Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Initial Impressions: Iced Earth: Dystopia

One of the most difficult things to get used to in my formative years as a metalhead was the idea that sometimes bands changed their lead singers. I think the first bands that I noticed this with were Black Sabbath and Cannibal Corpse. Now obviously bands have been changing lead singers for years, but when I was younger and more naive the lead singer seemed like the most indispensable member.

All of the above is meant as an introduction to Iced Earth's latest release, with new singer Stu Block. Iced Earth has had a number of singers over the years, so it is really no surprise that the band is on their fifth different lead singer, with Matt Barlow serving two stints. Block was previously with progressive melodeath band Into Eternity, which is a band whose last couple of albums I have definitely enjoyed. I was interested in hearing how Block would do with Iced Earth. Iced Earth has always been guitarist Jon Schaffer's band. He is the creative force behind them and the only stable member over the years.

Iced Earth was a little stagnant on their last album. It sounded stale and was largely a disappointment. Sad considering that it was the second stint with Barlow. So, the question was whether the addition of Block would reinvigorate the band. That question was answered with an emphatic yes.

This is Iced Earth's best album in years. I think I prefer it even over the albums Tim Owens appeared on. Block actually sounds a little like a cross between Owens and Barlow in places. It is their fastest and most energetic album in a while. The riffs are still typical for the band, meaning galloping Iron Maiden-esque melodies.

Iced Earth has released a very good album here. While it is no match for their best albums at the height of the band's career, it is fairly impressive for a band going for a quarter of a century.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Reader Submission: Xpulsion: War is Imminent EP

Well that was fast. Within a few days after reviewing their new song, Nicolas from Xpulsion contacted me again to inform me that they have finished up their EP. The first song is on there, so I won't rehash anything about it. But there are three new songs on this EP.

The songs are structured similarly, with the exception of the closing title track. The first three songs each start out slow with a bass or drum rhythm leading into fast and frenetic thrash riffing. This band definitely utilizes speed. Usually about halfway through the song, the vocals kick in, which are fairly typical shouted vocals, normal for thrash metal.

The title track is the standout here as it kicks into high gear right away and never lets up. It closes with the ominously spoken name of the song, ending the EP on an impressive note.

The musicians are all highly competent and the music is pretty good. However, it does not really offer anything new, so people who are not fans of thrash metal already really will not find anything to change their minds.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Reader Submission: Xpulsion: "Welcome to Yourself"

Just a quick one-off here. Nicolas MacDuffee from California thrashers Xpulsion contacted me to listen to their new song and review it. I don't normally do one song reviews, but I figured what the hell.

The song starts off with a slower bass riff, but immediately kicks into high gear after that. From that point on it is just pure unadulterated thrash. The song remains fast and furious for the rest of its run time.

The band has a bit more of a classic Exodus-meets-Overkill style. It's raw and a little bit light-hearted but nevertheless razor-sharp. Xpulsion knows their source material well and they do an admirable job with this track. Looking forward to the EP.

This is definitely an old-school styled thrash metal track, so if you don't care for that kind of thing, don't listen. It is well-documented that I am a thrash fan.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Reader Submissions: Cadaverous Condition: Burn Brightly Alone

Recently Wolfgang Weiss of Austrian extreme metal band Cadaverous Condition contacted me to review his band's album. The band has apparently been around a very long time, forming in 1990. However, I was not familiar with them.

I went into the album expecting some sort of death metal with maybe some other influences thrown in. I was not expecting this. Cadaverous Condition do definitely have some rather straight-forward death metal songs, but a lot of the tracks are more acoustic folk-sounding, yet retaining the death metal vocals. It was pretty shocking to say the least. Included in the tracks was "We Both Go Down", which could be one of the clearest examples of a death metal love song.

Some of the songs are, as previously alluded to, fairly straightforward and simple riff-based death metal tracks. The band has been around a long time, so this is not unexpected. They do have a more old school approach to death metal, there are no technical or modern influences here, it's just good, old-fashioned death metal. These tracks are fine but are not where the band really shines.

It is the more folk-inspired tracks that really make this album. The melodies are often incredible. While the vocals do not really match the atmosphere of these tracks, they do not detract from it either. They often featuring haunting background vocals as well.

I was pleasantly surprised with this album. The music was not what I initially suspected to a large degree. The band has a terrific grasp on melodies and use their gift to some impressive results.

Bandcamp page.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

2011 in Review: Albums I Missed

DISMA: TOWARDS THE MEGALITH
EVILE: FIVE SERPENT'S TEETH
VEKTOR: OUTER ISOLATION
TOXIC HOLOCAUST: CONJURE AND COMMAND

2011 in Review: Top Ten

10. SKELETONWITCH: FOREVER ABOMINATION
Despite arriving around the same time as the retro thrash metal movement and being largely considered one of the bands in said movement, Skeletonwitch has proven to be a much more resilient and impressive band. The band's take on old school blackened thrash with a modern approach has really come into its own. I have enjoyed all of their albums so far, but this one has been the best yet.

