Metal Music Reviews from Stooge

BETWEEN THE BURIED AND ME The Parallax II: Future Sequence

Album · 2012 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.06 | 22 ratings
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After feeling under-whelmed by The Great Misdirect and being not-to-enthused after listening to the Parallax I EP, BTBAM have definitely got my interest again with Parallax II.

I don't nerd out over concept albums like some music fans, and I couldn't begin to tell you what the theme of the album is despite hearing it several times. More obvious to me is the call-backs made to previous musical themes explored on the album, and other details that serve as meaningful audio connections to provide fluidity. The mellow "Goodbye to Everything" bookends the album (not a conceptual prerequisite, but a nice touch), and a brief bit of so-called alien noise on "Autumn", as well as a narrative (by Amos Williams of Tesseract) on "Parallax" serve as effective bridges.

BTBAM gets tons of credit for being "progressive", and with this album, I'm inclined to both agree and disagree. I listen to the band explore all sorts of terrain and tempos in "Lay Your Ghosts To Rest" and "Silent Flight Parliament". However, it still feels like they've done it all before. After their previous disappointments, that fact bothered me. In this case, no so much. Despite the extended running lengths of the songs making up the core of the album, they come across to me as very organic.

In my opinion, BTBAM live and die by not by their instrumental gymnastics (which are never really lacking), but by their melodic content and willingness to fully commit to the style of music they tackle within a particular section the song. Factors such as this provide some of their freshest and most enduring material since Colors.

Some of my favorite moments:

"Astral Body", which begins with a rather catchy Dream Theater-ish instrumental section, with Tommy Rogers joining the proceedings where he blends both clean and growled vocals to good effect. A highly contagious tune with a strong energy!

The song that got me to shell out my hard-earned cash was "Telos". A track like this gives a good summation of what BTBAM are all about. It begins with the hardcore aggression the band was founded on, gradually changing rhythmic motifs before entering the mellow mid-section that truly caught my ear. A looping keyboard passage acts as the background to a bit of a laid-back, spacy jazz/rock fusion, building it's way towards a heavy but harmonic conclusion.

The midsection to "Melting City" includes a brief but delightful cameo of some flute, and contains not one but two very different but equally memorable solos by guitarist Paul Waggoner. Bassist Dan Briggs (one of my favorites in modern metal) provides magnificent support throughout this song.

As a very strong album that exceeded my expectations, I see no harm in giving Parallax II a 4.5 out of 5.

MEGADETH So Far, So Good... So What!

Album · 1988 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.63 | 102 ratings
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Among the classic Megadeth albums that spanned the first decade of their recording career (1985-94), this one sometimes gets lost in the shuffle. I’m sure part of that has to do with one of their least stable lineups, with Jeff Young and Chuck Behler now on lead guitar and drums respectively. While not quite the players that Chris Poland and Gar Samuelsson were, the new duo certainly holds their own on their lone Megadeth studio album.

The version I own is the 2004 re-issue, when Mustaine felt the need to tweak with the whole Megadeth catalog. Though I haven't heard the original version in years, I think this version sounds nice. From what I can remember, two of the most notable changes were increasing the volume of horns in the intro of "Into The Lungs Of Hell", and he also added an extended guitar intro for "In My Darkest Hour".

This album starts incredibly with the pair of "Into The Lungs Of Hell" and "Set The World Afire". What energy!! "Into The Lungs Of Hell" is a no-nonsese, let 'er rip-style of instrumental. Spacious riffing pushes the focus on some high-octane leads. Contrasting with that approach, "Set The World Afire" contains some of the coolest riffs in the Megadeth discography. I think it might have been the first song Mustaine wrote for Megadeth, and thankfully it made the cut for this album after being omitted twice. Closing tracks "Liar" and "Hook In Mouth" bring similar levels of aggression, especially in Mustaine's vocal performances ("Liar" being inspired by troubles with ex-bandmate Poland).

With the third cover song in as many albums, Megadeth opt for a more practical choice with the Sex Pistols' "Anarchy In The U.K.". It's very loyal to the original aside from some allowable deviations (swapping U.S.A. for U.K. being one). Sex Pistols' Steve Jones even guests on the track.

I’d say the main difference between this album and Peace Sells is that there is a slight tradeoff in technicality in favor of more melody. "Mary Jane", "502", and "In My Darkest Hour", which may be some of the most melodic songs Mustaine had penned at the time, are good examples of this. Each one is fairly accessible despite still very-much being rooted in thrash. Mustaine sings throughout most of these tunes (as opposed to his normal growl), and does a solid job too.

Excellent thrash album well worth picking up!

MEGADETH Peace Sells... But Who's Buying?

Album · 1986 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 4.22 | 143 ratings
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It may seem a bit weird, but my introduction to many of the songs on this album came from seeing Megadeth’s Behind The Music special in 2001. Whenever there was a cool riff, lead, or instrumental section that was sampled for use in the program, most of the time it was lifted off of Peace Sells. Just getting a taste of the intro to “Good Mourning”, the head-banging riffing in “Wake Up Dead” or the ferocious lead section of “Bad Omen” was not nearly enough. The following Christmas, I made sure that this album was on my list (and, thus, under the tree).

The riffing is pretty tight on this one, just as fast-paced as much of their debut album. This time, the production is up to a higher standard. Unlike the occasional muddied-up sound that occurs on the debut’s faster cuts, the speed and precision in the likes of “The Conjuring”, “Devil’s Island”, and the ultra-intense “Black Friday” come through with crystal clarity. While making the popular “Wake Up Dead” and “Peace Sells”, well… pop!

The only real outlier among the tracks is their cover “I Ain’t Superstitious”. Though stylistically unlike the other tracks, I like this blues-rock cover. Compared to their debut’s take on “These Boots”, it feels much more of an honest cover as opposed to just having a laugh, and like many classic blues/rock songs, it serves as a good lauchpad for Mustaine and Poland as guitarists.

There are several instrumental excursions throughout that hint at the potential that this Poland/Samuelsson lineup had. This is well exemplified how tight the band sounds in “Bad Omen” and “My Last Words”. While the band sounds in high-form throughout the album, these tracks are often among the least talked-about here, but have grown greatly in popularity with me as the years have passed.

Although Mustaine was (and always will be) the songwriter, having such a strong band backing him is what allowed him to continue to expand the variety in song structure and the technicality from the debut album. While I’m still a big fan of So Far, So Good … So What?, I can’t help but wonder where a third album by the Chris/Gar lineup would have taken them.

This is definitely an essential thrash metal album.

FAITH NO MORE Album Of The Year

Album · 1997 · Alternative Metal
Cover art 4.03 | 45 ratings
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Album of The Year? I’d have to do some research to know if that was the general consensus in 1997, but no doubt this one would make a number of end-of-the-year lists of the time.

The first thing I noticed when listening to this album was how dark it sounded. Was it because they knew this would be their last studio album and they were upset by that fact? While I am more used to hearing Faith No More playing more high-energy music, I can say I am definitely a fan of the shift in tone and direction. Album of The Year contains much of the experimentation and variety that remained throughout the Patton years, plus it may be the heaviest album the group has released.

A good amount of these tracks are of the slower variety, giving Patton’s vocals much of the focus. “Last Cup of Sorrow”, “Ashes To Ashes”, “Path Of Glory”, and “Pristina” are among the songs that I think help set the tone of the album.

There are still numerous tracks on Album of The Year that maintain the band’s normally aggressive delivery. This includes the opening “Collision”, “Naked In Front Of The Computer”, “Mouth To Mouth”, and “Got That Feeling”. Tracks in this vein would not have been a stranger on their King For A Day album.

A few tracks in particular stand out:

“Stripsearch” musically is quite stripped-down. Some hard rock and metal fans might be turned off by such a song, but I loved this track right from the first listen. The song is uncharacteristically peppered with electronic percussion, and centered around a highly effective rhythm section groove. The main melody of the track is provided by Mike Patton bright falsetto delivery.

“Helpless” starts out as a rather dreary sort of ballad. The song builts in a strongly uplifting manner as it transitions to the powerful chorus with Patton’s layered vocals, getting heavier as it progresses. It’s one of those tracks that often gives me goosebumps.

“She Loves Me Not” is another out-of-character track for the band. It’s a bit of a doo-wap, 60’s R&B-style track that while not necessarily a favorite, is highly memorable. Definitely one of the more Patton-centric tracks, giving it the occasional feel of a solo effort instead of a full-fledged Faith No More album.

Album of the Year is an excellent release that I definitely recommend.


Album · 2011 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 61 ratings
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This album came as quite a pleasant surprise to me. Prior to the album’s release, I heard that Mastodon was going to be moving away from the more progressive structures of the Crack The Skye album and back to their straight-ahead metal roots. While I like every era of Mastodon to date, my expectations were not too high, as I feared this was a step in the wrong direction. Instead, they created a beast known as The Hunter.

Unlike other Mastodon albums, I came out of the first listening session of the album with a good majority of the songs making a lasting impression in my memory, thankfully, in a good way. With The Hunter, the band has created an album that sounds rather accessible much of the time and well produced and polished, but they achieved this without compromising the core of their sound that Mastodon has built their career on. While there are several songs on the album with a catchiness that hints at some slight commercial potential, such as “Curl of the Burl”, “All The Heavy Lifting” (with possibly the catchiest chorus on the album), the punchy “Dry Bone Valley” and the epic anthem “Creature Lives”, the total product comes across as a consistently strong blend of elements that Mastodon had incorporated into their sound across all prior albums. The track-to-track variety helps to give each track it’s own identity.

Fans of their straight-ahead aggressive sludge sound will surely be pleased with the likes of “Black Tongue” and “Spectrelight”, the latter of which features a guest vocal by Scott Kelly of Neurosis. Many of the albums tracks, while not reaching very extended run times, have that atmospheric vibe that the band has often featured over lengthier numbers. In particular, I really dig the brooding, somewhat hypnotic vibe that the title track gives off. “Stargasm” takes you on a similar journey from its stunning intro into a track blending space-rock with their brand of aggression.

