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metal music reviews (new releases)

FLOTSAM AND JETSAM The End of Chaos

Album · 2019 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.58 | 4 ratings
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Kev Rowland
Like most metalheads, I’ve always had a warm spot for Flotsam and Jetsam, and I would expect most to have a copy of their debut ‘Doomsday For The Deceiver’ in their collection (grief, it is more than 30 years old now!). Destined both always to be remembered as the band Jason Newsted left to join Metallica, and to never gain the heights many expected of them, I came to this album not having heard any of their recent material. Singer Eric A.K. and guitarist Mike Gilbert where there for the debut, while bassist Michael Spencer was the original replacement for Newsted, while second guitarist has been in place for five years and it is only veteran drummer Ken Mary who is a newbie.

What strikes one immediately is the sheer force and power of the guitars, as the production is incredibly strong with real depth. Musically this is melodic power metal which is closely aligned to thrash, as the band happily straddle the genres and allow Eric to show he has lost none of his prowess over the years. This is an incredibly polished release, and to me that is the one aspect which I felt was wrong as it has been honed just too much, smoothed and crafted within an inch of its life and to my ears it would have been far better if it had been left raw and there wasn’t quite so much in the way of harmony vocals and saccharine. I am sure that onstage this will be quite a different beast and I would have much preferred to have heard it that way.

BUCKETHEAD SIGIL Soundtrack

Boxset / Compilation · 2019 · Alternative Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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siLLy puPPy
BUCKETHEAD has been rather low key in the last couple of years as he’s probably kicking back in the Bucket-Cave after exhausting himself from the explosive frenzy of activity during the earlier part of the decade when he released something like 300 albums in a few short years. Or maybe he’s just recharging his batteries! Brian Patrick Carroll is of course not only a chicken loving eccentricity but is without a doubt an extremely versatile and talented musician who has inspired many far and wide with his mold of William Shatner’s Captain Kirk mask and signature KFC pale upon his head.

One of his biggest fans has been John Romero who created the classic 90s video game Doom which in the year 2019 is celebrating it’s 25th anniversary. In honor of this landmark occasion, Romero has decided to go all out and create a deluxe boxed set that adds on new levels to the Doom game in the form of SIGIL which will surely please fans with eight new regular levels, one new bonus level, an epic boss fight and the most difficult episode yet to emerge. Of course all of this needed a new soundtrack and as he has spent countless hours programming code to the music of BUCKETHEAD, which Romero deemed the perfect sort of sounds to exist side by side with his masterful classic video game extensions.

The SIGIL SOUNDTRACK isn’t exactly a custom made score for the Doom universe’s latest installment but rather is a compilation of tracks from the massive PIKE series with the sole exception of the opening track, “Romero One Mind Any Weapon” which is the only new track to be featured. Romero’s hope was to introduce BUCKETHEAD to a wider audience and although many have heard of this mysterious legend, many still probably have never been exposed to his music, therefore this SOUNDTRACK is more like an introductory compilation of sorts.

“Romero One Mind Any Weapon” (9:04) -The only new track displays the avant-garde metal intensity of BUCKETHEAD’s earliest albums when he emerged in the 90s on such albums as 1992’s “Bucketheadland.” This track conveys a standard classic metal approach with lightning fast metal guitar riffing that keeps a “normal” metal groove in place but with a BH track creeping past the 9 minute mark, you’re bound to get a pocketful of electronic weirdness, progressive off-kilter breakdowns and a mix of sizzling solos and ambient mood enhancers. And of course there’s a touch of funk! This track is sort of a tribute to BUCKETHEAD as it has a dash of this and a dash of that which makes up the chicken lover’s lengthy career. While the track isn’t unusual from anything from his past, i can understand why this makes a wickedly cool addition to the SIGIL experience.

“13th Floor (7:15) from PIKE 118 - Elevator - I can understand why this track was chosen. It’s a heavy rocker that has a marching into battle drive to it. The track goes through a series of nice emotionally charged passages with elegant soloing and an epic feel. A great choice for SIGIL.

“Buildor 2 (13:43) from PIKE 224 - Buildor - This track utilizes a Pink Floydian Gilmour type of space rock guitar lick before being joined by another distorted power chord guitar and then it totally mellows out back to a space guitar lick, ambient background and very slow drumbeat. This tracks basically goes on and repeats the riff, adds solos, takes breaks with ambient passages and follows the traditional PIKE playbook but has found its true calling on SIGIL.

“The Patrolman” (7:30) from PIKE 8 - Racks - This track starts out with a clean guitar lick and more energetic drum beat joining it. It lets the melody gently unfold but this is one of those tracks that doesn’t really go anywhere. It is predictable and by the books without any improper freakiness. It’s too much like something off of the “Electric Tears / Sea” albums and sounds like a leftover track or something. OK as an active listening experience but perfect for the multi-tasking of video game playing.

