Tuesday, 27 December 2011

#115 Helloween - Walls of Jericho

I've not done a review in a while, but now Christmas is finished, I can hopefully find time to resume. Anyways, it's impossible to listen to much power-metal, or metal of any description, without at least having heard the name of Helloween. One of the colossal driving forces behind European power metal, the band's debut full-length "Walls of Jericho" is a true classic of the genre, and is a landmark in the evolution of speed-metal into the power-metal which today is heard by so many.

As power metal, or at least, it's flamboyant European strain, should be, Walls of Jericho is melodic, high-pitched, catchy as hell, and festooned with cheesiness, in the most amazingly enjoyable way, but unlike a lot of power metal, some of the songs don't go in for an epic theme, despite their epic sound; "Reptile" for instance, is a cheeky tale about some kind of reptile living in the sewers, and many of the songs on the album share this to an extent. Lyrically, speed metal seems to be dominant still, with attitude laced lyrics, as opposed to epic, flowery material which was, I must admit, what I expected. Speed metal also survives in the song structures, and the sound is certainly "proto" power-metal, not the fully founded genre. The guitar-work is more jumpy and has quite a lot of meat, and there are riffs which chug and rasp along in a very traditional fashion, and don't quite possess the floweriness of quintessential power metal, which suits me fine, as I like power-metal to have a lot of riff-power, which is why I typically prefer power-metal in the American style.

I have to say, before listening to this, I had no idea that metal like this existed in 1985. Europe, I assumed, would be filled with traditional and speed metal acts, but I was mistaken. I never really looked deeply into power-metal got started, but my ears definitely suggest that one of the likely candidates is around the time of this album, which is definitely more than just speed metal. The hybrid of styles sound really awesome, and definitely takes the things I like about both speed and power metal - It's not hit that overproduced, modern wall which so much power metal has, and it's not lost any momentum - it's got so much "power", and it's easy to see how power metal ended up earning it's name.

I don't listen to as much power-metal as I should, and that is certain, but albums like this make me want to listen to more of it. This album is as much of a piece of history as "Black Metal" "Number of the Beast" or "Kill 'Em All".

I give Walls of Jericho 8/10.

Helloween Official site
Helloween on Myspace
Helloween on Facebook
Helloween on Metal Archives

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

#114 Benediction - Transcend the Rubicon

Another piece of evidence on the table, alongside Bolt Thrower, that English death-metal is a damn fine brand of the subgenre, is Benediction. "Transcend the Rubicon" is a couple of albums into their ongoing career, and I can say, rather confidently, that it is a classic of the genre, for all the right reasons.

Benediction get compared to Bolt Thrower frequently, and there is good reason for this - The two bands have one heck-of-a-lot in common - The vocals follow the same path, and the riffs have the same crushing "death with a hint of groove" to them. Is this a bad thing? Most certainly not! To my ears, the two are as good as each other, and the deep bass-filled roar of the songs on "Transcend the Rubicon" exemplify this in a bone-crunching death-metal inferno. I'm definitely partial to death-metal which doesn't go overboard with blast beats, and Benediction definitely exhibit a refreshing restraint, with the drumming being tight, technical, and sounding nice in the final mix, as well as being catchy, and driving the music really well, such as in the beginning of "Violation Domain" but not crowding other aspects of the music out. In fact, the mixing as a whole is excellent - it's got that nice, organic feel of the old school, but everything is also captured nicely, with no aspects of the sound neglected.

Transcend is one of those albums which simply sounds good from start to finish, which is always something worthy of praise - It's quite a lengthy album, as well - eleven tracks (On my version, not including the two live bonus tracks) and almost fifty minutes is quite a lot of death-metal in one serving, but when the consistency and lack of filler is taken into account, it's damn impressive. Coupled with the lovely cover-artwork, the album oozes an aura of completeness and solid foundation, which, while not necessary to the song quality, really seems to boost it up in terms of appeal in the way that it practically demands to be enjoyed and treasured. One of the consequences of the way the riffs are done, is, pleasingly, that it demands the vocals to have good  twists, and the vocal hooks are more memorable than your average death-metal album, and in addition have very rhythmic character, which provides plenty of emphasis on them, and hammers them home pleasingly.

It's not suprising that I enjoyed this, Bolt Thrower fan that I am, the similarity can only be advantageous to my ear, but whatever you're into, It can only be a good idea to have a listen to some Benediction. I only wish that they'd blown me away sooner, but I overlooked them for some time.

I'm giving this a 9/10.

Benediction on Myspace
Benediction on Metal Archives

Sunday, 18 December 2011

#113 Hazzard's Cure - S/T

I stumbled upon this ensemble while trawling through bandcamp, and took the artwork to be a sign that the band were a thrash one. Not so. Hazzard's Cure play a sludgy, stoner metal style, which is described catchily on the bands profile as "epic blackened stoner thrash". Curious as to what this might sound like, I gave the album a listen.

The album certainly sounds interesting, and is certainly an interesting medley of styles - The deep lower end and general thunderous sound represents the stoner, sludgy side of things, but there definitely is a vein of thrash within the music, which comes into play in the form of the speed and anger of the music. The vocals in many places top it off, being quintessential extreme - loyal to no genre in particular, but harsh nonetheless. This creates something of a combination of atmosphere and general thrashiness, which is tasteful, as opposed to over the top. There are plenty of songs which don't go down such a riffy road, too, and these help hold up the sludge side of the deal, and some of the atmosphere encountered therein is impressive to say the least, boosted up by the tightness of the recording, and by the very amiable production, which is roughly optimum for the style of music being produced. As the album progresses, you find yourself exposed to a little bit of everything, influences from the four corners of the metal world, which is as rewarding when you anticipate it as it is when you don't.

The lead guitar is finely honed, and sounds damn pleasing when it rears it's head, with some smooth, creamy solos, in songs such as "Tossed and Dethroned", which adds a dash of serene emotion to the maelstrom of sections which the song is comprised of. There are soft, clean guitar parts, here and there, too, in an almost ballad-like sense, which is more than welcome, considering that it's well-done, and not tacky. The vocals are as diverse as the music, ranging from a harsh scream to a Baroness/Mastodon style gruff bellow, with just quite a lot of ground being covered in between. "Prayer of the Hunted" has some really good black-metal style shrieks and wails. The combination of elements is at it's most enjoyable in the epic nine-minute closer, which is sludgy as hell, but also brings a bit of everything else to the table, then, to elongate the metaphor, arranges it into a pleasing sculpture... plates... food... cutlery, the lot.

It is often said, that if you want to survive, you need to diversify. Hazzard's Cure have done just that, creating a pleasing, but not over-the-top mix of sludge, thrash, and well... just about everything else as well.

I give this album a 9/10. A few listens, and you'll be hooked.

Hazzard's Cure on Myspace
Hazzard's Cure on Facebook
Hazzard's Cure on Bandcamp
Hazzard's Cureon Metal Archives

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

#112 Koldbrann - Nekrotisk Inkvisition

In modern black-metal, one of the trends seems to be that most of the bands which have a very oldschool black-metal sound do not have the musicians to play live - instead being composed of a few multi-talented members. Koldbrann are not one of these bands, and through their career so far, they have had a full enough compliment of musicians to perform live shows, something which seems important to me. "Nekrotisk Inkvisition" is one of the most... Kvlt... album titles to come my way in a while, and the sound is equally true black metal.

