Metal Music Reviews

MASTODON Remission

Album · 2002 · Sludge Metal
Cover art 3.93 | 42 ratings
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ProgMetaller2112
Ahh, here it is, the genesis of Atlanta's Mastodon, a great, great progressive/sludge metal band, one that I feel has gotten more mature (and better) as time has progressed with albums such as Crack the Skye (2009) and Emperor of Sand(2017). I will talk about that progression as I continue on with these album reviews. With 2002's Remission, we already see a band that has plenty of musical chops to offer but at times it is a bit too frenetic, wild and unhinged (not necessarily a bad thing, haha) for my tastes (keep in mind that my musical tastes are not nearly as frenetic and wild as most metalheads lol). While I do consider myself a metalhead I am more of the old school variety (Maiden, Sabbath, Priest) but that's me getting off topic ha. Anyway, with this recording Mastodon are able to do just enough to keep me interested in what they are doing(could be the melodies and intricate riffs, I don't know ha). Let's how I feel about each individual track shall we??

1) Crusher Destroyer - A brutal, crushing piece of metal music. Hits you like a pile of bricks. Badass. 10/10

2) March of the Fire Ants - A classic metal track in my opinion. Those melodies late in the song brought something that was desperately needed in metal but was in short supply. Anywho, I love this track. Probably my favorite on the entire album. 10/10

3) Where Strides the Behemoth - Yet another brutal track. Nothing wrong with it. I love it, haha. 10/10

4) Workhorse - Another great track but for some reason it is not nearly as captivating as the first three tracks on the album. Not a bad track though. 8/10

5) Ol'e Nessie - A great, great ominous track. I love how dark and foreboding it sounds. It's not as heavy, frenetic or as thunderous as the other tracks on the album but it does a great job at creating a dark atmosphere. It's great. 10/10

6) Burning Man - A decent track but as of the first 6 tracks it is my least favorite. Not bad though. 7/10

7) Trainwreck - Another decent track but to me it is not as great as others on the album. 7/10

8) Trampled Under Hoof - Is the title of the track an homage to Led Zeppelin's Trampled Under Foot?(I don't know but it sounds like it is lol). It's an intense piece of music that I give plenty of credit for but for some reason it's not nearly as captivating as other songs on the album. Good track though. 7/10

9) Trilobite - Now, here we have a very ominous piece of metal music. Everything about it is fantastic. A bit different from the rest of the album but that's what I love it about. The ending where Troy screams out "Shades of 16, you're with me" is bonechilling. It can actually horrify a person. It's great. Probably tied with March of the Fire Ants as my favorite track on the album. 10/10

10) Mother Puncher - A great track that punches you in the gut. I love it too ha. 10/10

11) Elephant Man - An instrumental piece that keeps my attention. It's pretty darn good if you ask me. Solid, solid guitar work from Bill and Brent. Grade A guitar work. 10/10

The music on this album is really, really good but some of it is a bit too harsh and frenetic for my tastes so that's why it gets a lower rating in my book. Also, not enough clean vocals from Troy or Brent on it to give it a higher rating. I mean I have no issues with growls (every once in a while haha) but I usually like my bands to have some kind of melody and harmony or catchy hook to their vocal (you know something I can sing to lol, sounds corny I know but it's still the essence of music to me). Anyway, to me this album is a step in the right direction for Mastodon. A precursor of things to come. Great album. 4 solid stars!! Peace out!!!



PANTERA Vulgar Display of Power

Album · 1992 · Groove Metal
Cover art 4.22 | 70 ratings
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martindavey87
If you're a metal fan, you're no doubt gawking at this three-star review and seething with anger, and nothing I say will justify my views in your eyes. So let me just say, to Pantera; I'm sorry.

Pantera were one of the first metal bands I got into way back in the day, and I'm sure there was a time when I first purchased this CD that I thought it was awesome, even though I'd never really heard it enough times to familiarize myself with it. As a result, years of neglect and seeing absolutely nothing but the highest reverence for it has set the bar very high. Too high, in fact, as 'Vulgar Display...' has failed to live up to my expectations.

It's not a bad album, but it's very much the same as its predecessor, 'Cowboys From Hell', in that it's a good record with its fair share of filler songs, but it hasn't been helped by the expectations set by the countless fans who treat it like an absolute masterpiece. I mean, c'mon now... 'By Demons Be Driven' and 'No Good (Attack the Radical)' are incredibly forgettable.

But when Pantera do get it right... oh boy! 'Mouth For War', 'This Love', 'A New Level', 'Regular People (Conceit)' and the legendary though slightly overrated 'Walk' are all ballsy songs that are heavy as hell and groove-laden to the brim, with enough attitude and energy to make up for the albums shortcomings.

And the performances are all-round pretty good. Guitarist Dimebag Darrell shows off all the skills that would validate his countless accolades as one of the genres all-time greats, and vocalist Phil Anselmo screeches passionately with pure disdain at the world. While not every track is to my liking, there's no denying the chemistry between everyone.

In conclusion, 'Vulgar Display...' is one of the most influential metal albums from the 90's, and while it's reputation may be justified, I don't think it's stood the test of time too well. Perhaps it's one of those things where "you had to be there" to truly appreciate it.

BUCKETHEAD Pike 274 - Forneau Cosmique

Album · 2018 · Alternative Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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siLLy puPPy
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B U C K E T H E A D ~ Pike 274 - Forneau Cosmique

1st album of 2018

Two tracks that clock in at 28:04

All instruments played by the chicken lover himself

“Forneau Cosmique” (11:49) begins with a familiar BH sound, that is a synthesized atmospheric backdrop with mellow echoey guitar parts, however it quickly bursts into a heavy alternative metal type of guitar riff with the bass and drums along for the ride. Not unexpectedly, guitar solos emerge here and there trading off with the riffs. Compositionally speaking, the main melody is one of those looped recurring series of chords that maintain a rhythm guitar, bass and drums as a lead guitar joins in to provide variety. Around the 3.5 minute mark, the heavy metal drops out and the echoey clean guitars steal the show with the same rhythm and melodic progression. When the distorted guitar joins back in its less frenetic as the a sizzling guitar solo extends for a lengthy period of time building up power and speed. As the track continues its long journey, it retains the basic melody but pumps out different variations but basically comes across as a tad uninspiring as we’ve heard this a million times before and this is really quite too tame despite some crunchy metal riffing that occurs.

“Endless Experiments” (16:15) is an even crunchier metal monster with heavy guitar riffs hitting the ground running. They alternate with some freaky electronica. Unlike the previous track, this one wastes no time changing things up and heads to the other extreme where totally unrelated riffs and melodies juxtapose and clash with avant-garde sounding guitar parts. After a while it jumps back into straight forward heavy metal, then electronica, then clean guitar parts and then heavy metal slowed down. It takes no time at all to realize that this is one of those tracks that changes things up often zigzagging in unpredictable ways from genre style to genre style with heavy riffs, solos, electronic bloops and bleeps and bluesy rock all trading off with each other. This track is basically like somebody randomly hits shuffle every several seconds and where it ends up is anyone’s guess but all the styles performed are nothing new to the BH canon.

This PIKE is really nothing out of the ordinary however the two stylistic approaches generally do not sit side by side on the same release. The first track has been done to death at this point and is really quite boring whereas the second track is more unpredictably wild and more to my tastes but same problem. This style has been done to death and is performed in more interesting ways on previous PIKEs. This two track PIKE is really BUCKETHEAD by the numbers as nothing on it is new in any way, shape or form. While BH slowed down in 2017 releasing a mere 30 albums, many of them simply retread previous ideas sprawled out in the vast BH universe. Likewise the first PIKE of 2018 offers little insight that the new year will provide anything but the same. Decently played and performed but not inspiring.

LIVING DEATH Vengeance of Hell

Album · 1984 · Speed Metal
Cover art 3.95 | 2 ratings
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Unitron
The German thrash scene was a great one. It was home to many bands that would satisfy the taste of thrashers who wanted a more spitting and caustic attack that would end up influencing early death and black metal. You had the "big three" of Kreator, Sodom, and Destruction as well as bands like Tankard and Holy Moses (Which is my personal favorite German thrash band). Not that there weren't bands of this type elsewhere, as Canada was home to Razor and Voivod and Japan had Casbah and Jurassic Jade, but Germany is usually mentioned as the main hub of these types of thrash acts.

Living Death are one of these bands, and like many thrash bands, had a bit of a rough start with their debut. As with many early speed/thrash releases, Vengeance of Hell retains a lot of it's traditional heavy metal influences though adds in a bit of the grit and spit that's needed. Also you've got some amazing cover artwork that displays obscure metal art at it's finest. The original release of the album was absolutely ruined by a terribly muddy mixing, but thankfully the band must have realized that and remixed the album only a year later in 1985, so that's the version I'll be reviewing.

On the music end, everything's here. Soloing of the utmost classic metal tradition, pounding drums that constantly keep the foot tapping, skin-shredding riffs, and a penchant for great melodies. Speaking of melodies though, the vocals can sometimes be a bit of a problem. For the most part, Thorsten "Toto" Bergmann's vocals are fine and have that amateur charm to them. However, when he tries to reach higher pitched notes like in "You and Me" or "Night Light", he just sounds a bit silly. I feel like I'm listening to myself trying to sing Judas Priest songs, and in fact I probably sound exactly like this when I try.

Despite that, what really keeps this album from flopping is both the excellent music and the aforementioned charm. The album sounds like everyone's just having fun, and that's something that I almost always love hearing. I'd take some rather amateurish speed metal that's clearly having fun over ultra brutal, technical, and serious modern death metal any day. It's impossible to not love metal anthems like "Heavy Metal Hurricane", it is seriously a hidden classic metal gem. The chorus on it is just so catchy. Some of the other highlights are "My Victim", "Hellpike", and the excellent closing title track. Damn, the short crushing riff that ends the song is just a beast. It sadly only lasts the last 20 seconds and should have gone on longer, but it does provide a great finale.

The band would very much improve and hone in on their sound on the following two releases especially on the vocal end, but this is a fun album that should not be missed. If you can get past the sometimes dumb-sounding vocals and make sure to listen to the 1985 version, this is a great start to an underrated thrash/speed metal band's career.

https://thewickednest.blogspot.com/2018/02/living-death-vengeance-of-hell-review.html

DEATH Leprosy

Album · 1988 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.78 | 62 ratings
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Vim Fuego
It must be a teen angst thing, to claim a song or musician “speaks” to you. It was common in the gunge… er, grunge era, where spotty anaemic teens thought Kurt Cobain or Eddie Vedder were channelling their personal feelings or thoughts, and were communicating straight to them. It’s not a new phenomenon. Similar claims have been made of Bob Dylan, Jim Morrison, Bono, and just about any trendy fuckwit who has ever written a vague sounding song which can be reinterpreted or misinterpreted, and appeals to safe middle class, suburban youth.

Fuck. Off.

All it means is you’ve never experienced anything challenging or real in your life, and you’re trying to be more world wise and weary than you really are. That sort of music, and it’s fans, are deeply superficial. There is nothing truly thought provoking in it, because there is nothing real in it.

For outsiders, people attracted to harder, heavier music, it is either a reflection of the harshness of life, or a complete escape into fantastical escapism. On the reality side, you have genres like grindcore and crust punk, with their social conscience and political colours emblazoned for all to see. Other genres, like brutal death metal or power metal take refuge in slasher movie gore, or Dungeons and Dragons made flesh. A few bands though, managed to combine the two extremes, creating something which was both thought provoking, and an escape. Death’s “Leprosy” is such a creation.

Death’s legacy is legendary in metal circles. The band’s first album “Scream Bloody Gore” is a seminal death metal milestone, creating the bloodstained blueprint for the genre. However, by the time Chuck Schuldiner got to making “Leprosy”, he had been playing this style of music for half a decade, and the plain old guts and gore thing had become a bit passé. So Schuldiner changed tack. Instead of musical horror movies, as later perfected by the likes of Cannibal Corpse and Autopsy, he turned to true life horror.

Take title track “Leprosy” for example. It’s a biblical illness, right? People don’t get leprosy any more, do they? Well, when this song was written, more than 5,000,000 people worldwide had the disease. Although now curable, it is still present in the developing world. There’s a horrifically detailed (and even more horrifically predominantly shocking pink!) Ed Repka depiction of the disease on the album cover. A descriptive song, it describes the ravages of leprosy on a human. It doesn’t just describe the physical effects, but also the social stigma, and the psychological torment of someone disfigured and dying. How would you feel?

Musically, “Leprosy” was also a change of tack. It’s fast and heavy, but also sharp and clear. And ya know, it’s a pretty fucking impressive backing band here. Although things went all to shit later on, and the rest of the band copped a lot of criticism from Schuldiner, all three have been incredibly influential in the way death metal sounds today. The non-Chuck ¾ of the band went on to reform Massacre with former Death alumni Kam Lee. Bassist Terry Butler didn’t actually play on this album, but he has had a full career since, also playing in Six Feet Under and Obituary. Rick Rozz co-wrote much of the music on this album. His playing style was criticised at the time for his blatant Kerry King worship, but in the years since, his style has been adopted by many death metal lead guitarists, because it suits death metal so fucking well.

The rest of the thought provoking songs followed on in a similar vein from “Leprosy”. “Born Dead” took a closer look at third world famine and disease than any pop star collaboration trying to feed the world. “Forgotten Past” is a story of horrifying dreams, or are they a revealed memory?

The incredible “Left To Die” is a war song, told from the point of view of a seemingly unimportant victim dying on a battlefield. It could be the final moments of many millions of soldiers since the invention of gunpowder, but is that life still unimportant if it is yours?

“Pull The Plug” is a powerful first person point of view of a helpless victim in a vegetative state, sensing all, but able to do nothing. It’s like Metallica’s “One” without the anti-war message, and poetic license. “Open Casket” is a jab at the insensitive and cringe-worthy practice of open casket funerals. What good comes from seeing someone’s body in death?

“Primitive Ways” is probably the only song which would have fit well onto “Scream Bloody Gore”. It’s a description of cannibalistic rituals. A bit less intelligent than the rest of the album, this is still plenty gory for the guts fetishists.

And final track “Choke On It”. It’s not a perverse song about brutal sex, as the title may suggest. Instead, the song makes the listener consider: “How would I cope if subjected to torture?”

So, feelings? Yes, there’s plenty, if you count all the varieties of physical and mental pain, and societal rejection. Thoughts? Plenty are provoked, often of the “I’ve never thought of it that way before” and “thank fuck that’s not happening to me” variety. And does it speak to anyone? Well, yes it does. This album spoke to death metal fans and bands the world over. The message was it was OK to explore themes outside murder and gore, it was possible to make clear sounding music without losing the death metal essence, and intelligence and death metal were not mutually exclusive.

ALICE IN CHAINS Alice In Chains

Album · 1995 · Alternative Metal
Cover art 3.60 | 38 ratings
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Unitron
Alice in Chains' self titled album, their last album to feature frontman Layne Staley, is one that is often forgotten or pushed aside in their discography. It is probably overshadowed by Dirt, which is often seen as the band's magnum opus and a crown jewel of the grunge genre, as well as the band's 2009 comeback album Black Gives Way to Blue, which is often seen as their best album after Dirt if not their best (Which I personally don't understand, I find that album pretty boring and bland, but that's a review for another day).

Alice in Chains is an album where you can just hear all the band tensions and what was going on at the time. While Jerry Cantrell has expressed his joy with the finished product, it sounds like Staley's heroin addiction made it a pain to get the record done. The band has never been known for uplifting music, but this album might very well be their most outright depressing and dreary album.

The underlying doom metal influence that's always been with the band perhaps shows up the most on this album. However, it is blended with some bittersweet melodies, harmonies, and a creative use of the band's acoustic side shown on their EP's. The band finally brings their two sounds together on this album, and it works beautifully. Great examples of this are on the longer songs on the album, such as "Sludge Factory", "Heaven Beside You", and "Frogs". You get this mesh of sludgy riffing dripping with misery and twangy acoustic blues guitar that actually enhances the overall mood. "Sludge Factory" I believe uses this sound best and is probably my favorite on the album.

Cantrell's comment in an interview of "Our music's kind of about taking something ugly and making it beautiful", really paints a good picture of this album's sound. This is partly due to the harmonies the Cantrell and Staley always make even in a really heavy or somber song. I once again refer to the longer songs on the album, especially "Heaven Beside You", whose bittersweet chorus is always followed up by this heavy doom metal riff. There's also some great screeching soloing on this record, like with "Sludge Factory" as well as "Brush Away". "Nothin' Song" also features this combined with some excellent syncopation. For one of the more doom-sounding songs, they sure made it pretty catchy. I think they knew that with the inclusion of lyrics such as "Well the nothin' song sticks to your mouth, like peanut butter on the brain".

This album is a perfect example of a grower. While Facelift has the instant appeal of it's infectiously catchy hooks and riffs, and Dirt has classic status, it takes a few listens for this one to fully sink in. Not to say there aren't some instant hooks on this album though, as I've always loved the classic opener of "Grind" and "Head Creeps" which immediately get you headbanging to the teeth-gritting riffs. If you've only heard this album once or twice and not thinking much of it, I recommend giving it another listen. It's a real underrated gem that deserves the same appreciation as the band's other albums.

https://thewickednest.blogspot.com/2018/02/alice-in-chains-alice-in-chains-review.html

OZZY OSBOURNE Ozzmosis

Album · 1995 · Traditional heavy metal
Cover art 3.43 | 26 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
Despite claiming that “No More Tears” would be his last album and even followed it up with an aptly named “No More Tours” jaunt around the world, OZZY OSBOURNE didn’t take to retirement too keenly and lo and behold found himself in the studios again to record his seventh studio album OZZMOSIS which came out four years after his last majorly successful comeback album. This is a rather unique album in all of his canon in not only lineup but also for its dipping into the current alternative rock and metal scene. While most of the band members from the past jumped ship after the previous album and tour, Zakk Wylde returned for guitar duties.

