Monday, November 23, 2015

Fit for an Autopsy - Absolute Hope Absolute Hell

Ok so as promised, I have my “part two” review of this Fit for an Autopsy thing that I’m doing. Being hopeful that you decided that you wanted to read the review I wrote of Hellbound before reading this one (it’s okay if you decided against it), I know that I’m going to do quite a bit of comparing of the vocals between this album and the last. If you DID decide to read the last review, you are already well aware that vocalist Nate Johnson is my main attraction to this band (I’m pretty sure that was the case with most people). That being said, if you never really followed this band during their career, you missed the actually unsurprising news that Nate Johnson jumped ship almost immediately after Hellbound’s release. The band even said in their Facebook post that they had been “Nate Johnsoned”. So yes, yet again, the dude quit for whatever reason (this time it was right when they were about to go on tour) without a single word to the public.

The tour that they were about to go on was actually one that I attended. Given the praise that I poured out to this band in my review of Hellbound, you can safely assume that I was fucking excited to see them. But of course, the Fit for an Autopsy that I saw was not the same band that I was hoping to see. Quick replacements aren’t easy, but fortunately some long haired guy named Greg Wilburn immediately stepped up to the plate to ensure that they would still be able to go out on tour. As much as I can respect and praise people that take those kind of risks (learning an entire setlist in a few days isn’t easy), Greg sucked. Not only did he barely do any deep growling, his overall vocals were utter shit. I was upset and disappointed. Then not even a few months into their touring cycle, the band announced yet another change in vocalists (hopefully due to a large amount of negative feedback regarding Greg). For whatever reason, I was so stuck in the “Nate set the bar so high that I will never be content with anyone else fronting this band” that I never even bothered to check out who Joe Badolato was or what he sounded like. Well, he’s managed to stay in the band long enough to be the frontman on the band’s new album in the place of Nate Johnson.

I’m trying my absolute best to not make the vocals take up the entire review, so I’m going to start out with the overall style and execution of the music. If you read my last review, the theme of Hellbound was groove. Apart from the vocals, this is still my favorite part about that album; especially when you put it next to their debut, which is pretty much as straight-forward and stripped-down as deathcore can get. This new album kind of sits halfway in between those two albums…well in some ways it does and in other ways it doesn’t. It’s definitely much more straight-forward and basic than Hellbound, but it’s not as raw and repetitive as their debut. Probably the best way I can put it is that it’s a fairly generic deathcore album but many of the things that are executed throughout the duration of it don’t feel generic in the slightest bit. It’s a similar feel to Hellbound, where they make a traditional-sounding album using non-traditional methods. Except this time, the non-traditional methods are far, far fewer. The groove is still there; stronger in some places and weaker in others, but it’s nowhere near as attention-grabbing.

I don’t even need to say anything about the brutality…actually yes I do, because it’s far less than the past two albums, and guess who I’m going to blame for that, Nate Johnson. Without straying from what I’m trying to focus on, I’ll get back to him later. The brutality is still a primary element, but the breakdowns especially are far less interesting. Yes there are some great drops in the title track, Saltwound, and Storm Drains (a nice crushingly slow one), but there isn’t anything memorable other than that. Although everything was executed cleanly and with thought, none of the other breakdowns left me splattered all over the walls in pieces thinking “holy shit what the fucking hell was that”.

Moving on, the production seems to have gotten better and better with each release. So have they been changing producers? No guess who’s been one of the guitarists in the band since day fucking one: Will Putney. Don’t recognize that name? He has produced/mixed/engineered/mastered (either all or a combination of more than one of those) many albums including (but not limited to) No Time to Bleed by Suicide Silence, Hate and Holy War by Thy Art is Murder, Necrocracy by Exhumed, Structures’ Divided By, all three of Upon a Burning Body’s full-lengths, In Dreams by After the Burial, and many more (primarily) deathcore and metalcore albums since 2005. So why was the production on the first Fit for an Autopsy album so shitty? Well who knows, maybe he was trying to achieve what he did on Divided By and Hate where he basically blew out everything.

Okay let’s talk vocals now. I’ve done my best to listen to this with as much as an open mind as possible, doing my best to forget that Nate Johnson was ever in the band. When you put this album all by itself without any of its predecessors, it’s actually one of the best generic deathcore releases of the past few years. THANKFULLY this vocalist isn’t anything at all like what the temporary live replacement was. This guy can actually growl. He has volume, power, range, and emotion. He executes every song to the best of his abilities and gives 100%. Does he sound good with the band’s music? Yes he most definitely does. Would I ever choose this album over the other two Fit for an Autopsy records or recommend it first? Hell fucking no. The vocals are a good fit, they chose a good replacement, but just like Through the Eyes of the Dead and assumingly all the other bands Nate has been in, he joins, enables the band to release the best album(s) of their career, then leaves almost immediately with a bar set so high that next to no one can reach it. The growls are good, but they’re not deep enough to make me happy. Fortunately, Fit for an Autopsy did a better job at bouncing back and maintaining their relevance and popularity than any other “Nate Johnsoned” bands have.

They did good but not quite good enough in my book. Of course, the majority of their fanbase have been more than happy with Joe as the new vocalist, but I’m pretty sure everyone knows that their music will never be quite as good. As I mentioned before, the music is far less attention-grabbing. It has numerous spots that grab ahold of you and rips you to pieces, but the album eventually drones on and leaves you with a sub-par follow-up to Hellbound. Would I ever go off and listen to this specific album on my own time? Probably not. But it’s DEFINITELY an above-average deathcore album and there are a lot of far worse things being released right now. And if you are at all a deathcore fan or a fan of this band, this album is going to be more than enough to satisfy you with its crushing breakdowns, sweeping solos, and driving grooves. It’s just not enough for me, Nate Johnson and Hellbound set the bar too high. This gets a 14/20 from me. 

