Monday, February 25, 2013

Death Wolf - II: Black Armoured Death

Death Wolf
II: Black Armoured Death
Century Media Records/E.M.I. Music Australia

When Devils Whorehouse emerged onto the scene with their debut E.P. release ‘The Howling’ (Released in 2000 through Regain Records), it was pretty clear where the band’s influences laid by the name they decided upon. Essentially we’re talking about a band that worshiped everything Danzig/Samhain/Misfits related, albeit with a touch of black metal thrown into the mix to give the band their own identity.
Over the course of the next three releases after their debut (2003’s ‘Revelation Unorthodox’, 2008’s ‘Werewolf’ E.P. and 2009’s ‘Blood & Ashes’), it was clear that Devils Whorehouse’s sound was continually evolving. So it came as no surprise that after eleven years of change and continual reinvention, the band considered their current sound quite removed from the one they started out with, and decided the time was right to have a change of name to reflect this. And as of 2011, the Swedish (Norrköping based) outfit formally known as Devils Whorehouse became Death Wolf. As expected, Death Wolf’s self titled debut (Released in mid 2011 through Regain Records) wasn’t all that far removed from where they last left things with Devils Whorehouse, which meant that while fans were pleased with the results, the band didn’t attract many newcomers with their new release.
It’s been two years since then, and after signing up with the mighty Century Media Records, Death Wolf (Who comprise of vocalist Valentin ‘Maelstrom’ Mellström, guitarist Marcus ‘Makko’ Bäckbrant, Abruptum/Marduk bassist Patrick ‘Morgan’ Håkansson and drummer Mikael ‘Hrafn’ Karlsson) has returned with their sophomore effort ‘II: Black Armoured Death’. And as expected, it’s business as usual for the horror punk/metal outfit.
If I were to be honest, Devils Whorehouse/Death Wolf has never been what I would consider a truly remarkable or original sounding band. And in that respect, ‘II: Black Armoured Death’ reinforces the point. The opening track ‘Noche De Brujas’ is a good example of where the band’s strengths and weakness really come to the fore, and the perfect track for newcomers to decide the merits of the band’s output as a whole. Musically, the band’s Danzig influences are still quite evident, albeit with a bit more of a gothic influence than usual. But on the vocal front, Mellström still struggles to deliver a convincing performance. His half growled vocals are done well for at least half the time, but when he attempts to sing something a little more on the cleaner side of things on the lower end, or a little higher than his range allows, it sounds too uneven and hard on the ears. Outside of the vocal issues, the song itself is quite flat and unremarkable, which in part can be blamed on the plodding pace of the song as a whole.
The follow-up track ‘World Serpent’ on the other hand is a far stronger effort. The faster pace, and Mellström’s energy out front really exudes a power that is largely absent when the band slows things down.
And herein is the problem with Death Wolf’s latest release. When the band attempts to create something a bit more atmospheric and moody, they fail on almost every level. While the band do conjure up something a little interesting on ‘Lords Of Putrefaction’ (Well, at least on half the vocals) and the cover of Death In June’s ‘Little Black Angel’, tracks such as ‘Night Stalker’, the dreary chant based ‘Luciferian Blood Covenant’, the plodding ‘Death Wolf March’ and ‘Rothenburg’ fail to excite one bit.
Where the band’s strengths lie is on the faster tracks, where punk, gothic influenced rock and black metal are fused together to create a vibrant hybrid sound. The best examples of this can be found on the d-beat blast of ‘Sudden Bloodletter’, ‘Malice Striker’, ‘Black Armoured Death’ and the catchy ‘Snake Mountain’.
Death Wolf has never been known for their originality, and that’s fair enough. I can understand that, and I don’t have a problem with that. What I do have a problem with is their unwillingness to capitalise on their strengths and deliver a consistent and enjoyable album. Because of that, ‘II: Black Armoured Death’ will only appeal to the small number of diehard Devils Whorehouse fans that aren’t already aware that the band had changed their name to Death Wolf.

