Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Debut Albums of Melodeath Leaders

It's kind of amazing how different the debut albums from the big three melodeath bands are from their most well-known material. We are talking about completely different styles, to the point that it is sometimes unrecognizable. At The Gates, Dark Tranquillity, and In Flames have each changed their sound a great deal since their debuts. It is kind of shocking just how much.

At The Gates is most often associated with their Slaughter of the Soul album, frequently considered the landmark melodeath album. That album was simple and straightforward death metal with melodies that was all about speed and brutality. The At The Gates on this album is a different animal. Some of the elements that would later bring them notoriety are present here, but the sound is much more raw. Several tracks feature melodic interludes performed by a violin, which adds a nice touch. Vocalist Tomas Lindberg's style is much more unrestrained, resembling more of a shriek than his later style. The songs are alos longer and have more of a progressive structure.

For some weird coincidence, In Flames's longtime vocalist Anders Friden serves as the vocalist on this release. Stanne is there, but he is simply playing the guitars this time around. He took over on the next EP. The atmosphere is significantly different than the band's later material and there are no electronic effects and keyboard parts. This is simply tremolo riff-based melodic death metal. The music has a much more chilling atmosphere than their later works. The band also experiments more with female vocals and more progressive song structures. This is one of my favorite Dark Tranquillity albums and the first one I ever heard.

Let us begin with the obvious: Mikael Stanne is the singer. That's right, the longtime Dark Tranquillity growler is handling vocal duties for In Flames on this release. So the vocals are a little bit more extreme this time around and a little less melodic. Stanne only really has two volumes on his roar: loud and louder. But more than that, the music features frequent melodic interludes which are occasionally acoustic. There are string sections that border on folk metal here that are completely absent from their later material. It is a major change from their later stuff, but this is a terrific album.

My 100 Favorite Metal Bands Pt. 63: Krisiun

Brutality thy name is Krisiun. The Brazilian band is made up of three brothers that basically picks up where Sepultura left off after Schizophrenia. With an extreme death metal sound and pounding drums, Krisiun pulls no punches and takes no prisoners. Krisiun is a death metal juggernaut plain and simple. There is not much room for melody here as the band's primary purpose is to crush some skulls. And they succeed.


Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Discography: In Flames

In Flames is obviously a very important band in the melodeath scene. They were also a favorite band of mine for several years shortly after I discovered them.

In Flames's debut full-length is the only one in which Mikael Stanne appears as vocalist. In a bizarre coincidence, Stanne's longtime band Dark Tranquillity featured later In Flames's vocalist Anders Friden on vocals for their early material. That's not the only difference between this album and the band's later material though. This one also featured some almost folk metal moments with string instruments playing a role at times. This is a very impressive debut.

The first album with Anders Friden as vocalist is a melodeath masterpiece. It is still not my favorite album by the band, but it is certainly up there. This is for the most part death metal with a melodic sensibility. It was at this time that the moniker melodeath was really accurate. Some of the earlier folk elements were still present, but this was basically the first real In Flames album.

In Flames continued to streamline their sound on this release from the last one. This is much more representative of the style that the band helped popularize and showed the band's ability to write catchy songs that still had a strong death metal influence. Their Iron Maiden-like riffing style had been perfected with this release and the band would continue to improve.

This is my favorite In Flames album. Everything was working perfectly on this release. The music was clearly death metal based with strong influences from much more melodic styles of metal. The songs were all infectious as hell. The instrumentation was impressive and Friden sounded amazing. This is the perfect In Flames album.

At this time, In Flames was beginning to see some increase in popularity. This is something of a transition album. The music was still clearly on the melodeath side of things, but the band's pop sensibility was beginning to take over quite a bit. The band was making a conscious effort to reaching as vast an audience as they could. But this is still an impressive release.

My first In Flames album is seen by a lot of people as their sellout release, and in some ways it certainly was. Gone for the most part was a lot of the death metal influence. In Flames kept their catchy songwriting ability intact, but this album was far closer to nu metal and alternative metal styles. It is still not a bad release because the songs were still very good. As my first release by the band, I have kind of a soft spot for this release.

