Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Initial Impressions: Vektor: Outer Isolation

Even in retro-thrash, it was only natural that some bands would choose the road less traveled. There were already plenty of bands aping the Bay Area sound, plenty seeking to sound like East Coast thrash, and plenty attempting the Teutonic thrash style. So it was natural that there would be a band choosing their major influence to be the Canadian sci-fi thrash metal band Voivod. Vektor is that band even going so far as to have a similar logo. Voivod was a very original band and Vektor has seemingly decided to model their foundation on Voivod's fundamental weirdness. But saying that Vektor is a Voivod clone is far too simple, and quite frankly, incorrect.

I wanted to check out Vektor for quite a long time, since reading positive reviews on their first release Black Future. Unfortunately, it took quite awhile before I was able to do so. Now that I have heard them though, I can say that they are definitely one of the most impressive bands from the retro-thrash metal movement. They are a truly unique band, with a wide spectrum of influences.

Vektor kicks things off with blistering 10+ minute opener "Cosmic Cortex" which features a whirlwind of riffs. Many of the songs have a bit of a mechanical, science fiction feel to them. The songs feature mostly progressive structures similar to Voivod of course, as well as groups like Atheist and Cynic. The vocals sound like a cross between Schmier of Destruction and Chuck Schuldiner's progressive material.

The opening track sets the pace and Vektor never really slows down from there. The guitars sound crisp and, even though the riffs are relatively straightforward, the music sounds complex. The bass is prominent which is definitely a plus. Voivod's bass was also always pretty noticeable.

This is really an incredible record. I am definitely keeping an eye on this band. Seeing the logo and the song titles would lead one to believe that Vektor was a Voivod clone, but that is certainly not the case. Vektor has their own unique sound, Voivod is just an influence. This album is on par with the top albums from last year. If I had heard it earlier, it probably would have been ranked fairly highly.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Initial Impressions: Goatwhore: Blood for the Master

When I was in my more formative years as a metalhead, my friend and I would joke about completely over-the-top band names. Goatwhore was always one of the most often-cited band names. It took quite awhile before I actually checked out the band though. The name was a joke and that was all there was to it. Man, I was missing out. I finally checked out Goatwhore soon after moving to start my first job. That was A Haunting Curse and I have never looked back. Goatwhore quickly became one of my favorite bands. I even have a t-shirt that I wear despite the inappropriate name.

That brings us to last week when their latest album was released. Like a good Goatwhore fan, I picked up the album immediately. And I was absolutely blown away. This is a crushing and blistering album of balls-to-the-wall sludgy blackened death metal. Goatwhore has a unique sound that combines the sound of fellow Louisiana bands like Crowbar and Acid Bath with blackened death metal. Which makes sense given that Sammy Duet was in both Crowbar and Acid Bath. The result is a maelstrom of angry vocals and mammoth riffs. Goatwhore is extremely heavy.

The band experimented early on in their career with clean vocals. Those have long since disappeared with the band streamlining their sound. The songs are all blindingly fast and extremely intense. This is not an album for the weak of heart.

Once again, Goatwhore has put out an impressive release. This will definitely be a contender for Album of the Year this year.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Initial Impressions: Insomnium: One for Sorrow

Insomnium has solidified their status as the best ongoing melodeath band with this release. The Finnish band has put out a number of great releases in a row now and this album is not any different. They are one of the few bands from the much-maligned genre that has continued to put out excellent material.

Insomnium is known for their heartfelt and melancholic take on the melodeath genre. Their music is often full of sadness and pain and is often surprisingly beautiful. This style has continued once more with this release. The album opens slowly but magnificently with the instrumental lead-in track that opens into "Through the Shadows", one of the strongest tracks on the album. This track features a number of clean-singing sections, which with other groups have been often reviled, but Insomnium's always sound great.

There are a number of more aggressive songs, such as "Song of the Blackest Bird", which is as intense as Insomnium really gets. But, for the most part, this is Insomnium doing what they do best. Emotionally powerful melodeath, bordering on death/doom similar to Swallow the Sun. While the formula really has not changed at all from the last several albums, Insomnium create compelling music that feels timeless and powerful.

I am a big fan of Insomnium and have been since the very first time I heard them, on Headbangers' Ball no less. This release does absolutely nothing to change that. Insomnium continues to put out high quality somber melodeath.

Friday, February 17, 2012

My Wife Came Through Again on Valentine's Day

My wife gave me the following CDs for Valentine's Day, plus Metroid: Other M on the Wii:

Thanks baby.