For more information on Death Wolf, check out - http://www.deathwolf.net/

© Justin Donnelly

Edge Of Attack - Edge Of Attack

Edge Of Attack
Edge Of Attack
Spread The Metal Records

In a lot of ways, the release of Edge Of Attack’s new self titled release is something of a rebirth for the long running Canadian (Grand Prairie, Alberta based) outfit. After all, a lot has changed with Edge Of Attack since they were introduced to back in 2012.
Just to fill in some of the background information, Edge Of Attack formed way back in 2008. In the
years that followed, the band went through a few line-up reshuffles, before making the move towards recording their debut full-length effort in 2012.
In the six months that followed, Edge Of Attack once again went through a change of guard (The quartet became a quintet, with rhythm guitarist Dallas Dyck being added to the ranks alongside vocalist Roxanne Gordey, lead guitarist/vocalist Jurekk Whipple, bassist Denver Whipple and drummer Trevor Swain), and signed up with Nova Scotia (Canada) based label Spread The Metal Records. But what’s surprising at this point is that rather than re-release their debut, the band have seized the opportunity to give their debut a complete makeover, and inevitably relaunch themselves as a new band of sorts. Apart from the new cover artwork adorning the album, the album also features a new track listing, and new recordings of the said songs. So in a lot of ways, this new version of Edge Of Attack’s debut release is a big step up for the band. But while there are positives, there are also some negatives. And the biggest one is the band’s lack of focussed direction and original sound.
The opening track ‘In Hell’ is one of the album’s new additions, and in all honesty, isn’t one of the album’s stronger efforts. The metalcore-like riffs and drumming that introduces the song is solid enough, but the addition of the power metal-like keyboards into the mix sounds just a little too heavy handed. To add to the song’s woes, Gordey’s vocals aren’t as convincing as they should be during the verses. Despite the obvious negatives, the song’s strong chorus (Which is helped by the multi-layered gang vocals), the heavy riffing and brief passages of lead work do work exceedingly well.
The follow-up track ‘The Haunting’ is undoubtedly one of the album’s more memorable efforts with its solid riffing (Which in some ways reminds me of Iced Earth) and memorable groove, while ‘Take Me Alive’, ‘In The Night’ (The other new track added to this version of the album), ‘Rise Above’ and the fast paced title track ‘Edge Of Attack’ are competent efforts that will no doubt be considered passable, if a little bland to most listeners.
‘Demon (Of The Northern Seas)’ is one of the few tracks on the album that sees the band step a little outside of the box, with the folk/metal guitar riffing and influences spicing up the familiar sound, while the addition of guest vocalist Ivan Giannini (Who is a member of Italian power metal outfits Derdian and Ivory) also keeps things interesting.
Elsewhere, Ryan Bovaird of melodic death metal band Hallows Die adds some great growls to ‘The Damned’ (Which is easily the stand out cut on the album), while Norwegian vocalist Per Fredrik Asly (From Damnation Angels and Pellek) duets with Gordey on the lengthy power metal epic ‘Set The World Aflame’.
The re-release of Edge Of Attack’s debut is certainly a huge improvement on the original, and for that the band should be commended. But that’s not to say that there isn’t some inherit flaws on this new album. The band still hasn’t managed to find a sound their comfortable with, Gordey’s vocals still doesn’t sound connected with the band’s material and their song writing still needs major work.
Overall, while Edge Of Attack’s debut isn’t about to blow many away, it does at least show a small amount of promise for the future.

For more information on Edge Of Attack, check out - http://www.edgeofattack.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Necrowretch - Putrid Death Sorcery

Necrowretch
Putrid Death Sorcery
Century Media Records/E.M.I. Music Australia

For the better part of the last four years, French (Valence, Rhône-Alpes based) outfit Necrowretch have been making a name for themselves within the death metal underground with a collection of demo and official E.P. releases. Not surprisingly, as Necrowretch’s music started to reach a broader audience, a lot of people within the scene started to sit up and take notice of the band – including Jens Prüeter, the head of A&R at Century Media Records Europe, who was impressed with the band’s performance supporting Asphyx’s ‘Deathhammer’ album launch in March 2010.
Having officially signed on the Century Media Records in early 2012, Necrowretch (Who comprise of vocalist/guitarist Vlad, Sanctuaire bassist Amphycion and Sanctuaire/Aldaaron session drummer Mörkk) has finally completed work on their debut full-length effort ‘Putrid Death Sorcery’.
From the moment the album’s opening track ‘Ripping Souls Of Sinners’ is blasted out of the speakers, it’s immediately clear where Necrowretch’s influences originate from. There’s some obvious shades of early Death (1987’s ‘Scream Bloody Gore’ in particular) in the band’s overall sound, with touches of early Marduk, Merciless and Grotesque seeping through as well. Essentially this is old-school death metal, but with enough elements of black metal to mix things up a little. Performance wise, it’s hard to fault Necrowretch. The guitars have a technical edge that’s sharp enough to keep things interesting, while Vlad’s scathing vocals have plenty of venom to give the song some added aggression. In terms of the production, the sound is nice and sharp, but far more clinical sounding, which really allows Mörkk’s impressive drum work to stand out. Overall, it’s safe to say that Necrowretch have more than mastered the old-school death metal sound, and know how to write a good song.
Unfortunately, the formula adopted on the opening track wears a little thin during the course of the album. Despite some tracks that stand out, such as the savage title track ‘Putrid Death Sorcery’, ‘Spewed From Hell’, ‘Goat-Headed’, the dynamic ‘Necrollections’ (Which originally appeared on their ‘Necrollections’ demo in 2010) and the re-recorded fast paced closer ‘Repugnizer’ (From 2009’s ‘Rising From Purulence’ demo), the album does start to lose its impact and originality as it goes on. Ultimately, while Necrowretch can write some great songs, over the course of a full-length album, there’s just not enough variation to make them stand out amongst the pack.
Necrowretch are far from original, but they have enough talent to warrant a listen to. Sound wise, it would be great to see the band put a little more variation into their song writing to maintain the listener’s attention over the course of a whole album. But as it stands, ‘Putrid Death Sorcery’ is a solid enough release, if a little underwhelming at times.

