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MARTY FRIEDMAN Inferno

Album · 2014 · Traditional heavy metal
Cover art 3.00 | 2 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
MARTY FRIEDMAN displays his most diverse album yet on his 11th album INFERNO. The secret to the wide array of sounds on this one is not only does MARTY mine his entire output of the past for sounds and ideas but also includes a whole army of guest musicians to make a highly successful solo album that doesn’t sound as such. Despite it officially being a solo album this is a true collaborative effort of many different talents on board with MARTY on board as the official director of the project. I can suspect that he may have gotten this idea from Buckethead’s “Enter The Chicken” from 2005 which takes this same approach.

As with his usual solo albums INFERNO displays aspects of thrash and progressive metal with his unique virtuosic neoclassical solo skills in full display. MARTY has been a favorite guitarist of mine for some time because he doesn’t rely on technical skills alone but rather deftly intertwines them with brilliant ideas with emotional depth well beyond the average guitar wankery. There is flamenco / metal fusion on “Wicked Panacea” with Rodrigo y Gariela, industrial metal sounding pounding on “Steroidhead,” the punk inspired “I Can’t Relax,” the John Zorn meets groove metal track “Meat Hook” with Jørgen Munkeby delivering an absolutely killer sax frenzy, the death metal meets melodic trad on “Sociopaths” with David Davidson screaming on vocals, the sublime guest vocals of Alexi Laiho of Children Of Bodom on “Lycanthrop” and “Horrors” which somehow compiles guitar action from Jason Becker who is now paralyzed from Lou Gehrig’s Disease (probably an archival thing).

If you love the high energy intensity of his debut “Dragon’s Kiss” and the Cacophany albums with all the influences from the experimental fusion albums ranging from “Scenes” to “Tokyo Jukebox” then you will love this. I have to say that MARTY FRIEDMAN never rests on his laurels and despite an album or two that gets bogged down in a pool of stagnate reservoirs, more often than not MARTY knows how to up his game delivering some seriously intensely creative metal guitar with smokin’ sizzlin’ solos that blow away most of the competition. I personally think this is one of MARTY’s best despite having a very consistent discography on his hands.

CYNIC Kindly Bent To Free Us

Album · 2014 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.51 | 10 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
CYNIC puts out exactly what i personally like in a band, namely quality over quantity and absolutely no one can accuse this unique band of flooding the market with throwaway filler. The mystery with CYNIC has always been since releasing their debut album “Focus” and then calling it a day if they would ever put out another bizarre hybrid recording. After 15 years the answer was yes! reappearing with a followup in 2008 with a new sound in with “Traced In Air” which shifted gears a bit but pretty much carried on a lot of what was expected from “Focus” with the unique death metal / jazz / space rock / ambient thing neatly assembled into a nice little package that only this band could create.

Luckily the world would not have to wait another decade and a half for a followup. The band was ready for some serious business and began releasing EPs. With “Re-Traced” we got a taste of CYNIC dropping a huge swath of their metal sound and then with “Carbon-Based Anatomy” where they cemented the toning things down in the metal department by going down an atmospheric post rock and ambient path.

That brings us to their much awaited third album KINDLY BENT TO SAVE US arriving 21 years after the debut and 6 years after their second. Anyone who follows CYNIC should expect the unexpected by now. The band has their influences dipped in so many cocktails that strangeness is guaranteed to emerge in unforeseen ways and ideas evolve as sporadically as their songs shifting from one complex time signature to another with as many tones and styles to match.

KINDLY BENT TO SAVE US may have jettisoned all traces of death metal growls and replaced them with indie rock type vocals but the musical compositions remain as complex if not more so than anything the band has released before. It’s too much to grasp on a single listen. This one has taken me a while to appreciate because it is so dense and, well, unique. Of course there is a lot of what came before but on top of the sci-fi and Buddhist inspired lyrics, we get plenty of progressive metal, clean guitars, lots of staccato, complex rhythms that fuse the world of rock and jazz so seamlessly that it deserves some kind of new designated style nomenclature.