An additional pair of tracks stood out, at first, for their odd titles alone. “Octopus Has No Friends” features an up-beat verse crutched on some flashy fretwork by Brent Hinds with a soft-spoken but memorable chorus. “Bedazzled Fingernails” features banjo-esque guitar riffing with a booming Troy Sanders vocal performance and a few eerie effects in the mix. The calmest moment on the album arrives at the finale with “The Sparrow” with a dark but relaxing tone that reminds me of 70’s progressive rock with slight folk overtones.

Chip in a few extra dollars for the version with the bonus DVD. If you do, you’ll be treated to some informative song commentary by drummer Brann Dailor along with some quick studio footage and 3 different music videos (including non-album track “Deathbound”).

The Hunter greatly lives up to the band’s reputation for putting out consistently strong material, and this should not disappoint many Mastodon fans. In fact, this is one of the best albums I’ve heard that has come out in 2011. I think it’s up there with their best work!

LIQUID TENSION EXPERIMENT Liquid Tension Experiment 2

Album · 1999 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.79 | 39 ratings
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Some sequels are right up there (if not higher) than the original: The Godfather Part 2, T2: Judgement Day, The Empire Strikes Back. LTE 2 is something of a sequel, and while I don’t think this one tops the first LTE, it can definitely stands proudly beside it.

Right off the bat, we get “Acid Rain”, which is probably heavier than any song that was on their previous album in spite of the constant presence of various keyboard sounds. One thing that I noticed immediately was a riff that repeats in the last few minutes of the track that sounds similar to Al Di Meola’s “Race With The Devil On Spanish Highway”.

“Biaxident” revisits a bit of that Dregs/Kansas progressive rock territory the band touched on greatly in the debut album. Rudess’ keys give this composition most of its colour. “914” has hints of 80’s fusion music in the tone and phrasing of Rudess’ playing. This fades into “Another Dimension”, which is one of the LTE songs that most reminds me of what Dream Theater does. In the more minimal riffing sections, Labrie’s vocals wouldn’t sound too foreign on top, but he’s got his own side projects to worry about.

While the debut only had “3 Minute Warning” to push casual listener’s patience, this album has a total of 3 tracks that push past the 10-minute mark. “When The Water Breaks” begins as a delicate number. The members soon deviate a bit spin off their exercises of skill, and the pacing of the track picks up speed as it moves on. “Chewbacca” does not quite bring the Wookie to mind, nor is it epic like the movies he starred in. I’d say it’s the least memorable track on this album despite the awesome name. Fortunately, with “Liquid Dreams” and album concluder “Hourglass”, both tracks that are on the softer side, the album ends on a bit of an upswing.

One thing that disappoints me with this one is that while the Petrucci-Portnoy-Rudess trio built on their already solid chemistry (all now DT members at this time), it seems like Tony Levin’s presence is reduced to some degree. While you can hear him throughout most of the album, the volume isn’t at the level it was on the debut (aside from on “914” and the few parts that make more liberal use of his skills). I also preferred his tone on the debut (in this case, a minor complaint), but this may account for my perceived differences in volume.

I very much consider LTE 2 to be a natural follow-up to their first album, and think this too is a rather good instrumental rock/metal record. The first gets the edge in terms of composition, but this follow up tops it in the increased willingness to experiment.


Album · 1998 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.54 | 38 ratings
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This all-star band consists of Dream Theater members John Petrucci and Mike Portnoy, with former Dixie Dregs keyboardist (and future DT member) Jordan Rudess, and King Crimson/Peter Gabriel’s Tony Levin holding the low end on bass and Chapman Stick.

When Portnoy was given the invitation to form this supergroup, he could have took the easy way out and produced instrumentals in the vein of Dream Theater’s “Erotomania” or the frantic sections in “Metropolis, Pt. 1”. The passion and spirit carries over for making well-thought out and interesting compositions, but this project is musically quite different from Portnoy’s main band.

It definitely has something to do with the influence of Steve Morse on Petrucci’s playing style as well as Rudess being a former Dreg, but a good portion of this material reminds me of a heavier Dixie Dregs (minus the country/bluegrass elements). Tracks such as “Paradigm Shift”, “Kindred Spirits” and “Universal Mind” have that tight rhythmic groove and soaring leads that much of Morse’s material contains (with the Dregs and solo).

No doubt that Petrucci shreds on this album, but there are some rather memorable moments where his playing either relies on fewer notes but more emphasis on subtlety and melody (“Osmosis”, “Freedom Of Speech”, “State Of Grace”), but even in these moments the band can’t help but show off their chops. However, on the tracks “The Stretch” and “Chris and Kevin’s Excellent Adventure”, the theatrics are minimized slightly as guitar is eliminated from the equation. These tracks serve as effectively punchy interludes to showcase Tony Levin’s abilities, with most of the support coming from Rudess on “The Stretch” and Portnoy in “Adventure”.

Just as things were going along smoothly, we hit the ironically titled “3 Minute Warning”. The liner notes give warning about “extreme self-indulgence”, and that really isn’t that far off. This piece, 28 minutes spread over 5 tracks, is basically an extended jam session. I mustn’t have found it all that worthwhile initially since I didn’t have this part of the album ripped to my computer prior to this review, and while there are a few bright spots, it’s like most jams – hit and miss.

Overall, I’d say LTE is a well-put together instrumental album that should please many fans of progressive rock or metal.

RAINBOW Long Live Rock 'n' Roll

Album · 1978 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 3.95 | 64 ratings
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Coming off the very strong Rising album, Rainbow make a slightly more commercial album this time around. Most of the material here makes for strong single material: the title-track and “L.A. Connection” at least were chosen as appropriate singles. “Lady Of The Lake” is another solid hard rock track with Dio’s voice sounding very rich during the chorus I'd place in a similar category to the tracks it's sandwiched between. A pair of tracks on the second side, “The Shed (Subtle)” and “Sensitive To Light” (my least favorite song on the album), would even make for a decent singles. These may be a bit simpler and less exploratory than some of what’s on their previous album, but it is nonetheless still strong stuff.

The remaining 3 tracks are probably what I consider to be the main highlights:

The most musically elaborate track on the album is probably “Gates of Babylon”. While still an accessible track (it too was a single), this is one of the songs that helped unleash what is often called neo-classical metal. Starting with a David Stone keyboard intro, it goes into a rather symphonic-sounding track featuring the Bavarian String Ensemble. Though their inclusion is highly notable, the track would still be powerful with their omission, as all Rainbow musicians give an energetic performance.

The most metallic track of the lot, “Kill The King”, has a great deal of power and features some blazing Richie Blackmore leads and thundering drumming by Cozy Powell. Pure energy!

Dio’s voice sounds great on album closing ballad “Rainbow Eyes”. Most people are used to hearing his pipes project over heavier tunes, but I’m often just as delighted (if not more) to hear him sing delicately. The instrumentation is different here, with the keys and rhythm section being swapped for cello, viola and flute. A non-rocker on an album titled “Long Live Rock n Roll”? It makes for a nice touch.

Excellent work that is diverse enough to please a number of different rock or metal fans.


EP · 2004 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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The Dissent EP served as my introduction to the recording career of Misery Index. I first saw them at a gig they played in Oshawa, Ontario. In spite of the sparse attendance, they put on a great show, and managed to win a fan. I quickly grabbed a CD copy of this release off them, as this is what they were promoting at the time.

It’s a brief recording, so my description of it is as well. The EP is mostly built on tracks forming a piece titled (as one should guess) “Dissent”. The exception is “Defector (Thinning The Herd)”.

“Sheep and Wolves” kicks off the EP at a slow pace with a slice of sludge, but the pace picks up on “Exception to the Ruled” brings more aggressive playing and more varied tempo. The third track, “The Imperial Ambition”, is probably the most straightforward but still entertaining track here, and drummer Kevin Talley shines with his strong blasting ability and double bass work. Pretty much from the third track on there are no surprises, featuring a consistent, no-nonsense blend of death metal, hardcore, and a bit of grind.

I regret not buying the vinyl edition of this EP. I haven’t heard it, but it contains a cover of Minor Threat’s “Screaming at a Wall” that is not on the CD.

Nice EP, and easy to please fans of high-tempo metal looking for a quick fix.


Album · 1991 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.19 | 74 ratings
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Parallels shows the band at what is often considered their most accessible stage. On this point, I easily agree. Right from the start with “Leave The Past Behind” it is evident, however, that the band is still very true to their progressive metal sound. The guitars may be a bit less metallic or distorted and Terry Brown’s production lends a bit of a commercial polish, but the instrumentation is still very much that of a band trying to strive beyond the conventional song structures. The rhythm section of bassist Joe Dibiase and drummer Mark Zonder add a great compliment and rather thoughtful touches to the structures set by Jim Matheos. Speaking of compliments, Frank Aresti’s fretwork fits along with Matheos’ like a hand in a glove, featuring top-notch solos on “Don’t Follow Me” and “Point of View”.

This album is chalk full of songs considered by many to be Fates Warning classics. “Point of View”, “Life In Still Water”, and “The Eleventh Hour”. These songs are great examples of how progressive metal tracks don’t have to have dozens of lead breaks or exceed 10 minutes in length. Parallels is prog metal done with good taste, keeping the songs as the primary focal point.

Two of the more emotional songs on this album are “Eye To Eye” and “The Road Goes On Forever”. “Eye To Eye” may be the most poppy/mainstream sounding song on Parallels. Both tracks fall into lighter melodic rock territory, thrusting powerful Ray Alder vocal performances to the forefront. The instrumental skill of the band still shines through, with lead guitar work on “The Road Goes On Forever” being quite striking.

My favorite tracks? Number 1 has to be “Point Of View", followed by “Leave The Past Behind”, “The Eleventh Hour”, and “The Road Goes On Forever”.

I’d highly recommend getting the version of Parallels with the bonus CD and DVD. You’ll be treated to some nice live and demo tracks, a solid bootleg film of a New Haven performance in 1992. Most importantly, the DVD features a highly informative feature regarding the creation of the album and insights from all band members (along with others) regarding this period and the album’s legacy.

