Saturday, July 26, 2014

Caliban - Ghost Empire

Caliban
Ghost Empire
Century Media Records/E.M.I. Music Australia

There’s no denying Caliban played a part in founding the modern metalcore scene; their first couple of albums were the template on what was emerging as a bold and new sound that forged metal and hardcore together, and served as model sound that many acts were to mimic in years to come. But for all of their forwarding thinking experimentation in their formative years, the German outfit has had a chequered past at best, with their studio output a mix of the exceptional, and the uninspired.
After a few years in the wilderness, Caliban took many by surprise with their 2012 release ‘I Am Nemesis’. The album was a huge return to form for the band, and proved that while the band wasn’t about to reinvent the wheel in terms of what metalcore sounds like, they could at least reignite their inspiration and release a truly memorable release. Obviously keen to keep the momentum going, the five piece outfit (Comprising of vocalist Andreas Dörner, guitarist/vocalist Denis Schmidt, guitarist/co-producer Marc Görtz, bassist Marco Schaller and drummer Patrick Grün) are back after a short two years away with their ninth full-length effort ‘Ghost Empire’.
And as expected, the new album is another worthy effort from the long running metalcore outfit, with the band maintaining the standard set with their last album, but with enough changed to showcase a move forward.
The album is opened up in heavy fashion with ‘King’, which features some Djent styled thick grooves and some aggressive guttural growls from Dörner. Of course, Schmidt’s clean vocal efforts are out in full force through the choruses, which provides a perfect counterbalance to the band’s heavier sounds. Production wise, the sound is heavy, but still retains plenty of dynamics. And the brief inclusion of studio effects around the breakdown is a welcome addition too. Overall, it’s a hard hitting song, and the perfect way to introduce ‘Ghost Empire’ to listeners.
Although a little slower in tempo, ‘Chaos – Creation’ is another winner with its twisted riffing, hammering drums, thick grooves and memorable choruses, while ‘Wolves And Rats’ follows a similar path to its predecessor, but with some additional gang vocals in the choruses and strings and piano to emphasis the heavier and more intense moments within the song.
Although fairly formula like, the German sung ‘nebeL’ (Which is German for fog, and features a guest vocal appearance from German metalcore outfit Callejon’s front man Bastian ‘BastiBasti’ Sobtzick) is melodic and heavy enough to enjoy for what it is, while ‘I Am Ghost’ is another example of a solid song that is good, but not what you would call one of the album’s strongest or memorable efforts.
After a couple of misses, the band once again hits the mark with ‘Devil’s Night’ and the fan-rallying ‘yOUR Song’, which has the perfect balance of soaring melodic choruses, crushing groove structures and twists in the song’s structures to keep things interesting (Even if the chorus in the latter borders on the cheesy side of cliché).
‘Cries And Whispers’ is a personal favourite, and is probably the closest the band come to replicating the kind of sound and song writing that featured throughout ‘I Am Nemesis’, while the moody and decidedly experimental effort (At least for Caliban) ‘I Am Rebellion’ is another firm favourite.
Unfortunately, the album does have a couple of misfires towards the tail end. ‘Good Man’ (Which features a guest appearance from Callejon guitarist Christoph Koterzina on vocals) bears a striking resemblance to Nine Inch Nails’ ‘Hurt’ for its first minute, which overshadows the rest of the song (Which is typically Caliban sounding), while ‘Who We Are’ is a little too In Flames sounding for me, to be considered a true indication of what makes up the true Caliban sound.
But for all of the hiccups, the band finishes the album off in fine form with ‘My Vertigo’, which stands out for its melodic death metal like riff, melodic choruses and its clever use of effects throughout.
In light of how strong ‘I Am Nemesis’ was, ‘Ghost Empire’ is a worthy follow up. Sure, it does have some songs that don’t quite met the high standard set, but there’s plenty which do. And in light of what the band has produced in the years prior to their album from a couple of years ago, ‘Ghost Empire’ is easily one of Caliban’s worthier efforts.