“Cold Frost Part 6” (5:10) from PIKE 205 - 2 Days Til Halloween: Cold Frost - This is a snippet of the dark ambient releases from 2015’s Halloween countdown. Now this is prime video game music as it has a Twilight Zone feel with icy darkened atmospheres and spooky chilling effects. While many didn’t like these ambient releases, i find the electronica of BUCKETHEAD to be some of the most refined and interesting of all.

“Melting Man Part 2” (6:38) from PIKE 10 - The Silent Picture Book - This track is one of those distorted and mellow ballads which also is not very engaging actively but is a nice chill pill for intense video game action.

“Far 5” (10:41) from PIKE 266 - Far - This track begins with an atmospheric ambience and begins immediately with heavier guitar riffs along with the space rock sounds. A guitar solo is finally allowed to erupt into a sped up bluesy frenzy. Although this one has more of rockin’ feel, it still is nothing more than a repetitive loop of a few chords that continue on with soloing over the main rhythm.

“Poseidon 4-6” (16:56) from PIKE 264 - Poseidon - Like the PIKE from which these three tracks are stitched together here, they seamlessly transition together. A nice mix of heavy rock with crunchy riffs, licks and solos with some downtime for ambient sections and other deviations from the norm.

“Fastpass” (7:03) from PIKE 231 - Drift - This track starts out slow and mellow with a synth, a slow guitar and it sounds like it’s gonna be one of those Pink Floyd slow tempo bluesy guitar tracks. Yep. Continues as the same style and doesn’t really go anywhere interesting. Nice tones and does have chord changes but BH has done this much better before. OK but not OMG

At a running time of 84 minutes, this one might be a little too long for many as an active listening experience but as a series of musical experiences in conjunct with the SIGIL playing it is perfect! I think many of the PIKEs were too simply constructed for active listening experiences but make perfect background music for a multi-media project such as this. BUCKETHEAD Pikes have found their calling at last and Romero has expressed interest in incorporating more of the chicken lover’s music into his future projects. All in all this is a decent introduction to anyone unfamiliar with the PIKE series but personally i enjoy the more adventurous and experimental sector. For those not so adventurous as i, this is a decent PIKE 101 stepping stone into the greater universe but for true fans this will be of little interest with only the first track providing new material.

MYRATH Shehili

Album · 2019 · Folk Metal
Cover art 3.67 | 2 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
MYRATH return from its North African hideaway with the fifth album SHEHILI thus proving that this Tunisian band that has made a career out of mixing Middle Eastern folk music with metal is in no danger of going away any time soon. In fact this quintet plus session musicians has only become more famous internationally since its 2006 formation however despite the band’s exotic flair that has caught the rest of the world’s attention, these guys still don’t resonate very much in their native lands. It’s been three years since MYRATH released “Legacy” which found the band taking a softer less progressive approach than on the preceding “Hope,” “Desert Call” and “Tales of the Sands.” SHEHILI emulates “Legacy” with lush symphonically embellished power metal inspired metal tracks that wrap themselves around the classic Arab sounds of the Sahara.

Unlike MYRATH’s earliest albums which focused on the metal aspects of the band’s idiosyncratic fusion, SHEHILI continues the thick atmospheric cloud covers of “Legacy” and crafts more accessible pop hooks that take a blatant dip into the mainstream with catchy sing-songy melodic hooks with simpler compositional constructs that add some power metal heft but focus a lot of attention on more AOR flavors that demonstrates that the band is clearly going for the mainstream breakthrough jugular which is what makes this album a little weak compared to the earliest powerful displays of metal music that has now been tamed into one trick camel races all the way to the top of the charts.

On the positive side of things, vocalist Zaher Zorgati still delivers a powerful vocal charm and is perfect for the type of music that MYRATH has conjured up. The other winner is the strong symphonic string section that includes the usual menagerie of instruments such as the violin, viola and the new which is a Persian flute that is prominent in most forms of traditional Middle Eastern music. Also included are traces of lute and elegant piano arrangements that add touches of Western classical teased into the Eastern sounds. The symphonic touches overall are what define SHEHILI much more than the rather subordinate heavy rock aspects that barely even qualify for metal any longer. The production is also perfect as it allows each little sound to find its own space without intruding on the others.