Also on board for OZZMOSIS is Geezer Butler who had just left Black Sabbath for the umpteenth time and on drums Deen Castronovo joined the team after serving in Wild Dogs and Bad English. His mellow AOR ballad band history shines through on this one. Also new to the mix was Rick Wakeman on keyboards. Yes, that Rick Wakeman of the progressive rock superstar band Yes and his first appearance with OZZY on an album since the 1973 Black Sabbath album “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” when Yes and Sabbath were recording in adjacent studios. Unfortunately despite one of the most accomplished prog rock keyboard wizards on board, there isn’t much in keyboard virtuosity.

OZZMOSIS was another hit for OZZY as it reached number 4 on the Billboard album charts and went on to be certified triple platinum. This was one of those huge productions unlike any of his earlier albums with a whole army of engineering assistants and production and mastering crews. As well as OZZY and Zakk Wylde contributing in the songwriting department, so too did Geezer Butler and quite a few others including Steve Vai, Dream Theater’s John Purdell and Motorhead’s Lemmy Kilmister. Originally Steve Vai was on board to join the team on guitar duties but had a clash of personalities with OZZY allowing Wylde to jump back in the guitarist’s role once again.

Stylistically OZZMOSIS is a lot mellower than any other previous OZZY album. Starting with “No More Tears” he had shed the lunatic madman image and cleaned up his act. That album emerged at the tail end of the glam metal scene and a lot had changed in the next couple of years. Once Nirvana released their mega-hit “Nevermind,” the entire music scene shifted towards alternative rock and grunge and suddenly anything 80s wasn’t cool and bands like Soundgarden, Alice In Chains and Stone Temple Pilots were suddenly kings of the music scene. While many an 80s metal band attempted to adapt to the sudden changes, very few did it in a convincing way, however OZZY pulled off quite a convincing mix of the melodic heavy metal of the 80s with a spruced up take on alternative rock.

The album starts off with extraordinary strong single “Perry Mason,” which while sounding like classic OZZY is a bit of a head scratcher for subject matter for only a decade prior, OZZY was akin to the devil for the far right and no longer was he biting off bats but singing about TV based law shows. The album is rather mellow as a majority of the tracks are pop rock ballads with an alternative edge. “I Just Want You,” “Ghost Behind My Eyes” and “See You On The Other Side” are all catchy and subdued rockers that are much slower pop oriented than anything of the past. The only real metal cruncher on the entire album is “Thunder Underground” that unleashes the full Zakk Wylde guitar fury. “I Just Want You” even has a rather Nirvana type of rhythmic drive and i could easily imagine Kurt Cobain at the helm incomprehensibly screaming his heart out.

This has always been my least favorite OZZY album because of the lack of iconic metal compositions but as i’ve listened to this again after so many years for the sake of reviewing, i haven’t given this album a fair shake. True that it’s not OZZY’s most metal and it’s not his most innovative and it is certainly not the one with the most pyrotechnic guitar soloing flair, however it is chock full of catchy melodies and is probably the most Sabbath sounding of all his solo efforts for the obvious reason of Geezer contributing bass. It’s also one of the best produced albums of the 90s as the instrumentation blends together like a symphony without being overproduced. True this will never top my personal charts but not as bad as i remembered. The only complaint i have is that it doesn’t seem like OZZY evolved very much and he simply settled into a comfort zone that suited the time. While that was nothing out of the ordinary for the day, it certainly shows all these years later..

REBELLION A Tragedy in Steel Part II: Shakespeare's King Lear

Album · 2018 · Power Metal
Cover art 3.67 | 3 ratings
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adg211288
I'm sure that I can't have been the only one surprised when German heavy/power metal act Rebellion revealed their eighth studio album. It's not that the band was in a situation where a new album was either unexpected or past due; it'd been three years since the release of Wyrd Bið Ful Aræd – The History of the Saxons (2015), their usual length between albums for a few releases now. No, it was the title. The album was revealed as A Tragedy in Steel Part II: Shakespeare's King Lear (2018). Shakespeare's MacBeth - A Tragedy of Steel (2002) was Rebellion's first album and who could have expected that after sixteen years the group would return to the works of Shakespeare?

I for one did not and I have to admit, the move made me a little apprehensive. After all, MacBeth is undoubtedly Rebellion's weakest album; the very textbook definition of a record where the artist is still finding their sound. But not only that, the flow of that record was really disrupted by heavy use of narration elements, which unlike on other albums that make use of such weren't separated into their own tracks but inserted into the actual songs of the album and not always at the beginning or end of a piece. Of course it's obvious given the subject matter why they'd do that – it adds a feel of the theatre to the album, but for me at least, it really didn't work.

As a band Rebellion has obviously come a long way since then, producing an incredible run of albums starting with Born a Rebel (2003), their only non-concept and/or theme album, and going right up to the most recent release Wyrd Bið Ful Aræd. But even so, it seemed a really odd move for them to make. So now comes the burning question: were my concerns justified?

Yes, I think they very much were.

But with that said, positives first: it isn't like King Lear is a total bust for Rebellion. They still have their signature sound intact, with lots of heavy and power metal riff work on display, along with Michael Seifert's distinctive sung yet harsh vocal style. The album even actually breaks the band a bit of unexpected new ground with several tracks, usually the more heavy metal based ones, displaying an undertone of traditional doom metal, something that can be clearly picked up upon as early as opener A Fool's Tale. It's just a bit of flavour rather than a overt change in direction, but it's enough to differentiate the album from the band's others.

But the there's the issues with the album that put a real dampener on anything positive I can say about it. While it's not as extreme, the band did fall into exactly the same trap with the narrative elements on King Lear as they, way back when with a largely different line-up, did with MacBeth. Then there's the songs themselves. They're not bad and there is a few highlights to be had such as Dowerless Daughter, Storm and Tempest, and Battle Song, but there's an inescapable feeling that for the first time in a while Rebellion aren't coming close to knocking one out of the park and that despite those new doomy undertones, the album is very much Rebellion by numbers and that they went through the motions of getting an album out at the time they were expected to. As such it's difficult to really get invested in it as an album or get too excited by it.

It's still a solid enough release to avoid being considered bad, but there's no room for doubt in my mind that King Lear is the band's weakest album since MacBeth itself and I'm actually unsure which really deserves the dubious honour of being considered the actual weakest. I would say it's still worth picking up if you're a fan of the band and already have all their other work (and the price is right), but otherwise there's a choice of six other Rebellion albums out there that are considerably more powerful than this one that deserve your attention first. This one already feels like it's just there, a part of the band's discography that you're aware of and may listen to on occasion along with their other albums, but it won't ever be the one you reach for first.

OZZY OSBOURNE Live & Loud

Live album · 1993 · Traditional heavy metal
Cover art 3.39 | 9 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
After the album “No More Tears,” OZZY OSBOURNE set out for yet another tour and very much intended it to be the last one as he was reaching burn out and found his hectic schedule to be suffocating his soul and thus the following tour was called “No More Tours.” Two years after the release of his most successful post Randy Rhoads era album, he released a double album live representation of his time on the road in the form of LIVE & LOUD. By this point he was experiencing a lineup change once again with bassist Bob Daisley and keyboardist John Sinclair jumping ship and replaced by bassist Mike Inez (who would go on with Alice In Chains) and keyboardist Kevin Jones.

LIVE & LOUD is a collection of live performances from all over the world and even includes a veritable Black Sabbath reunion on the track “Black Sabbath” that took place in Costa Mesa, CA. The album was originally released in two forms with one called a fat boy 2 CD case with the album cover perforated like a speaker grill which is the one i own and have always admired the clever packaging details. The release saw another version with a live DVD which was the first time a CD / DVD combo package had ever been released. This album had some legal issues because of the track “Shot In The Dark” appearing on it as there was some sort of legal battle over the track from ex-bassist Phil Soussan who co-wrote it. This kept it from being re-released for years but has since found new life.

Ironically OZZY even won a Grammy Award for the live version of “I Don’t Want To Change The World” from LIVE & LOUD. The album rode in the success of “No More Tears” and hit #22 on the Billboard album charts and easily went platinum showing that OZZY was immune to the grunge scene that had usurped the heavy rock throne between the release of this album and “No More Tears.” Apparently OZZY had enough metal creds to weather the storm and his status of Godfather of metal was in no danger of being watered down due to the new developments of 90s alternative metal and rock. Likewise, the album found success in many other countries including his native UK which is quite the achievement for an 80s metal artist releasing a double live album in the 90s.

While most of the tracks represent their studio versions quite well without significant deviations from the norm, there are a few tracks on LIVE & LOUD that differ significantly or are a product of the live setting. The intro is a medley of both Sabbath and Ozzy tracks that finally leads to the Sabbath track “Paranoid.” This is a major source of contention for me as i feel that OZZY should have evolved past his Sabbath days at this point and ceased to rely on his past glories, however he did contribute to the songwriting so they were fair game. It’s all slightly more tolerable with the old Sabbath team of Tommy Iomi, Geezer Butler and Bill Ward reunite for a few shows included here. Wylde cranks out a guitar solo BEFORE and not after “Suicide Solution” which probably symbolizes something but ultimately i find his flair for improv soloing isn’t quite up to snuff despite having a great stage present and overall rhythm guitarist feel. However he does nail the Rhoads solos on the classics such as “Mr Crowley” and adds his own guitar squeals and slides to personalize them a bit. There is also a decent drum solo by Castillo that is short and to the point instead of dragging on forever.

This is a fairly good consistent set of LIVE & LOUD tracks from the Madman however it does feel a bit by-the-numbers despite an energetic delivery of the best tracks selected from different shows all over the world. This was also the tour where OZZY had a break down when he was in Knoxville, TN. That was the venue where Randy Rhoads played his last gig. After a strenuous tour and lack of sleep, the OZZ man had had enough and had to walk out in the middle of the show. Something was clearly amiss these days as the entire band basically flew the coop and another album wouldn’t come out for a few years and then only with a bunch of guest musicians (with the exception of Zakk Wylde). Overall, a decent album but not one that i get tremendously excited about either. I’d rather hear “Tribute” any day. No offense, Zakk.

HEAVATAR Opus II - The Annihilation

Album · 2018 · Power Metal
Cover art 5.00 | 1 rating
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DippoMagoo
Usually going into a new year, I have a pretty good idea of what bands will be in contention for my album of the year, but it seems every few years I’m thrown a curve ball and a band I would have never even thought of comes out and completely blows me away, leaving more anticipated albums far behind them. Obviously, it’s way too early in the year to tell if that’s how things will work out in 2018, but going into the year if anyone were to have told me that after a month my top album for the year would come from German power metal band Heavatar, I likely would have shook my head and said “not in a million years”, but somehow that’s exactly what happened. Heavatar was formed in 2012 by Stefan Schmidt, the mastermind behind a capella metal band Van Canto, who I happen to be quite a big fan of, so naturally when I heard one of their members was starting a new band, with a full metal sound, as well as some added classical music influence, I was excited. For whatever reason, though, Opus I: All My Kingdoms never really grabbed me, aside from a couple standout tracks, and I quickly forgot about the band. They’re now set to release Opus II: The Annihilation, an album which wasn’t even on my radar just a few weeks ago, and yet surprisingly enough it completely blew me away on my first listen, and has only grown on me more ever since, emerging as an early year favorite to possibly end up as my 2018 album of the year.

Stylistically, not much has changed on this album, as the band still plays an aggressive, guitar-driven brand of power metal, with a ton of classical melodies thrown in for extra flavor. As with Opus I, there are plenty of sections which clearly take classical pieces and create metal versions of them, with the likes of Puccini, Chopin, and Beethoven being cited as influences for some of the tracks. Sometimes these classical pieces are easy to recognize, such as on the title track and “Into Doom”, while on other tracks the classical influence is a lot more subtle, but it’s definitely there throughout the album. Honestly, it’s tough for me to pin down exactly why this album works for me in ways the debut didn’t, but I guess what it comes down to is more consistent, at times more adventurous songwriting, and the fact that the music constantly strikes a perfect balance, both between heaviness and melody, and also between being blazing fast at times, and slowing down to a more relaxing pace at other times. Many tracks go through tempo changes, especially during the four-part suite that closes the album, and I find overall the songs deliver everything I could ask for as a power metal fan, offering some awesome guitar riffs throughout, as well as big choruses on every track, huge, epic vocal melodies, plenty of great solos, which are often the points where the classical influence comes in, as well as a ton of other surprises. There simply isn’t a single dull moment on the entire album, where I found the debut to be very inconsistent. Obviously, the production is top notch, and the musicianship is great, with excellent guitar work from Stefan Schmidt and Sebastian Scharf, while former Stratovarius drummer Jörg Michael is explosive and exciting as always.

For some reason, I didn’t like Stefan’s vocals too much when I first listened to Opus I, but his voice has grown me a lot since then, and he has certainly delivered a strong performance on this album. He has a very deep and powerful voice that fits the music well, especially during the heavier sections and he can be very intense and animated at times, sometimes coming pretty close to using death growls, and his vocals add extra intensity to some already energetic and heavy tracks. Obviously, coming from an a capella band, he’s a great singer all around, though, so he can also sing very smoothly during calmer sections, which there are a ton of, especially in the second half of the album.

My biggest area of contention with Opus I was the songwriting, but thankfully this time around the band has delivered nothing but excellent music from start to finish. There’s nothing that clearly sticks out in a bad way like the acoustic “To the Metal”, and there are certainly many tracks that surpass even the best track on that album, the 11-minute epic “The Look Above”. Starting things off is “None Shall Sleep”, an absolutely stunning opening track that immediately had me collecting my jaw off the floor the first time I heard it. It opens with a brief keyboard section, before quickly giving way to some pummeling riffs that lead the way through the verses, which move by at a breakneck pace and bring a ton of energy, and then the chorus appears and is equal parts catchy, melodic, epic and just plain awesome. The best part, though, comes in the second half, with an excellent and very melodic guitar solo followed up by a classically influenced vocal section that is simply stunning and lifts the track to all new heights. All in all, this track is easily the best power metal track I’ve heard so far in 2018, and I won’t be surprised if it goes down as my favorite even at the end of the year, as it not only delivers everything I want from the genre, but it goes the extra mile with that one choral section to completely blow me away.

While that opening track is tough to match, the rest of the album certainly leaves nothing behind. Next is “Into Doom”, another fast-paced track, which has more of a classic power metal sound, compared to the somewhat thrashy riffs of the opener. It’s certainly still a heavy hitter, though, and it again has some huge classically influenced melodies throughout, as well as a blazing fast and super addictive chorus. Stefan changes things up during the verses with a soft and extra deep delivery, which works great. The big classical melody of the track comes in during the solo section in the middle and is both very obvious and quite awesome. After that is “Purpose of a Virgin Mind”, one of the tracks where I don’t notice the classical influence as obviously, but it’s certainly still an awesome track. It’s another up-tempo track, though slightly slower than the first two, with slow, but hard hitting verses with some great riffs, though it has some nice melodic leads, as well as one of the biggest and most melodic choruses on the album.

The first slower track of the album is the hilariously named “Hijacked by Unicorns”, which has some great lead riffs and some fun vocals during the verses, but it’s the chorus where the song really picks up, as the vocal melodies are excellent, the tune is super catchy and the lyrics are every bit as amusing as the name would suggest. It’s another track where the classical influences are quite easy to spot, coming in during the solo section later on, and it’s quite the fun track overall. After that is the title track, where the opening has a classical reference that is just as obvious as the one on “Replica” from Opus I, and it’s another heavy hitter, moving at a rather slow pace early on before picking up the pace in a big way, leading to an explosive and very epic chorus. Stefan comes very close to death growls later on in the track, and the choral section that follows is amazing, as is the guitar solo after that. The last normal song on the album is “Wake Up Now”, a mid-paced track and yet another heavy hitter, with slow but fun verses, excellent riffs throughout and yet another huge and super catchy chorus. This track changes things up a bit in the middle, with an epic keyboard solo, before the expected guitar solo, which is great as always.

After six amazing tracks, the band decided to go extra big for the grand finale, delivering a near 14-minute four-part suite, divided into four separate tracks. There’s a lot of ideas throughout the four tracks, but there’s one chorus that constantly shows up throughout, used in various forms, and it’s a very memorable one. Each part sounds different, though one thing that is constant is the use of symphonic elements, which help make the music even more epic and compared to the rest of the album these tracks are much more melodic and more complex. The opening part “A Broken Taboo” in particular goes through many tempo changes, and is quite the treat, introducing the main chorus in a big way, while also surprising me with some great female vocals, which appear later on, before again appearing briefly on the second part “An Awakening”, which is a more relaxed and melodic track, with some nice folk melodies. It’s definitely the closest the album comes to having a ballad, and it’s a very beautiful track. The most explosive section of the suite is “A Battle Against All Hope”, an epic, super speedy symphonic power metal track, which has some of the heavy riffs found on the first six tracks and it again moves at a breakneck pace and delivers a huge chorus, except this time the epic feeling is enhanced by the symphonic elements. I love all four parts of the suite, but this track is easily my favorite. Lastly, we have “A Look Inside”, which mostly serves as a softer, slower reprise of “A Broken Taboo”, and it’s a very nice ending to the main portion of the album.

There are two extra tracks here, the first being a cover of the Manowar classic “Metal Daze”, which is a very faithful recreation of the track, with a much better-sounding production than the original, while still hitting much harder and having more energy to it than Manowar’s own recording from Battle Hymns MMXI. Stefan uses some very over the top falsetto vocals at points, which are very cool, and it’s definitely a fun cover overall. One other bonus is “The Look Inside (Orchestral Version”, which is an instrumental version of the four-part suite, and while I obviously prefer hearing it with vocals, this version is quite good on its own, and it’s nice to have the whole thing on one track, which is perhaps the only thing I would have changed about the main version.

