Obsidian Conspiracy’, Loomis is back with ‘Plains Of Oblivion’.
As you would expect, Loomis doesn’t stray too far from the template that was established with the release of his debut album on the opening track ‘Mercurial’, with Loomis and his current band (Kamikabe bassist Shane Lentz and Scarve/Soilwork/Warrel Dane drummer Dirk Verbeuren) laying down an absolutely shredding track that demonstrates Loomis’ growing song writing skills, and the musical abilities of those performing (Especially Verbeuren who quite literally kills here and continues to do so throughout the album). Ex-Megadeth guitarist Marty Friedman’s guest appearance certainly adds to the diversity of styles on offer throughout the solos featured within the track, and helps give the album a worthy start to proceedings.
The follow on track ‘The Ultimatum’ is another fast paced/shredding instrumental that boasts a bit of a neo-classical sound crossed with shades of old Nevermore in the underpinned riffing, and features some great lead guitar solos from Planet X/CAB/solo artist Tony MacAlpine, while on ‘Escape Velocity’, Loomis takes the reins, and proves that even without guests artists, he’s more than a capable guitarist in his own right.
It isn’t until the fourth track ‘Tragedy And Harmony’ that Loomis breaks away from the formula, with this song the first to feature guest vocalist Christine Rhoades (Who made a guest appearance on Nevermore’s ‘Dreaming Neon Black’ album back in 1999, and who is now a member of Meddling Gretel). Obviously keen to expand his horizons as a song writer, ‘Tragedy And Harmony’ is a solid enough track, with dark and heavy sounding overtones that seamlessly blend with the mood of the album. But as strong as the song is, I can’t say that it adds that much to the album with it’s somewhat formula like approach and Rhoades’ crisp vocals. Rhoades’ other contribution to the album appears on ‘Chosen Time’, which I believe is a song that works much better for both Loomis and Rhoades, even if it is a ballad.
One track that’s sure to get the most attention is ‘Surrender’, which features a guest appearance from ex-Emperor/Peccatum vocalist Ihsahn. Ihsahn’s decipherable blackened growls and clean harmonies add an edge to Loomis’ guitar frenzy that is a perfect pairing. It’s a shame that the collaboration is limited to the one track. Hopefully this won’t be the last we see the pair working together.
Elsewhere, Hungarian guitarist Attila Vörös (Leander/Warrel Dane/ex-Nevermore) puts in a great performance on the surprisingly melodic mid-paced neo-classical stand out cut ‘Requiem For The Living’, while ex-Megadeth/OHM:/OHMphrey guitarist Chris Poland adds a touch of space and class to ‘Continuum Drift’.
Loomis himself closes out the album with the stunning acoustic piece ‘Rapture’ and the slower paced and heavy ‘Sibylline Origin’.
Loomis could have easily followed up his debut with a virtually identical album and got away with it in the short term. But in terms of longevity, Loomis has decided to expand his repertoire to include some vocalists, and songs that rely less on endless solos and focus on moods. While not everything works, overall ‘Plains Of Oblivion’ is a worthy follow-up to ‘Zero Order Phase’, and the kind of album that will help Loomis’ solo career expand rather than stick to the one blueprint.

For more information on Jeff Loomis, check out - http://www.jeffloomis.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Revocation - Chaos Of Forms

Revocation
Chaos Of Forms
Relapse Records

Over the last six years, Boston (Massachusetts, U.S.) based outfit Revocation have gone from strength to strength, with their second full-length effort ‘Existence Is Futile’ (Excluding 2005’s ‘Sanity’s Aberration’ release when the band were known as Cryptic Warning) hailed as one of the better releases to emerge in 2009, and some going as far as to say that the band could well be the next major thrash metal breakthrough within the current thrash movement.
Now returning with their all important third full-length release ‘Chaos Of Forms’, Revocation (Who now comprise of vocalists/guitarists David Davidson and newcomer Dan Gargiulo (Ex-Cyanide Brain/Artificial Brain), bassist/vocalist Anthony Buda and drummer Phil Dubois-Coyne) have managed to put together another first class release, even if it falls a little short of the high standard set with their former release.
The thing that really makes Revocation stand out from the countless acts within the current ‘New Wave Of Thrash Metal’ movement is the band’s ability to blend technical death metal and old school thrash with almost everything else you could possibly think of genre wise under the sun - without making it sound like a complete mess. At times, it’s near impossible to pin down Revocation in genre terms, but then that’s what separates the followers from the leaders. And don’t be mistaken here - Revocation is one of the thrash metal scene’s definite leaders.
Revocation get the album underway with the short ‘Cretin’, which not unlike the opening track on the band’s former releases, is a bewildering display of technical riffing, speed and time changes that are right up there with any of the leaders in the technical challenging metal genre. The blues inspired solo is a cool touch, and adds a little something different from what you would expect, and helps make the song stand out right from the start.
The follow-up track ‘Cradle Robber’ is typically oddball like with its infectious gang vocals and Megadeth-like riff structures and stunning guitar tradeoffs, while tracks such as ‘Dissolution Ritual’, ‘The Watchers’ (Which features some great Hammond keyboard work!) and ‘Dethroned’ (Which has some great acoustic work amongst the heavy riffing) lean more towards the progressive side of the band’s song writing - all the while maintaining a distinct thrash style throughout.
In terms of straight forward aggression, it’s hard to go past the savage brutality of ‘Harlot’, ‘Beloved Horrifier’ and the technically inclined title track ‘Chaos Of Forms’, while ‘Reprogrammed’ manages to bludgeon whatever remains of the listener at the tail end of the album with its unbridled venom.
Unfortunately, not everything works. Despite some initial promise, the melodic blackened entity that is ‘Conjuring The Cataclysm’ fails to live up to its epic premise, while ‘No Funeral’ and the short instrumental piece ‘Fractal Entity’ just don’t quite connect in the same way most of the other tracks do.
While ‘Chaos Of Forms’ is a great album, it’s not quite up there with the likes of ‘Existence Is Futile’ in terms of overall consistency. But given that Revocation are somewhat of an oddity within the current thrash movement with their experimental and daring sounds, ‘Chaos Of Forms’ is still firmly miles ahead of the competition.

For more information on Revocation, check out - http://www.myspace.com/revocation

© Justin Donnelly

Yardvark - Flannelette Heart

Yardvark
Flannelette Heart
Impedance Records

Wollongong (Illawarra, N.S.W.) based outfit Yardvark have been doing the rounds for a few years now, all on the back of their independently released six track self-titled E.P. (Which was released in late 2009). While the band are still a largely undiscovered outfit, they have supported the likes of You Am I, Philadelphia Grand Jury and British India, and their single ‘Show What You Got’ from their E.P. has earned the band a bit of coverage in the underground music scene.
After a long two year gap between releases, the five piece outfit (Comprising of vocalist Stacie Hamilton, vocalist/guitarist Joshua McLean, guitarist Glen Hitchon, bassist Nathan Stratton and drummer Ben Parsons) have finally managed to put together a full-length effort in the form of ‘Flannelette Heart’.
Given the band’s rather strange name, and the equally strange title given to their latest studio effort, I can’t say that I had any expectations from this release. But to my surprise, ‘Flannelette Heart’ turned out to be quite a cool little release, and the absurdity of the band’s moniker was duly forgiven.
In terms of style, Yardvark is a bit all over the place - but in a good way. I guess the best way to describe Yardvark’s sound is to imagine a marriage of indie pop/rock with post-grunge. The opening track ‘Beam Of Hope’ kind of gives you an idea of what to expect sound wise, with the dual harmonies providing a large part of the indie pop/rock elements, while the music itself (Particularly the guitar riffs and the upfront drum mix) is rooted well within the post-grunge rock realm.
‘Hive Party’ opens with a great little riff that I have no doubt would sound a whole lot more rocking than it does cranked up on my stereo, while the bass led shoe-gazing tempo of ‘Falling Camera’ brings takes me back the late ‘90’s alternative scene like a flash - but again, in a good way.
Elsewhere, ‘Loud Loud’ reveals influences from The Cure/Smashing Pumpkins with its opening riff (Which isn’t a bad thing at all), while Hamilton smoulders on the bluesy rocker ‘Satan Is Calling’ (An obvious highlight if there was one).
The laid back rocker ‘Lizzy’ is another stand out number that boasts a killer chorus (Provided by Hamilton), while the album closer ‘Pocket Rocket’ sees the band saving their best til last with its driving groove, dual vocals and rocking spirit.
Overlooking the terrible names that adorn the band and the album, this is one cool little rocking effort from the Wollongong quintet. Here’s hoping it earns the band a little more coverage, a bit more success and a few more devoted followers at the front of the stage with every new gig.