For more information on Necrowretch, check out - http://www.necrowretch.net/

© Justin Donnelly

Tomahawk - Oddfellows

Tomahawk
Oddfellows
Ipecac Recordings

When Tomahawk first announced their formation way back in 2000, there’s was a huge amount of excitement surrounding the band. And rightfully so too, as the group’s line-up comprised of ex-Faith No More/Mr. Bungle/Fantômas vocalist/keyboardist/sampler Mike Patton, ex-The Jesus Lizard guitarist Duane Denison, Melvins/Cows bassist Kevin Rutmanis and ex-Helmet/The Mark Of Cain/Battles drummer John Stainer. To put it in simpler terms, Tomahawk was virtually a supergroup.
When the band released their self-titled debut in 2001, it was unanimously hailed as everything everyone expected of the group, and then some. The band’s follow-up release ‘Mit Gas’ from 2003 was every bit as critically acclaimed as their debut, and proved that the band weren’t afraid to push their sound and experiment beyond their comfort zone.
But by 2007, things had changed within Tomahawk. Rutmanis parted ways with the group prior to recording sessions for their third album ‘Anonymous’, and coupled with the Native American direction of the material (Which was primarily devised by Denison), the album was met with mixed reactions, with some claiming the album was far too removed from that heard on their first two releases.
Given the various members’ busy schedules, and the vacated bassist role within their line-up, there was always going to be a long wait for a new Tomahawk album. But in early 2012, the band announced that Trevor Dunn (Mr. Bungle/Fantômas/John Zorn/Secret Chiefs 3) has been recruited into the fold, and that an album was in the works. It wasn’t long before anticipation was once again building for a new Tomahawk album.
This leads us to the present, and the release of ‘Oddfellows’ - the fourth full-length album from Tomahawk, and the first new music to emerge from the band after a lengthy six years away.
And what a return it is!
It becomes immediately clear from the moment the band get things underway with the title track ‘Oddfellows’ that the avant-garde experimentation of ‘Anonymous’ has been cast aside, and a return to the experimental/alternative rock sound found on their first couple of releases is their guiding song writing template. ‘Oddfellows’ boasts a slow paced riff from Denison, which is a perfect foil for Patton’s haunting vocals. When Denison’s riffing does uncoil, the rhythm section keeps everything tight and tense, which exudes a sinister atmosphere within the song that easily rivals some of the band’s best work from ‘Mit Gas’.
The follow-up track ‘Stone Letter’ (Which is the first single lifted from the album) is a surprisingly catchy hard rock song that reminds me of Faith No More, albeit played in Tomahawk’s quirky and offbeat manner, while on ‘I.O.U.’, the band adopt a minimalistic and eerie soundscape that is as haunting as it is epic and melodic.
From here, the diversity of sounds and direction continues on throughout the course of the album, with ‘White Hats/Black Hats’, the relentless hammer/aggressive ‘The Quiet Few’, ‘South Paw’ and the percussive driven ‘Waratorium’ the obvious stand outs with their straight forward hard rock/metal sound, while tracks such as ‘A Thousand Eyes’, ‘"I Can Almost See Them"’, the electrified southern blues swagger of ‘Choke Neck’ and the creepy ‘Baby Let’s Play ____’ flirt around with the kind of sounds that rely heavily on Patton’s half spoken/heavily breathed vocals and instrumentation that closely resembles the sinister/creepy toned soundtrack themes Fantômas have well and truly mastered in the past.
But not unlike Tomahawk releases of days gone by, ‘Oddfellows’ does have a couple of songs that fall short of the mark. Despite some cool jazz influences, ‘Rise Up Dirty Waters’ sounds like an unfinished piece of work (So much so that the song sounds one long extended interlude with vocals), while the psychobilly tinged closer ‘Typhoon’ has a fairly unremarkable chorus, which inevitably lets the whole song down.
Despite a couple of unremarkable numbers, ‘Oddfellows’ is odd, experimental, catchy, seductive, alienating and rocking. Essentially it’s everything you expect from a band like Tomahawk, who not only survived a critical member reshuffle, but returned with a new album that clearly showcases a return to form.