Pretty much exactly the same as their previous album, only this time In Flames had gone even further away from death metal. Their exposure to the mainstream had given them a taste of major success and In Flames definitely wanted more. The songs were even shorter and tighter this time around, leaving very little room for experimentation of any type. I still kind of like this one though.

On this release, In Flames made a conscious effort to try to recapture some of the old melodeath feel. What resulted was an album that basically combined Reroute to Remain with Clayman. It was an admirable effort and there are certainly some impressive songs on this album. However, some of the magic was gone. It felt a little uneven at times. It was clear that In Flames was really beginning to lose it.

And there it went. This is the album that caused me to give up on the band. I had heard leading into it that it was a further step in the right direction. I do not remember who told me that, but they were delusional. This is basically modern rock. Even the band's logo and artwork reflect a desire to sound like the crap heard on modern rock radio. There were only a couple of salvageable songs on here. Too bad.

I have not yet summoned the desire to hear their newest release. I am not sure I want to. The one song I have heard takes all the bad things from their last one and amplifies them. I am not sure I want to hear that.

My 100 Favorite Metal Bands Pt. 62: Kreator

I have mentioned several times that I am a big fan of thrash metal, it is perhaps my favorite metal genre. As such, I feel that the German scene is just as good, if not better than the Bay Area scene when it comes to prime thrash metal scenes. Kreator is one of the Big 3 of German thrash, and I go back and forth as to whether I prefer them or Sodom from this particular scene. Certainly the vocal style of Mille Petrozza is the biggest strength for Kreator, and their extremely brutal style of thrash is definitely unique.


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Initial Impressions: Scar Symmetry: The Unseen Empire

It's kind of sad really. Scar Symmetry had a lot of promise. They released three great albums of Gothenburg-styled melodeath early on last decade. Lead by the incredible vocal talents of Christian Alvestam and the songwriting skills of Jonas Kjellgren, Scar Symmetry blended styles of metal with a remarkable pop sensibility. Unfortunately, Alvestam was involved in a lot of other projects and was not interested in making Scar Symmetry his main band.

After Alvestam left, the band continued, bringing on two singers, one clean and the other extreme to make up for the loss of what Alvestam could do himself. The result was the lackluster Dark Matter Dimensions. I was hoping it was a misstep, one that would be corrected with time and a new album. Unfortunately, I was wrong.

The problem starts with the production. This is too polished to the point that it sounds sterile. There is no power to it. It is produced the way a pop album would be, which does not fit death metal, melodic or otherwise.

The songwriting is not impressive this time around either. There are a few decent tracks here, but it does not break any new ground. This album just recycles old ideas from prior Scar Symmetry albums. The songs have also lost a lot of the progressive structures that made the band's first three albums interesting. It's not that this is a bad album, it just is not what I hoped it would be.

When all is said and done, this is just a run of the mill melodeath album. Unfortunately, Scar Symmetry used to be so much more. It's kind of sad, really.

My 100 Favorite Metal Bands Pt. 61: Judas Priest

Like Iron Maiden from yesterday, Judas Priest is a metal "sacred cow". The band is also one of the most highly influential groups in metal history. Priest is also one of the first bands to really identify with the metal label, as noted in "Metal Gods". Priest gave metal a look, granted the story behind the look is not flattering to a lot of fans, nevertheless leather and spikes became the metal look. Beyond all that of course is the music. Priest took Sabbath's sound and gave it speed and power. They were directly influential on the NWOBHM scene and even popularized the dual guitar attack. Rob Halford is one of the better singers metal has ever had.


Monday, June 27, 2011

New Poll: What is Your Favorite Melodeath Band?

Just pick one. I am sure I left off plenty, but I wanted to get the major bands and threw Scar Symmetry on there because they are probably the best newer melodeath band. Obviously, not everyone likes this genre, that's understandable.

My First Melodeath Experiences

As I mentioned yesterday, melodeath was a bit of a gateway for me into international metal. I became aware of it through an issue of Metal Hammer that had reviews of Dark Tranquillity and other bands, which ultimately lead me to start listening to some of the groups therein. Melodeath is a gateway to a lot of people, and many of them abandon the genre some time later. I never really did, although I am not as into it as I was.