Ah, i loved early MYRATH. The five-piece metal band from the far flung non-metal lands of Tunisia who dared conjure up metal mirages with local flavors. The early albums were powerful and delivered all the goods while weaving it all together in highly progressive ways. Most of those complexities have been replaced at this point with easy on the ears flavorings that keep most of the tracks sounding rather similar in approach. The formula is rather simple. Recycle the same Eastern musical scales, add a bit of guitar heft with the only occasional solo along with a rather subordinate bass and drum rhythm section. While Zorgati is clearly the star of the show with his passionate and intricately designed vocal style, the rest of the music falls rather flat compared to the earliest offerings.

MYRATH have obviously fallen into the trap that many bands do as they flirt with commercial success and by that they lose the passion that was generated in the beginning when the music was intended as a statement rather than a means of economic opportunity. While many bands find a way to balance these two acts by having a few more commercial tracks and some more sophisticated experimental and progressive ones, MYRATH have chosen to create a rather monotonic album’s worth of 12 tracks where the overall feel of the individual songs doesn’t really advance. It all sounds like a series of reshuffling with a few minor bursts of bombast for a little contrast. It’s clear form the videos that this band is aiming for the mainstream and that involves healthy amounts of cheese to pull it off. While the sound of the band is clearly intact, there’s just not enough going on on this new album to get me really excited. Personally i want the old MYRATH back. This just feels shallow. Not bad but not great either.

ARCH / MATHEOS Winter Ethereal

Album · 2019 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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siLLy puPPy
WINTER is coming. Oh, wait! It has already come! Emerging seemingly from nowhere in 2011, the early Fates Warning pioneers of prog metal, vocalist John ARCH and guitarist Jim MATHEOS took the world by storm after releasing the stunning collaborative effort in the form of “Sympathetic Resonance” under the moniker ARCH / MATHEOS which in many ways found resolution to the long lost continuation of what Fates Warning would have sounded like had they continued well into the 21st century with ARCH’s vocal prowess still in command. With a classic prog metal sound that was clearly crafted for the modern world, the duo constructed six stunning tracks that took the early prog metal attributes of operatic vocals, heavy zigzagging guitar riffs and compositional complexities and married it all with the darker down-tuned realities of the 21st century.

While the project was never to be intended to be a permanent one, the obvious chemistry that was presented begged prog metalheads far and wide to ponder the possibilities of whether there could be the remotest possibility of a second edition to what would provide the next chapter in this project of such technical wizardry coupled with emotional outpourings. Due to other commitments, particularly on the side of MATHEOS who to this day remains a vital member in Fates Warning’s modern prog metal excellence, no pressures were in play but lo and behold eight long years later and the duo has found themselves releasing the long awaited second coming with WINTER ETHEREAL which finds the dynamic duo in cahoots once again with bassist Joey Vera (Fates Warning, Chroma Key), drummer Bobby Jarzombek (Fates Warning, Spastic Ink) and guitarist Frank Aresti.

And this time around even more musicians came to the party which includes ex-Cynic bassist Sean Malone and two additional drummers, Matt Lynch (Trioscapes) and Thomas Lang (John Wetton, Stork, Paul Gilbert, Eric Gillette) as well as Steve Di Giorgio (Death, Testament, Charred Walls Of The Damned) and bassists Joe Dibiase and Mark Zonder. The guitar distortion is turned up to 11 and the musicians were chomping at the bit to unleash a new slab of highly technical metal that takes the ARCH / MATHEOS to the next level. While the Fates Warning comparisons are inevitable, once again this project finds a way to make the music its own despite the clear throwback to the long lost days when progressive metal existed as a mere collaboration between 70s prog rock and 80s classic heavy metal. And best of all, despite the decades that have elapsed, it’s utterly amazing how well Mr. ARCH’s glass shattering vox box has held up. Is this man fucking immortal or what?

WINTER ETHEREAL cranks out nine hard driving prog metal tracks rooted in the previous century but clearly designed for 21st century consumption. A bit longer than the previous one and clocking in at about 108 minutes, this album bursts into the scene with the crushing “Vermillion Moons” which delivers the expected labyrinthine guitar riffs while taking a few breathers with some slower passages. Clearly on display and man of the hour vocalist ARCH shows off his high capacity pipes in an ever daring feat of vocal majesty which never fails throughout the album’s lengthy parade through the progressively imbued compositions that seem to tackle the usual prog metal melodramatic lyrical esoterica in the fullest sonic regalia. Despite the plethora of musicians on board this time, the album comes off as a tightly woven musical experience with all eyes on the prize, that meaning the overall feel of consistency in this high quality musical sector of the prog metal universe.

