Saturday, December 31, 2011

Arsis - We are the Nightmare

Arsis gets signed on to Nuclear Blast and they release what many people still consider to be the best album Arsis has ever released. We are the Nightmare is one of the most influential and well-perceived technical death albums of all-time. Once they were given the freedom to let their creative juices flow out and drench their new music, Arsis sat down and spent almost the entire year of 2008 writing material for the next record. This was their chance to show that Willowtip Records was limiting them and that Arsis had so much more to offer than what their previous record label was letting them do. Even though this is probably my favorite Arsis release, it was the last one that I bothered to get for some reason that probably wouldn’t be good enough no matter how much I put it.

Before I looked up this album, I was looking at their tacky music video for “Forced to Rock” and I saw numerous comments saying things like “We are the Nightmare is better!” and “Why the hell did they make a different version of We are the Nightmare?” One of my friends at school told me that Forced to Rock is actually just a different version of the song We are the Nightmare! So at that point I decided I had procrastinated long enough and I bought the CD. I listened to the title track and it doesn’t sound ANYTHING like Forced to Rock! There are absolutely no similarities between the two songs; they’re in different keys, they have completely different lyrics, none of the notes are the same, and I didn’t see anything on Arsis’ website confirming that Forced to Rock really is a different version of We are the Nightmare. So now that I’ve got that figured out, I can focus on the almost incomprehensible beauty of this doughnut-shaped shiny piece of plastic.

The most ironic thing about this album is that Arsis left Willowtip Records because they were forcing the band to just make technical music when at the time; Arsis’ creative interests were going in a different direction. To then join Nuclear Blast to create the most technical record they’ve ever written! I know that everyone goes through music phases where they get interested in a certain kind of music for a couple of months or so. Like for example, I’ll have times where for almost a month, power metal is almost all I listen to; nothing else feels satisfying enough. And then I’ll all of a sudden get into the deathcore vibe. I believe that Arsis’ creative/songwriting interests were going through a phase that Willowtip and most of the critics didn’t really like; and then the phase ended a little bit before they started writing We are the Nightmare. So that kind of says that technicality is in Arsis’ blood; it’s not truly Arsis without having some technicality (which their 2005 EP had, just not nearly as much as we were accustomed to).

The sound of the guitar distortion on this album is very unique. The only other album that I can think of that has a guitar distortion similar to this one is Arsis’ 2010 record, Starve for the Devil. It sounds really interesting; there’s almost no crunch at all (in other words it’s a very clean distortion, but for some reason you can tell it’s highly distorted). Also, there is zero reverb on all of the instruments, which in all cases makes the band sound 1000 times tighter. There is the classic Arsis sound of primarily playing mid-ranged to high-pitched chords instead of the traditional death metal style of playing a lot of down-tuned, low chords. The complexity of the song structure is beyond anything I can begin to break down for you and make it even sound slightly understandable. This album is similar to United in Regret in the sense of the complexity of the song structure, but what’s different between the two is that We are the Nightmare is much less confusing and overwhelming, therefore making it much easier to follow.

The vocalist’s screams seem to be getting better and better with each album. His lyrics also seem to go off in their own unique direction. Their first two albums have prominent themes of depression and inner-struggles. We are the Nightmare drifts away from self-anger and goes towards the retaliation of the ones that have caused all the depression and inner-struggles. So this is an album that the vocalist used to vent out his anger towards his enemies.

Another thing that I would like to point out is that the lineup that formed before the writing process of this album still remains unchanged; which shows that there is a lack of disagreement and tension amongst the members and that they are all happy right where they are. And ever since they stuck with that lineup, they’ve been releasing the best albums they’ve ever written. This monstrous record deserves my high score of 18/20 making it basically flawless, but still leaving some room to see if they can make something even more astonishing.  

Friday, December 30, 2011

Soilwork - Sworn to a Great Divide

It seems that Soilwork’s music is getting better and better with each release. Now they’re at the point to where the past two albums they’ve released have earned a perfect score from me. Although interesting enough, even though this is my favorite Soilwork album, the members of Soilwork see this album as a deception in their creativity and musical quality. The album previous to Sworn to a Great Divide still remains their most famous and best-selling album, which has reached abnormally high places on the mainstream rock/metal sales charts in several countries around the world (including America, where I reside). After the release of this album, Soilwork received the honor to get a high position on the legendary Wacken Open Air festival band roster which only further expanded their seemingly infinite fan base. Even though I discovered Soilwork in 2008 by finding a copy of Natural Born Chaos; I never truly got into them until the winter of 2009 when I got their entire discography and heard the title track from Stabbing the Drama.