For more information on Tomahawk, check out - https://www.facebook.com/Tomahawkband

© Justin Donnelly

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Mick Wall - AC/DC - Hell Ain’t A Bad Place To Be

Mick Wall
AC/DC - Hell Ain’t A Bad Place To Be
Orion Books/Hachette Australia

Renowned/legendary music journalist Mick Wall has penned a number of books throughout his career, but it’s been Wall’s last couple of efforts that have enabled him to reinvent himself as a fully-fledged author in his own right.
Following on from his critically acclaimed Led Zeppelin effort, 2008’s ‘When Giants Walk The Earth: A Biography Of Led Zeppelin’ (2008), and his all encompassing Metallica book, 2010’s ‘Enter Night - Metallica: The Biography’, Wall has once again returned with a new literary effort in the form of ‘AC/DC - Hell Ain’t A Bad Place To Be’.
Given the number of books written on AC/DC over the years,  one has to wonder whether Wall has anything new to add to the story behind the world’s greatest rock ‘n’ roll band? Well, if recent history tells us anything, it’s that Wall can tell a great story. His literary efforts on both Led Zeppelin and Metallica have since gone on to become definitive biographies, and absolute must have’s for even the most diehard fan. Well, as predicted, Wall’s latest effort is a no holds barred honest telling of AC/DC’s rise, fall and return to fame over their near forty year existence. And as you would expect, the real story behind AC/DC is far more fascinating than the legend that’s been passed down by almost anyone else’s retelling of the band’s lengthy career.
Wall starts the book off with a brief introductory note that makes clear to readers that the book is anything but an officially sanctioned telling of the band’s history. Instead, this is an honest and detailed account of the band’s story that bypasses the gloss of any official AC/DC biography. Within the four hundred and forty pages of ‘AC/DC - Hell Ain’t A Bad Place To Be’, Wall manages to take the reader inside the inner sanctum of the band, and get an insider’s perspective of the workings within AC/DC.
In the early part of the book, Wall dedicates a fair amount of time laying down the groundwork that went into making up the foundations for AC/DC, most notably the background story of the real players behind the band – including three Young brothers (Malcolm, Angus Young and older brother George, who initially found fame with The Easybeats), Harry Vanda (Also of The Easybeats), Ted Albert, Dave Evans and his eventual replacement – ex-Fraternity vocalist Bon Scott. What emerges clearly right from the start is how much of a stronghold the three brothers had over the band, and how set their sheer bloody-mindedness was to do whatever it would take in order for the band to succeed. In other words, if you didn’t go along with the terms laid down by the Young’s, you were no long a part of the Young’s ‘clan’. It was a lesson that many former members of the band learnt the hard way, including Evans – who after a year with the band, was eventually dismissed after butting heads with the Young’s.
It’s around the time that AC/DC recruited vocalist Bon Scott that the book really takes off. And it’s here that Wall really shows off his skill as a storyteller and author. By removing much of the myth and legend surrounding Scott, Wall manages to present an image of a vocalist who externally portrayed himself as a hard living rock ‘n’ roller on every level, but who was in reality a man who was looking for a laid back life that was far less transient. Pinning down the real Scott is a near impossibility, but Wall managing to separate the man from the myth, and allow his existence to live beyond the cliché rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle many know him by.
The tragic death of Scott in February 1980 is covered in detail, and is another area where Wall excels at stripping away the lies that have been mistaken for truth over the years and recount the honest chain of unfortunate events. It’s also worth a mention too that the nature of Scott’s untimely death has also raised a few questions, both before and after the event. While Wall has no real evidence of what took place, his explanation of who did what makes for a compelling and believable read.
But this book isn’t just about the band. There’s a lot more to this book than that. Wall goes into detail about the making of the albums, as well as offering his own take on the band’s releases (Although hits the mark more often than not, I think his views on some albums are quite different to my own). There is also a look into the band’s ongoing label issues (Particularly in the U.S., where the band fought relentlessly with Atlantic Records), dealing with producers (The most notable being the band’s deteriorating relationship with Robert John ‘Mutt’ Lange after 1980’s ‘Back In Black’), various band personnel (Manager Peter Mensch, tour manager Ian Jeffery and various band members) and the band’s rollercoaster career (Which in short is a phenomenal rise from strength to strength from 1975’s ‘High Voltage’ through to 1980’s ‘Back In Black’). What emerges is the role of Malcolm Young with AC/DC, who unwittingly has not only allowed the band to prosper through his determination to do what’s best for the band, but also allowed the band to fall from grace through some really poor decisions – which again can be blamed on his dictatorship over everyone within the band.
Surprisingly, much of the Brian Johnson era of the band is brushed over for the most part, and rightfully so. It’s around the time that Johnson stepped into Scott’s role that AC/DC bunkered down and locked out anyone who wasn’t a part of their inner circle (Or ‘clan’ as it’s described throughout the book), and that little is known about what went on behind closed doors. Essentially, AC/DC sorted out everything in-house, and rarely relied on anyone they didn’t trust. But despite this, Wall has unearthed more than enough factual information to keep the story moving forward, and provide the background on how AC/DC managed to do the impossible and claw themselves back to the top of the heap after a decade long creative decline prior to 1990’s ‘The Razors Edge’. Wall does document everything AC/DC related to the present day, where the band is still doing their thing. The gap between albums is getting longer, and the chance of the band making one last classic seems more and more unlikely with each year that passes. But it matters little. AC/DC do whatever they want to do, regardless of what anyone thinks. And that’s the way it’ll stay until the very end.
For someone like myself who had but only a passing interest for AC/DC, I have to admit that as soon as I picked up ‘AC/DC - Hell Ain’t A Bad Place To Be’, I couldn’t put it down. Wall’s tell-all AC/DC biography had me riveted from the start, and kept me interested right through to the end. I still might not be the biggest fan, but I have an appreciation and understanding of the band that I never thought possible before picking this book up.
If you’re merely a casual fan, then rest assured you’ll find it hard to put this book down. It’s really is that well written. But even if you’re a diehard fan, you can be assured that there’s plenty within the pages of ‘AC/DC - Hell Ain’t A Bad Place To Be’ that you’ll never find in any so-called definitive AC/DC biography.

