Friday, December 31, 2010

Initial Impressions: Helloween: 7 Sinners

Helloween is one of the pioneering bands in the power metal genre from Europe in the mid 1980's. Helloween started out very strong with their first three albums and then suffered through a long period of inconsistency. Their last couple of albums have shown a return to form though.

This is Helloween's fifteenth full-length album and the German power metal legends have proven they still can put out some great music. Current singer Andi Deris sounds a lot like original singer Kai Hansen, who went on to form Gamma Ray. His voice is a slightly snarled tenor with an incredible range.

Musically, Helloween carries on with the dual guitar attack they have utilized since their inception in the early 1980's. The music is typically fast, yet melodic, and features numerous guitar solos. The guitar riffs have a bit of a stronger, more aggressive bite to them on this album though. That is a welcome change and adds intensity to the music.

The album's second track is the anthemic "Are You Metal?", which will likely be a strong closer in concerts and should have the crowd pumping their fists. The rest of the songs feature many of the lyrical themes Helloween has frequently used, such as fantasy, humor, and politics.

On Helloween's last album, the band enjoyed a career resurgence. This looks like it will continue for some time, as this is possibly even stronger than Gambling with the Devil.

Initial Impressions: Kamelot: Poetry for the Poisoned

My fiancee gave me this CD and the most recent Helloween album for Christmas last week. Kamelot is a very good European-style power metal band from the United States. They are probably a little more on the poppy side of things, so there are not a whole lot of death metalheads out there that listen to this band. Many of their songs tend towards the emotional side of things, telling spellbinding, but nevertheless twisted love stories.

My fiancee though, really likes this group. We considered seeing them in concert last Fall in Chicago, but money was a little tight. The band has been gaining in popularity ever since releasing a masterpiece of an album in The Black Halo. I thought their most recent album was a bit of a step backwards though, so I was not sure how the band would do on this release.

This album shows a bit of a renewed emphasis on melodic guitar melodies and solos. Roy Khan's voice is still the lead focus throughout most of the album, but the improved musicianship and musicicality of the songs has improved on this album.

The album, like previous Kamelot albums, has a strong story-telling aspect to it. It's not clear if all of the songs are connected, but they certainly feel like it. Not many of the songs truly stand out, although they are all reasonably strong.

All in all, this is a solid album. Kamelot fans know what they will be getting, and there is something to be said for consistency. I enjoy Kamelot, so I enjoy this album, but non-fans will still not be impressed.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Coming Posts

Quick update for stuff to look for in the coming days.

1. My fiancee bought me the newest albums from Kamelot and Helloween for Christmas, so I'll have a couple of Initial Impressions posts.

2. I have my annual year in review post which will probably go up on Saturday.

3. Year in Metal post for 1998 is coming.

Things are still progressing with the beginning of the new law firm. I apologize that I have not been able to post as much, but I have not had as much time to listen to new stuff. With any luck, by the end of January things will be back to normal.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Year in Metal: 1997

I know I say this a lot lately, but I really do intend to get back to posting more regularly. Starting up a law firm is a bit more work than I thought. I still do not have office space at this time. Once that is taken care of, perhaps things will be a little easier.

A concept album covering George A. Romero's zombie movies such as Night of the Living Dead and others, this album is all about zombies. On this album, Deceased... shed most of their death metal sound and went for a more thrash/heavy metal style. The vocals were still rough though. This is the band's masterpiece album, heavily melodic and powerful at the same time. Deceased... is one of the most underrated bands in American metal.

Australian blackened thrash metal masters Destroyer 666 released their first full-length album in 1997. This one is far closer to black metal than their more recent output, bearing a strong resemblance to acts like Blasphemy and Bestial Warlust. Tons of imitators sprang up after this album was released and the "war metal" scene was born.

One of the more popular Norwegian black metal albums ever, Emperor truly found their sound on this one. Featuring bombastic symphonic elements amidst the black metal riffing, Emperor truly came into their own here. Unfortunately, it was all downhill after this album. The only complaint I have about this album is that the vocals get a little buried, other than that, it's a great album.

One of the better albums from the band that was formed by Kai Hanson after leaving Helloween. This is German power/speed metal at its best. Melodic and infectious, Gamma Ray put out a great album at the height of this scene. This album holds up very well next to the best albums from Blind Guardian, Helloween, Hammerfall and other European power/speed metal albums.

The second In Flames album under Anders Friden was the first fully developed melodic death metal album by the band. In Flames had ditched most of the folk influences by this point and the result was a streamlined melodeath masterpiece. In Flames took over the throne as the top Gothenburg band with this album, but would lose it soon after to Dark Tranquillity.

HONORABLE MENTIONS: I had a hard time coming up with five albums. If I forgot something, I probably have not heard it enough.

BANDS THAT FORMED IN 1997: Akercocke, Finntroll.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Odd Career Turns: Samael

Lots of metal bands have had some bizarre changes in their sound over the years. Obviously there are groups like Metallica and Megadeth who began experimenting with a modern rock sound, but there are other less obvious bands as well.

The Swiss black metal band Samael formed sometime between the first and second waves of black metal. They began releasing full-length albums around the time Mayhem, Darkthrone, and others were beginning to be discovered. Samael's early albums were similar in sound to the Norwegian black metal sound and were generally well-received.

However, Samael was constantly evolving their sound. They were adding more and more industrial influences to their music. Potentially influenced by such acts as Nine Inch Nails or Ministry, the band's sound was morphing into something else entirely.

