Metal Music Reviews

CRYPTOSIS Transmissions of Chaos

Split · 2021 · Technical Thrash Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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UMUR
"Transmissions of Chaos" is a split release by US technical thrash metal act Vektor and Dutch technical thrash metal act Cryptosis. The split was released through District 19 in February 2021. It features 4 tracks and a total playing time of 20:03 minutes. Vektor are well known as one of the more prolific contemporary technical thrash metal acts and the two new Vektor tracks on "Transmissions of Chaos" actually mark a return to the scene after a longer recording hiatus following the release of "Terminal Redux (2016)" (the band´s third full-length studio album). Cryptosis on the other hand are a less known acquaintance having only released a couple of singles by February 2021. Two of the single tracks make up their contributions to "Transmissions of Chaos". They would release their debut full-length studio album "Bionic Swarm" in March 2021. They did however work under the Distillator monicker in the years 2013-2020 playing a more regular type of thrash metal and releasing a couple of studio albums under that monicker, so these guys are also pretty seasoned musicians/composers.

Vektor open the split with their two tracks "Activate" and "Dead by Dawn", and it´s immediately audible that Vektor have changed and developed their style and sound a lot in the years since "Terminal Redux (2016)". They still play their own brand of technical thrash metal (sci-fi themed and Voivod influenced), but lead vocalist/guitarist David DiSanto has opted for a different singing style to his usual high pitched screaming, and now performs more regular snarling thrash metal vocals. But as a new thing in the world of Vektor he now also performs melodic clean vocals (on "Dead by Dawn"), and the new vocal approach provides Vektor with a few more weapons for their arsenal and dare I say a more accessible sound.

The two Cryptosis tracks "Decypher" and "Prospect of Immortality" aren´t far from the Vektor tracks in terms of sound and style. Cryptosis also play a sci-fi themed technical thrash metal style with progressive elements and it was definitely a smart move by the Austrian District 19 label/management company to promote newcomers Cryptosis on this split with the more well known Vektor. Upon conclusion "Transmissions of Chaos" is a high quality split release featuring strong compositions and stellar performances from both acts, and fans of technical/progressive thrash metal should take note here. A 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

VARATHRON Glorification Under The Latin Moon

Live album · 2020 · Melodic Black Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
Co-founded in 1988 by Stefan Necroabyssious, the band's vocalist and sole original member, Greek black metal band Varathron has been on a steady release schedule since 2004's ‘Crowsreign’, but for some reason have never put out a live album until now. Recorded on August 4th , 2019 in São Paulo during the final show of their "30 Years Of Darkness Tour", the setlist includes songs from throughout their career, including the entirety of the 1993 album ‘His Majesty At The Swamp’, to more recent songs, taken from 2018’s ‘Patriarchs Of Evil’. Alongside Rotting Christ and Necromantia, Varathron are seen as one of the founding fathers of the Hellenic Black Metal scene, and with 30 years already behind them there is no sign whatsoever of them mellowing out just yet.

This is classic black metal, and they utilise backing tracks with vocals and the odd keyboards to provide additional emotion and atmosphere, and if one were to remove that and the vocal style, one would possibly describe the music as being quite different as it is highly complex, technical and (dare I say it) melodic. This shows just how easy it is for genres to become confused as there are plenty of people who will say they do not like black metal who could very easily get into this album which crosses over many different styles from tech into power. They know how to use dynamics, and switch styles throughout so there is a great deal of contrast, which means that all aspects of their music come across with real power. Black metal live albums can somewhat suffer through lack of depth, as it loses some of that intensity, and while that is also the case here that can be somewhat mitigated by just turning it up. Yet another really solid release from the Greeks.

RAVEN Metal City

Album · 2020 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
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Kev Rowland
Back in 1980 I was just 17 years old, and deeply into the NWOBHM. There was no doubt in my mind that one of the best bands around were Raven, and I loved their single “Don’t Need Your Money”. When they released their album, I was unable to get it anywhere locally and in frustration actually found the number for Neat Records and rang them to complain! I was appeased when they told me I could order it directly from them as there was no HMV’s local to me, so I sent off my cheque and when ‘Rock Until You Drop’ arrived it came with badges and stickers, which promptly went on my singles boxes. I loved everything about the band, from the over-the-top bass and high-pitched vocals of John Gallagher, the attack of his brother guitarist Mark, and the pace of the songs, all driven along by Rob “Wacko” Hunter. These days many metalheads are not even aware of the importance of this band and their “athletic rock” which was the direct precursor of thrash, and not only do many bands cite them as a major influence but they were the first band to take Metallica on tour.

It is safe to say they have never achieved the success they so richly deserved, but even though they have been through a few drummers over the years, the Gallagher brothers are still fighting strong, and as they work towards their 50th Anniversary (formed in 1974) they are not slowing down or changing their approach any time soon. In 2017 drummer Joe Hasselvander, who had been in the band for 20 years, suffered a heart attack just before a series of US/European dates. The band completed the dates with a series of drummers, and when it was obvious Joe would be unable to return any time soon, they brought in one of these, Mike Heller (Fear Factory, Malignancy) as his permanent replacement. This 2020 album is their first for 5 years, and while many of their disciples have changed beyond recognition from their early days, this is still Raven doing what Raven do best, rocking hard and fast. True, there are times when there is more polish than there used to be, but Mark’s vocals are still passionate as ever, his basslines are still often insane while Mark is still hitting the riffs like he always has, daring the band to slow down, and Mike has happily settled into his new role.

This is classic Raven for the 21st century, and I for one cannot stop smiling and turning it up that little bit more. 40 years on from their classic debut , and the boys are still determined to "Rock Until You Drop" – “Don't think you can make it, Don't think you want to try, Sit back in your easy chair, And the world will pass you by, Life is what you make it, That's what people say, You've got to get it together, Make it your own way.” They are still staying true to their own words.

PORCUPINE TREE Tarquin's Seaweed Farm

Promos, fans club and other releases (no bootlegs) · 1989 · Non-Metal
Cover art 2.58 | 2 ratings
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UMUR
"Tarquin's Seaweed Farm" is the first studio release by UK artist Steven Wilson under the pseudonym of Porcupine Tree. The album was released through No Man's Land in January 1989. It´s a compilation of recordings from the mid-80 to 1988, and they were originally only released in a very limited number on cassette tape. Strict catalogizing would probably say this is the debut full-length studio album by Porcupine Tree, but it should probably be considered a demo album instead. Tracks 1 - 7 on the album and a re-recorded version of track number 8 "Radioactive Toy" would appear on "On The Sunday Of Life... (1992)" (the official debut full-length studio album by Porcupine Tree).

The material on the 15 track, 77:17 minutes long demo album is psychadelic rock at times strongly influenced by the early Pink Floyd releases. It´s an adventurous sonic journey from minimalistic ambience, to odd spoken word passages, to more regular sounding psychadelic space rock flows. Tracks like "Jupiter Island", "Radioactive Toy", and "Mute" are quite entertaining, but there are several parts of the album which feel uneventful and as a listener it´s hard not to become a little impatient when Wilson opts to spend more time with psychadelic experimental noodling, than on producing memorable songs.

For a "bedroom" recording, "Tarquin's Seaweed Farm" is relatively well sounding, although the programmed drums don´t really do the music any favors. They are simplistic and a little one-dimensional. So upon conclusion "Tarquin's Seaweed Farm" is an album featuring both great promise but also featuring more amaturish tendencies. Which is of course completely understandable at this early stage of Wilson´s career. I see this as more of a novelty recording that it´s nice to have heard to understand where Wilson came from than anything I´ll return to and listen to repeatedly. A 2.5 star (50%) rating is warranted.

GOJIRA The Link

Album · 2003 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.81 | 19 ratings
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Necrotica
Something I’ve always found a bit perplexing about The Link is that there’s not much backstory behind it. Gojira’s debut Terra Incognita has plenty of interesting tidbits to its name, such as how frontman Joe Duplantier lived in a secluded cabin for two years while coming up with inspiration for the record, or how the interlude “04” was intended by Joe and his brother Mario to be a birthday present for their mother. But The Link is… just The Link. Even the cover art - while indicative of the more tribal elements on the record (we’ll get to that) - is very unassuming. As such, its popularity and significance are often dwarfed by the records that sandwich it. Terra Incognita is the brutal and aggressive fan-favorite debut, and From Mars to Sirius is the breakthrough album that brought them significant acclaim in the wider metal community. But that doesn’t mean we should be forgetting about The Link.

Not in the slightest. On top of being a necessary stepping stone for Gojira’s progression, it’s also quite possibly the strangest and most experimental record of theirs to date. You’ll find the usual helping of groovy chugs and double bass worship, but it’s all topped off with the aforementioned tribal elements as well as a more “mystical” overall vibe. Right from the title track, you’re thrown into an otherworldly environment full of droning vocal inflections, hypnotic grooves, and wood block percussion; suddenly, the world crafted by Terra Incognita has expanded and become an even more diverse place to explore. Death metal sections are still present on The Link but they’re used much more sparingly this time around to make room for an expanding palette of influences. Whether it be the beautiful ambient interlude “Torii”, the doom metal-inspired riffs of “Inward Movement”, or the lengthy post-metal mini-epic that is “Dawn”, the unpredictability of The Link’s tracklist goes a long way in describing its appeal to anyone who’s a bit bored with the current iteration of the band’s sound.

Yet the surprise comes in just how well the songs flow into each other. You’d think so many disparate elements being put together would cause some massive consistency issues, but such is not the case with The Link. Even at this stage, Gojira were great at knowing what transitions and dynamics to use at the right times. A perfect example would be the one-two-three punch of “Connected”, “Remembrance”, and “Torii”. Technically, only one of these is a full-length song; however, all three of them flow into each other so well that you’d might as well treat it as one single eight-minute track. “Connected” opens up with some light tribal drumming that opens the gates for the death metal fury of “Remembrance”; in turn, the amazing breakdown of “Remembrance” fades out to set the stage for the lovely “Torii” to take place. Meanwhile, you can perceive “Wisdom Comes” as the band letting out their final blast of death metal aggression before the expansive and slow-moving “Dawn” moves in to bring The Link to a fitting close. While I’d argue From Mars to Sirius is even more well-constructed because it uses a concrete narrative to tie the songs together, this album is no slouch either.

As one would expect from a Gojira album, the performances here are absolutely stellar. Joe and lead guitarist Chrisian Andreu have wonderful chemistry together, especially on the heavier tunes. “Wisdom Comes” is especially noteworthy, as the duo perform dual tremolo-picked harmonies to create a sinister vibe that compliments the intense riffs nicely. Mario and bassist Jean-Michel Labadie are also perfectly locked-in on The Link, providing just the right balance of groove and technicality for those heavy songs while showing incredible restraint on the softer ones. In a 2005 interview with Hard ‘n’ Heavy Magazine, Mario said the sessions for the album represented “a period during which I wanted to play fast: I was starting to master well the grind parts and the double bass pedal”. This is definitely evident in fast cuts such as “Remembrance” and “Wisdom Comes”, which feature the most impressive double bass work and rapid-fire blastbeats that he’d ever played up to this point; the fact that the rest of the band could keep up and hold their own so well against his drumming is pretty damn impressive.

Admittedly, I’m quite tired of The Link being considered the red-headed stepchild of Gojira’s catalogue (well, according to the fanbase, it’s either this or Magma). It has a plethora of fantastic songs, a unique atmosphere, the most experimental writing of the band’s career, and some of their most technical and intricate playing to top it off. It set the stage perfectly for Gojira’s heyday, and it remains an incredible record in its own right.

LED ZEPPELIN Physical Graffiti

Album · 1975 · Hard Rock
Cover art 3.85 | 91 ratings
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Dellinger
This one seems to be among the best loved Zeppelin albums by fans, as well as a favorite among double albums. Yet, I don't really hear what's so great about it... besides Kashmir, of course. And then, perhaps it's Kashmir in great part the one that makes it sound bad, since the rest of the album sounds nothing like it, so much that it actually sounds out of place within the album... or else, perhaps the order of the songs within the album were not well chosen. I think Kashmir would have sounded much better at the end of disc two, which has many songs that go better with it, and which I particularly like better, and take the last two songs from that disc for disc one, giving the whole album a much stronger end, and making both discs sound much more coherent within them.

SYMPHONY X The Divine Wings Of Tragedy

Album · 1996 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.20 | 98 ratings
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UMUR
"The Divine Wings Of Tragedy" is the 3rd full-length studio album by US, New Jersey based power/progressive metal act Symphony X. The album was released through Zero Corporation in Japan in November 1996 and through InsideOut Music in Europe in March 1997. It´s the successor to "The Damnation Game" from 1995 and features the same quintet lineup as the predecessor. "The Divine Wings Of Tragedy" was the breakthrough album for Symphony X and is by many considered among their finest works.

Symphony X have honed their songwriting craft considerably on this release (compared to the two preceding album releases), and they have also upped the use of progressive metal elements, although they still retain strong European power metal/neo-classical leanings, and are also firmly grounded in the more raw and thrash infused US power metal style. The latter mentioned style is on full display on the opening track "Of Sins And Shadows", which features incredibly heavy thrashy (almost brutal) guitar riffs and heavy pounding rhythms, which are not the order of the day on most European power metal/neo-classical or progressive metal releases. It´s a muscular track showing Symphony X at their most raw and punishing. When that is said "Of Sins And Shadows" still features melodic neo-classical keyboard/guitar themes and a melodic anthemic chorus, so there is a good balance between the raw and the melodic on that track.

The same can actually be said about all the material on the album, although the melodic sensibility and the degrees of rawness and the number of heavy riffs/rhythms vary from track to track. Some of the highlights are "Of Sins And Shadows", "Sea Of Lies", "Candlelight Fantasia"l, and "The Accolade". Especially the latter deserves a special mention for the wealth of intriguing compositional ideas and beautiful and strong epic melodies. This is pure musical brilliance to my ears. Many would probably count the 20:42 minutes long title track among the highlights of the album, but I disagree with that sentiment. Although the track features many high quality elements (the opening choir section is for example great) and strong and powerful sections, it´s a bit of a compositional mess, with an instrumental middle section which doesn´t really work that well.

Other than the generally high quality compositions the greatest asset of "The Divine Wings Of Tragedy" is the high level musicianship. Lead vocalist Russell Allen can´t be praised enough for his commanding delivery and versatile voice. He can sing both high pitched and melodic and mid- to low register raw and clean vocals. His performance on this album is outstanding. The rhythm section are strong playing too and bassist Thomas Miller even gets to shine a couple of times during the albums playing time with some lead parts. Michael Pinella is obviously a classically trained keyboard player and his busy neo-classical playing perfectly compliments the ditto busy guitar playing of Michael Romeo. The latter is a world class guitar player, who masters many different styles from brutal groove laden thrashy riffs, to strong melodic hooks and great acoustic/clean guitar moments, to blistering solo work.

"The Divine Wings Of Tragedy" features a relatively well sounding production, which suits the material well. I say relatively well sounding production, because it´s not a perfect production. The drums for example don´t feature the most powerful production values, and they come of a little thin sounding in the mix and the distorted guitar tone is also a little odd sounding a times. It´s as if it´s sometimes played through a wah-pedal, but not on purpose. The minor production complaints aside, "The Divine Wings Of Tragedy" is still a perfectly listenable album and most listeners probably won´t even notice or be bothered by the mentioned flaws.

Upon conclusion it´s perfectly understandable why "The Divine Wings Of Tragedy" became the breakthrough for Symphony X. While the first two albums showed promise, this one fully delivers on that promise. High level musical performances and clever compositional ideas. On top of that Symphony X have a unique sound and a musical identity which immediately set them apart from the pack. Sure the neo-classical influences scream Rainbow and Yngwie Malmsteen, but that is just one elements of the band´s sound. Mix it up with the darkest and most heavy moments of Dream Theater and add a premier league US power metal vocalist to the potion and you have "The Divine Wings Of Tragedy". Not a perfect album, but it´s close. A 4 - 4.5 star (85%) rating is deserved.

