Thursday, September 29, 2011

Reader Submissions: Refusal: Short on Ammo

I was recently contacted by Tero Pirhonen, guitarist of the Finnish death metal band Refusal, to review their latest demo. So here we are.

Refusal has apparently gone through some changes over the course of the few years they have been active. They began life as a thrash metal band and then slowly began moving into their current direction. Refusal has been surprisingly prolific for such a young band, releasing four demos and a single since 2008. Here's hoping that a full-length is coming soon.

This is heavy and crushing, groove-laden death metal performed with a lot of speed and intensity. There is a lot of energy here, which is good, because the music, while competently played does not really offer anything new. This is not really a problem. This is tried and true death metal, which when played this skillfully always sounds good. Refusal does have something of a punk flair, which probably came about when they started out as a thrash metal band.

The vocals are delivered in a variety of ways, including a death growl and a harsh scream. This is one way to keep the listener interested. It also helps that the demo is a fairly short nine minutes long. They play fast and avoid falling into the trap of playing long and pointless songs.

The sound quality is impressive for a demo. It sounds full and thick and each instrument can be heard clearly.

This is an impressive sounding demo from a young band. With any luck, they will continue to find their own voice and put out a full-length soon.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Reader Submissions: The Aberrant Phase: The Aberrant Phase

The Aberrant Phase are essentially a mathcore band from San Francisco. They contacted me recently to review their debut EP. I will preface this review by saying that I am probably not the best judge of this style of music. My exposure to mathcore has been extremely limited and I have not liked most of what I have heard.

There are definitely metal influences here, but I do not believe they outweigh the hardcore/mathcore influences. Not that there is anything really wrong with that. Bands are free to pursue whatever style they wish. I am just throwing it out there, because I probably would not have chosen to review this album on my own, had this band not contacted me.

Now that that is all out of the way, what do we have here? It is a largely experimental album, playing with a variety of influences and sounds and changing time signatures fairly quickly. It is certainly energetic. The band creates an absolutely unholy racket throughout this fairly short EP. I imagine their live shows are extremely chaotic. The vocals are fairly impressive, going from a harsh shout to some somewhat eerie-sounding cleaner style quickly.

The songs are mostly short, which is probably for the best. I don't imagine that sustained songs of this style would be terribly easy to play and keep the energy level up.

All told, this is certainly an interesting EP. It is difficult for me to review it without making my feelings on the style known. This is definitely for fans of The Dillinger Escape Plan and similar bands. I am not a fan of this style personally, so I am probably not the best judge. But there are definitely moments that I enjoy here. The opening riff from "All in Red" is a particular favorite moment of mine.

Yahoo's Ten Worst Heavy Metal Albums of All Time

This list was on the front page of yesterday. Most of it is not too bad, but there's some pretty egregious stuff here.

Let's take a closer look:

10. Kiss: Music from The Elder
I honestly am not aware of what this is. Apparently Kiss created a concept album at one point. I am not a big Kiss fan, so I have no idea.

9. Def Leppard: Slang
Again, not a big Def Leppard fan, so this really does not ring a bell with me.

8. Motley Crue: Motley Crue
Actually, I find this one to be somewhat underrated. I get the implication here, that since Vince Neil was gone for this album that it should not exist. But this actually featured some of the heaviest material Motley Crue put out in years. And John Corabi was not that bad of a vocalist, he was just different than fans were used to.

7. Black Sabbath: Never Say Die
Yeah, I kind of agree here. At this point, it was clear that something had to change in order for Black Sabbath to regain their past glory. That something was booting Ozzy and bringing in Dio.

6. Raven: The Pack is Back
I am not familiar with this one. Kind of an odd one stuck in the middle here as a lot of people probably do not know who Raven is. I like their Wiped Out album though.

5. Iron Maiden: Fear of the Dark
I absolutely do not agree with this pick. This was my first Iron Maiden album and the title track and "Be Quick or be Dead" are both classics. It may not have been on the same level as their earlier material, but it is definitely not "Worst of All Time"-worthy. Just look at their next two albums for evidence of bad Iron Maiden albums.

