Thursday, 29 November 2012

#232 Naam - Self Titled

I'd love to offer an account of how I discovered Naam, but I literally can't remember. Regardless, it's happily coincided with a time in which I've been really embracing surreal, psychedelic and all together chemical elements in music, and that, I've come to realise, is something that the stoner-metal leanings of Naam manages with gusto.

Naam's self titled début gets off to an unapologetically gradual start, unfolding gently to the sound of a relaxing but awakening cosmic breeze, and the occasional flourish of notes. When the first, and by far longest, song on the album kicks in, the bands take on the stoner-metal genre reveals itself to be equally cosmic; fresh, wide, and airy. The band, it seems aren't aiming for the booming, cosmos-destroying closeness which many bands of their persuasion might be - Yes, certainly there are monumentally bass-heavy moments, but the soundscape is vast and comfortable; fresh and airy. The intensity-at-a-low-tempo which a lot of stoner-metal brandishes is definitely still present, but operating under an altogether different set of rules, and the result is pleasantly fascinating. The album as a whole has the feeling of something which is very malleable and free - it's evident that the bands haven't felt the constraints of genre, tempo, or album-making dogma upon them. Sometimes when a band tries to be free in this way, it doesn't work, leading to strange and jarring confections of experimentation, but Naam seem to have done a great job; The sheer variety of approaches works quite well, and instead of being unwieldy to the albums flow, works nicely. It's not a boastful amount of variety, or a gratuitous amount of variety either - it seems integral to the albums reeling, eye-opening soundscape, and certainly, the first time I listened to the album, I had a real feeling of stepping into the unknown when the next track came on, which frankly made me really appreciate the album as a whole. 

The album manages to be rather tranquil, in that way which only stoner-influenced takes on metal can - the intensity is at times teeth-grinding, but at the same time, there's a warm and relaxing air to it. While no too songs are quite the same, there does seem to be a universality to them too, bringing them together. Many stoner bands can conjure a haze, but what seems to apply more specifically to Naam is their ability to conjure a haze which shimmers, and that seems to be present on every track in the album. It is, in fact, the kind of album which makes me wish I knew enough about the ambiguous genre of "world" music, so I could apply the term correctly - the album has a little bit of everywhere and everything in its sound. It genuinely sounds like there are influences from a vast range of things, which, more pleasingly, also sound like they have never quite been arranged in this way ever before. They're arranged very competently, at that; there's no oddity when a psychedelic, middle-eastern sounding section segues into a more traditional bluesy, chunky stoner riff - there's not really a sudden moment of "What just happened?" but more a contented feeling of "Oh, that's where the journey is going now". Personally, I find that to be a great sign indeed. When a band can get such a diversity of styles, and make them flow, I'm impressed.

Ultimately, this is an album oozing with innovation, variety, and an immense re-play value; It's the sort of album you could probably listen to a couple of times in a row and still enjoy. Naam, it is suffice to say, is a band I will have my eye on from now on.

This is an 9/10 album.

Naam on Facebook
Naam on Metal Archives

Monday, 26 November 2012

That's not Metal! #002: The Pogues - Red Roses for Me

If you weren't around for last month's "That's not Metal!" feature, the premise is simple - every month or so, I'll be reviewing an album which isn't metal, because variety, as everyone should know, is a wonderful thing. 

The Pogues are a band known to many as "the band that did that Christmas song..." and known to, sadly, slightly fewer as the band that made a veritable feast of other songs which were great. Before I discovered metal at all, The Pogues were one of the first real bands I was listening to, and this feature has given me the necessary freedom to crowbar a review onto the blog without much need to justify why a predominately metal blog would be reviewing The Pogues. 

Punk and folk, as a mixture, you might think, are a relatively new concoction, especially if you're a teenager who has just discovered Flogging Molly, and has the slight feeling that he might want to be Irish when he grows up. However, in 1984, The Pogues were already on their way to developing a raucous, inebriated formula. The fact that punk rock and Irish folk work so well together - as two genres concerned by the spirit of their time, be it modern problems like political disillusion or hearkening back further, to the building of the railway, or the whaling industry, both styles seem comparable to the point that someone could probably use their hand-in-glove compatibility as an argument for the existence of god. "Red Roses for Me" was the band's début, but has the feel of a classic, solid record; perhaps more embryonic than the later works like "Rum, Sodomy and the Lash", but at the same time, the album is devoid of filler, and very notably bedecked in variety; everything from up-tempo rants to slow ballads. There are a handful of traditional folk tracks, and about a dozen original songs, and it says a lot about the bands ability to add their own flavour to music when it's not necessarily easy to tell which are which just by ear. The band take many a folk song and accelerate it, crafting it into a more raucous, rock n' roll entity which oozes a punk vibe along with the folk melody and merriness or melancholy, depending on the song.