For more information on Yardvark, check out - http://www.yardvark.bandcamp.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Borknagar - Urd (Limited Edition)

Borknagar
Urd (Limited Edition)
Century Media Records/E.M.I. Music Australia

Long running Norwegian (Bergen based) progressive black metal/avant-garde/folk metal outfit Borknagar is one of those bands that rarely have fans seeing eye to eye on just which album from the band’s vast catalogue stands out as their definite creation to date. Sure, there are a handful of releases that vie for the top spot, but none can be agreed on across the board as the kind of album that others are measured against. To prove my point, I thoroughly enjoyed the band’s foray into progressive acoustic territory on ‘Origin’ back in 2006, but found that their last full-length release ‘Universal’ (2010) was a little patchy compared to some of their past efforts. And yet others seem to look down upon ‘Origin’, and praise ‘Universal’. At the end of the day, it’s safe to conclude that all of Borknagar’s albums to date have drawn strong opinions that pull in many different directions.
So here we are in 2012, and Borknagar have returned with their ninth full-length effort ‘Urd’. Only this time, I believe that most would agree that this release is some of the band’s best work in some years.
One of the reasons why this album works so well is that the band has spread the vocal duties over three individuals this time around, with bassist/vocalist ICS Vortex (Ex-Dimmu Borgir/Arcturus) making his long overdue permanent return to the fold after more than a decade away from the band (Although he made a guest appearance on ‘Universal’, he last appeared on 2000’s ‘Quintessence’). His vocals, alongside those of Vintersorg and keyboardist Lars A. Nedland (Who’s also in Solefald) add an extra dimension that has been missing in Borknagar for some time.
Outside of vocals, the song writing seems a little more inspired and progressive than it has in recent years, with primary song writer/guitarist Øystein G. Brun really pulling out all the stops to give the album some real diversity, but all the while making it flow with the addition of some truly mesmerising vocal performances from the three vocalists.
As for the rest of the band, lead guitarist Jens F. Ryland and drummer David Kinkade (Who recently parted ways with the band to join Soulfly), their roles can’t be understated, with the solos and the drumming throughout executed in truly inspiring fashion.
In terms of songs, the album begins in speedy fashion, with ‘Epochalypse’ showcasing the many different voices from within Borknagar over a melodic black metal soundtrack that is carried along with a relentless blast beat and some fast paced/tight knit riffing. Around two thirds of the way through, there’s a break from the speed to allow a great piano interlude from Nedland, which is nothing short of magnificent.
The follow-up track ‘Roots’ is undoubtedly one of the album’s heaviest tracks, but oddly enough one of the catchiest as well. The combination of clean and growled vocals is balanced out well, while the intense blast and choral work around the latter half of the song, and the somewhat mellow tail end of the song behind Vintersorg’s inspired vocal lines definitely makes the song a stand out on the album.
Vortex, alongside Nedland, really stands out with his distinctive vocals on the towering vocal-driven ‘The Beauty Of Dead Cities’, while Vintersorg’s clean/grim vocal performance on ‘The Earthling’ is absolutely stunning, and proves that he can stand alongside the other vocalists as an equal (Something that wasn’t always the case in the past as far as I am concerned).
The cinematic/progressive based instrumental piece ‘The Plains Of Memories’ is a welcome intermission around the halfway mark of the album, while the blackened intensity of ‘Mount Regency’ once again throws the listener into the fast paced and intense realm that Borknagar started the album with – albeit it with fewer vocal melodies.
Vortex takes centre stage on ‘Frostrite’, and not surprisingly, it sounds reminiscent of the material that made up his solo album ‘Storm Seeker’ from 2011, while all three sing in unison on the multi-tempo stunner ‘The Winter Eclipse’.
Finishing up the standard edition of the album is the epic ‘In A Deeper World’, which is not only one of the album’s most complex pieces, but also one of the album’s more emotional efforts. Needless to say, this track alone brings to mind some of the classics the band delivered on some of their earliest releases.
On the limited edition release, there’s an additional two tracks – with the first being ‘Age Of Creation’. While some bonus tracks tend to be below the standard of the official album, ‘Age Of Creation’ is anything but a track better left on the cutting room floor. There’s a real intensity here that rivals some of the heavier numbers on the album, and the combined riffing and keyboards throughout give off a real symphonic flair that is really memorable, while the pockets of gentle atmospherics dotted throughout the track add a consistent feel of ebb and flow from light to shade.
Finishing up the album is the band’s cover of Metallica’s ‘My Friend Of Misery’, which originally featured on a tribute disc that came with the German version of Metal Hammer in August 2011 in celebration of Metallica’s self-titled album’s twentieth anniversary. Borknagar’s cover is impressive, with Vortex really pulling out all the stops to do something different. The subtle orchestral edge is interesting as well, and gives the song an interesting twist on the original.
As I mentioned earlier, Borknagar have never produced an album that has had fans proclaiming any one album in particular as a stand-alone classic. As it stands, ‘Urd’ isn’t about to change that one bit either. But if there’s one thing most fans will agree on, it’s that ‘Urd’ is easily the strongest album the Norwegian’s have produced in years, and the kind of album that easily ranks alongside the four albums that are generally hailed as the band’s finest.