Overall, Opus II: The Annihilation is a huge surprise for me, as I didn’t care much for Opus I at all, but somehow Heavatar has really stepped up their game, offering some amazing and aggressive classically influenced power metal songs, which give me everything I could possibly ask for from the genre, while also managing to surprise me several times along the way. Obviously, fans of the band’s debut need to hear this, and I’d highly recommend it to any power metal fan looking for something just a bit different, as well as to any metal fan who wants to hear something with a classical influence, without being overly symphonic or using operatic vocals. A huge surprise, for sure, and while it’s still early in the year, I won’t be surprised if this ends up being one of my top five albums by the end of 2018, if not even my absolute favorite.

originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2018/02/03/heavatar-opus-ii-annihilation-review/

OZZY OSBOURNE No More Tears

Album · 1991 · Traditional heavy metal
Cover art 3.89 | 33 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
It had been almost a decade since OZZY OSBOURNE’s career was in dire straits after the sudden death of his revolutionary guitarist Randy Rhoads but he bounced back and maintained a successful solo career all throughout the 80s. With 1988’s “No Rest For The Wicked,” the Madman had found the perfect new sidekick Zakk Wylde to take over the guitar slot after the departure of Jake E. Lee. With Lee, OZZY was somewhat stagnant and couldn’t quite shake the Rhoads loss, but Wylde added a new style of guitar playing that eschewed the neoclassical Rhoads elements and created more of a bluesy metal with touches of country rock and took OZZY’s sound in a new direction. OZZY took a full three years to reinvent himself and work on the potentials of the new lineup. The result of all this was his sixth studio album “NO MORE TEARS” which found the Madman cleaning up his bad boy image (notice the angel wings on the cover), as well as turning to outside songwriters like Motörhead’s Lemmy Kilmister as well as the new style of Wylde’s contributions. None of these extra efforts were in vain and “NO MORE TEARS” became a huge hit not only spawning a number of popular videos but also hit the quadruple platinum mark making it his best selling album just after the debut “Blizzard Of Ozz.”

“NO MORE TEARS” is by far, OZZY’s most eclectic and diverse album of his career which makes it a compelling listen even to modern ears. While Randy Rhoads was an excellent songwriter, the focus was placed on his neoclassical guitar shredding skills. On “NO MORE TEARS” the emphasis is on the strength of the tracks themselves that utilize strong hooks, heavy guitar riffing and more attention paid to contrasting dynamics, tempo changes and even adds some country rock aspects that Wylde brought to the work table. Also a strength for the album is one of the rare examples of a stable lineup in OZZY’s band with the entire cast of “No Rest For The Wicked” back for another round of heavy metal mayhem. This includes Randy Castillo on drums, Bob Daisley on bass and John Sinclair on keys, however both Castillo and Daisley would jump ship after “NO MORE TEARS” leaving OZZY with yet another dilemma of finding suitable musicians to fill the slots, however after three years of perfecting a new album and a lengthy tour of the last album that even resulted in a short live EP titled “Just Say Ozzy,” this stability of the lineup yielded some interesting results on this one.

“NO MORE TEARS” basically falls into two categories of tracks, well three if you count the title track which sounds like nothing else OZZY has ever recorded. There are the heavy metal crunchers like “Mr. Tintertrain,” “Hellraiser” and “Zombie Stomp” and the slower ballads “Mama, I’m Coming Home,” “Time After Time” and “Road To Nowhere.” It’s on the slower tracks where Zakk Wylde really cranks up the Southern flavors of country rock on the acoustic guitar and unlike many of the ballads of OZZY’s 80s albums, these were superbly crafted with special attention placed on lyrical relevance and tightly delivered instrumental dynamics. Although the album has no throwaway tracks, the star of the show is by far the outstanding title track which utilizes a bass heavy rhythmic drive with an ethereal atmospheric accompaniment. The longest track of OZZY’s career perfectly balances a call and response between a bass / vocal line with the heavy guitar in the verse sections with an atmospheric overload on the chorus. The track employs an interesting art rock synthesized bridge that leads up to a ratcheting up effect that leads to one of the best guitar solos on the entire album. The track is by far one of the most popular ones in the post Randy Rhoads era.

While it took exactly a decade to completely transcend the Rhoads years, OZZY OSBOURNE pulled off the seemingly impossible task on “NO MORE TEARS” which not only displays a willingness to incorporate influences beyond the metal comfort zone of the day but also comes off as one of the Madman’s most mature albums of his entire canon. While retaining the respect as the Godfather of metal all throughout the 90s and beyond, “NO MORE TEARS” in reality symbolizes a peak in OZZY’s career with the erratic release of the albums that follow seeming more like occasional side projects rather than works of passion. It also seems that OZZY’s drug and alcohol abuse had taken an irreparable toll by this point in his career possibly leading to a creative burn out. Whatever the case, “NO MORE TEARS” remains one of OZZY’s most celebrated albums for good reasons. While not focusing on the technical prowess that Rhoads delivered, the album is chock full of catchy heavy metal that in retrospect represented the last hoorah of the classic metal era as this release came out just as the more extreme death, black and thrash metal bands were taking metal to ever more shocking arenas, and of course the near collapse of everything 80s in the wake of the grunge scene. In short, this is one of the best albums the OZZ-ster cranked out and one not to be missed.

STUCK MOJO Violated

EP · 1996 · Alternative Metal
Cover art 2.00 | 1 rating
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martindavey87
'Violated' is a six-song EP by rap metal band Stuck Mojo, released prior to the groups second album, 'Pigwalk', and originally intended only for European audiences.

The disc consists of four studio recordings, including early versions of 'Violated' and 'Back in the Saddle' (titled 'U.B.Otch' here), which would go on to appear on the 'Pigwalk' and 'Rising' albums respectively, (and much-improved, I might add). A Black Sabbath cover, and EP exclusive 'Pizza Man' are also included, and these are probably the only reasons to own this disc. Especially the latter, which is actually a really cool song, despite only being just over two minutes long!

Then there's two live tracks. Personally, I'm always sceptical about early rock releases like this with "live" songs. The quality is very raw, and the audience sound pretty fake, but either way, they're not really songs I'm bothered about.

Stuck Mojo are easily one of my all-time favourite bands, and guitarist Rich Ward is one of my absolute heroes as a musician, but overall, this release is one for the die-hard fans (and surely I'm not the only one!). The music is rough and gritty and the attitude and energy is easily apparent, but there's not really anything here that is either relevant or not improved-upon with later recordings.

RHAPSODY OF FIRE Legendary Years

Album · 2017 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
Rhapsody have had an interesting career path, to say the least. What started as one band has been split in two for quite a while, with guitarist Luca Turilli behind Luca Turilli's Rhapsody, and keyboard player Alex Staropoli leading Rhapsody of Fire. Here, Alex has taken his band of merry men on a romp through songs from the first five Rhapsody albums, and in case anyone doesn't realise what is going on this selection is named after the debut, 'Legendary Tales'. What I have always liked about any of the Rhapsody bands, is that they not only have grandiose and almost Wagnerian Ring Cycle ideas, but they like to have the guitars tightly bound together with drums driving it all along. This may be Alex's band, but he acts more as a conductor and arranger, pulling the musicians in the way that makes total sense to his ears.

I haven't actually heard these early songs, so can't comment as to whether they are performed in a better or worse manner than the originals, so I am treating this instead as a brand new album by RoF, and in that context this works incredibly well indeed. They shred, they bring in a chorus, they stop the music dead, or let it sprawl through the speakers like an unstoppable lava flow, laying waste to all the lies before it. Fabio Lione is an amazing singer, and until this album has been the voice of first Rhapsody, and then Rhapsody of Fire, but here Giacomo Voli has taken on the role and it has to be said that he has done a very done job indeed. Overall this is a great album, and stands well in its own right, as well as an introduction to a band who have been at the forefront of symphonic metal for more than twenty years.

OPERATION: MINDCRIME The New Reality

Album · 2017 · Hard Rock
Cover art 2.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
When I think of Geoff Tate I always think of one video clip, for one song, namely his singing on the charity single "Stars". He had been give his lines, and the first time he sang it he just wasn't happy and he just gave up and it was possible to see that he was wondering how to give it justice. When he returned to it he gave probably the best vocal performance of all those involved, and there were quality singers that day. Fast forward a few years and he and Queensrÿche parted company, not exactly on the best of terms, and after certain legalities he was no longer allowed to use that name so instead called his band after one of the most important prog albums of all time.

Apparently, this is the third and final chapter in a musical trilogy, following a little over one year after the release of the second chapter, 'Resurrection', and about two years after the first chapter, 'The Key'. For this project he has brought together a host of musicians, including Kelly Gray, John Moyer, Simon Wright, Scott Mercado, Scott Moughton, Brian Tichy and Mike Ferguson. But, just having known musicians play on the album doesn't mean that it works, and having a solid recording history doesn't mean that Geoff still has the goods. Let's be honest, I really didn't like this album - it is a collection of good intentions, with strange arrangements and confusion, and often with the vocals way too low in the mix and the drums way too high. Is Geoff trying to be Peter Gabriel, or David Bowie? He certainly doesn't appear to be the person we expect him to be, and for that I applaud him. Apparently this release is "another fine progressive rock/metal entry from Tate". No it isn't.

OBITUARY Obituary

Album · 2017 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.01 | 9 ratings
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Kev Rowland
Truly one of the originals of the death metal scene, Obituary's 'Slowly We Rot' from nearly thirty years is still highlighted by many as a classic, and it is incredible to see that three of the guys in that line-up are still here on the tenth studio album. When I heard that this album had been released I was incredibly excited, as I have always thought of Obituary as a band that will always deliver the goods, time after time. But, even though the band is tight, John's vocals are as raw as they have ever been, and they smash through one song after another there was just something missing for me, a spark, that magical item that lifted them out of the ordinary.

To be honest, I soon discovered that I was bored, which is never a good thing in any form of music, but with death metal? Really? When I started looking ahead to see how many songs there were still to play on the album I knew that something wasn't right. It's not that I have lost my love of the genre, in fact I listen to far more of it these days than I did ten or twenty years ago. A quick check of my collection made me realise something that surprised me, namely that although I do have four other albums by Obituary, the most recent is from twenty years ago. So possibly I have never been as much of a fan as I thought I was, and this album is unlikely to do anything to make me change that opinion. Thy will always be a favourite on the festival circuit, and I am sure that they are great in concert, but is this an album to rush out and buy? It's not bad, but it certainly isn't brilliant either.

OZZY OSBOURNE No Rest For The Wicked

Album · 1988 · Traditional heavy metal
Cover art 3.54 | 25 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
The years had been tumultuous for OZZY OSBOURNE after the death of Randy Rhoads as he was constantly trying to reinvent himself after the perfect band lineup of his first two albums. After a couple of albums with guitarist Jake E. Lee, the Madman was forced to find yet another guitarist after Lee jumped ship. Not exactly a surprise as it was later revealed that Lee wasn’t given credit for songwriting contributions on “Bark At The Moon,” and after the “Tribute” album was released during his tenure, it seemed too much to take and off Lee went to form his own band Badlands. After searching high and low, OZZY settled on the virtually unknown Zakk Wylde who had only played in small bands before auditioning for the coveting guitarist role with one of heavy metal’s hugest stars of the 80s. Actually the whole band had changed since “The Ultimate Sin,” with Bob Daisley reprising to take over Phil Soussan’s bass spot as well as John Sinclair usurping the keyboard throne of Mike Moran. Randy Castillo stick around on drums.

Zakk Wylde made his official debut to the larger world on OZZY’s fifth studio album “ NO REST FOR THE WICKED, “ which ushered in a totally new sound for the bathead chomping Madman. During the Lee years, the emphasis was placed on trying to recreate the lost Rhoads neoclassical style especially on “Bark At The Moon.” While still retaining some of the same flavor, “The Ultimate Sin” meandered a bit into more pop rock oriented territory which watered down the metal aspects of the classic OZZY heft. On “ NO REST FOR THE WICKED, “ Wylde dishes out a heavier metal feel once again while steering away from the neoclassical Rhoads era completely. Wylde contributed a more no nonsense bluesy shuffle style with distortion and metal angst turned up a few notches with heavy riffing, lesser emphasis on soloing and piggy guitar squeals. On the lyrical side of the equation, OZZY continues his assault on society with a stab at Jimmy Swaggart, the 80s televangelist who fell from grace after a prostitution scandal. Swaggart had been a huge critic of OZZY’s music and heavy metal in general.

Other tracks reveal more of the same with “Crazy Babies” and “Breakin’ All The Rules” showcasing OZZY’s rebellion-by-numbers approach and a nod to his vulnerabilities as heard on “Demon Alcohol.” Overall, “ NO REST FOR THE WICKED, “ is a decent album with several strong tracks showcasing Wylde’s new role as heavy metal guitar god however the songwriting is still below the standard of the unreachable magnificence of the first two albums. While “Miracle Man,” “Crazy Babies” and “Tattooed Dancer” are all excellent heavy metal rockers, some of the tracks like “Fire In The Sky” and “Bloodbath In Paradise” seem a little generic by OZZY’s standards. There is also a hidden bonus track, “Hero” on the CD versions which offers a nice surprise. I would hardly call “ NO REST FOR THE WICKED, “ even close to OZZY’s best album but it is not without its charm either as it really sounds like no other in his canon. After this one, Wylde’s role would expand and so would the diverse elements of the music itself. This is one i rarely listen to, but i have to admit that it has a raw aggression that is very appealing and a few stand out tracks that guarantee a nice heavy metal head banging experience.

PORCUPINE TREE Pure Narcotic

Single · 1999 · Non-Metal
Cover art 2.33 | 2 ratings
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FMOTP
This is a good single by Porcupine Tree, if not their best. Like almost anything by the band, it's well worth your listening time. 2 tracks are songs from the band's STUPID DREAM album; one is played live. I think there are better songs on the full album. The album is one of PT's more commercial, which is not a criticism at all.

The third track, "Door to the River" from METANOIA, is more of an ambient experiment than an actual rock song. Nothing at all metal here, but few people do ambient as well as Steven Wilson. There is also a vinyl single with an acoustic version of "Nine Cats" available, according to Discord. In summary, this might be a more valuable release for established fans. If you're looking for something from this period besides the full studio albums, this is a good choice.

OZZY OSBOURNE Tribute

Live album · 1987 · Traditional heavy metal
Cover art 4.26 | 16 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
OZZY OSBOURNE hit the ground running after leaving Black Sabbath mostly due to his amazing luck of finding the extraordinary talented guitarist Randy Rhoads to join his ranks. Together the two would even share a flat together where they crafted two classic albums in the form of “Blizzard Of Ozz” and “Diary Of A Madman” which would catapult the Madman’s solo career to the ranks of success that he enjoyed with his former band. Rhoads had practically reinvented metal when he formulated a new style of neoclassical metal fusion that built on the classics of Ritchie Blackmore but fused it with the doom metal side of Sabbath’s metal sound along with the pyrotechnic flair of what Eddie Van Halen was famous for. The result was a blueprint for the neoclassical guitar shredding to come as well as the first steps for progressive metal artists to work off of. The duo seemed poised to dominate the entire 80s as nobody could match the songwriting skills and technical wizardry of Rhoads’ virtuosic skills. But that all came to an end on 19 March 1982 when Rhoads died in a senseless plane crash while on the “Diary Of A Madman” tour.

While a live album was planned after the tour was completed, Randy’s sudden death scrapped the whole idea and the project was pushed down the road indefinitely. Because of contractual obligations, OZZY opted to go on a short tour with Brad Gillis of Night Ranger on guitar and cover Black Sabbath songs which resulted in the release of the live album “Speak Of The Devil” (“Talk Of The Devil” in the UK) instead. While the show carried on with a new guitarist Jake E. Lee taking on the impossible task of carrying on in the slot, the project was never scrapped but merely delayed. Finally five years to the day after Randy’s untimely passing, TRIBUTE was released in 1987 in honor of the great talent who left us too soon thus memorializing him for eternity complete with an equal billing on the title credits. The album was comprised of different live performances from different venues, mostly on the “Diary Of A Madman” tour with the lion’s share recorded in Cleveland, Ohio on 11 May 1981 but a few were recorded in other venues and “Goodbye To Romance” and “No Bone Movies” were actually recorded on the “Blizzard Of Ozz” tour and are the only two tracks to feature bassist Bob Paisley and drummer Lee Kerslake.

The album was an instant hit and entered the top 10 on Billboard’s album chart and even saw a re-release of “Crazy Train” as a single. The album features Randy Rhoads strutting his stuff in a live setting and thus proving to the world that he was more than a mere studio hack. After a brief classical intro featuring snippets of Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana,” the album showcases OZZY OSBOURNE’s reign of musical power of the early 80s with Randy Rhoads as the band’s highlight. Rhoads was not only a highly disciplined songwriter and guitar teacher but on TRIBUTE he demonstrates how he painstakingly would rewrite guitar segments that were designed for two guitar as heard on the studio albums and rework them so that he could capture the spirit of both parts woven into one. He also showed his spontaneous improvisation skills as heard on the outstanding extended soloing at the end of “Suicide Solution.” While much of the album very much echoes the authenticity of the solo albums, it’s the small fills and deviations from the norm that offer glimpses into Rhoads’ meticulous compositional skills.

