Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Initial Impressions: Fleshgod Apocalypse: Agony

I reviewed Fleshgod Apocalypse's most recent EP earlier and highly enjoying what I heard, I was very much anticipating this new album. The Italian band did not let me down.

The opening track is an instrumental that sets the stage for the crashing frenzy of the first proper song. The intro is made up of some impressive orchestral buildup. The orchestral elements then continue throughout the rest of the album. It is a major part of the band's sound, but it is not overdone as Dimmu Borgir has become guilty of. Fleshgod Apocalypse does a fantastic job of making the orchestral sections sound completely natural, as if death metal and symphony orchestras had always worked together. Not many other bands could have pulled this off. In fact, the entire album has the feel of an epic metal orchestra.

The more metallic portion of the band's music is basically progressive death metal. The vocals are delivered in a rough, fairly typical death metal growl. However, there are moments of clean singing which sound an awful lot like ICS Vortex's clean parts in Dimmu Borgir. That was probably the idea and it comes across great here. The clean vocals soar over the utterly bombastic music.

All told, this is a very interesting album. The music is fantastic and everything works well together. Fleshgod Apocalypse are a rising young band and have a very bright future.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Initial Impressions: Revocation: Chaos of Forms

The re-emergence of thrash metal over the last decade has resulted in bands of varying quality. The best bands are those that are not simply rehashing past sounds. Revocation is one of these bands.

Revocation is not simply a thrash metal band. For one, they are far more technical, drawing most of their thrash metal influences from groups like Heathen, Watchtower, and others. The band also has significant death metal influences from other technical groups like Atheist and later Death that shine through at times.

Revocation has built on the success of their last album and has become more complex and interesting music-wise. They play around with some gang vocals at times and some non-metal influenced moments such as a heavily jazz-inflected instrumental toward the end of the album. This is most certainly not a recycled thrash metal album from the 1980's. Revocation incorporate their diverse influences into a fluid and ever-changing monster of a sound.

If there is one complaint about this band, it's the vocals. The vocal style is unwavering metalcore-ish shouting. It just does not really fit the more forward-thinking style of metal present in the music.

Revocation definitely make a lot of noise. This is an extremely vicious full-on attack from the young band. The future of the band looks bright. Hopefully they will adopt a different style of vocals and they can rise to the top of the American metal scene.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Initial Impressions: Septicflesh: The Great Mass

I really enjoyed Septicflesh's last album, and I really enjoy this one. However, I think the band is starting to lose their identity a little bit. When I think of a Greek extreme metal band with some symphonic elements, but not overpowering the music, Rotting Christ is the first band that comes to mind. This is not to say Septicflesh sounds exactly like Rotting Christ, but this album is a little too close.

Of course, I am a huge Rotting Christ fan, so this album definitely does it for me. But as I said, there are definite differences that set Septicflesh apart from Rotting Christ. For one, Septicflesh exists more on the death metal side of the metal continuum, whereas Rotting Christ is more of a black metal band at their core. Secondly, Septicflesh's symphonic elements make up more of their sound than Rotting Christ. The band is much more of a symphonic extreme metal band, somewhat in line with groups like Dimmu Borgir. And I have now unintentionally referenced both bands listed on the "For Fans of:" sticker on the cover.

This is definitely an epic, dark album. The music is almost eerie. Definitely pluses in my book. It's almost like a dark horror movie soundtrack. Something supernatural and otherworldly with sinister and evil elements. That is just the kind of visual effect I get by listening to this album.

The only downside is that this album is missing a "Sunlight Moonlight". The song from their last album was almost romantic and pop-inflected. There is no counterpart on this album, which is fine, but I really enjoyed that song and wondered if the band could replicate its success.

Despite the similarities to Rotting Christ and Dimmu Borgir, Septicflesh retain their own identity, at least for now. This is a very impressive album, possibly better even than their last.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Underrated Album: Meshuggah: Contradictions Collapse

It's kind of hard to label a Meshuggah album as underrated as the band has their fanboys who slobber over virtually everything they have ever done, but notice the word "virtually". Now, I have made clear that Meshuggah is not one of my favorite bands, they did not rate at all on my Top 100 list, nor were they mentioned in my honorable mentions post. But this album is an exception to that as well.

This album has only been reviewed once on the Encyclopedia Metallum, as opposed to at least ten on each of their other albums. It is certainly an overlooked album in Meshuggah's catalog. Perhaps this is because it came before the band really achieved their trademark sound. But it is almost criminal.

Controversial opinion: This is Meshuggah's best album.