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Fit for an Autopsy - Hellbound

I’ve tried to write something on this album ever since it was released 2 years ago. Whether it is writers block or my busy outside life or my busy mind, I haven’t gotten around to it. If I’m lucky, I’ll be able to finish this review without something distracting me or running out of things to say. And before you ask me, yes I DO plan on writing my thoughts on their newest album; I’m getting sick of people asking me about it. Okay…in my review of Malice by Through the Eyes of the Dead (here) I made a side note mentioning the first Fit for an Autopsy album (I probably won’t ever write a full review on it). This album that I bring before you today is the follow-up to that. Just like Through the Eyes of the Dead and just about anything else Nate Johnson touches, Fit for an Autopsy caught a lot of people’s attention very quickly because of his vocals and hunger for crushing brutality. But because Nate is so unpredictable and loves to leave bands at the most inopportune times without saying a word, a lot of fans did their best to hold back at least SOME of their excitement about Fit for an Autopsy. Anyways, when Hellbound was announced, teased, and released, everyone was all over it. Oh lord I actually waited a while to listen to it because I was so overwhelmed by overpowering response from so many people.

If you HAVE NOT listened to the first Fit for an Autopsy album, just take a moment and listen to the first track and then come back here. Yes it’s brutality is near impossible to put into words, yes the guitars are mixed so loud that you can barely hear anything else, yes the vocals are amazing, yes yes yes yes. It’s great, but all you need to hear is the first track and then you’ve heard the whole thing. That’s all I’m going to say about their first album. The question is that if they’re actually going to do something more than just chuggy brutality and breakdowns on Hellbound.

First impressions are important, and I do an in-depth analysis on the first/opening track more often than I’m willing to admit, but I’m going to do it again this time especially because it played a big part when I first listened to this album (I think I was walking about my first college campus after my classes when I first turned this on). The intro to the first track sets the tone almost immediately once Nate’s (literally) perfect growls echo through the recording. I came close to turning down the volume a few notches out of fear for what was to come. But actually, the band takes their time easing into things instead of just dropping everything on you at once out of nowhere like the intro track of the new Oceano or many Thy Art songs. The drums kick in and everything is steadily paced; turning things up a bit and adding more things little by little. Then after one full second of silence they remind you that this is a Fit for an Autopsy album. The part of the song that made me smile and say “fuck yes they fucking did it” was right around the 1:50 mark of that track, after they have their fill of melting you with blistering speed, they drop the catchiest…is it even a breakdown? It’s some weird polyrhythmic drop that is absolutely crushing. From then on I was hooked 100%. I was ready to be slaughtered and torn to pieces by whatever they put on this album.

The element that this album has that is the most unique is groove. It’s not all about brutality, it’s not all about the breakdowns, it’s not all about doing anything they can to get the kids with stretched ears to start swinging their arms around, groove is what I feel is when I listen to this album. Best example is easily Still We Destroy (a song that sounds a little too similar to The Purest Strain of Hate by Thy Art). I’m not sure how it’s done…is it the way the drums are played differently? I can’t put my finger on it but it’s amazing and I love it. For those of you looking for something non-traditional but still with a traditional vibe, this album is EXACTLY what you need in you library. Also the number of guitar solos is greater than their last album. Actually now that I mention it, guitar solos in general are becoming increasingly popular in deathcore. Remember the first albums by Oceano, After the Burial, With Blood Comes Cleansing, Impending Doom, etc. when there were next to no solos at all? Now you look at just about any of the latest deathcore albums and guitar solos are taking a much bigger role.

The production of the album is amazing. I can hear EVERYTHING and nothing hurts my ears. It sounds like a much, much cleaner version of the production on Thy Art’s Hate. The songs all differ from each other, but at the same time they all blend together like every good deathcore album should. Although the album DOES maintain its energy and quality of sound, the interest level dies out towards the end. I’m glad that they put the jumpy grooves and skull-flattening breakdowns from Mother of the Year towards the end of the album because otherwise I would’ve completely lost interest and turned it off. 

This album is very dark. It has an amazing vibe and atmosphere with an intense focus on groove and head-crushing brutality. If you want something amazing, this is it. For me, personally, the interest level dies out in a few places but overall I love this album. It’s different, it has a lot of unique elements and I would recommend it to just about anyone. This album gets a 17/20 from me. 

Monday, November 9, 2015

Slayer - Repentless

Slayer’s music has been highly criticized among both hardcore fans and casual listeners since around the turn of the century. Some say it started with Diabolus in Musica and others say it started with Undisputed Attitude. Personally, I don’t really count the latter simply because it’s a cover album and not a full album of original material. Of course one of the obvious reasons that the past 3 Slayer releases (not including this one) have been shrugged off by so many people is the simple fact that Slayer’s sound has remained very consistent (some might use the word stagnant) over the course of their career, but even more so with recent material. While you had them doing some experimenting with different styles, speeds, and structures in albums like South of Heaven and Divine Intervention, their more recent albums have all stuck to the same formula, boring a LOT of people.

Personally, I am a huge fan of God Hates us All and World Painted Blood, but despite that, I do agree that their material is much more stripped-down and straightforward, more so in Christ Illusion than anything else. But the reason why I am writing a review on Repentless and not any of their other new albums should be obvious to anyone that knows about what the band has gone through over the past what seems like 5 years now. Yes, the death of founding member, lead guitarist, and key songwriter, Jeff Hanneman, led many people (myself included) to basically say “well they put out a good amount of classics, they did good, I guess this is it for Slayer”. But of course with the amount of money the band makes and egomaniac (I’ll try to make this the only time I drop that accurate label on him) Kerry King finally being in the lead guitar and songwriting position, why would they stop?? When they announced that they would move forward with King on lead guitar and that Exodus guitarist Gary Holt would become the new official rhythm guitarist, most of the reactions I saw were somewhere along the lines of “not excited, but okay sure why not”.