TRIBUTE is one of those rare live albums that actually exceeds the studio albums from where the tracks were taken. The entire band performed extraordinarily well together and made the already strong tracks seem even stronger. The extra touches of improvised soloing and live energy was the icing on the cake. While i’m personally not the biggest fan of most live albums as i find most bands carry out their best work in the studio, TRIBUTE proves that the commanding power duo of OZZY OSBOURNE and Randy Rhoads were creating some of the most influential heavy metal of the era. While this live TRIBUTE album to Randy Rhoads was quite well received, it was the final straw for Jake E. Lee who had already been forced to sell his songwriting contributions away to join the band. After the release of TRIBUTE, Lee would jump ship and OZZY would be back to the drawing board of finding yet another guitarist and would eventually settle on Zakk Wylde. For live TRIBUTE albums, it doesn’t get any better than this solid series of performances that shows OZZY at the top of his game with one of the most deserving of guitarists who truly deserved the overused “god” status. This one is a must for anyone interested in the highlights of live heavy metal action of the early 80s.

VARGA Mileage

Single · 2018 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 5.00 | 1 rating
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Unitron
Varga made a small name for themselves back in the early 90's with their single "Greed" being featured on the popular MTV cartoon Beavis and Butthead. Said single came from the band's debut studio album, Prototype, which was an amazing industrial/groove/thrash metal album which had amazing riffs, hooks, and variety. It's really one of the best hidden gems of 90's metal. However, the band started out playing technical thrash metal with their debut demo. When the band returned from a long time away in 2011, they released two albums a few years later which saw a return to their original sound.

Now those two new studio albums were fantastic comeback albums, and it was great to see such an underrated band come back with flying colors. Now the band has returned yet again with a new single, that ranks with the band's absolute best songs. "Mileage" is a crushing thrash metal track that's full of bite and attitude. Joe Varga's vocals has his signature edgy thrash personality blended with some higher-range vocals that scream so much attitude with the chorus. His bass, Dan Fila on drums, and Sean Williamson's guitar work bring a fantastic and catchy groove to the whole song. Williamson plays a killer spinning chromatic guitar solo that is complimented perfectly with Varga's low tuned and driving bassline.

All in all, this is classic Varga. It's a perfect mix of the band's reformed tech thrash sound with the personality and groove of their classic Prototype. Speaking for myself as a huge Varga fan, this single has me hyped for more. Can't wait to hear what these guys have coming next! Hope you found this review helpful, feel free to comment!

OZZY OSBOURNE Bark At The Moon

Album · 1983 · Traditional heavy metal
Cover art 3.29 | 37 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
The year 1982 was a terrible one to say the least with OZZY OSBOURNE losing one of the most gifted guitarists in the nascent years of heavy metal music in the form of Randy Rhoads who met an untimely passing in an airplane crash early in that year. After two hugely successful albums that launched OZZY’s solo career into the same league of his former band Black Sabbath, it seemed that it was all about to come crashing down. Forced to fulfill the impossible task of finding a guitarist to take the place of the unreachable heights of Randy Rhoads, OZZY finally settled on the young guitarist Jake E. Lee who had paid his dues in the bands Micky Ratt (who would later become the successful glam metal band Ratt) and Rough Cutt. After a short tour with Brad Gillis of Night Ranger as the guitarist performing Black Sabbath songs to fulfill his recording contract with Jet Records, OZZY wasted no time grieving over his huge loss and unleashed his third studio album BARK AT THE MOON as the year 1983 came to an end which found his debut on the Epic branch of the CBS label.

The death of Randy Rhoads also signaled the end of the first lineup of the OZZ’s early years. As well as Jake E. Lee jumping on board, Tommy Aldridge took over the drumming duties formerly occupied by Lee Kerslake and Don Airey (of Rainbow, Colosseum and Michael Schenker fame) joined as the first official keyboardist. The only member to cross the new frontier into the next chapter of OZZ was Bob Daisley on bass. It’s hard to fathom just how popular OZZY was during the early 80s and the fans responded with resounding enthusiasm supporting their favorite madman by adding yet another platinum album to his resume as it hit number 19 on the Billboard charts. Your experience of BARK AT THE MOON will depend on which side of the Atlantic you reside since there are two versions of the album with mostly the same tracks but different track orders. The US version contains the tracks “Slow Down” and “Centre Of Eternity” which arent’ on the UK version and likewise the “Spiders” and “Forever” tracks are only on the UK version. Remastered versions contain all the tracks but the US track order has become the standard. BTW, “Forever” and “Centre Of Eternity” are actually the same track with different titles.

Stylistically OZZY had hit upon a new sound with Rhoads joining his ranks and it sounds like all efforts were to replicate that successful formula at all costs on BARK AT THE MOON. While the neoclassical compositional constructs are apparent complete with the boogie rock flavored metal riffing as heard on the albums “Blizzard Of Ozz” and “Diary Of A Madman,” it is clear that Jake E. Lee didn’t quite have the technical prowess of Rhoads, therefore his own idiosyncratic style of playing is the first thing that is noticeable on BARK AT THE MOON. Whereas Rhoads was a master of neoclassical constructs and tremolo picking, Lee on the other hand utilizes a more unique style of riff shuffling with more bluesy solos that utilize the art of guitar slides. While not as developed as Rhoads, Lee actually handles his guitar duties quite tastefully in the thankless job of filling the shoes of the one history’s greats. It was later revealed that Lee had a huge part in writing the album although he was pressured to give up such claims by Sharon Osbourne to sell out those rights so that OZZY could claim full songwriting credit. This was a major point of dissatisfaction of course which led Lee to hang around for only one more album.

Lyrically OZZY continues his shenanigans of lunatic in chief with errant juvenile rebellion in full form as heard on tracks like “Rock ’n’ Roll Rebel,” madman imagery as heard on the title track and the attempt to once again try to pull off a lame ballad in the form of “So Tired,” one that would signify a major downward trend in OZZY’s popularity as this sort of track has always been a thorn in his side. Add to the controversy was the fact that a Canadian man murdered a woman and her kids after listening to this album and claimed that the album made him do it. All of this hit at the same time that similar charges were coming to roost regarding his song “Suicide Solution.” It’s hard to understand how these things panned out in the 80s when in the 21st century it all seems so tame in comparison to modern day standards, but the religious right in the US were on a major witchhunt with artists like OZZY OSBOURNE the poster child as public enemy #1.

Despite the tragic loss of Randy Rhoads, OZZY pulled out a fairly decent album and while not up to par with the ridiculously brilliant first two albums, isn’t as bad as many make it out to be. The compositions are the same catchy melodic traditional heavy metal that was going strong in the 80s by this point and the addition of the keyboards adds another element of melodic counterpoint. Jake E. Lee, while not quite up to god status, pulled off a rather heroic duty of not only anonymously contributing to the majority of the songwriting on the album but played beautifully delivered heavy riffing with his own unique guitar soloing that had those satisfying squeals. While tracks like “Slow Down” and “Waiting For Darkness” definitely have more of a pop rock feel than metal, the title track, “Rock ’n’ Roll Rebel” and “Centre Of Eternity” aka “Forever” are all some of OZZY’s best tracks. Even the ballads aren’t as bad as many make them out to be. No, BARK AT THE MOON will never usurp the throne as the OZZ-man’s greatest moment but considering the dark chapter of his history that it emerged out of, i think it turned out fairly decent. And yeah, that “Spiders” track is just weird!

MOTÖRHEAD Orgasmatron

Album · 1986 · Traditional heavy metal
Cover art 4.06 | 36 ratings
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UMUR
"Orgasmatron" is the 7th full-length studio album by UK hard/heavy rock act Motörhead. The album was released through GWR Records August 1986. It´s the follow up to "Another Perfect Day", which was released in June 1983, which at the time, was the longest recording break Motörhead had had. Quite a few lineup changes had occured though, and Lemmy needed time to get the band going again. Guitarist Brian "Robbo" Robertson (Thin Lizzy), who performed on "Another Perfect Day (1983)" was always meant to be a temporary solution, and he is replaced here by Phil Campbell and Würzel, making "Orgasmatron" the first Motörhead album to feature two guitarists. Longstanding Motörhead drummer Phil "Philthy Animal" Taylor temporarily left Motörhead during this period and is replaced here by Pete Gill. Taylor would be back behind the kit on "Rock 'n' Roll (1987)".

"Another Perfect Day (1983)" was a bit of an anomaly in Motörhead´s dicography (which doesn´t necessarily mean it´s a bad album), mainly because of Brian Robertson´s guitar style, and it was not a commercial success for the band, so "Orgasmatron" is naturally a bit harder edged and heavy, as if Lemmy wanted to prove a point. It´s details though and the music on the album is still unmistakably the sound of Motörhead just as the case was on "Another Perfect Day (1983)". Tracks like "Deaf Forever" and the title track are however among the most metal oriented and heavy tracks in the band´s discography. At it´s roots the music is still amplified badass blues based rock´n´roll with Lemmy´s distinct sounding raw voice in front. In addition to the two tracks mentioned above, which are some of the highlights on the album, you could pick just about any track off the album and it would be a standout track. In that regard "Orgasmatron" is a very consistent release.

The material on the 9 track, 35:34 minutes long album is generally both well written and catchy, but also relatively varied, which makes "Orgasmatron" one of the stronger Motörhead albums when it comes to memorability. The album is relatively well produced although it features some of the 80s reverb abuse, which was popular at the time, and which makes the production sound slightly dated. It´s still raw and powerful though, which suits the music perfectly.

"Orgasmatron" ended up being a commercial comeback for Motörhead, and the album charted much better than "Another Perfect Day (1983)" did. To my ears the two albums are pretty equal in quality, but "Orgasmatron" is probably the more popular album because it´s harder edged and more raw sounding than it´s predecessor. It´s overall another high quality release by Motörhead deserving a 4 star (80%) rating.

WITCHERY Witchburner

EP · 1999 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.52 | 2 ratings
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UMUR
"Witchburner" is an EP release by Swedish metal act Witchery. The EP was released through Necropolis Records in March 1999. It bridges the gap between the debut full-length studio album "Restless & Dead (1998)" and the band´s second full-length studio album "Dead, Hot and Ready (1999)". There have been no changes in the lineup since the debut album, so the five-piece of Toxine (Vocals), Mique (Drums), Richard Corpse (lead guitars), Patrik Jensen (rhythm guitars), and Sharlee D'Angelo (Bass, lead guitars), is still intact. Some of the members are rather prolific and are also featured in acts like Mercyful Fate, Arch Enemy, and The Haunted.

"Witchburner" is a 7 track, 25:21 minutes long EP, featuring 4 cover tracks and 3 originals. The covers are "Fast as a Shark" by Accept, "I Wanna Be Somebody" by W.A.S.P., "Riding on the Wind" by Judas Priest, and "Neon Knights" by Black Sabbath. Pretty good material choices considering Witchery´s usual traditional oriented heavy/speed/thrash metal style. Toxine is of course a more extreme type vocalist than the guys who sang on the originals, but he gives it his all, and the raw vocals generally work really well on the covers. I think Toxine´s voice and delivery work the best on "Fast as a Shark" and "I Wanna Be Somebody", because both Udo Dirkschneider (Accept) and Blackie Lawless (W.A.S.P.) are rather extreme vocalists in their own right, while especially "Neon Knights" doesn´t work as well, because Dio´s vocal style is more melodic, and Toxine isn´t fully able to do Dio´s vocal lines justice with his hoarse croak. The three original tracks are of a good quality and pretty much continue the music style of the debut album.

The musicianship is on a high level, and the material is well produced too, so "Witchburner" is overall a great quality EP release by Witchery. There´s both enough quantity and quality to justify a 3.5 star (70%) rating.

MANITOU Entrance

Album · 1995 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.25 | 2 ratings
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UMUR
"Entrance" is the debut full-length studio album by Norwegian progressive metal act Manitou. The album was released through Mind The Gap Records in 1995. Manitou was formed under the Powerslaves monicker in 1985 and initially played Iron Maiden covers, but later changed their name to Manitou and started writing original material. Although they originally existed for over a decade, Manitou´s recording output can be counted on one hand and "Entrance" was their only official studio recording on a label before they disbanded. Lead vocalist Øyvind Hægeland would later participate on releases by artists like Spiral Architect, Lunaris, Scariot, and play live with Arcturus.

While Manitou´s traditional heavy metal past isn´t completely gone from the music on "Entrance", they take a more progressive turn on this album. The music isn´t overtly technical (although there are plenty of tempo- and time signature changes featured on the album), and we´re predominantly treated to a more subtle type of progressive playing. Not completely unlike listening to a heavy metal oriented Fates Warning (1988-1990). The musicianship is generally on a very high level, and especially Øyvind Hægeland´s strong voice and vocal performance impress. His delivery here is very convincing (great harmonies too). His voice is reminiscent of Ray Adler´s voice, which further enhances the Fates Warning comparison I made above.

The music is guitar/vocal driven progressive metal with only sparse and subtle use of keyboards, which places "Entrance" in a 1980s progressive metal tradition rather than a 1990s ditto. While the guitars and vocals take a lot of focus, the rhythm section are very strong playing too, and definitely worth a mention. The sound production is clear, detailed, and professional, but as a consequence of the instrumentation, which doesn´t feature many layers, there are times during the playing time, when the mix sounds a bit empty. It´s a minor issue though, and most of the time, the music sounds fine.

The 11 track, 71:49 minutes long album is a quality release through and through, although it´s slightly too long for it´s own good. But then again I can understand the motivation behind releasing as much material as possible, when you´ve waited 10 years to release your debut album. It´s not the most original sounding progressive metal album and considering it was released in 1995, it sounds slightly dated, but to fans of 1980s progressive metal this should be a real treat. a 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

THE FACELESS Akeldama

Album · 2006 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 3.77 | 12 ratings
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Sea Whisperer
THE FACELESS is a Technical Death metal band from Encino, California, founded by guitarist Michael Keene and bassist Brandon Giffin in 2004. Their debut album “Akeldama” (“Field of blood” in Aramaic), released in 2006, turned out to be very mature and well-written work, showing immense potential of the collective.

To say that music on “Akeldama” is diverse is to make an understatement. This album can serve as an encyclopedia of technical extreme metal, incorporating almost any trick from its arsenal you can think of. Differently sounding parts replace each other in quick succession. At one moment we hear NILE-like tremolo riffs with recognizable oriental mood, at next – a NECROPHAGIST-styled part and then – Deathcore breakdowns. To keep all these different fragments consistent and prevent songs from falling apart is a difficult task by itself, but most of the time the band is capable to do just that, thanks to Michael Keene’s songwriting talents (and small length of the songs, I guess). Despite of being influenced by some colleagues from tech-death scene, on this album THE FACELESS already developed their own style – cascades of intricate riffs, rapid changes in rhythm and tempo, sudden stops, intense, aggressive drumming, very neat use of keyboards, providing additional coloration and depth of the music, and using both clean and harsh vocals.

Production of the album is amazing: guitar tone is thick and edgy, bass is audible, drums are clear and loud. Musicianship is impressive – from guest drummers’ great performance to spectacular guitar work by Michael Keene, who delivers tons of technically challenging riffs and several tasteful solos, without slipping to mindless shredding. Derek Rydquist’s vocals, both screaming and growling, fit music perfectly.

My personal favourites from this album are “Horizons of Chaos I: Oracle of the Onslaught”, starting and ending with a very memorable “flowing” riff, “Leica”, containing some cool harmonized solos (if Halloween played Technical Death metal, they would probably sound something like that), and a title track, a brilliant Fusion Metal instrumental (reminding of some songs by Counter-World Experience), featuring great solo parts by all players (especially Keene and the drummer) and dreamy atmosphere.

Summary: a very solid debut, complex and diverse, marking the beginning of the way of one of the most interesting Technical Death metal bands nowadays.

SAXON Thunderbolt

Album · 2018 · Traditional heavy metal
Cover art 4.50 | 2 ratings
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Nightfly
For many it will always be those early albums like Wheels Of steel, Strong Arm Of The Law and Denim And Leather that define Saxon’s status as one of the UK’s greatest heavy metal bands. In truth though, apart from a few glitches along the way, mainly late 80’s, Saxon have been churning out high quality metal albums all the way with some even matching those early classics like 2015’s Battering Ram.

Thunderbolt is another winner with the band on fine form aided by an in your face production, a bit more organic sounding than the last one, Battering Ram. It’s the usual mixture of fast and mid paced traditional metal with the occasional slow one (Sons Of Odin) full of compelling guitar riffs that hit hard and immediately with minimum fuss. The title track is a killer as is the Motorhead tribute They Played Rock and Roll – both Saxon at their up tempo best. I’ve always liked Nigel Glockler’s inventive drumming who as usual drives the band with mechanical precision. Biff Byford is still on incredibly fine vocal form, especially for a man of his age and has only lost a bit of his range over the years. He brings in Amon Amarth vocalist Johan Hegg on Predator for a bit of growl assistance but he can’t hold a candle to Biff. It’s all good stuff with only Roadies’ Song being a bit under par but even that in a lesser bands hands would be considered a success.

Overall then Thunderbolt is another great album to add to Saxon’s already impressive discography that any fan of the band is sure to be delighted with.

MEGADETH Countdown to Extinction

Album · 1992 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.80 | 114 ratings
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martindavey87
Hot off the heels of one of thrash metals most revered albums, 1990's 'Rust in Peace', Megadeth slowly started to inch away from the subgenre that they helped to establish, and adapted a more stripped-down radio-friendly approach to their sound. Whether it was a step to ensure their survival amidst shifting musical trends, the next logical progression in the bands own evolution, or a shameless parallel to Dave Mustaine's former bandmates in Metallica, it was a change that ensured that Megadeth would remain one of the prominent names in heavy metal.

Changes aside, this is still instantly recognisable Megadeth, with Dave Mustaine's familiarly distinctive vocals, Marty Friedman's sleek and exotic guitar solos and the solid rhythm work of bassist David Ellefson and drummer Nick Menza. The compositions may have slowed down a notch in favour of more coherent songwriting and more traditional arrangements, but it still sounds like Megadeth through and through.

The only problem is that the songs themselves are not overly memorable.