I mentioned yesterday that this was my first melodeath album. I found it oddly in the University Bookstore, and it was the combined album and EP. Unfortunately, this is the only Dark Tranquillity album that really sounds like this. All the rest of their material has taken on a fuller sound, with little of the tremolo riffing that I enjoyed so much from this release. Initially when I picked up my next Dark Tranquillity album, the change in sound disappointed me quite a bit, though I grew to appreciate it over time. The different vocalists kind of surprised me, but I found myself enjoying the different styles each singer used. This is still one of my favorite albums from the genre.

This was the album that started the real downward turn in Soilwork's career. Although I really had no idea because I had never really heard the band before. Being somewhat into nu-metal and other mainstream styles of metal at the time I heard this, I thought the mix of alternative metal and melodic death metal was rather impressive. The songs are definitely infectious on this release. At this time, the more mainstream sound worked and Soilwork actually crafted a decent album. Although they would falter later. Soilwork was never a band I cared much for beyond this album. I do have one of their other albums, but did not get that until melodeath was not as big of a deal to me. I would have probably liked it quite a bit more otherwise.

I picked this one up the day before I went on a family vacation to Colorado, the summer before I went to law school. I always used to like to buy a couple of albums before vacations and listen to them in the car for the first time. I remember being quite impressed with In Flames on this album, even though this is a much-hated album in their discography. Like the Soilwork release, I was rather impressed with the blend of melodic death metal and alternative metal. Also, like the Soilwork album, I had nothing to compare it to. I had no other albums by In Flames and, at the time, I was not aware of their connection to Dark Tranquillity.

My 100 Favorite Metal Bands Pt. 60: Iron Maiden

I went through a major Iron Maiden obsession in late high school/early college. I even contributed a review to their then-new Brave New World for my History of Rock and Roll class (yes you read that correctly). My love for their material of the 1980's with Bruce Dickinson behind the mic has never really dissipated. Iron Maiden is without a doubt one of the most influential metal bands ever and are one of the genres "sacred cows". There's very little negative discussion about their prime-era material. And for good reason. The band simply put out great album after great album. Iron Maiden is a legendary band.


Sunday, June 26, 2011

Discography: Dark Tranquillity

Dark Tranquillity was the first melodeath band I discovered. My initial discovery of the band was due to a review of Projector I found in an issue of Metal Hammer. I was intrigued by what I had read and eventually found an album by the band in the same place I found the magazine, oddly enough the University Bookstore. That album was Skydancer, and I was hooked.

Dark Tranquillity's debut album finds the band in a much different sound than their later material. The sound is a little more open, less dense, and more ethereal. The band relied a lot on tremolo riffs at the time, which were played quickly and formed the major melodies of the band. The other obvious difference was that Anders Friden was the singer on this material. His higher pitched vocals form a stark contrast to the later works with Mikael Stanne.

Yes it's an EP, but it is still very important in Dark Tranquillity's discography. For one, it is the first recording with Mikael Stanne on vocals. For a second reason, it is often included along with the Skydancer album. The music was much the same as on the prior album, but it was darker. DT even re-recorded "Alone" for the album.

Dark Tranquillity's landmark album and one of the greatest melodeath albums ever. This was the album on which Dark Tranquillity really discovered their sound, a more distorted and darker version of their earlier material. Dark Tranquillity was also able to fully realize their ability to write tighter and punchier songs that were still just as infectious as that of their earlier stuff.

I will be honest. I have not heard this one, so I cannot really comment on it.

This album found the band experimenting a little bit more than their much more straightforward earlier material. Dark Tranquillity began using some more electronic elements and keyboard work. Mikael Stanne also started experimenting with some haunting clean vocals. His work was quite impressive, particularly on the slower tracks. This is the most diverse Dark Tranquillity album in my opinion.