4. Twisted Sister: Come Out and Play
Again, not really familiar.

3. Ozzy Osbourne: Bark at the Moon
Oh, come on. Ozzy has put out lots of bad albums. Everything after No More Tears is pretty bad on some level. This is actually a pretty decent one. Yes the sound was a little different. It had to be as no guitar player was going to replace Randy Rhoads, but this one is a pretty good album.

2. Guns 'n Roses: Chinese Democracy
Believe it or not I have never heard anything off of this. I just had no interest by the time it was released.

1. Metallica: Load, Reload, St. Anger
What an uninspired way to round out this list. Yes they were all bad albums on some degree or other, but how about picking just one? My worst? Load. There, see how easy that was?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

An Announcement Regarding Metallica/Lou Reed

This will be the first album with Metallica's name on it that I definitely will not be picking up. After listening to the song samples, there is no way in hell I can justify spending money on this piece of shit. Metallica has undone all of the good will they built up with Death Magnetic. I'm out.

Reader Submission: Graveborne: Pure Negativity

Graveborne is a black metal band from Finland. It has been quite awhile since I have heard a new band with this kind of sound. This is definitely a throwback to the early to mid 1990's Scandinavian black metal sound. With equal parts Immortal, Impaled Nazarene, Gorgoroth, Watain, and Marduk, the music of Graveborne definitely recalls a simpler time in black metal, before the non-metal influences began creeping in and the genre became much more diversified. There's definitely something to be said for that.

Graveborne definitely know their source material. This album sounds like authentic Scandinavian black metal. They capture the hate-filled atmosphere, the pounding blast beats, the raspy vocals, and the tremolo riffing style perfectly. This is not to say that this the band do not have their own voice, they certainly do. The influences may be obvious, but the band does a great job of forging their own path.

Possibly the most impressive thing about this release is how great it sounds overall. The production job is great, and you can hear every single drum hit and every single riff perfectly. Obviously this was not true of a lot of the black metal coming out when the scene was just getting started.

It has been awhile since there was such an unapologetically old-school black metal album that caught my attention like this. Graveborne has definitely impressed me with this release.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

One and Done? Pt. 6: Advent: The Dawn

Advent is an Italian blackened death metal band with a fetish for H.P. Lovecraft. I gotta be honest, that sounds like an almost perfect formula for a band, but somehow it just did not work out that way for Advent.

Advent released just one album in 2003. They have released a couple of demos as well, one as recently as 2006, but the one full-length was it for them.

Their sound is actually somewhat similar to fellow Italian band Fleshgod Apocalypse but it is not as well accomplished. They do have the black metal characteristics of tremolo riffing and shrieked vocals, but they also have some clean vocals and significant keyboard parts. The clean vocals sound a lot like those of Borknagar.

The Lovecraft influence on the lyrics is obvious with tracks titled "Shub-Niggurath" and "The Thing That Sleeps in the Abyss". The lyrics feature lines pulled directly from Lovecraft.

The album is not bad, but it's not really that much different than a lot of other bands at the time. When it comes down to it, Advent was just too obscure and got lost in the shuffle.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Albums You Hated On First Listen, But Grew to Love

Has there ever been an album that just did nothing for you the first time you heard it, but that album has grown on you? I have had more than a few.

The most obvious of these is Sepultura's Morbid Visions. I first heard this album when I was just beginning to get into Sepultura. Of course at the time, Sepultura was more of a groove/nu-metal band, so when I heard this proto-blackened death metal album, I was shocked and frankly disappointed. However, over the years, this has become one of my favorite Sepultura albums. Its rawness and brutality is the reason.

One of the biggest bands of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal in the late 1970's/early 1980's, Saxon is also one of the few bands from that scene to have put together a long and productive career. Nevertheless, for some reason I was just not totally impressed with this 2009 release upon the first time I heard it. However, its catchiness eventually caught up to me. This is not a completely metal album, more of a borderline hard rock/metal album and that's probably what caused me to dislike it at first.

