Saturday, August 31, 2013

Amorphis - Circle

Amorphis
Circle
Nuclear Blast Records/Riot! Entertainment

Although I call myself a fan, I can’t say that I’ve truly enjoyed everything that Finnish (Helsinki) based outfit Amorphis have released throughout the years. When I take a broader view of their output from their twenty three year career, it’s apparent that for every one of the band’s truly inspired releases, there’s a follow-up release that sees the band treading water with an album that seriously lacks in inspiration and song writing that lifts it up and beyond the bar set by the band themselves in the past. In other words, while Amorphis have released some truly outstanding and memorable releases, the band’s back catalogue isn’t without its share of lacklustre releases as well.
It’s been two years since the release of ‘The Beginning Of Times’ (2011), and I can’t say that I was in any great rush to listen to their latest release ‘Circle’ given how disappointed I was with their last effort. Granted, ‘The Beginning Of Times’ did have its moments, but I couldn’t help but feel that the album didn’t really offer much in the way of anything new from the band sound wise, and the album’s hour long running time left me feeling like they were simply padding the album with needless filler instead of trimming it down to an album of tracks that represented them at their best.
So with virtually no expectations, I decided to give the twelfth full-length effort a spin. And while I’m not about to say that ‘Circle’ is the one of the band’s best, it’s certainly a stronger and more inspired sounding effort from the band in some years.
The six piece band (Who comprise of vocalist Tomi Joutsen, lead guitarist Esa Holopainen, rhythm guitarist Tomi Koivusaari, bassist Niclas Etelävuori, keyboardist Santeri Kallio and drummer Jan Rechberger) get the album off to a truly outstanding start with the opening cut ‘Shades Of Gray’. Starting out with plenty of aggression that leans more towards the band’s early death metal roots, the song soon transforms into something more akin to their current melodic rock vein, bolstered by a chorus that’s memorable. Amorphis have never been afraid to blur the boundaries between genres in the past, but never have the band been able to cleverly mix the old with the new in such a potent and seamless form. Joutsen’s vocals (Both in growl and cleaner efforts) sounds as impressive as ever, while the band’s ability to move from one style to the next and back again is nothing short of fantastic.
The next track ‘Mission’ isn’t really all that far removed from what Amorphis have been offering up for some time now (Especially since Joutsen joined the group in 2005), but when it’s done this well, doing something completely different doesn’t enter the equation. With its epic undertones, lush atmospherics and stand out chorus structures, ‘Mission’ is the kind of song that Amorphis have built their career on, and this is the perfect example of when the band is truly inspired and write a song that draws together all of the trademark elements that make up their sound in the one song.
‘The Wanderer’ (The second single lifted from the album) follows a similar path to its predecessor, albeit with a little more directness and a greater emphasis on guitar riffs/solos over keyboards (Holopainen really stands out on this track), while ‘Narrow Path’ sees a welcome return of the band’s folk influences with the use of flute (Provided by Sakari Kukko) interwoven throughout the song’s decidedly guitar heavy driven soundtrack.
‘Hopeless Days’ (The first single released from the album) is a track that took me by surprise with its darker sounding verses and light filled choruses. Amorphis aren’t afraid to experiment a little here and there, but this track really does see the band pushing the progressive side of their song writing a little more in that direction and it works exceedingly well. And when the clutches of guitar passages are delivered with openness like this that can only be produced by Peter Tägtgren (Who is otherwise the mastermind behind Hypocrisy and Pain), it transforms the whole song to an entirely new level. Needless to say, the song is a personal favourite.
The doomy/melodic black metal influenced ‘Nightbird’s Song’ continues along the same vein in terms of heaviness with Joutsen’s growled vocals coming back into the mix, but is broken up with some passages of flute to give the song a bit of breathing space, while the slower paced ‘Enchanted By The Moon’ maintains the heavier vibe of the former track, albeit with a greater sense of doom atmospherics that Amorphis mastered some years ago.
‘Into The Abyss’ best represents the album with its melodic progressive metal sounding direction, Holopainen’s outstanding contribution of guitars throughout and Joutsen’s superb melodies, while the progressive based closer ‘A New Day’ finishes up the album on a high note with some saxophone being brought into the mix and Joutsen’s truly soaring chorus.
As I mentioned earlier, I’ve always considered Amorphis’ track record a little hit and miss. But after giving ‘Circle’ a good listen, I have to conclude that this is one of the band’s finer efforts in recent years, and certainly one of this year’s unexpected surprise releases. In short – this album comes highly recommended to Amorphis fans.

For more information on Amorphis, check out - http://www.amorphis.net/

© Justin Donnelly

Monday, August 26, 2013

Drowning Pool - Resilience (Deluxe Edition)

Drowning Pool
Resilience (Deluxe Edition)
Eleven Seven Music

Despite a career that spans more than a decade, Dallas (Texas, U.S.) based outfit Drowning Pool are most likely remembered by most as a band that can’t seem to hold onto a vocalist for any real length of time. So it comes as no real surprise to find that on the band’s fifth and latest full-length release ‘Resilience’, Drowning Pool (Who comprise of guitarist/backing vocalist C.J. Pierce, bassist/backing vocalist Stevie Benton and drummer/backing vocalist Mike Luce) are once again introducing a new front man. This time around it’s The Suicide Hook front man Jasen Moreno, who took over from Ryan McCombs, who left the band in late 2011 after fronting the band for two albums (2007’s ‘Full Circle’ and 2010’s ‘Drowning Pool’) to reunite with his old band Soil. It’s no secret that most fans of the band still hold their 2001 debut effort ‘Sinner’ as the benchmark on which each new album is judged against, and the album’s vocalist Dave Williams (Who passed away in 2002) as practically irreplaceable. But despite this, the three remaining members remain as persistent as ever, and as mark of this, have named their album with the fitting title of ‘Resilience’.
Putting aside the band’s past for the sake of taking in Drowning Pool’s album for what it is, I have to admit that when the band do get things right, it’s not all that bad. And a perfect example of this can be found with the opening track ‘Anytime Anyplace’. If you were to be critical, it could be said that on the musical side of things, Drowning Pool haven’t really progressed much beyond the sound of their debut. The band still churns out a mix of groove/alternative metal with a hard rock/metal influence, all the while keeping things simple and likeable. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Musically, ‘Anytime Anyplace’ is an extremely likeable tune, with just the right amount of diverse and densely layered passages dotted throughout to get the masses moving when it’s played live. But sometimes the sticking point is the vocals that are laid on top. But in this instance, Drowning Pool seems to have found the right man in Moreno, who not only has a great rock voice, but a range wide enough to add a bit more character into the song. And unless you have something to say musically, it’s the vocalist who really sells the song. The follow-up track ‘Die For Nothing’ is another solid track that seems custom made for a live audience with its catchy sing along choruses, while Pierce gets the opportunity to show off a little more on the guitar front – which isn’t a bad thing.
Unfortunately, not everything works for Drowning Pool here. ‘One Finger And A Fist’ is a big dumb rock song that’s marred heavily by its cliché macho lyrics and overuse of gang vocals. Yes, it’s a catchy song, but it really doesn’t have a lot to say beyond what’s yelled in the choruses. The same can be said for ‘Saturday Night’, which is pretty much a party anthem. Sure, it has a lot of energy, and Moreno sings up a storm on the track – but it’s fairly unfulfilling when stacked up against some stronger efforts towards the tail end of the album.
‘Digging These Holes’ is an interesting effort in that Moreno proves just how talented he is on the vocal front, while the hard hitting ‘Low Crawl’ is an interesting foray into the band’s grunge rock sound, with some of the vocals in the breakdowns bringing to mind Alice In Chains (Even if only briefly).
Songs such as ‘Broken Again’, the mid-paced ‘Understand’ and the anthem-like ‘Bleed For You’ are solid enough tracks towards the tail end of the album, but it’s ‘Life Of Misery’ and the closer ‘Skip To The End’ where the band really shine – both on the song writing front and with Moreno’s own vocal performance.
The deluxe edition of ‘Resilience’ comes with an additional two tracks, with the first coming in the form of ‘In Memory Of...’ - the album's first single, which was initially released as a tribute to Williams on the tenth anniversary of his passing away in August 2012. This is hands down the best song on the album. It’s no surprise that it was chosen as the first single from the album.
The other bonus track is ‘Blindfold’ which is another great track full of energy and aggression, and a great chorus that boasts some great screams from Moreno.
If you were to compare ‘Resilience’ to the band’s debut effort ‘Sinner’, I can guarantee you that just about every one of the band’s fans will tell you that the album doesn’t compare one bit. But if you look beyond the fact that Williams has long parted ways with this world, and judge the band’s latest effort on its own merits, I think it’s fair to say that it’s a pretty strong effort, but marred by some songs that lower the overall high standard with their sub-par lyrical themes and recycled delivery.
I think it’s fair to say that Drowning Pool has been their own worst enemy in terms of moving forward with just about every new album emerging from the band featuring a new vocalist. But if the band can hold onto Moreno, and challenge themselves on the song writing front from this point, they may find an audience, and perhaps recapture a little of their former glory.