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

© Justin Donnelly
 

Friday, July 11, 2014

Aisles - 4:45 AM

Aisles
4:45 AM
Presagio Records

Within any genre of music you care to name, you’ll always find a few select leaders, and a whole lot of followers. That’s to say that there’s a few that do what they do exceptionally well, and the rest merely mimic the same sound, without really endeavouring to add anything new to the formula.
But every now and then, you come across some acts that could be coined as innovators. They’re the rare few that take a particular sound or style of music and twist it into a new form that doesn’t sound quite like anything else, and yet sounds strangely familiar. As I said, it’s a rare find, but every now and then, a band presents themselves with a new release that really doesn’t fit the preconceived mould. One such act that has managed to do that is Santiago (Chile) based outfit Aisles, who have managed to produce something altogether different within the realm of neo-progressive/fusion rock on their latest release ‘4:45 AM’.
Following on in the tradition of their two former full-length efforts (Namely 2005’s ‘The Yearning’ and 2009’s ‘In Sudden Walks’), ‘4:45 AM’ is another conceptual effort that is centred around the multitude of emotional challenges that can face ordinary people at 4:45 AM (The time perceived as being on the cusp of night and day), and within the hours that follow. And as you would expect, the abstract conceptual themes behind the album translate through to the music, which seems to encompass a bit of everything.
The opening title track ‘4:45 AM’ (Which is also the album’s first single) is certainly one of the album’s truly stand out moments, with the six piece outfit (Comprising of lead vocalist/keyboardist Sebastián Vergara, guitarist/keyboardist/vocalist Germán Vergara, guitarist/backing vocalist Rodrigo Sepúlveda, bassist Daniel Baird-Kerr, keyboardist Alejandro Meléndez and drummer/percussionist Felipe Candia) channelling shades of Arena (Particularly on the vocal front at times) with a bit of ‘80’s Yes (Albeit with less keyboards). With great vocals, catchy choruses, distinctive riffs and innovative song writing, ‘4:45 AM’ has everything you could want from a neo-progressive rock act, and then some.
The follow on track ‘Gallarda Yarura’ opens with a short spoken word cinematic piece before drifting into a Genesis-like instrumental (I’m thinking Steve Hackett era given the guitar work), but with a touch of Latin influence thrown in to give the song that something different from most. In complete contrast to the first couple of tracks on the album, ‘Shallow And Daft’ is rooted more in ‘80’s synth-pop than anything progressive rock related, but strangely enough is every bit as infectious and appealing as the opener.
‘Back My Strength’ is one of the tracks that initially didn’t do much for me. There’s no denying the emotion that Germán injects into the song, but he sounds at times like he’s straining to hit the notes required (It’s evident more at the beginning of the song than anywhere else). And around the middle of the song, the guitars tend to sound a little harsher than I thought they should. But after a while, this ballad-like number did grow on me. But it’s the latter half of the track where the band delves into more familiar progressive rock territory that really sold the song to me.
The simple acoustics and orchestration on ‘The Sacrifice’ allows the band to bring forth their strong Latin influences to the surfaces in what can be described as a song of strong emotional turmoil, while the guitar work on the atmospheric instrumental ‘Intermission’ (Which is bridged by the short cinematic piece ‘The Ship’) brings to mind King Crimson.
‘Sorrow’, not unlike ‘The Sacrifice’, is an acoustic driven/Latin influenced song that is strong on melodic passages on the vocal front with Constanza Maulén giving plenty of support to Sebastián on the vocal front, while the follow-up instrumental track ‘Hero’ sees the band go to the other extreme genre-wise with influences from the likes of Steven Wilson, Queen (If only for the briefest of moments), John Petrucci, IQ and Arena evident throughout its eight minutes in length. Again, the band proves they’re both great musicians and song writers.
Finishing up the album is the epic ‘Melancholia’, which is every bit as emotive as it is haunting, ever-changing musically and one of Sebastián strongest performances on the album. Much like the way the title track opens the album, the band finish the album with another clear stand out cut.
Finding something unique amongst the masses is no easy task these days. But every now and then, a group does stand out for all the right reasons. In short, Aisles is one of those rare finds, and one that comes highly recommended.

For more information on Aisles, check out - http://www.aislesproject.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Snake Sixx - Itz All About The Riff

