Monday, 29 August 2011

#076 Nazca - The White Wheel

Having been around for over 15 years, and having produced only one album, you might think that Nazca were something of a musical misfire, but no, the one album they did make, "The White Wheel" is testament to the fact that, despite not being the most active band, can still produce some rather decent, unique metal, in relative isolation from any major scene (the band are based on a small island off the coast of Madagascar)

Sound wise, Nazca sound like a glam band have decided to get into the business of making atmospheric, epic Metal music. While the rhythm guitar is mainly straight-forward, the production, and amount of epic additions thrown in by the lead-guitar makes an extremely shimmering, sparkling, scintillating sounding album, which washes over the listener like one of the waves which must assail the many beaches of their homeland. The album as a whole seems to be geared this way, aiming for beauty and feeling, in a way that I feel I must compare to that of epic 80's power ballads. Throughout the piece, there are some astoundingly epic parts, such as the solo on "Child of Guyana", which is a genuinely epic in it's slow parts, then descends into a solid, enjoyable badass-solo of arena-filling proportions. In addition to a array of instruments, the band use quite a lot of keyboard augmentation, adding epic background-atmosphere and frills to each and every song on the album.

The vocals, too, contribute a lot towards the albums epic feel. While not quite power-metal vocals, they aren't quite anything else either. Typically high-pitch and echoey, the vocals add to the "glam band playing epic-metal" feel of the band. The albums production of the album also does a lot for it's sound, with the epic feel, especially the solos, which are captured very lucidly and immersively. I would certainly have expected the album to be somewhat better  known than it is, or at least having some kind of cult-status, but I haven't once heard the band mentioned on various forums and websites. The only other person I know to have listened to them is the friend who found them in the first place. I'd consider this a real shame, in all honesty - the album is definitely something which could do with some attention, and going on sound alone, the album should appeal to a lot of people, even above and beyond the circles of metal.

The fact that I couldn't find any of their studio work on YouTube even is a but of a blow, and really emphasises my point that the band are far less known than they should be. Their songs are, fortunately, available on the bands website to listen to, here.

All in all, I give "The White Wheel" 8/10.

Nazca Official Site
Nazca on Metal-Archives

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Feature: Ten free albums not to be without.

Like anyone who likes metal, and always seeks to find some new listening material, I'm definitely one to jump at the chance of some free material. It's convenient, therefore, that there are some rather generous bands (and ex-bands) out there who give away their albums and EP's free of charge. I like doing something different from time to time, and instead of writing a review, I'd like to give you a rundown of what I'd consider the top-ten free albums/ep's that I have encountered over the course of being a metal fan. I can't deny that this would be equally aptly titled "my favourite free music" but if I didn't hold an opinion, my ability as a reviewer would be somewhat null and void. Anyways, the list begins...

#10: Dissolution - Plague of Violence

Dissolution are aggressive, New-Zealand thrash band with buzz saw songs which are heavily influenced by both death and black metal. Plague of Violence is their first full-length, and comes packed with brutal riffage, and noteworthy lead guitar of a style which you don't hear very often in metal, let alone thrash - very clean, fluid and refined, something like Chris Poland crossed with Alex Skolnick.  Dissolution are quite unique for a band hailing from a genre as old and established as thrash, and their fairly distinct take on the style certainly cements them in my top ten.

"Plague of Violence" is available on Bandcamp. Get your mosh on.

#9: Silent Lapse - Birthright

Silent Lapse are a band doing rather well for themselves - relatively large gigs, a shiny website, and an album which is both well produced and enjoyable. Progressive metal isn't usually my thing, but I found this album very distinct and enjoyable, managing to be sophisticated without being overly difficult to get into. The songs are memorable, and the album as a whole feels complete and solid, the signature of a band who know what they are doing, fully.