For more information on Drowning Pool, check out - http://www.drowningpool.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Queensrÿche - Queensrÿche (Limited Edition)

Queensrÿche
Queensrÿche (Limited Edition)
Melodisc Ltd./Century Media Records/E.M.I. Music Australia

Anyone who’s remotely familiar with Washington (U.S.) based progressive rock outfit Queensrÿche will be well aware of the drama that surrounded the band since vocalist Geoff Tate was dismissed from the group in June 2012, and the very public war of words that has ensued since (Although it has to be said that nearly all of the bad publicity has emerged from the Tate camp).
As expected, the fight was between Tate and the remaining members of the band for control of the band name, with Tate the first to get an album out with the title of ‘Frequency Unknown’ under the Queensrÿche banner (Which was released through Deadline Music/Cleopatra Records in January 2013). But while Tate emphatically claimed an early victory in his war against his former band, the reality was that fans were quite critical of the album, with many (Including myself) claiming that the album had virtually no correlation with the classic Queensrÿche sound and that his all-star backing band were merely hired to generate some interest in the release. Not helping his cause one bit was the album’s rather poor production sound, and the rather tasteless stab at the other Queensrÿche with the album’s accompanying artwork.
While some fans may have had a passing interest in what Tate had to offer with ‘Frequency Unknown’, it’s the other Queensrÿche that most have an interest in hearing new music from. With former Crimson Glory vocalist Todd La Torre taking on the front man role, and the remaining members of the band (Who comprise of guitarists Parker Lundgren and Michael Wilton, bassist/backing vocalist Eddie Jackson and drummer/orchestral arranger Scott Rockenfield) promising a return to the true Queensrÿche sound of old with their upcoming album, many were hoping that with the release of ‘Queensrÿche’ (The band’s thirteenth full-length album, excluding Tate’s most recent effort) would now see the band back on the right path after years of promises that amounted to two decades of continual disappointment.
Queensrÿche open up their new album with the short soundtrack like instrumental piece ‘X2’. Although Rockenfield’s use of cinematic sounds is interesting here, the track is a little on the short side of things (Running for a mere seventy seconds), and kind of gets forgotten a little when it eventually bleeds into the follow on track ‘Where Dreams Go To Die’.
‘Where Dreams Go To Die’ is a pretty strong effort for Queensrÿche, and showcases the strengths within the band. Written by Lundgren, it shows that even though he’s a relatively new addition to the group (He has only been in the band since 2009), his understanding of the classic Queensrÿche sound is without question. Outside of his song writing, his ability to play alongside Wilton throughout the solos is worth noting, while out front, La Torre proves he’s more than capable of filling the void left behind by Tate. Not content to simply clone Tate, La Torre adds dynamics, passion and range into Queensrÿche, which more than helps to reinvigorate the band and give them that special something that’s been lacking from the group in years.
Although ‘Spore’ may not have the hooks of the former track, it does show a greater emphasis on heavier guitar work and drumming that has been missing in a lot of Queensrÿche work of the recent past, while the mid-paced ballad/rocker ‘In This Light’ sounds reminiscent of the direction the band took on ‘Empire’ (1990) with its clean and open production (Courtesy of producer/mixer/co-engineer James Barton), tandem guitar work and La Torre’s diverse and emotive vocals.
Most will no doubt be familiar with ‘Redemption’ as it was the first single lifted from the album. And it was a good choice, as the groove based progressive heavy tune provides a sound overall feel of where the band are at these days, with the song cleverly balancing a heavier return to the band’s sound, but not at the cost of a catchy chorus that is handled with class from La Torre.
But if there’s a song that really hits hard, it’s ‘Vindication’. Rockenfield hasn’t sounded this inspired in years, and his drumming certainly guides the rest of the band in a major way. And when you combine that with some impressive guitar work, and La Torre’s memorable melodies, it’s not hard to see why the track stands out as a firm favourite amongst fans.
After another brief Rockenfield/La Torre penned instrumental piece (The minute long ‘Midnight Lullaby’), Queensrÿche take a step into darker territory with the slow burning ‘A World Without’. With lush orchestration, a guest vocal appearance Pamela Moore (Who played Sister Mary on both of Queensrÿche’s ‘Operation: Mindcrime’ albums) and some guitar solos that bring to mind what Chris DeGarmo brought to the band in their heyday, this track is undoubtedly another real stand out, and worthy enough to stand alongside the likes of ‘Real World’ and ‘Silent Lucidity’.
‘Don’t Look Back’ is a fast paced progressive/power metal tune that is solid, but lacks that special something to make it really stand out. The same however can’t be said for ‘Fallout’, which is not only infectious, but full of energy and groove that really showcases the renewed energy within the group these days.
Finishing up the standard version of the album is ‘Open Road’ – a melancholy and atmospheric power ballad that could have easily slotted on the tail end of ‘Empire’ without sounding out of place.
The limited edition of ‘Queensrÿche’ boasts a second disc containing three live tracks (‘Queen Of The Reich’, ‘En Force’ and ‘Prophecy’) recorded in Snoqualmie (Washington) on October 27th 2012. As expected, given how close La Torre’s voice is to Tate’s, he more than done the songs justice. On a performance level, Queensrÿche sound tight and in form on the recordings, which more makes the bonus tracks a worthy addition to the studio album.
In the end, I’m more than pleased with what Queensrÿche have offered up on their first post-Tate studio release. Sure, a couple of songs aren’t quite on the same level of excellence as the rest of the album, and the album is quite short at a tidy thirty-five minutes. And of course, I’d like them to push the envelope a little more than what they did this time around. But really, that’s just me grumbling about the small details.
As a whole, ‘Queensrÿche’ is easily the strongest album the band have offered since 1994 (‘Promised Land’), and hopefully just a sample of things to come from the band in the future.
Tate may have been the first to release an album under the Queensrÿche banner, but there’s no question as to which album best represents the true classic Queensrÿche sound fans have been eagerly waiting a return of all these years.

For more information on Queensrÿche, check out – http://www.queensrycheofficial.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Bring Me The Horizon - Sempiternal (Deluxe Edition)

Bring Me The Horizon
Sempiternal (Deluxe Edition)
RCA Records/Sony Music Australia