KING CRIMSON In The Wake Of Poseidon

Album · 1970 · Proto-Metal
Cover art 3.76 | 38 ratings
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UMUR
"In The Wake Of Poseidon" is the 2nd full-length studio album by UK progressive rock act King Crimson. The album was released through Island Records (UK) and Atlantic Records (US) in May 1970. It´s the successor to "In the Court of the Crimson King" from October 1969. There have been quite a few lineup changes since the predecessor as Ian McDonald (keyboards, reeds and woodwinds) and Michael Giles (drums, percussion, backing vocals) both left King Crimson following the band´s first US tour in late 1969 and Greg Lake (vocals, bass) was also on his way out the door to form his own band Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Lake agreed to record vocals for the album though, and he performs vocals on all tracks but "Cadence And Cascade" (where the vocals are performed by Gordon Haskell, who would subsequently replace Lake as the band´s lead singer/bassist). Michael Giles was recruited as a session drummer, and brother Peter Giles, who was part of the earliest King Crimson lineup recorded the bass parts. Also as a session musician. "In The Wake Of Poseidon" also features guest/session appearences by Mel Collins (saxophones, flute) and Keith Tippett (piano).

McDonald leaving was the main catalyst for Giles and Lake also jumping ship, as McDonald was the main composer of the material featured on "In the Court of the Crimson King (1969)" and there were doubts in which direction guitarist Robert Fripp and lyricist Peter Sinfield would take the music. As it turned out the material on "In The Wake Of Poseidon" are in many ways very similar in style to the material on "In the Court of the Crimson King (1969)". The heavy and saxophone driven "Pictures Of A City" sounds like a sibling composition to "21st Century Schizoid Man" and the title track has a similar melancholic and epic atmosphere and a similar structure to "Epitaph" from the debut album. "Cadence And Cascade" is this album´s "I Talk to the Wind". So there is no arguing Fripp and Sinfield played it safe as far as sound and style goes. Fortunately they also challenged themselves and produced two tracks which are quite different from the material found on the debut album in the jazz rock influenced "Cat Food" and the slow building multi-layered 11:38 minutes long ambient/atmospheric instrumental "The Devil's Triangle", which is like listening to a gloomy, simplistic, and ominous sounding "Bolero". It´s a bit too long for its own good, and slightly uneventful and tedious too, but at least the band tried something new and different here.

"In The Wake Of Poseidon" is a well produced affair and the production provides the music with the right conditions to shine. Considering the relatively short time between the debut and this album, and the fact that the band´s main composer left (although he is credited as co-writer on "Cat Food" and "The Devil's Triangle") along with half the lineup who recorded the debut album, "In The Wake Of Poseidon" actually came out pretty great. It´s a ultimately a strong release, featuring high quality material, and stellar musical performances, and if you can look past the fact that many of the tracks on the album sound like they are made from blueprints of tracks from the debut album, there is a lot to enjoy here for a fan of progressive rock. A 3.5 - 4 star (75%) rating is deserved.

SUFFERING HOUR In Passing Ascension

Album · 2017 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.92 | 2 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
Out of all the styles of metal that have evolved over the decades it seems that the death and black metal camps have become the most productive with countless new bands crafting new methodologies of creativity infused with elements of outlying musical genres and hitherto unexplored hybridization. While war metal began all the way back with Blasphemy in the early 90s which basically mixed the aggressive fury of old school death metal with the atmospheric mindfuckery of black metal, the two have proven time and time again to make a compelling dynamic duo of torturous metallic fury and with myriad modern record labels ranging from Dark Descent to Blood Harvest cranking out the legions of new acts.

SUFFERING HOUR is among the newer bands in this current wave of blackened death metal that borrows the immediacy of classic Morbid Angel with the angular dissonance that jars the senses a la Incantation and adds elements of atmospheric doom and gloom right out of the black metal realms along with moments of pseudo-progressiveness with off-kilter time signature deviations, extended playing times and an overall focus on an album’s run experience over the strength of any particular track. This band that consists of Dylan Haseltine (vocals, bass), Josh Raiken (guitar, vocals) and Jason Oberuc (drums, vocals) was formed in the Minneapolis suburb of Forest Lake and IN PASSING ASCENSION is the debut which emerged in 2017.

Talk about a gluttony of excess! It seems that so many bands are so talented these days that it’s really hard to keep up with it all and SUFFERING HOUR is just one more band to craft exquisitely designed musical dread in the form of blackened death metal which ticks off all the boxes in the proper proportions. For this kind of music it’s almost mandatory to create a short introductory mood setting intro in this case the opening “Insufferable Scorn” which immediately yanks your consciousness out of the benevolence of sanity and plunges it deep into the dark recesses of a hellish soundscape dominated by atonal doomy guitar riffs, murky atmospheric frightfulness and slinking rhythmic cadences.

After the proper tone has been set the first fully fueled metal track “For The Putridity Of Man” cranks things up a few notches and goes for the death metal gusto with fully fueled chugga chug action and freewheeling frenzies of dissonant sound clusters bantering the senses with high octane intensity. While true that what SUFFERING HOUR performs here may not be exactly groundbreaking at this stage in the metal timeline, where the band succeeds brilliantly is in crafting an album’s worth of aggressive modern blackened death metal that allows enough diverse elements to keep the album from hitting any brick walls. “The Abrasive Black Dust” for example perfectly punctuates the muddled murky madness with an occulted melody of sorts that is dressed up with delightfully designed riffing motifs that oscillate like swells from the sea with the proper amount of distorted feedback bleeding into every nook and cranny culminating in the album’s highlight, the near 9-minute monster “Procession To Obscure Infinity.”

Ugly is certainly the new beautiful in the world of unhinged brutality in the world of modern day death metal and in the case of SUFFERING HOUR is met with an arsenal of creative tricks and trinkets that are intelligently designed to enhance the whole shebang rather than derail. The band mastered the art of balance on IN PASSING ASCENSION and eschewed the pitfalls of adding filler simply for the sake of making a longer playing time. There’s something about the classic playing time of around 40 minutes that is in the human psyche and by sticking to this principle, the overbearing intensity of the album resonates rather than enervates. Add to that the extraordinary musicianship of this trio and it’s no wonder by SUFFERING HOUR received so many plaudits from the world of the underground metal scene when this was released. This is recommended to those who love those dissonant spidery guitar workouts in the vein of Deathspell Omega, Ad Nauseum, Gorguts and similarly minded techy black death.

GOJIRA Fortitude

Album · 2021 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.66 | 8 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
Rising again like its namesake icon, the French extreme metal band GOJIRA is back with its seventh studio album FORTITUDE which finds the band further exploring hitherto unpursued sonic palettes like few others in the world of metal who more often than not become fairly cozy in a comfort zone. This head banging quartet of Joe Duplantier (vocals, guitar), Mario Duplantier (drums), Christian Andreu (guitar) and Jean-Michel Labadie (bass) has never been one to rest on its laurels and although GORJIRA has taken a somewhat more accessible, dare i say even more commercial route on its previous album “Magma,” somehow this quartet successfully maintains its core integrity of infusing the disparate metal subgenera of death metal, groove metal and alternative metal into one cauldron of hot steaming sonic sensationalism.

It’s been a five year break since “Magma” and the metal world has changed a lot getting even weirder and more diverse but somehow GORJIRA continues the path of exploring new sonic textures while maintaining the energetic chugging drive, extraordinary musical dexterity and metal hybridism. What’s new on FORTITUDE is that the band takes the previous alternative metal approach that debuted on “Magma” and branches out into myriad directions thus creating a delightful mix of moods, dynamics and rhythmic bombast unlike any other album in its canon. While the progressive excesses of the first two albums have long been tamped down as well as the epic progressive feel of the following pair of albums that followed, FORTITUDE still stays connected to all those previous eras while exploring a more varied range of timbres, tones, echo effects and production values.

While many have long written off this band as some sort of sellout, i personally find these later albums to be quite dynamic as they provide instantly catchy metal hooks in the classic sense while exploring various detours into moments of clean vocal progressive rock, Pantera-esque groove metal as well as the intense urgency of a Rage Against The Machine album most likely courtesy of engineer Andy Wallace who worked with that band as well as Nirvana thus giving that angry 90s grunge feel at times. And of course it wouldn’t be a GOJIRA album without a plethora of polyrhythms where barrages of guitar riffs, pummeling percussion and bantering bass grooves provide crushing metal monstrosities while Joe Duplantier brazenly belts out his soul crushing screams.

Perhaps the most noticeable difference for FORTITUDE is the production and the heavy uses of atmospheres which provides the perfect counterpoint to the galloping grooving guitar riffs and the incessant guitar sailing that accompanies. As far as tempo changes go, FORTITUDE may not embrace the chaotic free-for-all proggy complexities as “Terra Incognita” and “The Link” but still manages to squeeze in a few oddball time signatures between the steady rhythmic drive as well as delivering extreme curve balls as heard on the tribal percussion dominated title track accompanied by unorthodox wordless vocal harmonizing which actually serves as an intro to the following track “The Chant.”

When all is said and done i can totally understand why many may not be too thrilled with these easier listening experiences of GOJIRA when compared to the epic and experimental sounds of yore but as far as an accessible melodic metal album is concerned, GOJIRA does an excellent job keeping FORTITUDE engaging from beginning to end in my book. These songs are not only catchy but crafty and creative with subtleties that may require a few spins before really sinking in. I think i actually prefer this one to “Magma” as that previous album didn’t quite have the repeat visit enjoyability but this one has just enough ear wormy hooks to signify a respite into its majesty! While i wouldn’t call FORTITUDE my all time GOJIRA album by any means, i’m actually quite surprise how much i love this one. What will this monstrous band come up with next? Will we have to wait another five years? Chances are a new phase of the band will begin.

KING CRIMSON In The Court Of The Crimson King

Album · 1969 · Proto-Metal
Cover art 4.33 | 88 ratings
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UMUR
"In the Court of the Crimson King" is the debut full-length studio album by UK progressive rock act King Crimson. The album was released through Island Records (UK) and Atlantic Records (US) in October 1969. King Crimson officially formed in November 1968, but the history of the band began in August 1967 when brothers Michael Giles (drums) and Peter Giles (bass) recruited guitarist Robert Fripp and formed the band Giles, Giles and Fripp. Although the trio were clearly skilled composers and gifted musicians, they only managed to release a couple of singles and the 1968 "The Cheerful Insanity Of Giles, Giles & Fripp" album, before disbanding as a consequence of a lack of commercial success. Maybe disbanding isn´t the correct word to use though as Giles, Giles and Fripp more or less just sequed into being King Crimson with the departure of Peter Giles and the addition of Ian McDonald (keyboards, reeds and woodwinds), Greg Lake (vocals, bass) and Peter Sinfield (lyrics, illumination).

"In the Court of the Crimson King" is quite the adventurous and progressive musical journey and it´s obvious that especially the addition of Ian McDonald and his contributions on the mellotron and the flute had a major impact on the band´s sound. Lake doesn´t have the most distinct sounding voice, but his delivery is pleasant and suits the music perfectly (helped along by the incredibly beautiful melody lines and abstract psychadelic lyrics, which sometimes also feature more direct political/social references). The musical influences are many and ranges from heavy blues rock, jazz, to classical music. As mentioned above the album is a journey, and as a listening experience it´s best appreciated in full. From the ultra heavy opening track "21st Century Schizoid Man", which not only features a proto-doom metal riff of crushingly heavy proportions, but also a pretty complex saxophone driven jazz rock middle section and a couple of avant gardish moments. Not that it´s a contest but "21st Century Schizoid Man" is arguably heavier and also pre-dates the proto-doom metal riffs on Black Sabbath´s February 1970 debut album.

Opening the album with such a noisy, heavy, and incredibly busy track, the mellow nature, soaring beautiful melody lines and soft folky flute playing on "I Talk to the Wind" do come as a bit of a surprise to the listener, but the effect of light and dark and heavy and mellow are contrasts often used on "In the Court of the Crimson King". "Epitaph" follows and it´s an epic track featuring massive and effectful use of the mellotron. I feel like Lake is telling me a dark and gloomy fairytale about the end of the world, and I´m moved by the words and how they are performed. There´s a little glimmer of hope, but ultimately the narrator (Lake) isn´t holding on to any illusions.

The next track is "Moonchild". The 12:11 minutes long track is divided into two parts. The first part only last around 2:30 minutes and it´s a beautiful and gloomy folky opening to the full track. The almost 10 minutes of remaning playing time of "Moonchild" are not quite as interesting to my ears. In fact it more or less just sounds like the band improvise and play little noodly bits of notes. It´s uneventful, quite tedious, and a little pointless, not to mention that it seriously disrupts the flow of the album. Thankfully the album closes with the the effectful and epic "The Court of the Crimson King". The mellotron is again used to great effect and the there is a great ominous atmosphere surrounding the track, which suits the mood of the rest of the album.

It can not be argued how important and monumental the release of "In the Court of the Crimson King" was for the progressive rock movement. It´s one of the seminal releases of the genre and of course mandatory listening for those interested in late 60s/early 70s progressive rock. It features everything you could wish for on a progressive rock album. Heavy riffs, acoustic guitar parts, jazz rock influences, epic mellotron driven moments, organic folky parts with flute, majestic and beautuful vocal melodies, and a healthy dose of musical experimentation. The latter unfortunately is a bit too much on "Moonchild" and the improvised section of that track does drag my rating down a bit. Had that part of the album featured something equal in quality to the rest of the material on the album, "In the Court of the Crimson King" would have been a sure 5 star (100%) rating from me, but as it is, a 4 star (80%) rating it is.

FUNEBRE Children of the Scorn

Album · 1991 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.77 | 3 ratings
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UMUR
"Children of the Scorn" is the debut full-length studio album by Finnish death metal act Funebre. The album was released through Spinefarm Records in 1991 and is on an interesting sidenote produced by Timo Tolkki (later of Stratovarius fame). Funebre were formed in 1988 and released two demos before releasing the "Brainspoon" EP in 1990. The band were relatively short lived and after releasing "Children of the Scorn" they disbanded. Although never commercially successful or reaching other than obscure underground recognition, Funebre are widely regarded as one of the pioneers of the Finnish death metal scene along with artists like Abhorrence and Convulse.

Stylistically the material on "Children of the Scorn" continue the old school death metal style of the 1990 "Brainspoon" EP, but while the EP was a relatively amaturish release, Funebre have stepped up on "Children of the Scorn" and deliver a good quality performance. The playing is solid, The sound production is suitably raw and organic (the guitars feature a slightly unpleasant distorted tone, but other than that the sound production suits the music well), and the songwriting is for the most part inspired and intriguing. Funebre don´t have the most unique sound, but they deliver their music with both passion and great conviction.

While this isn´t exactly doom/death, one of the greatest features of the music are the many crushingly heavy doomy parts. Funebre understand how to vary pace though and also put in a couple of hooks along the way, so for an old school death metal release, "Children of the Scorn" is relatively varied. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

FORBIDDEN Distortion

Album · 1994 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.61 | 10 ratings
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"Distortion" is the 3rd full-length studio album by US, California based thrash metal act Forbidden. The album was released through GUN Records in November 1994, almost five years after the release of "Twisted Into Form (1990)". A release frequency which was a bit longer than usual for the time. A couple of circumstances prevented an earlier release though. First of all drummer Paul Bostaph left Forbidden to join Slayer. He is replaced here by Steve Jacobs. Secondly the musical climate changed dramatically between the release of "Twisted Into Form (1990)" and "Distortion", and Forbidden found themselves searching for a label to release the album, and that was a longer process than anticipated. Forbidden shared the fate of many 80s thrash metal acts, who had created a solid reputation in the 80s, only to be forgotten soon in the early 90s, when other music styles "stole" their audience.