"Birthright" is available on the shiny website I mentioned 

 #8: Stormrider - Lucifer Rising:

Well blended and vicious blackened-death-metal from Sweden, Stormriders "Lucifer Rising" is their second and sadly last album. The more developed of stormriders two works, it manages to brutally combine the best elements of both it's forming genres into a maelstrom of aggression and heavy-metal-goodness which I can only describe as utterly worth a listen. I'd certainly recommend both it, and it's predecessor "First Battle Won" to anyone who likes it heavy as hell. Sadly, Stormrider's albums are no longer available, as the website is down, however, google is your friend, and the albums no-doubt exists somewhere.

 #7: Judd Madden - Waterfall

Judd Madden is a seemingly very gifted Australian one-man-band. "Waterfall" is his first album, an instrumental concept-album about the water cycle, which should be enough to get the album on most conceivable lists, as far as I'm concerned. beginning as serene, beautiful clean-guitar work, and escalating to stoneriffic-doom metal, followed by a twenty-five minute minimalistic, haunting ender, the album has a little something for everyone.

"Waterfall" delivers a refreshing mindfuck for free on bandcamp

 #6: Jute Gyte - Verstiegenheit

It's raw, fast, and heavily experimental. Jute Gyte, a black-metal/noise one-man-band creates a viciously fast black-metal assault, aided by fast, genuine musicianship, and impressive use of unconventional electronic elements which give it a level of sheer uniqueness unsurpassed by many of the bands which it shares a place on this list with. An underrated and unique gem, I'd recommend this to anyone who likes the heavier side of black metal.

Have your brains blown out by black-metal here

#5: Poisongod - Daemoncracy

Poisongod are an energetic young modern-thrash band hailing from Brazil, who produce a Lamb-of-God meets Megadeth style of chunky, catchy and generally 21st century thrash. Once again, the band sound quite original considering the sheer age of thrash as a genre. Vocally especially, the album is quite distinct, with a tortured, dry, and enhancement free shriek which adheres to the bands material like a brutal watermark. If you're open to modern, non-retro thrash, this might just be the album for you.

Poisongod's releases are available on their website

 #4: Cangaço - Positivo

Cangaço also come from Brazil, and produce an enjoyable, very memorable blend of death-metal with a traditional folk element. The songs are catchy, and also very unique. The Positivo EP is made up of five songs which each stand alone, but also compliment one-another in the album. While the band do not make use of traditional folk instruments as such, the folk sound in the songs is very noticeable, and immensely fun to listen to. Positivo is what I'd consider to be a perfectly formed EP.

Cangaco's Myspace has a link to their EP

#3: Petrychor - Effigies and Epitaphs

 Petrychor is, like several of the bands on the list, the project of one man. The projects debut album "Effigies and Epitaphs" seems to have rocketed to the status of being a minor cult-classic". Blending post rock, prodigious accoustic guitar playing, and harsh, but hauntingly synth-augmented black metal sections. All in all, the album seems to have just the right blend of everything, and it's rush to relative success is a definite testament to this fact. Petrychor play a brand of black/post-black metal which is unique and well formed.

Truly an album "Not to be without" 

#2: Razorwyre - Coming Out

I'd definitely consider "Coming Out" to be another contender for the title of "Perfectly formed EP". Razorwyre are a New-Zealand band, and they play top-of-the-range thrash metal with traditional metal influences, which creates five tracks of pure catchiness and attitude, in the style of albums like Metallica's "Kill 'Em All". The production has a nice  organic feel, and the songs are immediately catchy, from the first listen, making an EP which is a constant pleasure to listen to, pretty much regardless of situation. I would recommend an EP like this to literally anyone.

This Ep is well worth downloading from the bands website

#1: Akelei - De Zwaarte van het Doorstane

 One of the very first free-albums I listened to, I was blown away. Akelei, with this release, literally got me into doom metal. Each track creates a huge and blissful soundscape of emotion and utter beauty. The vocals (all in Dutch) are truly, gorgeously melodic and haunting, and each song is worth it's weight in feeling. This is one of my favourite albums, not just of free ones, but of all that I've heard. Anyone who likes epic-doom metal is likely to appreciate Akelei, and even if you haven't, it's nothing short of fantastic. It rightfully earns the #1 spot, and, while every album on the list is worthy of appreciation (and most of which I have reviewed in the past, with varying degrees of skill), this album truly stands out.