When Sheffield (U.K.) based act Bring Me The Horizon released their debut full-length effort ‘Count Your Blessings’ (2006), I can’t say that I was all that impressed with what they had to offer. Their take on the metalcore sound didn’t resonate with me one bit, and instead led me to believe that the band were just another in a long line of hyped-up acts that amounted to nothing when you judged the band based on their musical offerings. In the years that followed, Bring Me The Horizon did alter their sound, but their follow-up efforts (2008’s ‘Suicide Season’ and 2010’s ridiculously named ‘There Is a Hell, Believe Me I’ve Seen It. There Is a Heaven, Let’s Keep It a Secret.’) did little to sway my original opinion. So when the band’s fourth full-length effort ‘Sempiternal’ flitted across my desk, I can’t say that I was expecting all that much in the way of a change of sound from the band, let alone a change of mind from myself in terms of what I really thought of the band.
But lo and behold, something has changed within Bring Me The Horizon. Yes, the band is still primarily a metalcore act, but on ‘Sempiternal’, they offer something beyond the one dimensional sound, with elements of post-hardcore clearly infiltrating the band’s song writing this time around. And while the band hasn’t quite succeeded in a complete transformation, I can at least listen to ‘Sempiternal’ and appreciate the direction they are heading in. And given my aversion to listening to the band’s former efforts, I think that says a lot.
Part of this newfound transformation can be attributed to the change of line-up whilst making the album. The introduction of Worship keyboardist/programmer/backing vocalist Jordan Fish, and the departure of rhythm guitarist/backing vocalist Jona Weinhofen has had a huge influence on the band’s song writing and sound, giving ‘Sempiternal’ an overall direction that couldn’t have been possible without the change.
Another big change worth noting is on the vocal front. Although I’ve never really thought much of Oliver Sykes’ vocals, his broadening clean vocals alongside the lessening of screamed vocals makes for a far more appealing and varied sound than anything he’s attempted in the past, and matches the push into uncharted territory the band are clearly aiming for on the new album. In short, he adds a lot more variation to the album, which makes listening to ‘Sempiternal’ a pleasure rather than a chore.
The first taste of the band’s new direction can be found immediately on the opening track ‘Can You Feel My Heart’. Fish’s use of keyboards and effects are in full force here, with his contributions providing the framework on which the whole song is constructed. Sykes also showcases a much cleaner vocal throughout, which allows a bit more feeling to come through, while the remainder of the band (Lead guitarist/backing vocalist Lee Malia, bassist Matt Kean and drummer Matt Nicholls) provide the necessary groove required to pull off the new sound. As a song, it’s an interesting one to lead the album off, and perhaps one of the examples of where the band isn’t completely comfortable with the direction they’re going in. But that’s not to say it’s a bad track. On the contrary, it’s a good song, but one that will definitely divide opinions amongst long time followers.
The follow-up track ‘The House Of Wolves’ is a slight step back in the band’s past with its raw aggression and heavy guitar work, but with choruses that emphasise the band’s greater focus on hooks, while ‘Empire (Let Them Sing)’ seems to lie somewhere between the old and new sounds, with Sykes’ anger-driven vocals representing the older approach, and the use of keyboard orchestration and effects on the gang vocals giving the song that something special and new.
In terms of straightforward accessibility in song writing, ‘Sleepwalking’ is by far the album’s most accessible and melodic song, and not surprisingly released as a single. Again, the orchestration helps lift the song to a whole new level, and Sykes’ emphasis on melodic hooks works well. Other tracks that work in a somewhat similar fashion are ‘Seen It All Before’ (Which features members of Immanu El on backing vocals), ‘Go To Hell, For Heaven’s Sake’ and ‘Shadow Moses’, all of which feature strong melodies, soaring choruses and cleaner vocals. As expected, the latter two tracks were also released as singles.  ‘And The Snakes Start To Sing’ is an interesting detour into atmospheric territory in the vein of Deftones, and one that works for the most part. But where the band really shine in this direction is on the album closer ‘Hospital For Souls’, where the brooding atmosphere, the mix of orchestrated keyboards and piano and Sykes’ fragile vocal performance are combined to create what is undoubtedly the album’s crowning masterpiece. At just under the seven minute mark, the song may have a slow build, but when it eventually gets underway, it’s dramatic, passionate and captivating.
Of course, the album isn’t all about melody and creating a moody vibe, with ‘Antivist’ and ‘Crooked Young’ standing out as aggressive and guitar driven as anything the band have done in the recent past, albeit with a sparser production and with a bit more melody. Both tracks will no doubt become favourites amongst those who prefer the band’s older metalcore sound.
As mentioned earlier, this is a review of the deluxe edition of the album, which comes with an additional disc containing three tracks. Titled ‘The Deathbeds EP’, the disc begins with ‘Join The Club’, which is a great track, and could have easily slotted on the album with its catchy choruses, guitar driven sound and cleaner vocals from Sykes. The second track ‘Chasing Rainbows’ is again another solid enough track, but lacking a bit of something to elevate it to something great. Finishing up the disc is the title track ‘Deathbeds’, which not unlike ‘And The Snakes Start To Sing’ and ‘Hospital For Souls’, is more atmospheric and spaced out. Of the three tracks, this is by far the stand out, with Hannah Snowdon (A tattooist, model and Sykes’ girlfriend) co-lead vocals along Sykes giving the song a whole new dimension.
Overall, ‘Sempiternal’ is a huge departure from Bring Me The Horizon’s old sound, and a step in the right direction for the band. No, not everything on the album works quite as well as hoped, but if the band continue along the same lines and push themselves further song writing wise, I’ll definitely be interested in hearing what the band have to offer.

For more information on Bring Me The Horizon, check out - http://www.bringmethehorizon.co.uk/

© Justin Donnelly

Heaven Shall Burn - Veto

Heaven Shall Burn
Veto
Century Media Records/E.M.I. Music Australia

Within the European melodic death metal/metalcore scene, Heaven Shall Burn is without any doubt the leaders. Over the course of their decade and a half long career, the German based outfit has continued to build upon their considerable reputation with each and every new album, without straying too far from the sound they initially founded themselves with. It’s been three years since the release of ‘Invictus: Iconoclast III’, and the five piece outfit (Who comprise of vocalist Marcus Bischoff, guitarists Maik Weichert and Alexander Dietz, bassist Eric Bischoff and drummer Matthias Voigt) has finally returned with their seventh full-length effort ‘Veto’. And as expected, it’s an album that delivers everything you’ve come to expect from Heaven Shall Burn.
Opening with a short introduction of a slow building mix of guitars and keyboards, Heaven Shall Burn soon get things underway when the band kick into high gear with the opening track ‘Godiva’. Although the band’s trademark sound is well and truly intact, ‘Godiva’ is a surprisingly melodic and catchy tune, and the way the guitars from the start of the song infiltrate throughout the track showcases an openness within the band’s sound and production (Handled by Weichert and Dietz) that isn’t typical for the band. In the end, ‘Godiva’ is very much Heaven Shall Burn sounding, but different enough to make you take notice. And for a band that has such a distinctive and recognisable sound, that’s never a bad thing.
The follow up track ‘Land Of The Upright Ones’ is somewhat more familiar ground for the band, with the track sounding more akin to the direction they followed on their last couple of albums, albeit with a decidedly more thrash-like influence heard in places (The shredding guitar at the start of the track is pure thrash). Following on in a very different direction is ‘Die Stürme Rufen Dich’ (Which translates to ‘The Storms Call You’), which seems to shift more towards a bit of a hardcore direction – which is no doubt helped by the guest backing vocals of Rob Franssen and Dominik Stammen from Dutch based thrash/hardcore act Born From Pain.
‘Fallen’ is a particularly brutal track from the moment it starts, and to some extend showcases the technical edge to the band’s melodic death metal sound, while the first single ‘Hunters Will Be Hunted’ sees the band returning to their melodic side of song writing, without compromising one bit on the aggression and speed that has well and truly become the staple sound from the band. Not surprisingly, ‘Hunters Will Be Hunted’ is one of the album’s real stand out cuts, and the perfect way to introduce ‘Veto’ to listeners.
Unlike ‘Fallen’, ‘You Will Be Godless’ leans a little more towards the death metal side of Heaven Shall Burn’s sound, but retains the extremity and aggression that’s expected from the band, while ‘Antagonized’ is straight forward metalcore, and quite possibly one of the album’s weaker sounding and forgettable efforts.
The inclusion of the Blind Guardian cover ‘Valhalla’ (From their 1989 album ‘Follow The Blind’) was an interesting one, and the fact that they coaxed vocalist Hansi Kürsch to guest on the track as well is nothing short of coup. Cover versions on Heaven Shall Burn albums are nothing new, but this was an unexpected one. But despite the differences between the two bands, the cover works quite well.
Despite some truly solid tunes on the opening half of the album, it’s toward the tail end that the real stand out tracks can be located. Leading the tail end is the mid-paced ‘Like Gods Among Mortals’, which exudes a brooding and menacing vibe within its metallic hardcore shell, while ‘53 Nations’ boasts a huge rhythmic and galloping feel with its percussion and guitar work, all the while giving the air of an epic in its overall open sound and atmospherics.
Finishing up the album is ‘Beyond Redemption’, which features some great lead guitar work from René Liedtke at the start to give the song a very melancholy and melodic introduction. Eventually the song gives way to allow a heavier middle section, but still retains a certain melodic evenness that really allows the song to stand out. Quite simply, this is something a little different from the standard Heaven Shall Burn style of songs, and definitely a favourite.
Heaven Shall Burn have never released a subpar album, but they have released some album’s that tended to sound a little more like a variation on the same sound (Most notably 2008’s ‘Iconoclast’ and 2010’s ‘Invictus: Iconoclast III’). But on ‘Veto’, the German outfit has managed to put together a very diverse collection of songs. And it’s that variety that helps Heaven Shall Burn’s latest effort from falling into ‘heard it all before’ pitfall that has claimed their last couple of releases for the most part.