For more information on Mick Wall, check out - http://www.mickwall.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Birds Of Tokyo - This Fire

Birds Of Tokyo
This Fire
Birds Of Tokyo PTY. LTD./E.M.I. Music Australia

Given the success Perth (Western Australia) outfit Birds Of Tokyo have enjoyed over the last five years, it’s kind of surprising that it’s taken so long for the band to return with something new. But after more than two years since the release of their self-titled album back in mid 2010, Birds Of Tokyo have finally returned with a taste of things to come in the form of their latest E.P. ‘This Fire’.
Much like the change of sound that was evident between ‘Universes’ (2008) and ‘Birds Of Tokyo’ (2010), ‘This Fire’ shows another step into new territory for the band, and a clear sign of what fans can expect from ‘March Fires’ with its release next month.
The newly expanded five piece outfit (Who comprise of vocalist Ian Kenny, guitarist Adam Spark, new bassist Ian Berney, new keyboardist Glenn Sarangapany and drummer Adam Weston) open up their latest E.P. with the title track ‘This Fire’, and the song that sets the tone for all the four tracks on the E.P.  Birds Of Tokyo’s songs have always been built around a strong sense of melody and Kenny’s addictive and melodic voice, but it’s on ‘This Fire’ that the band takes things one step further. Building upon the lead set by their last full-length effort, ‘This Fire’ is a slow building tune that relies more on Kenny’s powerful and emotive vocals, with the music providing more of a supporting role. The brooding atmospherics only adds to the drama of Kenny out front during the verses, while the build up in the choruses with militaristic drumming and chanted/gang vocals make a real impact at just the right times. This is something of a new sound for Birds Of Tokyo, and one where mood and feeling outweighs the need to rock from the moment the song starts. Yes, the song still rocks, but in a far more measured way.
The follow-on track ‘Glowing In The Streets’ is a definite favourite on the E.P., with the guitars and keyboards given a little more fuzz and volume, but never at the detriment of Kenny’s beautiful melodic vocal lines. While the track does have some similarities to the sound heard on the band’s last album, there’s sparseness in the instrumental delivery shown throughout the song that showcases a newfound sense of minimalism within the band’s song writing.
‘Boy’ is one of the E.P.’s most introspective and quieter tracks, with the bulk of the song carried by warm sounding keyboards. The song is another example of Kenny’s delicate vocals and heartfelt lyrics, and how the band successfully creates an atmosphere that gently ebbs and flows throughout, all the while avoiding the cliché of adding too much to the mix and spoiling the serenity of it all.
The final track ‘The Lake’ is perhaps the only real disappointment on offer here. Although far from a complete failure, the use of military drums, the progressive build throughout and an overly repetitive use of the same lyrical lines does tend to have less impact to this listener than ‘This Fire’ – which utilised a similar approach.
Although it’s hard to know exactly what ‘March Fires’ will sound like as a whole, we do at least have an idea of what the potential holds with the release of ‘This Fire’. In short, I expect nothing less than another collection of beautifully atmospheric written anthems filling up the band’s next album – albeit in a different form to what we have heard before on previous Birds Of Tokyo albums.