The same is true of the bands original material on the record; A fierce, trundling punk atmosphere tends to career headlong into folk's jaunty, finger-clicking feel; The end result is a collection of songs which have a sort of slightly out-of-control charm, a lopsided feel, with the punk "I'll play this instrument despite not having played it for long" feel, applied to folk instruments, and a truly note worthy amount of them, too; From a metal perspective, "folk" can quite often mean "there's a violin in there somewhere", but with an outfit like The Pogues, you get all sorts; tin-whistles and fiddle really giving the music an edge of melody, and atmosphere where appropriate. Accordion gives the music a lot of rhythm and at times some real power, especially songs like "Boys from the County Hell" which is quite close to the definition of a belter. The modern folk-punk outfit seems to abandon this variety in lieu of a simpler line up, but The Pogues succeed in sounding coherent despite the crowded stage, studio and soundscape. It pays off, too; the band manage to sound folk-laced to the bone, as opposed to paddling in it lightly, as some bands do, whilst, at the same time, managing to make the songs have a more modern feel.

From more or less the moment I published the first instalment of "That's not Metal!" I was fairly confident that the next one was going to be a Pogues album, and, as it turns out, my prediction was correct. Considering I write these, it's not very surprising. All in all, Red Roses for Me is one of my favourite Pogues albums, and it's been a refreshing chance to write about it - less experimental than their later material, perhaps, but that makes it all the more interesting, seeing what they came up with.

This is a 9/10 album.

The Pogues Official Site

Saturday, 24 November 2012

#231 Judd Madden - Artesian

Judd Madden is a project I've been following for a while, and new albums, which are released more frequently than most artists, are always of interest to me. "Artesian" is the project's fourth album, and the third one to consist mainly of instrumental doom-metal. I've yet to listen to one which I haven't enjoyed.

Water has always been a major, if not dominant, theme in Judd Madden's material; From a début album about the water-cycle, to "Drown", which highlights every element of the ocean's deepest murk, there's certainly an underlying feel of it. Based on the cover art, you could be forgiven for thinking that this latest album takes a step away from the theme. This isn't the case, however. Artesian takes a step back and then steps forward again, approaching the matter from a different angle, that of water's preciousness and value in times of drought. The word artesian itself, in fact, means, as I understand it, something akin to a well. Nonetheless, the album is certainly drier than the previous ones, and it immediately became clear that while the tone and style of Judd Madden's work was consistent, it did an excellent job of evoking the desiccating wind, the shimmering haze of heat, and the bone-dry river-beds - A real achievement considering the deep, ominous and aquatic feel a similar sound complimented on "Drown". What the albums have in common, however, is their ability to capture the rawness and sheer potency of nature, this time from a different angle. It's an interesting change, but at the same time it feels like a very solid, enjoyable development in the projects direction. Now the crushing chords and swaying song-structures paint a picture of the crushing weight of the sunlight, and the haze and malevolence of heat, where before they represented well the incessant waves and the flow of the waters.

One thing I've always liked about the albums, particularly "Waterfall", is the sense of narrative which they have. Artesian is no exception, and tells the tale of the droughts of the Australian outback. What's more admirable is how much of a scene the album manages to set with no lyrics or vocals, simply the occasional spoken word sample. It's not unreasonable to describe the albums narrative as a sad story, albeit one with something of an optimistic ending, and the albums length and pace really lends itself to thought - both in terms of thinking about the albums themes; the plight and harshness of drought, the sheer heat and bone-dry air, but also to thinking about anything at all; like the albums before it, Artesian's atmosphere works on a couple of levels; both evoking it's own themes, and creating a soundscape through which you can really let your mind wonder unhindered, which is probably particularly owing to it's instrumental nature, and the hypnotic song-structure, which managed to be both enthralling but at the same time not overly simplistic or repetitive; the music is well written and well thought-through in terms of arrangement, and, as always, has really enjoyable production - the drums sound precisely the way they would have sounded while being played, and the guitar tone is thick and crisp, perhaps more than ever.

Once again, I can safely say that this is another great collection of doom, and one I particularly enjoyed listening to; it's a lengthy album which demands a bit of time to listen to, and is certainly worth listening to as a whole-album, but in the end, it's great.

This is an 8/10.

Judd Madden on Facebook
Judd Madden on Bandcamp [The album is "pay what you want", including free.]

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

#230 Bunker 66 - Infernö Interceptörs

To get the unpleasant taste of reviewing metalcore out of my mouth, I decided to review something very, very metal today. I've been on something of a spree of listening to dirty, grimy thrash and speed metal recently, and Bunker 66 has been one of my several new discoveries. I was obvious that their 2012 début album, Infernö Interceptörs, was going to be a rock and roll white-knuckle ride, and one with real balls. It was probably the umlauts that gave it away.