Parallels is an album that should be in every progressive metal fan’s collection.

FAITH NO MORE Introduce Yourself

Album · 1987 · Funk Metal
Cover art 3.30 | 31 ratings
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Introduce Yourself, as is the case for many of Faith No More’s fan, was not my introduction to the band. Being one of many who went from the Patton stuff and worked back, I’ll say that jump between this era of the band and the Patton fronted one isn’t terribly drastic. I could easily hear Patton’s voice on a large chunk of the material, and he’s performed “We Care A Lot” several times in his career. Stylistically, the material is very similar to The Real Thing album (though the band’s overall sound on this album is significantly thinner), the most obvious difference being the vocals of Chuck Mosely. Oh Chuck…

His vocals were the obstacle that kept me from buying this album initially, and they weigh down the album considerably at times. Mosely is definitely not a traditional rock or metal vocalist. I guess I’d call him more of a punk rocker. His shouting vocal style I can dig, but he’s not much of a melodic vocalist. I guess to put it best, his voice falls under the category of being an acquired taste.

On top of the popular and catchy “Annie’s Song” and “We Care A Lot” (both of which have music videos), I see the strongest songs on Introduce Yourself are the up-beat opener “Faster Disco”, the eerie atmospheric “Death March”, and both the shortest and longest tracks with “Introduce Yourself” and “The Crab Song”.

All things considered, this one sits near the bottom of the ladder of my favorite Faith No More albums, but it still makes for a fun listen. A good album that was followed by many great ones.


Album · 1999 · Melodic Death Metal
Cover art 4.14 | 31 ratings
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Colony is the In Flames album that took them into their popular sound of melodic metal. Granted, they had made plenty of great melodic death metal releases prior to this album. This time around, death metal elements are beginning to be reduced in favour of overall catchiness and greater accessibility. Though they released questionable albums while tackling a similar style and stepping even further from their death metal roots, this definitely isn’t one of them.

This lineup is what many dub as their classic lineup, with Bjorn Gelotte shifting to guitar full-time to accompany Jesper Stromblad, and a stable rhythm section of drummer Daniel Svensson and bassist Peter Iwers.

Critics of this more modern In Flames point to Anders Friden’s vocal style shifting towards a sound similar to Jonathan Davis of the often-hated Korn. You definitely get hints of that in tracks like “Ordinary Story” and “Coerced Coexistence”, but the band at this stage could only be confused for one of Korn’s nu-metal contemporaries by those with a limited exposure to the music style.

The band’s style is built on sort of a modernized Iron Maiden approach with several of the compositions centered on memorable guitar harmonies, sometimes kept consistent throughout entire tracks. This is very much a guitarist’s metal album, with the instrument pretty much taking all of the album’s highlights and making for the prominent sound of the album’s instrumental pieces “Pallar Anders Visa” and bonus track “Mad Made God”.

The highlights on Colony are numerous, including popular favorites like “Ordinary Story”, “Colony”, and re-recording “Behind Space ‘99”, but lesser-discussed songs “Embody The Invisible”, “Zombie Inc.”, and “Insipid 2000” are equally deserving of attention.

If melody mixed with aggression is your thing, then you should definitely own this album.

MASTODON Live At The Aragon

Live album · 2011 · Sludge Metal
Cover art 3.75 | 8 ratings
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I say this over and over again, for forgive me if you’ve heard this from me before. When it comes to metal live performances, if it is made available in audio and video formats, the great majority of the time I’ll reach for the video version. In the case with this Mastodon release, the user gets both at a good price, so no such decision had to be made. I still gravitate toward the DVD in this set, but just listening to the CD alone, you can feel the energy their performance creates during the atmospheric passages of “The Czar” and the in powerful CTS closer “The Last Baron”.

The live performance suffers the most in the vocal department. Brann Dailor can be excused a little, since I can’t think of a drummer/vocalist off the top of my head that sings near album standards while playing drums. Troy Sanders and Brent Hinds are often off-key and occasionally off time (naturally, not a big problem for the drummer). Despite this, the band manages to put together a very entertaining show. That’s basically the only real noteworthy flaw of the show. In addition to the entire Crack The Skye album, Mastodon performs songs from other albums, including electrifying versions of “Circle of Cysquatch”, “Mother Puncher” and Melvins cover “The Bit”.

As the band performs, visuals are displayed behind them. The main visual aid, “Crack the Skye: The Movie”, is included as a bonus feature on the DVD. I was surprised to hear that the album audio plays over top of it, saving fans the effort in syncing up the audio themselves. Nice touch!!

Putting the whole package into consideration, this is definitely worth any Mastodon fan’s money. I’d say the DVD would rate around 4 on it’s own, and the CD a 3, so 3.5 seems fair here.


Album · 1992 · Alternative Metal
Cover art 4.40 | 86 ratings
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The Real Thing was the album that launched Faith No More into the national spotlight in the US. Not as widely accepted as it’s predecessor, Angel Dust shows Faith No More taking their newfound exposure to make an album that is a true artistic statement.

If you come to this album expecting something along the lines of The Real Thing, you might be disappointed. Not much of the material here would fit into that album. From the opening notes of “Land of Sunshine”, you can still recognize all the individual parts, but the band came together in the studio with a new and refreshing approach.

The downside for fans of the early Faith No More sound is that guitarist Jim Martin’s input on this album is greatly reduced in favor of Patton’s expanded role. However, his presence is still felt on tracks such as “Kindergarten”, “Everything’s Ruined”, and “A Small Victory”, plus his buzzing tone is present on many other tracks.

Patton shows a much more expanded use of his voice, as he incorporates growls and squeals in track like “Malpractice”, but here he shows his true ability as a vocalist with powerful performances in the chorus of “Midlife Crisis” and his assortment of techniques in “A Small Victory” that he only hinted at on his Faith No More debut.

There is a great amount of diversity on this album. Songs range from the extreme and avant-garde “Malpractice” and "Jizzlobber", the poppy cheerleader-driven “Be Aggressive”, the darkness of “Smaller and Smaller”, the hip-hop inspired “Midlife Crisis”, funky “Crack Hitler”, soundtrack-picked “Midnight Cowboy”, and the straight-up metal of “Caffeine”. Picking favorites on this album is a tough task. Each song strikes me a different way when I’m in a different mood so that after each listen I have a new favorite.


KING'S X Out Of The Silent Planet

Album · 1988 · Hard Rock
Cover art 3.98 | 18 ratings
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It’s kind of tricky referring to Out of the Silent Planet as a straightforward debut album. The band had existed for a large chunk of the 80s (previously as Sneak Preview). They made some tweaks to their sound, and this album does not show a typically young band (Hell, Doug Pinnick is barely under 40 on this one). They came to these sessions ready to deliver.

“In The New Age” starts with a bit of a tacked-on intro, but develops into a rather solid rocker built around a crushing groove that would become a key aspect of their sound. “Goldilox” is a very warming power ballad, showcasing Doug Pinnick’s unique voice and Ty Tabor’s diversity on guitar.

“The Power of Love” has one heck of a memorable chorus that always gets me singing along. “Wonder” has great balance between the bright melodic and slamming heavy aspects of their sound. “Far, Far Away” has great crunchy riffing by Ty Tabor, with him and drummer Jerry Gaskil providing great harmonic vocal support throughout the song. Both men bring similar touch to “Shot of Love” and “King”, both of which made for well-chosen singles.

The weakest stuff here is probably “What Is This?” and “Visions”, but even in these cases they manage to at least have a fairly good chorus to crutch upon. It’s just too hard for these guys to mess up a chorus!!

It’s littered with some great material, but I do find the debut to be a bit uneven at times. It’s hard for me to describe. I think they have a bit more variety on subsequent releases and grow even more as songwriters, as well as having an increased sense of adventure. Regardless, I’d still consider this to be an excellent pickup as I consider each of their first 5 albums to be worth buying.

PEACH Giving Birth to a Stone

Album · 1994 · Alternative Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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This material could be divided into two rough categories: the more groove-based songs, and ones that are more psychedelic/proggy. A bit proggy, a bit alternative, whatever you want to call it, I dig it.

Bassist Justin Chancellor, known for laying down the low end on many a Tool album, shows what made him such an attractive addition to Maynard and crew. His skills are evident from beginning to end, but his fellow band mates are just as effective on their respective instruments. Vocalist Simon Oakes sings in a no-so-aggressive fashion, with his British accent often unmasked by his whispery delivery.

While this album may have been written in the 1990s, the material definitely channels the spirit of 1970s, forgoing many of the clichés of 80s rock and metal. While quite heavy and aggressive much of the time, the overall atmosphere is more subdued and calming.

Quite an interesting collection of songs:

“Spasm” is a rather psychedelic number, having a strong vibe of Justin’s future employer, though more emphasis on the rhythm section than the guitar. “Naked” brings up the aggression with its strong energetic guitar riffing juxtaposed with its otherwise laid-back vibe.

They band shows off a notable prog rock influence with their cover of King Crimson’s “Cat Food”, which is faithful to the original while still sounding transformed and modernized.

“Velvet” has a definite alt rock/metal tone, with its powerful transition between soft and aggressive passages and some rather unusual guitar sounds and effects. “Dougal” reminds me a bit of Soundgarden from a musical standpoint, relying on low-tempo heaviness and the presence of screeching lead guitars. The heavy and experimental “Burn” follows.

“Signpost in the Sea”, probably the softest number here, is driven by its odd, almost uncomfortable melancholic atmosphere. “You Lied”, which would later be covered by Tool, dips its toes back in prog rock with bit of a post-metal atmosphere. Both are among my favorite songs on the album.

“Don’t Make Me Your God” may be the catchiest tune of the lot, vocals synchronizing nicely with the fairly straightforward but effective riffing. The title track, which closes the album, has such a haunting atmosphere created by echoing lead guitar work by Ben Durling and effective transitions between heavy rock and a verse that seem inspired by folk music.

