Sunday, 26 February 2012

#132 Bädr Vogu - Exitium

Bädr Vogu are an interesting sonic specimen from the USA. Oakland, California, to be exact. "Exitium" is the band's first full-length album, and was released a little less than a year ago. My first impression of the band's sound was that of, and excuse the highly odd metaphor, "The kind of band that I'd see opening for someone else, and end up preferring to the headliner". Why, you may ask. Well, I'll do my best to tell you...

 Bädr Vogu play an interesting mix of just about everything, a veritable Noah's ark of stylistic medley, with bits of sludge, doom, crust punk and all sorts of things knocking around the mix. From the long, doomy intro to the opening track, to the sludgey, oddly metallic sounding riffs which come along at a higher tempo later on, and the all infiltrating bluesy twist which seems to sweeten the enhance the whole thing, everything seems to quite nicely fit into the greater picture, and the influences synergise well with one another. The use of spoken word samples here and there added a lot of "fun" to the mix, for want of a better word, and were not only well inserted but rather clever. I can't claim to know what they're from, but they certainly added to the atmosphere of the bands sound. The vocals, shrieks and deep, death-doom style growls throughout, add a bit to the extremity of the bands sound, which in other aspects is quite "meduim", aside from the occasional hail of blastbeats.

The production has a pleasing roughness, in the way that everything is there, and is audible, but it's still organic. There isn't much post production work going on here, with the drums sounding deliciously unenhanced and gritty, the way the sounded as they were being recorded, I expect. This is also true of the other instruments, and the album could quite easily have been recorded live-in-studio, pleasingly so. The production in general, and indeed the tone used creates a magnificent hazy onslaught, the kind of thing which live, would have me rocking trance-like back and forth, eyes half closed, in a good way. The depth and sludginess really gives the music a lot of punch, and makes it damn intense, absorbing and captivating, with a depth of atmosphere to match the literal depth of pitch. The riffs, especially, have an immense, crushing and fist-pumping power to them, and the guitar tone, especially on higher parts, is pleasing in a way I can't quite explain.

The album felt very complete, and was an enjoyable listen throughout. I loved the feel the album had, and although I can't quite put it into exact words, it's "essence" was very enjoyable - the essence, perhaps, of an album which you listen to again and again. I'm impressed, and I hope anyone who actually reads these bloody things is equally impressed.

I'm going to go ahead and give this 9/10.

Bädr Vogu on Bandcamp
Bädr Vogu on Myspace
Bädr Vogu on Facebook
Bädr Vogu on Metal Archives

Saturday, 25 February 2012

#131 Summoning - Minas Morgul

Summoning are, for me at least, a band that took a lot of time to get into. I "re-discovered" their sound recently (although more accurately, I made myself listen to more than fifteen seconds) and discovered that I actually like the way they sound. An acquired taste, by anyone's standard, and commonly accepted to be so, but nonetheless, after a few listens, I was thoroughly enjoying it.

My main turn-off, at first, was that the synth sounded quite fundamentally artificial. I'm not sure what's changed in my mind since then, but I'm certainly embracing it now - I find myself more and more tolerant of "artificial" elements in music - as I was first getting into metal, I stigmatised keyboards in my mind, but then became open to them. Drum machines are also much more acceptable to me now, which is probably just as well, because Summoning's drumming is very much in line with there synth. Nonetheless, the somewhat synthesised aspect of roughly half of Summoning's whole sound is forgivable in light of what turns out to be one of the most epic soundscapes I've heard fresh in a long time. The overwhelming medieval sound, founded upon the synth, and to an extent, the drum sound is carried along by a humble, fairly unobtrusive guitar sound, and echoey harsh vocals. It's clear that the synth is the emphasised part of the music, and although it wouldn't be complete without the guitar, it certainly leads the charge. I've always had a soft-spot for epic music, and that's certainly present in Minas Morgul - all of the splendour of the synth is combined with the earthy guitar to create an epic but wholesome vibe not unlike (but neither quite similar to) viking-era Bathory... and you know how I feel about Bathory.

The music certainly has a vast feel, especially with the harsh vocals, which make it seem even more ethereal, and the tremolo patterns used go down epic, beautiful pathways, as opposed to the devilish ones which black-metal tends towards. The style the band play on this album seems astonishing grandiose, and in addition to the music sounding excellent, it's really tightly played, and the lengths of the songs allows them to be reasonably elaborate, albeit in the enjoyable hypnotically repetitive black-metal sense of the term. In my taste in metal, it turns out, rather pleasingly, that summoning is somewhat close to "optimum". I'm not sure what I'd have said of the band a few years, even months ago, but I certainly "get" the style they play now. While the music may initially appear flowery, and don't get me wrong, in many places it is, to an extent, beyond this initial impression actually lurks a fantastically enjoyable sound, which I missed out on for much too long.