Black-thrash, in all of its forms, is something I've enjoyed for a long time. It's a versatile genre, and really one in which the imagination of the musicians is the limit to what the they can think of incorporating into it's sound. I especially like it when there's plenty of speedy, ballsy punk influence mixed in, and that is precisely what Bunker 66 have done. Infernö Interceptörs is a short album, and one which  may zip past, at under thirty-minutes long, but it zips past with style; not slight and forgettable, but roaring past like a massive motorcycle, leaving a trail of dust and empty beer cans in it's wake. If the music didn't make it clear that it's overtly dirty and old-school, there's a picture in the album-booklet showing the band standing around a shrine with Bathory and Venom LPs on it, just in case you needed evidence. Predictably, the album is raucous, loud and filled with attitude; The rough, raging guitar and wholesomely clanking bass really give the music a larger-than life feeling of momentum and power, and the solid but not overproduced drums help this along. The booming, echoing vocals are also bursting with energy, and sound fantastically burly. It's a nice change from the usual shrieks or growls of black-thrash, and certainly gives Bunker 66 a level of uniqueness and distinctness, and above that, an air of infectious and rough-cut enthusiasm - The whole band sound like they're having a good time Even before I was into metal at all, I had a vague idea of how a band was "meant" to feel while they played; rock n' roll, denim and leather, sunglasses indoors, and bottles of beer ever present. Bunker 66 have nailed that.

There's plenty of variety through the album too - The band play mid-tempo swaggering riffs that are catchy, fun to listen to, and probably fun to play too. The band also release absolute belters which have the speed and intensity to tear you a new one, with all of the ferocity of thrash meeting the grime of black metal, punk, and unapologetically unpolished rock and roll. There's also an interesting blend between the crushing black-metal style sections and the overall punk vibe, which I've not heard anywhere else - the songs aren't particularly dark, as black-thrash goes, but at the same time, they're not outright free from the frost and caustic edge which the black-metal side of the family gave it. While there's a lot of attitude in places, there are certainly songs which are more oppressive and brooding - the whole album is thunderous, but it sounds especially effective in these, and when you listen to the riffs, a dark black-metal essence leaks out, until being dispelled by a chorus or one of the catchy solos. The album really encapsulates what I enjoy about the first wave of black-metal for a new generation - Dark, evil, but at the same time, not turning it's back on rock n' roll, punk, and tangible human attitude. To top it off, I don't think there's a single song I didn't enjoy on the album.

There's not much more I can add, to be honest. I've already been sitting trying to think of what to say next for about half an hour, so I'll come to a fairly blunt conclusion; Infernö Interceptörs is a solid album, and one I've really enjoyed personally. I recommend it to anyone who likes their metal old-school.

8/10, I think.

Bunker 66 on Facebook
Bunker 66 on Myspace
Bunker 66 on Metal Archives

Sunday, 18 November 2012

#229 Axewound - Vultures

People don't tend to remark anything to me about my reviews, but if they did, they'd probably tell me that I need to be more prone to reviewing things I don't actually like. It's not that I don't want to, in a way, I can assure that - it's simply that I'm generally quite afraid to be a bastard. Sometimes though, it just has to be done, so a grabbed a large hammer and began tentatively prodding the mass of generic-core that stood before me.

 I would probably have been too much of a bastard if I were to highlight this review as the next "That's not metal!" feature. I'll consider it as a normal review for the time being; There certainly is some metal, hiding away in the darkest corners of the music, but then again, there is sometimes cheese in what the unsuspecting American considers to be cheese. It's the most generic of generic strains of groove-metal, but it's probably enough for me think about it fairly coherently. The album has the character of a cocktail consisting of chocolate-milk and tequila. On the outside, it might look smooth, inviting and full of flavour, but within moments, you begin to question what on earth you've just allowed yourself to consume. If I hadn't known beforehand who the musicians involved were, the artwork would have given me a degree of hope, but alas, there is little. Generic groove-metal tough-guy themes, combined with the superficial angst of the school of metal-core. Bullet For My Valentine, one of the bands to contribute a member to the super-group, have had one of their mothers wrap some of this angst in cling-film and sent it along in Matt Tuck's lunch-box so that all of his friends can try a  piece. To be controversial, however, Bullet For My Valentine have definitely got their moments - they have fun and catchy songs sometimes, and I don't deny to enjoying them at one time or another, and I care not for the stigma. Axe Wound, however, just don't have the fun factor - Music for fourteen year-olds should at least activate some of the dusty neurons associated with my inner fourteen year old. Bullet can still do that, and Axe Wound can't. No matter how many times they say "Fuck" in their music. It just doesn't have much energy or catchiness.