Overall, this album is a mixed bag with me. I agree with all the others that this is not as memorable as the first two releases in its scope or intensity but i totally disagree with anyone who writes this off as mere crap. The sophisticated approach on this release is phenomenal. I enjoy every single track musically and the only reason i cannot rate this album higher is because of the vocals of Paul Masvidal which don’t have the inspiring effect that the music does. The consistency of the clean style of vocals just seems a bit weak in the mix. I do miss the growls for they added some much needed contrast that matches the music.

If there were to be a huge swath of vocal influences on top of the music maybe like that of bands like Darkology or Hell, then this could have been another full-fledged masterpiece of epic proportions, but that it is not, yet i really enjoy this album a lot despite the disappointment factor and my own desire to micro-manage the project to please myself. Despite it all i am certainly not sorry it was released but i hope they can improve upon this formula in the future.

SONATA ARCTICA Ecliptica - Revisited: 15th Anniversary Edition

Album · 2014 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.67 | 2 ratings
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RuneWalsh2112
2014 was the year that I've rediscovered Sonata Arctica. I've been enjoying Sonata Arctica ever since I've heard their music back in 2003 with their debut album "Ecliptica" and fourth album "Reckoning Night" being my favorites. Unfortunately their work between 2007 and 2012 wasn't as enjoyable for me as their first four albums. 2014 saw the band releasing two albums, one with new material and the second one being the re-recording of their debut album "Ecliptica".

As I mentioned in my review of the original recording, ""Ecliptica" is, production-wise, a very raw record with both the drums and Kakko's vocals sounding very dated in comparison to the rest of the sound. This is especially interesting considering that the drummer Tommy Portimo and vocalist/front man/composer Tony Kakko have been the only two consistent members of the band!" So you might understand that I wasn't too surprised when the two consistent members decided that they needed to give the recording a second chance and thus re-record it with the band's current lineup.

I must say that the first few spins of this new version of "Ecliptica" were some of the most enjoyable Power Metal moments that I can honestly recall. Even though I haven't listened to some of these tracks in years, every song was a happy reunion filled with memories from my past. The great production quality that enhanced both the vocals and the drums really managed to bring out new qualities in the material that I've never noticed before. Songs like the opening track "Blank File", "My Land" and "Kingdom For A Heart" sounded even better than I've remembered them. The only real disappointment was "Fullmoon" which doesn't hold a candle to the original version nor the version from the live album "For The Sake Of Revenge". I also thought that "Letter To Dana" hasn't aged that well. Having said that, I've never really enjoyed this ballad to being with but the new version hasn't really made it any better.

My biggest rediscovery was that of the album's closing track "Destruction Preventer". I've never actually considered it to be anything special until I've heard this re-recorded version that made it into a Power Metal masterpiece. Both the energy and the melodic strength of this composition have been updated with grace.

I've been reading some critical reviews of this recording where people criticize Kakko's lower key arrangements but I actually found the new arrangement much more in line with my own voice, thus making these songs easier for me to sing along to. Whether or not this is a selfish reason, I'll leave for you to decide!

Overall, "Ecliptica 2014" is an album that made me rediscover Sonata Arctica in an even brighter new light. The classic tracks from 1999 still manage to stand out and the new arrangement actually make them even more enjoyable to my ears. Highly recommended release for fans of Power Metal!

***** star songs: Blank File (4:09) Destruction Preventer (7:45)

**** star songs: Blank File (4:09) My Land (4:48) 8th Commandment (3:46) Replica (5:04) Kingdom For A Heart (3:47) Fullmoon (5:12) UnOpened (3:13) Picturing The Past (3:35)

*** star songs: Letter To Dana (6:23)

SONATA ARCTICA Pariah's Child

Album · 2014 · Power Metal
Cover art 3.97 | 5 ratings
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RuneWalsh2112
I've been enjoying Sonata Arctica ever since I've heard their music back in 2003. The band added their own spin to the Power Metal genre that felt much more in line with traditional Finnish folk music than anything that I've previously experienced. The raw energy of the performances and the strong melodic hooks really made them stand out compared with the completion.

Sonata Arctica managed to maintain their momentum for the course of four albums, peaking with 2004 release "Reckoning Night", but it was clear from interviews given by the front man Tony Kakko that he was not content with maintaining the same style all throughout his career. The long wait and ultimate disappointment of "Unia", in 2007, showed the band moving away from their Power Metal formula. This was quite a disappointment for me but I continued to hope for Sonata Arctica to return to their roots.