It's was quite a trick album to take-in in one go, but ultimately, I can certainly see this, and many of Summoning's albums becoming long-term favourites of mine - It feels like the power of it will last for a long time, and well, I may have not done it justice in my inept qualification of what it sounds like and how I feel about it, but listen to it. It'll tell you what I fail to.

I'm giving this an 8/10, and I think that's before I factor in the fact that it'll probably grow on me.

Summoning Official site
Summoning on Myspace
Summoning on Facebook
Summoning on Metal Archives

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

#130 Tankard - The Beauty and the Beer

As a consequence of thinking of a band to review whilst simultaneously thinking of an ice-cold pint of Guinness, here we are, with Tankard. Veteran beer soaked thrash-warriors with a discography to match their appetite for the fine beverage, "The Beauty and the Beer" is a comparatively new album, dating to 2004, but after a brief time in the freezer, I'm taking it out, pouring it into an... emm... tankard, and having a taste.

 From the moment I realised that the first song was about, predictably, a bottle of beer, from the beers point of view, I knew that the band would be a fun listen. Fortunately, not every song that the band sing are about beer, and some of them take a more serious road, with the usual themes of thrash; global, political and society based songs are dispersed through the album, and what would otherwise be one of metal's longest running gimmicks is instead the occasional song or clever-pun here and there. Above and beyond the foaming pints that embellish the band's image, they do write very enjoyable thrash, and the songs are solid, especially for their relative newness, with so many ageing thrash-bands losing their touch, Tankard seem to be keeping theirs well in this album, and while their albums, as far as I can see without listening to many of them at-all, are of rather random quality, this seems to be a good 'un. Not the fastest, and maybe not taking thrash in any fascinating new directions, but nonetheless solid as a rock.

Perhaps the alcohol related humour of just about every single Tankard album threw me off for a while, but I'm glad I went past that; There's certainly more to the band than what you'd initially perceive - any band which make an album like this in the 2000's, an album which would sound at home in the 1980's, is a force to be reckoned with. Everything from the songwriting to the production is very much optimal, and I would be little-shocked if anyone were to describe this album as a modern thrash classic. The album is certainly technically sound, and very solid from a songwriting perspective. I can't find anything in particular to fault about it. There isn't any filler to speak of, and I can't fault the frequent alcohol references - I'm sure most thrash fans like a pint or twelve - after all, that's one of the cornerstones of thrash; if you're not singing about nuclear war, you're singing about booze... Or both, depending on whether or not you're in Municipal Waste.

If riffy, energetic thrash it your thing, and you haven't listened to any Tankard, I recommend that you do. I feel almost guilty for not listening to them sooner and more often, and I've certainly taken too long to get into a band who can certainly make a good album.

I think this deserves a 9/10.

Tankard Official site
Tankard on Myspace
Tankard on Facebook
Tankard on Metal Archives

Sunday, 19 February 2012

#129 Opeth - Watershed

I've never understood the immense hype behind Opeth - ever. Theres nothing wrong with the band, at all, but I constantly pick up a vibe which makes me delay listening to them properly again and again. Maybe it's the sickly pretentiousness which I get the impression of from Ackerfeldt, or the raging fanboys of the band I so often encounter, or the way it feels like the band used metal ironically, and showed their real colours in the latest album. This time I'm ignoring the slight repulsion and listening to an album all the way through. About time I found out what the fuss was about.

The album as a whole is certainly very intense, technical and epic sounding, and makes use of exceedingly diverse elements, which, I suppose, is the wont of progressive metal. While admirable,this seems to sound a bit sterile, and although well arranged, quite a lot of it seems to go down the path of guitar-wankery, as opposed to being for the sake of making the song good. Don't get me wrong, a lot of it sounds good however, and the songs are as memorable as they are elaborate, with great hooks permeating through the slightly too crisp atmosphere, which is more reminiscent of a "film about the atmosphere" than the atmosphere itself, making it sound a little bit more perfect than would be optimum for a more wholesome feel. Certanly, I enjoyed the individual aspects; virtuoisity and arrangement, for instance, more than the feel given by the tone and it's running-partner production. Songs like Porcelain Heart appealed to me a lot, but I'd certainly enjoy them more if the bumps and clunks hadn't been ruthlessly ironed-out of them.