For more information on Heaven Shall Burn, check out - http://www.heavenshallburn.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Monday, August 19, 2013

The Amenta - Flesh Is Heir

The Amenta
Flesh Is Heir
EVP Recordings/Rocket Distribution

With the release of ‘Occasus’ in 2004, Sydney (New South Wales, Australia) based outfit The Amenta firmly established themselves as a unique outfit within the extreme metal scene, with the band’s take on the industrialised death metal sound pushing beyond what many considered the limits of the said genre. Four years later, The Amenta returned with their second full-length effort ‘nOn’, and once again, the band proved that their forward thinking take on the industrialised death metal sound could be evolved and pushed even further, which in turn had many lauding the band’s achievements in terms of scope, sound and extremity.
Since 2008, the band has been busy in the studio working on new material. But while the band have offered up a selection of bits and pieces to tide fans over (2011’s re-recorded/remixed audio/visual E.P. ‘VO1D’, 2012’s digital E.P. ‘Chokehold’ and this year’s teaser E.P. ‘Teeth’), it’s the new full-length album that fans have been really waiting for with baited breath.
After a lengthy five year wait, ‘Flesh Is Heir’ has finally arrived. And the wait has been worth it.
If there’s one true certainty with The Amenta, it’s that progression is paramount. Much in the same way that the band’s first two releases were very different from one another; ‘Flesh Is Heir’ is another step beyond those two albums. But like everything The Amenta have released in their eleven years together, you can always count on the band’s output pushing the limits of extremities – both in the industrialised influences that make up a large component of the band’s sound, or the death metal premise on which the band’s sound is founded upon.
The Amenta (Who now comprise of vocalist Cain Cressall, guitarist Erik ‘Ethion’ Miehs, bassist Dan Quinlan, sampler/programmer Timothy ‘Chlordane’ Pope and drummer Robin Stone) lead the album with the title track ‘Flesh Is Heir’, which is everything you would expect from the band, but with a distinctly new take on proceedings. Unlike the sound heard on previous album’s, ‘Flesh Is Heir’ sounds cleaner in terms of production, which helps give the song a bit more of an organic sound. Yes, the industrialised sound is still very much present throughout the song, but the instrumental aspects of the guitars, bass and drums seem to transcend the background sound more than ever before, which showcases the complexities of the band’s playing alongside the industrialised effects, rather than be buried beneath it all. Cressall, who is no longer a new member of the group after spending the last three years fronting the band, is a perfect fit with his wide array of vocal personas, while the subtle hint of melody within the song (Something that ‘n0n’ as a whole didn’t offer much of) gives the listener something to latch onto, with lessening the impact of the songs overall extremity.
‘Ego Ergo Sum’ offers up a little more groove than the opener, which when combined with Cressall’s manipulated vocal lines during some of the more atmospheric passages brings to mind French avant-garde outfit Gojira, while ‘Teeth’, the first single to be released from the album, initially comes across as a relentless assault of double kick drumming, fast paced riffing and howling choruses, but has enough atmospheric instrumental passages, tempo changes and diversity from Cressall out front to stand out as a worthy first taste of what The Amenta have to offer up these days.
After the haunting and somewhat creepy instrumental piece ‘A Womb Tone’, the band launch into ‘Obliterate’s Prayer’, which is without a doubt one of the album’s real highlights with Stone’s drumming setting the pace throughout, and Cressall’s theatrical and towering vocals matching the dark and intense nature of the song.
‘Sewer’, much like ‘Ego Ergo Sum’, puts a brake on the speed enough to give the song a little more groove while remaining every bit as ferocious as expected, while ‘The Argument’ combines tribal like drummed verses over demonic atmospheric passages with technically challenging and intensely delivered choruses.
The experimental ‘Cell’ once again sees the band step up the haunting feel of their often cinematic side of sound with the song relying more on programmed sounds and barely audible choral like vocals to carry the dark subject matter alluded to in the lyric content, while ‘Disintergrate’ comes from the complete opposite side of the band’s song writing spectrum with its rather straightforward industrialised death metal framework and the band’s prime objective to crush everything in their path sonically.
After another brief instrumental interlude (The rather odd and hypnotic ‘A Palimpsest’), The Amenta finish up the album with ‘Tabula Rasa’, which is undoubtedly one of the densest tracks featured on the album in terms of layered tracks, and one of the more progressive industrialised death metal sounding tracks on offer from the band this time around. As you would expect, it’s also one of the album’s finer moments as well, and a perfect way to finish off the album.
The Amenta may not be the most prolific of bands in terms of offering up full-length releases, but what they lack in output, they certainly made up for in sheer mind-boggling scope and imagination.
Building upon the sound of ‘Occasus’ and ‘n0n’, The Amenta have once again upped the ante, and delivered another forward thinking release with ‘Flesh Is Heir’.

For more information on The Amenta, check out - http://www.theamenta.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Sound Of Contact - Dimensionaut

Sound Of Contact
Dimensionaut
Inside Out Music/Century Media Records/E.M.I. Music Australia

Being the son of a world famous musician can’t be easy. For most, it’s a double edged sword. And a perfect example of this is the case of Simon Collins – the son of former Genesis/Brand X front man/drummer and solo artist Phil Collins. Despite three solid solo albums to his name, Simon Collins has always been referred to as the ‘son of Phil Collins’, which more often than not tarnished his music output, regardless of how good it is. In other words, it’s hard for many to put aside their preconceptions and judge Simon Collin’s work on its own merits.
So with that in mind, I looked into Sound Of Contact’s debut effort without knowing anything about the group. But to my complete surprise, I found that the Collins (Who provides vocals and drums) was indeed associated with the said group, and alongside the likes of Matt Dorsey (Who was a member of Dead Mechanical and a member of Collins solo band, and who provides guitar, bass and backing vocals), Kelly Nordstrom (Who’s played with Sass Jordan and Toni Childs, and performs guitar and bass here) and Dave Kerzner (Who played alongside ex-Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett, and provides keyboards and backing vocals to this project), have released their debut effort ‘Dimensionaut’. And in short - after giving the album a thorough listen, Collins has clearly made an attempt to reinvent himself as a progressive rock artist that has a voice of his own.
The band get their conceptual album off to a start with a short piece titled ‘Sound Of Contact’, which is essentially is a mix of sound effects, piano, orchestration and some mesmerising harmony vocals from Collins himself. In a lot of ways, the song strongly reminds me of Porcupine Tree at their best, and that’s not a bad thing at all. It’s just a shame the song barely breaks the two minute mark.
Next up is ‘Cosmic Distance Ladder’, which is an instrumental track that allows the band to show off their progressive tendencies to full extent. Not surprisingly, Collins’ drum work brings to mind some of his father’s work on the classic ‘Duke’ album (Which was released by Genesis way back in 1980), but the song is anything but a clone. Outside the drumming, the rest of the band give the band their own sound, which is along the lines of modern progressive rock in the vein of Porcupine Tree, Spock’s Beard and Dream Theater, albeit without sounding exclusively like any one of those mentioned.
Collins doesn’t officially step out into the limelight until the third track ‘Pale Blue Dot’. And it’s on this track where comparisons to his father are unmistakable. But while Collins may sound like his father, he does have a slightly deeper and rougher edge to his vocals. Song wise, there’s no denying the pop edge to the composition, but there’s also an underlying progressive edge to the track, which means that on the surface it’s melodic and catchy, but complex and edgy at its core.
‘I Am (Dimensionaut)’ may start off in ballad form, but it soon transforms into one of the album’s real gems. Collins sounds great on this track, and the way the song moves progressively into heavier and darker territory only showcases the depth of song writing within the band. Sounding a bit Marillion-like in the middle section of the song, and wrapped in heartfelt choruses that are as clever as they are memorable, ‘I Am (Dimensionaut)’ is a truly stunning effort, and a personal favourite in the early part of the album.
‘Not Coming Down’, the first single from the album, is perhaps the most straightforward sounding track on the album, but still features enough twists and turns to keep things interesting for progressive rock fans, while the Beatles tinged ‘Remote View’ adds a touch of ‘60’s psychedelic pop edge to the band’s core progressive rock sound.
Initially, I wasn’t all that keen on ‘Beyond Illumination’ with its synthesised/reggae influenced introduction, but I was eventually won over with Collins’ captivating soaring choruses and the guest vocal appearance from Hannah Stobart. The same could be said for the follow up track ‘Only Breathing Out’ too. But once the song actually kicks in beyond the ballad like introduction, Collins shows that he can write some great melodies, and the band can more than match with some great instrumental work creating the perfect mood and setting, albeit with a progressive edge.
The brief instrumental piece ‘Realm Of In-Organic Beings’ (Which sounds like a mix of Pink Floyd’s ‘The Great Gig In The Sky’ and Genesis’ ‘The Waiting Room’) is little more than a filler piece that’s interesting, but hardly my favourite on the album. But the same can’t be said for ‘Closer To You’, which is another personal favourite. Sounding very much like a lost IQ track, ‘Closer To You’ is a beautifully crafted mid-paced ballad that boasts some excellent melodies from Collins. Again, his vocals bring to mind those of his father’s, but back when he really was at his best (I’m thinking around ‘Duke’ once more).
‘Omega Point’ marks a return to the progressive side of the band’s sound, with the lengthy track focussing more on intricate musicianship alongside Collins’ melodic choruses. But the real star of the latter half of the album is the near twenty minute closer ‘Möbius Slip’. And it’s here on this track that the band really gets to show the listener what they’re truly capable of within the progressive rock sound. The track is broken up into four parts, with the slow building instrumental piece ‘In The Difference Engine’ leading the charge. Moving with constant ebb and flow, this first part is full of atmospherics and intricate instrumentation, and a fitting introduction to the second part ‘Perihelion Continuum’. Taking on a bit more of a Pink Floyd meets Porcupine Tree feel, this part is somewhat different in style for the band (Particularly the very Led Zeppelin sounding drums in part), but it works exceedingly well. The third part ‘Salvation Found’ is an instrumental section that’s decidedly heavier and more guitar and drum dominated (Kind of Dream Theater in places), and is finished up with ‘All Worlds All Times’ – which again is a mix of everything the band are capable of stylistically crammed into one grand finale.
Overall, ‘Dimensionaut’ is a hugely satisfying album. Part progressive rock and part pop, Sound Of Contact has a wide and varied sound. But what’s really important is the band’s ability to craft songs.
If you overlook the whole ‘son of a famous musician’ cliché, and judge Sound Of Contact’s debut effort ‘Dimensionaut’ on its own merits, it’s not hard to conclude that the band not only have their own sound, but a very bright future ahead of them.

