Tuesday, 22 July 2014

#353 Overkill - White Devil Armory

If. If White Devil Armory is a great record, it marks the third superb Overkill in a row, after Ironbound and The Electric Age. Both of those albums considered, Overkill have a lot of impressing to do, and while there are numerous bands that I feel considerably more invested in, it would still be sad to see a sub-par record. Consequently, listening to White Devil Armory today is going to be an interesting experiment in how cheerful I can be for the rest of the afternoon. Without further ado, lets find out.

The first feature of the record to strike me is the tempo. After the relatively ferocious, if slightly disjointed, "Armorist" - which I suppose is sort of the title track -  the record slowed down rather tangibly. For the most part, it isn't ponderous, but it definitely doesn't seem to hurtle along at a thousand miles per hour, as the last two records did. People out there will, in their more critical moments, probably play around with the idea of describing it as a groove-metal record, as much of the bands mid-career output was. While there's something to that,  I'm not sure I'd go that far; there's still a bit more kick to it than a lot of those records, even though said kick-to-the-face which the album delivers is substantially less than the two before it. So far - and subsequent re-listens shall surely tell - the problem with White Devil Armory is not that it's a bad album, but that it exists in a musical purgatory; it's not a big enough step down to be disappointing, but not quite hitting the targets well enough to be satisfying; it shatters the invincible air which the band had, after Ironbound and the, by my reckoning, equally good Electric Age... indeed, it says a lot that the record is probably excellent by the standards of second-wind eighties thrash-bands - I doubt the Megadeths and Metallicas of this world could summon something this good at all. From Overkill, I think some will have been hoping for more.

Of course, it's easy - too easy - to simply say the album is missing something. What exactly is the problem? Answering that is the real meat of the review. White Devil Armory has plenty of catchy, near-classic Overkill moments - the playing remains tight, the production is relatively good, aside from a clicky, treble-heavy drums, and Bobby Blitz sounds as ferocious as ever, still commanding the vocal department with no sign of weakness. There are a few reasons which are potential candidates, however. Foremost, the lack of bite. It's odd, that while the sections themselves tend to have me without complaint - heck, there are some great riffs, even the slower ones - but the way they are arranged doesn't favour them. When the songs feel like they're really cruising along, exuding thrashy goodness to an Ironbound standard, they can grind to a halt and, almost arbitrarily, divert into a slower, mood-killing section which, as some tracks manage to show, need not be the case. The record has slow sections - slow songs even, which really work, in the way tracks like Necroshine did in days of old, but there are, likewise, plenty of slow sections which really jam a spanner in the works, curbing the energy and velocity of what could have been - at times, it feels like the whole songwriting process has grabbed a fist-full of solid sections and accidentally put them together badly. Attempts to describe the problem aside, after a paragraph of trying, it's still best described as an album which just isn't quite as good. 

So, harking back to the introduction, how cheerful will my afternoon now be? I suspect reasonable. White Devil Armory isn't poor or abysmal - it's still a solid record, in fact, it's that very term above; reasonable. There's a line in the sand between disappointing and underwhelming, and I'm not disappointed. The album, however, is underwhelming - it's not part of a holy trinity of great releases, as I'd hoped, instead, it's the runt of the litter. Enjoyable and with hints of glory, for sure, but as the record draws to a close, I can't help but feel what I just listened to weighed in at "not bad", as opposed to "great".

This is a 7/10.

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Sunday, 13 July 2014

#352 Nocturnal - Storming Evil

Nocturnal are a German black-thrash band who's logo was featured in the artwork of Darkthrone's Dark Thrones and Black Flags album - which, as far as I can recall, is how I discovered them. In any case, black thrash is one of the genres I've always been eager to explore, and a few years ago I discovered the bands first two records, "Arrival of the Carnivore" and "Violent Revenge", both sturdy offerings of old-school goodness. At that time, it had been a while since they'd released a record, and since then, I'd been keeping an eye open for a third album. As luck would have it, such a record arrived in February. By July, I've finally managed to get around to buying a copy, and, several spins later, the review begins.

The arrival of a new record  has, without a doubt, re-kindled my interest in Nocturnal. For quite a few months before listening to it, I hadn't listened to either of the previous records in quite a while. Now, however, I'm enjoying approaching the band with a fresh enthusiasm, really listening to the records properly, and giving them time to soak in. The experience is made all the more rewarding and enthusing by the fact that, by my reckoning, Storming Evil is the band's strongest album yet, not only capturing the old-school ferocity and evil vintage sound which defines the band, but also then upping it to a new level of thoroughly good execution. It's energetic, face-melting and vicious; the playing is tight, and the production suitably gnarly and earthy, but likewise clear enough to allow the album to shriek it's message with lucidity- in fact, the production job, and perhaps changes in the chosen tones and styles of the musicians involved, has rendered Storming Evil the sharpest and most scathing Nocturnal record yet. Musically, too, the album feels like a real triumph. The guitar work is intricate and agile, with weaving lead-sections busily populating almost every track, giving the whole thing a frantic feel which really captures the energy and staggering mania of thrash, while the twisted notes also imbue the whole album with evil, a job which is complemented thoroughly by Tyrannizer's vocal delivery, which is not only well-constructed in terms of patterns and hooks, but also has a near demonic level of reverb, giving it some extra Satan.