The problem isn't that the band are a metalcore band - I may not care for the genre, but I still recognise that there are bands which are good at playing it, and others that aren't. Axewound seem to encounter problems when it comes to making music which has a feeling of substance. The musicianship is tight, and the whole thing seems to work, but at the same time, it sounds like the ghost of an album. Like I said, there are certainly metalcore albums which I've had some fun listening to, but this one seems to be too generic even for a genre which has been done to death. It sounds almost self parodying, while at the same time trying very hard to be metal, which is a bit like watching an infant try to play with a blender - The results could be detrimental for everyone involved, but at the same time, it's interesting to watch what happens. Ultimately, the album will probably do it's job - it certainly ticks the boxes of the average metalcore fan, or perhaps the pen runs out half-way through the box ticking process, sending the fan into an unhappy spiral of how brutal and harsh life is, and how unique their entirely universal feelings are. Either way, they might write a poem about it, or, if the groove metal side appeals to them, maybe go to the gym. Essentially, what I'm trying to say, in a very mean manner, is that while it doesn't appeal to me much, it's probably fairly tolerable to the people who are actually into this kind of thing.

If you found this review looking for positive reviews to back-up your already high opinion of the album, then discount my opinion - That is, after all, what it is. I felt like bringing down fiery justice on some mallcore kids, and that is what I've done today. I couldn't think of anything else to review, either. I'm going to go and listen to a lot of Venom now to restore musical stasis to my system.

This is... about 4/10. It is, nonetheless, better than Lulu, despite the scores not showing this. Frankly, having rented the numbers 1-10 from the numbers-shop, I've not been getting the use of 1-5. Hence this review.

You've got to hand it to them though, of all the metalcore bands I know, they have the least-awful logo.

Axewound Official Site

Thursday, 15 November 2012

#228 Venom - Cast in Stone

If I were to make a chart comparing the number of people who have listened to Venom's post-2000 material, and the number of people who listened to 1997's "Cast in Stone", the bar representing the former would probably loom menacingly over the bar representing the latter. When I started writing reviews, I told myself I'd be aiming at highlighting what I consider to be underrated albums. I've not been doing that very much recently, which is why, when I listened to Cast in Stone, I suddenly realise that not only did I have the opportunity to review something I saw as underrated, but that I probably should.

There's definitely something which sets Cast in Stone apart from the rest of Venoms later material. It just doesn't feel a part of the same era, despite having a similarly modern sound. Despite being barely three years earlier than "Resurrection", there's a feeling of apartness which certainly makes the album easy to overlook, which is certainly what I did for a long time. Certainly, an album like "Resurrection" seems to herald something - the bands return, which, in hindsight, seems very odd, considering that Venom had by that point already returned three years previously. The point is, I think, that Cast in Stone is very much an album out on it's own, and inaccessible as such - it doesn't, and didn't when I discovered it, lend itself well to attracting attention. Ultimately, this is a shame, as far as I'm concerned. The album has the same energetic, and surprisingly solidly-produced work as Resurrection, which, had I been told that before blindly listening, would have been a major selling point. While the modern, thrash-esque sound which the band took on both albums isn't to everyone's taste, Cast in stone still sounds undeniably like Venom, and a very energetic Venom at that; I can't tell if the band improved as musicians in the time that they weren't busy doing Venom-stuff, or if they were just more technically ambitious, but either way, there's little of the fuzz and haphazard madness which was present on the bands eternally-classic first couple of albums. Cast in Stone certainly seems to be a happy-medium; it sounds more like vintage-Venom than the later albums, but at the same time, manages to be subtly, but at the same time very different from the early material.

That's not to say that the album is an ultimate opus, or anything of that persuasion; It's certainly not perfect, and, if you're anything like me, there will be times when you'll really wish that Mantas hadn't discovered the harmonic, but at the same time, the album is a solid work; the songs are nicely rounded, and while they don't tend to be adventurous, they're nonetheless satisfying. The style which modern Venom takes, to me, seems to be the joining of two things; the more traditional and sane route which the band went down when it lacked Cronos, coupled together with the return of Cronos, but, like an imaginatively assembled sandwich, you can put two things back together in a different way to how they were when they were taken apart; Venom gain back some of their raucous and wild sound, but not all of it, and ultimately, the Venom we get on Cast in Stone is a thoughtful one. The riffs slot together nicely, with more emphasis on the spaces between the notes and drum beats than the bulldozing barrage of the early material, which certainly makes the music dynamic and definitely more memorable than say, an album like "Possessed". Another element that the time apart seems to have imbued in the band is a bit more or a penchant to experiment, which, while it didn't seem to last past this album, definitely had some interesting results. There's a bit of a vein of industrial influence running through the album, and there are a couple of songs, namely the albums closer "Swarm" which really go somewhere with it, and while unexpected, it sounds genuinely interesting, and is enjoyable to listen to, despite appearing seemingly from nowhere.