They did what they could to adapt to the new musical climate of the times, as "Distortion" is not a "straight" thrash metal release by any means. It´s heavy, dark, groove laden, and aggressive, and generally features very few fast-paced thrash metal rhythms or riffs. The musicianship is still on a very high level and sharp heavy groove metal riffs and rhythms are delivered with great conviction. Lead vocalist Russ Anderson generally sings a bit more rough and less "theatrical" than he did on the predecessors, but it´s still audible that he is a very skilled vocalist with a strong set of pipes.

"Distortion" also features a well sounding production job, so all prerequisites are there for the album to be a success. Unfortunately the songwriting isn´t that inspired and not many tracks stand out as particularly memorable (and closing the album with a pretty standard quality cover version of "21st Century Schizoid Man" by King Crimson, doesn´t make the album any more interesting). It´s like all the great features of the two predecessors have been left behind in search of a contemporary sound which could reach a new audience, but the material simply aren´t strong enough for that. If you meassure "Distortion" against contemporary releases by artists like Machine Head and Pantera, there´s just no competition. In that context it´s a forgettable and quite mediocre release. They should probably instead have stuck to their guns and attempted to ride out the thrash metal hostile 90s with their heads held high, because "Distortion" neither gave them critical acclaim nor commercial success. A 3 star (60%) rating is warranted.

IMPERA Spirit of Alchemy

Album · 2021 · Hard Rock
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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lukretion
This one caught my attention for the incredible line-up of musicians involved. Johan Kihlberg, the mastermind behind the project, has worked in the music business for over thirty years and collaborated with members of Kiss, Thin Lizzy, Europe, Rainbow and Mötley Crüe. The other musicians have equally illustrious careers. The rhythm section is comprised of bassist John Levén (Europe) and drummer Snowy Shaw (King Diamond, Mercyful Fate, Therion and countless others). Lars Chriss from Lion’s Share is the man behind the guitar fireworks, while Jonny Lindkvist (Nocturnal Rites) takes care of the vocals.

Given the band’s pedigree it will not be a total surprise to hear that Spirit of Alchemy, Impera’s sixth album, inhabits a musical territory somewhere between the proto-power metal of Rainbow and Dio, and the hard rock of bands like Whitesnake. Muscles and melodies go hand in hand from start to finish on this album. And while it’s nothing really ground-breaking, it’s a trick that never fails to amuse.

The other undeniable strength of the album are the outstanding performances of all musicians involved. Jonny Lindkvist’s voice is still in great shape. His delivery is gritty but soaring and full of melody. The best tracks of the album are driven by his excellent vocal lines, like “Nothing Will Last” and “All About You”. Lars Chriss’s solos are sharp as a knife and fast like a thunderbolt, and complement well Kihlberg's solid riffing. What’s more, Chriss always tries to give the solos a modern twist, instead of relying on more traditional classicisms. This makes his playing sound fresh and original, definitely one of the highlights of the record. The tight rhythm section also deserves praise, especially Snowy Shaw’s fast and explosive drumming. And check out that groovy bass lick on “In Heaven”!

On the less positive side, the album falls a bit flat in the songwriting department. Don’t get me wrong, there are some excellent tracks that are both catchy and headbangable (“Nothing Will Last”, “All About You”, “No”). But there are also a lot of moments where the album feels a bit humdrum (the tracks in the middle of the record, between “When Souls Collide” and “Lost You Life to Rock ’n’ Roll”). The lack of variation in the songs’ tempo and structure does not help either. There are a couple of instances where Kihlberg brings to life his love for bombastic soundtrack music (“Nothing Will Last”, “Battle”), which injects a much needed dose of originality into the music. However, these episodes are few and far in between. My ears crave for more moments like these, where Kihlberg plays it a little bit less safe and tries to bring something new to the table.

Spirit of Alchemy is nevertheless a solid album that is fuelled by excellent performances by musicians from the elite of the international hard rock / AOR / melodic metal scenes. Its nine songs are pleasant rockers that may not break any new ground, but are rich in hooks and momentum and should definitely appeal to those readers who are on the more melodic side of metal.

[Originally written for The Metal Observer]

STORMWIND Rising Symphony

Album · 2003 · Neoclassical metal
Cover art 2.50 | 1 rating
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lukretion
Formed in 1995, Stormwind are the brainchild of Swedish guitar maestro Thomas Wolf. The band started playing an unusual brand of female-fronted AOR, before transitioning towards a neoclassical power metal sound that nevertheless retained distinctive AOR / hard rock influences. The band caught the attention of Massacre Records that in 2000 offered them a record deal. Stormwind will go on to release three studio albums and one live record for the German label, which Black Lodge Records is now re-releasing in remastered format with added bonus tracks. Rising Symphony is the last studio album released by Stormwind in 2003, concluding a short but prolific career, with six studio albums in the course of a mere nine years.

The first thing that is impressive about this album is the quality of Stormwind lineup. Thomas Wolf is a guitar powerhouse, following in the footsteps of giants like Ritchie Blackmore and Yngwie Malmsteen, but with a more modern, almost thrashy edge to his playing that makes it refreshing. Thomas Vikström is responsible for the vocal duties. The guy needs little introduction, his stints in Candlemass and Therion have gained him a strong reputation in the metal circles. His performance on Rising Symphony is remarkable, especially for the impressive vocal range he shows throughout the album. The rhythm section is comprised of drummer David Wallin (currently playing with HammerFall) and bassist Andreas Olsson (Royal Hunt, ex-Narnia). Their playing is tight and hyper-fast, yet precise and nuanced, as the genre dictates. The lineup is completed by keyboard player Kaspar Dahlqvist (who played on Angra’s Secret Garden album). His presence is not very prominent on this album, but in previous Stormwind’s records his duels with Thomas Wolf’s guitar were nothing short of legendary.

It’s fair to say that this strong lineup is what holds this album together. Don’t get me wrong, Rising Symphony is by no means a bad album. Its nine tracks alternate between fast speed metal pieces and majestic ballads and mid-tempos, always retaining a strong neoclassical power metal gusto in the spirit of legendary acts like Rainbow, Yngwie Malmsteen’s Rising Force and Stratovarius. There is also a strong hard rock component, that is most evident in songs like “Streets of Prishtine” and Queen’s cover “White Man”. Yet, I cannot shake off the impression that most of what I hear on this album has already been done (and better) elsewhere, including by Stormwind on their previous albums. Without strong performances like those provided by the band, the album would have seriously risked to fall completely flat.

Part of the problem is that Wolf’s songwriting on Rising Symphony follows a rather plain “pedal-to-metal” approach, relying on speed and heaviness rather than atmosphere and melody. Inevitably, the songs feel less nuanced and are melodically weaker than the sophisticated and vaguely proggy material Wolf had written for albums like Resurrection (2000) or Reflections (2001). Even the obligatory semi-acoustic ballad “River of Love” pales in comparison to songs like “Golden Tears” and “Seven Seas” that Stormwind had released on their previous two albums. The record also feels a tad too heterogeneous for its own sake. “Streets of Prishtine” is actually a very good song, and it would have worked perfectly well if it had been released by Whitesnake on one of their 80s albums. But it feels spectacularly out of place squeezed between the neoclassical speed metal assault of “Flyer” and the epic mid-tempo “Excalibur”. The same goes for the bluesy Queen’s cover “White Man”. Truth be told, Stormwind’s hard rock version of this track is actually more engaging that the original by Queen, but it nevertheless remains an odd choice for a power metal album.

The albums has some saving grace in songs like the epic Viking tale of “Strangers from the Sea”, which features a rich choral extravaganza, and “Excalibur”, a majestic yet vaguely sinister mid-tempo that closes the album in style. I actually wish Stormwind had relied more heavily on the use of choirs (sometimes operatic, sometimes more in the vein of Queen), as they had done on their previous album Reflections. On that album, the choirs added an unusual feel to the typical neoclassical power metal sound, elevating Stormwind above other similar bands. Unfortunately, we only get a taste of this on “Strangers from the Sea” and “River of Love”, while the rest of the album moves within much more conventional territories.

The remastered version does not sound all that different from the original 2003 CD. Noticeable differences emerge mostly on the more complex passages, like the busy chorus of “Strangers from the Sea”, where the remaster sounds smoother and more balanced. The new release contains one bonus track, the fairly anonymous “Wings of Tomorrow”, a re-recording of a song that had originally appeared on the band's debut album and was released as a bonus track on the 2003’s Japanese version of Rising Symphony. It replaces the short acoustic instrumental “Venezia” that had appeared on the 2003 European release and that, frankly, was a more pleasant and interesting piece.

All in all, at Rising Symphony may not be Stormwind’s finest hour, but this should not stop you to explore the band’s back catalogue. Albums like Resurrection and especially Reflections are excellent examples of the neoclassical power metal revival of the 1990s and can hold their ground when compared to some of the best works in the genre. Black Lodge Records has re-released both of these albums as well and, if you are a fan of this type of sound, you should definitely check them out!

[Originally written for The Metal Observer]

STORMWIND Reflections

Album · 2001 · Neoclassical metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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lukretion
When faced with a band releasing four albums in only four years one could understandably fear that the law of diminishing returns may kick in, resulting in lower and lower quality per album. Quite the contrary: with Reflections, Swedish neoclassical power metallers Stormwind have released probably their best album yet, refining to near perfection the tried-and-true formula they had already experimented with on previous releases.

The roots of the band’s sound go back to the days of Rainbow and Yngwie Malmsteen’s Rising Force (1980s period). Baroque but muscular guitar riffs and extended solo duels between guitar and keyboards abound here. The songs alternate between fast-tempo speed metal assaults (“War of Troy”, “Queen of Nine Days”, “Assassin of Honour”) and more majestic mid-tempos (“The Man Behind the Iron Mask”, “Reflections”, “Ramses”). There is also the obligatory semi-acoustic ballad “Golden Tears” that in truth is perhaps one of the best pieces of the album. All songs are neatly constructed around tight conventional structures (verse/bridge/chorus/solo, repeat) and feature strong choruses that are both catchy and epic. In short, Stormwind put on display the full spectrum of musical expression that one would expect to find on the best albums in this genre.

Although originality may not be the strong suit here, Reflections stand out relative to previous Stormwind’s albums for the abundant and slightly unconventional use of choirs throughout its ten compositions. Singer Thomas Vikström showcases the full range of his vocal skills here, alternating between semi-operatic bass/tenor choirs and more traditional hard rock / AOR choral singing. The overall effect is beautiful and greatly enriches the listening experience, injecting a much needed touch of novelty into the album.

The other strength of the album are the strong performances of all musicians involved. Stormwind’s mastermind Thomas Wolf is an excellent guitarist, in the vein of Blackmore and Malmsteen, but is less baroque in his solos, which have instead a more modern, almost thrashy edge. The rest of the lineup is no less impressive. Thomas Vikström (ex-Candlemass, Therion) is a powerhouse who needs little introduction. His vocal range is impressive and he particularly shines when he uses his mid-range, although he does a great job on the high notes too. Drummer Patrick Johansson is equally impressive. His playing is ultrafast, but at the same time extremely nuanced and precise. When I listen to this album I often find myself zooming in on his playing, as it is so rich and multifaceted that it deserves full attention on its own (listen to that drum mayhem on “War of Troy”, for instance). Unfortunately, this is the last album Johansson will record with Stormwind, as shortly after this release he joined Yngwie Malmsteen’s band. I also like Kaspar Dahlqvist’s keyboard arrangements and solos that greatly contribute to the neoclassical sound of the album. Bassist Andreas Olsson is perhaps the least prominent musician here, but not for lack of skills (he will later join highly-technical bands like Narnia and Royal Hunt), but rather because in the mix his instrument is a bit buried underneath the rhythm guitar, which is not unusual for the genre.

The production is otherwise a big improvement relative to the band’s previous album, Resurrection. There is more balance between the instruments, which contributes to the elegant and nuanced feel of the album. The drums sound great, and so do Vikström’s vocals. There is also more separation between keyboards and guitars, and both can be heard well when they play together (this was an issue on the previous record). The only aspect of the production I dislike slightly is the guitar tone, which is a bit too thin and light for my taste, taking away power and depth from the recordings.

Overall, Reflections is a pleasant album of neoclassical power metal that will surely not disappoint the fans of the genre. The tasteful alternation between fast speed metal pieces, majestic mid-tempos and ballads ensures that the listener stays interested throughout the 45 minutes of the record. Most songs are above-average in terms of quality and entertaining value, although perhaps the album lacks one or two “killer” tracks that could truly elevate it to the next level. Nevertheless, songs like “The Man Behind the Iron Mask”, the proggy title-track, “Golden Tears”, and the theatrical “Queen of Nine Days” are extremely well done examples of neoclassical power metal that can compete with the best works in the genre.

STORMWIND Resurrection

Album · 2000 · Neoclassical metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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lukretion
Stormwind are guitarist Thomas Wolf’s brainchild and Resurrection is their fourth album, released in 2000 via Massacre Records. Started as an AOR / hard rock outfit, the band slowly but steadily transitioned towards the neoclassical power metal genre, gaining accolades among fans of bands like Rainbow, Yngwie Malmsteen’s Rising Force and Stratovarius. Resurrection is firmly rooted in the neoclassical power metal camp, although the band’s early AOR influences do surface from time to time, especially in the hyper-melodic choruses of the songs.

It’s an interesting, if not terribly original, formula that Stormwind use well throughout the nine tracks of the record. The album ticks all the right boxes for appealing to neoclassical power metal fans. The songs alternate between fast up-tempo material and majestic, epic mid-tempos. There is the obligatory power ballad (the excellent “Seven Seas”) and we even have an instrumental guitar suite in three parts (“Synphonia Millennialis”) that moves with ease between acoustic and electric sections. All tracks feature plenty of baroque yet muscular guitar riffs as well as exciting duels between guitars and keyboards. The level of technical proficiency is high. Thomas Wolf is a skilled guitarist and his solos are always interesting and exciting. Keyboard player Kaspar Dahlqvist is a more than adequate sparring partner for Wolf’s solos, and the duels between guitars and keyboards are always one of the most interesting parts of every song. Thomas Vikström’s (ex-Candlemass, Therion) vocals rip and soar, showcasing all his talent. Meanwhile, Patrick Johansson provides quickfire drumming, fast as lightning but incredibly precise and nuanced, injecting the right oomph to the music.

The album flows away pleasantly, albeit slightly anonymously due to the lack of songs that can be real showstoppers. “Souldance” and “Samuraj” are those that grabbed my attention the most. The combination of ultra-melodic choruses and cool, classically-inspired riffs is a trick that never ceases to amuse and Stormwind pull it off really well on these two tracks. The ballad “Seven Seas” is another high point of the album. It starts slow with piano and voice, before gaining momentum and growing into a full-band, emotional finale. The other songs are also pleasant, but fail to leave a lasting mark on my musical psyche.

There is one aspect of the album, however, that I find really unfortunate, and it is the terribly poor production. The tones and levels of the instruments are a mess on this record. Guitars and keyboards constantly steal space from one another and when they play together it is really hard to figure out what’s being played by either instrument. The vocals are far too back in the mix and the drums and bass are too upfront. The sound is particularly poor when the songs gain momentum and all instruments play to the max, as one can hardly distinguish what is going on. It’s a pity, because I think I would have liked the album much better if it had had a decent production.

Overall, this one is a bit of a hit and miss for me. It leaves me with the bittersweet sense of unrealized potential. Stormwind are incredibly skilled musicians and have good songwriting chops, but on this record they somehow fail to convey these skills into truly outstanding and memorable songs. Add to this a general lack of originality and a terrible production, and the result is an OK album that unfortunately is unlikely to see the inside of my CD player again any time soon.