Storming Evil is a good ten minutes longer than either of the bands previous records, and seems to benefit from it. The album has a longer time  to sink in while listening, and the songs themselves - numbering ten, as with both of the previous albums, pick up the difference in length, which has lent itself to more elaborate song-structures. Indeed, while the record retains the band's unapologetically raucous approach - still characterised foremost by dirty, evil and fast music, it also finds room to accommodate elements which lean towards being a little more grandiose; There are songs which really make use of atmosphere, lower-tempo sections, and so forth. By my reckoning, the album is gifted with a sense of presence and weight through this, and the use of everything from all-out blasting at its most intense, right through to fist-pumping, head nodding swaggering sections results in a dynamic album, and one which is very absorbing to listen to - it succeeds in one of the main quests which an album must succeed in - making you want to listen to it. The first two records by Nocturnal were very enjoyable - in many ways as good as this one,  but this one feels like a larger undertaking, it's more momentous, perhaps a little fuller - more striking. All in all, the album very much gives the impression of a band who have gotten into their stride, and with the resultant momentum, have hit their most powerful hammer-blow yet.

There's something about third albums - a certain pressure on the band to create something which lives up to - perhaps even exceeds - their previous body of work. It does seem to be the point in a bands career where their fans begin to have very tangible expectations, especially when the band are well established already. It's enjoyable indeed to hear an album which lives up to personal - and general - expectations, and Storming Evil has done precisely that. It met my expectations, and indeed exceeds them. I'm very impressed.

This is an 8.5/10.

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Tuesday, 8 July 2014

#351 Vader - Tibi Et Igni

There's never been a bad Vader album - and I somewhat doubt there ever will be. Indeed, it's not overly adventurous to say that Vader, while shifting stylistically a little, like ripples on a death metal ocean, are one of the most consistent bands within the genre. They have, over several decades, delivered solid record after solid record, relentlessly. Some may be jewels in their crown and feathers in their caps, others are simply solid, but I reassert myself when I say that none of them have been bad. On this basis - as I expect most Vader fans did - I approached their latest record, Tibi Et Igni with plenty of confidence, and, not-surprisingly, it was a damn good record.

As I've laid out in the introductory paragraph, it's very safe to say that Vader are a band who can be relied upon to deliver. If they were a company, it would be a wise one to buy shares in. Tibi Et Igni takes mere seconds to demonstrate why. It is a consistent and solidly written continuation of the style which the band have mastered over the years; a style which is almost unmistakable. Ferocious drumming propels explosive and memorable - at times catchy - guitar work, with riffs which pack an enormously dense payload of energy - one which is unleashed very readily, and takes a relatively short time to be committed to memory. When I first listened to Vader, it took me a very long time to memorise any of their songs - nowadays, many of the tracks inhere within memory after a single listen, especially on the bands last few records, which are well crafted indeed, and have stepped up a level when it comes to  making death metal which is infectiously memorable. Tibi Et Igni certainly seems to have this property more than some of their other works. As with most of the bands previous records, the songs are typically short sharp shocks, but are musically very busy; the band don't make walls of noise, as some bands do, instead, at almost every moment in this album your ears are met with the fury of music which is doing a lot. Vader are an extremely dynamic death metal band, and their thrash-influenced sharpness redoubles it - an influence which is in full flow on this record.

There are Vader albums which are more frantic and intense than Tibi Et Igni, but few have had such a capacity to let the riffs truly come out to breathe. The music is compact and constantly engaging, but it doesn't go too far and become squashed, with songs trying to cram more content into themselves than they should have. There's nothing wrong with letting a riff carry on for a little while, and Vader know it. The tracks, from beginning to end, are well paced, and above all, well considered. There is seldom filler on Vader albums, and this one is no exception. There aren't any tracks kicking around on Tibi Et Igni which feel like they were put there for the hell of it -  everything slots into place very nicely. In the bigger picture, Tibi Et Igni measures-up very nicely against what came before. Consistent, of course, but not stagnant. The band always seem to have exciting records up their sleeves, despite having had a very consistent sound for a long time now. While consistent, the music can safely said to develop between records; Tibi Et Igni is what I'd consider to be quite a melodic Vader record, with a very prevalent use of epic leads, vast-sounding riffs, and the occasional atmospheric intro or touch of synth here and there to garnish the album. bedecking it in a grandiose cloak which, in my case, very much served to draw me in and be enveloped by it.

Once again, on the mountain of death metal, Vader seem to have reasserted that they are standing somewhere near the top - and have been for some time now. Tibi Et Igni is every bit as solid as I expected it to be - it is the sort of record which will dominate my listening for a few weeks, but after that, it won't fade away in the way that some records do; it's not an album with a finite "hype", it is, instead, an album which is legitimately good. Very good.

This is a 9/10.

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