For more information on Borknagar, check out – http://www.borknagar.com/

© Justin Donnelly

The Dirty Earth - The Dirty Earth

The Dirty Earth
The Dirty Earth
Independent Release

Back in 2009, there was a Sydney (Australia) based outfit doing the rounds by the name of Bottle Rocket. They weren’t exactly a well known band, but their brand of indie/hard rock was enjoyable enough, and worth a spin or two. But after a couple of years of playing around the traps, the four piece outfit eventually lost a couple of members, and the band pretty much dropped out of the scene as a consequence. Undeterred, vocalist Mandy Newton, bassist Jim Allison and drummer Greg Refeld decided to rope in a couple of new guitarists and start anew. And with the addition of Raff Jacurto (Ex-Thumlock) and Scott Campbell inducted into the fold, the band rechristened themselves The Dirty Earth in mid 2011 and set about relaunching themselves onto the live scene. In amongst some live shows, the band managed to lock themselves away at Damien Gerard Sound Studio under the watchful eye of renowned engineer Russell Pilling – which has brought about their five track self titled debut E.P.
Given that three members of Bottle Rocket are members of The Dirty Earth, we’re not talking about a huge departure in sound between the two bands. But that’s not to say they’re identical either. Instead, The Dirty Earth has toughened up their sound a little more with the new guitarists in the group, and it’s no more evident than in the opening track ‘Don’t Say Never’. Introduced via some great lead work, the song settles down for a classic hard rock sound with Newton putting in a powerful performance out front. ‘Don’t Say Never’ is good song that sees the band rocking in fine form, even if the song does sound a little too polished to give off the raw and energetic vibe the band deliver on a live stage.
‘Tide Lands’ follows suit with a driving groove that is just as rocking, but is letdown with a chorus that comes across as a little underwhelming. Unfortunately, the blues-like rocker ‘I Hate Flying’ is plagued with similar problems as the former track with a chorus that fails to spark, despite the exceptional guitar work delivered throughout the track.
Thankfully, the shorter and grunge-like ‘Tell Me I’m Here’ and the up-tempo closer ‘Pretty Face’ finish up the E.P. on a stronger note.
Although a little inconsistent on the song writing front, The Dirty Earth’s debut effort is a solid start for the band, and a definite step up from anything Bottle Rocket offered listeners some years ago.
With a little more refinement, a focus on song writing and a little more grit on the production side of things, The Dirty Earth might make a few more waves with their upcoming full-length effort later in the year.

For more information on The Dirty Earth, check out - http://www.thedirtyearth.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Tribune - Elder Lore/The Dark Arts

Tribune
Elder Lore/The Dark Arts
Corpse Corrosion Music

Tribune are no strangers to the Canadian metal scene, with the Vancouver (British Columbia) based outfit having already released one full-length release (2006’s digital only release ‘Home Sweet Hell’) and an E.P. (2009’s ‘Rotting Core’) to their name since forming in 2004. As the story goes, their latest full-length effort ‘Elder Lore/The Dark Arts’ is essentially a collection of tracks written prior to the addition of guitarist Shawn Culley into the band’s fold (Known as the 'Elder Lore’ tracks), and material that has been written with the line-up that makes up the current incarnation of Tribune (Which are not surprisingly known as ‘The Dark Arts’ tracks).
Upon my initial listen to ‘Elder Lore/The Dark Arts’, I was a little thrown by what Tribune had to offer. Musically, the band is hard to pigeonhole, with the eight tracks on the album seemingly touching upon a wide array of sounds and directions - all of which can only be labelled as metal. Needless to say, a band that’s not afraid to experiment and go in completely different directions from one track to the next is just the kind of album that interests me the most. And on that level, Tribune has well and truly succeeded. ‘Elder Lore/The Dark Arts’ is an eclectic album that will certainly have many people scratching their heads – all the while wondering what to make of it all.
But while Tribune is on a winner on some levels, they’re sadly falling behind in others. And more often than not, it primarily boils down to Bryan Baker and his somewhat inconsistent sounding vocals.
The opening track ‘It Came From The Swamps...’ starts off in impressive fashion with its harmonised guitar sounds and deep growling vocals, but it soon takes a turn for the worse with the introduction of Baker on clean vocals. Baker isn’t the worst vocalist I’ve heard, and there are times where his efforts actually sound good. But it’s the moments where he sounds a little weak, that things really sound amateur. And it’s a shame too, as the track itself (Which is part melodic death metal/part thrash/part stoner groove) is really strong from a song writing point of view.
The follow-up track ‘The Succubus’ (Which showcases a progressive side to the band’s sound) is again as strong and as weak as the opening track, but fares a little better with Baker mixing up his vocal approach to limit the use of clean vocals, while the re-recorded ‘Chemistry Arrives’ (Which originally appeared on ‘Home Sweet Hell’) is undoubtedly one of the album’s stronger efforts with its brutal array of riff structures, strong sense of groove and its sparing use of clean vocals.
‘The Warrior Mentality’ is musically a great mix of metalcore and traditional metal (The guitar solo around the halfway mark is an absolute killer), and a likeable track if you can overlook the weak vocals, while the strong stoner like grooves within ‘Below’ and the metallic and technically inclined ‘We, The Black’ are just two examples on the album where Baker’s vocals suit for the most part.
In terms of song writing, ‘Man On The Outside’ is without a doubt the album’s most thought out and focussed effort, and not surprisingly, is filled with lots of instrumental moments that really showcase the capabilities of the band members as musicians, while the nine minute epic closer ‘The World’s Greatest Cynic’ is another strong song on the album with a progressive/rock sound that brings to mind The Sword in places.
Tribune is one hard band to pin down sound wise, but in terms of faults, it’s all too obvious. If Baker stuck to his screams and growls, ‘Elder Lore/The Dark Arts’ would come across as a whole lot stronger. But as it stands, Tribune’s strengths as musicians and song writers are overshadowed by some seriously awkward and problematic clean vocals.

For more information on Tribune, check out – http://www.tribunemetal.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Killing Joke - MMXII

Killing Joke
MMXII
Spinefarm Records/Universal Music Australia

I’ve been a follower of Killing Joke’s music for many years, and consider myself a fan of the U.K. outfit. But while I’ve enjoyed a great many of their albums, not everything the band has emerged with in their thirty plus years together has been first class. Although regarded as highly influential and the founding fathers of the industrial and post-punk movement, Killing Joke’s vast body of recorded work (Which amounts to fourteen studio albums) has at times been inspired and the work of pure genius – and at other times patchy, downright confused and inconsistent.
One album from the group’s more recent output that failed to live up to my expectations was the band’s last full-length release ‘Absolute Dissent’ from 2010. I couldn’t help but feel most of the album’s high praise was merely because it marked the return of the original line-up in twenty seven years (or in other words, since 1983’s ‘Fire Dances’). Although the album was O.K., I personally thought 2006’s ‘Hosannas From The Basements Of Hell’ was a far stronger and more consistent album – even without the original line-up of the band.
Two years after the release of ‘Absolute Dissent’, Killing Joke (Vocalist/keyboardist Jaz Coleman, guitarist Kevin ‘Geordie’ Walker, bassist/keyboardist Martin ‘Youth’ Glover and drummer Paul Ferguson) are back with a rather quick follow-up with ‘MMXII’ (Which in 2012 in Roman numerals). And as far as I’m concerned, this album marks the real return of the original Killing Joke.
Killing Joke open up their new opus with ‘Pole Shift’, which is a surprisingly low key start to proceedings with Coleman’s dark and brooding atmospherics on the keyboards and his melodic clean vocals giving the impression that the band had taken a step back in time when keyboards were a dominant factor in the band’s sound (Around the time of 1985’s ‘Night Time’ and 1986’s ‘Brighter Than A Thousand Suns’). But soon enough, the song makes way for a thunderous chorus that has the band seamlessly blending Walker’s trademark cascading wall of guitar sound work with Coleman’s equally dense keyboard sound, and Coleman utilising his aggressive screams to emphasise the extremity of power Killing Joke can unleash when they put their mind to it. The ebb and flow of the haunting melodic passages and all out raging moments are masterfully executed, and highlight a confidence within the band that was absent on their last release.
The slow burning riffs and subtle tribal percussion of the follow-on track ‘Fema Camp’ recalls the band’s glorious ‘Pandemonium’ (1994) era with its raw sound and its menacing tempo, while ‘Rapture’ is an intense mix of churning riffs, pulsating keyboards and simplistic choruses that combine to make the band’s trademark industrialised sound and brings to mind former Killing Joke classics such as ‘Communion’ (From ‘Pandemonium’) and ‘Asteroid’ (2003’s ‘Killing Joke’).
‘Colony Collapse’, much like ‘Rapture’, is a catchy and an immediately identifiable industrialised Killing Joke effort with its heavy keyboard presence and great vocal performances from Coleman, while the album’s first single ‘In Cythera’ is a deliberate throwback to the band’s dark alternative/pop direction and sound of the past (I’m thinking ‘Adorations’ from 1986’s ‘Brighter Than A Thousand Suns’).
‘Corporate Elect’ reveals a bit of a punk edge with its upfront raw guitar heaviness and energetic chorus, while ‘Glitch’ could have easily slotted onto ‘Hosannas From The Basements Of Hell’ with its impenetrable thick wall of sound and Coleman proclaiming the impending collapse of the world as we know it.
‘Trance’ is a bit of an oddity on the album with its heavy bass driven sound (But not completely left of field for Killing Joke as there’s more than a nod to their ‘Pssyche’, the b-side to their 1980 single ‘Wardance’), but a solid track nonetheless, while ‘Primobile’ is classic Killing Joke with its underpinning darker vibes, superb move from lighter/heavier passages and infectious chorus.
Finishing up the album is ‘On All Hallow’s Eve’, which is one of the few optimistic and introspective numbers on the album (Despite its melancholic mood and feel), and a fitting way to finish the album.
After a lengthy period apart, the original line-up Of Killing Joke finally came back together, and recorded ‘Absolute Dissent’. While the album had its fair share of good moments, it sounded more like a transitional album at best, and not the full-fledged return of the original Killing Joke that most claimed it to be. But with ‘MMXII’, Killing Joke appear to be on the same page, with the album sounding more focused, thought out and more importantly, although still varied over its ten tracks, all of the songs on ‘MMXII’ seem to tie in with each other in terms of sound and structure – which gives the album a consistency and unity that was sorely lacking on their former release.
I’m not about to say that ‘MMXII’ is Killing Joke’s finest moment on record, but I will go as far as to say that it easily ranks amongst some of the band’s most critically acclaimed efforts  – and that it will stand as one of the best albums to emerge from 2012.