On this release, Stanne for the most part abandoned the clean vocal style. A little bit disappointing in my view personally, but the music remained basically the same. Experimentation with keyboards and electronic elements continued and would be a major part of the band's sound from this point on. This was actually the second album I heard from the band, and despite my initial disappointment due to the differences from their debut, I eventually grew to love it just as much.

For the most part, the band's 2002 album was virtually identical to their prior album. Dark Tranquillity had settled on a new sound that was characterized less by tremolo riffing style and more by an atmospheric and heavy version of the style of riffing the band once made popular. Keyboards were heavily prevalent and Stanne's vocal style was for the most part a deep guttural roar.

Another landmark album for the band and often considered their greatest album of their newer sound. The songs were catchy and aggressive and retained the sound that Dark Tranquillity had been working to perfect for the last several albums. This version of Dark Tranquillity bears little resemblance to that of The Gallery other than Stanne's vocals, but was great in its own way.

This is the first Dark Tranquillity album that I remember not being blown away by or eventually learning to love. The sound is basically the same as their prior album, but it does not add anything new or different and it does not improve at all on anything from earlier. It is just sort of there. Dark Tranquillity was spinning their wheels on this one unfortunately.

And unfortunately, the band did not improve on this release either. The band sounds tired and none of the songs really stand out. It's time for something new for the band or they will continue to go down the same route as countrymen and fellow melodeath bands Soilwork and In Flames. I hope they figure it out soon.

My 100 Favorite Metal Bands Pt. 59: Insomnium

Fitting in with melodeath week, we come to Finnish band Insomnium. Insomnium plays a slower and much more morose brand of melodeath. Their music is somber and sad, dealing with painful loss and sorrow. Nevertheless, the band's music is simply incredible. It's honestly spine-tingling and powerful. Everyone should be aware of this band.


It's Melodeath Week

Hello all. I will be spending much of this week covering topics related to melodeath, that much-maligned genre from Sweden. Melodeath is important to me because it was a style that really introduced me to metal from other countries. I will be covering some of the important bands from the genre and some underrated gems. I hope you enjoy it.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

My 100 Favorite Metal bands Pt. 58: Incantation

Incantation arose around the same time as bands like Immolation, Cannibal Corpse, Suffocation, and others. They were clearly influenced by the occult death metal sounds of Morbid Angel, but they took this influence to the extreme. They are heavier, with more jagged riffs, and a murkier atmosphere than Morbid Angel. And that's really saying something. Incantation is the sound of evil, plain and simple. Unfortunately, it has been this extremity that has banished them deep in the underground, only devoted death metal fans are really familiar with the band. I'm pretty sure though that Incantation would not have it any other way.


Friday, June 24, 2011

My 100 Favorite Metal Bands Pt. 57: In Flames

Yes, they pretty much suck now, but In Flames's early material is as good as any melodic death metal band that ever existed. I actually first started listening to the band with their Reroute to Remain album, and I do still enjoy it quite a bit. That's probably why I still enjoy their newer material up until A Sense of Purpose. Nevertheless, it's their early material that really takes the cake. Their mix of Iron Maiden-esque riffs played with a death metal flair and growled vocals was extremely impressive and groundbreaking at the time.


Thursday, June 23, 2011

Flow Chart

A law school colleague of mine sent this to me today. It's not 100% accurate, but pretty interesting nonetheless.

Initial Impressions: The Gates of Slumber: The Wretch

I have been an advocate for this band for a few years now. Ever since I discovered Conqueror, which was an incredible mix of 1980's style heavy metal and traditional doom, with enough catchy songs to keep me coming back for more. The Gates of Slumber then blew me away again with their next album, Hymns of Blood and Thunder, so it their most recent album from this year was heavily anticipated.

The Gates of Slumber have come through yet again. The band seems to keep getting better. "The Wretch" is their best album that I have yet heard, which is saying quite a bit because each of their last two have been Top 10 of the Year-worthy albums. This one looks to be in that range again this year.