Thank you, and goodnight - I'm off to nurse my poor typing fingers. Sometime within the next few days I'll be back with another standard-review, I've got a few albums in mind...


Tuesday, 23 August 2011

#075 Revocation - Chaos of Forms

Revocation seem to be a band who have met with immediate success, forming in 2006, and already having released two albums previous to this, their latest. Revocation play a fast, furious brand of technical-thrash, which seems to succeed in being relatively catchy, despite the absolute maelstrom of things going on within most of the songs.

 Before I listened to the album properly, I got the impression that it was the type of highly polished metal which goes down well with those of the stereotype who listen to Cradle of Filth, Dimmu Borgir and a disappointing shower of random overproduced deathcore acts who are, so these types proclaim "The heaviest bands on earth". Fortunately, this seems not to be the case, the band has quite a genuine feel after a while, even if it's polished to the point of being eye-wateringly shiny in places. The band have definitely earned the "technical" part of the genre that they have been thrown into, and a lot of the things which the band pull off, in terms of speed, agility on guitar, and making my own drum skills feel pitifully weak. The only factor about the sheer technicality which disappoints me is that, with the amount of wankery going on within every song, it's really hard to feel the music as a angry, headbang-inducing thing, when every moment of listening involves picking apart the couple of seconds of song which just whizzed past, and trying to work out which bit it was, and what comes next. Despite this, the album has a certain level of catchiness, not, of course, as high as a band which had such a trait as an objective, but enough to make the songs worthy of being re-visited.

While the guitar-tone, and to an extent the drums, are impressive, and in the case of the former, rather noteworthy, I found the vocals very underwhelming. A decent growl exists here and there, and there are some badass backing vocals (possibly synth) in tracks like "Conjuring the Cataclysm", a lot of the vocals sound rather generic, leaning towards an easy-peasy metalcore unimpressiveness, although they certainly do their job, and if you try to forget the connotations of metalcore that they bring, they're actually rather nice, especially when the vocalist differs from the normal-style, which, no doubt with thanks to the technical, blistering warpath the band seem to be on, is almost every song. All things considered, It's actually a refreshing change to listen to something which has been played and produced with a little polish and perfectionism, but despite loving my visit to the bands sound, I don't know if could live there.

It's good to listen to something shockingly energetic once in a while, and Revocation certainly ambush the listener with a syringe filled with adrenaline, and, coupled with the bands tight playing, I can't really criticise the album on any reasonable basis. It doesn't entirely do it for me, but it was one hell of a ride.

I happily give "Chaos of Forms" 7/10.

Revocation on Myspace
Revocation on Metal Archives

Saturday, 20 August 2011

#074 Baptized in Blood - S/T

Baptized in Blood are one of those bands who have had a meteoric rise to being relatively well known, no doubt much to do with now being managed by thrash-metal-god Dave Mustaine, who no doubt helped them get a fairly lucrative signing with Roadrunner records, who, while not being among my favourite labels, is definitely worthy of report.

I've seen Baptized in Blood often heralded as "party thrash" but in all honesty, I dispute this somewhat. I hear mainly reminiscent of  melodic death metal, with a strong undertone of thrash, in a similar way to Lazarus AD's debut. Nonetheless, lyrically, Baptized in Blood is a catchy, fun-filled affair, definitely party orientated, and quite memorable, or conceivably so, after a couple of listens. The musicianship is solid, tight, and stands up nicely, especially for a young band, even if the production values could have captured it better, the mix being a bit sterile, and and the drums being quite clicky and very much overproduced (althogh nothing like as bad as some) The thrashiness becomes more apparent through the album, with the opening track sounding rather too generic and uses-friendly, but this quickly dissolves into slightly more aggressive, overtly "metal" sound, although the whole album is rather un-inventive, sounding much like the thousands of other similar bands in existence, but in all honesty, if they continue to do what they're doing, as well as they are, I'd wager they're set to outlast a lot of the bands that contribute to the sounds sheer generic character.