FATES WARNING Long Day Good Night

Album · 2020 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.33 | 4 ratings
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"Long Day Good Night" is the 13th full-length studio album by US progressive metal act Fates Warning. The album was released through Metal Blade Records in November 2020. It´s the successor to "Theories Of Flight" from 2016 and features the same four-piece core lineup as the predecessor. Guitarist Frank Aresti is not involved in session work this time around, but Michael Abdow returns to play a couple of guitar solos.

Stylistically the material on "Long Day Good Night" continues the relatively riff heavy but at the same time melodic progressive metal of "Theories Of Flight (2016)". Fates Warning haven´t had a history of releasing the same album twice, but this time it´s close. Maybe they´ve finally locked into a groove because "Theories Of Flight (2016)" also felt very much like the sibling album to "Darkness In A Different Light (2013)". Personally that´s fine by me, because both of the two direct predecessors were high quality progressive metal releases as only Fates Warning make them. To my ears "Long Day Good Night" is like listening to the early 90s mainstream heavy rock/metal oriented Fates Warning releases, but with an added metallic heaviness, providing the music with a more contempoary edge (the same can be said about the more heavy and meaty sound production). The soaring melancholic choruses of the early 90s are in place, but the riffs and the heavy busy drumming still make "Long Day Good Night" quite a different sounding release to the mentioned albums from the 90s.

Although "Long Day Good Night" features both heavy riffs and rhythms it´s overall a very dynamic release, with loads of mellow and more subdued moments too. Again this is nothing unusual for Fates Warning and upon conclusion "Long Day Good Night" is in many ways Fates Warning by numbers. I know that has a very negative ring to it, and that´s partially intentional, because while "Long Day Good Night" is another high quality Fates Warning album and tracks like "The Destination Onward" and the 11:29 minutes long "The Longest Shadow Of The Day" (which opens with a 6 minutes long instrumental section) are strong compositions, there are tracks featured on the album which fall under the filler catagory (the mainstream oriented "Under The Sun" is even a little weak) and at 72:35 minutes of playing time it can be argued that the album is too long for its own good. I would have prefered a 40-50 minutes long playing time with only the sharpest and the most memorable material featured. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is still deserved though.

GOJIRA Fortitude

Album · 2021 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.66 | 8 ratings
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Necrotica
The most immediate problem with Fortitude is that it really lacks a unique identifying “feature” compared to previous Gojira records. Terra Incognita had the raw death metal aggression, The Link had an experimental tribal feel, From Mars to Sirius had an ambitious conceptual feel, and so on. Somehow, Fortitude manages to sound like a synthesis of all of the band’s previous albums while lacking the sense of both wonder and impact they all had. Sure, the chugs and technical drumming still come out from time to time, but they’re buried beneath Gojira’s insistence on playing dull one-note riffs that linger for a little too long. It’s not like I’m resistant to the prospect of the band experimenting - again, The Link is a nice example of that - but it’s gotta be over a more interesting foundation than this.

For instance, the main riff of “Another World” is pretty cool; Christian Andreu’s lead guitar and Jean-Michel Labadie’s bass coil around each other to give off a strangely futuristic atmosphere. But then it all falls apart in the verses, which just consist of a boring chugging riff that doesn’t go anywhere interesting. It’s nice to hear Joe Duplantier still bringing the energy with his screams and growls, but they don’t matter much when the material itself is so lacking in heft and intensity. Meanwhile, some songs don’t even sound like they came from Gojira at all. When the a cappella harmonies of “Hold On” started, I had to look at my phone to make sure I was still listening to the same band. Indeed, Joe does perform a lot more clean vocals on Fortitude - these are most prominently heard on “Hold On”, “The Chant”, and “The Trails”. And, truth be told, Duplantier has really proven himself to be a capable clean vocalist over the last five years or so. The harmonies in “Hold On” are actually quite beautiful, despite the fact that the song eventually switches to a more typical groovy Gojira track halfway through.

What really drags this album down more than everything else, however, is the production. It’s quite strange that Duplantier is the same person who produced Way of All Flesh, as Fortitude has none of the same weight, atmosphere, or clarity in its mix. The guitars sound both muddy and unappealing in the chugging bits (the verses of “Amazonia” for instance), and really flavorless during the melodic sections (“The Trails” in particular). It also does no favors for Mario Duplantier, especially during the more technical tracks like “Grind” and “Into the Storm”. He performs some pretty amazing parts during these songs, but all I can think of is how much better they’d sound with a From Mars to Sirius-esque production job. Speaking of “Into the Storm”, that very song represents what kind of record Fortitude could have been; the track is a perfect mix of the band’s more heavy/technical traits and their melodic tendencies. Sure, the main drum part was lifted from “The Cell” off of Magma to an extent, but the riff played over it is one of the most beautifully melancholic parts I’ve ever heard from this group.

Fortitude is a strange affair, as its oddities tend to come from Gojira’s push toward a more simplistic and mainstream sound. On one hand, I suppose that makes it a logical step after the stripped-down music of Magma; on the other hand, it just doesn’t feel natural for some reason. The band’s willingness to step outside of their comfort zone is commendable, but if they’re keen on committing to this new sound of theirs, they need to give it a little more polish and focus. As it stands, Fortitude is a decent metal record. However, it doesn’t really offer anything that Gojira’s prior albums haven’t done better.

RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS Mother's Milk

Album · 1989 · Metal Related
Cover art 4.08 | 10 ratings
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Unitron
You can't go wrong with any of the Chili Peppers' first five albums, but I've always been of the opinion that Mother's Milk is the best of them. It just sounds like a band at their peak, in several ways. It's relentlessly energetic, there's a consistent focus on funky jams, and it's the ultimate party metal album.

Everyone talks about the fantastic cover of Stevie Wonder's classic Higher Ground, but that causes it to overshadow the rest of the album. Opener Good Time Boys is probably my favorite, a funky hair metal classic. Subway to Venus takes the old school P-funk vibe of their Freaky Styley album and combines it with the big sound of this album. Nobody Weird Like Me and Punk Rock Classic straight up thrash, and the former perfectly contrasts the explosive and galloping riffs and drums with some touching vocal melodies. The swaggering Sexy Mexican Maid is a particular fantastic song as well.

Just like it opens with a bang, it closes with the massive funk stomp of Johnny, Kick a Hole in the Sky. After a bassline that sounds right out of Among the Living, it's all slapping hooks and catchy Funkadelic-esque chant choruses.

Mother's Milk is one of funk metal's finest, especially on the glam metal influenced side of it, nothing beats this, Extreme, and Mindfunk's debut for total funky party metal.

BEASTIE BOYS Licensed to Ill

Album · 1986 · Non-Metal
Cover art 2.22 | 3 ratings
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ALI BABA AND THE FORTY THIEVES!

Along with Run DMC, the Beastie Boys helped pioneer the fusion of rock and hip hop that would influence many bands to come. Starting out as part of the growing New York Hardcore scene, the band pretty quickly made the transition into the even faster growing East Coast Hip Hop scene. After a self-released single and getting signed to the new Def Jam label, which would serve as a hub for several major hip hop and metal artists, Beastie Boys flew and crashed onto the album market with Licensed to Ill. It went on to become one of the best selling hip hop albums of the 80's.

As soon as the opening Rhymin' & Stealin' starts, it's no wonder. Sampling the iconic drums from Led Zeppelin's classic When the Levee Breaks as well as the equally iconic riff from Black Sabbath's Sweet Leaf, the way they're mixed together makes it a precursor to the now incredibly popular art of mashups. Add onto that the exuberant bravado of Mike D, MCA, and Ad-Rock, and you've got an incredibly fun album that's bursting with energy. Big loud drums dominate the album, as does excellent sampling and vocal flow. She's Crafty, Hold It Now Hit It, Brass Monkey, and the underrated deep cut Slow and Low are songs that'll remain in your head with great hooks of different varieties. My favorite though will always be the aforementioned Rhymin' & Stealin', it's really an explosion of sound that's impossible to not scream along to the chanting of ALI BABA AND THE FORTY THIEVES, ALI BABA AND THE FORTY THIEVES! with elements of two hard rock/metal classics backing it.

The group's goofy sense of humor is on full display, with a satirical edge. Hit singles Fight for Your Right and No Sleep 'Till Brooklyn are able to both nail the mood of 80's party rock while making fun of it at the same time as the videos show. They make fun of themselves too, as the lyrics of Rhymin' & Stealin' show, serious musicians who love to have fun.

Licensed to Ill is a classic hip hop album in every way with easy crossover appeal. Despite its massive success, Beastie Boys were not ones to let money take over creativity, and their next album would show them keep experimenting and create what is maybe one of the most layered hip hop albums of all time.

DEVIN TOWNSEND Ghost

Album · 2011 · Non-Metal
Cover art 3.59 | 46 ratings
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Necrotica
Let me take you back to 2011 for a moment. My junior year of high school had just come to an end, and I was ready to take on senior year in a few months. But in the summer that separated these events, my brother and I - along with a few friends - decided to attend a metal concert together. Children of Bodom, Devin Townsend, Obscura, and Septic Flesh were in the lineup for the show we attended at the Los Angeles House of Blues (back when that place was actually around… rest in peace). Now... usually, to get hyped up for a show, we’d play some sort of extreme metal to get us in the mood for the moshpit. However, when we finished a show, we’d try to wind down with something a bit more calming and relaxing to get rid of the intense headaches we’d likely have by the end of the event. But this particular show was significant for two reasons. 1: It was my very first concert (although unfortunately I got food poisoning. How’s that for a start?). 2. The album we chose for the car ride home would change the way I view music forever. It would not only be my favorite album of that year, but it would also be the record that opened the floodgates to a world of music I never even explored or considered.

Ghost had just been released in the summer of 2011 to coincide with the release of Deconstruction, and the two are quite obviously polar opposites. For everything the latter did to be loud and chaotic, the former would counter with the most mellow new age-oriented folk rock around. Devin Townsend had already explored the avenues of atmospheric rock before, as heard on the phenomenal solo releases Ocean Mahine and Terria. But Ghost was the first time that his sound was this stripped down and light on the typical distortion and force of his output. In fact, Deconstruction was the reason I went to that concert in the first place, but Ghost was the reason that the same night ended up turning my music taste on its head. All of a sudden, it was time to stop placing so much emphasis on pure technicality or brutality, and more on atmosphere and what “environment” the music inhabits. Before then, I was listening to progressive rock and metal almost exclusively; hearing genres such as folk, new age, or classical music (outside of piano lessons) was completely alien.

However, just the aspect of loving this album on a personal level doesn’t mean it can’t be appreciated on a more objective level. To put it simply, this experience is just beautiful. It loves immersing you in its world, taking you to exotic locations, and letting you stay for as long as you like. Devin’s the tour guide, and his smooth vocal performances are a perfect compliment to the lush, lavish instrumental passages that do their best to provide a aural sea to bathe in. Also, for as soft as the overall collection is, there’s a surprising amount of variety that helps it stand out. From the little swing-like rhythm of the title track, to the soothing bluegrass inflections of “Blackberry,” to the understated flute-driven melancholy of “Monsoon,” to the expansive ambient grace of “Infinite Ocean,” there’s a lot to sink your ears into. But the biggest thing that defines this album is the immersion. Rarely has an album - even in genres like new age or ambient - transported me away from reality and offered so much escapism. There’s still a lot of technical detail and intricate artistry that goes into this album, but it’s all poured into the atmosphere it generates. “Texada” in particular uses Devin’s trademark “Wall of Sound”-style production to create incredible layers of synthesizer and guitar melodies that resemble the feeling of floating on the ocean itself.

2011 almost feels like a distant memory today, but there’s no doubt that Ghost still casts its influence on my listening habits and interests even now. It’s fascinating that a musician who’s most famous for his metal output can explore the softer side of his art so well, but as he’s proven time and time again (Casualties of Cool being the most recent example), he’s truly an example of a multi-faceted artist who can cross genre boundaries with ease. And no matter how much City or Ocean Machine get brought up when people talk about Devin’s best records, Ghost will always be the one I associate the most with HevyDevy.

ANATHEMA Hindsight

Album · 2008 · Non-Metal
Cover art 3.76 | 17 ratings
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Peacock Feather
The existence of acoustic Hindsight in the Anathema portfolio seems to me rather a delay in the release of We're Here Because We're Here, because by the time this compilation of acoustic reimaginings of the Liverpool formation's hits came out, there have been no full-lengths for 5 years since A Natural Disaster, and fans longed to hear something new from their favorites.

The above confirms about half of the tracks from Hindsight. Did it make sense to remake, say, Inner Silence or Flying? I find this question quite rhetorical. The family union of the Cavanagh brothers and brother/sister Douglas resolved this issue in different ways. In the context of the tracks already mentioned, as well as Temporary Peace and the title one from A Natural Disaster, the rhythms and arrangements on the surface have not changed one iota. A strange decision was to frame One Last Goodbye in an acoustic shell, and as a result, the composition, which is deliberately pathetic, is necessary as a light air, lost this serve, becoming just pretentious and uninteresting ballad, which is trying to break out and light a bright flame all around, but it's not happening.

However, in terms of other songs Anathema really tried and gave some songs a new, beautiful, soft point of view. A striking example is the opening Fragile Dreams, a powerful hit from Alternative 4, which in the reimagined version became even more explosive and, of course, incredibly beautiful in its simple but ingenious tragedy. A grim hit from Eternity, Angelica, in the acoustic version became contemplative, getting rid of thick metal riffs. Are You There, it would seem, does not require any radical acoustic alteration, but Daniel managed to make a different from the original and a beautiful version of this ballad, and by the way, this version then fit on the collection of the best hits Internal Landscapes, released 10 years later.

The bottom line is simple: half-remarkable, half meaningless, Hindsight, however, is a worthy example of another facet of Anathema's talent in creating deep and soulful songs.

CULT OF LUNA Vertikal

Album · 2013 · Atmospheric Sludge Metal
Cover art 4.21 | 17 ratings
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Peacock Feather
After the schizophrenic stream of consciousness demonstrated at Eternal Kingdom, Swedish post-metalists from Cult of Luna turn to the abstract elevation and move further away from sludge component, replacing it with abundant electronics inlays, which, by the way, open even more and even larger spaces, as if the listener put in place of the lyrical hero of Mute Departure. In general, post-metal is a genre in which you need to perfectly play intonations, and Cult of Luna always succeeds in doing it great, although, it would seem, the entire field of the genre was plowed almost 10 years ago, when the ball ruled by a well-known group with a forbidden name (in Russia at least).

Yet not burdened by talent, Cult of Luna somehow miraculously still shows the power of post-metal, and they can create truly mesmerizing things with its extraterrestrial beauty in such a chimerical genre, whether it's a psychedelic and powerful I: The Weapon, epic in every sense Vicarious Redemption or piercing Mute Departure. There is a place on the album for more classic CoL things, such as Synchronicity and In Awe Of, well, where without electronic interludes.

Vertikal shows that Swedish adherents are still great masters in creating monuments of their genre, monuments that grow different muscles and which function in a completely magical way. Whether it's the chemistry developed over a long time between the participants, or it's just a huge talent, multiplied by the expedibility of the material on the album (based, as you all know, on the masterpiece of German cinema of the 20s called "Metropolis"), verdict remains simple: a magnificent sample of the '10 post-metal and one of the best albums made by Cult of Luna.

DREAM THEATER Images and Words

Album · 1992 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.41 | 227 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
The early 90s caused a lot of turmoil in the music industry as everything 80s was pretty much swept away by the alternative rock and grunge invasion that was pretty much solidified by Nirvana’s phenomenal success of its album “Nevermind,” but the metal world too was completely transformed as glam metal went the way of the dodo as more extreme acts like Metallica and Megadeth established metal as a more technical and serious genre for the masses. Add to that changing of the tides the massive explosion of not only the prog rock revival but something completely new and that was progressive metal. DREAM THEATER had already been around a few years but didn’t capture a lot of attention with its debut “When Dream And Day Unite” which IMHO was an excellent album but suffered from a dismal album cover and emerging a little too soon for the appetite of the public to shift interest into the complexities that prog metal had to offer.