Perhaps my only complaint of this dynamic powerhouse of unbridled prog metal passion is that despite the army of newbies in its midst, it doesn’t deviate significantly from the majesty of “Sympathetic Resonance,” as the tones, timbres, dynamics and songwriting techniques follow suit in much the same business as usual. Perhaps the creative aspects could’ve shined a bit more instead of making a second installment of album #1 however if a similar approach is what you’ve been salivating over then WINTER ETHEREAL will not disappoint one little bit as it tackles all the prog sophistication and ethereal nuances that the first ARCH / MATHEOS experience delivered so well. While overall i don’t find this to be the perfect prog metal specimen that came before, it is nevertheless a high quality release that finds these elder statesmen of the genre not losing one bit of their musical mojo, in other words - this is some outstanding modern day prog metal delivering ALL the goods.

ELLORSITH Orbhàis

EP · 2018 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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UMUR
"Orbhàis" is the 2nd EP release by Scottish black/death metal act Ellorsith. The EP was released through Dark Descent Records in April 2018. The band´s first release was the "1959" EP from 2014 and in 2016 they released a split with Mannveira. I was personally quite intrigued by "1959" when it was released because of it´s combination of black and death metal elements, dark atmosphere, and concept story revolving around the "Dyatlov Pass Incident". A real-life incident which took place in the Ural mountains in 1959 Soviet, where 9 hikers led by Igor Dyatlov mysteriously died. There are quite a few theories regarding the incident, and everything from murder, to a compelling natural force (which was the official Soviet statement), to UFOs, to nuclear missile testing have been suggested (the group´s tent was tore open from the inside, and all 9 hikers left the tent without their shoes/boots in the freezing cold, and were found dead in odd positions on the mountain side).

So four years down the road and Ellorsith release another EP instead of giving us a full-length album...I´m not happy. But of course that should be read as a positive, as my sour mood is just due to me wanting more than an EPs worth of material (4 tracks and a playing time of 21:32 minutes). Ellorsith again deliver an intriguing combination of atmospheric black metal and death metal. The vocals are firmly placed in death metal growling territory, but the riffs, the occasional blast beats, and the cold and dark atmosphere of the music points in a more black metal oriented direction. It´s a powerful and clever combination, which works really well for the band. One other feature they use often are open chord dissonance, not completely unlike the riff style of artists like Ved Buens Ende, Virus, Void, and Code. It creates a dark mystique which is quite charming.

"Orbhàis" features a raw organic sound production, which suits the material perfectly. It´s not a lo-fi sound production, but definitely not in the clean end either. Ellorsith are obviously a well playing band too, so upon conclusion it´s another high quality release by the band. A 4 star (80%) rating is deserved. Now give us that full-length...

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SUICIDAL TENDENCIES Lights... Camera... Revolution!

Album · 1990 · Crossover Thrash
Cover art 4.40 | 17 ratings
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Warthur
You say the revolution will not be televised? Suicidal Tendencies beg to differ! This album finds the band having evolved far from the skate punk of their debut and so deep into crossover thrash territory that, depending on exactly where you draw the line, they risk busting out the other side into straight-up thrash territory, with Mike Muir's vocals retaining a bit more of a hardcore punk style to them as a reminder of the band's origins.

As far as what kind of thrash we're looking at... imagine if peak-era Anthrax (singalong moments and all) went substantially darker with their lyrics, and you'll be somewhere in the right region. On the whole, a hell of a fun album. I'd say any thrash metal fan will find plenty to enjoy here, but if you come at crossover thrash from the hardcore punk end of the spectrum, you may need to adjust your expectations accordingly.

QUEEN Live At The Rainbow '74

Live album · 2014 · Proto-Metal
Cover art 4.42 | 4 ratings
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Warthur
Everyone knows that Queen were a fine live act... but god daaaaamn, were they amazing in their early years! Live at the Rainbow '74 captures not one but two complete shows (some truncated editions exist - ignore them), the first from the Queen II tour and the second from the Sheer Heart Attack tour.

As a London-based group, the Rainbow was something of a home turf for Queen, and the rapturous response they receive from the crowd is rewarded with a fine performance each night. I would actually give the Queen II set the edge - not only does it showcase just how much excellent material there is on the first two Queen albums, but it also seems a bit tighter. By the Sheer Heart Attack set they are already adapting to a different musical direction, and the somewhat longer set begins to flag.

Evidently, they were struggling to find a balance between keeping the set at a reasonable length and including everything they wanted to throw in there, a problem which would only become more acute as their parade of hits grew longer. The Night At the Opera setlist, as captured on the A Night At the Odeon live album, would be trimmed back appropriately; if you picked up that live set too then between that and this you'd have more or less the perfect sampling of live Queen from their early almost-prog/not-quite-metal days.

