Saturday, 30 July 2011

#068 Judd Madden - Waterfall

An instrumental concept-album about the water cycle, done in a post-metal/stoner metal/doom metal style? That sound like something worth checking out, I thought to myself. Now, having checked it out, I can indeed verify that one man artist Judd Madden's debut album "Waterfall" is indeed well worth checking out.

Notably, the album in it's entirety is not overtly metal in nature, with mainly the middle tracks having the characteristics of slow, deep doom-metal, albeit laced thoroughly with more experimental sounding influences, creating a bizarre and evocative soundscape. Much in the way a classical suite of music works, often explaining the concept without any use of language, "Waterfall" explores the concept of the water cycle purely in an instrumental fashion. It does so rather well, managing to evoke the attributes of each of the water-cycles stages simply through music. The album's opener "Trickles" is a soft, clean guitar piece, which truly does sound like a trickle of water would, if it was given musical character. "Ocean" sounds like ocean, with crushing waves of sound. "Waterfall" like a waterfall., with pounding drums which really gives a sense of the falling water crashing down a cliff side.

The album flows very well, pardon the pun, with each and every song blending into the one after it, which helps to reinforce the fluid, unbroken nature of the cycle which the album represents. The whole album utilises a vast array of styles, everything from doomy riffs to piano, to drone-doom style feedback and sustain. The album is certainly more akin to one large song divided into movements than merely a collection of songs, and this adds something of a sense of wholeness to the project, and the album should certainly be listened through from end to end, and focused upon, as opposed to dipped into, which I believe could render many of the songs somewhat disorientated, their place in the album dislocated. Overall though, the production and musicianship are solid, and the atmosphere is undeniably top-notch, both in terms of evocative-ness and emotion.

One of the most interesting concepts for and album which I've heard in a long time, I'd definitely recommend this album to someone who has an hour to spare, and wants to embark on a fantastic musical journey. I'd certainly suggest having the album all at once though, as I said, the songs aren't meant to stand alone, although each is good in it's own right.

I give the album 9/10. It's good at what it does.

Judd Madden's Official Site
Judd Madden on Bandcamp (Download his albums for free here)

Thursday, 28 July 2011

#067 Skull Hammer - Pay It In Blood

Skull Hammer are a retro-thrash band from Massachusetts, who blend traditional metal elements with their thrash, to create something rather refreshing, combining what appears to be the best of both worlds when it comes to the two styles. A young band, as many of the "new wave" traditional/thrash bands are, "Pay it in Blood" marks the band's first full length work.

Skull Hammer's sound of thrash seems to be of the traditional, clean-vocalled, occasional gang-chants variety, with work reminiscent of bands like Anthrax in terms of heaviness, with instances of sounding like a very melodic take on Slayer, especially in terms of lyrical structure and pattern, which is interesting, and rather original, to say the least - Slayer, in my experience, being a band who have influenced numerous heavier bands, but few which were less heavy than itself. The band's style infuses it with a lot of energy, and they are certainly more than just another retro thrash band. Songs like the eponymous "Pay it in Blood" give a real desire to headbang, run, mosh, or just about any other physical activity, which is exactly one of effects which decent thrash metal is meant to have. From that point of view, musically, Skull Hammer undeniably do exactly what they're supposed to do.

A few songs in, I frankly anticipated the vocals to continue to be somewhat unremarkable - functional, in tune, but not anything to write home about. "Nuclear Holocaust" changed my mind  about this assumption somewhat, with some epic gang-chant sounds in the chorus, I realised that that was one of the strengths of the bands vocal sound, the synergy between lead and backing vocals, which is very well executed throughout the album. The latter half of the album becomes a little more adventurous with regards to sound, with "The Gladiator" having an epic tremolo-picking traditional style intro, followed by an effects-enhanced  riff reminiscent of Venom's guitar sound on "Black Metal". The traditional heavy metal influence is also more apparent in the latter half of the album, although there is no noticeable decrease in overall thrashiness. All in all, the band are akin to the kind of cocktail which sneaks up on you - While listening, you find yourself enjoying the melodics, and the traditional elements, but suddenly you realise "Man, this stuff is heavy".