For more information on Killing Joke, check out - http://www.killingjoke.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Monday, May 7, 2012

Abysmal Dawn - From Ashes

Abysmal Dawn
From Ashes
Relapse Records

With Los Angeles (California, U.S.) based death metal act Abysmal Dawn riding high on the overwhelming success of their third full-length release ‘Leveling The Plane Of Existence’ (Which was released in 2011), it comes as no surprise to find their label Relapse Records trying to find a way to capitalise on the group’s current success. The only problem is that when it comes to reissuing older material, it has to be done in such a way that entices fans to fork out their hard earned cash; otherwise it’ll only come across as a blatant attempt at cashing in on the said band’s rise in popularity. Unfortunately, this re-release from Relapse Records seems to fall into the latter category.
Abysmal Dawn’s debut full-length effort ‘From Ashes’ was originally released in April 2006 through Phoenix (Arizona, U.S.) based label Crash Music, Inc. to generally favourable reviews. But within eighteen months, Abysmal Dawn severed ties with the label, and soon after signed up with Relapse Records, and eventually emerged with their second full-length effort ‘Programmed To Consume’ in 2008. Fast forwarding to the present and Relapse Records have decided to give Abysmal Dawn’s debut effort a re-release in expanded form. But while the prospect of an expanded version of Abysmal Dawn’s debut sounds enticing, there’s not a whole lot to get excited about here.
As an album, ‘From Ashes’ is an O.K. release, but one that hardly redefines death metal as we know it, let alone kill in the same way that the band’s third effort did last year. No, ‘From Ashes’ is a competent and likeable album from the band (Who at the time of recording comprised of vocalist/guitarist Charles Elliot, guitarist Jamie Boulanger, session bassist Mike Bear and drummer Terry Barajas), if a little repetitive at times.
In terms of highlights, tracks such as ‘In The Hands Of Death’, the melodic and groove based ‘Blacken The Sky’, ‘State Of Mind’ (Which showcases the technical abilities in the band more than any other track on the album) and the bludgeoning closing track ‘Crown Desire’ are the definite high moments on the album.
As mentioned earlier, this re-release of ‘From Ashes’ from Relapse Records comes in expanded form. The only problem is that the three bonus tracks (‘Blacken The Sky’, ‘Solitude’s Demise’ and ‘State Of Mind’) are merely the three tracks lifted from the band’s original demo from 2004 (Back when the band were a trio). Although interesting, their inclusion hardly makes you want to suddenly trade in your original copy for this new version of the album. Given that there’s still plenty of room left on the disc, it would have been better if a few additional extras (Live tracks perhaps) were added to make the whole package just a little more interesting and value for money for fans.
Overall, if you have the last couple of Abysmal Dawn releases, and have yet to purchase ‘From Ashes’, then this release may be worth checking out. If on the other hand you already own a copy of this album, then don’t go rushing out to trade up to this new version. The demos are only vaguely interesting, but their replay value is hardly worth the cost of the buying a new C.D.

For more information on Abysmal Dawn, check out – http://www.myspace.com/abysmaldawn

© Justin Donnelly

Neige Et Noirceur - Hymnes De La Montagne Noire

Neige Et Noirceur
Hymnes De La Montagne Noire
Sepulchral Productions

Despite the existence of Neige Et Noirceur (Which translates to ‘Snow And Blackness’) for the better part of the six years, and a string of releases to their name, I don’t have a great deal of the Montreal (Quebec, Canada) based outfit’s past work. Still, I have heard some of the band’s music, most notably their second full-length effort ‘La Seigneurie Des Loups’ (Released in 2010), which I thought was kind of interesting, if only from a musical and performance point of view (The band’s French lyrics make it hard to understand what the band are trying to portray in terms of concept and in the thematic sense). So here we are with Neige Et Noirceur’s third full-length outing ‘Hymnes De La Montagne Noire’, and once again it’s a journey into the cold depths of the deep Canadian wilds.
The album is essentially broken into five chapters, all of which flow into one another to make one long piece of art with several different pieces. And the first to start off this work known as ‘Hymnes De La Montagne Noire’ is ‘Hymne I - La Grande Faucheuse Ouvre La Marche’. Going straight for the throat right from the start, Zifond (Who is the sole member of Neige Et Noirceur) immediately pushes the song into high speed with an attacking blitz of savage black metal for its first minute, before tapering down the aggression to lock into a somewhat melodic groove where the use of keyboards, strong and steady drums and guitar riffs are delivered towards something a little more memorable. The vocals are a mix of raspy guttural growls and Dani Filth (Cradle Of Filth) like shrieks, with little in the way of warmth, with the odd atmospheric passage helping to break up the song to allow a bit more variation. Overall, it’s a solid opener, and an intriguing start to the album.
‘Hymne II - Neige Noire’ is introduced by way of a great march-like introduction before settling into an all out blistering assault. But rather than settle for an attack all the way through, the song continually shifts between huge melodic keyboard harmonies, atmospheric breakdowns and some pockets of experimental noises. Although a little patchy in places, the song does work more than not.
Despite its lengthy running time (Clocking in over the ten minute mark), ‘Hymne III - Là Où Demeure La Sorcière Des Neiges’ boasts enough twists and variation in tempos to keep things interesting enough without getting bored, while the relatively short ‘Hymne IV - L’Aube Des Magiciens’ stands out as a personal favourite with its gentle build up and heavier tail end, and the overuse subtly of melody within the song structures.
The final suite ‘Hymne V - Le Chemin De La Montagne Noire’ is another epic that runs for close to eleven minutes that stands apart from the other chapters with its odd sample breaking up the monotony of raw blackened riffing, and the greater use of keyboards and guitars to create an almost doom/droning atmosphere in places.
Finishing up the album is a cover of Bérurier Noir’s ‘Les Bûcherons’ (From the French punk/rock act’s ‘Nada 84’ seven inch from 1984), which although quite well done, sounds a little tacked on given its different feel and vibe to the rest of the album.
Although having only had a passing interest in Neige Et Noirceur, I was impressed with what the band had to offer on ‘Hymnes De La Montagne Noire’. And while it’s far from original or unique, I can attest that in terms of ambient black metal, Neige Et Noirceur does it exceedingly well.