In terms of sound, this album could have burst straight out of 1994. The guitars are evil, cold, and hissing, but also chunky, and there's a tough and prominent lower end in the music, which gives it a lot of strength which isn't apparent in some black-metal. The sound is very much recognisable, although it may be a bit far to refer to it is quintessential; It doesn't seem fitting, when there are certainly some unique characteristics in the band's sound - and enjoyable ones at that. I've not heard quite the same guitar tone anywhere else, and it's a damn good tone at that. The riffs really cruise along, sawing and rasping angrily, but also with a well carried atmosphere, a good balance between the intensity and freezing atmosphere; "Koldbrann" itself is the Norwegian for frostbite. All in all, the album sounds very well rounded in terms of production; natural, organic, and un-forced. The band stand against the use of drum-triggers, and their earthy production ethic is definitely reflected in the album, which is smoothly, but naturally mixed and produced.

It's definitely a hidden gem of modern black-metal. Perhaps not a band who are looking to the past for inspiration too much, but definitely one who feel the need to unleash it with "proper" sounding traits. With black-metal, it could be said that they "don't make 'em like they used to", but Koldbrann certainly seem to be trying and succeeding. It may not adopt any wild new direction for the genre, but it certainly keeps the original spirit of black-metal as straight as an arrow, and what's not to like about that? It's cold, sinister, off-the-beaten track, and evil as hell, and that's how black metal was meant to be, and it's as good coming from 2003, as it would have been ten years before that, but most of all, it's honest - there isn't a twist, an aspect of the band which changes the perception of it - it's a straightforward black-metal outfit, playing straight forward black metal, and it sounds good.

This is definitely a riff filled, black-metal monster of an album, and each song has a great degree of integrity and raw, unrefined purity. Bands like Watain may be keeping the genre in the spotlight, but bands like Koldbrann are the ones who are keeping us well supplied with black metal like they made in the olden days.

I'm giving this an 8/10.

Koldbrann official site
Koldbrann on Myspace
Koldbrann on Metal Archives

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Feature: Album of the year

 To Vote, give your opinion in the poll at the edge of the blog.
All votes are greatly appreciated!

I've been thinking about the possibility of doing this for some time; presenting a few albums which I've found thoroughly impressive throughout the year, and then allowing readers of the blog (and unfortunate people I encounter on forums) to vote for which of these albums they consider the best, in a poll. Of course, I've not listened to all of the fine albums released this year, and so I've picked albums which I have listened to, be they big releases, or lesser known, which will probably narrow the scope slightly - I'm afraid that your personal, pet favourite album may not be on here. Nonetheless, to anyone who could take a little time to vote for one of these ten fine albums, I'd greatly appreciate your time. To get a good spread of results, I'll be taking votes until the 1st of January 2012. Anyways, here are the albums;

Burzum - Fallen:

The albums which Varg creates are seldom entirely disappointing. and "Fallen" met with great acclaim from many fans. Heralded as a step up from "Belus" by many, this album is high-quality, and distinct from Burzum's other material, with intensity, development of style, and solid songwriting, everything which you could desire to see in an album.

 Venom - Fallen Angels:

Venom are still going strong, and "Fallen Angels" is a solid addition to their discography, and hearkens back to the bands roots not only pleasingly, but also in a well-executed manner; the band aren't overdoing it, they're getting it just right. It's crunchy, mischievous, and is simply Venom doing what they do best.

Iced Earth - Dystopia:

Perhaps not everyone loves Iced Earth, but who doesn't love a comeback album after a less-than-intense period of a bands history. "Dystopia" possesses a ridiculously refreshing new found intensity in the band, rejuvenated by the vocals of Stu Block, the band have managed to turn around and unleash a thoroughly well made album.

  Thrall - Vermin to the Earth

An eerie, extinction crazed black metal journey, filled with sinister wailing guitar, and an atmosphere which practically makes spiders scurry forth from the cracks in your floorboards, Thralls second album is easily as good as their first. The album has a genuine originality about it, but still manages to bring the features of conventional black-metal into play effectively.

Root - Heritage of Satan

Root have always been underrated, and their new album is no exception. It's not been talked about much, but it's a genuinely solid effort, and shows that the band still have exactly what it takes to make good material, which is memorable, demonic, but also melodic, in a way which only Root have truly mastered.

Skeletonwitch - Forever Abomination

Innovative black-thrashers Skeletonwitch haven't made a bad album yet, and this one is no exception. It carries on in the band's eclectic, quirky style, just as surprising, unique and pleasing as the bands previous works, and with all of the odd charm and aesthetic which the band have always possessed.

Skull Fist - Head of the Pack

In true Canadian metal style, Skull fist created a virtuosic, unique and tight traditional-metal album; The vocals are fascinating, the guitars are smooth and virtuosic, the humour is tongue in cheek, and, well, the cover art is a bit odd, but don't let that get in the way of a thoroughly decent album.

Evile - Five Serpent's Teeth

You can say what you want about Evile, their latest album is catchy, well written and talented. In my opinion, probably their best offering so far. Everything you could want to hear in quintessential thrash is there. Whether you like it, of course, remains up to you.

Vektor - Outer Isolation

Vektor's brand of super-technical progressive thrash has certainly gotten them well known around the metal community. Following in the style of "Black Future", "Outer Isolation" is a festival of technical, out-of-the-box playing, and dark, sci-fi lyrical themes, brought forth by some of the most distinct vocals of the year.

Yob - Atma

Magnificently heavy stoner/doom metal band Yob left quite an impression on me with their latest release; Atma. Heavy as hell, with hypnotically long songs, diverse and evocative vocals, and a heaviness which I have seldom heard topped, Atma is a solid release, earning it a place on this list.

That's the "nominations". I'm fairly certain that for a good  number of people, your personal favourite will be missing. Cheer up - I'm sure you'll enjoy atleast one of these. Remember to vote in the poll on the side of the blog's main page!

Saturday, 10 December 2011

#111 W.A.S.P - The Crimson Idol

W.A.S.P have always been a band which seem to go down well, despite being, at times, on the borderline of being a glam band, and, as such, the target of a great deal of stigma. Fortunately, it's always been relatively apparent that there's a lot more to the band than that, from their early days, right up to, and beyond, the album on which I shall focus; The Crimson Idol.

The band manage to bring a very earthbound tale, that of the rise and fall of a rockstar, the "Crimson Idol" from whom the album takes it's name, but in typical W.A.S.P style, the music sounds oddly epic, juxtaposed enticingly, and fantastically with the sleaze, glamour and despair of the character's journey. There's a good balance between good songs and narrative, in that you can follow the storyline well, but it doesn't entirely prevent excellent stand-alone songs from existing, and it can safely be said, W.A.S.P's record on stand-alone songs is nothing if not outstanding. Not being a rockstar, I wouldn't know, but to my lay-man ears, the album seems to perfectly encapsulate the highs and lows of rockstar life - Manic, energetic songs are punctuated by the occasional heart-touching ballad or soft section, such as "Hold on to my Heart" which is one of the most brimming-with-emotion songs in my entire music collection, and I don't hesitate to theorise that Blackie's own experiences of the highs and lows of his career has shaped the song, and the whole album, a great deal.