DREAM THEATER itself underwent a huge change when lead singer Charlie Dominici left the band and was replaced by James LaBrie who had remained with DT ever since. After joining the dream team of guitarist John Petrucci, keyboardist Kevin Moore, bassist John Myung and drummer Mike Portnoy, the band was ready to conquer the world with its second classic release IMAGES AND WORDS which was released just at the right time for a glam metal weary public to move on to something with a bit more heft and together with Fates Warning and Queensryche, DREAM THEATER launched the progressive metal invasion that hasn’t stopped since this album was released in 1992. The album pretty much caught the world’s attention immediately with the release of the first single “Pull Me Under” which featured the heft and bravado of classic 80s metal but featured hitherto unthinkable progressive rock crossover effects which most of the world had never experienced despite bands like Watchtower developing the prog metal world in the underground as early as 1984.

As DREAM THEATER’s most successful album of all time, IMAGES AND WORDS is regarded as one of those classics that launched a whole new revolution in the metal world with complex proggy composiitons that adopted symphonic prog touches from bands like Kansas, pastoral moments of classic Genesis and knotty compositions that exuded virtuosic instrumental interplay in the vein of classic Yes but with the energetic overdrive of 80s power metal with neoclassical references. While regarded as an all time classic, i personally can’t say i find IMAGES AND WORDS to be a perfect album by any means. No doubt that “Pull Me Under” was not only the perfect single to bring DT to the world’s attention but also the perfect track to begin the album as it delivers electrifying atmospheres, dynamic songwriting skills performed by seasoned veterans of the metal trade with an energetic bombast and vocal octave range that put this band well over the talent range of the average metal band of the era. However some of the tracks just flounder a bit such as the rather sleepy AOR inspired “Another Day” with Kenny G sax sensualities and sounding something like Styx on a very uninspired day.

While the first half of IMAGES AND WORDS may sound a bit restrained as the band was trying too hard to appeal to melodic metal bands of the 80s that featured too many sappy ballads, the second half opens with the highlight of the album the outstanding “Metropolis—Part I: 'The Miracle and the Sleeper,’" a massive sprawling near 10-minute track that busts out all the prog goods with all the bombast, pomp and awe one could hope for including Keith Emerson keyboard wizardry, tricky speed-of-light time signature frenzies and some of the best musicianship that the band members have ever conjured up. The track proved to be a popular live number with variations changing each performance and by popular demand carried on until an entire album “Metropolis Pt 2: Scenes From A Memory” finally emerged down the line.

Luckily the album continues the prog workouts with tracks like “Under A Glass Moon” and even takes the beautiful ballad “Wait For Sleep” into turbulent prog workout territories culminating in the album’s lengthiest track the 11 1/2 minute “Learning To Live” which ultimately leaves a satisfying experience that leaves IMAGES AND WORDS resonating high on the metallic prog-o-meter. When all is said and done this album really does deserve its status as one of the best prog metal albums of all time however as i’ve already stated i find the second track “Another Day” to be a throwaway track and even “Surrounded” lacking in compositional fortitude. If these two tracks had been modified or replaced altogether then i would could perhaps deem this a perfect album but since they appear early on sort of dampen the overall experience. But i shouldn’t be too harsh as they aren’t gawd awful tracks either. They just don’t live up to the quality of the others therefore they can be overlooked as a small blemish that doesn’t detract from the overall magnitude that the album brings forth as one of prog metal’s magnum opus. After all the remaining tracks have a staying power some thirty years later after IMAGE AND WORDS’ initial release and one of DREAM THEATER’s finest moments for sure.

FUDGE TUNNEL Hate Songs in E Minor

Album · 1991 · Sludge Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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UMUR
"Hate Songs in E Minor" is the debut full-length studio album by UK, Nottingham based metal act Fudge Tunnel. The album was released through Earache Records in August 1991. Fudge Tunnel was formed in 1988 and released the "Sex Mammoth" EP in 1989 and "The Sweet Sound of Excess" EP in 1990.

The material on "Hate Songs in E Minor" is a combination of sludgy riffs, heavy grooves, industrial influences, and nods toward alternative/noise rock. I´m thinking it sounds a bit like a marriage between Helmet and Tool (but not in any way a clone of either). The tracks are often repetitive in nature with riffs and rhythms being repeated quite a lot of times during a track, but it has an intended hypnotic groove effect. The vocals are raw shouted type vocals (often effect laden and relatively low in the mix), but oddly sedated/monotone for that type of vocals.

"Hate Songs in E Minor" features 9 original tracks and two covers of ""Sunshine of Your Love"" by Cream and ""Cat Scratch Fever"" by Ted Nugent. The original tracks are fairly consistent in sound and style, while the two covers of course provide the album with some variation. Fudge Tunnel manage to put their own spin on the covers, and they sound like a natural part of the album. It´s hard to pick highlights to mention, because all the original tracks are pretty similar in quality, but I´d probably mention the opening track "Hate Song" as one of the standout tracks.

I was a bit surprised to learn that "Hate Songs in E Minor" was produced by Colin Richardson (and Fudge Tunnel), but it´s nice to hear him tackle a production like this, and with great success I might add, because the sound production on the album is one of the great assets of the release. Detailed, powerful, and relatively unique sounding. The guitar tone is especially noteworthy, but the distorted bass and the sharp drum sound also deserve a mention.

"Hate Songs in E Minor" proved to be a great success for Fudge Tunnel, who were the talk of the town for a short while in the early 90s, before more or less fading into obscurity again. While a bit more variation between tracks and a bit less repetition of the same compositional ideas during tracks could have made the listening experience a bit more intriguing, Fudge Tunnel had an honest and defined sound, which spoke to quite a few music listeners of their generation. The despair, aggression, noise/industrial elements, and strong focus on groove combined made them unique on the scene at that point in time. A 3.5 - 4 star (75%) rating is deserved.

GRAVE Burial Ground

Album · 2010 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.64 | 3 ratings
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UMUR
"Burial Ground" is the 9th full-length studio album by Swedish death metal act Grave. The album was released through Regain Records in June 2010. After several lineup changes on the last couple of albums, "Burial Ground" features the exact same lineup who recorded "Dominion VIII (2008)" in Ola Lindgren (vocals, guitars), Fredrik Isaksson (bass), and Ronnie Bergerståhl (drums).

Stylistically it´s also pretty much more of the same old school Swedish death metal as was featured on "Dominion VIII (2008)". Downtuned guitar riffs, heavy drumming, and Ola Lindgren´s brutal growling vocals in front. The groove element which was a dominant feature in the middle part of the band´s career, is no longer a part of their sound. In fact it feels like "Burial Ground" is another step back to a more old school death metal sound, just as the case was with "Dominion VIII (2008)". The only time the music features a heavy mid-paced groove is during some of the mid-song breakdowns, which are present on some tracks.

The material on the 9 track, 42:06 minutes long album are well written and effective old school death metal, but upon conclusion it is a bit one-dimensional in style. It´s not a major issue, but a bit more variation between tracks and within tracks could have made the overall listening experience a bit more intriguing. The musicianship is on a high level and the sound production is suitably raw and powerful too, so upon conclusion "Burial Ground" is another good quality old school death metal release by Grave. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

STONEWALL NOISE ORCHESTRA Deathtripper

Album · 2020 · Doom Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
One day I got a friend request on Facebook from Mattias Adolphson, and as always, I checked to see why I was hearing from him and whether it was a robot (I get that a lot). I noticed he is drummer in Stonewall Noise Orchestra and the music computer that is my brain started whirring (I often think the reason I forget everything that is not connected with music is due to there not being enough room for everything), and I recalled reviewing their 2013 album ‘Salvation’ and enjoying immensely. Of course, I accepted the friendship and now I am listening to the latest release, ‘Deathtripper’. There was an album in between this and the last one I had heard, plus they have been through a few line-up changes, so what was this going to be like?

I am always rather concerned when I am the one who has mentioned undertaking a review, as I feel bad if I give it a poor review, but given I am always honest in my opinion I have to say what I think, so I am very pleased to say this is a goodie. Doom is still the order of the day, but while there are times when they do head back to the early Seventies, there are plenty of others where they are way more commercial. At times they drift into QOTSA territory, at others more like Black Widow, but there is an element which reminds me a great deal of The Night Flight Orchestra, and not just because they have the same name. There are loads of melodies here, and the band is incredibly tight while singer Tony is in full control. They mix it up throughout, taking so many different elements of hard rock and metal, and while staying true to their doom roots they are having a blast and certainly bring the listeners along for the ride. They have had to deal with some hard personal struggles in recent years, yet they are back with an album which is passionate, powerful, and truly worthy of investigation by those who want melody front and centre with plenty of bite to back it up.

MIRRORTHRONE Gangrene

Album · 2008 · Symphonic Black Metal
Cover art 3.93 | 3 ratings
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UMUR
"Gangrene" is the 3rd full-length studio album by Swiss symphonic/progressive black metal act Mirrorthrone. The album was released through Red Stream, Inc. in April 2008. It´s the successor to "Carriers of Dust" from 2006. Mirrorthrone is a one-man act featuring Vladimir Cochet on bass, drum programming, guitars, keyboards, and vocals. Cochet formed Mirrorthrone in 2000 and released the debut full-length studio album "Of Wind and Weeping" in 2003. Cochet also releases albums under the Weeping Birth and Unholy Matrimony monickers.

Stylistically the material on the 6 track, 64:42 minutes long album continue the symphonic/progressive black metal style of "Carriers of Dust (2006)". Cochet is obviously classically trained and the compositions feature an omnipresence of classical piano and keyboard parts. Not completely unlike what some of the last Emperor albums sounded like. The drums are programmed and while they do feature an artificial digital sound, the actual drum programming is well done, and the programmed drums drive the music forward with the needed power. A human drummer would have been preferable but this is decent enough and doesn´t distract too much from the overall impression of the music. The vocals vary from snarling black metal type vocals, to clean vocals, to choirs, and there is generally good variation in the vocal department.

The tracks are generally very long, the shortest being 6:40 minutes long and the longest being 15:02 minutes long. They are structurally pretty complex and contain many different sections, atmospheres, and changes. A few more hooks to help tell the tracks apart would have been great, but it´s hard not to be impressed by the compositional skills at display here. The black metal parts are of the more polished kind, but that part of the music is perfectly designed to work with the many classical parts. So while I find "Gangrene" a more fascinating/intriguing release than an effectful and listenable ditto, my conclusive opinion is one of being mighty impressed by what I´m listening to. A 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

OBITUARY The End Complete

Album · 1992 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.03 | 26 ratings
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UMUR
"The End Complete" is the 3rd full-length studio album by US, Florida based death metal act Obituary. The album was released through Roadrunner Records in April 1992. It´s the successor to "Cause of Death" from 1990 and features one lineup change since the predecessor as lead guitarist Allen West returned to the fold after a one album absence, after James Murphy left to join UK death metal act Cancer, and soon after that formed his own band Disincarnate. "The End Complete" is Obituary´s most commercially successful release selling around 250.000 copies worldwide. Not many death metal releases have sold in those numbers.

Like the case also was on the two preceding albums, "The End Complete" was produced by Scott Burns and Obituary. The sound production is raw, organic, and brutal, which suits the rawness and brutality of the material perfectly. It´s a bit more dark and gritty compared to the more clear sounding production style on "Cause of Death (1990)", and while there´s absolutely nothing wrong with the sound quality of the predecessor, my ears prefer the more organic sound on "The End Complete".

Stylistically the material on "The End Complete" is crushingly heavy and and groove laden brutal death metal. Obituary have increased their focus on heavy grooves and "The End Complete" is ultimately a very rhythmic release. Drummer Donald Tardy deliver groove laden heavy beats and rhythm patterns throughout the album, perfectly complimenting the ultra brutal downtuned guitar riffs and heavy bass (and the many blistering screaming guitar solos). John Tardy performs his distinct sounding growling vocals with both great passion and conviction. I dare say it´s his strongest performance yet. While the horror/gore themed lyrics aren´t exactly great poetry, there are longer and more coherent lyric lines on this album, than the sparse lyrics on the first two albums. The effect is the same though and Tardy´s commanding growling still often work as an extra instrument rather than regular vocals. His pronunciation of the words and his phrasing have great impact on the ears that hear.

"The End Complete" is one long highlight and there´s not a single sub par track featured on the album. Tracks like "I'm in Pain", "Back to One", "Sickness" (the breakdown on that track is earth shattering brutal), and of course the brilliant title track are just examples of strong tracks, but I could mention any track of the album and call it a standout track. Upon conclusion "The End Complete" is Obituary at their peak. It´s through and through a high quality release and a 4.5 star (90%) rating is fully deserved.

KATATONIA Dead Air

Live album · 2020 · Alternative Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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UMUR
"Dead Air" is a live album/DVD release by Swedish metal act Katatonia. The album was released through Peaceville Records in November 2020. It´s a double live album release featuring a third DVD disc with a visual presentation of the performance. The album is a "live in the studio recording", recorded on May 9th, 2020 at Studio Gröndahl in Stockholm, Sweden. "Dead Air" contains 20 tracks and a total playing time of 87:45 minutes.

The tracklist, which was voted for by the band´s worldwide fanbase, predominantly features tracks from the most recent (five) album releases, although a few tracks from "Last Fair Deal Gone Down (2001)" and "Viva Emptiness (2003)" have also made their way to the setlist. There´s however nothing on "Dead Air" from the first four albums by the band.

What you notice right away when listening to "Dead Air", is how well produced the album is. This is an incredibly well sounding live recording, and it´s obvious the band have spend time and put a lot of consideration into how they wanted to present their music. In that department "Dead Air" is a top notch release. The performances from all involved are also professional. Jonas Renkse´s vocals and melancholic vocal lines are performed with conviction and he makes enough small changes to his phrasing and notes to make these recordings stand out from the studio versions. Guitarist Anders Nyström performs some very well executed backing/harmony vocals, which provide some extra depth to the vocal part of the performance.

The visual (DVD) part of the release is of a good quality too. Katatonia are not the most exciting nor the most passionate performers on stage though and "Dead Air" is not a release which changes my opinion on that. The quiet/loud dynamics of the band´s music doesn´t always help push their music over the edge of the stage (despite the brillance of the studio versions of the material). Katatonia´s music is generally better suited for headphone listening in a dark room, rather than being experienced at a damp sweaty venue (or in this case live in a studio). A 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

THE SINS OF THY BELOVED Lake of Sorrow

Album · 1998 · Gothic Metal
Cover art 4.12 | 9 ratings
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lukretion
The Sins of Thy Beloved are among the early movers in the “beauty and the beast” gothic metal scene, kick-started by Theatre of Tragedy with their eponymous debut album in 1995. Based in the Stavanger area like many similar bands around the time (Theatre of Tragedy, but also Tristania and Dismal Euphony), the Norwegian ensemble released their debut album Lake of Sorrow in 1998 on Napalm Records, a label that in the second half of the 1990s specialized in this type of sound. Although The Sins of Thy Beloved and Tristania shared quite a few things in those early years of their existence, including record label, recording studios, producer (Terje Refsnes) and even a band member (violinist Pete Johansen), the band’s sound actually owes a larger debt to genre-forerunners Theatre of Tragedy than Tristania. In fact, I like to think of this amazing album as the deranged little brother of Theatre of Tragedy’s early records. But this should not be taken to mean that The Sins of Thy Beloved are simply a copycat of their more famous contemporaries: there’s plenty of original angles on Lake of Sorrow, which is partly what makes it such an iconic and acclaimed release.