The vocals have quite a pleasing edge, after listening to them for a while - a sort of Chuck Billy meets metalcore affair, which often have a deep rumble to them, beneath the high-treble scream, which I must say helps the catchiness along, and keeps the music from falling over the metalcore fence. Some of the lead guitar is rather impressive too, and throught the release is very well packed with melodic elements, solos, and other such trimmings, which make it a technical success, but perhaps take away some of it's raw energy. It's always been my opinion that sometimes the rhytm guitar needs some time alone to sound deep, manly and badass, and seldom in this record is it given much space to breathe. In the right mood, however, the melodic elements can be appreciated, as they do possess a certain virtuosity.

I'll be the first to admit that this isn't my first choice of metal-style to be listening to. However, Baptized in Blood certainly possess a certain charm, and some damn strong tracks, to boot. While on a person level, this doesn't exactly get into my top-ten , I'd recommend this album to legions of people I know.

I give the album, based on personal taste, 6/10. However, from a global perspective, It's definitely worth much more than six.

Baptized in Blood official-site
Baptized in Blood on Myspace
Baptized in Blood on Metal Archives

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

#073 Napalm Death - Scum

I haven't listened to nearly enough grindcore in my life to consider myself to have any great knowledge of the genre, however, I'm not so naive as to miss a classic, Napalm Death, heralded by many as the founders of the genre, with their debut album, Scum.

Believed by many to be the first grindcore record, Scum has many of the signature features of what would later be recognised as such - fast tempos, brutal, difficult to decipher vocals, and short-as-heck songs. Napalm Death manage to cram 28 tracks into about half-an-hour, with each one being as raucous, brutal, and displeased with society as the last. The hardcore punk element of grindcore is very apparent from the onset, for instance, "Instinct of Survival" has a strong punk edge, which to an extent displaces the heaviness in places. Each song individually is not a hugely powerful entity, being short and often somewhat simplistic, but the "safety in numbers" approach adopted by Napalm Death, and many of the bands in the genre, give the album as a whole an effectiveness, with the occasional memorable island, usually a longer song, such as "Siege of Power". One obvious, and famous exception to this being "You Suffer", which is a whopping 0:01 in length, and is hailed as "the shortest song in the world".

The raw, archaic style of grindcore played (and pioneered) in the album is extremely pleasing - the tinny, unprocessed drumming, the muffled guitars, and the shouted, wild vocal delivery blend to create a hugely enjoyable listen, with a charm which not many bands can match. While the production values are extremely rough, they really would not suit being any other way, and they excellently compliment the sound, and aesthetic, of the at the time, emerging genre. The deep, rolling-oil drum sound which the band produce being one of my all time favourite musical tones, and there are more songs of that style in one place than I have ever heard before, and critiquing the album, the huge influence which the band had upon just about every extreme metal style, from black metal to brutal-death-metal, is glaringly obvious. In terms of influence, Napalm Death are like a latter-day Venom.

There's little more to say, frankly. I usually try to shy away from absolute-classics, in fear of having little to say which hasn't already been said, but there's no denying that that is what "Scum" is. Utterly and Irrefutably classic.

I give Scum 9/10.

Napalm Death on Myspace
Napalm Death on Metal Archives

Saturday, 13 August 2011

#072 Tang Dynasty - A Dream Return to Tang Dynasty

China does not have a huge metal scene of yet, however, for years, many bands have existed, many being greeted with success in one form or another. Tang Dynasty are regarded by some as China's very first metal band, and their 1992 debut, while not being hugely heavy or extreme, is still an interesting listen.

The metal listening available in pre-internet china was a somewhat interesting affair, with many of the metal CD's and LP's which made it to china being those which were being cut from record labels, and were being thus "disposed of". This has, it would seem, have lead to an interesting selection of influences on Tang Dynasty's sound - It could be considered traditional metal, but also has a very strong blues influence. What emerges is something akin to what glam-metal would become, if it was played in an extremely epic style, focusing on musical beauty, as opposed to attitude and catchiness. Added to this mix are haunting, high vocals (all in Chinese) and guitar playing and arrangements which also have a distinctly Chinese flair, especially in terms of the harmonies and extensive, unique solos. It's definite that the album has a haunting, beautiful edge much more pronounced than many bands who play a similar traditional metal style. Songs like "Paradise" are anthemic, and would be more so if I had a clue what the words were.