German power metal band Edguy is kind of a weird group. I expected something along the lines of Primal Fear, Blind Guardian, Helloween, or Gamma Ray when I picked up this album, but that is definitely not what I got. What I got was something similar to Saxon's release, more of a hard rock style with little to none of the typical elements associated with German power metal. It was their sense of humor and their ability to write a good song that drew me in after my initial disappointment.

This was an album I received in a lot of cut-out CDs I bought from a seller on ebay one day. It was not one of the main drawing points, and in fact I had never heard of the band. Vanderhoof is the side project of Kurdt Vanderhoof, guitarist for Metal Church, so I expected something similar to Metal Church's style. Vanderhoof though was created for the guitarist to play a style more along his main influences, which was Deep Purple-style hard rock/heavy metal. It took some getting used to as I was never the biggest fan of Deep Purple, but this album really is pretty damn good.

After hearing their Soulburner album, I decided I kind of liked Gardenian's brand of Swedish melodeath. It was poppy and infectious, but still pretty decent, so I picked this album up cheap. This was a complete departure though, experimenting with progressive song structures and longer songs and abandoning many of the more accessible elements of their sound. The album was challenging and different, but eventually that is what appealed to me. To the point that I realize this is the better Gardenian album.

Let's open it up. What do you think?

Monday, September 19, 2011

Ridiculous Song Titles: Aborted Fetus: "Aquarium with Dead Souls"

I recently received the new Aborted Fetus album, a slam band from Russia. Sometimes, it's just fun to look at some of the song titles from these bands and this is an excellent example. It brings up questions:

How big of a tank do you need for dead souls?

What do you feed dead souls?

What kind of filtration system is necessary for dead souls?

What kind of pH is needed to help dead souls thrive? Freshwater, brackish water, salt water?

What are dead souls compatible with? For instance, my wife and I have a ten-inch long black ghost knifefish. Can I keep my dead souls with it? Apparently they like to kill angelfish, so I am concerned.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Initial Impressions: Pathology: Awaken to the Suffering

I recently started listening to a lot of slam death again, after a few months hiatus from it. And when I went to the music store to see about getting the new Anthrax album, they also had the new Pathology album. I enjoyed their last album quite a bit so I decided to get this one.

First off, it's pretty bizarre to find a slam death album in a store like Hastings, but that has more to do with the weird fact that Pathology is on Victory Records, a well-known hardcore label. Also, Pathology is a bit more accessible than most other slam death, a point that I discussed at length in the review for their album last year.

Pathology exists on the border between slam death and plain brutal death. The riffs are definitely influenced by Devourment but there is a lot more going on musically as well. For one, you will actually hear the occasional guitar solo in Pathology's stuff. This has basically always been the case with Pathology, the band really is not easily pigeonholed as a simple slam band as groups like Abominable Putridity or Katalepsy or Vomit Remnants. They utilize a lot of slam parts, but there has always been more to it than that.

Pathology is also more accessible than other slam bands because of their lyrical focus. Pathology is not devoted to gore and misogyny, opting instead to focus on other matters. Song titles like "Media Consumption", "Society's Desolation", and "Opposing Globalization" probably will not appear on the next Putrid Pile record.

With all that said, Pathology is a decent band and this is a decent record. There is a lot going on here. Huge fans of Suffocation probably are not going to be terribly impressed because the band does not do some of the things Suffocation does as well, but in a slam context, this is a pretty good album.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Albums That Have Not Stood the Test of Time: Sepultura: Roots

I am listening to this album as I type this. I remember being absolutely blown away by this album when I first heard it. It was my favorite album for quite awhile. I had just recently discovered the band when this album came out. It was the most brutal album I had heard to that point. What made it even more interesting was the use of tribal drumming, something that had not been done as effectively prior to this album.

So what happened?

Well for one, I discovered the band's back catalog was much more interesting. Their early raw, brutal thrash was one of the influences on the formation of death and black metal. In general the band put out better material earlier in their career.

Secondly, Max Cavalera left the band soon after this release and the band went straight downhill from there.

Third, and most important, my tastes have changed. You see, this is basically a nu metal/groove metal album at its core. It may be dressed up a little bit, but the music is mostly simple and dumbed down. That was not what Sepultura created earlier on. The riffs were simple and non-melodic, the guitar solos were basically gone and there were few, if any dynamics.