One last note before I move on to talking about the album (sorry for my wordiness, it’s been months since I’ve written anything) is that Dave Lombardo is no longer in the band (again). Being a HUGE Lombardo fan, this upset me. But in an attempt to stay optimistic, the guy that they chose to replace him is the most appropriate (and only) drummer to do the job, and that’s Paul Bostaph, the guy that replaced Lombardo the FIRST time he parted with Slayer (1992-2001). So okay, new lineup for this album consists of Tom Araya, Kerry King, Paul Bostaph, and Gary Holt.

Slayer is a pretty predictable band, and that has worked in their favor for the most part in the long-term. What I mentioned before about them basically recycling their sound being unpopular among most people may be SOMEWHAT true, I feel that Jeff Hanneman was the main factor that kept things from going totally 100% stale. That’s what I feel kept Slayer on top; Jeff was a master at creating simple, recognizable, easy-to-digest riffs and songs that would get stuck in your head. Yes, diversity did end up becoming an issue as time went on, but still, even after the quality of their music dwindled, there were still amazing things coming out of Jeff’s head. It’s very easy to write a Slayer-inspired thrash metal riff…why the hell do you think there are more underground Slayer copycats than the world will ever know about? Why do you think that most of the underground thrash bands you here are regarded as “sounds like a boring version of Slayer”? The general public was pretty good at predicting that King would only be able to emulate Jeff’s style and sound and would never be able to continue it.

Moving on to the first three songs (not counting the intro track): Repentless, Take Control, and Vices. What the hell does the opening riff to Repentless sound like? IT SOUNDS LIKE FUCKING HANNEMAN. Who wrote it? Kerry King. This whole song is actually surprisingly good! It has energy, groove, it sounds like Slayer, and I am motivated to replay it almost every time I’ve listened to it! Yes, the structure of the intro for the track is WAY overused and is a common tactic used by Slayer dating back to their first album, but admit it, 90% of the time, no one does it as well as Slayer (Havok and Kreator are the only exceptions in a few cases). And this song is one of the best examples of that. After hearing this song, a good amount of faith and excitement in me was restored and I was ready to hear the rest of the album. Maybe King isn’t so bad after all. Maybe after playing with Hanneman for over 30 years, he’s become so accustomed to his style and writing process that he actually has the ability to write riffs just as good.

Take Control is a bit of a step down, but still very promising and keeps the excitement and energy flowing. Classic Slayer sound, but not really anything too memorable, making it easily forgettable. Vices is probably one of the most unique songs off the album due to its lack in speed but huge increase in groove (mainly in the drums). Great headbanging song, if you loved songs like Exile, Skeletons of Society, and Live Undead, you’ll love Vices just as much. This song is also where I started noticing something a bit off. Although I loved the fuck out of this track, the speed and style changes within the song felt much less dramatic than ever before.

When I noticed this, I went back to the other two tracks and noticed that the changes that took place in the song were either minimal or nonexistent. In previous albums, even though each song had the same sound or mood, there were dramatic changes within most of the songs to keep things interesting. Sometimes it was a breakdown, other times it was a slow song that would suddenly break out into full speed with a guitar solo, or just a new riff and speed altogether taking place halfway through the song, etc. There was always SOMETHING thrown in each song that made it special or interesting. And that key feature is one of the main reason that this album gives me the feeling that something’s missing (I just couldn’t put my finger on it at first).

Is this what always set Slayer apart from the hundreds of mediocre bands that tried to emulate their sound? The song structure? After going through some of the underground bands that just sound like a bunch of Slayer covers (some of them are actually really good) like Invasion, Battery, Thraw, Amok, and Hatchet, and Beast, I can now see much clearer why most of these bands seem so boring and..well…mediocre to me. And the second part of this is going back to all the older Slayer songs that were written by Kerry King himself, and I am hearing the exact same thing that I am hearing on both this album and from all those other bands; monotony.

Kerry King is great at writing riffs and songs that are easily recognizable as Slayer songs, but unfortunately, it’s not enough. Some might say it’s because he half-asses it and doesn’t care, I personally think that he is doing his best, but that his best will never be good enough. What’s another way that you can tell? Listen to Piano Wire and notice how much it DOES change in several parts…guess who wrote that…HANNEMAN. This is the one song that he wrote that they decided to throw in, obviously out of respect and in his memory.

As the album goes on, it starts to drone on. I feel like I’m listening to one of the countless mediocre Slayer imitators when I listen to this album. It’s not a BAD album and should definitely be listened to once by anyone curious, but this is about as average as thrash metal can get; it’s boring. Yes, the musicianship is outstanding…Bostaph is an amazing drummer, Holt does a great job and fits in so well that you don’t even notice that he’s there, Araya’s bass playing is great as always and so are his vocals, and King does a fantastic job at shitting out some fun solos and is never sloppy as far as speed and technique goes. Repentless is a song that, although remains the same throughout, is very fun to listen to and has endless amounts of energy. But this sounds old, tired, and dry. I honestly never thought that Slayer would go from being the band that everybody tries to copy to sounding like all the bands that are trying to copy them. This gets an 8/20 from me. 