Giving Birth To A Stone is a great album, and should please fans of prog rock, alt-rock/metal, or post rock/metal. There’s a little bit for just about any type of rock fan out there.

JUDAS PRIEST Stained Class

Album · 1978 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 4.10 | 107 ratings
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Long ago, when men were kings, Judas Priest stood head and shoulders above the competition. Stained Class marks the point in Priest’s career where they became “more metal”, that is, they began adapting many elements to their sound that would become synonymous with metal in the 80’s and would become a major part in their sound for years to come.

Take the drum stool for example. In comes Les Binks, bringing with him his tight style of play and a rapid right foot. His work on “Exciter” would help to give speed metal drumming a template to work from. From a tonal perspective, the sound of the guitars/bass and overall production also steps away from their bluesy hard rock sound and more towards a new, slick sound to take with them into the next decade.

The highlights are numerous. All very solid to spectacular songs with nothing I consider being filler. Aside from going on about the more popular numbers (“Exciter”, “Beyond The Realms of Death”, “Better By You, Better Than Me”), I get great enjoyment from listening to “Heroes End”, which has a nice midsection with the thundering bass/guitar and soaring vocal followed by one hell of a metallic guitar riff. The title track has a great chorus, and Halford’s wail in the chorus of “Saints In Hell” is of the Geddy Lee school.

The remastered version of this album includes the previously unreleased bonus track “Fire Burns Below”. It doesn’t fit in with the material on Stained Class, but it’s a nice song. It’s a song with definitely dated 80s elements, but the slick guitar and electronic drums compliment each other nicely in this case.

Stained Class comes as an easy recommendation from me when I want to introduce someone to Judas Priest. One of their best!!


Album · 1983 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 2.92 | 67 ratings
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This album had the ingredients to be special. Ian Gillan was one of the greatest voices of 70s rock and metal. Adding him to the Sabbath trio of Iommi, Butler, and Ward, this sounds promising indeed. From a song perspective, there is some stuff here that isn’t too bad. “Trashed”, “Disturbing The Priest” and “Zero The Hero” have their moments, but this is still a rather challenging listen.

The mix has got to be one of the worse there is. Aside from Ian Gillan’s possessed-by-a-demon delivery, the instrumentation just blends together in a bit of a mess.

You always hear about Seventh Star not being a true Black Sabbath album, but Born Again is certainly a different album from what the metal godfathers would churn out. The best way for me to describe it would be that so called classic Sabbath would set such a dark and disturbing atmosphere but it felt pretty organic, whereas Born Again sounds like it’s trying to make a scary record but in a cliché fashion. I guess it could scare a child, but kids are easy to frighten.

I usually forget about the second side entirely except for the fact one song is humorously titled “Digital Bitch”. The second side actually sounds like a completely different approach. Gillan’s voice sounds a bit more natural, and the hard rock style of the songs is a better fit for him. Like I said though, I usually forget the second side.

This is one of those albums that I have to be in the right mood to listen to, which doesn’t say much for it. I’d save this for the die-hard fans of Ian Gillan and the members of Sabbath.


Album · 1992 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.55 | 30 ratings
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Testament, like many thrash bands of the time, took an album to streamline their sound into something closer to mainstream rock. The accessibility is evident through much of The Ritual’s material, but scattered throughout are still some thrashy songs, such as “Agony” and “Let Go Of My World”, though my favorite tracks here are the moodier ones that make greater departures from Testament's core sound.

By far, the standout track on this album is the wonderful ballad “Return To Serenity”. It’s one of Testament’s greatest tracks, and I’d rank it highly among ballads played by thrash metal bands. In fact, it’s so good that it often makes a great deal of the songs on the album less memorable by comparison.

The main quality this album lacks versus other Testament albums is in memorable riffing, with a few exceptions. On the other hand, Alex Skolnick’s lead playing, in my mind, is what gives the album most of it’s replay value. The energy level is lower than on the band’s thrashier albums, but this album has Skolnick playing in a style that takes a slight departure from the band’s earlier works. Some of his more memorable playing falls on the songs “Electric Crown”, “As The Season’s Grey”, and “Return To Serenity”, which at times reminds me of sax lines.

For an album with mainstream ambition, I have to add that the mix is often a bit muddy, and the vocals don’t always come through with clarity, especially in the faster songs. It also could use some more bass presence. It’s not bad enough to turn me off the album, but it could sound much better.

The Ritual makes for a solid, but not a spectacular purchase.

PRIMUS Animals Should Not Try to Act Like People

EP · 2003 · Funk Metal
Cover art 3.92 | 9 ratings
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Back in 2003, I was still using dial-up internet. This meant I would usually spend very little time online, making it difficult to get news about my favorite bands. I believe the first I heard about the Primus reunion was when I saw this DVD/EP package at a local shop. Needless to say, I was excited!

The DVD contains plenty to sink your teeth into. There are a number of music videos spanning from Frizzle Fry through to Antipop. The majority of the music videos also feature commentary from the reunited band members. Additionally, you get some behind the scenes and bootleg footage of the band, some of which was previously contained in out-of-print videos “Cheesy Home Video” and “Videoplasty”. Other content, such as a Frizzle Fry era radio performance and a videos of “Sgt. Baker”and “Groundhog’s Day” with the pre-Lalonde/Alexander lineup, was previously unreleased. The menu layout makes it fun to search for all the content.

This package was marketed as a DVD with the EP as a bonus, and the new songs show that the band still had the creativity and quirkiness that made them popular. I don’t think I have a favorite track among them, as I think each one is rather memorable. Pretty much every track contains their brand of unusual atmosphere and experimentation, but are centered across strong rhythmic foundations and unique storytelling. I’m not reminded greatly of any one previous Primus release, as it does a good job of capturing different elements of all their Herb-era albums.

Whether you’re buying this for the DVD or for the music, this package should not let a Primus fan down. Both casual and hardcore fans of the group should really enjoy this.

FANTÔMAS Suspended Animation

Album · 2005 · Avant-garde Metal
Cover art 3.81 | 13 ratings
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Well, what have we here?

This time around, the group took inspiration from children’s cartoon shows. The album’s packaging, which takes the form of a calendar with some interesting artwork, is a good visual compliment for what they are going for. The track names are days of the month, ranging from April 1 to 30 of 2005.

Along with The Director’s Cut, this might be the most accessible Fantomas get. After going unconventional with just one long track on Delerium Cordia, they go back to the quick sound bursts that they used on their debut album. It doesn’t make much difference, since Fantomas is basically a group that requires their albums be listened to from beginning to end (with The Directors Cut being the exception).

Now, I haven’t heard anything this extreme on a cartoon (though I’d love it!). The frantic pacing of the album does feature several calming passages as well as samples and sound effects that may sound familiar to lovers of Warner Bros or Saturday morning cartoons in general. Some of the sounds are reminiscent of what you’d hear from the toys in accompanying commercials. The album may sound all over the place to someone not used to experimental music, but with repeated listens the transitions sound more natural.

Who knows when the next Fantomas album will arrive (if ever), but this is an excellent listen that would certainly not be an under-whelming finale.

DREAM THEATER A Change of Seasons

EP · 1995 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.87 | 89 ratings
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A Change of Seasons is an EP that set Dream Theater off in a direction that many (including myself at times) ridicule them for at times with their willingness to embrace the double-digit, epic in length song form. Having grown up listening to the likes of Yes’ “Close To The Edge” and Rush’s “2112”, Dream Theater were dying to make their own version of such tracks. This being their first real stab at it, and having taken care and around 5 years to perfect it, I think they did a wonderful job with it.

The sections really flow great into one another, contrasting from something like the second disc of Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence, which sounds less fluent and more like shorter songs stapled together. James Labrie’s voice is in excellent form, bringing a calming and emotional delivery that is a perfect match for the lyrical tone and musical structure. The band’s chops are well tuned to add an appropriate amount of technicality and spice to the proceedings without undermining the beauty of the composition. Of course, when performed live, they can’t resist going the extra mile in the instrumental sections, but that’s the charm of the Dream Theater concert experience.

One complaint I have is during some of the heavier passages, the sound gets a bit muddy. The cleaner passages are given much better treatment in the mix. Aside from that, I’m very pleased with the song.

The rest that follows is a series of cover songs that extend this EP to LP length. I basically consider them as bonus tracks, so they don’t play that much into how I rate this recording. Each is well performed, and I didn’t even realize they were recorded live when I first heard the EP, despite the crowd noise that kicks off “Funeral For a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding”.

Three of these “bonus” songs come in the form of medleys, one a blend of 2 Elton John songs, one a combination of 3 Led Zeppelin songs and the other being a wide range of rock artists. Some of their song choices aren’t the most obvious candidates for a heavily prog influenced band to cover (in particular the Elton John, Journey, and post-Hackett Genesis), but they do great justice to the originals and they blend well within the band’s sound. The one non-medley over, Deep Purple’s “Perfect Strangers”, is also a good fit.

A strong EP that’s easily worth a prog rock/metal fan’s money and time.

IRON MAIDEN Powerslave

Album · 1984 · NWoBHM
Cover art 4.51 | 201 ratings
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Call it blasphemy, but I’m not nearly as passionate about the music of Iron Maiden as I was when I was a teenager. However, tracking the Maiden career for at least a decade by now, it has given me some time to put their legacy (as I view it) into perspective. I still tend to rank and re-rank their discography in my head many times, so coming up with a favorite Maiden album is a difficult task for me. I will say that Powerslave is one of those favorites, and gives a very accurate and strong showing of what the Bruce Dickinson era of the band is all about.

Powerslave is filled with rich guitar harmonies as fine as any Maiden release, and is balanced well with their more hard rock riffing style. The mix on the re-mastered version that I own really gives the album a full sound.

Two of the band’s strongest singles appear on Powerslave. I remember “Aces High” being one of those songs I wanted to hear over and over again when I first bought the album. “Two Minutes To Midnight” contains one of my favorite solo sections in any Maiden song period, and the song’s overall structure is quite appealing.