So no, Roots did not stand the test of time.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Initial Impressions: Anthrax: Worship Music

I can't believe I am saying this, but what a shocking and pleasant surprise we have here. The trials and tribulations of Anthrax recording this album had taken on an almost Chinese Democracy scale. The revolving door behind the mic was a soap opera in itself with both of the band's major former singers coming and going a number of times each and the band seemingly settling in with unknown Dan Nelson for a time until the stress became too much for him and he left. That was quite a run-on sentence but it pretty adequately depicts the weirdness of the whole situation. Of course Joey Belladonna came back once more and took over for good.

But enough of all that. When it came down to it, Anthrax has returned with their best album since probably Sound of White Noise. I liked John Bush as a singer, but he never really seemed to fit into what Anthrax was all about and was a much better fit for his other band Armored Saint. That said, the first album with Bush was pretty good and it was not until later that the band had a precipitous fall from grace.

As for the music itself, Anthrax's trademarked crunch is back in full force. The songs for the most part are fairly melodic, but Scott Ian and Frank Bello complement the melody nicely with some heavy rhythmic riff work. While this is not as heavy of a thrash metal album as the band's early material, it still fits in nicely as a melodic thrash metal album in the vein of Testament's work.

Joey Belladonna actually seems to sound better with age. I have not been a big fan of his style, but his work on this album is smoother and not nearly as shrill. He does some fantastic work on these songs.

There are a few missteps along the way. The track "Judas Priest", despite a decent riff ultimately comes off clumsy and the album does drag a little at times. But overall, this is an extremely impressive return by one of the Big Four. It is the band's best material in a long, long time.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

What is Going On Here?

I apologize for the dearth in posts lately. Work has kind of caught up to me and I don't have as much time to blog right now, much less listen to new music. So, what's going on?

I am working on a brief for the Nebraska Court of Appeals. I also have been preparing a number of cases for jury trials. Hopefully some of this will get done in the next few weeks and I may be able to get back to posting more often. I hope.

Just bear with me. If anyone has a band they want reviewed, feel free to contact me.

Underrated Albums: Judas Priest: Defenders of the Faith

Okay, I know, Judas Priest is absolutely one of the biggest names in metal. They were hugely influential on just about everything in the genre from the sound to the look. Yet, in all that, I really do not hear a lot of praise for this particular album.

Maybe it's because it did not have the catchy anthem like "You've Got Another Thing Comin'" or "Breaking the Law", although I will argue that "Some Heads are Gonna Roll" is on par with both of those tracks. Maybe it's because of the homosexual double entendres like "Jawbreaker" and "Eat Me Alive". I don't really know.

I believe this is quite possibly Priest's best album, with only the possible exception of Painkiller. It is an amazing and complete album. Every song on here is fantastic, there is absolutely no filler.

I rediscovered this album a few weeks back when I was listening to it in my car and had to listen to the track "The Sentinel" about four times in a row. I don't know quite what grabbed me about that song, but I have come to believe it is the band's best song that no one talks about. "Freewheel Burning" is yet another classic that gets kind of dismissed a lot.

So yes, if you want a great Judas Priest album that is representative of their more classic, metallic sound, I would recommend this one.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Field Guide to Retro-Thrash Metal Bands

I am a fan of thrash metal. I believe I have made that fairly clear throughout this blog. Retro Thrash has emerged in recent years, and though it's day in the sun is receding somewhat, I felt it would be a good idea to expose some of the groups for those seeking out new metal.