The recurrent lyrics are nicely done, and make the catchiness of the songs immense - you know many of the chorus-like lyrics reasonably well without having listened to the song before, as I found on my first listen to the album as a whole; the sadness subtly evoked by  "I just wanna be the Crimson Idol" melting away into "I don't wanna be the Crimson Idol" really gives something to the albums darkness and sadness. I can safely say that this is one of the most turbulent and emotional albums I've listened to, and I'm very much smitten with it. Perhaps, at this point, I should actually describe something other than the album's atmosphere; The playing is great, and although the album is darker and deeper than the bands earlier works, it's still the same W.A.S.P, albeit older and wiser - perhaps refreshed by the change in direction from raucous to expressive. The sadness element has always been present in the band's sound, taking them a cut above their peers, but on this album it's perfected.

I'm not an expert on concept albums, and I could certainly benefit from hearing a few more, but damn, I think I can recognise a good one when I hear it. It's well put together, filled with atmosphere, and truly feels like a journey, something which many albums promise, but few deliver. It's a sad story, and a fantastic album.

"The Crimson Idol" earns at least 9/10.

W.A.S.P Official site
W.A.S.P on Myspace
W.A.S.P on Facebook
W.A.S.P on Metal Archives

Monday, 5 December 2011

#110 Gorgoroth - Under the Sign of Hell 2011

Time for the second Norwegian black-metal re-recording album in a row, this time, Gorgoroth's re-recording of Under the Sign of Hell. In a run-up plagued with delays to the release date, fuelled by problems at the record label, the album is available on the band's tour, and is scheduled for proper release fairly soon. Whether the bands fans will be pleased about this, however, is up for debate.

Gorgoroth definitely remain energised and strong in the release, and it's obvious that they are capable of keeping up the onslaught which the original Sign of Hell gave. The problem with the re-recording, aside from how unnecessary it feels, is that the black metal "spirit" of the band is definitely not audible in the album - It's sterile, and lacks the crushing, candle-lit and frosty production which makes black-metal good - while the technicality of the album remains - they are after all, the same songs - the atmosphere is very much lacking. The drums are too crisp, and the production in general lacks the echoey, reverb filled and utterly black-metal production which made the original, and the albums around  it, which, frankly, got me into black metal, great.
The album sounds good in some places, with songs like "Profetens Apenbaring" sounding reasonably well done, although this, in part, is down to the fact that it was more of a punchy song than the others, and the production suits it marginally better.

The intensity is still there, which is a good thing to see, although that adds more to my hope that the band could unleash a genuine comeback if only they get their current trend in abominable production out of the way, than to my enjoyment of this album in particular. Perhaps if this had been original material, it would have gotten a lot more praise, but when compared to the original, it just doesn't stand up as it should. It's reasonable of it's own merit, but in this case, own merit doesn't really cut it. It's clearer, and the technical elements of the music are laid bare to see, much more so than before, but that's done at the expense of the atmosphere to a great extent, and the fact that albums which combine both effectively do exist really detracts a bit from what's been achieved in terms of clarity. I'm not going to outright condemn the album, as always, it was enjoyable to hear songs in a different light, and I cant deny that I enjoyed the occasional section here and there, but I'm definitely going to admit that it could have been better, and as a massive Gorgoroth fan, I'm somewhat disappointed.

Some re-recording albums work. Some don't, and while this isn't an outright dog's dinner, it's not what it could have been, by any stretch. The overclean production wears off after a while, and it's tolerable, but it's certainly no substitute for the original.

I'm going to say 6/10.

Gorgoroth Official site
Gorgoroth on Myspace
Gorgoroth on Facebook
Gorgoroth on Metal Archives

Friday, 2 December 2011

#109 Burzum - From the Depths of Darkness

Varg Vickerness is a man with quite an impressive output of work, in recent years, at least, since he got out of prison. "From the Depths of Darkness" is his second work of the year, although one which is completely different in nature from the studio album released earlier in the year. This is a re-recordings album, taking material from the bands self-titled album, and from "Det som Engang Var", and re-recording them "as they were originally intended", which is, in the hands of most musicians, a scary phrase.

The album is definitely one which will make people evaluate it, whether they set out to or not - Re-recordings are always thus. If all of the attributes of the originals and the re-recordings were averaged out, they would perhaps not be as far apart as people are proclaiming, but one thing is definite - Each has distinctly different merits, and because of this, I'm hazarding to say that it's quite difficult to say which is superior in my eyes, because there is definitely more than one dimension to the difference. On one hand, the vocals have changed into Vargs more modern style, as opposed to his rabid howl from those days, which seems to be greeted in fairly equal measure with disdain and approval. Personally, I'm quite unconcerned by the vocal change, finding both fairly enjoyable. The changes in production catch my attention more; It's clearer, and definitely a bit more crunchy, which leaves open a nice window to hear the intricacies not apparent in the original recordings, but at the same time, there isn't the same unique reverb which cements the originals in my mind. Nonetheless, I can certainly come to enjoy the new production, which does make it sound a lot more "black-metal" than before, in terms of the sounds thickness.

The album in general certainly revitalises the songs to an extent - and it's interesting to listen to the differences, and to have the songs with a slightly different angle cast upon them this time, which has always been a highlight of re-recording albums to me. The differences are pretty much all that can be focused upon when it comes to albums like this, considering that all of the songs were well written the first time around, not much can be said about that, and the same is true of any changes in direction; there aren't any, unless making re-recordings counts as a change in direction. Nonetheless, it's good to hear Varg playing material of the style of the first few albums, but with modern production, and it certainly makes me hope that it's a direction that he heads on with whatever original material he produces next. An album like this would certainly be more than satisfactory.

Re-recording albums are definitely a bit hit-and-miss, generally speaking. Burzum seems to have done quite reasonably on this one though - Perhaps it's not a critical blow, but it definitely not a miss, and it seems so far to be a lot better than a re-recording album by a certain other Norwegian black-metal outfit which I will be reviewing in the near future.

I'm giving this 7/10. 

Burzum Official site
Burzum on Metal Archives

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

#108 Venom - Fallen Angels

I've always liked Venom. They may not be a consistent, and they've perhaps never made a true "comeback" album to reach the heights of "Welcome to Hell" and "Black Metal", but what I love is the multitude of interesting stuff that the band makes along the way; Seldom in the same style for long, but then again, their music never was. "Fallen Angels" is the band's latest batch of interesting stuff.