For more information on Neige Et Noirceur, check out - http://www.myspace.com/neigeetnoirceur

© Justin Donnelly

Ozzy Osbourne - God Bless Ozzy Osbourne

Ozzy Osbourne
God Bless Ozzy Osbourne
Jacko Productions, Inc./Eagle Rock Entertainment Ltd./Eagle Vision/Shock Entertainment

There’s not a lot about Ozzy Osbourne that hasn’t been uncovered. After all, the exploits from the man known as the ‘Prince Of Darkness’ over his forty-five year career has since become the stuff of rock and roll legend, and as a consequence has been told and retold throughout the years. In 2009, Osbourne decided that the time was right to set the record straight on his life story, and along with co-writer Chris Ayres, penned his highly acclaimed autobiography ‘I Am Ozzy’ the same year.
Given that the book was a fairly comprehensive take on Osbourne’s life and career as a member of Black Sabbath and as a solo artist, you have to question whether there was anything left to uncover in terms of Osbourne’s life or career?
Well, according to his son Jack (Osbourne) and creative partner Mike Fleiss, and producer Sharon Osbourne (Ozzy’s wife and manager), there’s a whole different side to Ozzy Osbourne that very few people have actually seen or read, which has prompted the making of the definitive Ozzy Osbourne film ‘God Bless Ozzy Osbourne’.
Filmed over a two year period, directors Mike Fleiss and Mike Piscitelli filmed Ozzy Osbourne both on the road and at home in an attempt to capture the true essence of who Osbourne is, and what makes the great man tick. ‘God Bless Ozzy Osbourne’ is the result of those two years.
Over the course of ninety-four minutes, ‘God Bless Ozzy Osbourne’ presents an unflinching account of Osbourne's life as a rock star, as a family man and as a human being who has overcome drug and alcohol addiction and own self-doubt – from those closest to him (Namely family, friends and associates – both past and present).
Starting with the surprise sixtieth birthday celebration held for Osbourne, the story then goes all the way back to the start, where Osbourne and his sisters detail the Osbourne’s lower class upbringing in Aston (Birmingham, U.K.). It’s definitely an interesting trip into the past, and one of the better parts of the film – mainly due to the honesty from all those interviewed (Especially from Osbourne himself).
From here, the film moves into the Black Sabbath years, and while it’s all well presented, there’s little on offer here that hasn’t already been told countless times before. Having said that, the archival footage of Black Sabbath (Both live and interview wise) is a real bonus, and bassist Geezer Butler’s humorous take on Osbourne’s varying states of sobriety are truly funny.
Another great bit of footage is the interviews with Osbourne’s various children and ex-wife Thelma. It’s here that you really get an honest perspective of how absent Osbourne was for most of their life, and just how much it affected both them and Osbourne on a personal level.
Sharon has rarely come across in a good light since the T.V. show ‘The Osbournes’, but in this film, she manages to really show a side that few get to see. Her take on her marriage to Ozzy, his deep depression after splitting with Black Sabbath and the short time with guitar protégée Randy Rhodes really allows her to tell her side of the story in a way that’s both honest and touching, and another one of the film’s really strong moments.
Unfortunately, the film does have its drawbacks. The ‘80’s is brushed over for the most part, with Osbourne himself unwilling to watch promotional video clips of himself, and admitting that most of the decade is nothing more than a blur at best. Of course, the infamous bat story is recounted once again, and Mötley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee provides plenty of laughter with some wild tales of Osbourne out-grossing the band while out on tour, and Ozzy’s return to his early childhood haunts is another great part of the film.
But unfortunately, the tail end of the film does appear to be a little rushed. Most of the ‘90’s is skimmed through in a rush, with guitarist Zakk Wylde barely getting a mention. And that’s a real shame given the pair have spent the better part of the last twenty years making music together.
Overall, ‘God Bless Ozzy Osbourne’ is good, but it could have been presented a little more comprehensively. There are so many gaps in this story, and the story does seem a little one-sided at times (Where’s the perspective from former band members Jake E. Lee, Lee Kerslake and Bob Daisley?). But given that it’s near impossible to present the complete history of Ozzy Osbourne in one entire film, what they have presented is well done.
In terms of extras, there a nineteen and a half minute ‘Q & A With Ozzy And Jack’ (Which is really well done, informative and very honest) and fourteen and a half minutes of various deleted scenes (Many of which could have well been included in the film itself in my opinion – Especially Osbourne’s fight with director Fleiss).
In a lot of ways, ‘God Bless Ozzy Osbourne’ is a companion piece to Osbourne’s ‘I Am Ozzy’. Does the pair completely tell the full story of Osbourne’s life? Well, sort of. This film is still guilty of portraying Osbourne the person, rather than Osbourne the musician. And as long as you’re aware of that fact, this is the kind of film that will either totally satisfy, or frustrate to no end. Call me a fan of Osbourne the performer, but I fall into the latter crowd, and therefore am more than a little disappointed with the biographical celluloid effort.

For more information on Ozzy Osbourne, check out - http://www.ozzy.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Deathbreed - Your Stigmata

Deathbreed
Your Stigmata
Pantherfarm/Ninetone Records

Deathbreed is a relatively new name to add to the ever growing list of acts attempting to make a name for themselves within the Swedish death metal scene in recent years. Formed in 2009, the Sundsvall (Västernorrlands County) based outfit soon found themselves in the studio, and released their first demo (Four tracks) E.P. ‘Masters Of The Soil’ in 2010. While the demo wasn’t widely distributed or promoted, the band’s promotional video clip for the track ‘Pulverized’ and the generally well received reviews from the European press, and the first prize in the opening act competition at the Nordfest metal festival in 2011 did help get the band’s name out there, and earn them some gigs in front of audiences. A year on, and the five piece outfit (Comprising of vocalist William Hultqvist, Ingnis lead guitarist Ted Dahlberg, rhythm guitarist/backing vocalist Samuel Englund, bassist Anton Flodin and drummer Emil Nissilä) eventually signed on with emerging label Pantherfarm (A subsidiary of Ninetone Records), who have just released the band’s official debut E.P. effort ‘Your Stigmata’.
Despite the label’s attempts to brand Deathbreed as ‘A new breed of Swedish death metal’, ‘Your Stigmata’ isn’t exactly the kind of E.P. that’s going to reinvent the genre, or the Swedish death metal movement as a whole. In fact, unless your tastes lean towards modern death metal, there isn’t a real lot you’re going to get out of this E.P. But if you’re into the current crop of modern death metal acts, welcome to Sweden’s latest newcomers!
The E.P. opens up with the obligatory introductory track ‘Prelude’, where over its minute and a half running time, the band present listeners with a cheesy keyboard based horror movie theme tune, complete with a sample of a woman screaming at the top of her lungs and a bit of maniacal laughing at the tail end. It’s all rather cliché, but O.K. provided you don’t over-think it all.
The first official track ‘Stigmata’ opens up with plenty of speed and aggression, and a vocal performance from Hultqvist that’s as guttural as you would expect from any self-respecting death metal vocalist. The production is very clean and clinical, but with enough grit to give off a whiff of old school, which is pretty much as expected. In terms of song structure, there’s not a real lot of variation between verses and choruses, but enough to distinguish the slight hint of melody there, which is again something you expect of newcomers to the death metal scene.
The follow on track ‘Hivemind’ doesn’t stray too far from the design laid down by the former track, with only the higher ranged backing vocal screams and the studio effects during the breakdowns standing out as really different, while ‘Final Holocaust’ is a little more direct sounding with its straight out assault to the senses at times, and a little more slower and crushing when the band shift tempos during the choruses.
It isn’t until the final track that Deathbreed really offer the listener something that stands out as different. ‘Pripyat’ is the only track where the band really utilise a bit more keyboard to create a mood, and it works exceedingly well. Although only featured within the last minute of the four minute track, the Middle Eastern sounding keyboards transform a fairly ordinary track into that something special – even if that comparison only compared the three former tracks.
‘Your Stigmata’ is an O.K. release, but far from genre-breaking or remarkable for what it is. Deathbreed are a good band, but a young one as well. I’ll be interested to see where Deathbreed go from here, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it takes another couple of releases until the band truly have a grasp on their song writing, and deliver something a little more cutting edge beyond what they have on offer here.