The release of "The Days Of Grays" showed the band going into progressive metal territory and even though it was a solid attempt at a change, I was still not too impressed by the album. "Stones Grow Her Name", from 2012, did spark some hope due to the inclusion of "Wildfire II" and "Wildfire III" on the track-list but I lost interest after hearing the two singles "I Have A Right" and "Shitload Of Money". Eventually I've listened to the album and was dissatisfied with what I've heard.

The release of "Pariah's Child", in 2014, went by completely unnoticed by me. It was only when the band released a re-recorded version of their debut album, "Ecliptica" that I finally decided to include it to my Spotify playlist. My initial reaction to the material was a mixed one since I didn't really enjoy the album's first single and opening track "The Wolves Die Young" but found some of the mid-section tracks like "Take One Breath" and "Blood" to be much more impressive.

After a few more spins, it finally dawned on me that I was really beginning to enjoy the new material. Despite the fact that the album loses momentum with horrible narration on "X Marks The Spot", the disposable ballad "Love" and the disappointing opus "Larger Than Life", the good parts are almost on par with anything from the band's first four releases.

The song streak, that begins with "Running Lights" and ends with "Half A Marathon Man" (six tracks in total), is one of the most enjoyable Power Metal streaks that I've heard since "Empire Of The Undead" by Gamma Ray. The standout tracks are the album's second single "Cloud Factory", which brings back the classic Sonata Arctica melodies, and the emotional "What Did You Do In The War, Dad?".

"Pariah's Child" is good record that I'll probably continue listening to while skipping some of the filler tracks. If this is an indication of the future that Sonata Arctica intends to pursue then I'm definitely all ears.

***** star songs: Cloud Factory (4:17)

**** star songs: Running Lights (4:26) Take One Breath (4:19) Blood (5:54) What Did You Do In The War, Dad? (5:13) Half A Marathon Man (5:43)

*** star songs: The Wolves Die Young (4:11) X Marks The Spot (5:20) Larger Than Life (9:57)

** star songs: Love (3:50)

BLOODBATH Grand Morbid Funeral

Album · 2014 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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UMUR
"Grand Morbid Funeral" is the 4th full-length studio album by Swedish death metal act Bloodbath. The album was released through Peaceville Records in November 2014. It´s been quite a few years since the release of their 3rd full-length studio album "The Fathomless Mastery (2008)", but Bloodbath has always been a side-project for the members, and something they´ve done when they had some time off from their main acts. Both Opeth and Katatonia, where all members of "The Fathomless Mastery (2008)" lineup are active, are rather prolific acts with a busy scedule, but 2014 was the year when the members of Bloodbath once again had time to gather for the recording of an album. There´s been one rather significant change in the lineup since "The Fathomless Mastery (2008)" though, as lead vocalist Mikael Åkerfeldt has been replaced by Nick Holmes (Paradise Lost), which makes it a first time, for a non-Swede to be added to the lineup.

That doesn´t change the fact that "Grand Morbid Funeral" stylistically is old school Swedish death metal to the bone. Buzzing guitar tone, good rhytmic variation between doomy beats, D-beats, heavy mid-paced and faster paced parts, and even the odd blasting section. Compared to his predecessor Nick Holmes brings a less guttural growling and more morbid sounding vocal style to the table. An intelligible growling vocal style which suits the music on "Grand Morbid Funeral" very well. He sounds a bit different now from how he sounded on the early Paradise Lost albums, but he is just as convincing here as he was back in the late 80s/early 90s.

The change on the lead vocalist spot definitely makes "Grand Morbid Funeral" stand out in the band´s discography, but then again, no one can accuse Bloodbath of making the same album twice. They may only tweak their old school Swedish death metal sound slightly from release to release, but it´s enough for each album to stand out, which is actually quite the achievement considering the usually strict boundaries/stylistic limitations of the genre. In addition to guitars, bass, drums, and vocals, the band have added atmospheric keyboards to some of the tracks. They are always kept tastefully in the back of the soundscape, and never overshadows the more metal oriented instrumentation, but they still bring a dark majestic impact whenever they appear.