THE OCEAN Precambrian

Album · 2007 · Atmospheric Sludge Metal
Cover art 3.95 | 18 ratings
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Warthur
Precambrian offers up two distinct musical trips, with an overarching theme concerning the earliest phases of Earth's formation. Hadean/Archaean offers about 20 minutes of direct aggression; Proterozoic offers an hour of more contemplative atmospheric sludge metal veering into progressive rock or New Age music at points. The full 80 minute package is, to be honest, a bit of a chore to listen to - but break it up into its two component parts and select the piece which suits your current mood better, and the overall package is substantially improved. Let's say it's a three star album packaged with a four star album - but which is which will hinge on the tastes of the individual listener.

DEATHSPELL OMEGA Mass Grave Aesthetics

EP · 2008 · Black Metal
Cover art 4.60 | 6 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
DEATHSPELL OMEGA are notorious for releasing EPs between their full-length albums, however this band has also released non-album material on multi-band splits starting as far back as the year 2000, the same year as the band’s debut album “Infernal Battles.” The sprawling sonic banter that has been titled MASS GRAVE AESTHETICS made its first debut all the way back in 2005 on the four-way split album “From The Entrails To The Dirt” which was featured as the last track following the bands Malicious Secrets, Antaeus and Mütilation. While this originally was released between the first two installments of the Satanic trilogy albums, the 19 minute 43 second track was released independently as a 2008 EP between the second two episodes of 2007 “Fas-Ite, Maledicti, In Ignem Aeternum” and 2010’s “Paracletus.”

The track’s epigram was directly taken from the writings of the French satirical poet, anarchist, polemicist, essayist, and translator, Laurent Taihade whose works caused quite a societal stir in 1890s Paris. This excellent track would make Monsieur Taihade proud as it showcases DEATHSPELL OMEGA’s supreme rule over the black metal domain with yet another chilling and crushing mix of dark ambient atmospheric creepiness in unholy cahoots with highly technical buzzsaw pyrotechnics blessed by dark angels and Satan himself. The mid-2000s were DSO’s most innovative time when they found their own calling and the right techniques for breaking through the crowded black metal world. MASS GRAVE AESTHETICS sits comfortably side by side with “Fas-Ite..” as it incorporates all the same diverse masteries of dark psychological warfare via fear porn in the form of sonic intensity.

MASS GRAVE AESTHETICS begins with crackling static as if Satan himself had portaled from the depths of hell to attend the performance. The now-standard jangly dissonant guitar riffs that take a post-metal cyclical loop build the tension until the sudden onslaught of dissonant bombast allows vocalist Mikko Aspa to narrate the darkened Satanic diatribe and ratchet up the tension while the nuclear blasts of distortion and percussive pummelation are dropped like a bomb. Sudden stops allow the ethereal surreality of choirs tucked away in the background to shine through for brief moments but when the black metal frenzy begins again, the intensity is increased exponentially as every possible juggernaut of black metal fury is implemented. The pattern continues throughout this near 20 minute experience as dark ambient interludes allow blood-curdling industrial sounds to terrorize and gestate fear but always lead back to the most technically demanding and bombastic black metal outbursts of the entire metal universe.

DSO are masters of contrast and on this one-shot track that contains a whole album’s worth of intensity, the listener is treated to a series of stylistic shifts with an infinite number of guitar variations, bass grooves and percussive outbursts. The band changes things slowly at first like a slumbering salamander creeping through the dampened forest leaves that have dropped as winter approaches yet can burst into uncontrollable rage at the drop of a hat with impeccable time signature changes finding each musician in tandem and delivering lethal doses of orotundity. This is amongst DSO’s most developed works and sits amongst the very top of their canon in terms of not only intensity and technical wizardry but in sheer compositional prowess unlike any others. Like its counterpart “Fas-Ite,” MASS GRAVE AESTHETICS is one of the most frightening musical experiences that one can possible imagine where the darkness recesses of the human mind are pried open and sonic demons are allowed to impishly play mischievous tricks on the frail human psyche. Of course i looooove it!

DEATH NAZAR Death Nazar

Album · 2015 · Avant-garde Metal
Cover art 2.50 | 1 rating
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siLLy puPPy
The former Soviet Union nations that once existed in isolation away from Western influences has become a hotbed of activity in the 21st century with metal music being one of the greatest exports from both Russia and the Urkaine. Add to the list in addition to an ever growing roster of exemplary black and death metal bands is a legion of experimental bands that has found hitherto unthinkable ways of mixing and melding metal to different musical styles unknown to Western ears.

One of these unorthodox bands is DEATH NAZAR all the way from Irkutsk, Russia which sits next to the majestic Lake Baikal which incidentally happens to be the home of the world’s only fresh water seal! Named after the eye-shaped amulet that is believed to project against the evil eye, this act is simply a duo that consists of vocalist Igor Shestakov and Evgeny Boyko who pretty much covers everything else!