For more information on Birds Of Tokyo, check out - http://www.birdsoftokyo.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Riverside - Shrine Of New Generation Slaves (Limited Edition)

Riverside
Shrine Of New Generation Slaves (Limited Edition)
Inside Out Music/Century Media Records/E.M.I. Music Australia

Long running Polish (Warsaw based) progressive rock/metal act Riverside has always been a hard act to follow at the best of times, with each and every one of their releases showcasing a change in direction from the band. While on the one hand it keeps things interesting for both the band and their fan-base, it has also meant that the band’s output over their decade long career to date has been somewhat hit and miss.
A perfect example of the band’s willingness to try their hand at something different could be found on their last full-length release ‘Anno Domini High Definition’ (2009), which was by far the heaviest and most metallic sounding album to date. While the album drew plenty of praise, it also left some feeling that the band had strayed too far from the sound they established themselves on with their first couple of albums (2003’s ‘Out Of Myself’ and 2005’s ‘Second Life Syndrome’).
It’s been a couple of years since we last heard from Riverside (In 2010, the band released their live D.V.D. ‘Reality Dream’, and in 2011 they released the ‘Memories In My Head’ E.P. and the mammoth ‘Reality Dream Trilogy’ boxed set), but after a short hiatus, they’re back with their fifth full-length effort ‘Shrine Of New Generation Slaves’ (Which is otherwise known as ‘SONGS’).
The four piece outfit (Who comprise of vocalist/bassist/acoustic guitarist Mariusz Duda, guitarist Piotr Grudziński, keyboardist Michał Łapaj and drummer Piotr ‘Mittloff’ Kozieradzki) open up the album with ‘New Generation Slave’, which in all honesty took me a while to truly appreciate. The rather long and disjointed intro to the song does take a while to really go anywhere, but when the band eventually do get the song moving (About two minutes in), there’s plenty of dynamics, heaviness and progressive elements to keep fans of their last album pleased to no end.
In a complete turnaround, the follow-up track ‘The Depth Of Self-Delusion’ is a far more introspective and semi-acoustic based effort that boasts a mix of heavier elements and melancholy moods, an outstanding performance from Duda. Again, it took a while for this song to grow on me, but after repeat listens, Duda’s subtle melodies and Grudziński understated guitar work really do work their way to the surface in a major way.
The single ‘Celebrity Touch’ (Which was released at the tail end of 2012) is by far the most direct and straightforward sounding track that combines the heavier sound of their last album with the atmospherics of their formative releases. Grudziński’s killer riffs are given a bit more grunt with the addition of Łapaj’s thick Hammond tones, which gives the song a bit of a classic rock vibe. But there’s definitely a bit more to the song than just classic rock influences, with Duda managing to incorporate some very Steven Wilson-like tranquil atmospherics into the structures, which completely transforms the song into something else.
The piano based ‘We Got Used To Us’ is a personal favourite with Duda’s heartfelt and emotive vocal performance one of his most mesmerising and memorable, while the guitar/Hammond organ driven ‘Feel Like Falling’ is another firm favourite with its complex mix of varied time changes, guitar effects and strong melodic passages.
‘Deprived (Irretrievably Lost Imagination)’ is another moody and contemplative ballad-like effort that sees the band focuses on creating a mood and atmosphere in support of Duda’s vocals, rather than work alongside. The tail end of the track does see the band stretch out a little more on the progressive rock side of things (In a very Tool-like manner in places with the heavy bass presence), but essentially retains a very melancholy feel for most of the time.
Clocking in at just less than thirteen minutes, there’s no denying that ‘Escalator Shrine’ is the centrepiece of the album, and the one track that most fans will be drawn to.  And rightfully so too, as the track seamlessly combines a touch of the blues, classic rock and progressive rock into one huge melting pot, with the end result sounding something like the sort of material Riverside have come to be defined by. Although far from immediate (Although its more structured and thought out than most of what was offered on ‘Anno Domini High Definition’), the song does seep its way into your mind with its strong melody structures and subtle instrumentation, and therefore stands out in its own unique way.
Finishing up the album is the rather short ‘Coda’, which is essentially an acoustic reprisal of ‘Feel Like Falling’. This brief but beautiful rendition is an absolute stunner. It’s a shame that the whole song wasn’t included on here.
As stated at the top, this is a review for the limited edition version of ‘Shrine Of New Generation Slaves’, which boasts a second disc containing two additional tracks – namely ‘Night Session Part One’ and ‘Night Session Part Two’.
Stylistically, the two tracks are very different from ‘Shrine Of New Generation Slaves’, with the two mostly instrumental sessions (Which combined run for just over twenty-two minutes) sounding more akin to Duda’s side project Lunatic Soul. In other works, they dwell more in ambient/jazz/electronic/progressive territory, with comparisons to Radiohead and Steven Wilson coming to mind. Although both tracks don’t enhance ‘Shrine Of New Generation Slaves’ itself, their inclusion as a bonus disc is pretty cool.
Overall, while it took me some time to fully appreciate ‘Shrine Of New Generation Slaves’, Riverside’s latest release does stand as every bit as worthy as their former releases. All up, this album is highly recommended to fans of the Polish outfit.