The 11 track, 46:31 minutes long album features high quality material through and through, but tracks like the opening "Let the Stillborn Come to Me", the occult and doomy "Church of Vastitas", and the absolutely brilliant title track, are among the highlights on "Grand Morbid Funeral". A few tracks might not be as distinct sounding and memorable as the above mentioned, but all tracks are still of great quality taken one by one.

The album features a heavy, raw, and powerful sound production, which brings out the best in the equally raw music, and when that music is played by skilled musicians, who deliver with both passion and conviction, it´s hard to ask for more. Bloodbath has done it again, and created an old school Swedish death metal album of an incredibly high quality, which only a select few can muster. We´re dealing with the absolute elite of old school death metal here, and "Grand Morbid Funeral" is yet another ten ton hammer to set things straight. A 4.5 star (90%) rating is deserved.

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MAYHEM Wolf's Lair Abyss

EP · 1997 · Black Metal
Cover art 4.62 | 8 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
This is my kind of black metal. Fury and fire all the way through. Although track one is somewhat of an atmospheric antecedent to what follows, the rest is an incredible step up from MAYHEM’s debut album “De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas” which was interesting in its making around the circumstances that went into its creation, but this next release WOLF’S LAIR ABYSS is a much more satisfying listen on a musical level combining the fury and bleakness of the debut full length with a new direction taking on a progressive touch.

Although this is the technically the first part of “Grand Declaration Of War” this EP blows that one away and actually is more akin to the technical fury found on “Chimera” and beyond. The music is absolutely erupting on fire with buzz saw guitars hammering away at your soul while myriad vocalizations pull you back and forth between semi-spoken declarative speeches and raspy screaming frenzies with Ulver inspired Gregorian chants subtlety appearing in the subdued the mix. The intensity is extreme and the brevity of 24:42 is a welcome relief.

Personally this album delivers everything i love about black metal. Intensity, speed, depressive motifs and furious intense tempos and the deranged vocals of Maniac who was famous for cutting himself on stage to the point where the paramedics would have to rescue him. This is intense stuff with troubled souls afoot and although i can’t relate to this personally i find this music intriguing as it lets me vicariously experience some of the most messed up music to ever exist. This is music to appeal to the innermost apocalyptic visions of our dying planet. It truly embraces the vision of Earth in a hell state. It is scary and electrifying. The true sonic equivalent of a horror film recorded and gracing my cochlea.

SWANS Filth

Album · 1983 · Sludge/Post-metal
Cover art 3.97 | 7 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
The debut album by SWANS is a full-on no wave experience which was a splinter from the punk culture in New York City in the late 70s and early 80s. It was in contrast to the new wave movement that it was specifically in reaction against which threw out melody and added healthy doses of abrasive atonal sounds, hypnotic repetition of rhythms with the emphasis on musical texture.

I have also heard it referred to as a branch of noise rock and that does have validity to it since there seems to be regular rhythmic drumming that is the canvass for all kinds of chaotic sounds to flow around creating strange swells of sound. The fact is that despite being called no wave this reminds me of the waves in the ocean in a way where they come ashore in regular intervals but each one has its own chaos embedded in its regularities. Swirling in eddies and irregular patterns until they crash violently against the land.

SWANS takes the no wave approach into new arenas. They were one of the few no wave bands to actually stick around long enough to develop their own sound and this debut album has been described as “the ideal soundtrack for mass suicides or nuclear holocausts.” Hardcore it is with it's depression inducing stridency and total lack of anything remotely melodic with the distortion of heavy psych and the screamed vocals that remind me a bit of the sludge metal band Neurosis. Also in the mix are industrial type sounds that add yet another layer of bleakness and robotic detachment from finding that happy space. This is dark and sinister sounding. Despite having little melody the undulating sonic waves are strangely addicting making this unique experience a very interesting debut album.

CEMETERY DANCE Poser Zombies

Album · 2013 · Hard Rock
Cover art 3.75 | 2 ratings
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Time Signature
Their legacy...

Genre: heavy metal / hard rock

Cemetary Dance is a Greek metal and hard rock act, whose debut "Poser Zombies" (I guess this is not a self-reference) was released back in 2013.