That “everything else” includes not only the guitar and drum programming but also the clarinet, yes, i did just write the clarinet! DEATH NAZAR is utterly unique in the metal world as far as i know in that they combine both alternative and death metal with traditional Jewish music known as klezmer. Sound weird enough for you? Well, it’s not as strange as it sounds actually. On this eponymously titled album we get seven tracks, most of which combine a rather alternative metal approach with a few death metal outbursts accompanied by a klezmer styled clarinet performance.

Given the klezmer influences this music is highly melodic and ethnically upbeat but doesn’t gel as well as bands like Secret Chiefs 3 and Estradasphere have successfully tackled when they have incorporated world ethnic influences into a heavier rock and metal paradigm. What’s good about this album is that all the tracks are highly melodic and easily accessible even upon first listen despite the overall tag of avant-garde metal.

What’s sort of irritating is that Shestakov sounds like Mike Patton on Faith No More’s earlier albums for the majority of the album complete with the same nasal vocal style and phrasings. There are the occasional death growls that emerge out of nowhere and the guitars range from alternative metal riffing to heavy death and thrash bombast. No matter which aspect of metal is churning out, the clarinet continues to add the ethnic touches without deviating from its traditional roles. Some sizzling guitar solos do occur.

The standout track is the misplaced “Messenger of Fate” which sounds nothing like the others. This one features an acoustic strummed guitar style with the guest female vocals of Ekaterina Kuznetsova who sings passionately but the track sounds more like an Alanis Morrisette ballad at the synagogue more than anything else on this album. This DEATH NAZAR release is short one at just over 32 minutes but after it’s all done i think i’ve had enough.

This is an interesting mix for sure and the stylistic approach isn’t the problem at all but rather the deliveries. Shestakov’s vocals fall flat a lot of the time and start to sound a little too one trick pony after all is said and done. The band has hit upon an excellent mash up of genres but clearly hasn’t mastered them. This sounds more like an amateurish demo despite the decent production value. The duo clearly hasn’t quite found a way to creatively mix and meld the disparate styles. A decent start but one that is flawed in too many ways to really recommend this except as a novel curiosity of an experimental band from a remote region of the globe.

ARCH / MATHEOS Sympathetic Resonance

Album · 2011 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.20 | 49 ratings
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Progressive metal had its origins in the early 80s when heavy metal was a fairly homogenous genre that featured operatic, high pitched vocals with aggressive guitar driven riffs accompanied by a solid bass and drum rhythm section, However certain bands were a bit more adventurous than the status quo and coupled these attributes with the more complex and layered arrangements that were established in the progressive rock that came before. Early on bands like Watchtower and Aslan soon to be Psychotic Waltz were crafting some amazingly brilliant mixes of the best of what the 70s prog and 80s metal scenes had to offer. Amongst these early pioneers included Fates Warning whose earliest albums didn’t quite muster up the technical workouts styles that the prog metal of Watchtower was conjuring up, yet it was still a few steps ahead of the rest of the pack.

Existing on the melodic side of the progressive metal nascency, Fates Warning was considered one of the big three of the genre along with Queensryche and Dream Theater in terms of popularity. The band was formed in 1982 by vocalist John Arch, guitarists Jim Matheos and Victor Arduini, bassist Joe DiBiase and drummer Steve Zimmerman in Hartford, Connecticut. While the debut “ Night on Brücken” displayed blatant unbridled Iron Maiden worship, the band quickly jumped into gear and evolved exponentially on the following “The Spectre Within” where the band developed not only its own distinct sound but found more progressive elements that culminated on the epic length “Epitaph.” Followed by “Awaken The Guardian” Fates Warning only continued to ratchet up the intensity and was poised to break into the mainstream much as Dream Theater would in the early 90s however just as the band was reaching a new apex of the progressive metal paradigm, John Arch left the band.

While Fates Warning would continue, the band jumped into ever greater complexities and as the metal universe splintered into the thrash, death, black and power metal worlds, some of the most adventurous bands incorporated the progressive metal elements that had emerged in the 80s. By the 90s however progressively infused metal albums were all over the placed with bands like Tool existing in the alternative side of the genre whereas bands like Atheist, Gorguts and Ved Buens Ende taking things in the more extreme depths of darkness laid out by Bathory and Morbid Angel. The traditional sounds laid out by Fates Warning and Dream Theater were giving way to more experimental approaches and the more extreme reaches of the metal universe. Fast forward nearly 30 years after Fates Warning was founded, JIM MATHEOS successfully convinced JOHN ARCH out of his musical hibernation and the two began work on a new project together mostly due to the fact that a new Fates Warning album had been put on hold.