The softer sections are pleasing, despite often being placed for no other reason than the fact that the song didn't have one already. The lean guitar is certainly smooth and pretty, and Ackerfeldt's clean vocals are excellent, and interesting, especially in the way in which that they are given to, as opposed to in any way influenced by, usual metal vocals. They go well with the soft-sections, and also, miraculously work, albeit somewhat less gracefully, in the heavier sections in which they sometimes appear, despite being so overtly nothing to do with conventional metal. The synth works nicely too, and while, as I mentioned, it's a little too well produced and shiny, there are also some definitely beautiful sections, such as in Hessian Peel. The softness juxtaposes reasonably well with the heavier sections which manage to retain a lot of head-nodding energy amid the minefield of "progressive" bits with a somewhat watered-down feel.

In all honesty, I don't feel utterly swayed by listening to the album. I was vaguely aware that Opeth were quite good before listening, and I still have that awareness. Perhaps me and Opeth are not meant to be, and although the album is damn good, the product of extremely  accomplished musicians, my verdict is still he same; When it comes to progressive extreme metal, at risk of sounding like a dick, I still prefer Enslaved.

This is by no means bad. 7/10.

Opeth Official site
Opeth on Myspace
Opeth on Facebook
Opeth on Metal Archives

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

#128 Aether Realm - Odin Will Provide

This one's a suggestion from the recently more busy than usual suggestions post. A two-track EP you say? Can I write enough about that? Challenge accepted. What rode out to meet me upon listening was an interesting blend of melodic-death metal with folk flavouring, in an EP which had it's ups and downs.

What first hit me was a wave of slightly overproduced percussion, and a burst of synth produced folk-instrumentation which can't quite initially decide whether it is nautical or epic. The production, I presume is fairly average for melodic-death-metal, but owing to the relatively low amount of the genre I listen too, and the relatively high production values it's known for, this might just be to my ear. This is worth giving the benefit of the doubt however, as despite it's ambivalence, it becomes slowly more epic and in a way also fun - It may be dealing with epic themes - and the band's aesthetic suggests this - but it is also fun and catchy, which is one of the things which folk metal does well, as does folk music in general. The melodic death-metal side of the equation gives the music more impact, but also makes it less bouncy than "pure" folk metal - Nonetheless, the arrangement in terms of folk and death-metal in the band's songs is relatively smooth-flowing and well-inserted, despite a relatively conventional guitar and drum style.

The folk style definitely has it's moments, and epicness is dispatched occasionally, often accompanied with memorable hooks. In many places, the instrumentation which the keyboard is aiming at producing is somewhat ambiguous, with accordions, and all sorts of other things going on, and with a multitude of sounds, varying from symphonic to celtic to somewhat piratesque, none of which seem to fit with the Norse overtone of the EP's aesthetics, aside from in a few places. Of course, bands with no synth at all often do Norse-themed songs, so this can be relatively overlooked in the grand scheme of things - certainly this seems to be folk-melodeath which happens to talk about Odin, as opposed to an attempt at "viking metal". From a technical point of view, the band are very competent, with tight playing from everyone involved. The vocals may be a little generic, but they're good nonetheless, and the rest of the band do what they do nicely, with fast, accurate drums and guitars which suit the melodeath they play.

While I probably wouldn't have looked at this band if it hadn't been suggested, I can't say I've regretted listening to it - As a band, Aether Realm are certainly capable of good things - their competence is demonstrated nicely in this EP, and with a few changes; less crisp production, and a less arbitrary folk-element, the band will do well.

I give this a 6/10.

Aether Realm on Facebook
Aether Realm on Bandcamp
Aether Realm on Metal Archives

Monday, 13 February 2012

#127 Hail of Bullets - On Divine Winds

This is one I've been meaning to do for a long time. I've been listening to Hail of Bullets since roughly the time that this album came out, if memory serves me, and despite having no idea how I got into them, they're definitely one of the first death-metal bands I listened to. "On Divine Winds" is the bands second album, and in the vein of their first one, is a theme-album centred around the events of world war two - in this case, the pacific.

Hail of Bullets are one of those bands who really couldn't have a better lineup, with such notables as Martin Van Drunen, who's vocals have graced the likes of titans Asphyx and Bolt Thrower. Aside from being in Asphyx at this moment, Hail of Bullets is Van Drunens "other band", and play a higher tempo, more aggressive brand of death metal. The musicianship all-round is tight, and the songwriting certainly keeps quality in mind - not one song on the album is weak, which is much the same as the bands previous onslaught. Also in-keeping with the previous work, the production is quite crisp and modern, with trademark twenty-first-century guitar tone, clean drums and a general genericness in production which is, fortunately, defeated by the sheer immensity of the songs on the album. This "immensity" is apparent in the energy bursting from all of the songs, slow or fast, and a belter like "Operation Z" is matched by a plodding battlecruiser of a song like parts of "Tokyo Napalm Holocaust". The grinding, ominous and deep guitar tone certainly gives itself to the band well, and creates a brutal heaviness which still manages to be diverse.