I've not listened to Cast in Stone as much as "Fallen Angels", or "Resurrection", and certainly nothing like as much as the first two albums, but at the same time, I've already gotten a great enjoyment from it - While it doesn't stick out of the bands back catalogue, I'll certainly go so far as to call it a gem, one which more people should get around to listening to.

I'll give this 8/10.

Venom Official Site
Venom on Myspace
Venom on Metal Archives

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

#227 Woods of Ypres - Woods 5: Grey Skies and Electric Light

Whoever releases them, posthumous albums are always sad to listen to, given the circumstances of their existence. David Gold, at the time the remaining founding member of Woods of Ypres, passed in 2011, and "Woods V: Grey Skies and Electric Light" was released early this year. I've not listened to the band before, but I've been meaning to do so for some time. I can't remember what reminded me of them today, but remind me something did, and now seems as good a time as any to have a listen.

Even before listening to the band - heck, even before knowing anything about the band, it seemed fairly apparent to me that they weren't going to be a conventional one in terms of sound. I don't know anything about the bands previous work, but Woods 5 is an interesting release to say the least. There's a bit of everything in the album, but the end result comes across as something of a black-metal Type O Negative. Like the former, one of Woods of Ypres' most prominent features are the vocals, which go down a rather similar path to that of Peter Steele. In this album, at least (I can't vouch for the others), the deep, powerful clean vocals have an oddly mechanical edge, presumably through the use of some effect or other, which, whilst rendering the vocals rather inorganic, they suit the likewise inorganic and electric aesthetic of the album really well, and, to put it bluntly, sound great. The clean vocals are at times punctuated by a more conventional black-metal style, but these take the back-seat for the most-part. This doesn't bother me particularly, as while the harsh vocals add some freshness and diversity to the songs, the clean vocals are very interesting to explore, and create a very unique and immersing atmosphere. I'm quite frank when I say that there's literally nothing I've experienced which sounds entirely like this, and on that note, I think I can safely say Woods of Ypres were a great example of ambitious amalgamation of styles done well.

For being complex and diverse to quite an extent, It's got to be said that Woods 5 still manages to be catchy, and quite impressively so. A lot of the songs have choruses which could end up stuck in my head for days, or sections which really leave a lasting impression. As opposed to being grating, however, this works really well, and there's still an honesty to the music no matter how catchy - the choruses may be catchy, even pop-like in their style, but at the same time, they all feel like they're building to something, and they have conviction and strength. I feel perhaps I've dwelt on the vocal aspect of the album a lot, and I can safely say it does hit me the most of the bands elements, but of course, that's not to say that the other aspects don't work. There's some really enjoyable guitar work, which helps in the conjuration of the band's unique atmosphere, and a lot of really cleverly deployed musical devices, with plenty of diverse miscellanea, on top of the standard guitar, bass and drums, which themselves stand out as a very solid foundation. There aren't many moments, although there are a few, when they steal the thunder of the vocals, or take centre stage, as far as I can tell, but they certainly do one heck of a job on complimenting them, and I can't deny there are plenty of moments when they are good in their own right, if a little overshadowed for most of the album. On the whole, the album is nothing short of excellent when all the elements come together, and that, without a doubt, is what makes a good album.

I didn't realise that it's coming up to a year since Gold's death when I started writing this review, but I see something of a poignancy. There's a real spiritual feeling in the way that a deceased artist can live on through their work, and what better way to live on than through a beautiful collection of music. There's little more I can say.


Woods of Ypres on Metal Archives

Saturday, 10 November 2012

#226 Dragged into Sunlight - Widowmaker

In one word, Dragged into Sunlight are unnerving, and not so very long ago, when I reviewed their 2009 début, that was what really stood out about the band. They're dark, and not in the same way as conventional dark music, or even conventional by the standards of the black-metal which their style is touched by. The band's début was twisted, hideous and somewhat alarming, and, when I picked up it's follow up, "Widowmaker", earlier today, I discovered that the same was true of it.

With the album at just three songs in length, no matter how long, it's easy to see why some people are a bit sceptical of it. I can't say I was surprised, personally - Dragged into Sunlight have always had the feel of a band who are going to do their own thing, and nothing else, and this album has once again manifested that. Owing to the small number of constituent songs, but more to the way in which they flow very well as a trinity of pieces, the album really does feel like one, single entity. More so than most, certainly. At the same time, the album is definitely a three-pronged attack. Part I is slow and gradual - chords with a slowly growing sense of fear, tension and unease, but with a serene tone which somehow makes it all the more unusual, like a cocktail of drugs which puts you in a state of limbo, because it's ingredients are trying to send your mind in two directions at once. Despite it's simplicity, I've got to admire Dragged into Sunlight for packing the song with so much charge, and while there may not seem enough going on in it to justify it's length, when it came to an end, I didn't feel like I'd wasted fifteen minutes at all. Part I is packed with easily as much of a sense of foreboding, and foreshadowing terror-to-come as any drone or dark-ambient. All in all, it really builds up to the rest of the album well. 