9. PRIMORDIAL: REDEMPTION AT THE PURITAN'S HAND
Ireland's top metal band has released yet another classic album with this year's release. While it is not quite as good as their previous release, it definitely still has its moments. Of course the band would not be nearly as impressive were it not for its stunningly talented lead singer.

8. THE GATES OF SLUMBER: THE WRETCH
Traditional doom metal has of course been making a major comeback in recent years and The Gates of Slumber is at the top of the movement. The band has an impressive sound without sounding too retro. The power trio seems to get better and better with each successive album.

7. CROWBAR: SEVER THE WICKED HAND
Crowbar returned for their first new album in nearly six years in 2011 and Kirk Windstein had a whole lot more pain to sing about here. Dealing with overcoming a drug addiction is an extremely painful process, one which the band covers on this incredible release featuring some of the band's best riffing in years.

6. DECEASED...: SURREAL OVERDOSE
Yet another band with a new release after a long time without any new full-lengths, Deceased... has been quietly one of this country's greatest unknown bands. The first band to sign to Relapse Records, Deceased... is still largely the same band that was an early pioneering death metal band.

5. SEPTICFLESH: THE GREAT MASS
Probably my second favorite Greek metal band, next to the amazing Rotting Christ, Septicflesh's sound is much more of a symphonic death metal band. Their music can best be described as epic. It is surprisingly catchy for a band of this style.

4. FLESHGOD APOCALYPSE: AGONY
It was apparently a good year for symphonic death metal as Fleshgod Apocalypse released a stunning album as well. The band's second album was even an improvement on their first album. We are witnessing the growth of an incredible new band.

3. REVOCATION: CHAOS OF FORMS
The thrash metal album of the year was from a band that was largely derided as a retro thrash metal throwaway for some time. But the band's other influences shined through on this release. Their technicality has improved and even some jazz influences popped up.

2. ULCERATE: THE DESTROYERS OF ALL
New Zealand's Ulcerate was born out of brutal death metal and added some surprisingly effective post-metal dissonant guitar melodies. The drumming has remained rooted in brutal death though. This was very nearly the album of the year.

1. SATAN'S HOST: BY THE HANDS OF THE DEVIL
Metallattorney's Album of the Year comes from this Colorado metal band that has released their finest album in years. Their blackened thrash metal material over the last few years has been impressive enough, but reuniting with original singer Harry "The Tyrant" Conklin of Jag Panzer has been a revelation. It can best be described as blackened power metal. An incredible album from start to finish.

2011 in Review: Newest Albums

Some albums I just received recently and have not had a chance to sink in yet. Here is a list of those albums:

BODYSNATCH: INSIGHTS OF A ROTTEN THEATRE
CONDEMNED: REALMS OF THE UNGODLY
DYSENTERY: INTERNAL DEVASTATION
ICED EARTH: DYSTOPIA
INSOMNIUM: ONE FOR SORROW
OBSCURA: OMNIVIUM
VADER: WELCOME TO THE MORBID REICH
WARBRINGER: WORLDS TORN ASUNDER

Friday, January 6, 2012

2011 in Review: Disappointments

MEGADETH: TH1RT3EN
I have mentioned time and time again how big of a Megadeth fan I am. Even when they were declining rapidly in the 1990s and early 2000's, they still usually put out something at least somewhat interesting, which is what makes this album such a disappointment. It is just so bland. I loved their last album Endgame, so this was a smack in the face for me. It's unfortunate.

SCAR SYMMETRY: THE UNSEEN EMPIRE
It's official, Scar Symmetry no longer has anything left. They went from being a wildly talented and catchy band to boring mainstream metal in the span of just a few albums. I blame the loss of singer Christian Alvestam. After he left, the band lost its most recognizable feature. Their last album still had a few good songs, but this one is just sort of there.

HATE ETERNAL: PHOENIX AMONGST THE ASHES
I just do not get it. Metalsucks has a massive hard-on for this band and has for years. I hear middle-of-the-road death metal with pounding and incoherent drumming. It's not that I dislike Hate Eternal really, it's that I do not think they should get the adulation that they seem to get in Metalsucks and Decibel. It just is not anything that a ton of other bands are doing better.

PENTAGRAM: LAST RITES
The U.S.'s original(?) metal band returned for the first new album in several years. While it is not a bad album really, it just did not really meet my expectations. I was hoping for some great traditional doom metal, and there are some tracks that meet that, but many sound like typical modern rock fare. That just is not going to cut it for me. I loved it on the first few listens, but that eventually changed as I continued to listen to it.