The highlight of the album, and Hail of Bullets in general, for that matter, is the riffs. Most of them are a lovely blend of crushing and memorable, with songs like "Strategy of Attrition" having riffs which feel like a fantastic punch to the face, but also manage to be atmospheric - many of them nicely encapsulate the grief and desperation of warfare, and the often melancholy lead parts really add to this well, creating a battle-weary feel when it's needed, and thus rendering many songs deep and highly atmospheric. As the tone in the first album was evocative of heavy armour on the move, battletanks and blitzkrieg, the same tone on this album evokes the huge battleships moving across the pacific. As I said earlier the bands sound is, in this respect huge. Bands like Bolt Thrower have nailed the "war" sound, but Hail of Bullets are the only band who seem to make it sound so, for want of a better word, huge.

I'm hoping, as many are, I expect, that the band will release a new album in the not-too-distant future. Until such a time as they do, this album remains a damn tasty slice of death-metal, and is a prime example of two things; that war-themed death metal is some of the best out there, and that the Dutch make damn fantastic death-metal all round.

I'm giving this 8/10.

Hail of Bullets Official site
Hail of Bullets on Myspace
Hail of Bullets on Facebook
Hail of Bullets on Metal Archives

Friday, 10 February 2012

#126 Volture - Shocking It's Prey

Volture are certainly a band with luck on their side. While being more than a mere side-project, the band has the advantage of containing several already well-established musicians, not least Ryan Waste, of Municipal Waste fame. "Shocking it's Prey" is the band's debut EP, but my expectations were high from the onset, due, in part, to the fact that it's released by Heavy Artillery Records, who seem, at the moment, to be hosting some damn fine bands.

 There are a lot of new "traditional" bands out there at the moment, and it's definitely a risk for any young band as a result - the chances of your band getting lost amid the crowd are high, but bands do manage to slip through towards the promise of renown; anyone with a good twist has a better chance than most. Having quite a conventional sound, Volture have risen through the ranks the hard way, through tooth and, no pun intended, claw. The strength of the band isn't in the form of a twist, it's in the shape of their wholesome, skilled and outright damn solid playing. The songs are what one would expect from a traditional metal band, but unlike a lot of the new-wave of traditional metal, Volture's material sounds very natural and comfortable. There's no feeling that the bare bones, from-the-crotch metal being played by the band is in any way forced, and that's a damn refreshing thing. Another factor in favour of the band is the production style which they've chosen for the EP; it's pleasantly crunchy and raw, but captures everything - I especially enjoyed the drum-sound, which shuffles along in the most organic, gorgeously oldschool way possible, which, on top of the fact that the drummer is competent, creative, and utterly in his element, makes this album a great percussion job.

The vocals, too, caught my attention. The vocalist, Brent Hubbard, seems to have quite a dichotomy in his singing style - half the time he's got an upper-mid-range singing voice, but on occasionally, he'll burst into a wickedly ghostly falsetto, very much akin to that of King Diamond, which works very effectively when and where it is deployed, and certainly promotes him from a decent vocalist to being a good one. The band's cohesion seems very good too, and they certainly sound tight - managing to smash-out impressive, and catchy-as-hell songs and making it look easy. Perhaps the experience of some of the members boosts this, perhaps the band just gel really well, or perhaps it's a bit of both, but whatever it is, the band definitely possess a spark of impressive magnitude, and I can feel a lot of promise coming from them.

Hearkening back to the days when all metal needed was catchy hooks and an attitude, Volture come to the table armed with... well... Catchy hooks and an attitude. Pleasing in it's simplicity and modesty, but damn effective, and in a way quite fresh-sounding, I can see interesting things in Voltures future.

I think this is worthy of 9/10. I genuinely do.

Volture Official site
Volture on Myspace
Volture on Facebook
Volture on Metal Archives

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

#125 Svart Crown - Where the Light Ends

About two hours ago, I saw this band opening for Uncerate, and was rather impressed by them, to say the least. When the show was over, I scurried gleefully home, with a mind to chilling out for a while, and thought to myself, well... I could definitely review one of their albums. Career wise, so far, Svart Crown seem to be a fairly average support-band; two albums under their belt, but showing plenty of promise.