At the time of this album, Meshuggah was more of a technical thrash metal band, rather than the more groove-oriented technical sound they have popularized. It is the riffs that really drive this album. It is not as impressive from a musical theory standpoint as their later work with the drum polyrhythms and all that other stuff, but the guitar riffs are simply incredible. Guitarist Fredrik Thordendahl is the big star of the album, able to switch from riff to riff with ease.

In addition, this is the rawest the band has ever sounded. It is not nearly as mechanical-sounding as their later work and actually sounds like a group of humans have produced it rather than a machine.

In short, I am not the biggest Meshuggah fan in the world. Some readers may discount my opinion because of it, but this is definitely my favorite album by the band. And it is unfortunate that it is so obscure.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Initial Impressions: Demonical: Death Infernal

I saw this CD one day while browsing for something interesting and I almost did not pick it up. The album cover attracted my attention, so I knew that it would be metal. However, the name of the band threw me off. Demonical is kind of a nonsensical word and I had concerns that this would just be a deathcore album. Pretty far from it actually. In actuality, this is pure Swedish death.

Demonical was formed from former members of Centinex, a band I was familiar with, but never really checked out. The band has actually been around for some time, this is their third album, but for some reason I was not aware of them. But I am pretty glad I decided to pick this one up.

As I mentioned, this is pure Swedish death. Think the earliest albums by groups like Entombed, Dismember, and Grave for reference points. Grave in particular, because the vocal style is the same very deep guttural roar that Grave's early work was particularly known for. The band pulls off the buzzsaw guitar riffing style that the scene made popular and all of the songs are fast and furious. There are melodic moments, guitar leads and solos play a major role in a lot of the songs, so this is not pure brutality all the way through.

This is a highly recommended album for those that miss the early Swedish death masterpieces.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Initial Impressions: Autopsy: Macabre Eternal

Not all reunion albums are this good. There have been several in recent years that have been major disappointments. As such, I am sometimes wary of the reunion albums but ultimately check them out anyway. There was absolutely no reason to be apprehensive this time, despite the fact that Autopsy has not released a new album since 1995. They did put out some hints that they would be back with a vengeance over the last couple of years, and that prophecy has been fulfilled.

Above all, this album is fun. If you like a good zombie movie without a whole lot of serious implications that is just mindless horror violence, then this is the kind of album for you. With song titles like "Dirty Gore Whore" and "Bludgeoned and Brained", there is really no other way to describe it. Mindless horror violence, indeed.

Musically, this is the kind of old-school death metal album that we just do not get graced with too often anymore. It reminds me of the Denial Fiend debut a few years back, in that there is plenty of horror imagery, but the band just sounds like they were having an absolute blast playing it. It's almost cartoonish. But then that is the charm of this kind of album. Nobody really takes it seriously. It's entertainment plain and simple. The band members know how to play their instruments, but all of that is just secondary.

This is absolutely one of the most fun death metal albums I have heard in a long time. Welcome back Autopsy.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Interview with Bitter End

Recently I was given an opportunity to review the album of unreleased material from obscure thrash metal band Bitter End. I decided to take the chance to submit some questions to the band about themselves and their interesting history. Read on:

1. Who is Bitter End and what are you all about?

MF: Bitter End was formed in 1985 by me (Matt) and my brother Chris Fox along with our neighbor and badass drummer Harry Dearinger. We were all influenced by the NWOBHM groups, as well as the speed metal bands that were becoming popular at the time, as well as the heavy rock and progressive rock of the late 1960's and early/mid 1970's. Chris and I had lived in Southern California for a couple of years, and had seen the original lineup of Metallica in 1982, Slayer in 1983, and other bands such as Armored Saint and Malice, too. We moved back to Seattle in late 1983, and brought those influences with us.

After a couple of years of woodshedding and writing, Bitter End began playing live shows in 1987. After an unsuccessful attempt to find a lead signer, I took on vocal duties later that year. I became very active in the DIY self-promotion/tape trading scene at the time, and this eventually led to a small international following, which in turn led to a record deal with Metal Blade Records in 1989. Russ Stefanovich joined shortly before the Harsh Realities record was produced in February of 1990, and the group continued playing until 1992, when we broke up. The band members all moved on to other interests, though most of us continued on with other groups/projects.

2. There has not been a Bitter End album in over 20 years. What made you decide to release this record now as opposed to a few years earlier?