"Fallen Angels" seems to take many of the aspects from the bands more recent works; "Metal Black", "Ressurrection" and "Hell", but also have a raucous air which is much more reminiscent of the early albums. The production is much, much more wholesome and enjoyable than that of the two albums Venom released prior to this - and while it's a bit scuffed and unpolished, something which is absolutely essential, it is also pleasingly crisp in it's own way - Everything is mixed and levelled nicely, and there is a strongly organic, earthy feel to the whole album as a consequence. The bass sound is enormous, and emphasised a little in the mix, with all of the bulldozer crunch that Venom made their own back in the day. This is done quite well too, there's definitely enough restraint not to spoil the other instruments, but the bass is definitely back to where it should be - as a three-piece band, it commands it's due third of the instrumental attention. The other instruments seem to be solid too, and the drums are well played and well mixed, which makes a change to them being either one or the other, in recent works.

Overall, intensity seems perhaps a little more restrained in the album than in some of the recent works, but it's still very replete with energy; this suits the albums overall style - it's a bit less agile, but it's got a lot of strength and might; songs like "Punk's Not Dead" have the same fist-pumping energy that tracks like "Countess Bathory" did on Black Metal. It's a strong album, by any standards, in respect to it's sound, and the songwriting on it, which is definitely a step up from "Hell" and maybe "Metal Black" too. There's even a calm acoustic instrumental, "Lest We Forget" which instantly made me think of "Mayhem with Mercy" from the bands debut, which went down the same road, a road which Venom seldom tread. It's an album with a bit of everything, and it's standing up well against the band's legacy - I feel that the band may have made a bit of an effort to return to their older sound a little more on this album, and it sounds like it's worked quite well.

Overall, well, it's not a comeback album. Perhaps it's a little bit late now for that, but that doesn't mean it's not good, and quite impressively good too - a cut above a lot of their newer material, and a thoroughly enjoyable album from end to end, something which listening to it more will add to, and not detract from, I feel. Once again, Venom have produced some interesting stuff.

It's a good 'un: 8/10.

Venom Official site
Venom on Myspace
Venom on Metal Archives

Saturday, 26 November 2011

#107 Vektor - Outer Isolation

Vektor are a young, and impressively skilled thrash outfit from the United-States. Their second album, "Black Future" hammered their name quite neatly into the map of 21st century thrash, and the wait for a follow up has been bedecked with it's fair share of anticipation and interest, especially when the album in question, "Outer Isolation" has the potential to be, for want of better words, something of a big-deal.

Carrying on in the bands science fiction, space and dystopia themed brand of very technical thrash, Outer Isolation is very much the logical step along from Black Future, and all of the main elements of the band's sound have remained intact; The distinct, shrieked vocals, and the absurd, breathtaking technicality, which exists at all tempos, which make you wonder how the band manage to play live at all, which, incidentally, they can do. Also remaining is the eerie and evil atmosphere which the band manage to always invoke. Often, thrash seems to be a style which is neutral, and it's feel is given directly in the lyrical themes - not so with Vektor; the music itself has an atmosphere attached to it, which too many thrash bands lack. The album seems a bit more accessible, too, the songs are a bit shorter, for starters, which is very useful considering that the typical Vektor song is such a maelstrom of complexity which takes quite some time to properly digest.

In what might be seen to be something of a brave move, the band have three tracks from their ambiguous, hard to find demo/debut album, and it's gotten a bit of mention from people anticipating the album. Personally, listening to the album once without looking at the track titles, I can happily say that there was no noticeable change in quality between the original material and the older stuff. After all, Black Future did the same, with the track "Destroying the Cosmos". This says something for Vektor's consistency - when material from an old demo can fit in nicely with material from their up-and-coming releases, it becomes quite apparent that the band hit the ground running, and haven't slowed down since. I'd tentatively say that I'd like to see a little bit of development, nothing drastic, when my time comes to review the album after this one, but until then, Vektor are thankfully lightyears away from developing any kind of "releasing more of the same" problem. That is to say, this album is not without differences - There's lot more work which doesn't rely on riffs; extended intros, and cleaner sections which feel like the seedlings of something which I could potentially foresee Vektor getting an excellent reputation for.

All things considered, Outer Isolation definitely feels enjoyable to listen to, and it's got all of the things I liked about Black Future. In a year of milestone releases by many of the younger thrash-bands out there, Vektor may well be leaving a mark much deeper than some. Despite the age of the thrash genre, the band are definitely bringing something new to the table.

I think "Outer Isolation" is a 9/10.

Vektor on Myspace
Vektor on Facebook
Vektor on Metal Archives

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

#106 Root - Heritage of Satan

Nine albums into a long career, Root can definitely be said to possess a certain admirable longevity, and stamina for producing metal, over what is almost twenty-five years now. Their latest, "Heritage of Satan" seems to be a return to the bands satanic roots, no pun intended, and possesses an aesthetic in common with their earlier material, in terms of theme and artwork.

Root's brand of black-metal has always been quite quirky, and the level of actual black-metal in it varies a lot from album to album. This album is quite heavily dosed with black-metal, with songs like "Darksome Prophet" having all of the hallmarks of the genre, while other songs on the album go down a softer path, which is quite unique, but combines elements of just about everything. One of the things I noticed on a decent number of the songs was more of a sense of groove than on the albums previous to it. Not to the point of being in any way groove-metal, but certainly a noticeable amount - which gives a sound to the album which I can only describe as being like "Bolt Thrower having a go at playing black-metal". The album is varied in the style of the songs - although many are in Root's traditional style, there are certainly new things throughout the album; The black metal elements seem a little more conventional, which is juxtaposed oddly with the catchy, almost Rock like, melodic nature of some of the song arrangements, which is something the band have usually done to some extent, really spicing-up their unique style. There also seems to be an increase intensity throughout the album, compared to the generally mid-tempo works like "The Temple in The Underworld".

Vocally, JirĂ­ "Big Boss" Walter is holding up very well, with his usual bellowing, almost classical sounding vocal attack unaffected by the fact that he's getting near to sixty years of age, and his vocal diversity is apparent as ever, with demonic sounding spoken word parts, harsh vocals, and accomplished clean vocals well blended throughout the album, and it's pleasing, at heart, to feel how unique the band have managed to remain, and I must admit I felt a thrill that this album is not only a return to their classic style, but is also easily as good as a lot of it. Initially, I wasn't sure what to make of the album, but after a few listens, it sank in. Damn... it's good, quite impressively good, in fact.

Root are among the most unsung of metal's unsung heroes, which seems very unfair - a band with a career as long as theirs, with as many albums, and such a unique sound, really, deeply deserve a lot more recognition, and this, dare I say, first-class release is yet another reason.

I'm going to give this a 9/10.