Snake Sixx
Itz All About The Riff
Snake Sixx Productions

Leif Gregory isn’t what you would call a household name amongst metal fans. But if you happen to be an avid fan of the underground Australian metal scene, you’ll no doubt know the Sydney based artist through his guitar work in groups such as Aftermath, Destrier, Dark Order, Total Abuse and Nazxul. Having played his part in the group scenario for most of his professional career, Gregory decided the time was right to step out on his own, and under the pseudonym Snake Sixx, he released the covers E.P. ‘Dethroned Emperor’ in 2012. While the release passed under the radar by most, it was an interesting (If a bit flawed) release that saw guest contributions from none other than ex-Celtic Frost drummer Steve Priestly, Morgoth/Insidious Disease/ex-Comecon vocalist Marc Grewe, Tourettes/ex-Meldrum vocalist Michele Madden and the iconic Henry Rollins.
It’s been a long two years since then, but Sixx has finally returned with his long overdue full-length effort ‘Itz All About The Riff’. And much like his E.P. release, ‘Itz All About The Riff’ is another hit and miss affair.
Recorded over twenty-five months, over three continents and hailed as the biggest independent music project of its kind in Australian music history, ‘Itz All About The Riff’ sounds like an interesting prospect on paper. After all, this covers album boasts a collection of Australian classics, and features no less than thirty-three rock/metal legends from both here and from overseas. But while it all sounds impressive, not all the guests and the songs themselves translate all that well in their reworked form.
The first track covered by Sixx is the AC/DC classic ‘Let There Be Rock’, with Anthony ‘Skenie’ Skene of The Poor/ex-Lump on the vocals. Musically, the song is given a bit more punch with an added edge of aggression of the guitars, and Skene’s vocals have more than enough grit to pull the whole thing off admirably. Next up is Icehouse’s ‘Great Southern Land’ with Johnathan Devoy (Ex-Jerk Johnathan/Melody Black/Ink) on the vocals. Devoy’s performance is solid, but it’s the combination of guitarist/keyboardist Sixx, guitarist Adam Aguis (Ex-Alchemist/The Levitation Hex) and bassist Leeno Dee (Ex-Candy Harlots/Jerk/Melody Black/INK) that really gives the song its own individuality.
Unfortunately, things take a turn for the worst with the Skyhooks cover ‘Horror Movie’. Shane Sparks (Enemy Me/My Therapy) on vocals just doesn’t seem to fit with the arrangements provided, and the song itself doesn’t stand up with its heavier reinterpretation.
The cover of INXS’ ‘Don’t Change’ (With Darker Half’s Steven ‘Vo’ Simpson on vocals) remains fairy true to the original, and is therefore unremarkable (Apart from the shredding solo from Empires Of Eden/Dungeon/Pain Division guitarist Stu Marshall), while The Divinyls’ ‘Boys In Town’ (With Lillye/Peter Northcote Band vocalist Virginia Lillye) is further evidence of the vocalist struggling to fit what is clearly a musical arrangement prepared beforehand.
Sixx’s cover of Rose Tattoo’s ‘Nice Boys’ and The Angels’ ‘Take A Long Line’ (Both with Devoy once again out front) are definite highlights, and two of the album’s seriously heavy and energetic numbers, while the punked up reinterpretation of The Radiators’ ‘Coming Home’ (Featuring ex-Frozen Doberman vocalist Adam Marsh) is a fairly rough and ready affair, but also worthy of a mention.
But for all of the solid efforts featured on the album, there are just as many disasters as well. Those tracks that don’t fare so well include Gangajang’s ‘Sounds Of Then (This Is Australia)’ with Saint Lucifer/Paindivision/The Harlots’ Jordon Howe on vocals (The slow and droning pace of the arrangement simply doesn’t work), Split Enz’ ‘I Got You’ with Heaven The Axe’s Phoebe Pinnock on vocals and Midnight Oil’s ‘Beds Are Burning’ with Simpson once again on vocals. Sure, the riffs are there, but the arrangements and how the vocalists are slotted into those said arrangements seriously let these reinterpretations down.
Things do liven up a touch with the cover of The Atlantics’ ‘Bombora’ and AC/DC’s ‘Hell Ain’t A Bad Place To Be’ (With Marsh once again out front), while the stripped back cover of The Church’s ‘Milky Way’ with Devoy is one of the rare experiments of complete reworking that works exceptionally well.
In terms of the bonus tracks, there’s the Industrial Stomp Mix of ‘Great Southern Land’ by Cubanate/Pig’s mastermind Marc Heal and Sixx’s cover of Celtic Frost’s ‘Dethroned Emperor’. The remix is interesting, and worthy of checking out, while the Celtic Frost cover (Featuring Aguis and ex-Damaged/Terrorust/Walk The Earth front man James Ludbrook on vocals) is a worthy addition, but hardly a cover that’s likely to rival to the original.
Aside from the album, ‘Itz All About The Riff’ also comes with a D.V.D. entitled ‘One Mans Journey’. And as you would expect, it’s as every bit as patchy as the album itself.
The two hour D.V.D. begins with the promotional video clip for ‘Great Southern Land’ (Which in all honesty is fairly primitive in its homemade glory), and is followed with an interview with ex-Apollyon Sun/Hellhammer/Celtic Frost drummer Steve Priestly. While the interview with Priestly is worthy (As too is the archival footage of Celtic Frost live), the sound is terrible, and makes it difficult to enjoy.
From here, there are interviews with Shane Sparks (Enemy Me/My Therapy), bassist Dave Colless (Skuldugory/Grungeon/Tribe Maelstrom/Apostasy) and an alternate (Studio) promotional video clip for ‘Great Southern Land’ (Which I personally feel is the superior of the two).
Given that Devoy plays a large part on the album, it’s not surprising to see him given a fairly extensive interview here. But once again, the sound isn’t all that great (What do you expect when you’re interviewed in a club!). But at least the live footage of Devoy onstage sounds O.K.
The interview with drummers Steve Hughes (Slaughter Lord/Mortal Sin/Nazxul) and Mick O’Shea (Dragon/Rose Tattoo/Judge Mercy) are further disappointment due to sound issues, but at least the segments with guitarist Rick Rozz (Death/Massacre/(‘M’) Inc.), vocalists Adam Marsh (Frozen Doberman) and Jordon Howe (Saint Lucifer/Pain Division/The Harlots), bassist Zoran Mrakic (Killrazor/Devine Electric/Dark Order), vocalist Anthony ‘Skenie’ Skene (The Poor/ex-Lump) and guitarist Craig Martin (Aggressa/Twin City Riot) fare a bit better.
Finishing up the D.V.D. is the promotional video clip for ‘Nice Boys’ and Virginia Lillye singing ‘Highway To Hell’ on the television show ‘The Voice’.
The concept behind ‘Itz All About The Riff’ is a bold one to say the least. But to pull it all off is another thing. And to be honest, Sixx hasn’t quite succeeded in creating the ultimate covers album that lives up to its long list of guest appearances.