All in all, Skull Hammer exceeded the expectations which I had upon listening to a few songs,but having listened to the entire album, I'm rather pleased by my discovery of the band. While copies of their CD tend to be expensive (In the UK,anyways) If I see one going for a reasonable price, I'd definitely part with some money for it.

I give this album 7/10. I'll be watching this band closely.

Skull Hammer Official site
Skull Hammer on Myspace
Skull Hammer on Metal Archives

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

#066 Angstkrieg - Angstkrieg

Angstkrieg are a little known, but nonetheless solid black-metal project, the creation of ex-Dimmu Borgir bassist Brynjard Tristan, who played bass on the band's demo's and debut album. In Angstkrieg, he handles vocal duties. This self titled EP is the band's first foray into the scene.

While short, this EP certainly seemed pleasing - while it's definitely not the most unorthodox, inventive or progressive black-metal I've heard recently, it has a certain character which doesn't fail to give me an enjoyable listen. The tempos are blended well, creating versatile black-metal songs of varying intensity and atmosphere. The low end is very prominent as black-metal goes, and gives the EP a lot of energy and movement, comparable to Gorgoroth's middle-era material - not as eerie or dark as some black metal, but definitely not different enough to be any other genre. The guitar sound is driven as much by rhythm as lead, with high lead guitar used more as a decoration than as a major force within the songs, creating an atmosphere which is immersing in a different way. In it's musical execution, the album certainly has an oldschool quality to it, and would fit well in 1995, let alone 2010 - it's year of release.

The production of the album is about right - rough, but not particularly raw. the production values compliment the band's sound quite nicely, especially with the echoing vocals, which sound fantastic - several comments on the bands YouTube videos remark of a similarity between Angstkrieg's vocal sound and Dead's vocal style, and I have to say I'm inclined to agree - the vocals manage to evoke an atmosphere in their own right, which is something many black-metal bands today fail to do. The vocals are very cold, and, in conjunction with the guitar sound, create a nicely ominous and dark album - perhaps not frantic or overtly satanic, but dark nonetheless, although perhaps the heavy rhythm guitar dampens this, albeit not in a particularly bad way.

Being a relatively new band, and having released only a short EP so far, I can't claim that Angstkrieg are going to last in my memory ad infinitum, however, if, and I sincerely hope they do, release more material and grow, then the band are certainly going to do well. If they keep making material like this album, then they have me as a fan.

I give this album 8/10.

Angstkrieg on Metal Archives

Monday, 25 July 2011

#065 Toxic Holocaust - Conjure and Command

In my interpretation, the fourth album of many bands marks the barrier between being a new-band and a well-established band. Toxic Holocaust's fourth offering "Conjure and Command" seems to fit into this framework quite nicely, and it has the sound of a band which has continued to mature and grow since it's predecessing albums.

While some of the songs may not be as fast as the songs in the albums predecessors, they possess a great infusion of energy, suggesting that Joel Grind's songwriting is going from strength to strength, with more powerful, moshable and down-right badass riffs than ever before. There is also a lot more lead work, with emphasised solos. Having other full-term band members for the first time certainly seems to have lead to a synergy of ideas and musical intentions which the band's existing sound, creating something which is in the style of, but slightly more organic sounding than the previous albums, with many subtle changes thrown in. Vocally, Grind has diversified somewhat, making use of his traditional snarling delivery with a partially sung vocal style very much in the vein of Cronos of Venom, which he makes use of in tracks such as "Nowhere to Run" to great effect.

The lower tempo of some of the songs, instead of spoiling anything in the album, distinctly adds to it - The slower parts add attitude, diversity, and atmosphere, making for a much more varied thrash-album than the band's previous works. Production wise, too, this album could potentially be my favourite. The guitar sound is wonderfully crunchy, and all the instruments seem extremely suitably produced, encapsulating thrashiness perfectly. The booklet which comes with the album proudly states that "Absolutely no drum replacement, triggering, quantitizing, or amp modelling were used in this recording" and with the way the album sounds, I wonder why so many bands feel the need to use  these entities, as Toxic Holocaust seem to manage to make a damn nice sounding album without them.