When Part I draws to a close, the more accustomed sound of the band bursts into live; brooding, bubbling and volcanic riffs, filled to the brim with grit, loathing and misanthropy. There's as much of a sense of unease in the heavy side of the band as their is in Part I, with unfettered, depraved sounding screams, and unsettling spoken word, most of which I can't entirely make out, but all of which sounds dark and often twisted. The murky and tangled world which the bands heavy sections vomit forth really are distinct and unique, with the feeling of acrid, sonic barbed-wire, of the heaviest kind. Once in a while, there come the kind of seismic, world churning chords really make your insides reverberate in a way they shouldn't, which sends your brain reeling a bit, through the tumbling and darkly surreal landscapes. Not the transcendent, sky-touching surreal feel of a band like, say, Electric Wizard, but more a sort of impalement on a malevolent barb of noise, which, whilst one might assume it to be unpleasant sounding, actually really makes for a fascinating and rewarding listen. Sonically, the band take the listener to a dark place which few bands have access to, and they do it in quite a unique way. The album may seem short, perhaps stunted, but personally, I found it to be an injection of abject darkness of just the right proportions.

The Widowmaker album is a diverse one, and goes through many flavours of horror, despair and ruination, which is a very impressive work for three songs alone. I'll probably be re-visiting their debut personally, when I can find a copy, and in the meantime, I'm definitely going to listen to, and reccommend, Widowmaker.

This is an 8/10 effort.

Dragged into Sunlight on Facebook
Dragged into Sunlight on Metal Archives

Thursday, 8 November 2012

#225 3 Inches of Blood - Long Live Heavy Metal

Usually, I'm terribly suspicious of bands with numbers in their name. What's more, 3 Inches of Blood have a bit of a reputation as an entry-level traditional metal band, and as such, I quite often encounter people rather suspicious of the quality of their music, or their recently-converted-to-metal fan-base. Nonetheless, I, for one, while I can't claim to have listened to all of their material inside-out, do enjoy it. I was sure I'd reviewed the band already this year, but apparently not, so here's a review of their 2012 album "Long Live Heavy Metal".

The bands journey from what I'm told was a metalcore one to one which plays what is, essentially, Painkiller-era Judas Priest for the new generation, has been an admirable one, and also one which has stripped the band of all of their founding members. Literally all. I digress. I hadn't really listened to the bands previous releases enough to know what to expect, aside from some very ballsy traditional metal. Not distorting my perceptions too much, that's exactly what it was; Riffs ranging from a speed-metal onslaught to a rock and roll, fist-pumping extravaganza, all tied together by the screaming-eagle Halford style vocals, which really exude the falsetto-driven rage which speed metal and traditional metal can do well. I wouldn't mind something a bit more subdued in places throughout the album, in more than just "Men of Fortune", especially when the vocals seem to be raised above what the song calls for, and become incredibly, perhaps slightly too, attention-grabbing. Regardless, for the most part, the vocals work rather well. The harsh vocals in places definitely hint back to the band's past, and come as something of a metalcore after-taste, but I cant fault their deployment - snugly incorporated into the music, and not too out of character, compared to the retrospective "What on earth was that" which I now get from bands like Holy Grail.

All in all, I think Long Live Heavy Metal is definitely a 100% heavy metal album, which is only a good thing, as it would be rather ironic if it wasn't. There is, however, a fairly noticeable modern edge to 3 Inches of Blood's sound, which fairly quickly dispels the idea that the band are entirely geared towards playing in a retro way - There's plenty of rapid double-kick, thrashy riffs in the vein of bands like Iced Earth, and a general feel of the twenty-first century about the album, with crisp production, and a very aggressive and somewhat mainstream-friendly style. I wouldn't fault them for it though - managing to appease the legions of metalcore and groove-metal loving teenagers is certainly an admirable feat for a band who play nothing short of quintessential genuine metal despite such success. In fact, 3 Inches of Blood, I'll venture to say, really give an injection of what a lot of people love about traditional metal - Catchy riffs and hooks, melodies which propel the music nicely, and an album which flows straight and smoothly. The whole album, in fact, is catchy as hell; Perhaps it's not the most intellectual traditional metal record out there, but all things considered, who would want it to be? And while there may not be a track quite as iconic as the known-to-all anthem Deadly Sinners, I can safely say that Long Live Heavy Metal was an enjoyable listen.

Heavy metal, in this style, is supposed to really grab you by the balls, and it's fairly safe to say that 3 Inches of Blood manage this quite well. While many judge the band, for reasons best known to themselves, I have to say it was an enjoyable experience.