Initial Impressions: Obscura: Omnivium

Technical death metal has not historically been a favorite genre of mine, which is a little odd given the shared origins with slam and brutal death metal. Suffocation and Cryptopsy had as much to do with the advent of technical death as slam and brutal death. However, there are definitely groups that I have found extremely impressive. Obscura is one of those.

The technical death metal bands I typically enjoy are those that sound more organic. They are not as machine-like and sterile. Obscura fits that mold quite nicely whereas groups like Braindrill often suffer. Their songs actually sound and are structured like songs instead of overly technical guitar shredding with some vocals thrown in. Obscura is much closer to Decrepit Birth than Braindrill.

This album shows the band maturing their sound, taking leaps and bounds in improving from their last album. And I even enjoyed that one, so it is quite apparent how much I enjoy this one. Obscura uses a surprising amount of cleaner vocal styles on this release. The lack of diversity in the vocals is one thing that always bothered me about the aforementioned Decrepit Birth, so this is definitely a point in Obscura's favor. Beyond that, the guitar leads flow quite nicely with the rest of the music. The whole thing feels natural, which is rare in this style of metal.

This is a surprisingly good release from a still improving band. This band could get even better.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Sorry About the Lack of Posts

As many (or a few, I don't have an accurate grasp on my audience) have probably noticed, I have not been posting much lately. It is kind of difficult when you are running a business. Things have been extremely busy for me. Which is good. Business is thriving. Unfortunately, it means I have less time to spend on this blog. Maybe some day that will change again. I have no idea. I just have to kind of go with the flow. Hopefully you will all bear with me.

Initial Impressions: Warbringer: Worlds Torn Asunder

It would appear as if the retro thrash metal wave has passed. Most of the bands that populated the wave still exist at this time but we will probably begin to see a die-off with them. Only a few will continue, much like the first thrash metal wave. Only the strong will survive.

Warbringer is one of the strong ones. The band has rarely sounded like an imitator. It is very clear that they know the subject material well and have crafted their own take on it. It still sounds like Bay Area thrash, but it is Bay Area thrash done with a more modern twist.

Unfortunately this album is not exactly a step forward for the band. They are not treading any new waters with this release. It is very similar sonically to their prior albums. There is nothing really wrong with that per se. There are not a lot of bands out there who continue to put out innovative release after innovative release. Some are just content with the status quo. Warbringer appears to be one of those bands.

Their music remains aggressive with razor-sharp thrash riffs and in-your-face vocals. So basically, it is a Bay Area thrash metal record. No more, no less. As a fan of the scene, I have no problem with this. It is just not essential listening, that's all.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Initial Impressions: Vader: Welcome to the Morbid Reich

Everyone's favorite Polish death/thrash pioneers Vader are back with their ninth full-length album. Vader has been one of the most consistently amazing bands going for the last twenty years or so. Vader has never put out a bad album and still absolutely crushes live. This album is no exception.

This is a surprisingly dynamic album from the band. In previous works, Vader has mostly stuck to the same formula, brutal, take-no-prisoners death/thrash. While the general description has not changed much, the band has incorporated blazing guitar solo work complementing the riffs virtually non-stop. This has added a much more complex and melodic layer to the typical crushing riffs.

Beyond that, if you are at all familiar with Vader, you have a pretty good idea of what to expect with this release. The vocals and general musical formula have not changed. Vader sounds a lot more energetic this time out, which is really saying something for this band. They sound rejuvenated. This album could have passed for something they released in their early years.

Friday, February 3, 2012

The Saxophone in Metal

I know there have been recent posts about this on Invisible Oranges and possibly some other places, but I do feel qualified to make a post about this because I played the saxophone for eight years. I was pretty good at it too, winning several awards at solo and small ensemble contests and being a member of a high school jazz band chosen as one of 20 groups from across the country to perform at a contest honoring Duke Ellington's 100th birthday at Lincoln Center in New York. I have experience playing the alto, baritone, and soprano saxophones.

The saxophone has not made frequent appearances in heavy metal, it is typically a complimentary instrument and requires a guest appearance. Sigh is the only band I am currently aware of that employs a full-time saxophonist, Dr. Mikkanibal. While it would be interesting to hear a band use the saxophone full-time, the instrument often adds an eerie atmosphere to the songs in which it does appear.

So, after an exhaustive search through my collection, these are a few examples of the saxophone in heavy metal:

Anyone know any others I may have missed?