Friday, July 17, 2015

Back Door to Asylum - Cerberus Millenia

A little under three years ago, I wrote a review of the debut album by the Russian technical death outfit Backdoor to Asylum (of which you can read HERE). Nothing too outstanding for myself personally, but nonetheless fairly solid and promising. So having decided to stick with the mighty Amputated Vein Records for their second release, we now have the sophomore release by this brutal Russian quintet, titled Cerberus Millenia. Amputated Vein was my gateway into the underground world of the much more brutal side of death metal and grindcore. By showing me bands such as Pathology, Disentomb, Bloodboil, Cease of Breeding, Eden Beast, Visceral Disgorge, Mucopus, and many other bands (most of which only released one album before completely dropping off the face of the earth without a single word), this label has become very important to me and I still follow them very closely.

Now that this band has been around for a bit longer and have gained some amount of popularity, we know more about them. Back when I wrote that review on their first album, I knew next to nothing about them. Two years later, they have some credibility and a name now. The production on this album is much, much better than their first. You can hear everything clearer and it doesn’t sound like they recorded it in their garage. Their first album had some guest vocal spots from some other underground vocalists (Fleshbomb, Gorgasm, etc.) whereas this new album has some bigger names lending their vocals, namely the vocalist for French brutal death band Benighted. But of course, to keep things underground, they have a vocal spot from the Internal Suffering vocalist and a guest guitar slot from some Russian guy that’s played in a bunch of bands I’ve never heard of.

The artwork is fantastic, and was done by a Ukrainian guy that also has done the artwork for the most recent albums by Aborted Fetus, Fleshbomb, Delusional Parasitosis, Epicardiectomy, Cremated Lives, and most recently, the new upcoming album by The Black Dahlia Murder.

A huge fad in this genre as of lately has been doing whatever possible to be as technical and as fast as humanly possible. Bands like Brain Drill, Rings of Saturn, Slaughterbox, Spawn of Possession, Deformatory, and countless others have been introducing some of the fastest and most technical recordings ever heard. Many of them have even been challenged with accusations of recording at half-speed or using computerized instruments in the studio and then speeding them up. But Back Door to Asylum does everything 100% and keeps their music raw and pure. If there’s one thing I can say about this band, it’s that they have matured immensely since their debut. And because of that, and the fact that they play technical death in its purest form with a little bit of added brutality, this is a great album if you are looking for a solid example of what pure technical death SHOULD sound like.

Like I just said above, this band has matured and developed their sound immensely. The artwork is amazing, the music is brutal as all fuck, and the uniqueness of the basslines are unforgettable. The vocals are deep and on-point, the guitars have just the perfect amount of technicality, and the overall vibe of the album stays consistent throughout all of the songs. I would recommend this to all fans of death metal and even to some that are looking to discover some lesser-known artists. This album gets my score of 16/20. 

Decapitated - Blood Mantra

Last year, Polish technical death band, Decapitated, released the highly anticipated follow-up to their critically-acclaimed Carnival is Forever. Since their debut release in 2000, this band has developed a reputation of being fairly consistent with the style of each release, as well has never really having any poor albums. Having gotten much better over time (their first two releases were better than average, but nothing compared to the three that followed), it’s safe to say that they are very much among the much better and most popular bands in there genre. One of the main reasons that I waited to write this review is because I felt that the initial reaction to this album of almost everyone (myself included) was kind of exaggerated and overly judgmental. Those of you that remember the release of the title track from this album know exactly what I’m talking about.

Blood Mantra, the title track off of the most recent Decapitated album took everyone by surprise with its (as most people described it) nu metal vibe. Upon the first 5 listens, I could hear this nu metal vibe loud and clear; and like most people, I was honestly not too attracted to this choice of direction. This doesn’t mean that I didn’t still get the album and listen to it every once in a while, but it was definitely a major letdown after Carnival is Forever. But now, fast-forward one year, and a few days ago I decided to give it another honest listen, because usually if you don’t like something the first time, it’s never a bad idea to give it a few weeks (or months) before picking it up again. Because you never know how much different it’ll sound the second time.

In retrospect, yes, the album DOES have some groove and some bounce, but not that of a nu metal band, but more so like the kind you hear from a thrash death band like DevilDriver, Battlecross, or Soulfly (no, not their first three albums). But other than that, there really hasn’t been that much change, so I think that the world heard some extra groove on that new single, someone called out “nu metal!” and the world overreacted. But that bounce is still present.

The sound of the guitar distortion can have a huge effect on what a metal album sounds like. One thing that I loved about Carnival is Forever is that the band abandoned the really loud, metallic, sawblade-like guitar distortion for a much fuzzier distortion. Well, I guess that was just a one-time thing because they’ve returned to their usual obnoxious metallic distortion, except this time sounding a bit more polished and refined (probably to help compliment the extra groove this album has). The drumming is a bit more chaotic, as I said in my review of Carnival is Forever, this is the best vocalist that Decapitated has had yet and I really hope he sticks with them, and the band for the most part is very tight as they have always been.

Although not remarkable, this is a good solid technical death album and I would recommend it to just about anyone. There isn’t anything bad about it; it’s just nothing like Carnival is Forever, Negation, or Organic Hallucinosis. Hopefully they continue making quality death metal and we see more of them in the future. I’m extremely excited to FINALLY be seeing them later this year with Soulfly and Soilwork. To conclude this article, I am going to give this album an above-average score of 14/20. 

Friday, June 26, 2015

Thy Art is Murder - Holy War

If you want to read my review of their major breakthrough album that I wrote (totally by coincidence) exactly two years ago, click HERE. If you’re lazy, I’ll give you a recap. Deathcore band releases album in 2010 (The Adversary) that gets them really super popular in the underground scene of the genre, Nuclear Blast notices and scoops them up. They then re-release their most recent album at the time; Hate (originally released a year before in 2012). After that, literally everything changes for this band. In a mere 2 years, Thy Art is Murder have gone from being one of the newbies to being one of the biggest bands in the genre. They went from being the first or second band on the tour to headlining entire tours not only in their home country of Australia, but also in North America and Europe; several shows selling out. Please understand that a spike in popularity THIS big is in no way a common occurrence. And it didn’t just come on its own; Thy Art is Murder played a total of over 340 shows in support of Hate. So now the Hate hype has died down a tiny bit, what is probably one of the most anticipated releases in the history of this young genre is now upon us.