The album blends the old with the new, certainly. While unmistakably a Toxic Holocaust record, changes have certainly been made, and this fact is emphasised by the change in logo, which I found a little disappointing. Sound wise, however, the changes pleased me, although I cannot guarantee that all shall share that belief.

I give the album 8/10. The band is still going strong.

Toxic Holocaust on Myspace
Toxic Holocaust on Metal Archives

Saturday, 23 July 2011

#064 Vektor - Black Future

Not many albums bring the phrase "cult classic" instantly to mind to the degree which Vektor's "Black Future" does. The band's second release, their first to have support of a label, this album blends thrash with progressive elements to create something somewhat unique, and enjoyable for it.

Despite the "progressive" tag, the album does not contain any of the hoity-toity nonsense which can render a lot of progressive metal unlistenable - instead, Black Future is unquestionably fast, aggressive and moshable when appropriate, with the progressive elements seeming more to add a flair to the sound, as opposed to saturating it. The character of the whole album tends to combine the tried-and-tested with a flash of new thinking - The spacey, sci-fi and practically Lovecraftian aspects of the lyrics and sound are certainly not new to thrash, but are done in such as way as to compliment each other more so than one might see in most bands. most of the lyrical themes, the band's sound, and the artwork all fit into an aesthetic which is summed up by the album's title - "Black Future"  While varied, the vocals are typically harsh, occasionally punctuated by extremely high shrieks, reminiscent of fellow prog-thrashers Anacrusis. this  vocal style works a lot better than melodic, sung vocals would in it's place, on this album.

Musically, the album is haunting and  apocalyptic in the atmosphere it evokes, and the instruments driving this atmosphere are blisteringly tight, with magnificent leads, hair-raising speed, and absorbing melodic passages in which the tone is utterly optimal. In the latter, the bands use of progressive elements truly shines. The production also seems excellent, being extremely tight in capturing the music, but not sounding artificial in the slightest. Even the artwork of the album is fascinating - having a style that few modern thrash bands would partake in.

All in all, "Black Future" seems to be an album which was blessed by fate. The songwriting, aesthetics and ideas behind the work, as well as the production style, make it a perfectly formed album, and I cannot fault any of the album on it's own merits.

A damn fine album, already on my list to purchase. 10/10.

Vektor on Myspace
Vektor on Metal Archives

Monday, 18 July 2011

#063 Darkthrone – Dark Thrones and Black Flags

Darkthrone are certainly a band who have manifested themselves in a variety of styles over their long existence. From death-metal in their very beginnings, to the heavily punk-infused black-metal of the present day. The latter of the two being the style of “Dark Thrones and Black Flags”, one of their more (but not most) recent releases.

Despite the strong black-metal history, and influence on the bands present style, the opening track, and many after it, aren't as dark as one might suspect, in fact, they frequently border on being cheerful, for instance, the albums opener; “The Winds They Called the Dungeon Shaker” has a certain lovable upbeat quality, which comes across in many of the albums songs. This, of course, is in part due to the well measured and ever present punk influence, which invades (albeit pleasantly) every aspect of the music – each and every instrument. While the tremolos, mildly rough production, and aesthetic of black metal remains, there are downbeats, and a lot of 2/4 timing on the drums as opposed to blast-beats and other black-metal staple techniques The guitars, too, are a lot more riffy, creating a catchiness which Darkthrone's older works were without.

The vocals are different too, and are immensely varied through the entire album. Black metal vocals have often been replaced by a sort of “medium” growling, while remaining on songs such as “Norway in September”, which is one of the songs which leans on the black metal side of the balance between black metal and punk. On other tracks, fairly melodic, almost classical-like, pleasing singing exists, such as the album opener, which adds a sense of great variety to an album which is already a bouquet of different styles. In the middle of the album, the songs take a darker path, which contrasts with the lighter, punky material which the album opened with, and harkens more to Darkthrone's earlier material, but is still punk-infused, through and through.

I was initially somewhat tentative in sampling Darkthrone's later material, such as this album, however, I have to say that listening to it properly has dispelled any illusions I had about a lack of quality, or of finding something which spoiled the bands earlier work. If this album is anything to go by, Darkthrones later material is as enjoyable as anything it produced earlier on.

I give this album 7/10. 

Darkthrone on Metal Archives