Root Official site
Root on Myspace
Root on Metal Archives

Friday, 18 November 2011

#105 Gorematory - Zombie Slaughterfest

I encountered this band a few days ago, being promoted in a rather convoluted way by their drummer, who posted a live video of his drumming. I'm usually sceptical of bands which do things like this, but as I clicked past the live video onto the studio tracks, I was somewhat impressed with the bands brand of death/thrash, and decided to listen to their self-released debut, the titillatingly titled "Zombie Slaughterfest"

The thundering behemoth of thrashy goodness which arrived through my headphones was certainly of a high calibre, and was also catchy. I say thrashy because the mix of thrash and death-metal seems to lean that way - In the style of bands like Death, the sound is very much a thrashy one, with the same speed, aggression and distinguishing features, albeit augmented by brutal vocals, and a savage death metal intensity and deep guitar sound, and the cover of "Zombie Ritual" goes on to highlight this fact. The growled vocals go well with the gruff, oldschool sound of the album as a whole, as does the production, which is very early-death-metal, without compromising the coherence of the sound  too much. On top of this, the songs are quick, memorable, and to the point - which is, I'd guess, the best style to opt for with this style of death-metal. Like a fast punch to the face, as opposed to a lengthy, tiring bout, the songs are easy to absorb, generally lasting between two and four minutes, which is enough time to be interesting, and to get some technically impressive musicianship done, but not so long as to become stale to the ears.

Talking of technical, that's definitely something that the band are. Not so much in the "tech-death, prone to a lot of guitar wankery" way, but in a honest, "this is impressive, but we're only doing it because it sounds cool" kind of way - which is by far my preferred approach to technical playing in metal, and while the band may not be bringing much innovation to the old-school death-metal sound, it's pleasing to note that they're playing  it the right way, and the whole aesthetic of the album is a testament to this - the artwork and production values certainly give the impression that the album might have been unearthed from a late-eighties time-capsule; The band have certainly got the OSDM sound down-to-a-tee. I don't know death metal anything like as well as I know thrash or black metal, but I'd certainly venture to say that what this band is doing for death-metal is analogous with what bands like Warbringer and Evile are doing for thrash, or White Wizzard is doing for traditional-metal. Categorisation matters little, however - of it's own merit, "Zombie Slaughterfest" is good.

I have to say, this album seems like a very solid debut, and I was certainly impressed and pleasently suprised. I don't often happen upon bands of this calibre through following self-promoting forum posts, but this time, I found an exception. The name and album title may be toungue-in-cheek, but the band take the business of making metal deadly-seriously.

I think this album warrants an 8/10.

Gorematory on Myspace.
Gorematory on Facebook.

Gorematory on Metal Archives.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

#104 Beastwars - S/T

Remote as New Zealand is, that fact doesn't mean that it isn't home to some impressively industrious and successful bands. Beastwars are one such band, and, despite my perception of New Zealand as an inhospitable habitat for music, especially something on the fringe, like metal, the band seem to be thriving, touring, and generally doing quite reasonably. Their music quality, I hasten to add, reflects this nicely.

Sludge metal is slightly unfamiliar me - I have to say, there are definitely subgenres that I've listened to with greater frequency, but in contrast, the style has been one I've frequently fallen back upon when a little overdosed on thrash or black metal, and is also one I feel I like a lot more than my limited collection of albums in the genre testifies. Beastwars give a very solid impression of said genre, capturing many, if not the majority, of the features which make it good - a huge lower-end, diverse vocals, deep guitar, and the occasional psychedelic, stoner influenced section, in an album which is solid and pleasingly diverse in it's approaches. Like doom metal, I find sludge metal to set a soundscape in which the listener can wonder, as opposed to being a direct drip-feed of sound, and the soundscape Beastwars generate is a hazy, twangy-guitar filled slightly slow-motion head-nodding extravaganza, which is precisely what the doctor ordered, and will clear your head in moments.

The serene intensity which the band bring forth in their music seems to be nicely brought forward in the production, which has got a nice balance, with the low, muffled sound typical of sludge metal not being so extreme as to spoil the guitar tone, and the prescence of the bass and drums, with enough treble to add emphasis on the multiple dimensions in the music. It's not just intensity, either - just about everything in the bands arsenal of sounds seems to be on a grand scale. The songs may not be twelve-minute behemoths, but you'd be wrong to assume that the band would produce cheeky, attitude-laden sludge metal, what the band make is an odd, almost trippy sound, which feels as unfathomable as it is difficult to describe. It's not quite "epic" in the conventional sense, but the atmosphere and mid-tempo intensity give it something which is definitely difficult to place. All I know is that this music, crushing rhythms, and almost primal, pounding drums, would be my soundtrack of choice for a Lovecraftian apocalypse.

I glanced over the album, what must have been only a few months after it was released. I enjoyed it, but at that time, It didn't appeal to my tastes as much as it does now. A couple of music-taste developments later, and I'm thoroughly enjoying the album - It's what I like about sludge-metal, nicely distilled into one handy album, and I'm damn glad that I spent the time to re-visit it today.

Some albums leave a lasting impression after the closing seconds of the last song snap into silence. This is one of those albums. 10/10.

Beastwars on Myspace
Beastwars on Facebook
Beastwars on Bandcamp
Beastwars on Metal Archives

Sunday, 13 November 2011

#103 Skiltron - The Highland Way

I'm sure I'm not the only person who looked at bagpipes and thought to myself  "they could work really well in metal." Proof of that fact is Skiltron, an Argentinian folk/power metal band who unleash a speedy bagpipe driven attack on the senses. Their third album, "The Highland Way" had been out for a while when it caught my attention, but now I'm giving it a listen.

As far as I'm concerned, anything with bagpipes in it assumes a certain degree of epicness the moment it is played. When the music in question is metal, things can only get better. Being power metal, of the European school, the band make plenty of epic feel and high vocals, which combines well with the bagpipes, which come in at well timed moments, much as if they were used like an additional guitar, with synth also added to the mix, in standard power-metal fashion, although the synth is relatively tasteful, building the atmosphere, as opposed to being plastic and unnatural. The band seem to be on a clear run, too, with each album as respectable as the last, albeit with subtle changes. Compared to the past two, this album is more polished, and the synth is a lot more prominent, which is a difference, albeit not a bad one. The songs also seem a bit more mellow, more comfortable to play at a lower tempo. To me, this is a band whose development is ideal - not overly fast, but a slow, enjoyable development, not once compromised by a spell of bad material.

As in the previous album, the band's vocals are excellent; Diego Valdez is very reminiscent of Ronnie James Dio, but the musical context of the voice is easily different enough to make it feel honest and natural, suited to the bands sound, as opposed to overtly simply sounding like Dio. Over and above the distinct nature of the bands sound, it's quite clear that the band members are very competent musicians in their own right, with strong performances coming from all instruments, and a good mix of which of the said instruments has it's time in the spotlight at a particular time. Yes, the bagpipes provide a lot of the lead work, but that doesn't mean there aren't guitar solos, and good ones at that, suggesting that the band have successfully avoided being "Gimmicky" and are simply good in their own right - certainly, the presence of bagpipes doesn't please me due to any sense of patriotism, or because I want to feel particularly Scottish. No. They please me because I just happen to like bagpipes, and Skiltron incorporate them damn nicely.

I feel Skiltron are unsung heroes of power-metal - and they certainly don't get the attention they deserve. They produce a celtic-metal sound easily as good as any band from Europe, and whats more, they do it without making it too flowery. Their sound may be very much grounded in Scottish history, but it'd be good whatever it was about, and that can only be a good sign.

I give "The Highland Way" 7/10.