For more information on Sound Of Contact, check out - http://www.soundofcontact.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Philip H. Anselmo & The Illegals - Walk Through Exits Only

Philip H. Anselmo & The Illegals
Walk Through Exits Only
Season Of Mist/Rocket Distribution

Philip H. Anselmo doesn’t really need an introduction. Anyone who’s remotely familiar with metal will recognise the name and know that the man is nothing short of a living legend through his long association with the now defunct Pantera, and his ongoing commitment to the highly regarded southern metal outfit Down. But despite the numerous projects Alselmo has involved himself in over the years (Superjoint Ritual, Viking Crown, Christ Inversion, Arson Anthem, Necrophagia and Southern Isolation are just some of the said acts that come to mind), it’s taken up until now for a solo album to emerge under Anselmo’s own name.
Promising an angry, bare bones and stripped back album, Anselmo gave fans a sneak peak of what could be expected from the full-length album with the release of the split E.P. ‘War Of The Gargantuas’ earlier in the year with Texan thrash metal outfit Warbeast (Who happen to be signed to Alselmo’s own label Housecore Records). And while the E.P. only featured two tracks from Anselmo, the tracks more than delivered on Anselmo’s initial promise – unearthing a newfound viciousness and aggressiveness that hadn’t been heard from the icon since Pantera’s ‘The Great Southern Trendkill’ release from 1996.
Six months after leaving fans hanging off the edge of their seat with anticipation since the release of the E.P., Anselmo has finally returned with his backing band The Illegals (Who comprise of ex-Superjoint Ritual guitarist Marzi Montazeri, bassist Bennett Bartley and Warbeast drummer Jose Manuel Gonzales) to deliver ‘Walk Through Exits Only’. And true to his word, Anselmo has delivered one of his angriest, ugliest and downright vicious albums in years.
Right from the opening track ‘Music Media Is My Whore’, it’s clear that Anselmo isn’t interested in subtlety on the lyrical front or toning down his seething anger towards the music media in general. Musically, the band is just as venomous, with the menacing military march-like drum and bass underpinning Montazeri’s bizarre squeals on the guitar front. The lack of melody from Anselmo makes listening to the song tough going, and the music sounds every bit as chaotic as Alselmo’s gruff vocal delivery, which makes me question what the band were thinking when they selected this song as the opening track? And more importantly, what does the rest of the album hold for the listener?
There’s no question that the opening track had me scratching my head a little. But any lingering doubts were crushed with ‘Battalion Of Zero’. Coming on like a battering ram, ‘Battalion Of Zero’ is a relentless barrage of churning riffs and a rhythm section that sounds like an army at war. Unfortunately, while Alselmo does manage to inject a little more melody into the loose chorus structures, his vocals lack the necessary bite to inflict any real damage, with his vocals more akin to Lemmy Kilmister (Motörhead), albeit with just a little more variation.
Much like the former track, ‘Betrayed’ is a full-on assault from the very start, but does at least shift in tempo from time to time – which is something the former was sadly lacking. But variation in tempo doesn’t necessarily mean better, with the song lacking in any real sense of direction and structure, which leaves it coming across as a chaotic and noisy vent from Anselmo over a thrashing mess of a soundtrack.
‘Usurper Bastard’s Rant’ is one of the album’s genuine highlights, with Anselmo putting more thought into his vocals, and the Montazeri’s Pantera-like guitar riffs pitched perfectly against the rhythm section’s darker thrashing moods. But just when you think the album maybe redeeming itself with a solid track, Anselmo once again brings things down a step with his one dimensional ranting tone on the title track ‘Walk Through Exits Only’. Unlike some of the criticisms drawn at the some of the other tracks, it’s Anselmo that’s at fault on this song, because musically, the band actually manages to offer up some interesting grooves. It’s a shame that it’s wasted.
‘Bedroom Destroyer’ is another of the album’s gems, both from a music and vocal perspective (Anselmo adds a touch of a black metal rasp on his higher end notes, and the differing effects on the screams and the aggressive growls provide a much needed shake up from Anselmo’s monotone angst driven bellows), while the follow on track ‘Bedridden’ is a solid run through blasting southern styled groove metal, if a little short on melody ideas on the vocal front.
Finishing up the album is ‘Irrelevant Walls And Computer Screens’, which is noteworthy for a genuine guitar solo from Montazeri, and the last seven minutes of the twelve minute track merely consisting of a bunch of effects and noises (Although the last minute and a half does resemble an outtake from one of the band’s jam sessions).
Although I found a couple of tracks that I enjoyed, I couldn’t help but feel let down with Alselmo’s debut solo effort. I can understand the recording was supposed to be raw, angry and in your face sounding, but that doesn’t excuse the lack of structure and song writing on the album.
If you’re looking for something that’s unapologetically pissed off sounding, and don’t mind things a bit loose and raw, then ‘Walk Through Exits Only’ might just be what you’re looking for.
Personally, I was hoping for something a little more coherent and professional sounding from Anselmo than this. ‘Walk Through Exits Only’ has the right amount of aggression I was hoping for. It just falls below par on every other level for me to truly enjoy more than every now and then.

For more information on Philip H. Anselmo & The Illegals, check out - https://www.facebook.com/Philipillegals

© Justin Donnelly

Buckcherry - Confessions

Buckcherry
Confessions
Eleven Seven Music

Three years after regaining their form on ‘All Night Long’ (2010), Los Angeles (California, U.S.) based hard rockers Buckcherry are back with their highly anticipated sixth full-length effort ‘Confessions’.
When you think of Buckcherry, you think of a high octane hard rock outfit that has the ability to channel the spirit the wild spirit of Mötley Crüe, Guns ‘N Roses and Aerosmith, albeit delivered with a distinctly modern edge. But while the band’s back catalogue has delivered that in spades, the five-piece have decided to deviate from the formula that’s worked so well for them in the past on their latest release. And while it works in part, as a whole, ‘Confessions’ isn’t quite the classic hard rock ‘n’ roll album many would have expected from the band that released ‘All Night Long’ a mere three years ago.
Buckcherry (Who comprise of vocalist Josh Todd, lead/rhythm guitarists/backing vocalists Keith Nelson and Stevie D., bassist/backing vocalist Jimmy ‘Two Fingers’ Ashhurst and drummer Xavier Muriel) get the album off to a blistering start with the album’s first single ‘Gluttony’. Full of attitude, catchy riffs, gang backing vocals and a chorus that’s easy to sing along to, ‘Gluttony’ is everything you would expect from the hard rockers, and then some.
‘Wrath’, which ties in with the opening track in tackling the seven deadly sins, may be a little slower in the speed stakes, but still maintains the hard rocking vibe pumped, but things get a little wayward with the follow-up track ‘Nothing Left But Tears’. Although the darker vibe is welcome (The lyrics are a little more serious and direct here than what was evident on the first couple of tracks), the lack of a distinctive riff leaping out of the speakers, and the somewhat slower pace dissipates the built up energy generated from the opening pair of classic hard rockers. Don’t get me wrong, ‘Nothing Left But Tears’ is a good song, but it just seems a little too out of place here.
The ballad ‘The Truth’ on the other hand is a track that works exceeding well. Todd’s vocals are heartfelt, honest and direct, and the band’s role in the background is never overstated. The brief flashes of solo from Nelson adds a great touch to the song, which helps give the song a classic ‘80’s feel, without falling into a complete cliché.
‘Greed’, the second single lifted from the album, is a solid enough track, but not the best example of what the band have to offer on their last studio release, while ‘Seven Ways To Die’ is another example of where the band almost hit the mark, but don’t quite hit their mark.
‘Water’ is something a little different from the band sound wise, and while it doesn’t fit into the realm of what you would expect from the band, it’s certainly one of the album’s genuine highlights. The build up of guitars through the chorus help emphasise the power within the group, while Todd’s choruses really stand out as memorable. The same could be said for ‘Air’ as well. Again, this track is something a little different and experimental for the band, but it works surprisingly well.
The blues based/piano led ‘Sloth’ is quite possibly one of the best tracks that Aerosmith didn’t get around to writing from their classic late ‘70’s era, while the ballsy sleaze of ‘Lust’ just begs to be played loud.
Unfortunately, the latter part of the album is a little on the patchy side of things. Although a great song, ‘Pride’ sounds out of place on the album with Todd delivering the bulk of the song in a narrative tone that echoes that of a preacher alongside a very ‘50’s guitar tone from the guitarists, while ‘Envy’ is forgettable because of its lack of standout choruses – despite a very theatrical musical accompaniment from the band. And as for the acoustic based closer ‘Dreamin’ Of You’, well it just suffers the same fate as some of the tracks that were at the tail end of ‘All Night Long’. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with them, it’s just that the album does seem a little long at thirteen tracks in total.
Overall, ‘Confessions’ is a solid album. There are some real gems amongst the pack, but a couple of forgettable efforts as well. But what makes the album slide backward a touch is the inclusion of some rather experimental sounding tracks, and the fact that the album is a little long. Perhaps if a couple of tracks were removed, it might have fared better. But as it stands, ‘Confessions’ is a solid Buckcherry release, but a small step down from 2010’s far superior ‘All Night Long’.