For more information on Snake Sixx, check out - http://www.snakesixx.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Winterun - Winterun

Winterun
Winterun
Independent Release

When Melbourne (Victoria, Australia) based outfit Winterun launched themselves onto the scene with their debut full-length effort ‘The Full Effect’ way back in 2004, they did so in impressive style. The band manages to effortlessly blur the lines between their stoner influences and their heavier rock tendencies, all the while managing to carve a unique sound that was one of their own making.
No sooner had their debut been released, the four piece outfit released follow up efforts in ‘Welcome To...’ (2005) and ‘Into The Underground’ (2007), both of which attracted plenty of critical acclaim from fans and press alike.
A change within the ranks saw the band take their time before entering the studio again. But the resulting E.P. ‘Shadow’ (2011) proved to be worth the wait, with the combined new songs and re-recorded favourites showcasing a further step forward in the band’s sound. It also built up anticipation for the band’s soon to follow new studio album.
Well, that was three years ago. For all intents and purposes, it would appear as though Winterun had withdrawn into a self-imposed hiatus. But from out of shadows, Winterun (Who comprise of vocalist/rhythm guitarist Nick Dunstan, lead guitarist Guy Martin, bassist Matt Taylor and drummer Joel Schneidruk) has finally re-emerged with their long awaited fourth full-length effort ‘Winterun’.
The band opens the album in explosive fashion with the riff heavy ‘To The Sky’. Sounding heavier than ever, the band are keen to announce their return, and no song on the album could have made the statement any louder than this track. Short and to the point, ‘To The Sky’ may not boast the catchiest choruses, but I’m guessing that’s not the point. I’m assuming it’s designed to get the audience moving and the blood pumping, and it more than succeeds in getting that job done.
‘Tomahawk’ (Which originally appeared on ‘Shadow’) is another aggressive and harder edged tune that sees the band taper the full-on assault of guitar riffs to explore some areas of dynamics, while ‘Shadow’ (Another tune from ‘Shadow’) steers more towards Kyuss influenced stoner rock with an array of echoed guitar riffs and infectious melodies on the vocal front.
‘Ships Of Gaillimh’ is a driving number that has some noteworthy riff structures and great breakdowns (Which allows Schneidruk to show what he’s capable of), but falls a little short on the melody side of things. On the other hand, the rocking ‘All Fury’, the slower paced ‘Holiest Of Smoke’ and the mellow ‘Stitches’ are great songs that have all the promise of the former track, but with killer choruses that really help make the song stand out. While there’s an undeniable Pearl Jam influence found in the band’s song writing at times (One only needs to listen to ‘Dawn’), and it’s certainly evident in the three tracks mentioned. But as the saying says, ‘A good song is a good song’. And these three alone stand out as some of the most thought out and strongest material the band has penned to date.
‘Bad Laark’ is another favourite with its heavy powerful groove and equally simple approach to vocal lines, while ‘8X10’ (Again, resurrected from ‘Shadow’) is another high point on the album with the band slipping in a bit of the blues into the stoner rock sound with great results.
Finishing up the album is the semi-acoustic instrumental piece ‘Burn This Day’, which initially starts off gently before building towards a heavy climax close.
Despite sounding a little rough around the edges, and featuring a couple of numbers that could have benefitted from a little more work, ‘Winterun’ is hands down the band’s strongest and most consistent sounding release to date.

For more information on Winterun, check out - http://www.winterun.com/

© Justin Donnelly