Skiltron Official Site
Skiltron on Myspace
Skiltron on Facebook
Skiltron on Metal Archives

Thursday, 10 November 2011

#102 Thrall - Away From the Haunts of Men

Yes, their new album was released not long ago, and no, this isn't it. Thrall's first album, titled "Away from the Haunts of Men" has been a review I've been planning to do in quite a long time, and now, despite the new album already on it's way through the post, I feel I aught to review the debut that I've so long intended to. Consequently, here it is.

Coming from Tasmania, not the first place you'd expect to find black-metal, you could assume that there's got to be something a bit different about the band. They're certainly not conventional black metal, that much is certain - the band cast a bleak, weather beaten shadow, instead of the quintessential satanic, blasphemous one that so many bands adopt. The sound reflects this, too - The vibe the music gives is dessicated and barren, as opposed to occult sounding, evocative of the impartial power of nature, and not the malign power of demons and devils. The production comes into play too, although I find myself uncertain of the results - It's quite polish, perhaps excessively so, and I found the drum sound, when in faster sections, to sound annoyingly sterile. The bass guitar is quite prominent in the mix too, which I enjoy to an extent, although it sounds novel, if anything, as opposed to adding much to the sound. With this production taken into account, it's probably just as well that the songwriting is pretty good throughout, which cheers me up about the whole album.

One of the things which is conducive to my enjoyment of the band is how well they handle the slower sections; more atmospheric, and certainly more dark sounding than the faster, relatively conventional sounding faster sections. A good example of this is "Rank Webs", the whole of which is minimalistic, and utterly terrifying, fulled with a suspense and trapped energy which sends shivers down the spine. It's those moments which attracted me to Thrall's sound in the first place, and also which keep me coming back for more. Don't get me wrong, the fast sections are definitely enjoyable, in a late-Burzum meets early-Gorgoroth kind of way, but Thrall are just so damn good at slow, sinister sections - even a small slow bridge between torrents of speed adds a great deal to the songs, it's the seasoning, the certain something which makes Thrall stand out from the crowd, and be more than just another black-metal band.

Overall, a number of the tracks on the album make it worth it, and certainly help me overcome my qualms about the production, and slightly sterile drum sound. Hopefully, the new album will be not only a worthy follower, but also an improvement on this album. It's damn good to listen to some black metal which is a bit different for a change.

I give the album 8/10. 

Thrall Official site.
Thrall on Myspace
Thrall on Facebook
Thrall on Metal-Archives.

Monday, 7 November 2011

#101 Savatage - Edge of Thorns

I notice that I've reviewed a lot of thrash-bands recently. Something a bit different seemed in order, and fortunately, Savatage were there for the listening. Savatage are one of those bands that I should perhaps have had a listen to long ago, and I feel a bit incompetent for only just listening to them properly recently. The band play a range of styles, but this album is a melodic heavy metal, borderline power-metal affair, and all in all, sounds a damn fine album to introduce myself to Savatage with.

Within a few minutes of listening to the album, I was hit, as if by a gust of wind, by how powerful the music's vocals were, and how vocally dominated the band's sound was, which was made interesting by how much power the songs retained in spite of this - I find many vocally dominated bands to be a little feeble in terms of the energy in the music, especially in terms of rhythm, but it seems Savatage have the balance quite nicely in the bag - maybe while the vocals soar above, the instruments, like the ground below, are also huge and powerful. A lot about the album seems to be well blended - the production is very nicely done, with the leveling nigh-perfect, as far as my ears tell me. The blend of styles is interesting too - It's not quite power-metal, and it's not quite rock, but it certainly has the enjoyable features of both, in profusion. The virtuosic vocal edge, and guitar crunch of metal, but the attitude and occasional bluesy lick belonging very noticeably to rock.

Beauty seems to be the integral element of the record, as opposed to heaviness, virtuosity, or attitude, and it's quite a pleasing fact. The songs are evocative, and the lead-guitar and clean sections are genuinely intense and emotional. I've always enjoyed bands who manage to sound epic without using a great number of effects, and Savatage are certainly one of those - Guitar and vocals strong throughout, with an honest, organic epicness. The band aren't "heavy" in a way which is recognised greatly today, but it doesn't need to be to have a great impact - the music feels hugely intense without resorting to speed, or excessive layers of sound - making the music both down-to-earth, and incredibly epic at the same time. Whatever a well-done 80's ballad had, that's what Savatage seem to have latched onto, and, dare I say, improved upon.

I'll admit, I call albums "solid" quite a lot - but they are solid to varying degrees. This one fits into the highly scientific solidness-category of "very". It's one of those albums I wouldn't have listened to immediately, but at a friends recommendation, I listened, and I liked.

I'd say this album merits a good 8/10.

Savatage Official Site
Savatage on Myspace
Savatage on Facebook
Savatage on Metal Archives

Saturday, 5 November 2011

#100 Bathory - Nordland

When I started writing reviews, I didn't really think about how long the adventure would last. Turns out, the answer was "quite a while". I'm quite pleased with how things are going, and even moreso by how much deeper I'm finding myself able to look at the music I find, compared to the initial, barely paragraph long reviews that I started the ball-rolling with. This, my one-hundredth review, felt like it should perhaps be something a little special, and that is when my inner, irresistible urge to at some point review Nordland came into play.

As I mentioned in my previous reviews of Bathory, I'm a confessed major fan of the band, and since I discovered them, I've still not found anything quite as incredible. Nordland is the first of two (planned to be four) albums in the Nordland series, cut short only by the death of Quorthon. A bit slower and warmer than it's follow up, Nordland II, but in my view, it epitomises the glorious and inspiring viking-metal style. As the evocative "Prelude" exploded into the blood-raising intro to "Nordland", the first time I listened to the album, I knew I was onto something which would change my taste in metal utterly. Every song on the album seems in some way inspiring, the rough, unpolished production adds something to the synth and crunchy guiar which a more polished album would not possess; It completely banishes and sterility that the album might have. I can safely say that I've never encountered an album which rushes quite so powerfully through my soul, and I'm not saying that because I'm merely a fanboy - I say it while attempting impartiality. Compared to almost all of the albums I've ever regarded as whole entities, nothing comes close, with the exception of perhaps Nordland II, which comes, at times, very close.

Quorthon seemed to take everything which he had done in the band's middle-era viking-metal, and make it thicker, deeper, and more and more organic sounding. Compared to bona-fida classics like "Hammerheart", Nordland sounds richer, and even more grand and enormous. The album is the soundtrack to snow, ice, battle, and to longships sailing over the sea - majestic, and yet evocative of glory. One of the defining features of the album is it's tone; It's thick and crunchy, but also maintains enough treble to sound lucid, as opposed to muddy - whatever comprimise of tone Quorthon reached in studio, I can safely say that it's the best guitar sound I could hope for, in terms of the albums style. The layers of sound in the album also sound excellent, with lead work soaring amazingly over the rhythm. Although other Bathory albums may be superior in terms of reputation, and status as classics, I'm of the opinion that Bathory reached a new peak with Nordland, and the peak was only interrupted by Quorthon's death. More is the pity.