For more information on Deathbreed, check out - http://www.facebook.com/deathbreedswe

© Justin Donnelly

Red Fang - Murder The Mountains

Red Fang
Murder The Mountains
Relapse Records

When Portland (Oregon, U.S.) based stoner metal outfit Red Fang released their ‘Prehistoric Dog’ single back in 2009, it generated a huge amount of interest in the four-piece act. After all, it was a kick ass song, and the band didn’t appear to take themselves too seriously – instead they were more interested in having a good time and rocking out. Unfortunately, the single was undoubtedly the best thing to be heard on their self-titled full-length debut effort (Which was essentially a compilation of their entire discography to that point and released through Sargent House the same year), with the remainder of the album best described as patchy and filler-like for the most part.
Two years on, and Red Fang (Comprising of guitarists/vocalists David Sullivan and Maurice Bryan Giles, bassist/vocalist Aaron Beam and drummer John Sherman) have completed work on their second full-length effort ‘Murder The Mountains’ – which is also their first release since signing up with the mighty Relapse Records.
For the most part, Red Fang’s latest effort is a step up from their debut, with ‘Murder The Mountains’ on the whole sounding more consistent song writing and production wise over their debut. But despite this, there’s nothing that rivals the band’s semi-classic ‘Prehistoric Dog’, and some of the album’s tracks are a little unremarkable, and therefore all too easily forgettable.
The opening track ‘Malverde’ is a heavy chugging effort that brings to mind early Mastodon, but with a cleaner production and with a greater melodic streak running through the songs choruses. Although far from terrible, and featuring some great guitar work, ‘Malverde’ is a little lacking in the song writing department to really stand out quite in the way an opening track should, which doesn’t give the listener much confidence in the rest of the album.
The follow-up track ‘Wires’ (Which was released as a single prior to the album’s release) is a stronger effort that sees the band channelling Queens Of The Stone Age (In the guitar tones) with some subtle latter day Mastodon (The harmonised vocals) with good results, while traces of Kyuss can be heard in the short and fun rocker ‘Hank Is Dead’.
The trio of ‘Dirt Wizard’, the chugging ‘Throw Up’ and the highly energised ‘Painted Parade’ make for a middle part of the album that is solid and likeable, but a little unremarkable in terms of really sticking in your brain long after the songs themselves have finished, while ‘Number Thirteen’ bears a striking resemblance to ASG – both structurally and vocally.
After venturing into melodic territory with a few of the previous cuts, the band attempt to heavy things up a little with ‘Into The Eye’ and ‘The Undertow’. But as good as the idea sounds, both tracks are by far the most filler-like efforts on the album, and therefore fail in their attempts to revitalise the tail end of the album.
Strangely enough, the band has chosen the catchy Queens Of The Stone Age sounding ‘Human Herd’ to close out the album. Although a good track, it seems a little awkward as a closer, and therefore leaves the listener thinking that they’ve been cheated a real album closer in some ways.
‘Murder The Mountains’ isn’t a bad album, and it’s certainly a big step up from Red Fang’s debut effort. But when compared to some other stoner metal outfits on the scene, ‘Murder The Mountains’ is far from what you would honestly consider the best of the best.
Red Fang’s new album is good, but ultimately disappointing.

For more information on Red Fang, check out – http://www.redfang.net/

© Justin Donnelly

Textures - Dualism

Textures
Dualism
Nuclear Blast Records

Although I’ve enjoyed Netherlands act Textures’ past releases, I couldn’t help but feel that despite their best attempts, the band were still unable to shake off their Meshuggah clone status, even if they did make every attempt to broaden their musical influences as far as they could.
Since the release of 2008’s ‘Silhouettes’, the Dutch act have undergone some big changes, with vocalist Eric Kalsbeek and keyboardist Richard Rietdijk parting ways with the band midway through 2010. The news was met with concern amongst some fans that the band would struggle to bounce back from such huge shifts within the band’s line-up. But with the addition of vocalist Daniel De Jongh (Ex-Cilice) and keyboardist Uri Dijk (Who’s also a member of melodic death metal act Ethereal) to the fold (Who still comprise of guitarist/vocalist Jochem Jacobs, guitarist Bart Hennephof, bassist Remko Tielemans and drummer Stef Broks), and appearances at some European festivals to reintroduce the newly revamped band to fans, the future looked a little more promising.
Three years after the release of their less than stellar ‘Silhouettes’, Textures are back with their fourth full-length effort ‘Dualism’. And my, haven’t the band changed for the better.
The first thing you notice about the opening track ‘Arms Of The Sea’ is the vastly improved production values this time around. Every instrument seems to have its place in the mix, and the cinematic sound of them all coming together as a whole sounds so much better than anything released from the band. Outside of production, it’s Textures’ complete overhaul on the song writing front that hits you immediately. Yes, some of the band’s Meshuggah-like riffing is still present, but it’s been toned down heavily to allow a greater sense of atmospherics to broaden the sound. The third thing to really stand out is Jongh and his vocals. He not only exceeds on the aggressive vocal front (He sounds less metalcore than Kalsbeek), but the greater input of clean vocals give the band a completely different sound, with the huge choruses rising above the controlled chaos of the music below. Simply put, ‘Arms Of The Sea’ is something Textures had always promised in the past, but been unable to deliver until now.
The follow-up track ‘Black Horses Stampede’ is again something completely unexpected from the band with the aggression toned down to make way for a greater atmospheric and progressive vibe. But despite the lack of upfront guitars in the mix, the band still belt out plenty of huge riffs and Jongh’s mix of aggressive vocals and stunning clean melodies is delivered to absolute perfection.
‘Reaching Home’ is a real stand out with Jongh sticking wholly to clean vocals with huge catchy choruses throughout with a dense Meshuggah-like and epic riff structure unpinning, while tracks such as the dual tempo nature of ‘Sanguine Draws The Oath’ (Both melodic and aggressive in equal measure), ‘Consonant Hemispheres’ and the masterfully constructed ‘Stoic Resignation’ only reinforcing the obvious – Jongh’s performances and abilities to craft stunning chorus structures and range on the vocal front is a huge addition to Textures development forward.
Elsewhere, tracks such as the post-rock like instrumental ‘Burning The Midnight Oil’, the technically inclined metalcore battering of ‘Minor Earth, Major Skies’ and the majestic ‘Sketches From A Motionless Statue’ (which is preceded by the short interlude ‘Foreclosure’) only reinforce the notion that Textures have blurred the lines and have the capabilities of experimenting beyond their sound and direction of the past.
Textures have failed to really deliver anything that I would consider essential in the past, but with ‘Dualism’, the band finally have me sitting up and taking notice. As far as I’m concerned, this is Textures finest moment, and the one album that really delivers on the potential they always had but was unable to really explore with their former line-up.