Sure, there's some absolute Megadeth classics here, such as 'Skin o' My Teeth', 'Symphony of Destruction', 'Sweating Bullets' and 'Foreclosure of a Dream', and there's some underrated hidden gems such as 'Psychotron' and the title track, but there's also some fairly blatant filler material. Songs like 'High Speed Dirt', 'This Was My Life' and a few others do absolutely nothing for me.

'Countdown to Extinction' is regarded as a classic, and in fairness, despite my opinion of it, I won't argue the case. But for me, it's nothing more than a good album. It's got some Megadeth highlights, but its abundance of lacklustre material makes it tough for me to choose this over some of the bands other releases.

STATIC-X Wisconsin Death Trip

Album · 1999 · Industrial Metal
Cover art 3.70 | 10 ratings
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Unitron
"Speed toward hell, shed no tears"

By the end of the 90's, there was not an explosion of new fantastic industrial metal bands and albums like there was at the beginning of the decade. Treponem Pal had released their masterpiece "Higher" in '97, which would be their last album for about a decade, and Fear Factory and Rammstein were going strong. That was about it. However, come the year of 1999, and the industrial metal band Static-X unleashed their debut studio album Wisconsin Death Trip to the world.

Static-X brought their own fresh sound to the industrial metal scene, using a blend of the atmospheric heaviness of Fear Factory, the groove and catchiness of a Godflesh beat, and the pulsing EBM/Electro-Industrial of Front Line Assembly. Bringing together all the elements of what makes industrial music so great, while not copying any of these bands is what makes this album have such a winning sound.

As soon as the grooving "Push It" blasts through your speakers, this album doesn't let up until the ambient "December" closes out the album. This is perfect cyberpunk video game music, the kind of stuff that goes perfectly with a game of Quake II or even Doom. That's not to say that it doesn't work on it's own, quite the contrary. Take the mechanical screeching in "Push It" that emulate power drills, or the underlying atmosphere throughout the album, this embraces everything industrial.

Going back to the mention of cyber, the menacing "The Trance is the Motion" showcases an early example of the cyber metal sound. It may take place as my favorite on the album. It is engulfed in a stark atmosphere, screeching and down-tuned riffs, chaotic screams, and has a pretty epic vibe for being only 5 minutes long. Honestly, I think this song should have closed out the album rather than the slightly boring "December". Apart from that last song though, the rest of the album is all fantastic. Especially the songs dominated by a massive groove while keeping the futuristic atmosphere. "Stem", "Bled for Days", and the title track are in particular highlights.

Despite the highlights, this is an album that is meant to be listened to all the way through. Each song bleeds into the next, and makes for a good CD to turn on for any occasion that requires a surge of industrial metal goodness. This is a classic album of the industrial genre, and one that the band wouldn't match until 2007's Cannibal. Hope you found this review helpful, feel free to comment!

NIGHT RANGER Don't Let Up

Album · 2017 · Hard Rock
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
It's incredible to think that the debut Night Ranger album, 'Dawn Patrol' was released some thirty-five years before this one, yet Jack Blades (lead vocals, bass guitar), Brad Gillis (lead guitars) and Kelly Keagy (drums, lead vocals) are still there. Eric Levy joined on keyboards in 2011, while Keri Kelly (guitar) became a full member in 2014, although he had previously substituted for Joel Hoekstra. These guys were one of the original MTV darlings, selling millions of albums and releasing at least one bona fide classic single in "Sister Christian". They may not be hitting the charts like they used to, and their million-selling days are probably behind them, but that probably says more about the way that the music industry has changed as opposed to the music they are releasing.

The albums kicks off with "Somehow Someway", and it honestly sounds as if they are still as hungry for success as they were back when they started out. The guitars have just the right amount of edge and bite, the vocals are as solid as ever, and there is just hook after hook. I honestly think that it is impossible to play this album without a smile plastered right across your face as it is just one gem after another. I found that while writing the review I kept sitting back, listening to what was coming out of the speakers, and just really enjoying the music, and isn't that what it is all about when all is said and done? They may not be fashionable anymore, but this is a bloody great album, and don't let anyone tell you any different.

METATRONE Eucharismetal

Album · 2016 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
Metatrone started life as Metafora back in 1997, but some four years later keyboard player Davide Bruno decided that he wanted to become a priest. After much debate within the band, the decision was taken to change the name to Metatrone (which means "God is since now and forever"), and they started to write power-prog metal songs deeply inspired by a Christian Catholic view of life and human being. This 2016 album is their fourth studio album, and is a huge head and shoulders above anything else I have heard in the Christian music scene (although to be honest I do listen to way more Black Metal than I do White Metal). Some songs are in English, and some in Italian, but even though Jo Lombardo is a great singer, it is to the music that the ear is taken. The new rhythm section of Dino Fiorenza (bass, Billy Sheehan, Steve Vai, Paul Gilbert, John Macaluso)) and Salvo Grasso (drums, Hypersonic, DenieD) have slotted right in, and provide a heck of a platform for the rest to play against - some of the plucked bass runs are just amazing - and Davide and guitarist Stefano Calvagno have relished the opportunity.

Fast and furious with loads of interplay, one soon forgets that this is a Christian album and instead just relishes the opportunity to lose some dandruff. They have been kicking up a storm on the Christian festival circuit, but with this album they have pushed straight into the mainstream, and fans of the likes of Savatage and Angra should be seeking these guys out, no matter their view on religion.

KAMELOT The Fourth Legacy

Album · 1999 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.04 | 31 ratings
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martindavey87
Released in 2000, 'The Fourth Legacy' is the album which saw Kamelot rise to prominence as one of power metals most popular bands of the new millennium. Following on from 1998's 'Siege Perilous', which saw the debut of vocalist Roy Khan, the band's sound was starting to incorporate a heavy use of keyboards, which added some exotic and middle-eastern touches to the music.

The production has been massively improved upon as well, and it's this which has ushered in a new era for Kamelot. With a polished sound which does justice to the atmosphere and sense of storytelling the band are trying to set, 'The Fourth Legacy' is their best release to date. The musicianship is also much more confident than before. With faster, galloping riffs intertwined with some interesting keyboard melodies, the group are certainly headed in the right direction in all aspects but one...

Unfortunately, the compositions themselves are still a mixed bag. While there's some instant classics in the form of 'Until Kingdom Come', 'The Fourth Legacy', 'The Shadow of Uther' and 'The Inquisitor', the rest are fairly average at best. Certainly not anything overly memorable when compared to the bands later output.

'The Fourth Legacy' is a huge leap forward from the bands prior work, and while it still has its flaws, they're mostly overshadowed by the huge improvements in production and musicianship. At best, I could only say it's a decent album, but better things are definitely on the horizon.

VARIOUS ARTISTS (GENERAL) Speed Kills...But Who's Dying? - Volume 4 of the Ultimate In Thrash

Album · 1989 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 5.00 | 1 rating
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Vim Fuego
Young metal fans today have it easier than in days gone by for discovering new music. YouTube, Spotify, Facebook, websites, streaming, downloads, message boards... None of things existed until at the late 1990s at the very least. The young know not what they missed.

Back in a pre-internet time, communication was much slower, and information much harder to access. Music had a more limited number of formats. There was vinyl, which was inconvenient and easily damaged. Cassettes were more convenient, but were also prone to damage when tapes stretched and chewed, and had definite sound quality issues. CDs were new, and had great clarity of sound, but they were expensive. A lot of labels and bands could not afford to release material on CD, and CD players could cost as much as a second hand car. Live was the best way to hear a band, but if the bands didn’t come to your country, you’d never hear them.

Discovering new bands and new music was also trickier. Radio and TV were next to useless, a few notable exceptions excluded. Try explaining to a teen metal fan now the frustrations of trying to tune into a metal show at 11pm on a Sunday night, broadcast from a student radio station with less power than a lightbulb (I kid you not. The transmitter for 98RDU, my nearest student radio station had a 98 watt transmitter!). Trying to even get a barely recognisable signal involved orienting the radio in the right direction, fiddling with the aerial, and stringing bits of wire around the room as an antenna extension. And then if it was raining or windy, just forget it completely.

All in all, it was a pain in the fucking ass. It took a lot of effort, could cost a lot of money, and it was easy to miss things. So just imagine the satisfaction, and the near priapic joy, when you managed to discover something as magnificent as “Speed Kills...But Who's Dying?”

The Speed Kills series of compilations had been going since 1985 as a showcase of what was new in “speed metal” on the Under One Flag/Music For Nations label. Even in 1985 with the release of the first compilation the title was already out of date. Through licensing deals and the label’s own releases, that album featured Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, Venom, Voivod, Celtic Frost, and a number of other early thrash metal bands, with only a couple of genuine speed metal tracks, but there was little distinction made in those days. Basically, it was metal, it was fast, and it was well outside the mainstream.

By 1989 with the release of the fourth album in the series, “Speed Kills...But Who's Dying?” underground metal was becoming a little more fragmented. Death metal, black metal, and grindcore were all starting to emerge as distinct subgenres. The likes of Metallica and Megadeth were on the cusp of mainstream success, and would never again be seen on a compilation like this. So what was left? An outsider who knew little of metal would probably call “Speed Kills...But Who's Dying?” second rate, or second tier, but this compilation isn’t for them. This is for the true fans, those who want to dig deeper, to a place where commercial success does not equate to quality. This is for people who wanted to explore the deeper dungeons of thrash metal, rather than just leaping about the parapets of the Big Four.

There are endless arguments about who comes next after the legendary Big Four. Cases can be made for Testament, Overkill, Kreator (which forgets Germany had its OWN Big Three/Four), or the first band on this compilation, Exodus. Long may these good, friendly, violent discussions continue, but don’t forget the music. The song “Parasite” is one of the stronger tracks from Exodus’ second and ultimately flawed album “Pleasures of the Flesh”. It has all the Exodus trademarks which marked them for metal stardom - heavy riffs, shredding solos, Steve Souza’s sharp shout, intelligent lyrics, and it’s just a fucking good song.

Re-Animator were marked for big things too. While history has proved otherwise for the band, “Deny Reality” is a great technical song, and arguably the best the band ever recorded. Unfortunately, Re-Animator couldn’t maintain such a high level of song writing throughout their career, and faded out in the early 1990s.

Apocalypse’s “Cemetery” has a melody to die for, a big facet of thrash metal often overlooked in the race for faster/heavier. The singalong gang vocal refrains are irresistible.

Blind Illusion’s “Blood Shower” has a building menace, and featured a pre-Primus Les Claypool and Larry LaLonde. Mark Biedermann’s vocals have a shredded throat edge, and the twin harmonic/disharmonic guitars were something not used near enough in thrash.

Acid Reign’s “Life in Forms” is a tirade against bureaucracy. Seem like a boring subject for a song? Listen to this killer before you dismiss it. The mid-pace chug of this song is unbelievably heavy, and H’s clear vocals are a treat.

Death’s “Open Casket” was definitive death metal in it’s day. The album “Leprosy” from which this song was taken proved death metal didn’t have to be a gargled mess, and riffs, solos, and non-gore based lyrics could still be brutal as fuck.

“No Resurrection” by Holy Terror is an anti-Christian diatribe, with tornado guitars and vocals. Holy Terror was a bit much for many thrash fans at the time, but looking back, it’s now plainly obvious why this band has since attained cult status.

“For All Those Who Died” by Bathory is dramatic and brutal, yet atmospheric and uplifting at the same time. The incredibly simple beat and riffs underscored Quorthon’s roared vocals. The discordant, seemingly out of time solo snakes its way over top of the song, with every element of the song seemingly redlining into static.

And on to side two. Yes, this is one of those old “you gotta turn it over” things. “Wired” is far from a typical Nuclear Assault song. The NYHC influence is less obvious than in their earlier material, basically because this is so damn slow. The vocals are near on impossible to decipher on a first listen, like listening to a foreign language you are still in the process of learning. The effect is odd, and definitely original, but it’s not off-putting.

“Execution of Mankind” by Agony is the only misfire on the album. It’s too long and doesn’t really engage like the rest of the songs here, but like “Wired”, it adds a bit of contrast to the faster songs here. It’s not necessarily a bad song, it’s just not as good as everything else on here.

“Mirror of the Past” by Hexx is a nasty little song, possessing a quantity of venom and bile. Clint Bower’s vicious vocals have a hardcore edge to them, and almost cross over into death metal territory.

Exodus pop up next, for a second appearance, this time a cover of AC/DC’s “Overdose”. The song was a bonus track on some versions of “Fabulous Disaster”. Zetro does a great Bon Scott vocal impression. This version retains the blues rock groove of the original, while adding thrash flourishes to it, and of course, is orders of magnitude heavier.

Forbidden’s “Chalice of Blood” is a masterclass in technical thrash. The twin lead guitars weave in and out of one another, all the while showcasing some incredible riffs, and Russ Anderson’s melodic yet powerful voice soars over it.

Death/thrash pioneers Possessed showed there was more to their repertoire than just Satan. “Storm in my Mind” is a psychological maelstrom, creeping along creating a sense of impending chaos. And the chaos hits, like a psychotic brainstorm of confused neural signals. This band is legendary, and this shows why.

At their peak, Dark Angel was the only band in all of thrash to be able to rival Slayer for intensity and sheer shit-your-pants horror. “The Death of Innocence” is a whirlwind song with a far nastier tone than anything else here, and is probably harder for a new thrash fan to digest than even Death or Bathory.

How to follow Dark Angel? Change direction and tempo completely. Final track “Suspended Sentence” shows once again Acid Reign’s lyrical intelligence and great sense of song dynamics. It rumbles and chugs along at a slow canter, but occasionally gallops off into a blast beat. The song has some seriously thought-provoking lyrics about murder, the moment before death, and the price of a life.

All in all, this album is 73 minutes of near metal perfection. It is the perfect basecamp for starting a wider exploration of thrash. It is also an incredibly accurate time capsule of a genre from a time since past, the original spirit preserved here for posterity in a format now almost extinct. This is how it was.

PORTAL Ion

Album · 2018 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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siLLy puPPy
The stygian band PORTAL has emerged from its secret Australian outpost after a five year gap following their previous release “Vexovoid” (which ironically has already spawned a new band with that name). Following in the footsteps of their extreme surreality that some call avant-garde blackened death metal comes the followup ION which continues the brash brutality fix that they have been known for since the beginning. While their influences may have emerged from Morbid Angel, Beherit and Immolation, PORTAL have long since found their own comfort zone of death metal reality to call their own by becoming one with a parallel musical reality that sounds as if they are somehow trapped between a hyperdrive dimensional shift and in the process something went really, really wrong. Drowned in darkness and delivered in dense undulating waves of sonic fury, ION finds PORTAL churning out their most frenetic and brutal release to date.

As the intro track “Nth” slinks into existence as if a subtle hazy brume has wafted into your room, the ghostly fortifications of muffled tortured screams emulate with backmasked effects creating a dark ambient horrorshow soundtrack and thus insinuating a return to the impenetrable layers of atmospheric darkness that had created their wickedly new realm for extreme tech death metal. However, as the first blistering notes of “ESP ION AGE” rage into the scene, we are confronted with a new interdimensional rage and fury usually reserved for only the most brutal of death metal beasts more often heard in bands like Suffocation, however the angular nature and complete detachment from traditional old school standards allows a sepulchral wall of sound that allows each wailing formless riff to pierce the soul like a dagger flaying a adrenaline fueled beating heart. Add the pummeling relentless percussive overdrive with groaning guttural growls and the divinity of chaos has been reached.

The name ION is a fitting title if you know chemistry. An ION is an atom or a molecule with a non-zero net electrical charge, meaning it is either positive or negative and very susceptible to energy changes thus creating a potential for massive instability. As such PORTAL have constructed the perfect soundtrack for a state of energy easily activated by entropic changes and thus erratic and unpredictable shifts in magnetic fields. The noises emerging from the freneticism of the guitar, bass and drums are tantamount to the ionizing effect of a built up electrical charge bolting down from the thundering skies above with pulverizing consequences for any hapless atoms in the line of fire. PORTAL simulates the same sort of lightning bolt reality with jagged undulating waves of sound that capture brutal metal instrumentation in flux with atmospheric dungeony bleakness.

PORTAL remains an enigmatic and mysterious beast. Graced with faced masks and alter egos (such as The Curator on vocals and Horror Illogium on lead guitar), the band more than lives up to this alienating image with the brutal angularity and interdimensional avant-garde compositional constructs of ION. Once the dark ambient intro cedes into the frenetic chaotic metal meltdown the album remains relentless in its caustic between-realities surrealism that culminates in the harsh noise sonic terrorism of the instrumental “Spores” and then after one more shovel in the face with “Phathom” ends the album with the psychically damaging metaphysical dark ambient horror theme outro of “Old Guarde.”

While many tech death bands try to deliver the goods by creating sonic impressions of otherworldly atmospheres and moods, nobody does it quite like PORTAL. Perhaps the strange landscapes of their land down under have given them an alternative view on reality where their angular riffs shape shift like restless sands in the great deserts that cover most of their homeland. Whatever the case, PORTAL have perfected their sonic surrealistic terrorism with nine undulating tracks that despite sounding like no other band, remain utterly distinct from each other as one seemingly formless riff frenzy somehow ekes out a series of recognizable patterns that barely allow it to be classified as music as if the band are in the process of creating a whole new grammatical paradigm for death metal. One that the listener learn this new diabolical language and lexicon before being admitted to the club. Yes, this is an acquired taste reserved for only the seekers of the most technical sort of earache music possible, but if that’s what you crave, PORTAL delivers like a charm.

ENSLAVED E

Album · 2017 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.14 | 9 ratings
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UMUR
"E" is the 14th full-length studio album by Norwegian progressive black metal act Enslaved. The album was released through Nuclear Blast Records in October 2017. It´s the successor to "In Times" from 2015 and there´s been one lineup change since the predecessor as keyboard player/(clean) vocalist Herbrand Larsen has left Enslaved and has been replaced by Håkon Vinje. It´s actually the first lineup change since "Isa (2004)" so Enslaved have enjoyed quite a few years and album releases with a steady lineup.