I have since been slowly paying my dues to them by seeing them in concert in the summer of 2010 where I bought a shirt, by buying The Panic Broadcast, Sworn to a Great Divide, and A Predator’s Portrait on CD. I do plan on seeing them perform live again as soon as they come to Seattle again. Just in case you feel like calling me a pirate, send me a message on Spirit of Metal and I’ll tell you my system of how I support the bands I listen to. One thing that you may notice about the more modern bands is that they end up lasting longer than most the bands from the 60s and 70s. This is mainly because the laws on drugs are stricter now than they were then as well as us knowing more about the negative effects of mind-altering substances now. Although it is still an issue, more people did drugs (especially the hard ones) back in the 70s (the hippie days) because we just didn’t know how many negative effects they have on us and how serious. So there were bands that didn’t last more than 10 years like Led Zeppelin, Cream, and The Jimi Hendrix Experience. But there are bands today that aren’t having anywhere near as much success as those guys but have been around since the late 80s/early 90s!

Soilwork was doing a pretty good job at keeping the same general sound for their first couple of albums. When they started releasing albums under Nuclear Blast, the first being A Predator’s Portrait, they really started experimenting with other different genres and started taking in more and more inspiration from artists from a wide range of genres. It seemed that Stabbing the Drama was the best they could possibly get and it couldn’t get any better than that. And then came along Sworn to a Great Divide to prove us wrong; that Soilwork has no such thing as limits. After people were astonished by this perfect record, along came The Panic Broadcast to yet again prove to us that the statement “the best that they can do” doesn’t and can’t apply to Soilwork.

Although as an album, this isn’t Soilwork’s heaviest record, but it contains some of their heaviest material. Speed takes off some of the roughness from his yells to give his vocals more of a thrash metal sound. The guitars have a really interesting sound that is unlike the high-pitched crunchy sound that is on all of their other albums except for Stabbing the Drama and The Panic Broadcast. The sound of the guitars is very narrow; it has next to no crunch to it, it has absolutely no reverb, and sometimes has a metallic sound when a chord that has a lot of notes is being played. The album does lack a little bit in the bass section, but that is easily fixed by turning up the subs to give it that punch us bass junkies enjoy.

After slowing things down for a couple of albums like Figure Number Five and Stabbing the Drama; the group of Swedes wanted to bring back old memories to the fans but with a new twist. Throughout the entire record they weave in unexpected genres like jazz, smooth progressive rock, and new age as well as fusing other metal genres like thrash metal, technical death, metalcore, and even some sounds that some may recognize as originating from the music of Opeth. Speed’s singing to this day remains top-notch with a crisp, perfectly in-tune voice.

My favorite song on the record is also the heaviest one, The Pittsburgh Syndrome. This is one of the best examples of the large amounts of thrash metal they have fused with their signature sound in this album. There is also a strong metalcore sound in many parts of this song (although there’s more in the Stabbing the Drama album). But otherwise, the song is so fast-paced and chaotic that it seems that the track ends almost seconds after you start it!

I’ve been listening to almost four years now and have grown to become extremely familiar with their music and some of their history. This album has been my favorite by them ever since I first heard it; although The Panic Broadcast came very close to beating this one. I would recommend this to anyone and everyone, period. This gets 20/20. 

Arsis - United in Regret

October 26th, 2006 marks the date that Arsis released their long-awaited follow-up to their debut classic, A Celebration of Guilt. I think that there are quite a few people out there that can agree with me when I say that this record is disappointing. Filled with anger towards Willowtip Records for not giving them the freedom to progress their music, Arsis had a very difficult time writing United in Regret. Don’t get me wrong, this album is good, but it Arsis’ worst album by far. If you look at the ratings I gave each of Arsis’ albums on Spirit of Metal you will find that most of them are 16/20 or above. Although in a general sense I’m easily impressed, I’ve started to become more critical with the music I listen to; exploring every aspect of the music with greater depth and knowledge. I have also picked up the habit of doing extensive research of a certain genre or band, especially when I’m writing a review about it.