My personal prediction of Holy War was that it would basically be Hate pt. 2 since the sound that Hate has ended up giving them their big break. Either that or they would take the easy route and release a collection of 4-minute breakdowns. I don’t do this very often, but I decided to watch a few of the studio update videos that the band was posting on their social media accounts. Some of the things that were said intrigued me; mainly something the drummer said. If you read my review of Hate, you get to see a lot of me gushing over how amazing and near perfect their drummer is and how that he’s the star of the show in my eyes. One of the things in particular I LOVE about Lee Stanton, aside from his ability to execute, is his style of playing. But apparently what we heard on Hate isn’t necessarily “his” style. The way he was talking in the studio made it seem like he didn’t exactly have a particular style that he preferred to stick with. So without being locked into an “I am perfect at playing fast and technical with lots of blast beats so I’m just going to keep doing that” state of mind, Lee mentions that on this album, he’s aiming to implement more of a groove into his patterns instead of just playing straight blast beats and crushing breakdowns.

Whether or not this means we will have a loss in brutality on this album is unknown to me. And honestly, I’m okay with him branching out like this because I trust that he will know how to deliver it properly without compromising too much of what people love about his playing. Now that I’ve listened to the album over and over again, he definitely did what he said he was going to do. The one thing that I want to point out to you that may be a bit worried is that he DOES still do EVERYTHING that he did on Hate. There’s plenty of pummeling blast beats and crazy ass fills to go around; it’s just that the majority of the main patterns have a bit of bounce to them instead of just being straight-forward.

Two minor things that I would like to mention before moving on are the production and the logo. Since they decided to work with the same producer, everything pretty much sounds exactly the same as Hate, making for actually a very good follow-up to the breakthrough album. Second, their new logo is a million times better than their old one. I love a good looking logo; I don’t give a fucking crap about legibility, if it looks cool, I’ll dig it. But the old Thy Art logo just looked stupid in my opinion. And yeah, I know that Nuclear Blast has a history of convincing bands to change their logos to more legible ones (i.e. Fleshgod Apocalypse, Annotations of an Autopsy, Keep of Kalessin, and a few others I probably can’t think of at the moment), but this is one of the only cases, along with Keep of Kalessin, where the new logo is a billion times better than the old one. Instead of looking like someone spilled a bucket of paint and then slipped in it, Thy Art is murder truly has what I think is one of the coolest logos in modern extreme metal.

I hear a lot of love for CJ’s vocals all the time nonstop. And yes; he’s one of the best…not even deathcore vocalists; he has one of the best death growls I’ve ever heard. But what I see is too many people saying “fuck the rest of the band, check out their vocalist!” And although I can understand how easy it is to do that with this band, I really want to be careful to talk about the talent that the whole band has as a group because I don’t see much talk about that aspect as I’d like.

The same guy that wrote all the music on all of their other releases also wrote this album. Now comes some negativity that I must cover before concluding this review. Although all of the songs on Hate generally carried the same mood and sound, making the album as a whole very strong, many (actually most) of the songs were VERY memorable to me personally. Whether it was a certain breakdown, an intro, whatever it was, many of the songs carried something very special that made them get stuck in my head after I was done listening to the album. All of the tracks on Holy War are fantastic. Everything is totally on-point; the musicianship, the creativity, the skill, everything. I’m just not getting anything memorable from any of the songs this time. I don’t know why…maybe something will start to reach out at me in a couple of years, but nothing came out and instantly grabbed me by the throat like many of the songs on Hate did.

Overall, this is still an album I would recommend to anyone curious about their music. I do think that they really outdid themselves and maybe even set the bar too high with the last album (not saying that’s a bad thing). Holy War has most everything you could ever want from a deathcore band delivered in the best possible way. Although going somewhat downhill, Thy Art is Murder still lives and is going to continue growing and getting bigger until they have bands like Whitechapel and Born of Osiris opening for them. Holy War gets my score of 16/20. 

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Breaking Benjamin - Dark Before Dawn

It’s been a while since I last felt motivated to write something. And I apologize to those of you that enjoyed reading my reviews. Those of you that know me are aware that Opeth is the only reason that Breaking Benjamin is not still my favorite band. Taking my undying love for this band into consideration, when this album was announced, I told myself that I was not going to let that cause me to just blindly love this album just because of who wrote/performed it. I was lucky enough to see Breaking Benjamin live at the fucking top of their game with their full previous lineup. Unfortunately, it was the last tour that lineup would ever do together. I’m not going to spend a lot of time going over what happened after that tour, but long story short, everyone except for their frontman and songwriter exited the band (two were fired, one left voluntarily). That was in 2010; five fucking years ago. Fast-forward to this year, Benjamin Burnley had obviously written a shitload of material during that hiatus, and has now completely rebuilt the lineup. The million dollar question begs what the hell the new Breaking Benjamin was going to sound like.

To be honest, I wasn’t exactly too optimistic about Ben completely re-creating the lineup. The musicianship and talent of the individual members was a huge part of my love and respect for this band. Especially that of bassist Mark and drummer Chad. But that all started to change as my doubt gradually turned into slight optimism and intrigue, starting with a YouTube video of Shaun Foist playing some Breaking Benjamin covers. Why this guy? Well about half of those videos had “Breaking Benjamin drummer performing (insert BB song title)” as the title of the video. He managed to capture and properly maintain the chaotic and technical drumming style that has been tied to all of Breaking Benjamin’s previous albums. But of course, those were just covers. I can cover songs by The Black Dahlia Murder on bass guitar, but that doesn’t mean I have the ability to write something of that level. So although I wasn’t fully convinced, I was a little less worried about the future of their sound as far as the drums go.