Stylistically the material on "E" continue the progressive black metal sound that Enslaved have played and developed upon over now many years and albums, but it particularly has many similarities to RIITIIR (2012) and "In Times (2015)", which is of course only natural, as they are the two direct predecessors to this release. So the progressive elements of the band´s sound are dominant, while their black metal side is more subdued in the soundscape. The change on the clean vocal spot doesn´t make a major impact as Vinje doesn´t have a voice that is much different from Larsen´s ditto (they both have pretty regular non distinct sounding voices and vocal styles), and the vocal melodies haven´t changed much either. Grutle Kjellson predominantly uses his raspy black metal vocal style but occassionaly uses a more death metal type growling vocal style, so the vocal department of the album is fairly diverse.

The instrumental part of the music can be described as varied too. Heavy riffs, mellow atmospheric sections, guitars harmonies, skillfully played guitar solos, a solid rhythm section, which mostly keeps a mid-paced tempo, but occasionally speeds things up, and an omnipresence of keyboards. Predominantly organ and mellotron/string sounds. The material are generally well written and quite intriguing with great dynamic between mellow sections and louder more heavy sections. The album features an epic atmosphere and Enslaved cleverly navigate the listener through both dark and lighter emotions. The album features 6 tracks and a full playing time of 49:45 minutes, but it´s recommedable to seek out the limited edition version which features the two bonus tracks "Djupet" and "What Else Is There?". The latter is a cover of fellow countrymen Röyksopp and it´s interesting to hear how well Enslaved handle what is originally an electronic oriented pop song. "Djupet" is a great quality track too.

The musicianship is as always on a high level and Enslaved have clearly reached a point in their career where they are very confident in their performances. "E" features a clearly defined and powerful sounding production. Where the two predecessors featured relatively similar sounding production jobs, "E" features a more "dry" and clear sounding production. It´s a well sounding album but a slightly more organic sounding production would probably have suited the material a little better.

Upon conclusion "E" is another high quality release by Enslaved, which as such isn´t surprising given the many, many high quality releases in the band´s discography, but to my ears it´s a slight step down from the last couple of releases. Probably mostly because I don´t hear much development (the saxophone on "Hiindsiight" is a nice progressive element though) or that many standout tracks on the album (I´d mention the two tracks "Storm Son" and "Hiindsiight", which bookend the album, as some of the highlights), but on the other hand it´s a consistent album both when it comes to quality and style. A 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

METALLICA St. Anger

Album · 2003 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 1.79 | 118 ratings
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Necrotica
St. Anger is a bad album. St. Anger has no solos. St. Anger has irritating and off-key vocals from James Hetfield. St. Anger has an horrible-sounding snare drum. But none of these points are a revelation, clearly. We’ve all heard these criticisms uttered countless times, and Metallica fans often point to it first (well, either this or Lulu) when they talk about the band losing their touch. It’s gotten to the point that other bands’ failures - such as Morbid Angel’s Illud Divinum Insanus and now Machine Head’s new album Catharsis - are being considered their respective artists’ versions of St. Anger. Indeed, it has that reputation. So why am I even bringing any of this stuff up?

Because I want to focus on intent. One quote from James Hetfield really struck me: “St. Anger is just the best we can do right now.” If you’ve never checked out the background behind the album (see: Some Kind of Monster), the history behind its conception is one giant shit-show. Jason Newsted left the band, James Hetfield was going into rehab as his alcoholism reached its breaking point, the band received backlash due to a lawsuit with Napster, and the group even hired a therapist to help them with their emotional struggles. But what’s even more important is that St. Anger was intended as a return to Metallica’s garage band roots, which explains the lack of solos. In Kirk Hammett’s words: "We wanted to preserve the sound of all four of us in a room just jamming.” As butchered and broken as the final product sounds, I can’t stress how much of a passionate piece of music the whole thing is. It’s such a deliberate attempt to avoid the mainstream hard rock trappings of Load and ReLoad to capture something from their distant past, and that’s where my admiration for it truly comes from. Many of us were in a shitty garage band back in our youths, sounding like ass but thinking we were true badasses as we played covers of our favorite bands. Hell, I was in one of those shitty bands myself! I briefly sang in a short-lived rock band in my junior year of high school, belting out such classics as “Seven Nation Army” and “Beast and the Harlot.” I don’t really talk to my old bandmates anymore, but those memories are always going to be part of me no matter where I go. For better or for worse (well, certainly for worse, but still…), St. Anger gives me the same feelings.

The album has a distinct fury and aggression that seem genuine, stemming from the band’s actual struggles and frustrations in their personal lives. Metallica was a very broken band at the time, and sometimes the best way to reboot your career is to start from ground zero and rebuild your sound from there. St. Anger is ground zero, much like the band’s pre-Kill ‘Em All days were their original ground zero. This is Metallica in their purest, most unhinged form. It may be ugly, badly written, and just fucking horrible in its overall presentation, but it also holds a place in my heart because of the exact same reasons. This is an awful, messed up, glorious, phenomenal disaster.

INCUBUS (CA) Morning View

Album · 2001 · Hard Rock
Cover art 4.77 | 6 ratings
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Necrotica
From time to time, you have that certain album that just defines you. Whether it’s from the standpoint of location, personal history, or correlation with friends, some music becomes an extension of our personalities and identity. And with this particular record, we’re talking about a piece of music that introduced me to an entirely new world (figuratively speaking). Not only is Morning View a beautiful throwback to my extensive history in California, but it was basically the impetus to alternative rock becoming one of my all-time favorite genres. This was a serious game-changer upon first listen, and every subsequent listen just revealed more manifold layers of meaning and technical prowess. Even today, it’s hard not to be impressed by how many levels Morning View entertains and impresses on.

But let’s backtrack for a second. Earlier on, I stated the album is “a beautiful throwback to my extensive history in California,” and that doesn’t just apply to my own history with the record. This applies to the sound as well. There’s a distinct vibe Morning View brings out, one of waves and sunny skies. Even in its most heavy and distorted moments (and there are several, as the album still warrants the “alternative metal” tag), a calm zen-like atmosphere still reigns supreme with this experience; it’s meditative and tends to ebb and flow like the aural representation of a quiet ocean. But that’s not a knock against the diversity that Incubus brings to the table… in fact, this might just be their strongest balance of soft and heavy elements to date. Whereas S.C.I.E.N.C.E. wore its eccentric influences on its sleeve (although in some incredibly cool ways) and Make Yourself still carried over some faint traces of the band’s nu-metal roots, Morning View just feels like a more centered and balanced piece of work. It’s often gorgeous, such as the pipa-driven ebbs and flows of the oriental ballad “Aqueous Transmission” or the delicate clean-guitar intro to the expansive power ballad “Just a Phase.” But these moments are almost always offset by the strident, heavy power chords that define many of the other numbers here. Opener “Nice to Know You” doesn’t take much time making itself known, storming the speakers with a crunchy Drop-D riff that really sets the mood for the album to come. “Circles” is even more intense, immediately diving into a groove that’s almost impossible not to headbang to - even in the most melodious moments of the piece. But when the fantastic power ballad “Wish You Were Here” comes in, we get a lot more perspective on the album’s strengths. Basically, it’s all a yin/yang thing. Both extremes are respectful of each other and don’t interfere with each others’ boundaries.

If anything, many of the heavy moments are used as building blocks on the quiet foundations, performing in a fashion not unlike a good deal of post-metal. There are certainly short bursts that come around, such as the metallic banger “Have You Ever,” but much of Morning View’s beauty lies in how the dynamics blend. It lies in how each volume level communicates with one other to get to the finish line, much like how instruments “talk” to one another in improvisational jazz music. Perhaps the reason this album was so resonant with me was because it taught me the importance of atmosphere and how it can be created. In both concept and execution, Morning View is a true cornerstone as far as combining atmosphere with songcraft goes. It simulates the crashing of the California waves and the serenity of an empty beach with its own interpretations, giving us powerful slabs of alternative metal with strong doses of melody and expansive arrangements. Even one of the tightest, funkiest songs on here, “Are You In,” compliments its catchy groove with a laid-back and peaceful vibe that fits the rest of the tracklist. And really, that’s what Morning View gives me every time I hear it: peace. Relaxation. Ease. It feels like a burden being lifted off the shoulders and into the ocean. It sounds like a spiritual and mental cleansing. And it plays like the best moments of one’s past returning in an overwhelming emotional release. This is musical rejuvenation.

DOL AMMAD Star Tales

Album · 2004 · Symphonic Metal
Cover art 3.94 | 3 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
Having named his project after a fuel refinery in the Descent 3 computer game, Greek keyboard wizard Thanasis Lightbridge decided to take the electronic influences of Jean Michel Jarre and Vangelis to new heights when he formed his experimental avant-garde metal band DOL AMMAD in 2000. After churning out a couple demos he recorded a full debut album titled STAR TALES which took a few cues from Therion’s “Theli” and expanded the roles of the electronica involved. STAR TALES consists of four musicians cranking out the usual rock instruments which includes guitars, drums, bass and synthesizers but following in the footsteps of the Swedes is the addition of the 12-piece Europa Choir consisting equally of men and women covering the whole range from bass all the way up to soprano. The album could loosely be called electronic opera metal as it contains a number of swirling electronic effects, the choir adding a wide range of vocal nuances which are all accompanied by heavy metal guitar riffing. Unlike Therion, Thanasis never came from a metal background so in effect DOL AMMAD sounds more like an electronic opera album that happens to have metal involved rather than the other way around.

This album is busy and bombastic to say the least. The album focuses on strong epic melodic developments that groove on into more complex pieces. The scales are somewhat classical in nature as to add the most effectiveness for the opera performers. The symphonic touches heavily fortify the overall glut of sounds with different synthesizer sounds oozing around and wriggling about like a million landed eels after a coastal tsunami. The music rather resembles the artwork that graces the cover with a busy layout of electronica and vocalizations doing gymnastics around each other while the metal sequences chug along in a rather mundane fashion. Unlike Therion there are never really any major metal outbursts as the heavy guitar distortion remains subordinate to the airy swirl of synthesizers and vocals. The whole idea of electronica art metal is quite the unexplored idea to say the least and one that is demanding as to keep up with all the different parts, however the simple rhythmic drives guarantees you can tune in and out of the deeper constructs at will without missing a beat.

What’s even stranger is that despite 12 choir members belting out notes in varying timbres and dynamics, this appears to be completely wordless and nothing more than a series of ooo-ing and aah-ing in what sounds like some sort of ritualistic summoning of Zeus and the god gang from far above. There is a flighty spaced out effect from the constant plethora of vocalizations with the treble section winning out because the bass and tenor tend to get melded with the metal instrumentation. While the overall mood is quite consistent throughout the slightly over hour listening experience, the tracks are varied enough to keep a sustained listened and there are purely electronic intros and overtures to change things up from time to time. This is certainly a grandiose and overweening production job that must have taken forever to mix in the perfect way and for that it is utterly amazing along with other twists and turns that include ethnic percussion sections and angelic harps just to name a few.

While the whole thing comes off to me as some sort of epic video game soundtrack as i can picture different scenarios where a player is fighting the gods in chariots in the sky or some sort, the music is sophisticated enough to hold up on its own two feet. While certainly not for the faint of heart and the bane for those who cannot decipher subtleties between a ridiculous amount of sonic elements, the music overall comes across on many levels depending on how deeply one wishes to focus therefore it is equally compelling as background music as it is a contemplative active experience. For the most part, this is a relentless hyperactive driven album with galloping guitar riffs surrounded by zooming synth parts swirling about in every direction but when it all slows down and the metal drops out, it becomes a progressive electronic heavenly experience. While often compared to Therion, and rightly so is a direct lineage, DOL AMMAD takes the whole concept of operatic metal to a completely different universe and one that i really love to visit.

IN THIS MOMENT Black Widow

Album · 2014 · Alternative Metal
Cover art 4.54 | 3 ratings
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lsIandofDomination
In This Moment has come a long way, first starting out as a melodic metalcore band but soon ditching that sound for more of a gothic-industrial metal feel such as presented on their fifth studio album, Black Widow. While this album may turn some older fans away with the stylistic change and partially sexual lyrics, but it's sure to bring in new fans. Black Widow is an energetic, angry, and emotional experience that will more than likely relate to anybody in some way. The album starts with an eerie intro entitled "The Infection" before jumping into "Sex Metal Barbie", a fun pop inspired industrial metal song addressing the hypocrisy of the sexist and rude comments made towards frontwoman Maria Brink. "Big Bad Wolf" holds a 90's/early 2000's nu-metal sound as well as being heavy and headbanging inducing, as it ends we're then introduced to a rather calm, catchy, empowering, Marilyn Manson-esque track entitled "Dirty Pretty", which is one of the main highlights of the album. The song's intro is sampled from old television commercials, as well as the next track having an intro sampled from a documentary of the black widow spider, which brings us to the title track.

"Black Widow" is another highlight, a fun and energetic song that never gets tiring. "Sexual Hallucination" and "Bloody Creature Poster Girl" are growers, one might not like them very much for having too much of a pop influence, but afterwards both tracks become enjoyable. "Sexual Hallucination" actually features Shinedown's Brent Smith, and his voice really compliments Maria's. "Sick Like Me" is perhaps the best song on this album. It's beautiful, melodic, heavy, and just a great song altogether. "The Fighter", "Bones", and "Natural Born Sinner" are all also worth mentioning. All three songs are emotional and inspirational, "The Fighter" is about rising above from hate and proving that you are strong, "Bones" is quite similar though it also seems to deal with the loss of a loved one, and "Natural Born Sinner" supports the LGBTQ+ community. After an interlude titled "Into the Darkness", it brings to the final tearjerking track - "Out of Hell".

In "Out of Hell", there's no guitars provided by Chris and Randy, no bass provided by Travis, and no drums provided by Tom Hane, but rather it's just Maria and her piano. The song is about the everyday struggles people go through and how they shouldn't feel alone, as they'll always have someone there for them. Overall, Black Widow is a phenomenal album. It may not be In This Moment's absolute best album, but it's definitely close.

Best tracks: Big Bad Wolf, Dirty Pretty, Black Widow, Sick Like Me, Natural Born Sinner, Bones, The Fighter, and Out of Hell

ENTOMBED Left Hand Path

Album · 1990 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.15 | 24 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
Emerging from the festering swamps somewhere around present day Stockholm, the band that began under the name Nihillist which had pumped out a few demos switched gears after a couple years in the late 80s and redesigned themselves as ENTOMBED. As one of the pioneers of early Swedish death metal, ENTOMBED was riding the old school first wave along with contemporaries Dismember, Grave and Unleashed, thus making them one of the “big four” of that particular scene. While developing a unique style that has been retrospectively designated “death’n’roll,” ENTOMBED began very much a fully fueled death metal band as heard on their debut release LEFT HAND PATH which found the band creating a unique sound that has been very influential. What ENTOMBED did was fairly revolutionary for the day. They in effect took the punk infused grindcore energy and distortion overload and married it with the more thoughtful heavy constructs of bands like Death, Obituary and Morbid Angel which immediately changed the course of the entire death metal scene which from this moment would raise the bar.

The title comes from a term in Anton LaVey’s “The Satanic Bible” and lyrically the band engaged in some of the earliest forms of shock and awe with words drenched in dark misanthropy and baleful anti-religious disdain. ENTOMBED were also famous for ushering in some of the earliest buzzsaw guitar sounds which ironically along with the Satanic influences from early Celtic Frost and Slayer would find their home in the second wave of black metal and quickly disappear from the death metal scene from whence they spawned. Even ENTOMBED themselves quickly changed gears after LEFT HAND PATH and deemphasized the Satanic aspects of their music and began shifting to the new style of death’n’roll which they would also have a hand in raising the bar. While moving on quickly from their debut, LEFT HAND PATH became the blueprint for the multitude of old school death metal bands to build upon whether it be the Floridian branch of the scene or the Gothenburg melodic enterprise.

LEFT HAND PATH is a journey into distortion hell where the heavy detuned guitar chords pummel the senses with feedback and fuzz on steroids that were the result of Peavey amp abuse and customized guitar string torture. While not the first purveyor of heavy death themed thrash metal turned bad, ENTOMBED were one of the innovative few from Sweden who steered the genre in a new direction with a different style of composition that retained some of the features of old school rock’n’roll and 80s heavy metal while bands like Morbid Angel were becoming detached from those styles and veering into more surreal territories. ENTOMBED was in effect fundamentally responsible for putting Sweden on the map in the upcoming burgeoning death metal scene. Graced with eerie atmospheres and the tortured possessed vocal style of Lars-Göran Petrov, LEFT HAND PATH not only sounds like a depraved psychopath’s holiday but has moments of melodic beauty with graceful solos wisping away amongst the cacophonous din as if a dove had flown into a dark cave full of rabid bats.

Stylistically LEFT HAND PATH is a fairly monotonous listen which is the reason it took me so long to warm up to it. I have always been more partial to the albums that follow such as “Clandestine” and “Wolverine Blues,” but persistence has paid off and the secrets that are locked up behind the wall of sound have finally unleashed their presence upon me. While similar in style, structure and tone, ENTOMBED employed a rather unique method of song construct that allowed an interesting free form songwriting process. Try to predict where any of these tracks will lead and you will only go astray. The ten tracks on LEFT HAND PATH may sound similar upon first listen but careful listening will reveal how different they are when it comes to the different segments that are stitched together to create them. This is early death metal for sure. There are yet no blastbeat drum outbursts and the guitar squeals don’t rival contemporaries like Morbid Angel. Instead ENTOMBED unleashed a frightening murky mix of sonic assault with a few atmospheric keyboard embellishments to create a morbid mood setting rather than technical prowess. While it has taken me a while to fully appreciate the innovation that LEFT HAND PATH unleashed unto the world, i have to admit that once it sunk in, it has comfortable dug itself deep into me in ways unexpected.