MF: Russ was in a band called the Midnight Idols who were on Metal on Metal Records, and mentioned to them that there was some unreleased Bitter End material. They were interested in putting it out, and given that there is a whole lot of interest right now in older bands from that era it just seemed like the time was right to put it out for those people who wanted to hear it.

3. As I understand, most of this material is left over from the last album. Is there any new music coming? How does it compare to your earlier work?

MF: A lot of this material was actually written after Harsh Realities was done, and would have comprised our second album. At this point, since Chris lives halfway across the country and all of the former members of the group have kids/jobs/etc, we are not writing new Bitter End material at this time. Russ is forming a new project that will likely continue on with the sort of classic metal/speedy guitar oriented stuff he is known for. I am currently in a band called Zero Down that also has a NWOBHM-influenced sound and is in the middle of recording a new record that will be available later this year.

4. Your music sounds a bit like Heathen-meets-Anthrax, sort of a technical party-thrash, if you will. What were your influences in deciding to create music?

MF: Me and Chris grew up on 1960's and 1970's classic guitar rock such as Cream, Zeppelin, Hendrix, etc, and later got into other later groups like Thin Lizzy, UFO, Judas Priest, and all of the NWOBHM stuff before the new wave of American speed metal groups came out in the early/mid 1980's. Harry and Russ had similar influences, and Bitter End hired Russ when he came in to audition and nailed a ton of Randy Rhoads and Yngwie stuff note-for-note, but what really sealed the deal was that he also shared our progressive influences and could also shred "Hocus Pocus" by Focus and "Race With Devil On Spanish Highway" by Al DiMeola - which showed that he was no generic shredder and had a style and set of influences that were all his own.

With regard to the band's influences, we definitely were a lot less punk and/or thrash oriented than a lot of other groups then or now, and I definitely liked guys who could sing a lot more than I did grunters and/or total screamers.

5. Your band is originally from Seattle in the 1980's, so you kind of had a front-row seat to witness the rise of grunge. Was there any fair warning that grunge would soon take over hard music radio and television?

MF: This is an interesting question. We actually played a lot of shows with bands like Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, The Derelicts, Coffin Break, etc and it was pretty common for different groups to mix things up like that in Seattle at that time. We always knew that Bitter End was more of a metal band than other more hard rock and/or punk groups, and that this would sort of limit the amount of mainstream radio play we'd get. That said, I think that Soundgarden and Alice were straight up hard rock bands, and that the "grunge" label really didn't apply to them in the way that it did to groups like Mudhoney or the Fluid.

Here's a funny story - I was at the Foundation Forum metal industry convention in LA in 1990 or 1991, and someone commented at one of the panels that the future of hard rock was going to be a fusion with dance music like Janet Jackson's single "Black Cat" which was out at the time. Everyone laughed her off, but boy was she right and were we wrong (unfortunately!).

6. Matt, I understand that you were friends with Layne Staley of Alice in Chains and were once offered to join his band. What can you tell us about that?

MF: I was good friends with all of the Alice guys, and was actually the first writer in Seattle to cover them when I was writing for Backlash (Susan Silver once told me that she heard about them from that article and that's what led her to manage them). There was a point when Alice was considering getting a second guitar player, and I was one of the leading candidates along with Tom McMullen/Gunn (later of War Babies and now with Gunn and the Damage Done) and Jimmy Paulson (later with the Lemons and New American Shame). As it turned out, Jerry decided that he could do it himself, which I think worked out pretty well for them. Every so often, I'll still see Sean K. and he'll ask if I remember that I almost joined the band. Um, yeah, I do!

7. I have once argued that Metallica's Black Album was equally responsible as the rise of grunge in pushing metal, particularly thrash metal, back into the underground. Do you have any thoughts on that?

I wouldn't necessarily go that far - I think that metal tends to be popular in cycles, and that it usually fades in and out of the popular consciousness. Truth to tell, though, most of the speed/thrash metal stuff was sort of self-limiting in terms of how widely popular it could get - Slayer are a great band, but you're never going to hear them on most rock radio stations, so they rely on the classic metal business model of building their following through touring and direct contact with the fans, and fly under the mainstream radar for the most part.

Another story - I went to a special pre release party for the Black Album when it came out, and I couldn't stand it! I wanted the old fast Metallica, and thought it was way to mainstream and mid-paced for my liking. I've since come around somewhat, and think that "Sad But True" in particular is a great song, but it'll never be my favorite Metallica record.

8. Thanks for the interview. Please take this opportunity to promote your album.

Thanks so much for your interest in Bitter End and our music, and for giving us this opportunity to connect with your readers!