The new project simply called ARCH / MATHEOS actually began on ARCH’s 2003 EP “A Twist of Fate” where the chemistry was reignited and the duo knew that a full-length album just had to happen. The result was the 2011 release SYMPATHETIC RESONANCE which inserted itself into the 21st century and brought and with it brought the classic progressive metal styles of the past back into the limelight. The duo accompanied by drummer Bobby Jarzombek (Riot, Halford), Joey Vera (Armoured Saint, Fates Warning) and guitar soloist Frank Aresti crafted an excellent display of retro prog metal delivered with all the fiery passion that accompanied some of the early examples of the genre. Despite three tracks which included "Neurotically Wired", "Midnight Serenade" and "Stained Glass Sky" initially intended to appear on the next Fates Warning album, they were redesigned to fit in with this new project and all the better for it since they fit the style presented here perfectly.

SYMPATHETIC RESONANCE consists of six well-constructed tracks that display the classic operatic vocal style of ARCH who hadn’t missed a beat in his multi-decade absence from the music scene. His lyrical delivery resonates in divine splendor while the music artfully mixes the expected technical workouts with a well balanced emotional performance. The classic prog metal melodic approach infuses the ambitious compositional workouts with all the softer and heavier dynamics falling into place. While the album consists of fairly standard length tracks, the mid-section that consists of “Stained Glass Sky,” “On The Fence” and “Any Given Day (Strangers Like Me),” all exceeding eight minutes in length, takes things full force into the prog-o-sphere with not only extremely heavy guitar riffage but highly demanding compositional approaches that wend and wind through many movements.

No one was expecting this one but when it emerged it took the metal world by storm and reminded a much more diverse metal universe what the classics sounded like and with SYMPATHETIC RESONANCE both ARCH and MATHEOS simply nailed the perfect flow of progressive metal excellence on par with the parent band Fates Warning who had long moved on from this stylistic approach as well as putting some of the young whippersnappers to shame. While rooted in the past, ARCH / MATHEOS were paying attention to the new reality of metal music in the 21st century and in the process eschewed a tinny high pitched production job that plagued many 80s releases. Instead the music sounds dark and downtuned and exists in a murkier world than that of the earliest Fates Warning albums. The music is just perfect as it delivers the perfect mix of excellent musicianship that serves the greater good of a strong emotional connection. Sometimes it takes the masters of the past to remind the world how to make a consistently brilliant flow of music that doesn’t believe in filler tracks and with SYMPATHETIC RESONANCE they did just that.

LOINCLOTH Demo

Promos, fans club and other releases (no bootlegs) · 2003 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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UMUR
Loincloth is an US technical/progressive metal act formed by members of Confessor and Breadwinner. The band was formed in 2000 after Confessor disbanded and released this demo in 2003. 2 of the 4 tracks on the 11:46 minutes long demo are also featured on the "Church Burntings / New Jersey" single also released in 2003. Those two releases were the only releases by the band for many years as bassist Cary Rowells and drummer Steve Shelton returned to Confessor and focused their energy on that band. Loincloth never officially disbanded though and they finally released their debut full-length studio album "Iron Balls of Steel" in January 2012. The album features the same lineup as this 2003 demo. In addition to the above mentioned rhythm section the lineup also includes guitarists Tannon Penland and Pen Rollings. None of the four tracks featured on the demo appeared on the tracklist for "Iron Balls of Steel (2012)".

Stylistically the music on the demo is instrumental technical/progressive metal played by four very skilled musicians. The rhythm section is on fire, delivering varied and powerful technical playing, and the two guitarists follow suit. There are times when the music sounds like 90s Confessor without Scott Jeffrey´s distinct sounding high pitched vocals in front, but this is slightly more focused on technical playing and not as doomy as Confessor. The demo is very well produced, featuring a sharp, powerful, and detailed production, which suits the material well.

The material is well written although not instantly memorable as there are very little in the way of melody featured on the compositions. It´s pretty cold and clinical in that way, which also provides the material with a gloomy futuristic atmosphere. There´s no doubt it´s fascinating and intriguing music seen from a technical point of view, but to those who prefer hook laden or melodic oriented music, this could very well turn out to be a hard challenge. For the style this is a quality release though and considering that it´s a demo, this sounds surprisingly professional. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

SOLITUDE And Justice for All...

Demo · 1988 · Doom Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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UMUR
"And Justice for All..." is the 2nd and last cassette tape demo by US, Arlington, Texas based doom metal act Solitude, and their last release before changing their name to Solitude Aeturnus. The demo was released in January 1988. The 5 tracks from the 31:29 minutes long demo later appeared on the "Justice for All (2000)" EP and on the "In Times of Solitude (2011)" compilation. Solitude formed in 1987 and after releasing two demos morphed into Solitude Aeturnus in 1988.