For more information on Textures, check out – http://www.texturesband.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Careless - Coalition

Careless
Coalition
Independent Release

When I first gave Careless’ album a spin, I knew there was a little something that separated this band from a lot of other bands’ albums that come across my desk. It wasn’t so much the style of music that Careless were playing, but something about the way they played, and their overall sound. And sure enough, after a little bit of digging, I discovered that while ‘Coalition’ is the band’s debut effort, both the album and the band themselves were hardly conceived within the last couple of years.
According to the band’s biography, Careless (Who comprise of vocalist/drummer James Collins, guitarist Walt Kosar and bassist Nolan Ayres) initially came together sometime in the ‘80’s while attending college in Scranton (Pennsylvania, U.S.) through a mutual love of bands such as Iron Maiden, Dio, Rush, Queensrÿche and the N.W.O.B.H.M. (New Wave Of British Heavy Metal) movement as a whole. It wasn’t long before the trio started to record their songs, with plans of releasing an album at some stage further down the track.  But somewhere along the way, the completion of studies and the onset of real life took precedence, and the band drifted apart, eventually losing touch with each other. Fast forward to 2008, and Kosar decided to get back in touch with his former band members, and after much discussion, Careless was reactivated.
Rather than start anew, the trio decided to revisit their earlier material, and with the addition of some new tracks, Careless have finally finished the recording of their debut full-length effort ‘Coalition’ - some twenty-five years after they first started work on it!
The opening track ‘Curtains’ immediately reveals the band’s obvious love of all things Iron Maiden-like, with the bass playing high in the mix, the incredibly catchy and melodic guitar riffs and solos and Collins’ rather impressive vocals (Which brings to mind a mix of Graham Bonnet and Dan McCafferty of Nazareth). Careless perfectly capture the spirit of the N.W.O.B.H.M. sound - from their song writing, their performance, and right down to the old school production.
Follow-up tracks like the anthem-like ‘Boundaries’ (One of the many tracks where Kosar really shreds throughout the solos), the slower paced rocker ‘D.F.M.’ (Which stands for ‘Don’t Forget Me’) and the riff led heavy rocker ‘Out Of Control’ stand out as lost classics from a bygone era, while the newer offerings ‘Contend In Vein’, ‘Against Stupidity’ and ‘The Gods Themselves’, despite having a slightly more polished production and hint at some newer influences, prove beyond any doubt that Careless still have more than enough song writing chops to match their older songs.
Unfortunately, while ‘Coalition’ has some really strong material, not everything on the album works. While all the three short instrumentals (The acoustic guitar based ‘As Time Passes…’, the bass driven ‘Between The Mayhem’ and the progressive drum/keyboard driven ‘5ive’) are interesting, their inclusion on the album tends to disrupt the flow too much. Meanwhile ‘Blackened Walls Of Freedom’ and the lengthy closer ‘Song 9’ (The spoken word parts don’t benefit the song much) could have done with a little more work to bring them up to the consistency of the others.
Although some tracks don’t work, there’s more here that does. ‘Coalition’ is a great album, if a little inconsistent at times. Judged on its merits, I can only hope that Careless plan on working on a follow-up sometime in the future.

For more information on Careless, check out - http://www.carelesscentral.com/

© Justin Donnelly

The Dogs Divine - Size Of The Fight

The Dogs Divine
Size Of The Fight
Mortal Music

Some bands can spend years building up a following before finally getting a break, but then there are some that seem to have all the luck go their way, just by being in the right place at the right time. And for Springfield (Illinois, U.S.) based hard rock outfit The Dogs Divine, it was the latter.
Formed in 2007, the four-piece outfit were snapped up by Chavis Records after a single show soon after forming, with their Paul Crosby (Saliva)/Chip Z’Nuff (Enuff Z’Nuff) produced debut effort ‘Way Of Life’ hitting the streets in 2008. The album was well received, and the with tours alongside L.A. Guns, Faster Pussycat, Five Finger Death Punch, Blackstone Cherry, Drowning Pool and Non Point soon after the album’s release, the future was looking bright for The Dogs Divine.
But then everything started to unravel. The line-up of the band changed, the band were let go from their label and the prospect of releasing a second album was looking bleak. Yet through sheer perseverance, the The Dogs Divine regrouped with a solidified line-up (Vocalist Tom Hart took on bass duties, and along with original guitarist Karl Von Heilman III, recruited second guitarist Jim Hart and new drummer Jeremiah Ross), signed with Mortal Music and have finally delivered their second full-length effort ‘Size Of The Fight’. It was hardly a groundbreaking release, but ‘Way Of Life’ was at the very least a solid and entertaining listen. So I was looking forward to ‘Size Of The Fight’. Unfortunately, the album is a bit of a letdown.
The opening track ‘Dogs’ is a solid enough track, and one that gives you an idea of where The Dogs Divine’s sound is some three years after their debut. The band’s sound is a little heavier, and Hart’s vocals appear to be a little rawer and aggressive than anything in the past (Almost taking on a Phil Anselmo sound at times), but the strong chorus and meaty riffs still stand out as the band’s strengths. ‘Overnight Sensation’ is another driving track that retains the best elements of the band’s past, but with a heaviness and aggression that has made its way to the surface of the band’s current sound, but things start to slip around the third track ‘FDLF’. ‘FDLF’ (Otherwise known as ‘Fuck Dancing Let’s Fuck’) reminds me of a Mötley Crüe leftover with its terrible lyrics, and Hart’s rough and ready vocal delivery don’t help matters one bit. It’s a shame, because on the music side of things, there’s the making of a really rocking song.
The southern rocking ‘Gypsy King’ does raise the bar higher with Hart showing that when needed, he can lose the gravel stuck in his throat to add a little more soul to the songs, but the Pantera-like ‘Hell Wouldn’t Have Me’, the Saliva sounding ‘One And Only’ (Complete with the ridiculous rap/vocal delivery) and the good, but out of place cover of Queen’s ‘I’m In Love With My Car’ (From 1975’s ‘A Night At The Opera’) only weaken the album.
It’s not all bad, as the rhythmic ‘Brand New Addiction’ and the driving ‘Join The Crowd’ do rise to the heights of the opening pair of tracks on the album, while the acoustic/violin (Provided by Anna Acosta) based short instrumental ‘Gussie’ (Dedicated to Hart’s grandfather Gussie Cary) is well put together. Unfortunately, the album closer ‘One For The Ages’ lets the tail end of the album down with its cliché ridden lyrics and Hart’s struggle to hit some notes.
In the end, ‘Size Of The Fight’ is too patchy sounding, and missing some of the sheen and melodic tendencies of the band’s debut. Don’t get me wrong, The Dogs Divine can still write a solid hard rock song, it’s just than when it comes to performing in the studio, ‘Size Of The Fight’ just doesn’t stack up against their debut. Overall, The Dogs Divine’s latest effort is good, but far too inconsistent to really enjoy from start to finish.