For more information on Buckcherry, check out - http://www.buckcherry.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Tesseract - Altered State (Limited Edition)

Tesseract
Altered State (Limited Edition)
Century Media Records/E.M.I. Music Australia

Within the ‘djent’ community, Reading (U.K.) based outfit Tesseract are a band that are held in high esteem. And rightfully so too, as the band have produced some truly fascinating forward thinking releases, without sounding like an exact clone of countless other acts attempting to carve a niche for themselves within the overpopulated scene. But despite the band’s status as one of the best, and a string of successful releases to their name, the band just can’t seem to keep a consistency within their ranks. Or to be more to the point, the band just can’t seem to hold onto a vocalist for any real length of time.
Although Daniel Tompkins appeared on both the ‘Concealing Fate’ E.P. (2010) and on the band’s debut full-length effort ‘One’ (2011), he was actually the third person to front the band (Julien Perier was in the band from 2004 to 2006, and Abisola Obasanya from 2006 to 2008). And when Tompkin’s parted ways with the group in 2011, he was replaced by former Sky Eats Airplane vocalist Elliot Coleman, whose tenure with the band barely lasted for a year, but who still managed to leave his mark within the group by appearing on the band’s stop-gap E.P. ‘Perspective’ in 2012.
The approach and direction Tesseract made from Tompkin to Coleman was quite a large one, and one that left many fans feeling that the band had lost something in the transition. And when Coleman announced that he was stepping down from the front man position, there was an air of apprehension about what the future would hold for Tesseract, come the release of their long awaited second full-length release.
After teasing fans for months, Tesseract (Comprising of guitarists Alec ‘Acle’ Kahney and James Monteith, bassist Amos Williams and drummer Jay Postones) finally unveiled the identity of their new and mysterious front man - Voices From The Fuselage’s Ashe O’Hara – followed by the news that their new album ‘Altered State’ would finally see a release in the first half of 2013.
And that time has finally arrived. And after giving ‘Altered State’ the time to truly sink in, I have to say that Tesseract have made the right choice – both in terms of finding the perfect vocalist, and with the direction they’re taking.
Much like ‘One’, ‘Altered State’ is virtually one piece of music, but divided up into for large chapters.
The first chapter, ‘Of Matter’, is broken into a further three pieces, with ‘Proxy’ opening up the album with a gentle and mix of moody/ethereal vocals and atmospheric guitar notes, before launching into familiar Tesseract territory. Reminiscent of ‘Lament’ from ‘One’ style wise, ‘Proxy’ is the perfect vehicle for O’Hara’s to introduce himself to listeners. O’Hara may be lacking the aggression of Tompkin, but he isn’t hindered by the Jeff Buckley tone of Coleman’s voice. Instead, O’Hara brings a new sound to Tesseract – one which is as melodic as anything Tompkin offered, but minus the growling. It’s a perfect fit, and one that works exceedingly well here.
The second song ‘Retrospect’ is a fairly straightforward effort by Tesseract standards, but boasts a stunning performance from O’Hara throughout the song’s infectious choruses, while ‘Resist’ concludes the ‘Of Matter’ suite with a build up of instrumentation and harmonies that compliment the two previous tracks perfectly.
Next up is the second chapter ‘Of Mind’, which is opened up by the album’s first single ‘Nocturne’. The track is noteworthy for its heavier guitar sound and angular grooves, and will no doubt appeal to those who preferred the band’s direction on ‘One’ over ‘Perspective’. But the real stand out on the track is O’Hara, who manages to overly a stunning melodic chorus over the complex musical backdrop. The use of multi-layered vocals helps give the choruses the extra punch required, which help make the song stand out in the best way. There are plenty of great moments throughout ‘Altered State’, but for first single, ‘Nocturne’ is the perfect choice.
The second half of ‘Of Mind’ comes in the form of ‘Exile’, which is almost as melodic as the former, but leans more towards the progressive side of the band’s sound with its extended instrumental passages and general ebbs and flow of quieter passages and heavier moments.
The third chapter ‘Of Reality’ begins with ‘Eclipse’, which initially starts out with a sound that’s very unlike Tesseract, but one that works exceedingly well. The combination of drawn out guitar riffs and cleaner vocals are very different, and allow O’Hara to really stand out. But while the song does eventually bleed into familiar terrain, O’Hara’s dominance is still ever-present, and one of the shining examples of what he’s capable of producing within the group.
The middle track ‘Palingenesis’ is a fairly short track, but one that most will draw to with its compelling mix of angular grooving riff structures and infectious melodies. O’Hara is no doubt very different from any of Tesseract’s former front men, but the similarities between O’Hara and Tompkin can be heard on this track more than any other in terms of making even the most complex of tracks melodic and catchy.
Finishing up ‘Of Reality’ is the rather brief instrumental piece ‘Calabi-Yau’, which featured a guest saxophone solo from Ever Forthright/ex-Periphery/The HAARP Machine front man Chris Barretto. Again, this track is something a little different for Tesseract, but something that works nonetheless.
The final chapter on ‘Altered State’ is titled ‘Of Energy’, and is opened with ‘Singularity’ – which is the second single from the album. Outside the choruses, it’s the bass that really stands out on this track, which isn’t all that surprising given that the instrument happens to be one of the band’s overall driving forces. As a song, ‘Singularity’ is a solid track, but not as melodic as ‘Nocturne’. But in musical terms, there’s a lot going on within this track, which means that the two singles selected from the album showcase different sides to the band as a whole.
Finishing up ‘Of Energy’ and the album is ‘Embers’, which begins quietly, only to build toward a heavier middle section that concludes with O’Hara’s chanting ‘Wait inside the fire’ repeatedly, before finishing up with another short saxophone solo from Barretto.
As mentioned above, this is a review of the limited edition version of ‘Altered State’, which comes with a bonus disc featuring ‘Altered State’ in instrumental form. While the bonus disc isn’t likely to have anyone outside of ‘djent’ fans racing out to secure a copy, the instrumental versions of the songs are still worth a listen, if only to truly hear the subtleties of the band’s music without the dense layering of vocals over the top. In a lot of ways, it helps to appreciate what Tesseract play on a musical level. The disc is virtually identical to the album, barring ‘Nocturne’, which features a guitar solo from Between The Buried And Me’s Paul Wagonner (Which is interesting, but not necessarily something that adds anything extra to the original).
When Tesseract released ‘Perspective’, I couldn’t help but feel that while Coleman was a good vocalist, he just wasn’t the right fit for the band. But having heard O’Hara on ‘Altered State’, I’m more than pleased with the band’s choice of front man. He may not be a carbon copy of Tompkin, but there’s more Tompkin in O’Hara’s voice than there ever was in Coleman.
In terms of ‘Altered State’ as a whole, what the album lacks in aggression, it more than makes up for in melody. Sure, it would have been nice to see a little more experimentation from the band, but as a genuine full-length follow-up to ‘One’, ‘Altered State’ still stands as a worthy body of progressive art.