7/10, I think.

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Tuesday, 6 November 2012

#224 Maximum Oversatan - Too Evil for Hell

Sometimes, bands and their releases can be absolutely intriguing, and Maximum Oversatan are one such band. As the forum post which introduced me to the band said, "They sound like their name". Frankly, that was enough to get me interested, and if the name hits the same switches in your head as mine, you should be too. The normal order of things is that bands ask me if I'll review their material, but not this time. At risk of sounding like a cheeky bastard, I directly asked for a link to their demo so I could listen to it and review it, and that's precisely what I plan to do.

Picture, if you will, what would happen if a band were to travel back in time and distil the essence of a 1986 not-quite-black-metal-yet Mayhem, and then, to gain incredible devilish metal powers, drink it, presumably with Jack Daniels. Maximum Oversatan are a bit like that. Speed metal, with more than a touch of black-metal thrown in to the recipe. Raucous, raw and with a motorcycle-riding, greasy and dirty sound which the demo's artwork, and the bands name, as I've already mentioned, really encapsulates. The whole demo is a glimpse into a mad and rather satanic world of chaotic, percussive and rabid metal - Thundering drums carry the swift, vicious tracks along with a possessed energy and natural, but also very thick forceful and solid presence - it may be a demo, and quite a raw one at that, but the drum sound is certainly one to be admired - Clearly drums that have been recorded well from the onset, as opposed to meddled with excessively afterwards. Soaring angrily over the percussion, the vocals are caustic and enraged sounding - not strictly a conventional black-metal shriek, but something frequently deeper and more gruff, a harsher and more bestial version of, for instance, Venom, as opposed to a shrill and piercing screech. This has the effect of giving the music quite a muscular edge, which is enjoyable to say the least, and makes for a more raucous and meaty listen. Adding to this is the guitar tone, which while quite treble-heavy, also has a lower end with a rasping, buzzing tone which makes a number of the riffs into the sonic equivalent of an iron fist.

You can tell a lot about a band by the songs which they choose to cover, and on Too Evil for Hell, the covers probably say a lot more than I possibly could about Maximum Oversatan's musical direction. Going by their sound, I can't say I'm surprised by the presence of both a Sodom cover and a Venom one, both of which are done with an enjoyable level of creativity and spiced with Maximum Oversatan's own style, particularly "Welcome to Hell", which the band have taken and made into perhaps even more of a swaggering, spitting occult monster of a track than Venom made it the first time around. Being a demo, one might expect the production to be a little bit rough - and it is, there's no denying that. At the same time, there's not much point in denying it, because the rough and haphazard production fits the music's coarseness like a glove, in fact, I'd be happy to hear an album or EP with this level of neatness, or enjoyable lack thereof. The guitar tone is a little bit buried in places, although in others it sounds great, which suggests a bit of inconsistency in the volume levels, but given that the whole demo is something of a maelstrom, it doesn't have too much of an effect on the balance and flow of the demo. Perhaps the original songs aren't quite anthems or instant classics just yet, but the whole demo has a real sense of solidness and an attitude which metal can never have enough of.

A few refinements, perhaps, and Maximum Oversatan will have a winning sound on their hands, a breed of black and speed metal which makes for dark and savage, but also ballsy and memorable music. I hope they have plans for the future, and I can't wait for they day they decide to unleash it into the world.

This is an 8/10, I think.

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Sunday, 4 November 2012

#223 Cauldron - Tomorrow's Lost

There is, I'm fairly positive, something in the water in Canada. Something in the water which makes for very good heavy-metal, the nation has, for instance, contributed a superb slew of bands towards the "new wave" of traditional metal. Cauldron are one such band, and a notable one at that - their third album, Tomorrow's Lost, was released in October, and I've been looking forward to reviewing it and having a good listen for a while.

Since 2009, Cauldron have released three full-length albums - an impressive work-ethic, and something which you don't see very often in these times. What I find to be more notable, however, is the fact that, despite releasing three albums in four years, the music at no point sounds rushed, and this album is no exception. I'm never good at explaining why song-writing seems good to me, but I'm definitely of the belief that the song-writing which Cauldron offer is still top-notch.  I've always found Cauldron's brand of heavy-metal to be an enjoyable one, with a more anthemic and fist-pumping quality to the music when compared to the nigh-infinite multitude of Iron Maiden and Judas Priest clones which amount to a large proportion of the bands which are reviving traditional metal. Tomorrow's Lost is more akin to the works of bands like Accept, Dio, and many of the early eighties acts which were out-with the NWOBHM - there's even a hint of glam in there, or at least, I think so. Consequently, the album is riff-laden, catchy as hell and is a generally fun and memorably listen. The vocal hooks and choruses make almost every song addictive and enjoyable - if I'd familiarised myself with the lyrics, I'd be very tempted to sing along a lot of the time. At the same time, the music isn't just throw-away party metal, either - it's good in it's own right, and definitely the kind of thing which is just as enjoyable when taken seriously as when it is enjoyed intoxicated with a number of friends. That probably says something about the nature of Cauldron's music - it's a little cheesy, but at the same time it can be honest and uplifting metal-goodness, which, really, is what made the bands which have influenced them great too.