Hints of their admiration for 70’s progressive rock shine through, from the album cover and imagery adopted by the band, through to the song structure that is most evident on the lengthy “Rime of The Ancient Mariner”. I occasionally think this song might run on too long a bit, but am hard pressed to find an appropriate edit. The occultist-themed title track also blends a bit of prog rock with some slighty unconventional (for Maiden) sounds in the guitar and backing vocal department. It’s probably the song off Powerslave that features little (if any) of their clichés.

“Back In The Village” may be one of less-talked of songs here, and its energy and riffing make this one stand out. The instrumental “Losfer Words (The Big Orra)” is fairly straightforward and easy to swallow, highly melodic and memorable with enough instrumental prowess to keep the listener attentive.

There are also a few other songs in the middle of the album that don’t grab my interest as much as the rest (“Flash of the Blade” and “The Duellists”). That may be, but they really don’t hinder my enjoyment of the album. Perhaps a ballad-type track in place of one of these (probably “The Duellists”) would have eliminated this slight lag in the middle.

This is definitely one of Maiden’s finer releases in their lengthy career, and would easily point someone this way if they were looking for a place to start in their catalog.

FANTÔMAS Delìrium Còrdia

Album · 2004 · Avant-garde Metal
Cover art 3.59 | 9 ratings
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The concept behind this recording is supposedly a musical representation of surgery without anesthesia. Having no idea what that’s like (thankfully!!), I’m not sure if the album reached its objective. It does feature a haunting atmosphere and a great variety of percussion and sound effects to help set the mood. Patton’s falsetto vocal delivery, mixed with the low end created by Buzz Osborne and Trevor Dunn’s respective instruments, also help contribute to the eeriness of the track. Coming in the form of one 74-minute track, however, this is sure to be quite trying on the casual listener’s patience.

The first time I listened to this album, I didn’t know what to think of it. Now that I’m more familiar with what Fantomas has to offer, I can say this is a pretty good release. Is it something I’d listen to on a regular basis? No. But I’d give serious thought into using it as a soundtrack for trick-or-treaters when October 31 rolls around. It gives me goosebumps anyways!!

A 3 rating puts this in the “good, but non-essential” range, so that’s what I’ll go with. This album is definitely a grower, and I can only see my appreciation of it going up.

ATHEIST Elements

Album · 1993 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 4.18 | 48 ratings
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Right off the bat, you notice the incredible skill of all musicians involved more so than any other Atheist release. The band has evolved as musicians, and have expanded their personnel with the addition of guitarist Frank Emmi, while drummer Josh Greenbaum replaces Steve Flynn.

There are several instrumental pieces that help to break up the album nicely. Some cover metal territory familiar to Atheist fans, but others deviate from what Atheist was known for at the time, and dives head first into full blown jazz and latin music at times (“Samba Briza”). Many of these pieces are among my favorite moments on Elements.

Sometimes, the material on this album suffers due to a slight muddying of the sound, especially in parts that feature vocals and more aggressive drumming. I also find more than their first two albums, that vocalist Kelly Schaeffer’s style sounds more out of place on these songs. This is mainly because the music allows for little room for the vocals, or that the material isn’t always as heavy as it was in the past, but I don’t think the material as it is on the album would work as well just being instrumental.

In terms of the songs with vocals, some standouts include “Water”, which is an overall melodic but mostly aggressive song with a few interesting acoustic guitar interludes. “Air” features a great intro and rather interesting guitar playing throughout. “Earth” really strikes me with the rather groovy riffing in the chorus, and an odd electronic hip-hop percussion break that works surprisingly well. Pretty much every song on it has something that peaks my interest, be it a major or minor part.

Overall, this is an excellent and highly influential release that fans of progressive metal and technical death metal should enjoy.

KING DIAMOND King Diamond & Black Rose: 20 Years Ago (A Night of Rehearsal)

Boxset / Compilation · 2001 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 2.69 | 4 ratings
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Though technically not an album by the King Diamond band, Metal Blade released this rehearsal tape under the King Diamond brand in 2001. It consists of a number of originals (and a “Radar Love” cover) recorded by King Diamond’s pre-Mercyful Fate band, Black Rose.

The recording quality is solid for what is essentially a live demo. Most instruments come through with good clarity, and it’s somewhat ironic that it is King’s vocals that suffer the most. You can hear him well for the most part, but some lines come across as a bit fuzzy. And since these songs were recorded live, the band makes the occasional blooper and decides to start songs over again. King’s written track-by-track commentary gives some great context into the recording and how Black Rose was as a live act.

The style of the music is quite a bit different from King Diamond’s solo albums and Mercyful Fate. Organ plays a large role in the sound of Black Rose, and the guitar playing is much more blues-based. They don’t sound like the most original band going, but there are still some entertaining numbers here. “Locked Up In The Snow”, “Holy Mountain Lights”, “Kill For Fun”, and melodic instrumental “Soul Overture” are my favorites from the bunch.

Flaws aside, this album is an enjoyable enough listen, especially for fans of 1970s hard rock/metal and proto-metal. Die-hard fans of King Diamond might appreciate this more than the casual listener, but the songs and musicianship is pretty good overall. It would have been interesting if Black Rose had released a proper album.

PRIMUS Pork Soda

Album · 1993 · Funk Metal
Cover art 3.63 | 22 ratings
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Three studio albums into their career, Primus still sound very much like Primus. However, this album is significantly darker than Frizzle Fry and Sailing The Seas Of Cheese from a lyrical standpoint. Songs deal with tales involving a friend’s suicide “Bob” and murder “My Name Is Mud”. Claypool still manage to squeeze some humorous lyrics into songs like “Pork Soda” and “The Air Is Getting Slippery”.

The music on Pork Soda is also heavier than previous albums, but one may argue the inclusion of banjo and mandolin on the album negates this fact. The bass tone on “My Name Is Mud” may be one of the heaviest sounds of any Primus album to date. “Mr. Krinkle” features a great combination of Claypool’s bowed upright bass and Lalonde’s guitar noises to make a gloomy but memorable song (with an interesting music video). The band also includes the song “The Pressman”, which previously showed up on the live “Suck On This”.

This album also contains three instrumental tracks (not including the brief “Pork Chop’s Little Ditty”). The first, “Wounded Knee”, is a well-structured, beautifully melodic percussive piece by drummer Tim Alexander. The second, dubbed “Hamburger Train”, is more of a jam track than a song. Very much a rhythm section-led piece, Ler decorates it with some spacey, sometimes Crimson-like guitar noises. Great playing, but “Hamburger Train” goes on a bit too long for me. The last instrumental piece, “Hail Santa”, features an odd combination of Les’s bass, a bicycle bell, and a talking children’s toy. Not much point to this track, but they had to end the album somehow, I suppose.

There is plenty of material on Pork Soda to please Primus fans as well as fans of progressive music and alternative rock/metal, but this album lacks the consistency of other Primus albums. However, I still consider this a good album worthy of 3 stars.

ANTHRAX Volume 8: The Threat Is Real

Album · 1998 · Groove Metal
Cover art 3.07 | 23 ratings
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Volume 8 serves as my first proper introduction to Anthrax. In fact, it was one of the first metal albums I’d spent my own money on. I’d heard their cover of the Beastie Boy’s “Looking Down The Barrel of a Gun” of the Beavis and Butthead Experience, and expected more of the same. I didn’t get anything that remotely resembled that, but I was far from disappointed.

Much of the material on here is undeniably heavy and hard-hitting. “Crush”, “Killing Box” (featuring Pantera’s Phil Anselmo on backing vocals), “P & V”, “Born Again Idiot”, and “Hog Tied” all are among the more crushing songs on the album. There are also a great number of more accessible and melodic songs that are just as powerful. Songs “Catharsis”, “Inside Out”, “Harms Way”, and “Stealing From a Thief”, while still considerably heavy, fall into this category. Hidden track “Pieces” is a touching ballad sung by Frank Bello and written in memory of his brother, and was a nice surprise the first time I heard it.

There are a couple of songs on here that are more on the novelty side. The tracks “604” and “Cupajoe” channel a bit of hardcore attitude in these minimal sound blasts, containing the humor and energy that side-project S.O.D. are known for. “Toast To The Extras” is even more uncharacteristic of the band with its country rock leanings. A few oddball tracks, but they have their charm.

My sentimental attachment to this album may have me overvaluing it in some people’s eyes, but this album is certainly one of the more overlooked albums in Anthrax’s discography and is rather enjoyable.

ALICE IN CHAINS Black Gives Way To Blue

Album · 2009 · Alternative Metal
Cover art 4.01 | 55 ratings
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I was one of the skeptics when I heard that Alice In Chains were regrouping in the years following Layne Staley’s death. I got mixed signals after hearing them do some Layne era songs with William Duvall, but it took their efforts in the studio to win me over.

There aren’t too many surprises if you are familiar with their studio albums of the 90s or with Jerry Cantrell’s solo albums. This album spawned a few singles. “Check My Brain” has a straightforward rock vibe, similar to something that would be on Facelift, but more modernized. I prefer “Lesson Learned” to “Check My Brain”, but both songs were rather fitting as singles since they show two different aspects of the band’s sound.

Two of my favorites off the album are “All Secrets Known” and “Your Decision”, both of which both tread down the familiar, dark-ish path of AIC of old, and they have the uplifting magic that make their work so endearing to me.

Samples of where I see the band taking on a fresh identity with Duvall is with the hard-hitting “Last of My Kind” and “A Looking In View”. While Layne wouldn’t at all sound out of place over top of these tracks, they help to push the new guy to the forefront and show that his voice has its own character and identity. The part mellow, part aggro “Acid Bubble” is also an effective showcase for the Cantrell-Duvall vocal pairing.

Is this the best Alice In Chains has to offer? No. Could it stand proudly next to the bulk of their discography? Definitely! Black Gives Way To Blue is easily a worthwhile pickup for fans of modern hard rock or alternative metal.

SPINAL TAP This Is Spinal Tap

Movie · 1984 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 5.00 | 6 ratings
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A five star rating for a parody of hard rock and metal? Definitely!!