The thing that I think makes The Gates of Slumber such a great band is that their music never sounds forced. They are not playing this type of traditional, old school-sounding metal because it is popular or profitable. They play this because they seem to genuinely enjoy playing it. That comes across very well in their sound. All of their songs are crafted perfectly and easily capture the spirit of the music that the band seems to really love. This is absolutely not "hipster metal", it is heavy metal, plain and simple.

Once again, TGoS have put out an album that is a mix between traditional doom in the style of Cirith Ungol, Trouble, and Candlemass, mixed with 1980's metal bands like Exciter, Manilla Road, and Brocas Helm. Their lyrical themes may be a little cliche at times, but that is all part of the charm, and with music as good as this, it really does not matter anyway. Each song is infectious and done with a sense of fun rather than an overbearing morbidity like many other doom bands.

The Gates of Slumber has once more impressed me. This is easily Top 10-worthy for the year and possibly their best album yet.

My 100 Favorite Metal Bands Pt. 56: Impiety

Impiety was also discussed earlier, being my favorite Singaporean metal band. Impiety sounds like they would have been at home in the South American black/thrash scene in the 1980's along with Sarcofago, Vulcano, and Holocausto, or even in the Australian "war metal" scene along with Bestial Warlust, Abominator, and Destroyer 666. They have that same raw and filthy vibe to them. Their music is all about aggression, plain and simple. It's chaotic noise and there never really is a respite in an Impiety album.


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

My 100 Favorite Metal Bands Pt. 55: Impaled Nazarene

Impaled Nazarene, or ImpNaz, is one of the most aggressive bands I have heard. The Finnish black metal band has been around since the early 1990's and has never really deviated far from their raw and filthy punk-oriented style, although they have experimented a bit with some outside sounds. Many of their lyrics show a bit of a humorous side, each album features a song about pigs or goats or some farm animal or other. Their songs are catchy as hell and fly by at a lightning-quick pace. This is not a band that slows down for anything.


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

My 100 Favorite Metal Bands Pt. 54: Immortal

Immortal was covered recently as my favorite metal band from Norway. The band has been around for quite a long time, as one of the leading groups in the second wave of Norwegian black metal. Their sound is much more chaotic and thrashy than some of their fellow groups. That is probably the reason I like them better. Their early material was so fast that guitarist Demonaz developed a condition in his arm that greatly limited his ability to play the material. Thus, Immortal plays a slower style now, but their intensity and ferocity has never wavered. Immortal recently reunited and look like they will continue to put out good music for the foreseeable future.


Monday, June 20, 2011

I'm Back

I just returned from Mexico late last night. I originally planned to jump right back into things today, but I had a lot to catch up at work. So, the Favorite Metal Bands countdown will continue tomorrow. The trip was a blast and the wedding went off basically without a hitch. I guess that's the best you can hope for.

Anyway, to hold you over, here is a video of the song my wife and I danced to for our first dance: Scorpions: "When You Came Into My Life"

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Last Post for Awhile

I am getting married this Saturday and then going on my honeymoon next week, so this is my last post until I get back. When I do, I will continue with the Top 100 and a couple of Initial Impressions posts and I have something special planned. I will see you all around the 20th.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

My 100 Favorite Metal Bands Pt. 53: Immolation

Immolation was a part of the fantastic death metal scene in New York in the late 1980's and early 1990's. They were a bit more of a darker band, with clear influences from Morbid Angel among others. Immolation is an incredibly heavy band with a very dark and sinister atmosphere. Another interesting aspect of this band is their incredible consistency. In fact, Immolation has continued to get better, even though they have been around for more than 20 years.


Monday, June 6, 2011

My 100 Favorite Metal Bands Pt. 52: Iced Earth

Iced Earth is the U.S.'s answer to Iron Maiden and Blind Guardian. The thrash/power metal band has been around for a long time and, up until recently, consistently put out great releases. The only real issue with the band is the revolving door behind the mic. Matt Barlow is the most recognizable voice for the band, but Ripper Owens and others have previously occupied the spot, which is now taken by Into Eternity's Stu Block. Jon Schaeffer has always been the driving force behind the band though, and his distinctive galloping Maiden-esque riff is so identifiable that anyone can instantly recognize an Iced Earth song.