Another strength I detect in Caudron's music, which, say, a band like mainstream favourites White Wizzard don't really posses to anything like as much an extent, is variety; Whilst still managing to unite the albums music under one banner (and some frankly epic artwork), Tomorrow's Lost has a genuinely dynamic edge; The tempos go from everything from a riffy, rock 'n roll swagger to blistering and speedy belters, and all with the same character - It's safe to say that Cauldron aren't formulaic in the slighters, and also safe to say that they add a pinch of their own secret recipe to the traditional metal which they are inspired by and play. The whole album flows smoothly, and the individual songs themselves seem also the be very smooth, everything from the shimmering, buttery solos, chunky rhythms with enough balls to run a lottery, and the clean, sweet, perhaps slightly glam-influenced vocals, which really give the album a different edge to the legions of vocalists who want to be Halford or Dickinson. Ultimately, I'll summarise the album as energetic and fun, but not one-dimensional. There isn't anything self-indulgent, pretentious or overly ambitious in the record - it's a lovely chunk of good old fashioned heavy-metal, and it soars along like a good album should.

Cauldron are one of the newer traditional-metal bands which I find genuinely pleasing to listen too, and I admire what they've done; In a genre where being generic is a huge risk, matched only, perhaps by retro-thrash, Cauldron have managed to carve out a niche for themselves, and to stand out from the crowd. They sound damn good while they're doing so, too.

This is an 8/10, I'd say.

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Thursday, 1 November 2012

#222 Blut Aus Nord - 777 Cosmosophy

Cosmosophy marks the final instalment in Blut Aus Nord's ambitious 777 trilogy, coming after Sect(s) and The Desanctification. I've not listened to all of Blut Aus Nord's material, by any means, but they're certainly a band I've been taking a growing interest in over the last couple of months, and I was intent on listening to the latest album when I got the chance. That happened to be today.

Blut Aus Nord have never, ever been a band afraid to be ambitious, and the 777 trilogy is equally so - perhaps even their most ambitious work. If there's one thing which the albums I've listened to have taught me, it's that the band excels at making music which combines beauty with an unnerving and ethereal feel, and all of the albums by the band which I have heard have managed to do so. Cosmosophy is, however, by no means simply more of the same. The first and foremost impression given is of an album which is less overtly intense, spending more time dwelling among passages of slow atmosphere. The sharp and almost scary atmosphere has also receded, compared to, for example, an album like "The Work Which Transforms God". To top it off, the album has a very pronounced supply of clean vocals, which give the music an entrancing, weaving, but at the same time more benign feel. I'm not going to cast these changes in a negative light, however - frankly, I found the soundscapes of Cosmosophy to be relaxing, and utterly beautiful, albeit far removed from the more raw, dark beauty of many of the previous works, which, I won't deny, I find to be just as enjoyable. The tone, mournful and thick, which Blut Aus Nord posses, is, as ever, entirely present, and as far as I'm concerned, it would take a lot more than a slight stylistic change to do any harm.

One thing which really attracted me to Blut Aus Nord in the first place is the way in which the notes bend, hauntingly. This may sound like a small detail, but it seems to be one omnipresent within the bands sound, and give the band a very markedly unique tone - absorbing, and with a soothing, whale-song like quality which I've never really heard anywhere else in music. An interesting thing about Cosmosophy is the sheer emphasis which is places on this style in it's purest form, with unobtrusive mid-tempo rhythm utterly dominated by note after note, wailing and weeping. The other influences in the album are also progressions upon what the band have done before; In all of their material I've thus far listened to, the drums have an industrial feel, sometimes overt, and sometimes subtle, and Cosmosophy is no exception - in parts the music sounds positively electronic. Usually, I'm weary of industrial influences, with a few exceptions, but Blut Aus Nord have managed to get it roughly right - not so industrial as to be off-putting, but enough to inject further an already unique style; The sterile but dynamic drumming really give the music a feel which earthy sounding drumming could not - that is, it keeps up excellently with the unearthly and unnatural feel of the bands music.

Much of Blut Aus Nord's discography, to me, is still to be explored, but I'm almost utterly certain that I will be listening to every last song eventually. Cosmosophy isn't fast or fierce, but what it is is wonderfully atmospheric and hypnotic. A solid album by anyone's standard.

This is 8/10.

Blut Aus Nord on Metal Archives