There’s a small minority of rock and metal fans that feel this movie is making fun of the music and thus don’t like the movie because of it. If they truly disliked the music, then why would they continue to perform the material and dress up in character almost 30 years after the movie’s release? Comedy is as big a passion for me as music is, and this is an excellent example of bringing the two together.

The main plot of the film centers on Spinal Tap, an aging British heavy rock band, as they struggle with their dwindling popularity in the midst of a US tour. The band deals with strange offstage moments, even some on-stage blunders, and this is where the movie gets much of its replay value. Discussions of their endless list of deceased drummers, complaining about the “tiny bread” with the catering, performing at an air force base, becoming an opening act to a puppet show, getting lost backstage, …. Endless classic moments!

Many rock and metal bands claim they thought this was a true documentary when it first was released. I can honestly see why some bands claim to have thought this film was a genuine documentary, even when you ignore the behind-the-scenes mayhem. When listening to the music, they have constructed songs that have the same energy and musicianship that you could find on many 70s/early 80s hard rock albums. And, yes, the lyrics to the songs are laced with either sexual innuendo (“Sex Farm”, “Tonight I’m Gonna Rock You”, “Big Bottom”) or ridiculous fantasy themes (“Rock n Roll Creation”, “Stonehenge”), but they aren’t that far off what Ted Nugent or Kiss would sing about when fantasizing about school girls or some larger than life stage shows and lyrical concepts of prog rockers. A bit exaggerated, true, but sometimes a bit close to home. That’s what’s so great about the concert footage! Plus the visual quality of the film is highly reminiscent of concert documentaries of the time.

You don’t even have to be a big heavy metal fan to appreciate this movie. It was the first DVD I ever purchased, and it’s one of the first things I think of when I think of well-done musical parody and mockumentaries.

MEGADETH Killing Is My Business... And Business Is Good!

Album · 1985 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.51 | 95 ratings
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From beginning to end, Killing Is My Business meets the purpose that the two Daves set out to do by creating a ultra-fast/utra-furious sound. “Loved You To Death” and the title-track kick off the album with a great deal of aggression. The band sounds tighter on tracks “The Skull Beneath The Skin” and “Chosen Ones” while maintaining the intensity.

The classic track on this album has to be “Rattlehead”. It’s one of the fastest songs on a thrash album full of quick ones, but the lead breaks by Mustaine and Poland are also very entertaining, and the lyrics make it something of a thrash anthem (using the name of their recognizable mascot as a song title helps).

“Mechanix” should sound familiar to Metallica fans since it’s almost note-for-note what “The Four Horseman” was in it's early stages. Aside from the intro, this is pretty much the song in its original form (including the lyrics). I honestly prefer what Metallica did with it after Mustaine was dismissed, but Dave has to be recognized for having wrote the lion’s share of the song, which helped give thrash it’s sound.

The hardest part of the album to listen to is their cover of “These Boots”. It was definitely considered to be a joke instead of a genuine tribute, but these types of humor-laced tracks don’t often age well to me. To make things worse, the remastered version bleeps out a good deal of the lyrics censored by an annoying BLEEEEP. Censored or not, I’m not a fan.

This album set the tone for Megadeth’s sound that they would use for much of their career, and they’d smooth out some of the rough edges in the near future. Good album, great album considering it’s their debut!

OBLIVEON Cybervoid

Album · 1996 · Groove Metal
Cover art 3.17 | 2 ratings
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I stumbled upon Obliveon in a somewhat random fashion. I was in the mood for something old-school from the nineties, and a local store had a used copy of Cybervoid to hold me over.

The overall atmosphere of the album is cold and eerie, with a sound that blends the cyber/industrial metal of Fear Factory with the prog-influenced thrash of fellow Quebecers Voivod. I guess it was a direction a few bands of the era went. The vocal stylings of Bruno Bernier remind me of a cross between Gus Chambers of Grip Inc. and Max Cavalera. His voice is sort of a growl, but not too deep or guttural.

Much of the material here is based on heavy, repeating grooves, the strengths of which vary from track to track. The guitarists opt the occasional solo break, which vary from melodic to distortion/effects-driven affairs. Of all the material on the album, “Cybervoid”, “Perihelion”, “Subgod” and “Biomechanique” are what I consider to be the highlights.

Cybervoid is a good release for fans of death or thrash metal, though not a must-have album. I’d say it’s somewhere around 2.5-3 stars out of 5, so I’ll round up.


Album · 1990 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 3.57 | 25 ratings
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The story is perfect subject matter for a King Diamond horror story. The listener is treated to tales from the French Inquisition circa 1642, with the characters being real people from the time period. The tone of the album suits the story well, with keyboards being prominent in several of the album’s tracks courtesy of Roberto Falcao (and some by King), working to great effect in setting the haunting atmosphere of “The Trial”, “Two Little Girls” and, of course, the popular “Eye of the Witch”. The drumming on this album is very dry sounding (some sources say it’s a drum machine rather than Snowy Shaw), which sounded odd to me at first, but actually sounds rather interesting.

The Mercyful Fate guitar tandem of Shermann and Denner seem to get a fair amount of attention, but the duo in King’s late 80’s solo material of Pete Blakk and Andy LaRocque often is overlooked. Their lead playing on The Eye is very stylistic and highly memorable. Even some of the album’s weaker material (“The Meetings” being my least favorite) is boosted by top-notch six-string work. The duo even gets an instrumental showcase with the bright, semi-acoustic “Insanity”.

In King Diamond’s massive discography, The Eye doesn’t quite stand out as a highlight, but I’d still call it an excellent album that should please many fans of traditional/power/prog metal.

METALLICA Ride the Lightning

Album · 1984 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 4.46 | 203 ratings
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Ride the Lightning is one of those metal albums that in most circles is an undisputed classic. It’s undoubtedly a classic album, but there are a few factors that keep me from branding Metallica’s second album as an essential release.

The quality of the material on this album takes a bit of a dive towards the middle of the album, with the songs that I would consider as subpar being “Trapped Under Ice” and “Escape”. “Trapped Under Ice” is a rather thrashy tune that should please all simply wishing to bang their head at break-neck speed, but structurally this song always felt a bit jagged and rough around the edges. Not a terrible track by any means though. “Escape” is a rather odd track. The verse and chorus don’t sound like a match to me. This track was definitely not suited for the band’s style at that point. That being said, the intro riff is rather cool, and reminds me of Mercyful Fate.

As for the rest of the album? You won’t hear many complaints from me, other than the fact the instrumental “The Call of Ktulu” drags a bit towards the end, but is otherwise a fine composition. “Fight Fire With Fire” and the title track kick off the proceedings in glorious, thrashing fashion. The next two songs have deservedly become Metallica classics. “For Whom The Bell Tolls” is a testament to the power of a simplistic, spacious song, with an emphasis on heaviness and atmosphere over speed. “Fade to Black” was a departure from anything the band was known for at the time, but proved to be rather successful. Many thrash bands from this point onward would look here as inspiration on how to write a successful metal ballad. The album spawns a third classic track with “Creeping Death”, which contains some of the bands best riffing ever. The chorus is highly enjoyable as well, and the song always works well when performed live.

Ride the Lightning is a great album that I’d easily recommend.

MARTYR Extracting the Core: Live 2001

Live album · 2001 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 3.25 | 2 ratings
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This live document serves as a nice introduction to what Martyr has to offer. The material on this live album covers both albums they had released at the time. 3 songs are from Hopeless Hopes and the remaining 6 songs are from Warp Zone.

The band’s performance is very good, but the sound quality, while not totally bad, is somewhat rough on the ears. I suppose much of that could be attributed to the more aggressive nature of the material and the distortion, but the mix could have been a bit better. However, the most important factor is that the band pulls of their technical material with precision and ease, and is able to maintain a high energy level.

I’m impressed by the bonus content that is included on this CD. It contains MP3s of four studio tracks from their two previous studio albums, allowing the fan to make comparisons between their live and studio sound without needing to own one of their other albums. Multimedia content includes video clips for additional songs to give users a glimpse of Martyr on stage, as well as a mini photo gallery and bio. Being released in 2001 (pre-YouTube and other great internet resources), much of this content would have been more appreciated back then, but is still a great bonus today.

For the live recording itself, I’d give it around 3 to 3.5 stars. However being so impressed by the overall presentation and extras provided, the extra half star is well deserved. Extracting the Core is a cool live album that should appeal to thrash and death metal fans.

SAVATAGE Handful Of Rain

Album · 1994 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 3.65 | 28 ratings
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Handful of Rain was the first Savatage album I ever purchased, and I did so for one reason: Alex Skolnick. I had learned it was the only Savatage studio album he played on, but I did not know of the circumstances that brought him into the group. The tragic loss of guitarist Criss Oliva was a crushing blow to the group, leaving the status of Savatage up in the air.

Jon Oliva couldn’t just let the band fade away so easily. As a result, he puts on several hats by playing everything on this album aside from the lead guitar and vocals (uncredited in the liner notes). For Handful of Rain, he basically plays the role of Savatage, a natural fit for their founder and main songwriter.

Another thing made more evident from the circumstances of the time is the heavy emotions that flow through this album. Sure, Savatage have been doing the piano ballad thing for a number of albums at this point, but this is definitely not as happy an album as Edge of Thorns. It can be a very uplifting album for me at times, but on other listens it can make me feel depressed. Go figure!

There are a couple of tracks that stand apart from the others on this album. “Chance”, which is one of my favorite Savatage songs of all time, is wonderfully arranged and truly puts the listener on a journey. Album closer “Alone You Breathe” is a well-done, heart-warming tribute to Criss Oliva.

I’d say this isn’t one of the bands most consistent albums, and I don’t find the more traditional rock/metal tracks within to be all that interesting, but Handful of Rain is still a good listen. If you like the Savatage style from Gutter Ballet and later, you should be reasonably pleased with this album.