For more information on Tesseract, check out – http://www.Tesseractband.co.uk/

© Justin Donnelly

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Evile - Skull

Evile
Skull
Earache Records

Of all the bands that make up the modern thrash metal scene (Which has been coined neo-thrash and re-thrash by some), Huddersfield (U.K.) based outfit Evile is hands down one of my favourites.
Over the course of their three full-length releases to date, Evile have brought about as much acclaim as they have criticism for their obvious love of all things Metallica. And yes, while the band’s style is a damn near rip off of all things classic Metallica related, there’s something about their sound and style that fills a niche that a lot of other thrash acts these days seem to overlook in their attempts to emulate other well known thrash acts of a bygone era.
Two years on from their last full-length release (2011’s ‘Five Serpent’s Teeth’), the four piece act (Comprising of vocalist/rhythm guitarist Matt Drake, lead guitarist Ol Drake, bassist Joel Graham and drummer Ben Carter) are back with their latest effort ‘Skull’. And as expected, the new album is everything you would expect from an Evile release.
Working once again with producer/mixer Russ Russell (Who has been handling the production on Evile’s releases since 2009’s ‘Infected Nations’, and who has worked with Napalm Death, Dimmu Borgir, Amorphis and Sikth in the past), it’s pretty clear that Evile aren’t too interested in evolving their sound as much as  refining it. In other words, this isn’t the album that sees Evile break free of the Metallica mould. And depending on what you thought of Evile’s former releases, it’s either a good thing or a bad thing.
The opening track ‘Underworld’ is great example of what Evile are capable of in terms of a fast paced thrasher that shows no mercy. Ripped through in a blistering pace, ‘Underworld’ is full of attitude, aggression and speed, with Drake’s vocals coming across as a mix of Tom Araya (Slayer) and James Hetfield (Metallica), while the music fuses riffing influences from Kreator, Metallica and Testament. In short, ‘Underworld’ is a true stand out cut in the early half of the album.
The follow up title track ‘Skull’ showcases some of the band’s progressive tendencies, with the tempos constantly shifting between break neck speeding passages and slower paced melodic patches, while the occasional breakdown gives off an air of Slayer at times. Unfortunately, the chorus structures are a little weak in places, which tends to drag the track down a touch.
Both ‘The Naked Sun’ and ‘Outsider’ marks a return to faster territory, but with choruses that are big on melodies that are infectious and memorable (Which not surprisingly earmarks the songs as some of the album’s truly great efforts), while the mid-paced groove of ‘Head Of The Demon’ and ‘Words Of The Dead’ are nothing short of crushing, even if the songs are a little reminiscent of some well known Metallica classics (‘Leper Messiah on the former, and ‘The Shortest Straw’ on the latter).
Not unlike ‘In Memoriam’ on ‘Five Serpent’s Teeth’, ‘Tomb’ is best described as the power ballad/progressive thrash sounding effort on this new album. And while the song structure and direction strongly echoes Metallica’s ‘(Welcome Home) Sanitarium’, Drake’s vocals and Ol Drake’s exceptional lead guitar work stand out enough to give the song its own identity.
Towards the tail end of the album, both ‘What You Become’ and ‘New Truths, Old Lies’ are powerful and groovier based efforts that feature strong melodies and riffs that stick in the mind long after the songs have finished (Particularly on the former), while the final track ‘A Sinister Call’ (Which is only available on the iTunes edition of the album) is a solid short blast of mid-paced that brings the album to a close in style.
Depending on what you think of Evile, ‘Skull’ is either a great modern/retro thrash album, or just more of the same old thing. I would have personally liked to have seen Evile push their sound a little more into uncharted territory, and rely less on a formula that has worked well for them over their three previous releases.
But having said that - overall I’m more or less pleased with what the band have offered up on their latest release.

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

© Justin Donnelly

Soilwork - The Living Infinite

Soilwork
The Living Infinite
Nuclear Blast Records/Riot! Entertainment

Few would disagree that the first four releases from Swedish outfit Soilwork helped shape the modern melodic death metal scene as we know it. They may not have been the first (I think most would agree that At The Gates were the undisputed founders of the movement), but Soilwork were one of a handful of acts that helped keep the spirit of the melodic death metal sound alive, and push it well beyond its preconceived boundaries.
But outside of their first four albums, the Helsingborg based act has been somewhat hit and miss, with most of the blame squarely placed on the band’s willingness to move beyond the melodic death metal sound to take on a greater melodic groove based sound, and the inevitable changes within the band’s line-up which saw the band inclined to remain in a holding pattern rather than capitalise on their continued growth as a solidified unit. But despite their rather patchy track record following the release of 2002’s ‘Natural Born Chaos’, Soilwork managed the completely unexpected and released one almighty comeback with ‘The Panic Broadcast’ in 2010. Defying the general perception from most that the band’s glory days were over, the band put together a damn near perfect release which combined the extremities of their former releases alongside the melodic nature of their sound in the latter years. In short, ‘The Panic Broadcast’ was a surprisingly strong album from the Swedes, and one of 2010’s best metal releases.
Three years on and the band have returned with their ninth full-length release ‘The Living Infinite’ – which is surprisingly not a single album, but a double album!
If one was to look over history, releasing double albums have always been viewed in hindsight as a mistake. More often than not, double albums could have been cut down to one truly solid single album (Perhaps even a classic), but is instead fleshed out with a whole lot of filler.
And then there’s the change of guard to take into consideration. For the second time in the band’s history, lead guitarist/song writer Peter Wichers has once again left Soilwork, which has led many to speculate that the band will once again deliver an underwhelming follow-up to their last album.
But against the odds, Soilwork (Who comprise of vocalist Björn ‘Speed’ Strid, guitarist Sylvain Coudret, bassist Ola Flink, keyboardist Sven Karlsson and drummer Dirk Verbeuren) found a replacement for Wichers in David Andersson (Who is a member of power metal outfit Meanstreak, and played alongside Strid in The Night Flight Orchestra), and delivered another truly inspired release in ‘The Living Infinite’.
Clocking in at just a touch under eighty-five minutes in total, and featuring twenty tracks, ‘The Living Infinite’ is an album that takes a while to digest. But having given the album plenty of time to sink in, it’s clear that Soilwork have managed to avoid the double album curse and produced a double album that is all killer, with virtually no filler.
After a brief cello introduction (Provided by Hanna Carlsson), the band get straight down to business with the hard hitting opener ‘Spectrum Of Eternity’. This track is the perfect marriage of older and latter day Soilwork elements, with the aggressive and fast paced melodic death metal music complimented by Strid’s mix of clean and screamed vocals. Strid’s ability to craft a memorable chorus is without question, but on this track, it’s the contrast between the heavy and the melodic that proves that the song writing chemistry within Soilwork is very much intact – despite the absence of Wichers.
From here, the band keep up the consistency, with ‘Tongue’, ‘Let The First Wave Rise’ and ‘Realm Of The Wasted’ best representing the band’s return to heavier form on the first disc. That’s not to say that the first disc is one dimensional, because dotted in amongst the heavier efforts, the band showcase their more melodic/groove driven sound with tracks such as ‘This Momentary Bliss’, ‘Vesta’ (Which is initially introduced by some unexpected acoustic work), ‘Whispers And Lights’ and ‘The Windswept Mercy’ (Which features a guest backing vocal appearance from New Model Army’s Justin Sullivan).
While the first disc covers a mix of old and new Soilwork sounds, it’s on the second disc that the band experiment a little more with their sound. And while experimentation and Soilwork hasn’t always been two words that work well together, it has to be said that the pair are a perfect fit here.
The opening instrumental piece ‘Entering Aeons’ is something a little different for the band, with the overall atmospheric guitars and drums providing an ominous and menacing introduction to the blistering thrashing blast of the follow-up track ‘Long Live The Misanthrope’. Again, the duality of aggression and melody has been perfectly delivered by the band on this track.
From here, Soilwork take a bit of a different route with the rather laid back and atmospheric ‘Antidotes In Passing’, the progressive tinged instrumental piece ‘Loyal Shadow’ and the simplistic/yet captivating closer ‘Owls Predict, Oracles Stand Guard’. But while the second disc does have its moments of the unexpected, the band haven’t completely alienated listeners, with the savage ‘Leech’, ‘Rise Above The Sentiment’ and ‘Parasite Blues’ (The latter two are without a doubt the best evidence of the newly formed guitar tandem of Coudret and Andersson at their best) sounding very much like Soilwork at their most recognisable – and best.
Contrary to expectations, Soilwork have not only managed to survive a major line-up change, but release a double album of new material that actually keeps the listener engaged throughout both discs.
A few years ago, I hailed ‘The Panic Broadcast’ as a true return to form for Soilwork. Three years on, and against all the odds, Soilwork have outdone themselves and delivered yet another outstanding release in ‘The Living Infinite’.