All in all, musically, the band are very accomplished, especially considering the odds stacked against them - being in a country with almost no metal scene at the time, with no Internet to spread awareness of themselves, and this being their debut album. It's well produced and recorded too, with well captured atmosphere and beauty. The album feels very whole and complete, perhaps due to all of the factors of musicianship and recording. The whole work is infused with a powerful uplifting feeling, which is both relaxing and inspiring to listen to. It's reasonably catchy too, with most of the songs leaving some kind of impression after only one or two plays. The albums something unique and very pleasing to listen to, to say the least.

All in all, I'd say that Tang Dynasty are well worth a listen. You can get the MP3's on Amazon for a fairly reasonable price (although they don't have the latest album, and many of the tracks are mistitled) with a bit of research, you can get the right names though, although the songs speak for themselves, regardless of title.

I give the album 8/10, if you're in the right mood for it.

Tang Dynasty on Metal Archives

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

#071 MD. 45 - The Craving (Unremastered)

In the mid-nineties, Dave Mustaine, of Megadeth fame, decided to embark on a side project. To this end, he recruited Lee Ving, of the punk band Fear, along with bassist Kelly Lemieux and drummer Jimmy DeGrasso, who would later go on to work with Megadeth. Mustaine christened this side-project MD. 45, MD being the initials Mustaine, Dave. and 45 being representative of the roman numeral VL (or so they thought) and also the Initials of Lee Ving.

"The Craving" the only full length album spawned by the project, is a very interesting listen. Comprising of a refreshingly different blend of punk-rock and metal, which create something which is catchy, but extremely crunchy, energetic and thick-sounding. It's definitely interesting to hear Mustaine doing something a little different, and certainly less thrashy, than his usual material, and there are a variety of styles involved. Songs like "Designer Behaviour" go down an overtly punk road, while others, like "Day the Music Died" go for a much more metal style, sounding much more Megadeth-like than many of the other songs. In terms of sheer variety, it's quite clear that being around different musicians, and a different band had combined very interestingly with his music-writing skills, and it's clear that he explored very different avenues on the album. Partly, this is the reason I chose to investigate the original, and not the remastered edition of the album. On the remaster, Ving's vocals are replaced by Dave's. The original is just that little bit more unlike Megadeth, which helps when it comes to looking at it of it's own worth.

The production is also refreshing - a bit rough around the edges, giving it a charm, and making is a nice change from the highly-polished, relatively mainstream Juggernaut that Megadeth was at the time - the album is very much a departure from Megadeth, and I think that's what's so enjoyable about it, like reading a different newspaper every now and again, just for a change. Everything's just a little bit different, and very pleasingly so. If I hadn't known what MD. 45 was, and It had just come on at random, I certainly wouldn't have guessed that Dave Mustaine was behind the project, and I find that a pleasing fact, a side-project which is truly so, and not just a collection of the same kind of stuff with different people, which so many side projects end up being.

While being far from being essential, I'd certainly give the album a listen if you're into Megadeth, and want to hear more of what Mustaine can do. It's an album I've put off getting ahold of for quite some time, and it's definitely a solid release.

I give "The Craving" a 7/10.

MD. 45 on Metal Archives

Saturday, 6 August 2011

#70 Sargeist - Let the Devil In

Sargeist was formed by bassist/guitatist Shatraug, who, judging by his entry on metal archives, seems to have played in more or less every black-metal band to walk the earth. Initially a solo project, the band seems to have picked up members along the way, and by this, their third album, have gotten to a point of being somewhat fully fledged as a band.