EXTREME Extreme II: Pornograffitti

Album · 1990 · Funk Metal
Cover art 4.04 | 30 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
After catching the attention of the metal scene with their eponymous debut mostly due to the guitar wizardry antics of Nuno Bettencourt as well as the childhood themed syncopated funky metal sound that even got the track “Play With Me” included in a couple films including “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure”, EXTREME rode the momentum and cranked out their second album EXTREME II: PORNOGRAFFITTI which technically is followed by (A FUNKED UP FAIRY TALE) but absolutely nobody including me knew that it was the case and seems a little excessive actually. The band found huge success with this album as it cashed in just before the total collapse of the glam metal scene that was increasingly becoming more cheesy pop than metal. PORNOGRAFFITTI is no exception to that trend however EXTREME carried out the marriage of glam metal and cheesy pop with more sophistication than say Poison, Warrant or other kitschy purveyors of cheese of the day. Add to that the funk infused compositions and they were ready for primetime.

Nuno Bettencourt was a bona fide guitar hero of the day with technical chops so bold and daring that he was admitted into the big boys club that included the neoclassical greats such as Randy Rhoads, Yngwie Malmsteem and Steve Vai. His sophisticated riffing and soloing sequences were the wet dreams of guitarists of the day and he was admittedly brilliant in juxtaposing extreme speed and seemingly improvised techniques into some of the catchiest pop infused melodies in all of 80s metal. On the pop metal side of the equation, the band wrote some incredibly catchy funk metal tunes with addictive multi-part harmonies and ear worm quality melodies that the public ate up which catapulted the album all the way to the #10 position on the Billboard charts and earning them a double platinum release.

To say the least, PORNOGRAFFITTI is quite a diverse release however the tracks basically fall into two categories. The heavy funk metal rockers that display the assiduous riffing with funky syncopation and include extraordinary complex soloing and then… there are the others. The remaining tracks are softer, sweeter and more pop oriented. These tracks include the huge #1 hit “More Than Words” which was basically a duet between vocalist Gary Cherone and guitarist Nuno Bettencourt playing on an acoustic guitar. The track was so friggin’ popular during the day that it created a very unique situation in all of metal history that had 80 year old grandmothers lining up at record stores to buy a mostly metal album based upon the one song that touched them like grandpa never did! They most likely assumed that this was some new version of Simon & Garfunkel which led record store employees to have to convince them to buy the single rather than the album!

The followup single “Hole Hearted” was also a huge hit peaking at #4 on the charts. While also an acoustic number, this one sounded more like Supertramp’s “Give A Little Bit” as it was based on a 12 string guitar with an upbeat mid-tempo stomp sort of groove. Also on the album is a totally left-field turn in the form of “When I First Kissed You” which is a cheesy synthesized Frank Sinatra type of tune that showcases Cherone’s gift for crooning. Given that these mellower pop tracks were so popular makes me realize that Cherone was actually a better crooner on ballads than heavy rock vocalist because when he rocks out he sounds a lot like Paul Stanley of KISS while on ballads like this he displays more sophisticated subtleties. Sometimes on the heavier tracks his vocals just didn’t fit the bill but he always got the job done.

Lyrically speaking, the band utilized the same sort of childhood fantasies laced with nursery rhymes as heard on the debut such as on tracks like “Li’l Jack Horny” and “When I’m President” but on PORNOGRAFFITTI they also developed a sense of political satire as heard in the title track, “Get The Funk Out,” “Money (in God We Trust)” and “He-Man Woman Hater,” the latter of which opens with an outstanding display of Bettencourt’s sizzling guitar playing virtuosity before breaking into the main song. Some of the tracks are head scratchers like the lyrically WTF moment on “Suzi (Wants Her All Day What?)” which are the lyrics followed by “Suzie wants her all day sucker.” Perhaps the biggest cheesefest on the album comes in the form of “Song For Love” which is a rather hilarious sort of kumbaya moment where hippie ideals unite with sunshine pop embellished with metal backings. Pretty funny but amazingly addictive at the same time!

PORNOGRAFFITTI portended quite a few trends in the music scene that were about to unfold. Firstly, this album was perhaps the death knell for the glam metal world that was about to get dethroned by the grunge scene once Nirvana’s “Nevermind” hit the market. While glam metal of the 80s started out with a raw and gritty sound as heard on Motley Crue’s earliest albums, throughout the MTV years it continued to get more and more infused with cheesy pop hooks and uninspired ballads that eroded its credibility. While bands like W.A.S.P. and Guns N Roses gave it some sense of legitimacy, EXTREME’s “More Than Words” went the final step and completely eliminated any trace of hard rock or metal altogether resulting in nothing but a Simon & Garfunkel sing along type of guitar and vocal piece. While well performed, it didn’t exactly sit well with metalheads of the day.

Secondly, the funk metal scene and genre mixing would catch on with the ultimate culmination resulting in Mr. Bungle’s debut album the following year. While EXTREME may have been on to something as they saw the signs of a burgeoning alternative approach to metal brewing all around them, unfortunately they latched on to the most loathed aspects of the glam metal scene which would be their ultimate undoing. Personally, despite the negatives of PORNOGRAFFITTI, i actually find the compositions to be brilliant and the lyrics, while cheesy much of the time, are lighthearted and don’t irritate me like they seem to do to others. Perhaps the only problem i have with PORNOGRAFFITTI is that EXTREME are trying too hard to be too many different things and haven’t quite found their unique signature sound as they would on the followup “III Sides To Every Story.” Still though, this is a fun little spin that i’ve listened to a ridiculous number of times. While the production of the original is a little sucky, the newer remastered version makes up for it and possible the one to check out.

SONATA ARCTICA Ecliptica - Revisited: 15th Anniversary Edition

Album · 2014 · Power Metal
Cover art 3.91 | 8 ratings
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martindavey87
Sonata Arctica's debut, 'Ecliptica', was originally released in 1999, and came at just the right time to establish them as one of the top names amongst a new generation of power metal bands that implemented both progressive and symphonic elements. With its energetic guitar riffs, majestic keyboard melodies and impressive vocal performances, it was an incredible album that still holds up to this day.

So why did they decide to re-record it fifteen years later?

2014's 'Ecliptica - Revisited' hasn't really added anything new, and really doesn't serve any purpose. Other than some very slight alterations to the arrangements, the only real difference is that the songs have been detuned or the vocals have been changed to suit vocalist Tony Kakko's aging voice.

The songs are still good, don't get me wrong, but the original 'Ecliptica' had a youthful enthusiasm that this updated version lacks, and this also heralds the third studio recording of the track 'Replica', which we really didn't need. The original version remains not only one of my favourite Sonata Arctica songs, but one of my favourite songs period, and after a 2006 re-recording, we could have done without a 2014 update.

Still, I'll give this release credit for one thing, and that's an absolutely banging cover of the Genesis classic, 'I Can't Dance', which, in my probably controversial opinion, far surpasses the original. And I love Genesis! But this cover of it is just fantastic and is done with such zest and gusto that it's impossible not to enjoy it.

In conclusion, all things considered, 'Ecliptica - Revisited' isn't an awful release, it just isn't necessary and does nothing to improve upon the 1999 original, so stick with that instead.

HATED Breathless Art

Album · 2018 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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siLLy puPPy
As the 21st century churns along, it seems that the heavy metal of the 80s and 90s has become ever more distant as bands continue to experiment and strive to find ways to differentiate themselves from the gazillions more bands on the planet these days. In the world of death metal, this has never been more true with the technical strain reaching out in every possible direction, sometimes hitting on something totally awesome (think Gorguts, Obscura or Portal) and more often than not retreading someone else’s surrealistic fantasy (too many culprits to mention). Hailing from the outpost city of Orenburg, Russia which is straddled next to the border with Kazakhstan comes a new type of band that also straddles borders musically speaking. HATED was founded in 2014 and tackles the retro 90s sound of Chuck Schuldiner’s Death in its full glory.

The band is a mere trio consisting of Tim “Graveyard” Verb on bass, Morgoth Hel on both guitars and drums and guitarist / vocalist who goes by the sole name Andrew. HATED succeed in producing a fiery cacophonous technical workout with the obvious influences deriving from Death albums such as “Human,” “Individual Thought Patterns” and “Symbolic.” Never before have i heard such a convincing second coming of Chuck Schuldiner’s unique and innovative sound finding new life long after his untimely passing. So convincing is HATED’s performance on their debut digital release BREATHLESS ART that if someone were to tell me that this was some sort of long lost collection of unreleased Death tracks, i would fuckin’ believe them. Even Andrew’s vocals are a dead ringer for the dead singer as he nails every aspect and nuance of Schuldiner’s idiosyncratic style. Likewise the guitar riffs, bass and drum parts simulate the complexities of the aforementioned Death period of albums.

For the most part HATED dish out an almost perfect carbon copy of Schuldiner and the rest but they do add their own to it as well albeit not as often as i would prefer. As well as the plethora of Death sound blasting out at high decibilage complete with frenetic guitar squeal solos and chugging riffs, the band at times implements standard classic 80s thrash and traditional riffing and captures the early 90s zeitgeist quite successfully. Old school is the name of the game with this one however some of the compositions take the approach of newer tech wizards Vektor with more sophisticated compositional changes and deviations from the straight forwardness of old school performances. I guess in that respect they do tackle the Death experience of “The Sound Of Perseverance” at times but the tracks have more of an old school death metal form of worship.

HATED simply nails the Death retro sound. Hyperactive intense guitar riffs complexly transverse sophisticated compositional multiverses with Andrew’s impressive vocal range effortlessly assuaging every distorted note into compliance. HATED is very much a band to look out for in the future. At this point they are way too derivative of their icons for my comfort but BREATHLESS ART is an intensely compelling listen finding the power trio in full command of their retrospective musical roles. The tracks are exquisitely designed and manage to match the high standards of classic Death. Once these guys shed the blatant Schuldiner worship and find a more original style of their own, these guys could be the next Vektor. I’m the meantime they more than impress on their rehashed and uninventive musical prowess.

OZZY OSBOURNE Speak Of The Devil

Live album · 1982 · Traditional heavy metal
Cover art 2.69 | 13 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
The year 1982 was a difficult one for OZZY OSBOURNE to say the least. After recording two successful solo albums he was confronted with the sudden death of guitarist Randy Rhoads which left him in a scramble to find a replacement. Before Rhoads’ fatal airplane crash, there were plans to release a live album that covered both the “Blizzard Of Ozz” and “Diary Of A Madman” albums which showcased Rhoads’ spectacular guitar playing in a live setting, however after his death the whole project was put on hold for personal reasons but yet OZZY’s label Jet Records were demanding two more records, so a compromise was made with an alternative live album with two titles: SPEAK OF THE DEVIL in the US, and TALK OF THE DEVIL in his native UK. This was also a time of great uncertainty as to how to continue his up til then successful career considering he owed a great deal of his solo success to the extraordinary songwriting and guitar playing skills of Rhoads.

SPEAK OF THE DEVIL (i’ll just use that title since it’s the only one i’ve known) was basically a last minute sort of project and a whole tour was created just to support it. The SPEAK OF THE DEVIL Tour took place from 10 December 1982 to 29 May 1983 in order to produce enough material for a double live album which would fulfill his contractual obligations. The one little kink in the plans is that at the time, absolutely nobody was accomplished enough to fill the shoes of the amazing Randy Rhoads who was light years ahead of the pack. The decision was made to cover twelve Black Sabbath songs instead and the cast of musicians included Brad Gillis of Night Ranger on guitar, Rudy Sarzo freshly out of Quiet Riot on bass and Tommy Aldrige who played with Pat Travers and Gary Moore on drums. So basically a completely different lineup than the Rhoads album years.

As to be expected, OZZY’s former bandmates in Black Sabbath weren’t particularly happy with his decision as they were releasing their own Dio fronted live album in the form of “Live Evil.” Despite the disapproval, OZZY’s live album outperformed and rode on the phenomenal success he was enjoying as a solo artist and perhaps a sympathy purchase out of respect for the recent Rhoads tragedy. SPEAK OF THE DEVIL was basically a mix of different recordings from live settings. Some of these are from live performances that were not in front of audiences as to get the most possible takes and then some of the audience noises were dubbed in later. This double album includes various Sabbath tracks that cover the entire lifespan of OZZY’s stint with the band. It includes the classic “Black Sabbath” from the debut release all the way up to his last album’s title track “Never Say Die.”

It’s imperative to keep in mind the circumstances in which this album was recorded in order to appreciate it. I’ve always considered this a throwaway album of sort but when i learned of the context in which it was released, it all makes sense and i do love it for the reasons involved. In a way it’s an escapist retreat to the past in order for OZZY to catch his bearings since his usual method of coping was getting obliterated on drugs and alcohol. It was in retrospect a good move as it was something totally within his grasp to fulfill his recording contract obligations. As for the music itself! It is exactly as you would expect. The tracks performed are all of excellent quality and honor the original renditions respectfully. That is both a strength and a weakness.

While performed exquisitely by the band members and OZZY himself, this wasn’t really material that needed to be revisited at the time as the current metal scene was more forward leaning than retrospective, however given the circumstances, OZZY was doing the best he could. This is actually a very well performed album and the later remastered versions correct the lackluster production of the earliest releases. While this pales in comparison to the outstanding “Tribute” album which showcases Randy Rhoads that would come out five years later, this is still a quite satisfying Sabbath tribute album by their former lead singer and not one that i’m ever disappointed to listen to once i decide to do so.

OZZY OSBOURNE Diary Of A Madman

Album · 1981 · Traditional heavy metal
Cover art 4.08 | 42 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
The early 80s were a magical time for OZZY OSBOURNE who had left Black Sabbath without any guarantees of future success. By sheer luck he met the late great Randy Rhoads and together they set a new standard of heavy rock and metal that would usher in the next chapter of heavy metal music for the 80s riding alongside the NWOBHM. After the success of “Blizzard Of Ozz,” OZZY and Randy Rhoads collaborated on yet one more album of the same style as the debut but in the process of an incessant touring schedule become more of a cohesive unit as heard on the followup DIARY OF A MADMAN (the title is possibly taken from the 1963 film about an evil spirit). Rhoads in particular found that the album was rushed through due to time pressures imposed by the label. This is the period of crazy turbulence for the OZZ man which produced great controversy and in the process a whole lot of publicity. Plagued by accusations of Satanism and an overall image of public enemy #1 for the conservative folk about, OZZY’s image of biting off bat heads and allowing his future wife to scare the band off as a ruthless manager overshadowed the fact that DIARY OF A MADMAN was a very innovative album, musically speaking, in the history of heavy metal music.

While OZZY’s lyrics continued the polemic mysticism and poetic errancy, the real star of the show was the classically trained guitarist Randy Rhoads who raised the bar over his own neoclassical guitar prowess of the debut album. On DIARY OF A MADMAN, Rhoads put his heart and soul into the compositions contained on this album which showed his musical sophistication move up a couple notches. Once again, Rhoads’ guitar playing is a fusion of the Black Sabbath metal construct embellished with the neoclassical tricks that Ritchie Blackmore developed in Deep Purple. Also in the mix is the pyrotechnic soloing prowess straight out of the Eddie Van Halen playbook only with more finesse and thoughtful in delivery. Tracks like “Over The Mountain” and “Flying High Again” have become classic standards in the metal universe and demonstrates OSBOURNE’s one two punch of escapism and drug indulgence issues, however tracks like “You Can’t Kill Rock And Roll” and “Believer” display a rather innocent sense of optimism absent from “Blizzard Of Ozz” which seemed to be stuck in a negative outlook.

One of my favorite tracks on the album and in all of OZZY’s career for that matter is the exquisitely designed title track which is a basic blueprint for the progressive metal to come. The track seamlessly melds different time signatures and unique classically infused chord progressions peppered with differing dynamics that create a bona fide masterpiece of heavy metal music. Despite having been rushed through, all songwriters and musicians on board gelled quite beautifully and the album doesn’t suffer one bit showing the professionalism of everyone on board. Likewise the album flows nicely as each track has a unique feel and stands on its own two feet. The only track i find to be a little weak is the forgettable “Little Dolls” which could have used some sprucing up. Because of the momentum created by “Blizzard Of Ozz,” the followup DIARY OF A MADMAN was an instant international hit selling well and even spawning two hit singles (unlike the debut), but as always it wouldn’t be an OZZY album if there wasn’t some controversy involved.

The controversy derives from the fact that bassist Bob Daisley and drummer Lee Kerslake were very much a part of the songwriting team but received no credits for their efforts. Another misstep occurred with the 2002 re-issue that took erased their roles on the album altogether and was re-recorded with OZZY’s at the time bassist Robert Trujillo and drummer Mike Bordin (of Faith No More.) History has rectified theses errors as the 2011 deluxe 30th anniversary edition returns the original album but these bad moves has surely tarnished OZZY’s reputation as a fair player in the world of business, but to be honest, it was probably more on the management which happened to include his wife Sharon Osbourne, the true business brains behind the scenes.

DIARY OF A MADMAN is one of my favorite metal albums of all time with strong catchy melodic metal tracks augmented by some of the best musicianship of the day that makes it feel like the timeless classic that it is. The album also feels like it was the mere dawn of a new era for the OSBOURNE / Rhoads team and everyone was anxious to see how Randy Rhoads would evolve into the next level as he seemed utterly unstoppable but sadly it was not meant to be. While on tour for this album, Rhoads played his very last show on 18 March 1982 at the Knoxville Civic Coliseum in Tennessee and died the next day in an airplane crash in Florida. The tragedy would send OSBOURNE’s career in a tailspin and another bout of deep depression. While the world was robbed of one of the greatest musical contributors to the metal universe, luckily Rhoads left behind two strong albums with OSBOURNE before his untimely demise. DIARY OF A MADMAN is perhaps the stronger of the two but personally i find each album has its own charm.