For more information on The Dogs Divine, check out - http://www.myspace.com/thedogsdivine

© Justin Donnelly

General Surgery - A Collection Of Depravation

General Surgery
A Collection Of Depravation
Relapse Records

Stockholm (Sweden) based death metal/goregrind outfit General Surgery have spent more years in hibernation than they have as an ongoing band, originally forming way back in 1988, although inactive from 1991 through to 2002. But despite the band’s on again/off again status, they’ve managed to release a vast body of recorded material in their time, most of which has been released through compilation appearances, split E.P. releases and demos.
Originally signed to Relapse Records for their debut E.P. effort ‘Necrology’ (1991), the band then went on to release two full-length efforts through Listenable Records (2006’s ‘Left Hand Pathology’ and 2009’s ‘Corpus In Extremis: Analysing Necrocriticism’). Now returning to Relapse Records, the label and the band have made the joint decision to put together a compilation in celebration of band’s return - which duly brings us to ‘A Collection Of Depravation’.
Comprised of thirty tracks, and meticulously put together and digitally remastered by Scott Hull (Pig Destroyer/Agoraphobic Nosebleed), ‘A Collection Of Depravation’ is an essential must-have for fans of the long running death metal/goregrind masters, or fans of grindcore in general.
The set opens up with the seven tracks that made up the band’s split E.P. with The County Medical Examiners in 2003. This long out of print release is a definite bonus on this compilation (‘Decomposer’ and ‘Reception Of Cadavers’ are highlights), and thanks to Hull’s remastering, the tracks sound better than ever. The additional cover of Xysma’s ‘Foetal Mush’ (Which appeared on the vinyl release of the said split) is a real bonus as well.
From here, the compilation covers the four tracks from the band’s split with Filth (Released in 2004) and the four tracks featured on their split with Machetazo (Which was again released in 2004), along with a few prime selections from their two full-length releases.
Aside from hard to find/vinyl only tracks, ‘A Collection Of Depravation’ also features its fair share of previously unreleased tracks, with a clutch of songs resurrected from the ‘Left Hand Pathology’ sessions, the Butcher ABC split sessions (Leftover tracks from the same sessions that produced the band’s split effort in 2009) and the ‘Corpus In Extremis: Analysing Necrocriticism’ sessions.
If that wasn’t enough, the band have also included their cover of Repulsion’s ‘Maggots In Your Coffin’ (Which was released on 2009’s ‘Tribute To Repulsion’ on FDA Rekotz), Carnage’s ‘The Day Man Lost’ and predictably enough (And I say that because the band have always been tagged as a Carcass ‘Symphonies Of Sickness’ worship act), their take on Carcass’ ‘Empathological Necroticism’ - an unreleased gem from 2001.
‘A Collection Of Depravation’ is a well put together collection of General Surgery rarities, lavishly packaged (The liner notes from the band members are worth the asking price alone), and overall the kind of release that diehard fans shouldn’t be without.

For more information on General Surgery, check out - http://www.generalsurgery.nu/

© Justin Donnelly

The Jelly Jam - Shall We Descend

The Jelly Jam
Shall We Descend
Molken Music

Ty Tabor is one busy musician. When he’s not playing with his regular outfit King’s X, the vocalist/guitarist keeps himself busy as an in-demand producer, or busying himself with an ever growing catalogue of impressive solo efforts (His last being 2010’s ‘Something’s Coming’). With King’s X taking a break (To allow drummer Jerry Gaskill to recover from recent heart surgery brought on by a heart attack), Tabor has turned his attention to solo endeavours – prompting a return of his long neglected collaborative project The Jelly Jam.
The last time we heard anything from The Jelly Jam was way back in 2004, when the all-star project released their highly acclaimed sophomore effort ‘The Jelly Jam 2’ (Through Inside Out Music). But after a lengthy seven years away, the trio (Comprising of Dream Theater bassist John Myung and Dixie Dregs/Winger drummer Rod Morgenstein) have managed to synchronise their busy schedules and put together a long awaited (And long overdue) third full-length effort ‘Shall We Descend’.
Seven years is a long time between releases, and within that time, all three members have made quite a lot of music with their respective bands. So it comes as no revelation to find that ‘Shall We Descend’ has a very different sound from the band’s first two studio efforts. But it’s the direction the band has taken that will take many long time followers by surprise.
The opening track ‘Who’s Comin’ Now’ (Which is the first single lifted from the album) is quick to reveal some of the changes The Jelly Jam have made to their sound this time around, with the guitars given a bit more bite than what we’re usually accustomed to from Tabor, while the overall darker tone and subtle aggression displayed throughout the song showcases a power and tension never before heard within the group. But the biggest change is the band’s song writing. In the past, the progressive and technical aspects of the musician’s capabilities stood out above anything else. On ‘Who’s Comin’ Now’, The Jelly Jam seem to focus on playing more to what the song needs, and its resulted in a sound that has the band gelling in a way that’s never been heard previously.
The stripped back approach to their progressive leanings really works wonders on the infectious pop/rockers ‘Stay Together’ and ‘Come Alive’, while traces of the band’s past can be heard on the lengthy ‘Halos In Hell’ with its quiet/heavy passages, but with a newfound confidence that makes the song sound thought out and well constructed rather than hastily jammed prior to hitting record in the studio.
Much like the former track, ‘Same Way Down’ mixes gentle passages with some tasteful mid-paced rocker moments, but within a familiar (If trademark) Tabor-like melancholy tempo. The other significant factor that makes this song great (Aside from its beautiful melodies of course) is Tabor’s lyrics. Although it’s impossible to penetrate the real meaning behind anything Tabor writes, the picture he paints on this track lyrically is without question some of his best work in years.
‘Barometric Reign’ is again another great example of where the band plays primarily to the song’s strengths. From its gentle and slow building introduction, the song, and its instrumental and far darker sounding second half ‘March Of The Trolls’, eventually takes on a huge sound that is equally shared amongst all three members, and choruses that bring to the fore Tabor’s classic multi-layered harmonised vocals that channel The Beatles at their best.
In stark contrast to the two previous tracks is ‘Questions’, which initially starts out with an acoustic/bass foundation before Tabor’s guitar and keyboard contributions add a strings element to the song. Personally, this track is a real stand out, and shows a side of Tabor that’s rarely heard (The closest is ‘That’s All’ from 1997’s ‘Naomi's Solar Pumpkin’, and even then it’s has a completely different feel), and definitely not the sort of thing you would expect from The Jelly Jam.
Another personal favourite is the title track ‘Shall We Descend’, which is another classic Tabor track with its continual build and breakdown of instrumental passages and overall melancholy mood, while the eight minute plus instrumental closer ‘Ten’ is the one track where the band let loose (Especially Tabor on guitar and Morgenstein on drums) and allow their progressive nature dictate the song’s direction a little more – albeit while sticking to the band’s unwritten rule of a pre-determined song structure.
Despite always being a big fan of The Jelly Jam, I can’t say that I held the band’s two previous releases in the same high regard as some of Tabor’s other work. But all that has now changed. ‘Shall We Descend’ is not only the best effort The Jelly Jam have ever produced (And I include the two albums Platypus produced before keyboardist Derek Sherinian bowed out of the line-up and the band changed their name), but some of the best work Tabor himself has produced in a long time.
We had to wait seven years for a new album, but if their next album is anything as phenomenal as this, I’d say another seven years for a new one would be well and truly worth it.

For more information on The Jelly Jam, check out - http://www.thejellyjam.com/

© Justin Donnelly