"Let the Devil In" is, from the onset, undeniably oldschool, pure black metal, untouched by synth and other such elements. Despite the lack of these things, the album still manages to evoke an excellent atmosphere, full of fear, darkness and misanthropy. Sargeist have consistently reminded me of early Gorgoroth, with evil-sounding, riff driven songs filled with atmosphere but also energy, in such a way as to make a song which is not only heavy and evil, but also one which is majestic - the well placed melodic elements of Sargeist's music also add to this, creating a work filled with both majesty and malice. The atmosphere is also vocally bolstered, with a little reverb on the vocals giving an unworldly feel. The vocals also soar over the top of the music, which makes them more clear than many black metal bands have them. The variety of tempos in the music is also pleasing, adding a good sense of variety to the songs, with pieces such as "Nocturnal Revelation" getting off to sinister, slow starts, even if the song title does make it sound like an euphemism for something.

The album is definitely one which takes a degree of listening to get into, with many of the songs blending a little bit on the first listen or two. However, after a while, the album became immensely enjoyable to me, and frankly, De Mysteriis took some getting into as well, and it's iconic. "Let the Devil In" is certainly strongly constructed upon close examination - theres not a hint of filler, and each track has merits. "Discovering the Enshrouded Eye" embodies pretty much everything I like about black metal, combining the rasping, ominous riffs reminiscent of early Gorgoroth with the eerie and transcendent tremolo picking used by Mayhem. Other tracks, such as the eponymous "Let the Devil In" take an interesting approach, in this songs case, most of the lyrics are devoted to the repetition of the single phrase "Let the Devil In!", which makes the song notably memorable and catchy.

While not making any massive innovations to the black metal style, "Let the Devil In" is one of the most pleasing black-metal albums I've heard in a while, and it can truly encapsulate the style, through it's variety of sound. I thoroughly recommend it.

I give the album 9/10.

Sargeist on Myspace
Sargeist on Metal-Archives

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

#069 Metallica - No Life 'Til Leather

"No Life 'Til Leather", Metallica's first demo-tape, represents a very different band to even the one which released early works like Ride the Lightning and Kill 'Em All, a band still searching for the style which it wanted to play. This demo shows Metallica in it's embryonic stages, but try to imagine, if you will, the excitement of someone who listened to this for the first time, back in 1982, and heard something new and thrilling.

All of the songs on the demo would eventually appear on "Kill 'Em All", however, they exist here with an audibly distinct character - Dave Mustain played lead at this time, and, in addition to that difference, the band seemed to be aiming in a distinctly different direction to where they would later go. James' vocals are higher, in part, no doubt, to his youth, but I also am of the persuasion that he was aiming towards a much more NWOBHM styled vocal style in those days, which, although apparent in "Kill 'Em All", later faded out. He was, perhaps, assuming a vocal style before thrash metal became an entity in it's own right. His rhythm guitar work also sound different, no doubt due, in part, to him having only recently assumed the role, previously only being the singer. The bass, provided by Ron McGovney is consistent, albeit fairly standard issue, never really standing out as exceptional bass, but also never dampening any of the songs. On drums, Lars provides an adequate performance, although he exhibits a great tendency to just flap away intrusively with very simplistic beats, which keep time and rhythm, but don't always compliment the music - lacking severely in flare and decoration. Dave Mustaine's lead guitar is impressive, in that it is easily equal to what Kirk did in the album, if not better - I find the tone somewhat more agreeable, and the sound rougher and more energetic.

The production, while not great, is quite good for the time it was recorded, especially among the early thrash movement. Significantly, however, it really captures the spirit of the times, the exciting, raw and organic state of thrash at the time, before thrash even existed in a conventional sense. Upon listening to the demo, you can see through the mists of time, and sample a little of the excitement and awe which the demo must have caused, and it ranks quite highly on my list of favourite Metallica releases. 

 All in all, listening to No Life Til' Leather is like looking at a piece of history. It's interesting to listen to, and I would recommend listening to it as a part of a full and thorough musical education. It's a significant work, and should be regarded as such.

I give the demo 10/10, for it's sheer momentousness.

Metallica Official site
Metallica on Metal Archives
Metallica on Myspace