LIMBONIC ART Moon in the Scorpio

Album · 1996 · Symphonic Black Metal
Cover art 4.25 | 18 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
LIMBONIC ART originated as a band of three members but as the story goes in the world of extreme metal, personalities clashed and the project was whittled down to the two members of Daemon on lead vocals, guitars and bass and project manager Morfeus on keyboards, lead guitars, drum programming and vocals. Riding in the wake of fellow Norwegian bands in the second wave of black metal, LIMBONIC ART was one of those who opted for the symphonic route in the vein of Emperor, Arcturus, Dimmu Borgir and Cradle Of Filth. MOON IN THE SCORPIO was the debut and displayed the early years of black metal engaging in increased uses of symphonic elements that while already explored in black metal, hadn’t been fully exploited to full effect.

The main focus on MOON IN THE SCORPIO is in creating an operatic symphonic circus of sorts although a rather deranged one. Like much black metal of the day, the guitar and bass create receptive tritone riffing loops while the keys provide the atmospheric accouterments delivered in a more sophisticated symphonic fashion. While the black metal elements such as tremolo guitar playing, demonic raspy vocals and blastbeat drumming patterns are successfully utilized, what sets LIMBONIC ART apart from the pack of the day is that the main focus is on the melodic symphonic keyboard atmospheres that make the whole affair sound like some sort of black metal version of Phantom of the Opera especially when the showtune type segments break from the bleak monotonous riffing and Deamon sounds like a Broadway star.

Overall the atmosphere is dark and chilling with the tracks slowly ratcheting up with extended lengths. The opener “Beneath The Burial Surface” cranks it out for almost fourteen minutes. The album also makes use of a variety of vocal styles including Gregorian monk type chanting on “Overature: Nocturne” and choral arrangements on “In Mourning Mystique.” While the drum machine isn’t quite as satisfying as a real drummer would have been, the truth is that black metal drumming isn’t quite as technically necessary as say a killer death metal band requires and although a little variety is always preferred, i have to admit that in the case of MOON IN THE SCORPIO it works out just fine as the arrangements are well thought out and nothing sounds canned. Add to that the nice production and mix of the aggressive metal elements and the melodic sensual darkness of the synthesizer runs, bell chimes and other sounds that make a rather compelling listening experience.

At times the droning march does remind me a bit of Summoning’s brand of atmospheric black metal but LIMBONIC ART creates a more diverse use of several different movements within tracks that go through different stages with diverse dynamics and tempos. It’s obvious that LIMBONIC ART was very much an influence for later bands like Carach Angren that mixed black metal with dark Gothic operatic features. For me the atmospheric and symphonic branches of black metal can be very hit and miss and the results depend on the proper balance of the opposing forces involved. LIMBONIC ART manages to craft the proper tug of war between those forces to create a unique and satisfying debut in the form of MOON IN THE SCORPIO and a formula that they would utilize for their multi-decade run to the present. The title of the album was most likely taken form the 1987 film but doesn’t really convey any sort of connection.

EARTH WITCH Out of the Shallow

Album · 2017 · Stoner Metal
Cover art 4.25 | 2 ratings
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Unitron
Now is a perfect time to be a stoner fan, as so many stoner rock and metal bands are popping up like crazy. Being a stoner fan, I'm very happy to see this, and many of them are retaining the old school 70's metal sound that started the whole genre. If you were to ask me who the best of these new stoner bands is though, I would probably have to say Earth Witch.

They set themselves apart with how much heart and soul they clearly have, and a real passion of classic 70's heavy metal. While many of the riffs would make Tony Iommi proud, the band has their own sound and plays some pretty beautiful leads. The band calls themselves "doom blues", which honestly couldn't be a more fitting title. The album is engulfed in a laid back blues metal vibe, but isn't afraid to crush some skulls with blistering doom riffs such as in the grand finale of "Earth Witch". Though the album is also bursting with driving riffs as heard right at the beginning with opener "Guts". The vocals will often be gravely sounding, but sometimes they're a bluesy croon in the vein of Danzig.

The best song on the album, and one of the greatest stoner songs ever written (Yes, it is that good) is easily "Butterfly". Not since Clutch's The Elephant Riders have I heard something so beautiful yet heavy from the stoner genre. The plodding murky yet melodious bassline blends perfectly with the crooning vocals, and adds that much more impact when the distortion gets cranked up to 11 and the guitar rips and the drums become colossal. The guitar leads and soloing are stunning, and let the heaviness and beauty blend right together.

Other main highlights include, the whole damn album! "Starfighter", "Lovecraft", "Riff Rider", "Green Torch", "Mermaid", "Pilgrim", it is all absolutely fantastic. Each song is among the best stoner you'll ever hear. Basically, if you want to hear beautiful melodies, singing guitar solos, punchy distorted riffs and hooks, warm and organic productions, or the aforementioned driving riffs and crushing dirges, this is essential listening.

I don't have much else to say, it is just an absolute masterpiece. If you're a stoner fan, do yourself a favor and listen to these amazing guys. Hope you found this review helpful, feel free to comment!

SLAUGHTER Strappado

Album · 1987 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.52 | 4 ratings
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voila_la_scorie
To think that a Canadian band had a hand in shaping death metal. Canadian bands rarely prove to be influential in much. It's not because the music isn't good. It's just that Canadian bands tend to get noticed by a few people who really appreciate what they hear and ignored by most other people. But my compatriots have made a mark here and there with Rush and Anvil probably being the most influential in shaping metal. Voivod are just Voivod: unique and inimitable.

Slaughter, originally called Slaughterhouse, are not to be confused with the glam metal band Slaughter. These Canucks were on a mission which was to play really noisy, aggressive music that combined influences from Hellhammer/Celtic Frost, Slayer, Venom, and Wendy Williams and the Plasmatics. They admit to not starting out as very good musicians and didn't entertain any lofty goals of becoming famous. Music was for enjoyment and sharing, meant to be heard. They often handed out cassettes at their shows and were all for the free trading of music. They also threw baby doll heads at their shows and blew their noses on the audience. In two interviews I read last night, I learned that they were also close friends with fellow Torontonian thrashers Sacrifice and got on well with the guys in Razor. One claim to fame they have is that Chuck Schuldiner (yes, THE Chuck Schuldiner!) played guitar in the band for a short time in 1986.

"Strappado" was recorded in 1986 and finally released in 1987. The CD reissue I picked up includes the entire album plus additional bonus tracks of unedited album material and outtakes. The sound quality of the album proper is as you might expect for an extreme metal band without big money backing their recording: it is pretty brutish and unclean, but that also suits the music very well. Really very well! The intent behind the music is exactly what the members admit to: that they were making extreme aggressive noise. The guitars are as dirty and ungraceful as a dung-smeared troll armory being tested as Gargantua's chainsaw teeth; the bass is in the mix somewhere; and the drums conjure up every image of a Goblin metal foundry whose machine press is in dire need of re-calibration. At one point, the drum mixing is so over-the-top that instead of sounding like solid snare hits with spaces in between, the spaces seem to be filled with the sound of compressed air swelling up like the rebound wave that comes up after you punch a waterbed.

The bonus tracks are even muddier but honestly don't sound any worse than some early death metal eps, and I'm of the impression that the bonus tracks are on par with early material by Dismember or Entombed. The vocals are suitably gruff and motorcycle gang member growly. Forget the blowing noses as you'd have been as likely to be showered in phlegm and spittle at one of Slaughter's shows.

A lot of Canadian bands have a certain unique charm about them. The members of Rush are nice and funny guys writing intelligent music; Helix has that night-of-the-hockey-game party rock sound; Anvil, the hardworking under-rated metal flag bearers. Slaughter was just about brashness, brutishness, and unclassy violent noise. And having fun doing it! Why did they quit so soon? The music industry tried to take all the fun out. And according to the interviews I read, they are not likely to come back either. Then again, those were old interviews.

Is this good "music"? I don't think so. The riffs are simple and almost cliche, the drumming way in the lack of interesting fills, the songs with every shred of melody hacksawed off. Does it achieve its goal? Oh, yeah! As an old high school friend of mine once said about some of my musical preferences, "This makes as much noise as an explosion with a back beat".

THIN LIZZY Jailbreak

Album · 1976 · Hard Rock
Cover art 3.97 | 39 ratings
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voila_la_scorie
I’ve never been a Thin Lizzy fan, and that may be surprising given my deep interest in seventies hard rock and metal. The song that was always on the radio was “The Boys Are Back in Town”, which for me was just another one of those classic rock songs that was played so many times that I became desensitized to it and basically ignored it. Classic rock radio tends to have that effect on music: it plays the same songs day in day out until they become as familiar and unnoticeable as the wallpaper in the staffroom at work. I can’t think of any other Thin Lizzy songs I might have known. But it’s often the case that I’ll become interested in a band, buy a couple of albums and discover that I’ve already heard a song or two countless times, I just didn’t know whose song it was.

The reason why I finally felt inclined to buy a Thin Lizzy album is thanks to 1977. I was listening to Judas Priest’s 1977 album “Sin After Sin” and began pondering the state of heavy metal in that year. It was just the first rumblings of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, and “heavy metal” as it was known in 1977 included mostly bands that we classify easily as hard rock today. So, as I checked out the year 1977 for hard rock and metal, I came to Thin Lizzy’s “Bad Reputation” but found the album to have too much non-hard stuff. “Jailbreak” sounded like it could be a little edgier.

Thin Lizzy is a band that I call “metal by association”. The band is often included in hard rock and heavy rock lists because of songs like “The Boys Are Back in Town” or “Jailbreak”. They are solid hard rockers with good riffs and cool solos. But Thin Lizzy didn’t start out very hard and if they even became a full-fledged hard rock outfit, I don’t know. What we have here is a typical hard rock album of the seventies, and that is one which includes a good balance of hard rock numbers and non-hard numbers. To be fair, the whole album is very well done. As an album to represent the band, my conclusion is that this is a prime example of what to expect. They even get close to a metal vibe in the darker and heavier tracks of “Warriors” and “Emerald”. “Running Back” has a simple hook but is quite catchy and easy to have running in your head, while “Romeo and the Lonely Girl” has a memorable and melodic chorus. “Cowboy Song” is mentioned in the liner notes as the style of song that appealed to rock and rollers who lead a lonely life on the road and inspired the concept of Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead or Alive”. I personally find this cowboy theme uninteresting and too obvious. It’s the one track I am tempted to skip when it comes on.

The remaster of this 1976 classic sounds great. The music is warm and clear, punches when it needs to, but doesn’t get over loud. Some remasters have all the levels pumped up and they sound like nothing you’d ever hear in the seventies while others keep everything flat. The turn-off point for me is that this album sounds very safe. The riffs and melodies are simple and repetitive. The four-piece band don’t challenge themselves beyond making a good album of hard rock riffs and catchy melodies. There’s no pushing of boundaries or envelopes, no going out on limbs, no daring attempts, no cunning stunts. It’s a very safe album that seems set to appeal to the lowest common denominator. As such, it’s an album to listen to when you need a break from ground-breaking, years-ahead-of-its-time, lost gem-type albums that strived to reach new territory or blow up old institutions. Nice, warm, comfortable rock and roll, this is.

MANIAC KILLER Amusing Anecdotes for the Depraved

Album · 2004 · Grindcore
Cover art 2.00 | 1 rating
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UMUR
"Amusing Anecdotes for the Depraved" is the debut full-length studio album by grindcore act Maniac Killer. The album was released through No Escape Records in 2004. Maniac Killer is a one-man project featuring Maniac Killer ("Maniac Neil" Smith) on vocals, guitar, bass, and drum programming. Smith is also known for his involvement in acts like Whore, Frightmare, Lord Gore, and especially Blood Freak.

If you´re familiar with any of the acts mentioned above, it´s probably not that surprising that the music on the 43 track, 37:16 minutes long album is goregrind with programmed drums. Well...the above artists use real drummers, so in that respect Maniac Killer is a bit of a different journey for Smith. The lyrical themes which revolves around B-Horror movies, splatter and gore are as present as ever though, which is fully on display when reading song titles like "The God of Cum Filled Open Wounds", "Masturbating in the Blood Dripping From the Dangling Freshly Butchered Corpse of a 2 Year Old Child", and "Cum and See the Amazing Deformed Dildo Psycho Cunt Mangler". And that´s just 3 out of 43 very imaginative song titles on "Amusing Anecdotes for the Depraved". It´s kinda cheesy and therefore it´s a bit hard to get really offended by, even though some of the song titles and lyrics are obviously very vile. But the whole sick humour mixed with blood´n´gore is something of a speciality for Smith.

The actual music on the album is a lo-fi produced (recorded at two different sessions, which feature different sounding productions) and at times very noisy type of goregrind, featuring completely unintelligible growling, gurgling, and screaming vocals. The material is very one-dimensional (all tracks are around 1 minute long or shorter), and you probably wouldn´t be able to tell when one track stops and another starts if it wasn´t for the many intro/outro horror movie samples, which all work to great effect. In fact I´d call them the highlight of the album, because the music sure isn´t that interesting and doesn´t exactly leave a lasting impression either. While you don´t always notice that the drums are programmed, there are moments when it´s obvious and the artifical sound of the drums on those sections make an odd contrast to the otherwise noisy and organic soundscape.

I generally perceive Neil Smith as one of those great unsung underground musicians, that few know or will ever know about, and some of his output is really great within it´s genre (I can highly recommend his Blood Freak project). Unfortunately the same can´t be said about "Amusing Anecdotes for the Depraved", which to my ears is a bit of a missfire. The signature sick humour, the blood´n´gore lyrical themes and imagery, and the well placed horror movie samples, are all there and accounted for, but the actual music doesn´t live up to Smith´s usual standards and a 2 star (40%) rating is therefore warranted.

DEFECATION Intention Surpassed

Album · 2003 · Grindcore
Cover art 2.95 | 2 ratings
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"Intention Surpassed" is the 2nd full-length studio album by US grindcore act Defecation. The album was released through Nuclear Blast Records in January 2003. Defecation was formed as a side-project by Righteous Pigs guitarist Mitch Harris (guitars, bass, vocals) and Napalm Death drummer Mick Harris (drums, vocals) in 1987. They released the "Purity Dilution" debut album in 1989. It was initially a one-off project, as Mitch Harris joined Napalm Death in late 1989, and both guys focused on that band (not for long though as Mick Harris soon left Napalm Death to form Scorn). However Mitch Harris opted to ressurect Defecation in the early years of the new millenium and recorded "Intention Surpassed".

While "Purity Dilution" was a team effort, "Intention Surpassed" is a one-man project where Mitch Harris handles all guitars, bass, drum programming, and vocals. Although there are 14 years between the debut album "Intention Surpassed", the music style is at it´s roots pretty much the same on the two releases. It´s Napalm Death influenced grindcore with some nods toward death metal. "Intention Surpassed" is a much sharper and less chaotic sounding release compared to "Purity Dilution" though and the programmed drums also provide the album with a more artificial and less organic sound than the case was on the debut album. The vocals are also a bit different as they are more aggressive and higher pitched than the growling vocals featured on the debut album.

"Intention Surpassed" is as such well produced but the programmed drums aren´t that suiting. They are fairly well programmed but in this case I´m sure a human drummer could have done the music more justice. The fact that the material on the 13 track, 39:04 minutes long album is a bit one-dimensional is not exactly a positive either, but it´s still overall a decent grindcore/death metal release deserving a 3 star (60%) rating.

SATYRICON Deep Calleth upon Deep

Album · 2017 · Black Metal
Cover art 3.38 | 6 ratings
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"Deep Calleth upon Deep" is the 9th full-length studio album by Norwegian extreme metal act Satyricon. The album was released through Napalm Records in September 2017. It´s the successor to the self-titled album from 2013.

Stylistically the material on the 8 track, 45:25 minutes long album is a natural progression from the material featured on the predecessor...or maybe more correctly, there´s been only little stylistic progression, and "Deep Calleth upon Deep" therefore feels like a natural successor to "Satyricon (2013)". Starting with "Volcano (2002)", Satyricon have gradually moved further and further away from their black metal roots, and have incorporated more traditional heavy metal elements, death- and doom metal elements, and even some hard rock (I swear I hear the odd Led Zeppelin influence here and there) and progressive rock elements. The aggression and pitch black darkness of their early releases are still a part of their sound, so although this isn´t black metal as such, it´s still gloomy and extreme music. Just another and more diverse type of extreme metal.

The unmistakable raw and raspy vocals and commanding delivery by Satyr are at the front of the soundscape and underneath the listener is met by heavy intriguing riffs, guitar harmonies, organic bass playing, and the inventive drumming by Frost. The latter reaches new adventurous heights with his playing on this album and I don´t hesitate to call him one of the most creative drummers on the scene. So again little has changed since the last album, but it still needs to be emphazised how well playing the band are and how convincing the delivery of the music is. Satyricon deserve that praise.

The material on the album is also well written, relatively diverse for the genre, and while it´s not Satyricon´s most innovative release, the quality is high throughout and there are several really strong compositions featured on the album. I´d mention "To Your Brethren In The Dark" and the title track as some of the highlights, but there are no sub par tracks on the album, which is entertaining throughout.

"Deep Calleth upon Deep" features an organic and powerful sounding production too, and upon conclusion it´s another strong album release by Satyricon. Black metal purists will probably wrinkle their noses and cry sell-out, but at this point it´s doubtful that there are many of those left in the Satyricon fanbase. "Deep Calleth upon Deep" is recommended to the listener who enjoys dark, clever, and heavy music with raw vocals and an above standard level of sophistication in the songwriting department. A 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

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