Matt Fox

Monday, August 15, 2011

Reader Submission: Meliah Rage: Dead to the World

The album's name may be a reference to the band's overall status with music fans around the world. Despite being around since the mid 1980's and putting out eight full-length albums, Meliah Rage just is not a well-known band. They are just one of those bands whose release of a new album elicits a "they're still around?" response. Part of that may be geography, being a metal band from Boston which is not known for producing a lot of good metal bands, but another part may be that they have put out unspectacular, yet reasonably solid albums for years. They just have not released anything to separate them from the pack unfortunately.

This album continues that string. Once again, Meliah Rage have released a perfectly good album. It's catchy, but it simply does not forge any new ground.

Meliah Rage plays a mix of thrash metal and American power metal. Which means that this has some pretty aggressive riffwork as well as quite a bit of melody. Again, this is American power metal, so it is not overly flowery and cheesy. It retains just enough of a hard edge, and of course the thrash metal riffs certainly help as well. It is definitely a 1980's-sounding metal album, and there is nothing wrong with that.

Things get off to a great start with the fist-pumper "Up in Flames". The band retains this high degree of energy throughout most of the album, slowing down occasionally for a short melodic interlude or chorus section. "Valley of the Shadowless Souls" is the highlight of the album, with some powerful riffs, a strong melody, and some of the most interesting vocals on the release. Most of the rest of the songs fall in line at a medium speed. The band does not deviate far from their comfort zone.

The musicianship is impressive. The guitars really drive the album, which is fairly typical for this style of metal. There are some pretty good riffs present and some damn good guitar solos. The bass plays a very strong role in the music and can be heard thundering along with the riffs. The drums are also doing some interesting patterns.

Overall, this is yet another solid release from Meliah Rage. Unfortunately it is probably not going to break the band to a wider audience. Fans of Nevermore and Iced Earth will probably enjoy it.

Bands Left Off the Top 100

Okay, so now that I am done with the Top 100, I wanted to take a quick moment to reflect on some of the groups that were left off. Even with 100 bands, there were several that I really like that I just did not have room for. So with that in mind, here are some bands that were difficult to leave off:

SABBAT (English band and Japanese band)

Thoughts? Other bands I forgot or that you are surprised were not present?

Saturday, August 13, 2011

My 100 Favorite Metal Bands Pt. 100: Voivod

This is it. Several months of posts and we are at the last band. Finally.

Voivod is weird. I am not sure there is any better word for it. Beginning as a punk/thrash metal band and progressively adding in more and more unusual structures, dissonant riffs, and sci-fi weirdness, Voivod has never really stayed in one place on the musical spectrum for long. Which may cause a loss of identity for almost any other band. Not for Voivod. Evolution is sort of the name of the game for this Canadian group and very few metal bands have done a better job of it over the years. Unfortunately with the death of guitar/songwriting mastermind Piggy a few years, Voivod has seemingly lost a major creative spark. Only time will tell if they are able to overcome this devastating loss. I think it's about damn time some of the band's classic albums get reissued.


Friday, August 12, 2011

My 100 Favorite Metal Bands Pt. 99: Venom

Venom is hugely influential on a variety of styles of metal. Rising out of the NWOBHM, Venom was much faster, more raw, and apparently evil. The band's stage show was an influence on black metal with their over-the-top faux-Satanic lyrics. More than anything, that stage show just displayed the twisted sense of humor that would come to characterize Cronos and company. Venom also had a major influence on the formation of thrash metal, so of course I am completely on board.


Thursday, August 11, 2011

My 100 Favorite Metal Bands Pt. 98: Vader

Vader is an absolutely crushing band. Often straddling the line between thrash metal and death metal, the Polish group is 100% brutality. Their music often has a fair bit of groove to it, but make no mistake, this is not a groove metal band. Vader is fast and heavy as hell. Their songs are remarkably catchy for a band of this style. Vocalist Peter has a distinctive style, which is that of a vicious, snarling roar. Listening to their music is like being attacked by a rabid animal, it is aggressive, chaotic, and deadly. Also important is that the band can translate this menace into a live show very well.


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

My 100 Favorite Metal Bands Pt. 97: Type O Negative

I will never forget my first impression of Type O Negative. I was in middle school, and was vaguely aware that there was a band out there with that name. I was up late one night and caught their video on some weird show on FX. The video was "Black No. 1" and the it was a black and white video with occasional colors once in awhile. What drew my attention though was frontman Peter Steele (R.I.P.) playing a string bass which he held in his arms like a guitar. Steele was a mountain of a frontman cutting a tremendously imposing presence, with a deep voice to match. Plus the song was good too. I was hooked after that. I have not always been as enamored with their later work through the years, but everything up through Bloody Kisses is an absolute classic.


Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Thoughts on the New Anthrax Song

Go here to listen for yourself.

I was not originally planning on checking out the new Anthrax album too much. I have not liked anything the band has done for about fifteen years and I was not expecting to like this either. Anthrax has never been one of my favorite bands, and in fact they did not make it into my Top 100 at all, despite my secondary title being the name of an Anthrax song. However, this song is awesome. Maybe not as great as their mid 1980's material, but it's pretty damn good. It's upbeat and heavy, but still catchy. Anthrax is not trying to be a modern rock band here. This is the thrashiest I have heard them in years. I may have to check this out after all.

My 100 Favorite Metal Bands Pt. 96: Thornafire

Thornafire, like Apophis, is a band that I discovered a could not believe that more people were not listening to them. The Chilean death metal band has a terrific modern take on old-school death metal. Sounding like a cross between Death, Immolation, and Morbid Angel, but without sounding like they are trying to be a retro death metal band, Thornafire just has a great grasp on the music. Their latest album is in Spanish which does hurt the band just a little bit, but they should still be sought out.


Monday, August 8, 2011

My 100 Favorite Metal Bands Pt. 95: The Gates of Slumber

Over the last several years, traditional metal has made a major comeback. The Gates of Slumber is quite possibly the best of these groups who are looking back to their forebears. The Gates of Slumber though does things differently. There is a much more authentic feel to their music than many other groups. It is this authenticity that makes them a much more interesting group. They are gifted songwriters and can even make a ten minute song seem catchy. I have been more and more impressed with each subsequent TGoS album since their 2008 release. The band is truly one of the best American bands to arise in the last decade.


Saturday, August 6, 2011

My 100 Favorite Metal Bands Pt. 94: Testament

People who have known me for awhile probably could have predicted that I would get Testament on this list. Hey, the band recorded my all-time favorite song, "Return to Serenity". I met the band once when they did a signing session prior to a concert, unfortunately I was too young to go to the concert at that time. Testament is often considered a second-tier thrash metal band in the 1980's, and that is potentially accurate. It was not until they released the monster album Low that the band really took off creatively and musically. Testament went on a bit of a hiatus at the beginning of the last decade due to frontman Chuck Billy's cancer struggle, but they made one hell of a comeback in 2008.


Friday, August 5, 2011

My 100 Favorite Metal Bands Pt. 93: Suffocation

Suffocation's influence can be heard in a number of subgenres of death metal. Almost single-handedly responsible for the wave of brutal death, technical death, and slam death metal, Suffocation is a truely original band. However, most of the groups influenced by Suffocation have not been able to rise to the same level of quality as the pioneering group. Which just goes to show how truly great Suffocation really is.


Thursday, August 4, 2011

My 100 Favorite Metal Bands Pt. 92: Sodom

As I stated earlier, I go back and forth between Sodom and Kreator. Sodom had a major influence on death and black metal early on with their raw-yet-endearing debut EP. They later polished their sound and became a thrash metal juggernaut. German thrash has always been more extreme than the Bay Area counterpart, and Sodom is quite possibly the most extreme band of them all. Their music is fueled by their love for Motorhead and punk rock, but they take such a dark and aggressive twist on it that there is no doubt that it is anything but pure thrash metal.


Wednesday, August 3, 2011

My 100 Favorite Metal Bands Pt. 91: Slough Feg

Or maybe The Lord Weird Slough Feg, but I am pretty sure they mostly go by Slough Feg these days. Anyway, Slough Feg is a band that has not gotten a lot of attention for some strange reason. The band has a very old-school sound, sounding to me like Thin Lizzy meets the NWOBHM. They are one of the greatest bands that no one is talking about.


Tuesday, August 2, 2011

My 100 Favorite Metal Bands Pt. 90: Slayer


That is all.


Monday, August 1, 2011

My 100 Favorite Metal Bands Pt. 89: Slaughter

For a band with only one official full-length album released, Slaughter sure shows up on this blog an awful lot. Well, I guess that is what happens when your band proved to be a major influence on the creation of death metal. Slaughter was a brutal thrash metal band from Canada who was once described as Black Sabbath playing punk rock. I think their Hellhammer/Celtic Frost influences are very clear personally. At any rate, it is unfortunate that the band only released one album, because it was a great one.