The material on the album is well written heavy doom metal tunes packed in an epic atmosphere. The listener is instantly reminded of artists like Trouble and especially Candlemass. The riffs and the beats are slow- to- mid paced, heavy, and hard edged, and the beats follow suit. Lead vocalist Kristoff Gabehart is a relatively strong vocalist and when he sings most powerful, his vocals work really well with the music. There are parts where he sings in a lower register in a singing/talking type vocal style, and those vocal parts don´t work as well. The instrumental part of the music is generally well played.

The tracks featured on the demo are all well written and memorable and considering that the tracks are demo material from 1988, the sound quality is relatively well sounding. Solitude was off to a promising start with "And Justice for All...", and while Gabehart doesn´t exactly reach the heights of his successor Robert Lowe, he isn´t a weak link here by any means. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

SOLITUDE AETURNUS Justice for All

EP · 2000 · Traditional Doom Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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UMUR
"Justice for All" is an EP release by US, Arlington, Texas based doom metal act Solitude Aeturnus. The EP was released through Doomed Planet Records in 2000. "Justice for All" doesn´t feature contemporary original material though, as it´s sort of a compilation, featuring 6 tracks from the band´s two pre-album demos "And Justice For All... (1988)" (originally released under the Solitude monicker) and "Demo 1989)". 5 tracks from the former and 1 track from the latter. So "Justice for All" is basically a reissue of the "And Justice For All... (1988)" demo with a bonus track. Some of the material featured on the two original cassette tape demos would appear in re-recorded versions on subsequent studio albums.

Stylistically the music on the EP is epic doom metal and Trouble and especially Candlemass are valid references. The tracks from the "And Justice For All... (1988)" demo features Kristoff Gabehart on vocals while "Opaque Divinity (3/89)" from "Demo 1989)" features Robert Lowe. The latter is a strong vocalist and the Solitude Aeturnus singer who most people probably know as he performs on the "classic" studio albums by the band. Kristoff Gabehart is not without skills though and while his low register singing/talking type vocals aren´t the most appealing, his more powerful and majestic vocals are of a good quality.

The material are well written heavy doom metal tunes packed in an epic atmosphere. There are occasional nods toward traditional heavy metal and thrash metal in the music too. Considering that the tracks are demo material from 1988-89 the sound quality is relatively well sounding. The guitars are slightly thin sounding and there´s a bit too much reverb on the drums, but other than that the EP is well produced.

So upon conclusion "Justice for All" is well worth a listen if you´re a fan of Solitude Aeturnus. The more casual listener is recommended starting with the "regular" studio albums. With that said the quality of the material featured on this EP is still so high, that a 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

NICKELBACK All the Right Reasons

Album · 2005 · Heavy Alternative Rock
Cover art 2.39 | 15 ratings
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martindavey87
Following on from the success of 2001’s ‘Silver Side Up’ and 2003’s ‘The Long Road’, it’s now 2005, and Nickelback are unarguably one of the biggest bands on the planet. Appealing to rock and (some) metal fans, while also endearing themselves to pop fans and casual radio listeners, the band were at a point where they’d been able to establish a sound, as well as a name and reputation, that would keep them in the spotlight.

However, while I found their albums to continually improve with each subsequent release, 2005’s ‘All the Right Reasons’ doesn’t quite live up to its predecessor. But there’s really not any particular reason, other than the songs just don’t seem as good. The sound is the same, the production is the same, sure, there’s probably a bit more emphasis on soft radio rock here, but it’s still not that different than what the Canadian foursome did on ‘The Long Road’. But overall, the songs just aren’t as good.

Which is kind of weird, seeing as how this album features some of Nickelback’s biggest hits (outside of 2001’s ‘How You Remind Me’), ‘Photograph’ and ‘Rock Star’, both of which were huge radio hits for the band. There’s also some great rockers such as ‘Animal’, ‘Next Contestant’, ‘Someone That You’re With’ and the emotional and thoughtful ‘If Everyone Cared’. But yet, there’s just something about this release that doesn’t resonate with me as much as what came before it.

But don’t be deterred, as it’s still a good album! The performances from everyone involved are of a high standard, and the band clearly knows what works for them and how to get the most out of it. By 2005 Nickelback would be known more for their hits than their albums, and as it stands, this probably won’t appeal to everyone. And while I don’t think it’s as good as 2003’s ‘The Long Road’, ‘All the Right Reasons’ is still a solid, hard rock release with some good songs that definitely won’t be amiss in any collections.

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