MR. BUNGLE California

Album · 1999 · Metal Related
Cover art 3.95 | 27 ratings
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If you’ve heard the first two Mr. Bungle albums, California might be a bit of a change for you. For the most part, the song structures are more conventional (slightly more, it’s still Mr. Bungle), and much of it comes across as (gasp) poppy and (BIG GASP!!) mainstream. Consider yourself lucky if you ever hear stuff this inventive cranking out of your radio. The shift is mainly in tone only, with the spirit of Bungle still in tact.

“Retrovertigo” is honestly one of the most beautiful and moving songs I have heard. Such a memorable and emotional chorus! It’s rather minimal instrumentally, and places Patton’s voice in the spotlight. “Pink Cigarette” is in a similar league in terms of flow, albeit more extreme towards the end as it builds towards a haunting conclusion.

This album is filled with variety. “None of Them Knew They Were Robots” and “Air-Conditioned Nightmare” blend unique combinations of surf rock, swing/rockabilly, and heavy metal. “Vanity Fair” is a rather colorful doo-wop song. “Golem II” reminds me some weird form of electronic jazz/funk with rather unusual vocals, elevator music from The Twilight Zone. I’m not exactly sure how to describe “Goodbye Sober Day”, but I’m certainly interested. By the use of exploring a wide variety of sounds and instrumentation throughout California, this is something of a precursor to Patton and bassist Trevor Dunn’s work with Fantomas (see The Director’s Cut).

I wouldn’t say this is an album a purist metal head would easily latch on to, which keeps this from being an essential “metal” album. However, this is nonetheless an excellent listen that I recommend checking out. It will certainly intrigue fans of non-conventional music, and could still perhaps cause others to cross over to more avant-garde styles of music.

CONTROL DENIED The Fragile Art of Existence

Album · 1999 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.31 | 33 ratings
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Unfortunately, this Control Denied release is the last work released by Chuck Schuldiner during his all-to-brief life. Thankfully, it was with an album that lives up to his reputation as a great metal songwriter.

Pretty much any one of these songs could have been a Death song. Most of the material could be placed on Symbolic or The Sound of Perseverance if Chuck stayed on the mike. Chuck, having grown tired of the vocalist chair, put Death to rest in favor of forming a more traditional heavy metal band. While not really breaking away from his “expected” ways of writing material, this project, with Tim Aymar on vocals, still finds a way to sound different. I’d say it’s a blend of traditional, power, and progressive metal, to be brief.

With Chuck, guitarist Shannon Hamm, bassist Steve Digiorgio, and drummer Richard Christy, you know from a technical standpoint there should be some creative playing throughout the album. Extended instrumental sections on the likes of “Expect the Unexpected” and the title track are great examples of their abilities, not to mention their evident talents within the core of the songs. The production and mix does justice to all four instrumentalists as well.

Aymar, without a doubt, is quite a talented vocalist. I’m not a big fan of some of the shreaky vocal parts he uses on occasion, but they are very much tolerable. Aymar’s voice sounds the best in songs that use his smooth mid range, such as in the verse of “What If…?” and with his harmonized vocals in “Cut Down”, but he’s in control of his voice and is brimming with confidence on each track.

If I were to choose some of my favorite tracks on the album, they would be “Breaking The Broken”, “What If…?”, and “When The Link Becomes Missing”. It’s really a hard call though with the album’s consistency.

For those that shy away from Death due to the vocals, Control Denied makes for a great substitution in your collection. An excellent release, just shy of being essential!!

THE OCEAN Anthropocentric

Album · 2010 · Atmospheric Sludge Metal
Cover art 4.13 | 22 ratings
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Anthropocentric was the second album released by The Ocean in 2010 (the first being Heliocentric). Having only listened to Heliocentric and Fluxion previously, my first instinct was that this album was pretty much par for the course for the band. But then I learned something: Never judge an album on a single listen, especially when the first listen is through cheap computer speakers.

With the second listen, I went with my favorite setup. Lying in bed, eyes closed, listening to my MP3 player. No distractions. Just me and the music. This allowed me to pick up on many of the nuances I missed on the first listen. It didn’t even sound like the same album!!

Anyways, why do I like it?

The Ocean is one of those groups (like Opeth, for an obvious example) that have the potential to draw fans to a more extreme form of music through their progressiveness and skill blended with accessibility. There are several moments on Anthropocentric where the band throws in aggressive, hardcore passages, and pairs them with melancholic but memorable sections that manage to stick in your head. While several bands make practice of this, The Ocean do it in such a way that it does not sound forced at all. You take a song like “She Was The Universe”, with a verse built around a simple but rather heavy groove. As the song builds toward the calming chorus, the sections are weaved together skillfully with the introduction of slick, melodic guitar work to form a seamless transition.

Several other tracks on the album are able to give such variety within a single track, pairing the beautiful with the brutal. There are others that isolate these moments and are more straightforward, going from one extreme (“For He That Wavereth...,” “A Tiny Grain Of Faith”) to the next (“Sewers of the Soul”). The album flows so well from beginning to end that I find myself appreciating it more as a total package than in pieces.

Anthropocentric was the first album by The Ocean that was a collaborative writing effort between all band members. This is definitely a practice they should continue in the future. This album comes highly recommended!!

SLAYER Divine Intervention

Album · 1994 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.38 | 52 ratings
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The gap between Seasons In The Abyss and Divine Intervention was the longest the band had gone in between trips to the recording studio at this stage of their career. Such a gap often results in a band retooling or changing their sound, but once Slayer found their sound in the mid 80’s they stuck with it.

There’s something about the production of the album that makes me think this one is worse than it really is. The guitars sound rather muddy, and the drums don’t sound nearly as sharp as they should be. Overall, it’s bad for their standards, but still listenable for the most part.

Dave Lombardo left Slayer a few years earlier, but replacement drummer Paul Bostaph shows he’s up to the task with his playing on “Killing Fields” and “Dittohead”. Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman continue writing riffs in the same successful mould, and their squealing solos are just as effective. They’ve written some slower material before, but songs such as the album’s title track and “213” have a different vibe that what was on South of Heaven. I think the production actually makes them sound darker.

There are no songs I’d call a Slayer classic, but Divine Intervention is a pretty consistent album with nothing that stands out as filler. I’ll classify this one as a good but not essential release.

METALLICA ...And Justice for All

Album · 1988 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 4.33 | 195 ratings
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I can’t dispute that this is a classic album, and easily one of my favorite Metallica releases. Is it a worthy follow-up to Master of Puppets? Definitely. Is it as good? Almost.

The track lengths are somewhat of an issue. Not bad in principle, but when comparing some of the songs to Master Of Puppets, some songs just seem to drag a little, and I mean a little. Basically, I’ll point to “Frayed Ends Of Sanity” and to a lesser extent “Harvester of Sorrow” (which doesn’t feel like AJFA’s 2nd shortest track) as examples. That’s pretty much my only issue, and it’s really not a significant one.

The production/mix might be an issue to some, but it honestly doesn’t really bother me. This is coming from a bass player, so that tells you something about the quality of the songs, what really matters. Each song has rather meaningful lyrics, aided by memorable patterns that make the words rather easy to memorize and fun to sing along with, and the heaviness of the total album (perhaps their most heavy album) cannot be denied. When someone refers to the “Metallica crunch”, they are most likely thinking of And Justice For All.

Just about every riff compiled within these songs has that “I wish I wrote that” quality to them that appeals to any aspiring metal musician. And with metal (thrash in particular), the riff is what makes the song. Much of the riffing in “Blackened”, Jason Newkid’s first and perhaps most meaningful contribution to Metallica, has that quality. The title track, “Eye of The Beholder”, “Dyer’s Eve”, hell, pick any song and it will have three killer riffs minimum. And who can forget their classic “One”, which is easily one of my favorite Metallica songs ever. It's such a powerful song that stuck with me from the first time I heard it. The mostly instrumental “To Live Is To Die”, while not quite the piece of music that “Orion” was on the previous album, it is still rather beautiful and a fitting tribute to ex-bassist Cliff Burton.

While this takes (a close) second place to my favored Master of Puppets, And Justice For All is easily an album that is an essential component of any metal music collection.


Album · 2009 · Metal Related
Cover art 3.79 | 40 ratings
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This was quite a refreshing listen when I first heard it. Having recently put Strapping Young Lad to rest and cutting his trademark skullet, Devin was looking to shake things up. Ki, the first release under the Devin Townsend Project moniker, showed he was serious.

This is pretty much as stripped down as you get for a Devin Townsend rock/metal creation, with most of the songs being based around clean-toned guitar playing, shifting his vocals (and occasionally those of Che Dorval) to the foreground.

There is some evidence of the aggression and heaviness we are accustomed to hear from Devin (parts of “Disruptr” and “Gato”), but for the most part this is a rather calm affair. In fact, many of what I’d consider to be the album highlights (“Coast”, “Terminal”, “Winter”, “Lady Helen”) are among the most laid back songs off the album.

Though the album is a shift in a slightly different direction, the songs really aren’t that far off of some of his earlier material, just a bit minimal. One track that covers more progressive territory would be “Ki”, which incorporates the layering of simplistic musical riffs, melodies, and vocals that build strongly as the song progresses.

Anyone familiar with Devin’s work knows he’s quite a quirky character, and he’ll often throw some humour and other surprises into any given album. The song “Trainfire” has him tackling a bit of a country/western song done his way, and “Quiet Riot” is an acoustic song with a somewhat lullaby feel that makes obvious reference to said hair metal band and their famous cover of “Cum On Feel The Noize”.

Ki makes for an excellent listen that should have crossover appeal with metal and non-metal fans.

TESTAMENT Live at The Fillmore

Live album · 1995 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.77 | 9 ratings
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I like this album as it gives a glimpse of a non-studio album lineup of Testament. Joining familiar faces Chuck Billy, Eric Peterson, and Greg Christian is lead guitarist James Murphy and drummer John Dette (replacing Low drummer John Tempesta). I always liked Murphy’s lead tone and style, so it’s nice to hear it in the context of Testament classics.