The band’s sound draws on a combination of doom and death metal, with long-form compositions (between 6 and 9 minutes) that progress at a snail's pace amidst distorted power chords, cavernous growls, and crushingly slow tempos. As typical of the “beauty and the beast” aesthetics, the songs are based on the contrast between delicate and rough, acoustic and distorted, masculine and feminine. There are copious amounts of piano motifs and orchestral arrangements, reflecting the band’s unusual line-up, with two full-time keyboard players (Anders Thue and Ingfrid Stensland). This is counterbalanced by the heavily distorted sound of guitarists Glenn Nordbø and Arild Christensen, who, although they do not engage in a lot of riffing or soloing, build an effective wall of noise that envelops every song like a thick cloud of darkness. The band also employ both male and female vocalists. Anita Auglend provides operatic vocals that are feeble and whispery, as dictated by the genre’s conventions (think of a slightly weaker version of Theatre of Tragedy’s Liv Kristin). On nearly all songs her ethereal vocals are contrasted with brutal and toneless male growls. One distinctive aspect of The Sins of Thy Beloved is that they actually employ not one, but two male growlers (guitarists Glenn Nordbø and Arild Christensen). There is not a massive difference in their growl styles, but when they both growl simultaneously they produce a droning, guttural groan that is quite impressive and effective (see the first few minutes of opener “My Love”).

But the aspect of The Sins of Thy Beloved’s sound that is perhaps most distinctive is the prominent use of Pete Johansen’s violin. String instruments (cellos, violins) can often be found in other “beauty and the beast” albums (including Theatre of Tragedy’s debut), but rarely are they used so centrally in the music. On this album, often the violin takes on the role of the guitar, providing melodies, riffs and frequent solos which are absolutely mesmerizing to listen to. Johansen’s playing is so emotional and soulful that is hard not to be moved by it. There is also a lot of variation in the way he plays the instrument, going from freeform improv to more structured compositional form (for instance, on the title-track “Lake of Sorrow”). It’s an all-rounded performance that significantly elevates the album to a whole new level.

The violin also contributes to creating the special atmosphere that characterises the album. Lake of Sorrow may not be as lush and captivating as Theatre of Tragedy’s Velvet Darkness They Fear, or as catchy as Tristania’s Beyond The Veil, but it possesses a mystique and an underground allure that instantly captures the listener’s imagination. The “beauty and the beast” genre is riddled with albums that suffer from mannerism: everything is polished and sounds as it should, but there is a lack of visceral excitement and genuineness in the music that ultimately compromises the listening experience. Lake of Sorrow sits at the polar opposite: it’s rough, unpolished, badly produced, and it lacks that sort of commercial appeal that Tristania’s albums for example have. But it feels genuine, spontaneous and adventurous, as the band invite the listener to follow them into this rabbit hole of darkness and sluggish despair. It is very much like a car crash that is hard to look away from: ugly but fascinating.

There isn’t a bad song on this album, although there are several tracks that stand out as absolutely magnificent. Opener “My Love” is one of those. The guttural opening growls set immediately the mood, dark and cavernous. But the listener is instantly shocked as crazy violin flourishes steal the scene triggering a cacophony of sounds that almost reminds me of the iconic “21st Century Schizoid Man” by King Crimson. The track loses a bit of steam in its second half, but it nevertheless makes for a powerful beginning of the album. The following song “The Kiss” is made from a similar mold and features again fabulous violin interjections as well as a cool coda with double-bass drumming, keyboards and violin. The violin takes a slightly less prominent role in the second half of the album. “Lake of Sorrow” is a more restrained and polished composition that oscillates between 3/4 and 4/4 and ends in emphatic fashion. “Until the Dark” is perhaps the best song of the album. It is an emotional piece that only features Anita Auglend’s vocals in what is probably her best performance with the band. “All Alone” is another great song. Taken from the band’s EP of the previous year, it is an interesting piece that is driven by the piano and Anita’s voice (including a short recitation), before exploding in a powerful duet between growls and female vocals in the coda.

Some listeners may find that the poor sound quality of the album detracts somewhat from the overall listening experience. Although I am not overly disturbed (and to some extent I feel the lo-fi production contributes to the overall atmosphere), it is undeniable that the album’s production value is not great. There are passages in the songs where only the drums are clearly audible, while the keyboards and guitars from a sort of shapeless background drone. Anita’s voice also struggles to emerge from the mix occasionally. To the producer’s credit, this might have been a headache of an album to record, with two guitars, two keyboards, three singers and a violin. Yet, objectively the end result isn’t great.

Another aspect of the album some listeners may find bothersome are the lyrics. They are written in English, but clearly whoever wrote them was not very proficient with the language, so there are several glaring mistakes. The lyrics are also quite naïve and simplistic and one or two passages do make me cringe (like the line “If love is for real we might relive. All alone is not for real. Why don't you take me for real?” on the title-track). Again, I am not excessively bothered, but some readers might be.

Despite these small grievances, Lake of Sorrow is an excellent album and a great example of the “beauty and the beast” aesthetics that developed in the second half of the 1990s. The Sins of Thy Beloved may not have the polish or even the technical abilities of some of their competitors (Theatre of Tragedy, Tristania), but this albums stands out as something unique and exceptional. It has tons of atmosphere and possesses a spontaneity that is simply contagious. And then there’s Pete Johansen’s violin: if you think you know how to use violins in a metal production, put on this album and think again. Highly recommended!

THE SINS OF THY BELOVED Perpetual Desolation

Album · 2000 · Gothic Metal
Cover art 2.67 | 5 ratings
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lukretion
The Sins of Thy Beloved are a Norwegian band from the Stavanger area that, like many other bands from that region, embraced the “beauty and the beast” gothic metal aesthetics in the second half of the 1990s. After releasing a highly acclaimed debut album called Lake of Sorrow, in 2000 the band returned to the studio and recorded their sophomore album, Perpetual Desolation. The debut LP is a thing of beauty. It is raw and unpolished, but has tons of character and atmosphere that manage to elevate the record well above the average of “beauty and the beast” productions of the time. The band’s second album is instead sorely disappointing. In a nutshell, everything that was good about the band’s debut has been washed out and replaced with a bland and insipid mixture of gothic and symphonic black metal à la Cradle of Filth. Unoriginal and uninspired.

The intentions were probably benign. The proliferation of “beauty and the beast” bands in the late 1990s forced many artists to try and push their musical boundaries in an attempt to stand out from the pack. My guess is that the band’s change of direction between Lake of Sorrow and Perpetual Desolation was their attempt at innovating and scaling-up their endeavors. Of course, I may be completely wrong and this may have just been a calculated attempt at riding the symphonic black/gothic metal phenomenon that was exploding around that time. Regardless of the motives, Perpetual Desolation is an album riddled with overblown and omnipresent keyboard arrangements that ride the whole gamut of what was trending at the time. Lush string and organ orchestrations, check. Eerie “atmospheric” sound effects, check. Electronic samples and loops, check. The keyboards completely dominate the album in the same overwhelming manner as they did, for example, on Dimmu Borigr’s Spiritual Black Dimensions. The guitars, which in truth were already not so prominent on the band’s debut album, completely disappear in the background, chugging away their harmless power chords song after song. This gives the album a very light but at the same time busy feel, which is largely responsible for ruining the listening experience for me.

The only thing that I like worse than the keyboard arrangements on this album is the vocals. The Sins of Thy Beloved follow the “beauty and the beast” convention of employing both male and female vocalists on their albums. Anita Auglend provides those ethereal operatic vocals that are a trademark sign of the genre (think of a slightly weaker version of Theatre of Tragedy’s Liv Kristin). Perhaps unexpectedly, the band also employs two male vocalists (guitarists Glenn Nordbø and Arild Christensen), who are both growlers. Their performance is clearly influenced by Cradle of Filth. The album features all those various types of growls that one can find on the British band’s records, from black metal shrieks to guttural death metal groans, to filtered “malign” whispers, to ominous spoken croons. The problem is: neither of these vocal styles sound particularly good on this album. Yet, they are literally all over the record. As the keyboards, the male vocals are omnipresent in each and every song, and poor Anita is forced to play a much more backing role compared to the debut album.

The whirlwind of vocal styles and keyboard extravaganza is complemented by a schizophrenic songwriting, with complex song structures, tempo changes, and constant variation of moods and atmospheres. Unfortunately, the band’s ambitions are not matched by smooth execution. The various sections do not flow well into one another. The end result is rather messy and cacophonous, leaving the listener with very few moments that truly work on the album. Even Pete Johansen’s violin, which on the debut album had played a major role in making the music feel so special and unique, on Perpetual Desolation sounds out of place and in constant competition with the overwhelming orchestral arrangements. The magic that Johansen’s violin managed to conjure up on Lake of Sorrow is completely gone, and with it most of The Sins of Thy Beloved’s mystique and allure.

Among the (few) positive notes, the sound production has clearly improved compared to the debut album and the lyrics are written more competently, even if they are still nothing to particularly write home about. I struggle to find specific songs that stand out in a positive way or have some redeeming features. Perhaps the opener “The Flame of Wrath” is the most interesting track of the album, but it might well be that this is because it’s the first song and my sense of annoyance and disappointment with the album is still bearable at this point. However, a couple of tracks stand out in a negative way. I have to mention the particularly messy and directionless “Partial Insanity” and especially Metallica’s cover “The Thing That Should Not Be”, which is literally butchered here.

As it is probably clear from the rest of the review, this album was a huge disappointment for me. I consider The Sins of Thy Beloved’s debut album one of the best in the “beauty and the beast” gothic metal genre. It’s spontaneous, interesting and with a unique sound. This album is just the complete opposite. It feels forced and affected. It is less than underwhelming and sounds like a badly faded copy of a Cradle of Filth’s record. Perpetual Desolation is the last studio album released by The Sins of Thy Beloved in their career. They will release one final live album in 2001 before disbanding. It is sad that the band fizzled out of the music scene with such a subpar release. I vastly prefer to remember them with the sound of their truly impressive debut album.

MEGADETH United Abominations

Album · 2007 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.44 | 71 ratings
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"United Abominations" is the 11th full-length studio album by US thrash/heavy metal act Megadeth. The album was released through Roadrunner Records in May 2007. It´s the successor to "The System Has Failed" from 2004 and features an almost completely new lineup since the predecessor, as the only remaining member of the lineup who recorded "The System Has Failed (2004)" is lead vocalist/guitarist Dave Mustaine. Mustaine has brought in the Drover brothers Glenn and Shawn (Eidolon) on guitars and drums respectively and former White Lion bassist James Lomenzo was brought in to complete the quartet lineup.

The material on "United Abominations" is the sound of Megadeth as we know them. Melodic thrash/heavy metal featuring sharp riffs, a skilled and well playing rhythm section, great guitar harmonies and blistering solo work, and Mustaine´s distinct sounding snarling vocals in front. Mustaine has increased his melodic singing over the years, and his most raw snarling has decreased, but there is generally a good balance between the two styles on "United Abominations". He also talks/sings on some parts and Cristina Scabbia of Lacuna Coil performs guest vocals on the re-recording of "À Tout le Monde (Set Me Free)".

Initially I didn´t understand the idea of re-recording a song, which in its original form is already a Megadeth evergreen, but I must say that this re-recorded version is quite the treat. "United Abominations" is overall a very well written and for the most part instantly catchy and memorable album, but a little criticism would be that it is frontloaded with the best quality material. The first five tracks on the tracklist are all great and the above mentioned re-recording of "À Tout le Monde (Set Me Free)" is also a highlight, but some of the closing tracks on the album aren´t that remarkable ("Burnt Ice" is quite a nicely fierce thrasher though). Mind you there´s nothing of a bad quality here, just a couple of tracks which aren´t that memorable beyond their playing time (and there are some pretty awful lyrics which mare "Amerikhastan").

"United Abominations" features a powerful, heavy, and detailed sounding production, which suits the material perfectly and does what the best production do...make the material shine. Upon conclusion "United Abominations" is a step up in quality from the 2004 comeback album "The System Has Failed". Megadeth sound like a band on this album and not just a solo project by Mustaine released under the Megadeth monicker (which "The System Has Failed (2004)" pretty much was). And that´s not to take away from "The System Has Failed (2004)" which is a great album in its own right, but to my ears this one just sounds more like a "real" Megadeth album. A 3.5 - 4 star (75%) rating is deserved.

MEGADETH The System Has Failed

Album · 2004 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.48 | 66 ratings
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"The System Has Failed" is the 10th full-length studio album by US thrash/heavy metal act Megadeth. The album was released through Sanctuary Records in September 2004. It´s the successor to "The World Needs a Hero" from 2001 and features several lineup changes since the predecessor. The only remaining member of the lineup who recorded "The World Needs a Hero (2001)" is actually lead vocalist/guitarist Dave Mustaine. Several different things led to the big lineup shuffles, and the first was Mustaine disbanding Megadeth in April 2002, because of a serious arm injury, which made him unable to play guitar. Mustaine received intense physical therapy but it still took months before he could play guitar again.

The writing sessions for "The System Has Failed" started out as a Mustaine solo project, but because of contractual obligations the project adopted the Megadeth name. Mustaine called his old friend and co-founder of the band bassist David Ellefson, but the latter was unsatisfied with the financial terms of the deal Mustaine offered him and refused the offer to return to Megadeth. Instead Mustaine opted to bring in session musicians for the project. Former Megadeth guitarist Chris Poland was brought in to record solos and lead guitar parts, Jimmy Sloas was brought in to record bass, and Vinnie Colaiuta to play drums. The latter is mostly known for playing on many jazz/fusion releases by various artists, but also for playing with Frank Zappa in the late 70s and early 80s. A very skilled drummer and quite the capacity.

Not surprisingly the high level musicianship is one of the greatest assets of "The System Has Failed". Colaiuta brings something a little different to the rhythm part of the band´s sound (while staying true to the core sound), and Poland delivers one blistering melodic solo after another. Mustaine sounds revitalized after the rather limb "The World Needs a Hero (2001)" and his riffs are sharp and his vocals strong. His unique voice will always be an aquired taste, but he arguably puts on a good performance here. It sounds like the hiatus (although it was forced upon him) was actually good for him.

The material are generally of a good quality but it´s not through and through a brilliant release. There are enough quality material here to warrant me calling "The System Has Failed" a good quality album though, and tracks like "Blackmail the Universe", "Kick the Chair", and "My Kingdom" (which are all among the most hard edged and thrash metal oriented tracks on the album) are for example pretty strong tracks, which smell just a little bit like 80s/90s Megadeth. The remaining tracks range from good to slightly mediocre, but none are bad. If I have to compare "The System Has Failed" with some previous Megadeth releases it would probably be the melodic heavy metal oriented "Youthanasia (1994)" with an occasional whiff of "Peace Sells... But Who's Buying? (1986)". The latter is mostly due to Poland contributing but the occasional appearance of a hard edged riff also point in that direction.

"The System Has Failed" features a powerful, detailed, and well sounding production, which suits the material perfectly. The sound greatly contributes to the material shining and appearing as effectful as possible. Upon conclusion Megadeth have succeeded yet again in writing and recording a good quality melodic heavy metal/thrash metal album. It occasionally makes my blood boil and the rest of the time I´m at least well entertained listening to music as well composed and performed as the case is here. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

MEGADETH The World Needs a Hero

Album · 2001 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.07 | 62 ratings
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"The World Needs a Hero" is the 9th full-length studio album by US thrash/heavy metal act Megadeth. The album was released through Sanctuary Records in May 2001. It´s the successor to "Risk" from 1999, which was an album dividing the fanbase with its more accessible hard/heavy rock/metal sound. There has been one lineup change since the predecessor as guitarist Marty Friedman has left and has been replaced by Al Pitrelli (fresh out of a stint with Savatage).