For more information on Soilwork, check out - http://www.soilwork.org/

© Justin Donnelly

The Tangent - Le Sacre Du Travail – An Electric Sinfonia By Andy Tillison

The Tangent
Le Sacre Du Travail – An Electric Sinfonia By Andy Tillison
Inside Out Music/Century Media Records/E.M.I. Music Australia

Despite plenty of success and critical acclaim over their decade long existence, it was The Tangent’s 2011 release ‘COMM’ that brought the long running outfit some well deserved attention outside their existing fan base.  It’s been two years since that release, and as expected, vocalist/guitarist/keyboardist Andy Tillison is back with a new line-up of The Tangent, and a new album in ‘Le Sacre Du Travail’, in celebration of their tenth anniversary.
Described as a soundtrack without the film and orchestral with no orchestra, ‘Le Sacre Du Travail’ (Which is French for ‘The Coronation Of Work’) is The Tangent’s first foray into a conceptual album – or as Tillison himself has coined – ‘An Electric Sinfonia By Andy Tillison’.
Based around the everyman concept of ‘the nine to five daily grind’ (Eating, sleeping and working), ‘Le Sacre Du Travail’ is lyrically the sort of album that most will be able to relate to. But while The Tangent have always been able to offer themes that most can identify with, it’s the band’s rather eclectic take on the progressive rock sound that has turned some listeners off. But fortunately, the direction Tillison steered The Tangent towards on ‘COMM’ has been kept, with the band’s latest effort easily of the same high standard.
The Tangent (Who aside from Tillison, comprise this time of Big Big Train vocalist David Longdon, vocalist/guitarist Jakko M. Jakkszyk (Robert Fripp/Level 42), saxophonist/flutist/clarinet player Theo Travis (Steve Wilson/Robert Fripp/No-Man), The Flower Kings/Karmakanic bassist Jonas Reingold and Porcupine Tree drummer Gavin Harrison) open up the album with ‘Coming Up On The Hour (Overture)’, which is the first movement of the five piece suite that makes up the conceptual piece ‘Le Sacre Du Travail’. Beardfish front man Rikard Sjoblom more than sets the scene for the story with some clever narration, while the band provide the backing track that’s equal parts classic vintage progressive rock and orchestral – albeit without an actual orchestra.
The second movement ‘Morning Journey & The Arrival’ is quite a lengthy piece at nearly twenty-three minutes, but has more than enough ideas and a flow that allows the song to work for the most part. The song is somewhat difficult to describe as it moves from scene to scene and from theme to theme several times over its duration, but the rockier section around the nine minute mark is well done, while the light jazz vibe of the song around the seventeen minute mark is another favourite moment worthy of a mention (Especially the full-on progressive rock/guitar solo work around the nineteen minute mark).
The third movement ‘Afternoon Malaise’ is another lengthy effort (Running for close to twenty minutes), and initially starts out with a rather avant-garde/jazz instrumental piece before locking into something that resembles a structured song. Again, describing the various movements within ‘Afternoon Malaise’ is no easy task; Harrison’s drumming on the instrumental passages is a clear stand out, as too is Travis’ saxophone playing. Unfortunately, in terms of actual song structures, some of the vocals are a little jarring in places with the spoken word delivery that’s typical of The Tangent, but given how infrequent the actual song pieces occur within this movement, it’s only a minor drawback.
The piano/orchestral based instrumental fourth movement ‘A Voyage Through Rush Hour’ provides the album (And the listener for that matter) with a much needed short break, before the finishing up the album’s conceptual side with the final movement ‘Evening TV’. Unlike the song structures within ‘Afternoon Malaise’, ‘Evening TV’ is quite melodic and memorable, and boasts plenty of harmony vocals that are far easier on the ear. Musically, the track is also winner, with the song’s Genesis influenced take on the progressive rock sound fitting well with The Tangent musical direction and somewhat bleak lyrical stance.
Outside of the conceptual piece, the album also has an additional three tracks, with the first being ‘Muffled Epiphany’. This piano based lounge/jazz track sounds more like an unused outtake recorded during the album sessions, but an outtake that works as a standalone track.
Next up is the rather short minute and sixteen second ‘Hat’, which is supposed recorded live at Mexborough School way back in 1979 (Which is quite a departure for the band given it’s punk rock like direction and energy), and finished up with a radio edit of ‘Evening TV’ (Which is as you would expect, something that’s likely to be listened to once).
Although The Tangent has never been one of my favourites from the progressive rock scene, I did enjoy what the band offered up on ‘COMM’ a couple of years ago. So I was hoping to see the band maintain the same high standard with their follow-up release. And sure enough, ‘Le Sacre Du Travail’ managed to live up to my expectations. Sure, it’s far from a perfect release, but it’s definitely one of the band’s more rewarding and consistent releases.

For more information on The Tangent, check out - http://www.thetangent.org/

© Justin Donnelly

Saturday, August 3, 2013

The Eternal - When The Circle Of Light Begins To Fade

The Eternal
When The Circle Of Light Begins To Fade
Sombre Light Music/Rocket Distribution

If the last ten years of listening to The Eternal have taught me anything, it’s to expect the unexpected. Sure, the Melbourne based outfit have created a sound and style that’s their own, and each and every one of their four studio releases to date have always maintained that unique sound. But with every album, The Eternal has always pushed their sound forward, which in turn has meant that while a new album from The Eternal is everything you would expect from the band, there’s always something new to discover - The Eternal has never made the mistake of making the same album twice.
It’s been a long two and a half years since the release of their last effort ‘Under A New Sun’,  – the band’s rather experimental effort alongside co-producer Jeff Martin (The Tea Party/The Armada vocalist) – and once again, the passing of time has seen the band reshuffle their line-up, with guitarist Brad Cook and guest keyboardist Martin Curtis-Powell (Cradle Of Filth/My Dying Bride/Anathema) joining the long established line-up of vocalist/guitarist Mark Kelson, bassist Dave Langlands and drummer Marty O’Shea. And it’s this new look five piece line-up that now presents us with the band’s highly anticipated fifth full-length release ‘When The Circle Of Light Begins To Fade’.
The opening track ‘Circle Of Light’ immediately marks a return of the sound that fans have come to expect from The Eternal, with the song boasting a rich mix of atmospheric keyboards and piano, crushing riffs and Kelson’s towering vocals. The guitar interplay between Kelson and Cook is quite prominent around the latter half of the track where the two trade off between guitar sounds to great effect, while the middle eastern keyboard influences of the band’s more recent past (‘Under A New Sun’) have been toned down considerably to give the song a bit of texture, rather than be the guiding force. In short, ‘Circle Of Light’ is exactly what you would expect from The Eternal, but with the song portraying a depth of sound that’s directly attributed to those within the group.
The first single ‘Beneath These Waves’ is a perfect example of where The Eternal are sound wise these days, with the band’s mix of classic rock fused perfectly with elements of up-beat doom and middle eastern influences, while O’Shea’s presence here gives the song a much needed punch of the rhythmic side of the musical equation.
Backing vocalist Emily A. Saaen’s contribution to the choruses of the gloomy mid-paced rockers ‘Motionless’ and ‘Drifting’ are well done, as too the subtle piano/keyboard work throughout the tracks (Particularly on the former). But what really makes the songs stand out is the overall tone of the dual rhythm guitars and the inclusion of a guitar solo that stands apart from the song itself. Guitars have always played a part in The Eternal, but they’ve rarely sounded as distinctive as they have on this album.
In terms of favourites, ‘In Severance’ is a real highlight with its faster tempo, great melodies and extended guitar solos, while on ‘Yesterday’s Fire’, ‘Without A Trace’ (Which again features Saaen on backing vocals) and ‘Carry Us Away’, Kelson shows how he can shape what appears to be a simple melody into a song that comes across as emotive, epic sounding and truly memorable.
While the middle eastern influences heard on ‘Under A New Sun’ have taken a backseat for the most part on this new album, that’s not to say that they’ve completely disappeared, as both ‘A Quiet Death Of The Sun’ and ‘Dark Day Coming’ feature elements of the band’s more recent sound. But unlike the past, the songs don’t lose any of their identity, with the said influences playing a supporting role (Predominantly from the Powell’s keyboards) rather than being the guided force. Whereas on ‘Under A New Sun’ the experimentation was a little too heavy handed at times, it works really well here in giving the songs a bit of extra character and depth.
Finishing up the album is the lengthy mid-paced doom tinged rocker closer ‘The Burning Truth’, which is a typical closing effort for The Eternal with its epic feel, memorable guitar solos and Kelson and Saaen’s rich layered vocals and strong melodies.
The Eternal have never been the sort of band to stand in the one place for any great length of time, as each and every one of their studio releases have shown. And as expected, ‘When The Circle Of Light Begins To Fade’ is no exception.
This year marks the band’s tenth anniversary, and I can’t imagine a more befitting celebration of this than with the release of what is truly one of the band’s finest releases to date.

For more information on The Eternal, check out - http://www.the-eternal.com/

© Justin Donnelly