For more information on Riverside, check out - http://www.riversideband.pl/en/

© Justin Donnelly

Monday, February 4, 2013

Hell Or Highwater - Begin Again

Hell Or Highwater
Begin Again
Pavement Entertaniment, Inc.

When Californian outfit Atreyu launched themselves onto the scene with their debut full-length effort ‘Suicide Notes And Butterfly Kisses’ in 2002, they had already developed a sound and style that was well established and recognisable within the metalcore scene. Their follow-up releases ‘The Curse’ (2004) and ‘A Death-Grip On Yesterday’ (2006) further established the band as a force to be reckoned with. But by the time they released their fourth full-length effort ‘Lead Sails Paper Anchor’ (2007), something within the band’s sound had changed, and their fan base were left confused by the band’s experimentation with a broader melodic sound and the stripping back of their familiar metalcore sound. And while 2009’s ‘Congregation Of The Damned’ did see a return to form in the eyes of some, it wasn’t enough to hold the band intact, with Atreyu deciding to go into an indefinite hiatus in early 2011.
Without wasting any time, drummer/vocalist Brandon Saller set about getting a new group off the ground, and with the addition of guitarists Matt Pauling (Ex-The Confession), Neal Tiemann (Midwest Kings/David Cook), bassist Joey Bradford (Thieves And Liars) and drummer Kyle Peek (Midwest Kings/David Cook), The Black Cloud Collective was founded.
Within a year of being together, the band (Who had changed their name to Hell Or Highwater in May 2011) would release their debut full-length effort ‘Begin Again’ in August 2011, which despite its limited exposure (The album was released independently), was received well from fans.
One year on, and Pavement Entertaniment, Inc. have decided to give the album another shot by giving ‘Begin Again’ a well overdue worldwide re-release - in expanded form.
Anyone familiar with Atreyu’s last couple of albums will no doubt be familiar with what Saller delivers in Hell Or Highwater on the vocal front. His clean vocal efforts are fully explored here now that he’s taken on the front man role, and it’s a role that he truly excels in. But in terms of musical direction, Hell Or Highwater is something completely different from Atreyu – and not in a bad way either.
The opening track ‘Gimme Love’ is a good indication of what Hell Or Highwater has to offer for most of the album. And what we’re talking about here is modern hard rock, complete with huge distinctive choruses, a touch of punk rock in places (Namely the gang vocals and short guitar solos) and Saller’s infectious vocals that successfully bind it altogether. The bottom line is that while this track isn’t anything remotely challenging in terms of hard rock, it’s so damn infectious and likeable that it’s hard not to be impressed at just how enjoyable the song is.
‘Hail Mary!’ is a stand out with its harder edge and distinctive slide guitar work, while ‘Terrorized In The Night’ brings to mind Avenged Sevenfold in places, but stands apart enough to earn its praise. Also worthy of a mention is the guitar solo, which is every bit as memorable as the choruses throughout the song.
The semi-ballad ‘Tragedy’ is a well crafted tune that allows the band to think outside the box a little by adding a little more theatrics into their hard rock sound, while on ‘Go Alone’, M. Shadows of Avenged Sevenfold fame lends his voice to what can only be described as an awesome hybrid psychobilly/country classic.
In terms of personal favourites, I find it hard to go past ‘Rock Waters Edge’. Saller’s vocals really shine on this track, and the minimalistic music approach works a charm. The follow up track ‘When The Morning Comes’ doesn’t stray too far direction wise from the former, and not surprisingly is a firm second favourite.
In terms of heavier sounds, ‘Crash & Burn’ and the Foo Fighters sounding ‘Come Alive’ are great songs and sure to go down a storm on the live front, while ‘We All Wanna Go Home’ is a suitably anthem-like closer with its gang vocal choruses and building choruses.
The only song that really didn’t hit the mark is ‘Find The Time To Breath’. But given it’s the only filler on the eleven track album, the slip can be forgiven.
As mentioned earlier, this re-release is an expanded edition of the original album, with the first bonus track being the ‘Villain Remix’ of ‘Tragedy’. Although interesting, it’s not exactly the sort of track I’d return to time and time again.
Fortunately, the band’s cover of the Simon & Garfunkel 1969 classic ‘The Boxer’ is a worthy addition to the album. The final track ‘Pretty Penny’ is also a cool bonus track, but if the truth be told, the recording is clearly below the standard of the rest of the album, which isn’t likely to do the song any favours.
If you liked the clean vocal sounds of Saller within Atreyu, but couldn’t get into the band’s metalcore sound, then Hell Or Highwater’s debut comes highly recommended. If on the other hand you were a fan of Atreyu, and were hoping for more of the same thing on ‘Begin Again’, then prepare to be surprised, and ultimately disappointed.