Stylistically it´s pretty obvious already from album opener "Disconnect", that Megadeth have opted to pursue/return to a more hard edged thrash/heavy metal sound, after the more hard rock/heavy rock direction of "Risk (1999)", which generally didn´t bring them many new fans. When that is said, there are still quite a few melodic and accessible tracks on "The World Needs a Hero", and ultimately it´s more a heavy metal album than a thrash metal ditto. Sure "Disconnect", "Recipe for Hate...Warhorse", and especially "Return to Hangar" (and a few others) feature thrashy riffs and rhythms, but there are just as many melodic heavy rockers featured on the album, and even a couple of ballad/power ballad type tracks. So "The World Needs a Hero" is a pretty varied album. If you put on the negative attitude, you could also call it stylistically inconsistent and an album with a tracklist which doesn´t flow well, and I think I´ll have to go with the latter opinion.

"The World Needs a Hero" features a less polished and more raw sounding production job, than heard on a Megadeth album for years. It´s not raw in the sense that it sounds like the 80s releases, but it´s slightly less polished than the last couple of albums. It´s not a particularly well sounding production though, and it could have done with some bottom end heaviness and a better sounding guitar tone.

Upon conclusion "The World Needs a Hero" is not the most interesting Megadeth album in their sizable discography. It features a couple of good songs and a lot of filler material, which when it´s written by Megadeth is still of a decent quality, but there´s seldom a moment on "The World Needs a Hero" when it feels like the band shine. So it´s a very average quality release and a 3 star (60%) rating isn´t all wrong.

MEGADETH Risk

Album · 1999 · Hard Rock
Cover art 2.55 | 68 ratings
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"Risk" is the 8th full-length studio album by US thrash/heavy metal act Megadeth. The album was released through Capitol Records in August 1999. There´s been one lineup change since "Cryptic Writings (1997)" as drummer Nick Menza has been replaced by Jimmy DeGrasso (Suicidal Tendencies, Alice Cooper, Ozzy Osbourne, David Lee Roth, White Lion...), thus ending the most stabile lineup in the history of the band (and the lineup most fans think of as the "classic" Megadeth lineup).

While fans often point to "Risk", when speaking of low points in Megadeth´s career, it´s interesting to note that it´s actually only slightly less heavy than "Cryptic Writings (1997)" and overall sounds unmistakably as Megadeth. Stylistically the material on "Risk" is hard rock oriented heavy metal. The title of the album probably stems from the fact that Megadeth at that point in their career wanted to take some risks with their music, and in this case that meant pursuing an even more radio friendly sound than what they had done previously. They did something similar on "Cryptic Writings (1997)" and succeeded in doing so, but "Risk" was generally not received with praising reviews and many fans also felt the band had moved too far from their thrash/heavy metal roots.

To my ears the difference in style isn´t that big from "Cryptic Writings (1997)" to "Risk" though. Sure there were a few harder edged thrash metal oriented tracks on the former and none of those on the latter, but most of the material on "Cryptic Writings (1997)" is melodic heavy metal rather than thrash metal, which can also be said about the material on "Risk". There´s maybe an added melodic sensibility and an instant catchiness to the material on "Risk", but that´s about it if comparisons have to be made to its direct predecessor.

The material on the 12 track, 51:38 minutes long album are generally well written, melodic, and catchy. Some tracks feature fairly heavy riffs and rhythms like "Insomnia", "The Doctor is Calling", and "Crush ´Em", while other tracks like "Breadline" and "I´ll Be There" feature a softer almost mainstream appeal. Even the most heavy tracks also feature catchy melodic sections though and "Risk" is generally not a very hard edged release.

The album features a well sounding production, which suits the material well, and "Risk" is on most parameters a quality release. While it may not be as heavy as some fans would have wanted I think it´s obvious the band put a lot of hard work and dedication into the project, and it shines through that they are passionate about the material. The performances are flawless and Dave Mustaine sings better than ever, so the musicianship is top notch. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

MEGADETH Cryptic Writings

Album · 1997 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 3.22 | 74 ratings
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"Cryptic Writings" is the 7th full-length studio album by US thrash/heavy metal act Megadeth. The album was released through Capitol Records in June 1997. It´s the fourth and last album to feature Megadeth´s arguably most successful lineup, as drummer Nick Menza would leave the band while touring in support of the album. He was initially forced to leave the tour because of a problem with his knee, which required surgery and hospitalization. According to Menza he was fired by vocalist/guitarist Dave Mustaine, while still in the hospital recovering from surgery. Jimmy DeGrasso (Suicidal Tendencies, Alice Cooper, Ozzy Osbourne, David Lee Roth, White Lion...), who had filled in for Menza while he was in the hospital, was hired as the band´s new drummer.

"Cryptic Writings" is the successor to "Youthanasia" from 1994. While not selling quite as well as "Countdown to Extinction (1992)" did, "Youthanasia (1994)" was stil a commercially very successful release for Megadeth, selling more than a million copies. "Youthanasia (1994)" saw Megadeth moving in a more accessible and maintream oriented heavy rock/metal direction, and that style is continued on "Cryptic Writings", which was deliberately written with the aim of getting rock radio airplay. The band´s new manager Bud Prager adviced Mustaine to alter his lyrical approach to not alienate a mainstream audience and also to write more conscise radio friendly material.

With that in mind it´s not surprising that the 12 tracks on the 47:12 are predominantly easily accessible vers/chorus structured heavy rock/metal tracks. The trace of the band´s thrash metal past are on "The Disintegrators" and on "FFF", which both feature a relatively fast pace and some thrashy riffs. Other than those two tracks, the album only features mid-tempo heavy rock/metal tracks with a strong emphasis on melody and cathiness. Some tracks like "Trust", "Almost Honest", and "Have Cool, Will Travel", stand out a bit, but most tracks on the album are pretty standard quality heavy metal tracks and nothing out of the ordinary or particularly memorable beyond listening to the album. In that respect "Cryptic Writings" suffers from some of the same issues as "Youthanasia (1994)" did.

"Cryptic Writings" features a clear, dry, and a bit clinical sounding production, which would probably have suited hard edged thrashy material better than the heavy metal tracks featured on the album. A more organic sounding production job would have suited the material better.

So upon conclusion "Cryptic Writings" is a decent quality release by Megadeth with both some well written material but also some material which isn´t as remarkable. The playing is as always on a high level, and Mustaine´s vocals are as distinct sounding as ever too (and as much as ever an aquired taste), and objectively seen the sound production is professonal and well sounding too. Therefore a 3.5 star (70%) rating isn´t all wrong, although "Cryptic Writings" definitely is the least interesting release out of the four recorded by this Megadeth lineup.

MEGADETH Youthanasia

Album · 1994 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 3.68 | 97 ratings
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"Youthanasia" is the 6th full-length studio album by US thrash/heavy metal act Megadeth. The album was released through Capitol Records in November 1994. It´s the successor to the majorly successful "Countdown to Extinction" from 1992. A tough album to follow up, but while "Youthanasia" didn´t sell quite as well as "Countdown to Extinction (1992)" did, it was still a huge commercial success for the band. The early- to mid 90s were arguably the peak of the band´s success and "Youthanasia" was released at the height of it.

All did not go smoothly within the band though, and there were frequent fights between the band members over the creative control of the songwriting, which lead vocalist/guitarist and band founder Dave Mustaine had been the driving force behind since the inception of Megadeth. Mustaine ended up giving the other members more influence on the songwriting, and "Youthanasia" as a result is probably the most "group" oriented release in the band´s discography. Most preceding Megadeth releases feature at least some older riff ideas or tracks, but "Youthanasia" was solely written in the studio as a collective.

While "Countdown to Extinction (1992)" certainly wasn´t the most thrashy of thrash metal albums, it still occasionally featured some pretty intense thrash metal riffs and rhythms. It featured quite a few traditional heavy metal leanings too though, and it´s down that road Megadeth continue on "Youthanasia". In fact "Youthanasia" features next to no riffs and rhythms which could be put in the thrash metal catagory. Mustaine now also sings more and shouts less, and the material on the album are predominantly accessible vers/chorus structured heavy metal, featuring heavy mid-paced riffs and rhythms, skillfully played guitar solos and great harmony work, and catchy choruses.

Highlights include "Reckoning Day", "Train Of Consequences", "The Killing Road", and the title track. The power ballad type track "À Tout Le Monde" should of course also be mentioned among the standout tracks. Doing something this melodic and mainstream was a first for Megadeth. It´s overall not an album with tracks standing out that much from the rest, as the quality and consistency of the material are generally high, and even the least remarkable tracks are still of a good quality.

"Youthanasia" features a well sounding, organic, and detailed production, which suits the more traditional heavy metal direction of the material. Upon conclusion it´s a high quality release by Megadeth, which earned them new fans, but probably also alienated a few older ones. The most concervative thrash metal listeners, who hadn´t already jumped ship after "Countdown to Extinction (1992)", probably did so after listening to "Youthanasia". It´s most certainly the sound of a band who have moved on, and that´ll always divide the waters. A 3.5 - 4 star (75%) rating is deserved.

CLUTCH The Elephant Riders

Album · 1998 · Stoner Rock
Cover art 4.34 | 11 ratings
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Unitron
"Could'a been a ladybug on a windchime, but she was born a Dragonfly"

It has always been difficult for me to talk in writing about albums I love dearly, and communicating how much something connects with me on an emotional and personal level. Especially an album that isn't just a favorite album, but the all time favorite. For years my all time favorite album was Helstar's Burning Star, an album that I still love a whole lot and is still among my favorites, but not the top. I never thought it'd ever be topped, I was sure it would always remain. The passion and songwriting on that album is fantastic, but The Elephant Riders kept climbing and climbing as time went on and speaks to me in so many different ways.

I've always really liked The Elephant Riders since I first heard it, but I didn't know how much I would come to love it and how much it would inspire me directly as a songwriter and completely change my idea of what lyricism and songwriting mean.

The Elephant Riders has this very homey production, warm and inviting like a nice fireplace on a brisk day. It brings out Dan Maines's fittingly warm and fuzzy basslines to their fullest, and Tim Sult's guitar tones are simultaneously massive like the elephants they're riding and clean like freshly fallen leaves. Jean-Paul Gaster's drums ignite the total groove that all instruments thrive in. Clutch perfects a blend of southern blues and metal that was almost lost when the stupid idea that blues can't make metal came about. These riffs curbstomp that idea. I used to be more closed-minded and didn't like brass instruments, but the horns in Muchas Veces, hidden track 05, and especially instrumental Crackerjack completely changed that with the trombone adding a lot to these already fantastic songs and helped me start to appreciate these great instruments.

This whole album and band brings me nothing but pure joy, but vocalist Neil Fallon inspires me like no other musician has. He can sing beautifully melodic like the 70's blues and metal vocalists that probably influenced him, and also forceful and rough like his grungy and sludgy contemporaries. His lyrics and songwriting though, that's where he has no equal. Abstract, but not in the philosophical sense, this is passionate poetry. These are words and phrases that work and flow perfectly together, even if they don't make any sense. The vocals become another instrument, and as a songwriter myself, taking that approach to lyrics is incredibly fun and rewarding. The lyrics that open this review, from the closing The Dragonfly, are among my favorites on display, but the whole album is a treasure trove of fantastic rhymes and storytelling.

I've rambled enough, art doesn't get any better than this.

CHEVELLE Niratias

Album · 2021 · Alternative Metal
Cover art 3.75 | 2 ratings
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ssmarcus
Alt-metal veterans Chevelle are back with their fifth studio album... to debut in the top 10? Huh? When did they drop all these mega successful albums? Where the hell have I been? Surely most of those must have been released in the early to mid 'oughts - right? Well... no. Apparently this is already the third top 10 since 2014!

While I fondly remember growing up listening to Chevelle's 2002 debut Wonder What's Next, much of its charm faded fast as I grew to appreciate more technically sophisticated metal and progressive music. Too heavy to be remain commercially relevant but too simplistic for proper metal fans, I hardly would have expected Chevelle to survive rock's fall from commercial dominance in the almost two decades since their debut. And yet here they are, nine albums in and more successful than just about any of their alt-metal and post-grunge peers could ever have hoped to be. How did Chevelle do it?!

I am not familiar enough with band's back catalogue or business history to fully answer this question. But Chevelle's latest release, NIRATIAS, which demonstrates the band's commitment to growth as musicians and songwriters, firmly solidifies, in my book, Chevelle's place amongst modern hard rock's elite "survivors," approaching the inner circle of artists like The Foo Fighters, Deftones, and Tool.

As the album's cover art and psyched-out title suggest, NIRATIAS, an acronym for Nothing Is Real And This Is A Simulation, is an album with near progressive ambition. On tracks like "Mars Simula" and "Self Destructor," big and melodic riffs are accompanied by playfully soaring vocals. The riffing and bass on "Peach" and "Ghost and Razor" are unmistakably but tastefully Tool inspired. So epic and triumphant was the track "Remember When," I was praying the band would, by the end, segue into a reprisal of the "Send the Pain Below" chorus.

The record's weakness lies with the various pyschedelic interludes and piano-based spoken word closing track. While the verdict is still out on the artistic merit of these passages, they do not substantially detracts from the overall experience of listening to this record.

HELSTAR A Distant Thunder

Album · 1988 · US Power Metal
Cover art 4.48 | 22 ratings
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"A Distant Thunder" is the 3rd full-length studio album by US power/heavy metal act Helstar. The album was released through Metal Blade Records in November 1988. Prior to the release of "Remnants of War (1986)" almost the entire lineup was changed, and again on "A Distant Thunder", there have been a couple of lineup changes as guitarist Rob Trevino has been replaced by André Corbin, and drummer Rene Luna has been replaced by Frank Ferreira.

Stylistically we´re more or less treated to a natural continuation of the US power/heavy metal style of "Remnants of War (1986)". James Rivera´s strong vocals and commanding delivery is the main focus of the music (he sings both raw and high pitched screaming vocals), but the instrumental part of the music is skillfully delivered too. A powerful pounding rhythm section, hard edged heavy metal riffing and melodic lead guitar work are some of the ingredients of the band´s sound.

While most tracks on the 9 track, 43:13 minutes long album are energetic and hard edged US power/heavy metal tracks, the album also features a couple of more mellow melodic parts, and a cover of "He's a Woman - She's a Man" by the Scorpions. The latter closes the album and fits well with the rest of the tracks. Some of the highlights include "The King is Dead", "Abandon Ship", and the epic "Winds of War", but all material on the album are of a high quality. "A Distant Thunder" is well produced too, featuring a powerful, raw, and detailed sound production, which brings out the best in the material. Upon conclusion it´s a high quality US power/heavy metal release and a 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

NUCLEAR DEATH ...For Our Dead...

EP · 1992 · Grindcore
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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"...For Our Dead..." is an EP release by US grindcore act Nuclear Death. The EP was released through Wild Rag Records in 1992. It follows the release of the band´s third full-length studio album "All Creatures Great and Eaten" from earlier the same year. Re-issues of "All Creatures Great and Eaten (1992)" feature the four tracks from "...For Our Dead..." as bonus material, which is probably the easiest way of getting access to the tracks.

Stylistically the material on "...For Our Dead..." could also well have been recorded during the same sessions as the material on "All Creatures Great and Eaten (1992)" in terms of sound and style. It´s filthy, noisy, and raw grindcore with gore lyrics, delivered in an organic and authentic fashion. The sound production is suitably lo-fi and murky and this is a release which wins on savage gloomy atmoshere rather than on technical details and polished production values. It feels like been dragged screaming to the darkest depths of hell by an aggressive growling beast. That beast being lead vocalist/bassist Lori Bravo who has one of the most aggressive and intensely hateful vocal styles on the scene. The instrumental part of the music is also quite extreme and occasionally pretty interesting in the way the guitar riffs are constructed and in the way the drums are played. It´s definitely music with a few unconventional twists and turns.