Many of the members left the band sometime after the release of United in Regret; I’m guessing because of utter tour exhaustion because Arsis ended up being on the road constantly for almost two years. But we have yet to talk about what one would hear once they but this record on the table (I’m a record spinner). The tempo changes in all of the songs are confusing and hard to keep up with making the music hard to fully enjoy. The key and chord structure remains inconsistent throughout the record giving the impression that you have pieces of different songs put together into one song; so a lot of the parts sound out of place.

The notes that the guitar solos don’t seem to be at all in the same key as the song; and one of the things that I find repulsive is when there is a complete clash of key signatures. The solos and technicality are well beyond impressive, but the music backing it up is weak and colorless. And even though this isn’t anywhere near being their fastest and most technical album (the two albums after this are actually a lot more complex), the band felt that they were being forced to spit out pure technicality and complexity; but they did sneak in some simpler and slower guitar lines and tempos here and there to give the music some interest. The lyrics don’t really make any sense to me, maybe just because I have a hard time understanding the messages behind lyrics (which is why I don’t usually bother with them at all). But it also could be because the band didn’t really care much about what this album sounded like because they knew that this was going to be their last Willowtip release anyway, so why bother working hard on an album that you have such limited freedom on?

Although it may seem like I’m completely bashing this album and saying it sucks; it does, but only when compared to everything else Arsis has released. If you just put it by itself without comparing it to anything, it would be considered by me to be a “better-than-average” record. There isn’t anything on this album that really sticks out to me therefore causing me to have a lack of motivation to listen to this album. I actually don’t really listen to United in Regret very much at all because it just isn’t nearly as enjoyable and satisfying as A Celebration of Guilt, Starve for the Devil, and We are the Nightmare.

As far as recommendations go, I wouldn’t recommend that you look this up unless you are either really curious, a die-hard Arsis fan, a huge tech death fan (like me), or if you have never heard music before and this is the only album that you can access. United in Regret is pretty mediocre although the technicality and major improvements in the vocals have earned it three extra points. I don’t really have much else to say other than if you’ve never heard Arsis before, look up one of their other albums. I would give this 13/20. 

Arsis - A Diamond for Disease [EP]

This is an EP that really deserves more attention. Why? Because sound completely different from everything else Arsis has released. The main reason why this is the only release that Arsis made that has this sound was because it was not well-perceived by the critics. Arsis was already getting a strong taste of success following the release of their debut, A Celebration of Guilt; so to further expand their sound; Arsis recorded a 3-song EP that was initially intended just for the ears of critics. But being the perfectionists that they are, after receiving less-than-perfect feedback from the critics on their “new” sound, the frustrated Virginians put the limited amount of copies up for grabs and were pressured by Willowtip Records to stick to their old sound. After releasing their mediocre sophomore release, Arsis left Willowtip to search for a record label known for the large amount of freedom that it gave its bands. For those of you that don’t really pay attention to the different record labels out there, Nuclear Blast is known for just telling their bands “Ok now go off and write the songs for your next album. Try to make it progressive and interesting and we will be expecting the finalized recordings in about two years.” Who wouldn’t want to be on a label like that??

But this EP was released years before they got signed on to Nuclear Blast. Because it was a quickly done release that wasn’t initially intended for the public, they didn’t put a lot of time into making the sound quality really good. So in other words, the guitar distortion and the sound quality of the instruments are considerably poorer than their other albums. Of course for those of you that are like me and can still enjoy the music no matter what the production quality is, you might have an easier time enjoying this record than others. When the EP was released to the public, those who adored A Celebration of Guilt were quick to get their hands on it; leaving the rest of us in the dirt.

The overall sound of the music isn’t nearly as fast and technical as their first album; which was probably what the change in sound was. The drumming was still extremely fast, but there was much less shredding by the guitarists and more chugging and soloing. Don’t be turned away from the first track due to its twelve-minute length because it’s actually the best song off the record. The song is filled with Augury-styled experimentation and mind-blowing creativity. There is a considerable amount of emotion contained in this record which I feel was another thing that Arsis felt that they needed more of. There aren’t really any downsides to this album, but the reason I didn’t give it an extremely high score is because even though the record is without faults, it still ceases to leave me speechless like other records have done. After the release of this EP, Arsis goes through a long, drawn out series of drama, line-up changes, and what’s commonly known as “writers’ block” which is when a songwriter just all of a sudden temporarily runs out of ideas. I would give this album 16/20. 