Then of course, in April, Hollywood Records posted the first new Breaking Benjamin song in over 6 years; Failure. No one had any idea what it was going to sound like. My main concern was that they would turn into another power-chord driven radio rock band because all of the musicians that Ben had recruited came from a radio rock background. But really, to my surprise, this sounds EXACTLY like the old lineup. I actually cannot tell the difference between the two lineups. And this made me realize how much Ben really does write; this is his work. Hearing this song was not only a huge refresher, but proof that Breaking Benjamin is truly back and was never going to die out.

The first album reviews I ever wrote (back in 2009) were of the first 4 Breaking Benjamin albums, believe it or not. And six years later, after all of my reviewing experience, with the announcement of this new album, I re-visited the band’s discography from a reviewer’s perspective and realized things about them that I (obviously) didn’t fully have a grasp on back in 2009. Some things I will touch on in this review, but there’s one in particular that I’m going to spend some time talking about because I don’t think that many people understand this about Breaking Benjamin unless it is clearly explained to them, despite it being right in front of their fucking faces.

Alternative metal is such an interesting genre; bands walking the line between hard rock/grunge and heavy metal as if it were some sort of tightrope. Some bands, like Crossfade, Three Days Grace, Cold, and CKY favoring the rock side much more, but still implementing distortion heavy enough and breakdowns dark enough to be considered metal by some. Then there’s the bands that are much more metal than rock, such as Avenged Sevenfold (no, not including their first two albums), Trapt, Seether, Taproot, and Wovenwar. Breaking Benjamin is the most unique out of all of these.

Instead of having a mix of some metal songs and heavy rock songs, Breaking Benjamin perfectly weaves through the two, crossing the line between the two styles multiple times in a single song. It’s impossible sometimes to decide what they play because they will start a song off with one of the heaviest riffs you’ve ever heard that fucking crushes you into the pavement before sliding into a verse that sounds like a generic radio rock song. There are bands that do that, but nowhere near the level and cleanness that these guys do.

Another thing that makes Breaking Benjamin stand out from the rest of these mainstream metal and rock acts is the complexity. Yes, Seether and Taproot are great, but let’s be honest; they’re using simple drum pattern, generic song structures, and power chords. Now take Breaking Benjamin and listen to the level of complexity in the instrumentation compared to their contemporaries. Not only does this just make the music more interesting, it gives it substance and makes it a hell of a lot heavier. That, I think, is fucking metal. The only radio rock thing about these guys is the mainstream-friendly song structures and the melodic verses. Other than that, with the exception of a few songs here and there, what they play is too heavy and too dark for me to call rock. I can’t listen to Evil Angel and Had Enough and fucking call that shit rock, I just can’t.

Back to my original point, though, this band..well…Benjamin Burnley himself has one of the most diverse and colorful musical palettes the world has ever heard. Yes, they always tour with other mainstream rock acts, yes the majority of their fanbase groups them in with those bands, but they are so much more than that. The sheer power and color of their music is far more emotional and heavy than all of these other bands. The level of creativity overpowers every other band in their genre, whatever you consider them to be. It’s just not something I can just simply ignore right now.

As I said before, instrumentally, this sounds exactly like Breaking Benjamin. It’s kind of hard to fully wrap my head around how perfectly Ben fucking pulled this off. First, Breaking Benjamin is now a five-piece. Wait? Their music has always been vocals/rhythm guitar (Ben), bass, lead guitar, and drums, right? Yeah, except here’s what the new lineup is: vocals/rhythm guitar (Ben), lead guitar, rhythm guitar/backing vocals, bass/backing vocals, and drums. So they went from having one vocalist and two guitars to having three vocalists and three guitars. I don’t know what’s with all of these bands having three guitarists nowadays but whatever, I guess if it makes you happy. Maybe he has an extra rhythm guitarist for further complexity in the guitar section or to just simply have a stronger brick wall behind the lead guitarist…the world may never know why these bands have three guitarists (other bands include Whitechapel and Periphery). Obviously Ben still does the lead vocals, but instead of harmonizing with himself, he has two other people harmonizing with him, which could probably end up sounding very…uncomfortable (I can’t think of a good word, it just wouldn’t sound right). But truth be told, you can’t even fucking tell that the harmonizing singers are someone other than Ben. It’s starting to freak me out how perfectly he’s managed to pull this together.

The styles of vocal harmony that appear in many of the songs are very similar to the ones heard in Lights Out from Dear Agony. I don’t know what the word is for it but it’s very unique and works really well with Ben’s voice. But there’s a lot of playing around with that style of harmony in songs like Breaking the Silence, Close to Heaven, and Bury Me Alive. After watching a few recent live videos, it seems that the main backing vocalist is the bassist, Aaron Bruch. But because of Aaron’s (I’m assuming it’s him) higher range and Keith’s lower range, the vocals are all over the fucking place on this album, making it much more interesting and unexpected for the listener.

Something that’s also being brought back from the We are not Alone and Phobia days is breakdowns. Yes, I know they’re not the type of breakdowns you’d hear from a deathcore band, and that’s because (surprise!) Breaking Benjamin is not a deathcore band! But in just about all of the songs, there is a nice crunchy breakdown towards the end. Once again, a major METAL element that they use in their sound.