Perhaps I wrote this review more for me than for anyone reading it, but I knew it was going to happen eventually, inevitably. If anyone is reading it, and hasn't listened to much or any Bathory, I cannot recommend it enough. Frankly, I'd recommend it even to someone who hasn't listened to much metal, let alone much Bathory.

It's 10/10. I'm sure you saw that coming.

Bathory on Metal-Archives.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

#099 Megadeth - Th1rt3en

Megadeth were, without a doubt, the first metal band I was into. Maybe they're not always in my top-ten bands of the moment anymore, but they'll always have a special place in my heart, as I'm sure anyone can empathise. "Th1rt3en" marks the bands... well... thirteenth studio album, and seems to, in places, take a softer approach to the band's sound, with a more "Countdown to Extinction" and "Youthanasia" style approach.

One thing which is immediately apparent, so immediate that you're well aware of it before actually listening the album at all, is that a certain proportion of the songs on the record have been recycled. I'll leave you to look at the tracklists yourselves, but I'll state that some of the re-workings are more welcome than others. "Sudden Death" seems a bit pointless - sounding almost identical to the version released as a single only about a year before, and despite being one of my favourite B-sides, "Black Swan" isn't done much justice, it's majestic intro exchanged for a chaotic and much less beautiful sounding affair. That said, "New World Order" is tolerable, although I still much prefer the demo version, where the riff isn't spoiled by lead-work. The new material on the album, accounting for nine of the thirteen tracks, certainly has a much less thrashy edge than "Endgame" or even "United Abominations" did, and goes down a more simplistic road, reminiscent of Megadeth's middle-era, especially, as far as I can hear, "Cryptic Writings", which is regarded as quite tame, but not, thankfully, as much as "Risk".

While many of the new songs are quite enjoyable, for instance, "Public Enemy #1" is immensely catchy and well put together, quite a lot of the material seems very filler-like. A lot of the songs, like "Guns, Drugs and Money" have almost no distinguishing features whatsoever, seemingly a miasma of forgettable guitar, with little apparent structure. Th1rt3en feels less like an album, and more like a collection of songs which just so happened to exist at the time, which, at least, brings in some pleasant windfalls, such as "Never Dead", which is possibly the one genuinely thrashy song on the album which hasn't been released in some shape-or-form already. As much as I really rather want to like this album, I can't help but feel that it comes nowhere near the fantastic peak re-claimed by "Endgame". The production seems a bit off, too - I like crunchy guitar, but they seem a little too crunchy on this album - quite often robbing the song of the sharp edge which Megadeth use to excellent effect. The vocals sound a little bit drowned out, too, but all in all, it's adequate.

It's a step down, but it's not a bad album of it's own right. Sadly comparison to other work by the band is inevitable, and I can safely say that it's not a continuation of the peak of excellence that "United Abominations" and "Endgame" built. It's not overtly disappointing, but it's a bit of a comedown from even it's most recent predecessors.

I give the album a 6/10.

Megadeth Official site
Megadeth on Myspace
Megadeth on Facebook
Megadeth on Metal-Archives

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

#098 Entropy - Reclamation

I'm still not quite used to getting requests to do reviews, but the quantity of incoming requests seems to have increased lately, so I should probably get on with it. You might jump to the conclusion that Entropy are one of those "Retro thrash" bands, but you'd be wrong, considering that the band have been around since 1996, they're a good ten years ahead of you're average modern thrash band. Age, of course, isn't relevant to quality, but, fortunately, the band are also rather good.

Thrash, it can confidently be said, is a very diverse genre, and there are a copious number of copious approaches which can be taken to playing it. Entropy deliver an angry, but also solid sounding and reasonably melodic version of the genre, with vocals which are more sung and bellowed than screamed or growled, taking more from bands of the "Big-four" style of thrash than from the more caustic, harsh schools of thrash. The riffs, too, go down a similar road, wholesome, chunky playing, with plenty of weight behind them, making every chord and note played sound pleasingly tough and well-rounded. The songs as a whole seem to be of this persuasion - not overly complex, but solidly played and accomplished, with the occasional elaborate flourish. But instead of being up-it's-own-arse technical for the sake of it, the flourishes in question are very conducive to the music sounding good, which a lot of bands, it seems, forget. It doesn't matter how technical something can be, the real question is how it sounds, and Entropy seem to be refreshingly aware of this.

A lot of the modern school of thrash bands get criticised for being unoriginal, and I'll be the first to admit that this band doesn't break down any terrific musical barriers, but this, I feel, is quite nicely outweighed by how enjoyable the bands sound is - The EP sounds as good in 2010 as it would have done in 1986, and, for those who preach originality above all - ask yourself, if this was released in those times, would you like it? If yes, then frankly, there's no excuse not to like it now. The musical perception time is an odd thing, perhaps, considering how irrelevant it is to how something sounds. If you listen deeply, there's some clever stuff in the EP, which makes it easily worthwhile, and whats more, it's nicely put together as an EP, and I'm a sucker for a lovable little EP, if it's well done.

I'm not  good at criticising albums unduly, especially considering my habit (flaw) for mainly reviewing albums that I enjoy in the first place. But a lot of the time, I genuinely can't find much to find fault with in this EP - It's quintessential thrash, and what's not to like about that?

I give the Reclamation EP 7/10.

Entropy on Bandcamp
Entropy on Reverbnation
Entropy on Facebook
Entropy on Myspace
Entropy on Metal-Archives

Saturday, 29 October 2011

#097 Skeletonwitch - Forever Abomination

Skeletonwitch return with album number three, (or four, depending if you count their long out-of-print debut) Forever Abomination. I've always considered Skeletonwitch to be quite an interesting band, and it's reasonable to state that there are few bands anything like them. The new album carries on the aesthetic and sonic signature style of the band, with a few tweaks here and there.

Skeletonwitch have always played a tight, elaborate style of black-thrash, and this album is no exception - indeed, it seems to have been refined even further than in their previous efforts. It's still full, if not more so with this release, of the little twists and turns which make the band so distinct, with the lead work especially having a very interesting, surprisingly clean tone in the release. The rhythm guitar is very chunky and crunchy, too, which helps to capture the increased quantity of relatively riffy, thrash orientated material, which is executed in a solid sounding, and pleasing way. This gives the band's sound the boost in strength which it needed, finally giving Skeletonwitch some power above and beyond that conjured by their speed and harshness. The albums also a step up in terms of being memorable, with sections sticking in the mind from the very first listen onwards.

One thing I very much admire about Skeletonwitch is that they aren't afraid to do things which other thrash bands might be nervous to attempt - the band do for thrash what Baroness do for sludge-metal, with songs like "The Infernal Resurrection" having an almost pop-music catchiness and twisted-cheeriness, especially in the intro. Skeletonwitch are the sort of band who manage to make things like that work, seamlessly. This album has a sheer maturity about it which the band haven't managed to reach before, and every characteristic of their sound seems to hint at it. Although the bands sound is consistent, it's becoming a better and better version of itself, to the point of being noticeably different to their earlier work. This album seems to suggest a band soaring high, in the peak of their performance, and is a milestone on the band's journey from little-known to highly acclaimed.