Considering this live album was recorded for the Low tour, you get a good amount of those songs, but I like the fact that some of their more obscure songs like “A Dirge” and “Apocalyptic City” make the set list, so this isn’t just a “best-of” concert. The final three tracks are all “unplugged” tracks to cover some of their ballads. Some of the lead guitar is done on electric guitar, and Star Nayea accompanies Chuck Billy on vocals. I really like how those songs turned out, as they are a warm contrast to the otherwise thrash-fest. In fact, I think I like this version of “The Legacy” better than the version on Souls of Black.

It may be a bit rough around the edges in terms of overall sound quality, but I am still often content just to listen to this concert when I get the urge to hear some Testament. Some may prefer to hear their “classic” lineup in concert, but it doesn’t bother me. Live at the Fillmore is an excellent live metal release. It gives an interesting sampling of the band’s material, and should please most thrash metal fans.

DEATH Symbolic

Album · 1995 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 4.41 | 146 ratings
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Symbolic is the second Death album I ever heard after The Sound of Perseverance. While that album got my initial interest in the band, Symbolic secured my place as a Death fan.

Naturally, the personnel of the band undergoes another shuffle. Guitarist Bobby Koeble and bassist Kelly Conlon, while not exactly the legends that Chuck has played with on past albums, certainly perform to the expectations fans might expect of them. However, in terms of all the instrumentalists, returning drummer Gene Hoglan is the one that truly makes a name for himself. We know that he can shred on the drums from hearing Individual Thought Patterns, but his playing on Symbolic shows him a bit more fluid, making rather difficult drumming seem so simplistic. The mix does justice to Hoglan’s performance.

Looking down the track list, I’m impressed with the quality of each song. All tracks have a crushing heaviness and at the same time are rather accessible. The melodic chorus of “Sacred Serenity”, the catchy riffing throughout “Crystal Mountain”, and the simplistic but strong verse riff of the title track are just a few examples of this. Symbolic stands as an excellent choice as a “gateway” album to death metal and more extreme forms of music.

Symbolic is one death metal album that could (and should) find its place comfortably in any metal fan’s collection. If you gain a deeper interest in this album, check out the 2008 reissue, which includes select demo tracks from the album (some which feature bassist Steve DiGiorgio!!).

THE GATHERING How to Measure a Planet?

Album · 1998 · Non-Metal
Cover art 3.68 | 22 ratings
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This album marks my first entry into the realm of The Gathering. I was drawn to explore this band for one reason: vocalist Anneke van Giersbergen. On this album, she doesn’t disappoint. Her vocals and choice of melody is what adds much of the colour to the songs, which tend to be rather minimalist and bare bones. Without her voice on this album, I’m not sure how I would appreciate these songs, as I’m sure they were written to showcase her stunning talent.

Unlike some other material by The Gathering, this one is not much of a metal album in the traditional sense. It relies more on the heaviness set by creating a dark mood and atmosphere as opposed to a heaviness brought about through dense, distorted riffing.

Most songs fit into relatively the same mould of clean guitar driven and quasi-ballad in structure, although the band makes rather liberal use of electronic effects and percussion, I’d say in more of a techno/dance/pop tradition as opposed to industrial. The track “Liberty Bell” is a good example of this.

My biggest problem with the album comes in the form of its 28 minute long title track. It’s pretty much an instrumental piece, which is not a bad thing, but it’s just not that interesting and is an anticlimactic way to end the album. Overall, I’d say I prefer the first disc easily over the second.

I’ll still classify How To Measure A Planet as an ok album, but it lacks focus in places, has limited appeal to those wanting or expecting something heavier, and it would benefit greatly with some trimming down to a single disc.

FAITH NO MORE You Fat Bastards / Who Cares A Lot?

Movie · 2006 · Alternative Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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The Brixton Academy show captures the band in 1990, just as they were beginning to explode in an “Epic” fashion. Supporting their 1989 release “The Real Thing”, the setlist contains all but “Surprise! You’re Dead!” and “The Morning After” from that album. Two tracks from the pre-Patton era are performed “As The Worm Turns” and “We Care A Lot”, both of which are a good fit with Patton’s voice. This concert is well shot, and the band performs great. It makes me wish for a more extended Faith No More show to be released in the future.

The other part of the package is mainly to showcase their promotional videos. Music video compilations aren’t normally my cup of tea, but at least they integrate some other things into the mix to keep it interesting. You get snippets of interviews, behind the scenes footage, and outtakes to bridge some of the music videos. The music videos span going all the way to the Chuck Mosely days through to Album of the Year, ranging in quality to low budget/amateur rank (“Everything’s Ruined”, the Mosely era ones) to great production values (“Stripsearch”). However, I believe there are some official videos missing from the collection (“Ricochet” comes to mind). I guess having “Greatest Videos” in the title covers their a$$es in that regard.

This is a great package for those new to Faith No More, and it has strong re-play value.

DREAM THEATER Falling Into Infinity

Album · 1997 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.37 | 119 ratings
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This is one of those albums that at one point, I didn’t care for, and I eventually sold my copy. Perhaps at age 18-19, it wasn’t “metal” enough for me to enjoy, littered with “soft” tunes like “Hollow Years”, “Take Away My Pain”, and “Anna Lee”. These songs and this album may not represent what Dream Theater is most known for, but the songs grew on me.

One song that didn’t grow on me was “You Not Me”. This song must represent a great deal of the frustration the band (especially Portnoy) were going through at the time. They reworked their original version of the song with famous hit-maker Desmond Child to lackluster results. The verse is annoying, the chorus is annoying, and I’m not even too keen on the many of the song’s riffs.

Besides that, there’s not a whole lot to complain about. Falling into Infinity is actually a great album. They tone down some of their technicality, but this is still a progressive metal album. This is perhaps on of the band’s most traditional sounding prog efforts in the spirit of bands from the 1970s. Lengthy and complex tracks like “New Millennium”, “Lines In The Sand”, and “Trial of Tears” are grouped with more moody and stripped down songs, as well as a few more-or-less straightforward heavy tracks (“Burning My Soul”, “Just Let Me Breathe”). Throw in the smooth and melodic “Hell’s Kitchen” instrumental track, and you have a well-balanced album.

This might not be the best album for a Dream Theater novice to start on, but it’s nonetheless a fine album that could appeal to more than just metal fans.


Album · 1990 · Alternative Metal
Cover art 3.67 | 48 ratings
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This is an oddity of sorts for a metal band’s debut. Having started out as a glam/hair band named Alice N Chainz, Facelift serves as a transition album. Maybe that’s why they called it Facelift.

I’m not saying there is a ton of the glam stuff on this album, but through the catchiness and groove on tracks like “We Die Young”, “It Ain’t Like That”, and “I Know Something (Bout You)”, I can hear it slightly. “Put You Down” even reminds me of something Guns N Roses might perform.

But the band really carved a niche for themselves with a rather unique sound. Several tracks blend dark atmospheres and up-beat/positive energy to great effect. This is evident in some of the brightest tracks on the album: “Bleed The Freak”, “Sea of Sorrow”, “Man In The Box” and “Love, Hate, Love”.

Facelift was an excellent way for Alice In Chains to kick of their debut in the mainstream, and helped to start a wave of grunge and alternative metal band. Not an essential album, but is easily a worthwhile purchase.


Album · 1992 · Alternative Metal
Cover art 4.51 | 105 ratings
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What a classic! Having shed pretty much all evidence of their hair metal past, Alice In Chains fully embrace their grunge-tinged metal sound with their landmark album, Dirt.

This album has been talked about to death, and for good reason, so I won’t go into great detail. In fact, I’ll make a rather unusual comparison of this album to another major event of 1992: The USA Men’s Olympic Basketball “Dream Team”. I won’t blame you if you want to stop reading.

“Them Bones”, “Rooster”, “Angry Chair”, “Down In A Hole”, and “Would?”. Those five songs were all released as singles, and they form your starting lineup. They are a great mix of heaviness, sorrow, beauty, and groove. A diverse bunch of songs, all complimentary to one another, and all are locks for the Hall of Fame.

It doesn’t stop there. Those songs get most of the attention, but the supporting cast has plenty of all stars and personal favorites highlighted by the likes of “Damn That River”, “Rain When I Die”, and “Hate to Feel”. The only thing slightly odd with this album is the unlisted track “Iron Gland”. However, at a mere 43 seconds, it doesn’t get much playing time, and has no effect on the overall image or impact of the album. Sort of like the Christian Laetnerr of Dirt.

Not a good analogy? Well, just let the album do the talking. Any serious rock or metal fan would be wise to check it out.

DEATH Individual Thought Patterns

Album · 1993 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 4.34 | 97 ratings
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Another album, another lineup overhaul, no surprises. As long as Chuck Schuldiner is there, you’ll get some solid metal. His writing style really hasn’t changed a lot from the early years, but a higher caliber of musicians can turn good songs into great ones. That was the case with Human, and the trend continues on Individual Thought Patterns.

Chuck, being quite the King Diamond fan, calls on Andy LaRocque to take on the second guitar slot for the studio sessions. I’m more used to hearing his leads accompanied by King’s wailing, high-pitched vocals, but LaRocque’s solos work well on this album. Many of Individual Thought Pattern’s most memorable solos can be traced to his fret board.

Aside from Chuck, the only returning player from Human is bassist Steve Digiorgio, who receives a generous boost in volume on this album. Sometimes he sounds a bit to high in the mix, but fretless bass playing on a metal album was still something of a rarity in 1993, so I don’t mind it. His playing stands out strongly in “Nothing Is Everything”, “Jealousy”, and the dueling solo outro (with Chuck) on “The Philosopher”. His rhythm section partner, Gene Hoglan, is just as impressive throughout the album.

Many of the songs are great cuts, but I’d describe the title track and “Out of Touch” (intro aside) as being less memorable than the others. The strongest tracks on this album are “Trapped In A Corner”, which features my favorite solo section on the album, “The Philosopher” (the song that made me a Death fan), and “In Human Form”.

Overall, this is an excellent album by Death, but is sandwiched between two even better albums in their discography. This is sure to please most fans of death metal, and possibly thrash and prog metal fans as well.

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