This album is unbelievable beyond what I can conceive. I love everything about it. I honestly didn’t get my hopes up too high with this whole new lineup thing; I didn’t think Ben would pull through. But he fucking did, and together as a band they have managed to pick up right where they left off six years ago without losing ANY ground what so ever. Breaking Benjamin is a band that can satisfy both metal and rock fans alike. They have the heaviness and complexity of a metal band while also having the traditional song structure and verse styles of a rock band. This is by far one of the best comeback albums ever released and gets a perfect 20/20 score from me. 

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Acrania - Totalitarian Dystopia

Crinn is fucking sick of hearing about this band. Sick of every deathcore fan he knows bugging him about this album. Acrania is a British deathcore band that is going to get very big once they start doing some serious touring. As if the hype generated by this album wasn’t enough, once they get on some major festival or tour like Maryland Deathfest or Summer Slaughter, they’re going to find themselves in a similar place that Thy Art is Murder is currently in. And it’s not just the diehard underground metalheads that are raving over this album, I’m seeing this band mentioned by mainstreamers (people that only seem to know the biggest deathcore bands) as well, which of course is a good sign for them, but in all honesty, I don’t think that they are as good as people are holding them up to be. But regardless, let’s jump into this.

Their drummer is of a very fast, highly triggered, over-compressed, and artificial-sounding style similar to that of Infant Annihilator, but is mostly heard by technical death bands like Brain Drill, Slaughterbox, Rings of Saturn, and Vale of Pnath. So in reality, this style and sound of drumming is still very new to the deathcore world. Whether or not that is a GOOD thing, I will leave up to you since my opinion on it is fairly neutral. What I can say about their drummer is that, like the rest of his band mates, despite being very young and having very little professional experience, demonstrates a ridiculous level of skill. But skill alone has started to become a little too acceptable lately, the creativity element becoming less of a concern amongst the metal community. As long as you are able to play something that most other people are physically unable to play, people will buy your music. The Acrania drummer does demonstrate some creativity, especially with fills, but 90% of what he has going for him is just pure skill. Like his blast beats that can be heard in every song (especially in the beginning of the first song, an instrumental similar to that of Fleshgod’s In Honour of Reason), they’re phenomenal, but not unique in the slightest bit. And that leads me to the point of the overall structure of the songs.

The structure of each song is weak. There, I said it. Shoot me if you like, but to me, the songs sound…..confused. They’re either way too predictable or they’re so unpredictable that the band sounds confused. Luckily for Acrania, the different sections and structural elements that they use have enabled them to just slap any of them together at random and still have it sound pretty good. But it still sounds aimless, which is in a way okay because this band is brand new and they have eons to improve their creativity and songwriting skills. Because the key to writing good songs is structuring them in a way that gives them a lot of replay value and just makes the songs memorable in general. None of the songs on this album have that in any sort of way. I gave this a listen because I recognized the Par Olofsson artwork and decided “why not?” and I completely forgot what it sounded like after those first two initial listens. Whereas plenty of other bands have songs where I will replay it over and over after the first listen because I can’t get enough of it and then I will remember what the song(s) sounded like for at least a week after that first session. So weak structure and an overall lack of memorability is the big issue that this album has, NOT FORGETTING that this is only their first album and they can easily fix that in the next round.

Although none of this stuff is very memorable, I will say that their vocalist is excellent. He has a VERY wide vocal range and he fucking uses it. He can make a lot of different sounds and he fucking makes all of them. He is an example of a musician that literally takes his performance to his full capability and strives to do everything he can do and then some. When I am listening to this album, his vocals are the main attraction, and is probably why Unique Leader have been making some money off of them. Almost any sound you could imagine being used by a death metal vocalist is used in this album. Even sounds that aren’t familiar with deathcore music. As well as that, many different speeds are used, which is something that A LOT of death metal vocalists attempt and fail at. Many will either just go balls-out fast 24/7 or just go along with the chugging of the guitars. But this guy is fucking good at everything he does and he’s pretty much the only reason that I would listen to their next release.

The guitars have nothing about them that I want to waste my time typing about. Survival Sequence has some pretty cool guitar work, but that’s the only thing about them worth mentioning that I can think of. Just thank fuck they aren’t over-compressed like 80% of all the other deathcore albums being released nowadays.

Acrania have brought forth what is obviously to their full potential for the time being. It’s not super impressive, but it sure as hell has been making a dent all over the world because people won’t shut up about it. The songs are either too predictable or just fucking confused, but their knowledge of different deathcore song elements has helped the confusion and inexperience work in their favor. All this band is right now is skill. Their drummer is so good that it’s almost hard to believe that this is first actual legit album. If you’re a diehard fan of deathcore or downright brutal music in general, give this a listen because it’s fucking powerful. But I’m looking for something a little less…boring, per say. 10/20 as a good solid average score for this one. Let’s see if they can improve their creativity next time. 

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Agalloch - The Serpent & the Sphere

Not being the type that keeps in close touch with their fans through frequent social media and website updates and interview appearances, Agalloch has proven to be a somewhat difficult band to follow. Their tours are always small and there is never a significant amount of effort put into promoting them. Yet their dedicated cult following that reaches all ends of the globe fills every venue that they perform in and spend time and money searching for their often times hard-to-find albums and merchandise. The announcement of their latest album appeared almost out of nowhere, with no prior teaser or warning. But woe, and behold, The Serpent & the Sphere appeared on shelves during the summer of last year, marking their second release through Profound Lore Records. This also continues the 4 year gap pattern in between releases (obviously the band takes their time in crafting their works of art), and in effect ending a very bothersome and impatient wait for myself since discovering them a year after they released The Marrow of the Spirit in 2010.