I DID NOT EVEN BOTHER WITH:
METALLICA AND LOU REED: LULU
MORBID ANGEL: ILLUD DIVINUM INSANUS

2011 in Review: Favorite Songs





Thursday, January 5, 2012

2011 in Review: Some Bands Never Change

AMON AMARTH: SURTUR RISING
Amon Amarth changes ever so slightly, to the point that each album is only slightly different than the one before it, but if you listened to this album as well as their first one back to back, it's obvious something has changed, it's just not noticeable unless you really pay attention.

AMORPHIS: THE BEGINNING OF TIMES
Obviously Amorphis has changed a great deal since their early days, but they have been releasing the same album each time for the last three or four times. I do not really have a problem with it in this band's case though because their progressive metal output blows their death metal stuff out of the water in my mind. Maybe that's just me though.

DEICIDE: TO HELL WITH GOD
Deicide has released the same album time after time after time. While their Anti-Christian lyrics are ridiculously over-the-top, Glen Benton seems like such a goofball that they have become less threatening and more humorous over the years. Benton does his own thing and really could care less about what any one thinks of it. Particularly Jesus.

2011 in Review: Best Album Cover

2011 in Review: Growers

These are a few albums that I did not really get on the first listen or so, but gradually grew on me.

ULCERATE: THE DESTROYERS OF ALL
It did not take me much to get really into this album, but it did take one or two listens before it really started to make sense. Ulcerate is a band that combines brutal death metal and post-metal into something almost otherworldly. It is very clear that the band's background is in brutal death and that influence shines through in the drumming, but the riffs are chaotic and dissonant, almost freely forming with very little structure. It's like Isis meeting Origin.

REVOCATION: CHAOS OF FORMS
The thrash metal album of the year came from an unlikely place, one of the very best retro thrash metal bands that has formed in the last few years. Revocation really found their sound on this one. Even though I have liked their material in the past, this one blew that away. However, the first few listens were not terribly impressive and it took me some time to realize how fresh and exciting this album really is.

HONORABLE MENTIONS
Heathendom
Wishdoom

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

2011 in Review: Best Reissue

This one was pretty easy. It's not so much because the reissue is itself so good, but the circumstances. My wife bought me this for Valentine's Day. Nothing like Napalm Death for Valentine's Day. Of course this boxed set collects three mid-era Napalm Death albums together, when they were experimenting more with death metal. It's my favorite era the venerable band went through and here it is collected in one place.

HONORABLE MENTION: Bitter End

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

2011 in Review: Best Reunion Album

It was an interesting year for reunions as we got long-awaited new material from Pentagram and Autopsy, but the one that really surprised me was Anthrax's new album. With all of the drama leading up to its release, this one really looked like the thrash metal version of Chinese Democracy. I was morbidly curious about it so I checked it out on a whim, and I am very glad that I did. This album sounds great. It's particularly surprising given that I have never really been that big of an Anthrax fan in the first place.

HONORABLE MENTION:
Autopsy

Monday, January 2, 2012

2011 in Review: Best of 2010 I Did Not Hear Until 2011

For the first 2011 in Review post, I have listed five great albums from 2010 that I did not hear until 2011.

5. INQUISITION: OMINOUS DOCTRINES OF THE PERPETUAL MYSTICAL MACROCOSM
The album title and song titles are definitely a mouthful and Colombia's finest black metal band put out an album as monstrous as their vocabulary. With a sound similar to Norway's Immortal, Inquisition is easily one of the better pure black metal bands currently going. The band is clearly modeled after the aforementioned Immortal through their vocal style and riffing.

4. GHOST: OPUS EPONYMOUS
This album was not released in the U.S. until early in 2011 so it is not really my fault I missed it. This album blew my mind. Ghost sound similar to Blue Oyster Cult, but with blatantly Satanic and Anti-Christian lyrics. The lyrics contrasted stunningly with the often surprisingly beautiful music and the dry vocals. It was absolutely shocking. Unfortunately, I have a feeling this is a novelty and the next album will not be met with as much adulation.

3. DENOUNCEMENT PYRE: WORLD CREMATION
After years of releasing singles, demos, and EPs, Australia's Denouncement Pyre finally released their debut full-length album in 2010, which I promptly missed out on until 2011. The band is made up of well-seasoned veterans of Australia's underground metal scene, so there was never any doubt that they knew what they were doing. This album was absolutely crushing.

2. GRAND MAGUS: HAMMER OF THE NORTH
Grand Magus released my Album of the Year in 2008, so it was surprising that it took me nearly seven months from the release of this album to finally track it down. Once I did, obviously I was not disappointed. Grand Magus has found a way to make 1980's traditional metal sound as fresh and vital as it did back then. Grand Magus is easily one of the more interesting bands going right now.

1. WITHERED: DUALITAS
Withered took blackened death and combined it with sludge and post metal to release an album that could have easily competed for the Album of the Year last year. This album still takes my breath away every time I hear it now almost a full year later. This is a mindfuck of an album.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year's

All this week, I will be posting end-of-the-year lists. I decided to change from my usual style which was to do one huge post. It should be more time-effective. So feel free to come in with any comments.