For more information on Hell Or Highwater, check out - http://www.hellorhighwaterofficial.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Voivod - Target Earth

Voivod
Target Earth
Century Media Records/E.M.I. Music Australia

For all intents and purposes, the future of Quebec (Canada) based progressive metal outfit Voivod was looking uncertain when Denis ‘Piggy’ D’Amour sadly passed away in 2005. Aside from being the guitarist in the band, he was the group’s founder, principal song writer and the driving force within the group since their inception way back in the early ‘80’s. And while the band managed to piece together two albums worth of material from music D’Amour had recorded prior to succumbing to cancer (2006’s ‘Katorz’ and 2009’s ‘Infini’), the thought of finding a replacement for D’Amour and Voivod continuing seemed unlikely.
As a tribute to D’Amour, Voivod recruited Daniel ‘Chewy’ Mongrain (Who has in the past played with Martyr, Gorguts, Cryptopsy and Capharnaum) in 2008 for a series of live shows. The shows were an unexpected success for the band, and it wasn’t long before the band announced their plans to continue making music, with Mongrain filling in the big shoes left behind by D’Amour, along with Jean-Yves ‘Blacky’ Thériault’s return to fold on bass in more than twenty years (He last appeared on 1991’s ‘Angel Rat’).
After spending the better part of the last four years touring the world (Which resulted in no less than three live releases in that time – 2009’s ‘Tatsumaki: Voivod In Japan 2008’ D.V.D., 2011’s ‘Warriors Of Ice’ album and 2012’s ‘Live At Roadburn 2011’ vinyl release), Voivod (Who also comprise of vocalist Denis ‘Snake’ Belanger and drummer Michel ‘Away’ Langevin) have returned with their highly anticipated thirteenth studio release ‘Target Earth’.
Voivod open up the album with the title track ‘Target Earth’, which is without a doubt one of harshest and grittiest slabs of thrashing/progressive metal the band has laid down in some years. Belanger’s snarls sound more menacing than ever, all the while maintaining a sense of melody within the odd choruses with his cleaner vocals, while Thériault’s trademark blower bass sound makes a welcome return to the band’s overall sound. Mongrain does a fantastic job at honouring D’Amour’s unique approach to guitar sounds and riffs too, while stamping his own personality within the solo.
After a brief and rather odd sounding introduction (Provided by Katajjaq Inuit throat singers), ‘Kluskap O’Kom’ sees the band step things up with the track fusing together elements of punk, progressive rock and thrash metal to perfection, while the lengthy first single ‘Mechanical Mind’ (Which is again introduced by some weird and wonderful sound effects) is an angular thrash based progressive metal gem that is easily an example of Voivod at the best.
Elsewhere, ‘Empathy For The Enemy’ (Which features a guest appearance from Periklis Tsoukalas on the Oud) and ‘Warchaic’ focus more on brooding soundscapes and atmospherics that ebb and flow within the progressive rock mould, while ‘Resistance’ and ‘Kaledios’ tend to have more in common with the latter day Voivod with their more direct sounding punk/rock influences.
The French sung ‘Corps Étranger’, which translates to ‘Foreign Body’, is a speedy slab of punk-like rock that boasts some great riffs from Mongrain and a biting vocal performance from Belanger, while ‘Artefact’ follows a similar path direction wise to the former, but with a greater progressive edge that brings to mind the sound often associated with Voivod’s classic era.
The only real disappointment is the closer ‘Defiance’, which is faded out after a minute and a half in. Maybe it’s a teaser for things to come, but either way, it’s a real shame that the track falls away just as it starts to get off the ground.
Barring the half aired closer, Voivod fans will be thoroughly pleased with ‘Target Earth’. Voivod haven’t reinvented themselves on their latest album, but they have managed to make an album that honours the sound forged by D’Amour while moving forward into the future. And the fact that ‘Target Earth’ sounds more cohesive and consistent than anything from their last two albums only reinforces the notion that Voivod still have plenty to offer on the musical front.

For more information on Voivod, check out - http://www.voivod.com/

© Justin Donnelly