By the early 2000's Samael had fully emerged into an industrial metal band. But yet, they did it reasonably well. Their industrial albums were well-regarded as well. Obviously not by many of the same people who love their early black metal output, but Samael gained new fans and did not completely embarrass themselves by trying a new style.

Then, Samael released Above in 2009 and faster than they changed into an industrial metal band, they were back to being a black metal band.

I happen to enjoy both incarnations of Samael. But not many bands can claim they got in when black metal was big, changed to industrial metal, and then back to black metal, all without missing a beat.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Initial Impressions: Hail of Bullets: On Divine Winds

The death metal supergroup is back with its second full-length album. This time, Hail of Bullets retains their focus on World War II, but switches theaters to the Pacific. Martin Van Drunen, he of the inhuman yowling death metal vocals, returns to the mic along with Ed Warby of Gorefest, Theo Van Eekelen of Houwitzer, and Paul Baayens and Stephan Gebedi of Thanatos. The band once again follows closely the sound of Asphyx, Van Drunen's other band, in crafting amazing death metal masterpieces with touches of doom.

The album pretty much sounds like the last one. Which is not a problem at all for me, because it made my Top 10 the year it was released. I am not sure whether this one will make my Top 10 as I have not started putting it together yet, but there is definitely something to be said for rock-solid death metal.

The album definitely feels like the soundtrack to warfare, with the riffs having a steely, cannon fire atmosphere. The whole thing sounds mechanical and hostile. It is a malevolent, powerful force. Van Drunen's vocals simply add to the chaotic atmosphere.

This is a very strong album. Hail of Bullets is rising to the ranks as one of the top metal supergroups out there. I have only heard it once so far, but I am very impressed.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Initial Impressions: Limbonic Art: Phantasmagoria

I picked this one up last night while doing some Christmas shopping. I had heard of Limbonic Art before but never really heard them. I will be honest, the cover art really drew me in.

Limbonic Art is a symphonic black metal band, but unlike Dimmu Borgir's recent output, they are still focused on the black metal side of their sound. The band is made up of one member this time around, Daemon kicked out former member Morfeus in order to focus on creating this album, which is epic and malevolent.

Black metal riffs are often combined with Wagnerian symphonic sounds on this release. Some sections slow way down and the symphonic parts take over. But there are seldomly any parts where the black metal influences are not obvious.

This album is rich, dynamic and multi-layered. It has an absolutely massive sound. This album is what Dimmu Borgir has failed to put out this year. It is a great example of symphonic black metal.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Year in Metal: 1996

The Finnish band released this album, my personal favorite Amorphis album and the best combination of death metal and folk influences they have released in 1996. Featuring an amazing range of vocal dynamics, humppa-influenced riffing in spots, and some terrific solos, this is a great album. It also includes some of Amorphis's strongest songs to date.

It's not so much the music that makes this album so memorable. It's the manic vocal style of frontwoman Karyn Crisis. The music is fairly simple post-thrash/groove metal, but the vocals make this an over-the-top, frantic listening experience. Karyn Crisis can go from a whisper to a death growl to a high-pitched shriek all in the same vocal line. And she does this, frequently. Her tortured vocals definitely carry this album, which would be forgotten quickly otherwise.

Cryptopsy took the Suffocation sound and made it even more brutal. Not an easy task, but one in which Cryptopsy excelled at. They continued to push the boundaries of brutality in this landmark album. Forget the recent Cryptopsy releases, this is the one to pick up. It is unmatched in power and will leave your ears bleeding. The lyrics are actually fairly impressive as Lord Worm is an English teacher for his real life career, but you can't tell from the vocal style.

A unique album, in that there is only one song on the entire album. The song "Crimson" is a 40 minute masterpiece divided into several movements and telling the story of the end of humanity in the distant future. Edge of Sanity was a Swedish death metal/avant garde project of the great Dan Swano, who performed most of the music and supplied the vocals. With just one song, one would think it would start to drag or people would lose interest, however Swano does a magnificent job at keeping the attention of the listener. This is an incredible musical experience.

An early example of sludge metal. The hardcore and doom metal roots of the genre are clearly evident in this album. I did not care much for it at first, the vocals are very extreme and difficult to get used to, but this is an incredible album once it sinks in. Eyehategod are masters of making their bleak worldview known to the listener.

Honorable Mentions: Behemoth: Grom, Cannibal Corpse: Vile, Cradle of Filth: Darkness and Her Embrace, Dimmu Borgir: Stormblast, In Flames: The Jester Race, Opeth: Morningrise, Sepultura: Roots.

Bands that formed in 1996: Arch Enemy, Decapitated, God Forbid, Gojira, Hibria, Nightwish, Sonata Arctica, The Haunted, Within Temptation.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Initial Impressions: God Dethroned: Bloody Blasphemy

Well, I'm finally back full-time. My law office is coming around and I decided to buy a CD this week.

God Dethroned was one of the bands that I saw in concert with my fiancee last spring. They kind of sound like a more melodic version of recent Behemoth. It's definitely blackened death metal, with some thrash influences and plenty of melody. This is one of the band's earlier albums, having been released in 1999.

Still, the band's sound has not changed all that much. The songs are straightforward, no-nonsense blackened death. Lots of power and speed and some occasional melodies. Vocalist Henri Sattler has one of the better voices in this type of metal, very distinctive and powerful.

There are some clean vocals thrown in occasionally, including female vocals, that help to add to the melody.

God Dethroned has a new album coming out soon, and if it is anything like this one or their most recent, the only two God Dethroned albums I have heard to this point, then I am definitely there.