It becomes apparent fairly early on that Svart Crown's sound is ferocious, technically competent and elaborate, and takes appropriate attributes of black and death metal to make an interesting blend of highly structured, energetic and yet still sinister music. The production seems quite murky in places, but nonetheless everything is quite distinct - there's certainly less treble than your average black metal piece. The drums may be a bit produced, but this is fairly excusable, with the extend of their technical edge captured crisply, but thankfully not to the extent of making it sound plastic. The guitar style is an interesting quirk, with a lot of wah, or something like that, dispersed through the songs. Overall it's certainly more akin to a death metal production job with black metal elements thrown in. I can't claim to listen to many bands who combine the two genres in the modern sense, but I'll venture that the blend with Svart Crown make certainly falls on an interesting and pleasing part of the spectrum; somewhere to the tune of being between "death metal with atmosphere" and "black metal with balls", cecertainly showing that the two genres are much more compatible than some would imagine - I can't, myself, begin to guess which of the two the band is closer to.

Hailing from the black-metal side of the equation, the slower, almost progressive sounding creepy bridges and softer sections were really well executed, albeit occasionally sounding a few notes away from "Freezing Moon", and a lot of the album carries a real presence, an energy - or that's certainly what the band were like on stage - As soon as the lights dimmed a little, It was apparent that the local bands had finished, that something ferocious was about to be unleashed. While perhaps digressing from the album itself, but still earns mentioning. The energy is certainly apparent in the bands studio work as well, however, and the limb flailing oomph seems to bring itself to the studio as eagerly as they do the stage. Black metal often often screams demonic curses and incantation, but seldom simply "fuck you" - Svart Crown, however, no doubt with a little help from the death metal element, manage this well, and while they lose a little eeriness and darkness for it, they gain it's equivalent in crushing, wrathful attitude. I feel perhaps that this review is saying too few things in too many words, but nonetheless, seems to convey what I think I mean. They may not be ultra-inventive, but damn, these Frenchmen pack a punch.

I can safely say the it seems that the band are doing rather well, and while their rise is proving far from meteoric, slow and steady success is something I can definitely anticipate. There are very few weak moments on this album, and I can safely say I'll be listening to it some more.

I think this album might be an 8/10 in my book.

Svart Crown on Myspace
Svart Crown on Facebook
Svart Crown on Metal Archives

Friday, 3 February 2012

#124 Lamb of God - Resolution

I must admit, I don't listen to as much Lamb of God as I used to, but a new album by a band so well known is enough to draw upon the curiosity of all but those most committed to excommunicating metal's mainstream side, and in all honesty, I am not one of those people. If you count Burn the Priest, "Desolation" is the band's seventh studio album, and as many prophesied, is pretty much consistent, as the band have been for a couple of albums now.

As I see it, Lamb of God released "New American Gospel", which sounded like groove-metal in a washing machine, went down an interesting road on "As the Palaces Burn", then wrote "Ashes to the Wake" and have been doing albums roughly like that ever since. This album is no exception, and aside from the occasional vocal diversification, which began to rear it's head in "Wrath", the album is definitely similar enough to be placed in the "more of the same" category. Not, might I add, that this is necessarily a bad thing; You can criticise the sameness of their material if you like, but it's also true that they're good at doing what they do. Listening to the album, it seems that the songs are all quite solidly written and don't contain too much throw-away material, something which the band have always managed to an extent. As always, or, perhaps, even more than usual, the band have some monster choruses, which are memorable to the utmost degree, and is definitely something refreshing to listen to on my "Right, I'm going to listen to something today that's quite accessible" days. 

Overall, the album seems faster than the band's quintessential material, with a stronger thrash influence than that which was minimally present in Wrath, albeit in this album a lot better done. In contrast with the earlier material, there seem to be relatively fewer moments which "jump out". I'd say that the songs are just as good in many respects, but seldom did an intro occur to which ensnared me to listen to the song above the others. Making up for this, in a way, the middle of the songs seem to have a lot more going on, and when the mundanity of the intros has passed, most of the songs are very solid. One of the fascinating things on the record is the presence of the occasional experiment, straight out of the left-field; Tracks like "King Me" with it's symphonic keyboards really takes the bands sound in an interesting, albeit slightly haphazard sonic direction, and the clean vocals on "Insurrection" really do sound cool and interesting, even when in your heart, you know that it sounds rather sellout-esque.

All in all, for all the shtick that Lamb of God get, the new album definitely isn't too bad. All things considered, I'm quite impressed. It's not going to by my album of the year, and I doubt I'll feel the need to listen to it constantly, but frankly, it was a good listen, and to an extent, it's re-kindled my interest in the band a bit.

I'd say this is about a 7/10.

Lamb of God Official site
Lamb of God on Myspace
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Lamb of God on Metal Archives