"...For Our Dead..." is a short release featuring only 4 tracks and a full playing time of 9:04 minutes, but with music this extreme a shorter and more intense listening experience is sometimes preferable to what can often become a tedious monotonous experience when having to sit through 30 noisy and one-dimensional grindcore tracks. Nuclear Death always understood that quality is more important than quantity and "...For Our Dead..." is another example of that.

So upon conclusion the short EP is a high quality grindcore release. It´s meant for an audience who prefer their grindcore filthy, gory, noisy, murky, and savage to the bone, and if that´s your poison "...For Our Dead..." is a mandatory listen from one of the seminal artists in the genre. A 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

SIX FEET UNDER Graveyard Classics

Album · 2000 · Death 'n' Roll
Cover art 2.45 | 7 ratings
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"Graveyard Classics" is the 4th full-length studio album by US, Florida based death metal act Six Feet Under. The album was released through Metal Blade Records in October 2000. It´s the successor to "Maximum Violence" from 1999. "Graveyard Classics" is not a "regular" studio album with original material, but as the title may suggest it´s a cover album featuring Six Feet Under´s take on classic heavy metal and hard rock tracks by artists like AC/DC, Deep Purple, Jimi Hendrix, Dead Kennedys, and Venom.

While the instrumental parts of the tracks are kept fairly true to the originals (although the album of course features a heavy death metal production), the vocals are brutal growling courtesy of Chris Barnes. Not all tracks work equally well and not surprisingly it´s the tracks, which were the most hard edged in their original form, which transform best to Six Feet Under´s sound. Tracks like "Piranha" by Exodus and "In League with Satan" by Venom (the Savatage cover "Holocaust" also holds up surprisingly well). Tracks like "Smoke on the Water" and "Purple Haze" function less great.

"Graveyard Classics" is both well produced and well played, but upon conclusion it is one of those albums where the novelty wears off around the middle of the album. Playing death metal covers of tracks which normally feature vocal lines which are sung and generally highly memorable melodies, just becomes a bit monotonous, and while Chris Barnes vocal performance is actually pretty strong on this album it just isn´t enough to save the day. "Graveyard Classics" is still a relatively good quality release though and a 3 - 3.5 star (65%) rating is warranted.

TRISTANIA World of Glass

Album · 2001 · Gothic Metal
Cover art 3.65 | 9 ratings
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lukretion
Released in 2001, World of Glass is the third full-length album of symphonic gothic metal band Tristania. The band went through a small but significant line-up shakeup just before the recording of the album, when singer, guitarist and main songwriter Morten Veland separated from the band due to personal and musical differences. Although many feared his departure would have potentially earth-shattering consequences for the band, the new album does not show any signs of strain or weakness from the band, as we will see shortly. However, Morten’s departure did leave Tristania without someone able to perform extreme vocals, which led the band to enlist the help of Trial of Tears’ growler Ronny Thorsen, who appears as a guest musician on this record. The rest of the line-up is unchanged relative to the band’s earlier albums, with Vibeke Stene providing soprano-like vocals, keyboardist Einar Moen and guitarist Anders H. Hidle taking charge of most of the songwriting, and drummer Kenneth Olsson and bassist Rune Østerhus forming a steady and groovy rhythm section. Guest singers Østen Bergøy and Jan Kenneth Barkved contribute clean vocals and Pete Johansen (The Sins of Thy Beloved) adds his unmistakable violin flourishes.

What is not unchanged, though, is the band’s musical direction. Tristania have never been afraid to experiment and push the boundaries of the symphonic gothic metal genre already in the early years of their career, but this album is perhaps the band’s first significant point of departure from the genre’s typical sound. This takes the form of an injection of multiple disparate influences, from industrial metal, to electronica, to the liquid, vaguely Floydian gothic rock of bands like Tiamat. There are also hints of avant-garde metal, bringing to mind the likes of Arcturus and Ulver. These multitude of influences are all weaved into the band’s trademark brand of “beauty and the beast” gothic metal that plays on dramatic shade-and-light contrasts, enhanced by the alternation between operatic female vocals and male vocals (both blackened growls and clean gothic croon) and by the inclusion of symphonic elements through the use of keyboards, string instruments, and choirs. It makes for a varied and exciting ride, as the listener is never quite sure where the album is taking them next.

The quality of the compositions is high throughout. There is complexity and depth in Tristania’s music, well beyond the simple verse-chorus structure one can find in many albums of lesser bands in the genre. Most songs exceed the 6-minute mark, and go through a number of twists and turns on their journey. Yet, Tristania have a great ear for catchy melodies and manage to insert at least one or two memorable hooks in nearly each song. This makes the music easy to like and assimilate. I consider the combination of complexity and accessibility one of the hallmarks of great music, and World of Glass certainly excels in this domain.

The album is a treasure trove of interesting and exciting musical ideas. The alien-sounding vocal melodies that appear on the chorus of “Hatred Grows” never fail to leave me blissfully open-mouthed. Subtle electronic arrangements give songs like “Lost” and “Selling Out” a very modern feel, halfway between Samael, Therion and Arcturus, while towards the end of “Crushed Dreams” Tristania experiment with a surprising combination of techno groove and operatic choir. “Tender Trip on Earth” is a gorgeous gothic anthem, featuring a great clean vocal performance by Østen Bergøy. Meanwhile, “Deadlocked” dances between Vibeke’s beautiful vocal melodies, free-form violin soloing, and a hallucinated avant-garde male choir. But it is on “Wormwood” that the album perhaps reaches its highest point. This is a complex track moving back and forth between elegant Carmina Burana-like choirs, emotional violin solos, blackened sections with some great deep growls by Ronny Thorsen, and Vibeke’s stunning clean singing.

Vibeke’s performance on this album is nothing short of amazing. Among the many soprano-like vocalists that populated the line-ups of many gothic/romantic bands, Vibeke stands out as one of the most expressive and talented singers. She is able to perfectly modulate her voice to fit the various moods of the song, from ethereal operatic vocals, to Kate Bush-like dramatic upper register singing (“The Shining Path”), to warm mid-range vocals (“Deadlocked”). The rest of the band is no less impressive. The contribution of keyboardist Einar Moen deserves special praise, though. His arrangements are always so tasteful and interesting as he juggles with everything his instrument can play, from futuristic out-of-space sounds, to trippy programmed loops, to 70s-infused swathes of Hammond (“Tender Trip on Earth”). Truly captivating stuff!

If there is one thing that I find slightly unfortunate about this album is the production. Listening to World of Glass in 2021, it is clear that the album has not aged as well as it could have given the quality and forward-thinking nature of the music, and the reason is that it suffers from a slightly dated and subpar production. The thin drums and tinny guitars, in particular, make the album feels somewhat plasticky. As I listen to it, I keep wishing for more sonic depth and more power.

Other than that, World of Glass is a pretty awesome album. If gothic metal is your poison of choice, you simply must give this album a spin. It encapsulates everything there is to like about the genre, from the excellent combination of male/female vocals, to the alternation between gently acoustic parts and heavy, hard-hitting sections, to tasteful symphonic arrangements. It also offers more than one breath of fresh air, by subtly incorporating a wide range of influences, from electronica, to industrial metal, to avant-garde metal. The end result is a varied and exciting record that takes the right amount of creative risk to sound different, while staying true to the band’s roots. Highly recommended!

EVERGREY Escape of the Phoenix

Album · 2021 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.88 | 4 ratings
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ssmarcus
In all honesty, it would be difficult to attempt and try to add anything to the analysis of this record that has not already been expertly argued by Angry Metal Guy's Steel Druhm in his recent review (can't seem to leave a URL in the text here, so just google it). Starting with his concerns regarding the expected post-lockdown explosion of new music and Evergrey continuing to push their unique but repetitive brand of "mope-core," the writer ultimately comes to the conclusion that, on Escape of the Phoenix, Evergrey actually manages to tighten their song writing and put together an improvement on their formula.

With all that mind, I simply wish to add that if there is any artist I genuinely want to hear in our still healing almost post-lockdown world, Evergrey is certainly one of them. Of the legacy prog metal giants, Everygrey really was the only one that could consistently tap into the melancholy and angst many of us felt as a teenagers growing up in the early 'oughts. As COVID catapults us as adults back into the same sea of emotions, I am grateful to have a strong Evergrey record to help us steer through it.

It is worth mentioning that I strongly disagree with Steel Druhm's take on James Labrie's duet with Tom Enguld on ""The Beholder."" The harmonies the duo generate in the bridge are absolutely gut wrenching. While it is short lived, it constitutes one of the emotional climaxes of the record.

Escape is a record that has fewer moments of prog-greatness when compared to 2019's The Atlantic. But overall, its hard not see this as a stronger and tighter record than its predecessor. When Fans eventually evaluate the band's legacy, I believe it will be Escape that stands up as the strongest record from this phase in the band's discography. "

SOEN Imperial

Album · 2021 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.04 | 4 ratings
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ssmarcus
Imperial is Soen's second release in just under two years. While it is tempting to explain this seemingly short album churn time as the result of the band spending more time in lockdown than on the road in 2020, Soen is actually one of the few bands in metal today that has consistently released new albums almost every two years. Indeed drummer, founder, and principal songwriter Martin Lopez has confirmed that most of the music on Imperial was written shortly after the release of Lotus and before the China virus lockdowns.

Given the condensed time frame of song composition, I am not surprised by the music on Imperial sounding very much like another reiteration of the same Soen formula originally conceived of on 2017's Lykaia and perfected on 2019's Lotus. In fact, its easy to view this release as a B-Sides project from the previous two records. Of course the Soen formula, with its emphasis on punchy groovy riffs, moody vibes, and big melodic choruses, is an effective one. And Imperial certainly lives up to the potential inherit within the formula.

Soen is usually regarded as a progressive metal act not a standard heavy metal one. While I don't care much for gatekeeping, I genuinely feel Soen's music is best characterized as solid and well-grounded heavy metal proper. In all likelihood, the progressive moniker took hold owing to Martin Lopez having been an ex-Opeth member as well as the group's propensity for sounding like Tool on their earliest releases.

Ultimately, whether or not a fan will consider this a great record or "merely" a good record will depend on what extent they're expecting a band to evolve its sound. You can certainly count me a someone who very much sets that standard for the bands I like. And as much as I believe the chorus on "Monarch" to be the best the band has ever put to tape - a truly impressive feat when you consider just how many great choruses this band written and performed - I still would have liked Soen to explore some new territory in their post-Lotus output.

CAR BOMB Mordial

Album · 2019 · Mathcore
Cover art 4.75 | 4 ratings
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ssmarcus
There are certain alignments in nature that, when they occur, demand a bit of humanity’s fickle attention and wonder. And much like a solar eclipse or seeing a flipped coin land on its side, an album whose cover art perfectly aligns with the music on that album is one such alignment. And Car Bomb’s Mordial is one such album.

Like the cover art, the music on Mordial is chaotic. Patterns come into existence only to flutter apart under the force of their own instability. There is a certain beauty to both the art and the music but they’re twisted in such a way that they are basically unsettling more than they are beautiful.

Mordial continues in the technical extreme metal, djent and mathcore footsteps of its predecessor Meta . But by incorporating more melodic, twisted as they are, and experimental passages, Mordial successfully breaks from the monotony I would feel when listening to Meta straight through. In short, Car Bomb have out done themselves yet again. These guys are at the top their game and are, at this juncture, untouchable.

CAR BOMB Meta

Album · 2016 · Mathcore
Cover art 4.14 | 3 ratings
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ssmarcus
Car Bomb is the living embodiment of everything New York-based music could ever aspire to be. The band simultaneously captures the ferocity of the native working-class hardcore punk scene while also realizing the high-brow art rock aspirations of New York’s saturated indie hipster rock scenes. But unlike your average hardcore or indie rock outfit, Car Bomb is actually compromised of exceptional musicians with the technical and musical chops to actually pull off something genuinely novel and refreshing. And, in the case of Car Bomb, their talents have allowed the band to fashion a unique and highly technical, even by today’s standard, form of extreme metal, djent, and mathcore.

Meta is an absolute head trip from start to finish. The mind-bending rhythms and tone defying riffs are guaranteed to knock any metal head of their feet. Unfortunately, like so much extreme metal, the album can be a chore to listen through straight through. Monotony invariably sets in at some point despite all the genuine novelty in the song writing. This record is best enjoyed piecemeal.

RAVEN Rock Until You Drop

Album · 1981 · NWoBHM
Cover art 4.17 | 11 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
Newcastle upon Tyne, England was clearly the hotbed of inspiration in the 1980s by not only producing the earliest extreme metal offerings from Venom but also the phenomenal success of Dire Straits and also we can add to that resume the inspirational sounds of the early New Wave of British Heavy Metal band RAVEN! Oh yeah! This band has been cited as one of the earliest that influenced the thrash metal world that would emerge. Hard to believe that RAVEN started as far back as 1974 by the Gallagher brothers, vocalist / bassist John and guitarist Mark. Almost as if RAVEN was the inspiration for the Spinal Tap film where drummers spontaneously combusted and disappeared, so too did RAVEN have a hard time keeping a percussionist but Rob Hunter had the honor of appearing on the band’s first album.

It’s also hard to believe how incredibly complex the metal universe has become and when you go back to these humble beginnings when metal was proudly and defiantly emerging from its parent hard rock sounds of the 1970s, it’s refreshing to eschew the modern murkiness of tech death metal, avant-garde excesses and progressive metal compositions that rival any Western classical masters and just go back to when heavy metal was about adolescent fantasies and party rock! RAVEN’s 1981 debut ROCK UNTIL YOU DROP was the perfect album to usher in the early world of the NWOBHM without all the philosophical existential quandaries and intellectual headiness that would follow. This album just simply celebrated banging your fucking head and rockin’ yer ass off!

Back to the band. RAVEN existed from 1974-79 as a hard rock band so got more than its share of influences from all those bands that had their heyday in that era but with patience waited seven years until its debut album was released. The band did get a lot of attention with the 1980 release of its first single “Don’t Need Your Money” and opened for many of the big players of the day such as Ozzy Osbourne, Motorhead, Whitesnake and even an early Iron Maiden. When the band finally released ROCK UNTIL YOU DROP, a heavy metal starved public was eager to embrace any band that had the gusto to take things to the extreme and therefore this debut was met with enthusiasm. RAVEN was also known for its fiery live performances and has even been referred to as athletic metal due to the bombastic nature of the band’s playing.

ROCK UNTIL YOU DROP could never be mistaken for having debuted at any other timeline than the early 1980s with simple compositions that basically take the hard rock paradigm of blues oriented riffing and simply augmented with faster tempos, more extreme guitar solos, more ambitious drumming and a somewhat goofier vocal style where John Gallagher juxtaposes macho growling vocals with sudden King Diamond-like falsettos. The tunes are all catchy but not sophisticated. The album comes off as somewhat of an AC/DC styled blues hard rock only sped up a few notches with more biting irreverence that would fuel the world of speed metal along with the darker sounds of Venom that would inspire new bands to develop the world of thrash metal.

Yeah by the standards of the 21st century RAVEN can sound a bit goofy as the band was more of an inspiration much like neighboring Venom than actually crafting anything that could be the pinnacle of achievement but sometimes just plain old good fun is enough to win the day. ROCK UNTIL YOU DROP was for all intents and purposes a really rockin’ good party metal album somewhat in the vein of the attitude of KISS but only more interesting in a musical sense. The band also paid tribute to its antecedents such as the excellent Sweet cover of “Hellraiser / Action.” In short, RAVEN perfectly caught the real zeitgeist of the early 1980s with ROCK UNTIL YOU DROP. Metal about this time was all about just getting wild and crazy without overthinking things. Sometimes less is more and in the case of RAVEN’s debut, the bold and brash performances outweigh any criticism over production values, artistic statements or avant-garde eccentricities. Basically this is just a really enjoyable good old fashioned metal classic.

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