Habitat: Pomona, California
Defining Audio Characteristics: Early Exodus gone progressive metal
Best Output: Exiled to Earth

Habitat: Somewhere in Florida
Defining Audio Characteristics: Blackened Thrash metal steamroller
Best Output: Nuclear Proliferation

Habitat: Huddersfield, England
Defining Audio Characteristics: Middle-Period Slayer-style crunch on steroids
Best Output: Infected Nations

Habitat: Newry, Northern Ireland
Defining Audio Characteristics: 1950's pulp sci-fi lyrics over Anthrax-meets-Suicidal Tendencies style party thrash
Best Output: Tales from the Grave in Space

Habitat: Amherst, Massachusetts
Defining Audio Characteristics: Goofy party thrash with a preference toward lyrics about zombies, sci-fi movies and cereal?
Best Output: Necromantic Maelstrom

Habitat: Canyon Country, California
Defining Audio Characteristics: Dark Angel-style rifftastic thrash metal performing the soundtrack to a particularly gory George A. Romero movie
Best Output: Realm of Terror

Habitat: Detroit, Michigan
Defining Audio Characteristics: The Motor City Sodom
Best Output: Code of Violence

Habitat: Athens, Ohio
Defining Audio Characteristics: Mastodon covering early Venom and Hellhammer
Best Output: Breathing the Fire

Habitat: Portland, Oregon
Defining Audio Characteristics: The bastard offspring of Hellhammer, Venom, and Bathory out for revenge against the society that spurned it
Best Output: An Overdose of Death

Habitat: Newbury Park, California
Defining Audio Characteristics: Brutal thrash in the vein of Demolition Hammer, Morbid Saint, and German bands meeting the sound of an epic tank battle
Best Output: Waking Into Nightmares

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Initial Impressions: Deceased...: Surreal Overdose

Deceased... has been around since the mid 1980's, which is kind of surprising. They were at the head of the American death metal movement, but never really got the notoriety that groups like Death, Possessed, and Morbid Angel did. Perhaps this is due to the band's relative isolation, Virginia has never really been known as a hotbed of metal activity. But, Deceased... is still kicking, contrary to the band's name.

This is the band's first album since the monumental 2005 album As the Weird Travel On, but the band has definitely not lost a single step in that time. Their particular brand of Motorhead-meets-Death metal is on full display here once again. Deceased... do their thing and do not concern themselves with trends. This is still metal that unapologetically sounds like mid 1980's proto-death metal.

All of the songs are fast-paced with a crunchy edge to the riffing style. This is heavy and aggressive metal that is raw and incredibly powerful. King Fowley remains the most impressive drummer/vocalist in metal, something pretty rare.

The lyrics are fairly typical for the band: B-movie horror stuff and zombies. This is the band who did a concept album covering George A. Romero's zombie movies. Deceased... takes great glee in these topics and the music matches the subject matter incredibly well.

This is once again a terrific album by one of the most underrated bands in metal today. This is a definite contender for Album of the Year.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Flashback Video: Prong: "Snap Your Fingers, Snap Your Neck"

Going away for the weekend. Enjoy this great video from Prong. This was one of the few great videos I remember from the early 1990's.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Bands That Would Sound Just as Good Without Vocalists

My wife and I were driving home late last Sunday night from the State Fair and Kamelot was in the CD player. I mentioned that Roy Khan, the vocalist was no longer with the band and that I wondered what they would do. My wife said that she felt the band really did not need a singer and that she would be very interested in hearing them without one. So that got me thinking.

What are some bands that would sound just as good without vocalists?

Here's a few off the top of my head and I would like to open this up to some discussion.

I mentioned in my review of their last album that they really did not need a singer. I stand by that. Decrepit Birth's music is technical and complex and it would not suffer at all without a singer. In fact, their singer really holds them back because he is somewhat of a one-note grunter and his vocals do not add anything at all to the music.

I happen to like their vocalist, but I really do think this band has the technical and melodic chops to go full-on instrumental. They symphonic elements would be allowed to seep into the listener's attention even more. It would be a very interesting experiment and drive that orchestral death metal sound even farther.

Some of Metallica's best songs are instrumentals. "Orion" and "The Call of Ktulu" are the most notable examples. Obviously James Hetfield is not going anywhere, but what would the band sound like without him on vocals and just playing music? I think it would be pretty damn good actually.

Or really any funeral doom metal band, but I list Ahab because they are my particular favorite. This is similar to Decrepit Birth in that the vocals really do not do much to add to the music. Things would be just as depressing and atmospheric without the vocals, and indeed possibly moreso.

Anyone I am forgetting?