Due to the fact that they aren’t nearly as sporadic and seemingly lost like most progressive and experimental bands in the world appear to be, there will forever be endless opportunities for Agalloch to take their musical direction in without compromising any major aspects of what they have already established. Some progressive bands strive to do something completely new with each album; a risky, but bold step. When listening to each of Agalloch’s albums in order, you can hear the gradual turns their sound takes over the course of time. Pale Folklore being literally the raw blueprint of their sound, and after going in a much more folk-oriented direction with the two following albums, swing to the other end of their spectrum, their black metal side. The Marrow of the Spirit toned down the acoustic and folk stuff that had attracted all the hipsters and put much more emphasis on their actual metal side. More distorted guitars, more blast beats, but still having that beautiful melodic atmosphere. The Serpent & the Sphere basically takes that step even further, with more raw instrumentation that doesn’t get caught up in guitar and vocal effects.

The reason for this direction is a total mystery to me. Usually, when musicians start playing around with their guitar pedals too much, they get lost in it and rarely ever choose to turn back and go to their roots (aka Alcest). The vocals on this album (for the most part) seem to be totally void of any reverb or other effects, which makes it sound like a lot of the amateur underground local band demos and EPs I have in my collection. Not implying that it’s a bad thing, but it just sounds like the vocals from a low-budget EP. But regardless, it gels fairly well with the polished guitar distortion and soft drums. There’s also the increased use of whispered lyrics during softer parts that almost always grow into full-on screaming that’s then followed by the rest of the band picking up.

The Serpent & the Sphere is the first album by this band where I can hear the bass guitar at all times. Even when listening to it on shitty earbuds or laptop speakers, I can still hear the growl of the bass guitar strings vibrating against the frets. Agalloch is a black metal band, so production and sound quality isn’t going to be something that has a lot of time and effort invested in. But for some reason they had the bass guitar mixed in a very common way in which it basically blends in with the rhythm guitar and adds a massive lower end to it. But on this album, it’s totally separate. Once again, not sure why they felt that this was the album to do it on, but it’s nice to actually have an audible reminder that they have a bass guitarist. As far as what the bassist actually does is mostly just those Steve Harris-style triplets following the drums and base chords with the occasional sweep or walk that breaks away from the primary chord structure.

I know this is my first review in at least five months, so I apologize if my writing is a bit choppy and unorganized. If you haven’t seen it already, The Serpent & the Sphere is the fifth best album of 2014 according to my year in review list. What Agalloch will do next will remain a total mystery and, if the pattern continues, we won’t find out until 2018. But until then, I will be here, eagerly awaiting their next masterpiece. This album, obviously, gets 20/20. 

Thursday, December 25, 2014

2014 in review: Albums

The best albums of 2014:

10. As the Stars - Woods of Desolation (Depressive Black Metal)

9. Misery - Disentomb (Brutal Death)

8. The Flesh Prevails - Fallujah (Progressive Death)

7. Something Supernatural - Crobot (Hard Rock)

6. Different Shades of Blue - Joe Bonamassa (Blues)

5. The Serpent & the Sphere - Agalloch (Progressive Black)

4. Pale Communion - Opeth (Progressive Metal)

3. The Joy of Motion - Animals as Leaders (Progressive Metal)

2. Shadows of the Dying Sun - Insomnium (Melodic Death)

1. Z2 - Devin Townsend Project (Progressive Metal)

The other best albums of the year in no order:

The Singularity - Scar Symmetry (Melodic Death)

No Peace - Trash Talk (Hardcore Punk)

Inked in Blood - Obituary (Death Metal)

Ominously Reigning Upon the Intangible - Relics of Humanity (Brutal Death)

Hornwood Fell - Hornwood Fell (Black Metal)

Massive Cauldron of Chaos - 1349 (Black Metal)

Nedom og Nord - Iskald (Black Metal)

Oathbreaker - Hoth (Black Metal)

Dirges of Elysium - Incantation (Death Metal)

Faen I Helvete - Den Saakalde (Black Metal)

Tibi et Igni - Vader (Death Metal)

Elder Giants - Sun Worship (Black Metal)

Urzeigeist - Raunacht (Black Metal)

Venereal Dawn - Dark Fortress (Black Metal)

Cthulhu - Ceremonial Castings (Progressive Black)

Fimbulwinter - Satanic Warmaster (Black Metal)

Best EPs and Demos of the year in no order:

Abandoned [EP] - Fuck the Facts (Grindcore)

Kulde [EP] - Taake (Black Metal)

Demo 2014 - Numenorean (Black Metal)

WORST albums of the year in no order:

Eternal Enemies - Emmure (Deathcore)

Issues - Issues (Metalcore)

Siren Charms - In Flames (Alternative?)

Redeemer of Souls - Judas Priest (Heavy Metal)

Babymetal - Babymetal (Progressive Metal)

Life Through a Window - Structures (Metalcore)

Guilty Pleasure - Attila (Deathcore)

Putreseminal Morphodysplastic Virulency - Epicardiectomy (Brutal Death)

Feeding the Crawling Shadows - Sargeist (Black Metal)

Best/Most memorable songs of the year in no order:

War Eternal - Arch Enemy
Tooth and Claw - Animals as Leaders
Another Year - Animals as Leaders
Morning Hoarfrost - Basarabian Hills
Corduroy - Bones
March of the Poozers - Devin Townsend Project
Silent Militia - Devin Townsend Project
Celtos - Eluveitie
Carved from Stone - Fallujah
Feels like Forever - Of Mice & Men
River - Opeth
Sweet Tea - Polyphia
Where Angels Weep - Vader
Heartache Follows Wherever I Go - Joe Bonamassa
Arise and Purify - Sanctuary
The Devil in I - Slipknot
Well Run Dry - Phat Phunktion
Devil Man - Blues Pills