I'm tempted to consider this the bands best album yet - It's certainly a strong piece of work, both in terms of skilled playing, good songwriting, and nice production, which is the icing on the cake. The album is the third in a chain of what are, by any standard, remarkably good records.

I give "Forever Abomination" 8/10.

Skeletonwitch Official Site
Skeletonwitch on Myspace
Skeletonwitch on Facebook
Skeletonwitch on Metal-Archives

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

#096 Hamerex - Rites of Passage

I must admit, how I came to know of Hamerex was a little blurred in my memory - a friend of mine remembered hearing a band which "started with H and ended with X". He then proceeded to find this band, and, within a couple of days, I got asked to review "Rites of Passage" the band's debut full-length, by the band themselves. And that is exactly what I plan to do...

I get the immadiate impression that Hamerex are one of those bands, of which there are too few, who play traditional metal, but in a modern way, and without submitting to the demand to be "retro". The band seem to be playing heavy metal because it's what they want to do, and not for any other reason, and it's certainly apparent in the bands sound; the songs seem very wholesome, organic, and solid. Hamerex's sound rests on the more extreme edge of traditional metal, and there's certainly elements of more extreme genres, a good few parts of songs are clearly heavily thrash-influenced, and the vocals are frequently on the harsh side - definitely heavy metal in the vein of Venom, as opposed to say, Judas Priest, and the murky (although not necessarily bad) production of the album seems to add to this notion, although the murkiness is certainly a positive, as opposed to a negative effect, complimenting the somewhat blunt, tough sound of the songs.

The band's sound has a pleasingly unique character, and I've not really heard anything quite like it. It reminds me of things like Venom, and Blaze Bayley's more recent solo work, but it still distinct from both of these things. For one thing - Hamerex seem to create an epic sound in their material, without resorting to synth, or to excessive technicality, in a way which not many bands can, and a lot of the songs, "The Lycan" for instance, seem imbued with a certain energy which is very uplifting, despite the lack of elements which traditionally amount to an "epic" sound. The whole album has some instantly memorable guitar parts and lyrics, which can only be good, and I'm sure is a sign of sturdy songwriting.  Personally, I'd reccommend Hamerex to anyone who was after some good old fashioned, take-no-prisoners heavy metal.

All in all, I find that, if there is one style which most metalheads can agree on, it's this; no-nonsense, down-to-earth heavy metal - metal in what might be regarded as in it's purest form. It certainly ticks a lot of the boxes of a good metal album.

I give the album 7/10.

Hamerex on Myspace
Hamerex on Facebook
Hamerex on Metal Archives.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

#095 Cathedral - The VIIth Coming

Cathedral, formed by ex-Napalm Death vocalist Lee Dorrian, have been a British doom/stoner metal mainstay for a long, long time. The VIIth Coming represents the bands later material - taking a lot of influence from stoner-metal, and less from the doom metal which was the bands initial style.

Of the multitude of bands which fuse stoner and doom metal, Cathedral are quite high on the list of "bands which do it well". The stoner influence creates a telltale massive lower-end, but combines it with, often, the crushing chord-driven attack of doom metal. The band are in the middle in terms of heaviness, too - a lot of the doom metal I've been listening to has either been very epic, or harsh, but Cathedral take the middle-ground, and do so rather well, brimming with attitude, which is boosted further by the remnants of a punk-style in Dorrian's vocals, but also with a lot of beauty throughout the album, no doubt borne from the doom metal element in the music. Pleasingly, the album as a whole has a diverse and enjoyable range of musical styles within it, with some tracks having a lot of groove, others an epic feel, and some feeling rather punk in their edge.

Throughout all of the songs, there seems to be a fantastic synergy between the instruments, and the sound seems organic and honest, with the sounds mixing, as opposed to simply being superimposed upon one another, in a very sterile fashion. The album also has a lot of replayability, as should be apparent to the listener, there is a hell of a lot going on in most of the songs, unquestionably much more so than can be taken in in a single listen to the album - I got a copy of the album over a month ago, and I'm still picking up on bits I haven't appreciated before, like some marvelous sonic buffet. There's a lot of heaviness, in that quintessential doom/stoner way, and while a lot of extreme-metal subgenres sound "heavier", This album has a very wholesome, honest, and bass driven kind of heaviness, which is equally pleasing to the ear.

The VIIth Coming is an enjoyable album from start to finish, and if I didn't feel ill today, I'd have liked to go into more depths about what I like about it - take it from my common-cold addled brain, however, it's a mighty fine listen.

I give the album an 8/10.

Cathedral Official Site
Cathedral on Myspace
Cathedral on Facebook
Cathedral on Metal Archives

Thursday, 20 October 2011

#094 Metallica & Lou Reed - Lulu

Talking of collaberations with Lou Reed in my last review would seem to have been rather prophetic - The whole of Metallica and Lou Reed's album is now available to stream online, it what appears to be it's entierity. Having not recieved much praise at all, I was curious to examine the album in it's complete state, and not in the form of tracks. Here are my findings:

I don't mind Lou Reed, and I'm partial to a bit of Metallica, once in a while - and I'm pretty certain that both are fairly good alone. But like a chocolate and bacon sandwich, the two just don't seem to come together in a way quite as fantastic as supposed, or indeed stated. One thing I can't criticise, yet, is the guitar-work. Apparently, Metallica plays in the style of the Load and Reload albums, which were, to me, most enjoyable, albeit without the interesting blues edges - this album sounds almost like sludge-metal, with a deep low-end, and a heavy, thick feel, with some cool sounding, and the album would sound pretty nice as an instrumental album. There are glimmers of stylistic hope, too - Tracks like "Mistress Dread" start out very promising, in an almost oldschool thrashy style, albeit with a strange constant tone behind it, and the horrible realisation that it sounds exactly like parts of "Disposable Heroes". Sadly, the instruments are the only thing I can proclaim to have enjoyed through the listen. Lou Reed was never the most conventional vocalist, but at least in his previous material, his disorganised, talking approach fitted quite well. In this, it sounds like someone has taken samples of Granpa from The Simpsons ranting, and superimposed them over the music.

The album sounds quite disorganised too - there aren't a great many catchy choruses, and the ones which are are delivered by James, not Lou. A lot of the songs sound quite rough, as if they were done for something similar to Garage Inc, as opposed to a shiny new album. I am, however, interested to hear Metallica doing something different, and a lot of the songs have elements not before included in much of their sound; some have epic elements, synth, and interesting (but not neccessarily enjoyable) twists. I get the impression, however, that the album could have been a lot better, one of the major contributions to it's weakness being Lou Reed. Some of the moments are truly cringeworthy, but others are a little rewarding, and it's definitely not an utterly terrible record.

 There are many albums that have left me a little dissappointed, but not many of even those get a particularly low rating - in fact, I often think I might be too generous with my ratings. Loutallica certainly isn't dire, but it's not great. Listening to the album is certainly worth trying once... but they say that about bondage.

I am the Table. And I give Lulu 5/10. 

Lulu Streaming online
Lou Reed and Metallica official Site