The album combines hard rock, alternative rock and metal without being grungy or anything like that. There are even elements of extreme metal in the opening track in the form of harsh, guttural vocals. Treating the listener to crunchy riffs and twangy grooves backed up by pounding drums and topped with rough-edged vocals, the album delivers solid hard rock with a punky feel.

The production is a bit rough, without being lo-fi at all, and this sort of production adds a sense of rock 'n' roll authenticity, as well as an almost live feel.

Solid, melodic, yet dark and at time harsh, this album is a fine hard rock affair which should appeal to fans of hard rock and old school heavy metal alike.

ANTHRAX Spreading The Disease

Album · 1985 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.86 | 35 ratings
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Unitron
Anthrax-Spreading the Disease

'Spreading the Disease' is the second studio album by thrash/speed metal band Anthrax. Even though I do like Anthrax's debut, once Joey Belladonna joined is where Anthrax justly hold their spot as one of my favorite thrash bands. Also, this is one of the albums that I had listened to a lot when I was young. My 8 or 9 year-old head was probably blown off after hearing the intense speed of 'Gung-Ho'.

Unlike the raw speed of the debut, Spreading the Disease shows a combination of thrash, speed, and traditional heavy metal. This combination is immediately heard with the opening song 'A.I.R.'. During the bridge, there's a crazy guitar solo and Charlie Benante pulls off some crazy beats. Being a lover of the bass guitar, I can't not mention the ass-kicking bassline that opens the next track 'Lone Justice'. Once the drums kick in, the headbanging thrash comes in. The maniac laughing introduces the most popular song on the album 'Madhouse'. This is one of the thrashier songs on the album, with an extremely catchy beat and chorus. Even though all of these songs standout in some way, one especially is 'Stand or Fall'. It begins with middle-eastern instrumentation, which is the only time I've heard it in Anthrax, and has a much more traditional feel to it with a really catchy chorus and inspirational lyrics. Of course my favorite has to be the intense gut-splitting of 'Gung-Ho'. While all of the previous tracks were all at a pretty standard speed, this song comes as a face-pounding surprise. Double-bass, fast riffing, Belladonna's amazing vocals, and a crazy solo makes this a complete treat to listen to.

Joey Belladonna is among my favorite vocalists, and I just have to listen to this album to remember why. His voice on this album is very suited for traditional heavy metal, yet it's able to sound amazing in thrash. Especially hearing 'Fighting the War' being screamed and the chants of 'Fight' in Gung-Ho is amazing. His vocal performance on 'Medusa' and 'The Enemy' is especially amazing.

Overall, this was a hard review to write. All of the songs standout on this album, but of course I couldn't describe every single one. This, along with the rest of Belladonna-led Anthrax albums remain some of my favorite albums of all time. Essential to any metal collection.

Hope you found this review helpful.

Feel free to comment!

APOCALYPTICA Cult

Album · 2000 · Symphonic Metal
Cover art 4.82 | 7 ratings
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aglasshouse
Ah, Apocalyptica. Never will you ever degrade, only will you get better.

Apocalyptica is a three-piece cello metal piece that, in all reality, pioneered the symphonic metal genre in it's purest form. This is literally the definition of a metallic symphony accept without the orchestra.

The instrumentation of these guys is absolutely awe-inspiring. I've never been a cello enthusiast myself but when I did hear them for the first time a few years ago it almost made me want to learn the damned instrument. This one of the many albums that Apocalyptica has released, and most likely the most complex and innovative for the band. They combine insane string shredding to make up for background noise and having a melodic front-leading cello to pull of the more loopy and almost solo-style quaverings. 'Fight Fire with Fire' is an excellent example of this.

Another style that these geniuses incorporate is soundtrack-style symphonic metal, in the sense that if you slapped Cult on the big screen for some Michael Bay flick (or not probably), then it would go perfect. And as for me, I've always loved the majesty of soundtracks, especially ones that go great on their own as well as being spectacular for the film background music. The great thing is that Cult isn't a soundtrack but sounds like one and seems to have an escalated level of achievement and skill.

If you are a fan symphonic, chamber, soundtrack, or even classical music you will at the VERY LEAST find this one intriguing.

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