Arsis - A Celebration of Guilt

It feels like I’ve been listening to Arsis for ages, but it’s actually only been about two years. I was a high school freshman and my friend and I noticed that on the website of one of our favorite concert venues that Arch Enemy was coming. I had become pretty familiar with Arch Enemy by that time but decided that since I had never heard of most the opening acts (Exodus and Arsis) that I would give this show a pass. And remember, my friend and I were only 14. So a couple days before the show played, my friend’s mom called me saying that she didn’t want my friend to be in the crowd by himself in case something happened; so she offered to buy me a ticket to the show! Seriously, who wouldn’t turn down free access to a metal show? So then I decided that it would be best if I looked up the other bands that were going to be at the show. The first band that was supposed to be there was Mutiny Within, whom I had already seen. I got an Exodus album and was minimally impressed (this was before I fell in love with all things thrash). I looked up Arsis on Spirit of Metal and saw that they were listed as “technical death”. Technical death? What the hell is that?? Although now I understand the definition of technicality in metal, this was something that I had only heard in The Black Dahlia Murder and All Shall Perish before I looked up this album.

Unlike Exodus, Arsis blew me away. The quartet hailing from Virginia has a sound that can trick anyone into thinking that they’re a European band (as it did with me). Having been in existence for over 10 years now, Arsis has a list of former members that is nearly the size of Black Sabbath’s. There aren’t that many huge death metal bands that have primarily screamed vocals, which is why it took the critics a little while before they were able to get their heads around the fact that Arsis is one of the most popular and influential tech death acts to come out of the 21st century.

Unlike some of the other albums I’ve reviewed, most of what’s on this record is pretty easy to describe. The guitar distortion on this album is still something I’ve never heard on another album (unless I forgot). The distortion has a very fuzzy sound that has some crackly noises (probably excess static from the fuzz effect). The bass even has some fuzz to it; along with the vocals being heavily distorted. Some people might perceive that as having too much editing and effects to cover up the band’s weaknesses. But after seeing them live, one comes to realize that this band has no weaknesses; only strengths. And the effects that are done in the studio only make them sound more awesome.

The song that initially took me off guard was obviously the opening track that starts off with a complex drum into that leads into a perfect demonstration of the two guitarists’ ability to control their instruments and bend them to their will. Although this skull-bursting track still remains my favorite Arsis song, the rest of A Celebration of Guilt tends to be…I guess somewhat weaker than The Face of My Innocence. Now what I’m NOT saying is that the songs all sound the same; the difference in the sound of every Arsis song in existence is enormous. The reason why I consider the majority of the album to be somewhat weak is because the songs basically aren’t as good as the ones on their most recent releases. But A Celebration of Guilt is still a definite classic in my book.

Having as much (and sometimes more) technicality than The Black Dahlia Murder, Arsis proved themselves to be true death metal masters by having the rare honor to have huge sales on their debut full-length within the first month of its release. Ever since then, they’ve done nothing but impress us even more with technicality, creativity, and more recently, fusing several different genres. I would definitely recommend that all of you listen to this and if you haven’t already, BUY IT! This album gets a score of 17/20. 

Thursday, December 29, 2011

After the Burial - In Dreams

After seeing far too many negative reviews of this masterpiece, I think it’s about time that I expressed my love for this album. For those of you that think this was the first album I heard by this band….you would actually be right. Although I was already aware of After the Burial’s existence, I had never bothered to listen to them (along with many other deathcore bands like As Blood Runs Black and Through the Eyes of the Dead). It seems that Sumerian Records has been doing pretty well over the past three years with bands such as The Faceless, I See Stars, Asking Alexandria, Periphery, Animals as Leaders, Born of Osiris, Veil of Maya, and even a dubstep artist known as Borgore. Although Sumerian has been pooping out some of the best albums I’ve ever heard, it seems that the label is possibly being a bit controlling of the bands because most of the Sumerian releases (especially the ones since 2009) sound very similar in some aspects. If you can’t quite see what I’m getting at, I’m talking about this really jumpy Meshuggah sound (sort of like a stretched-out really technical breakdown).

If you consider Meshuggah or this sound occasionally referred to as “djent” to be just breakdown after breakdown, you would basically be correct. But unlike Meshuggah, most of the other bands out there that have this similar sound actually take it and make it interesting. If you haven’t noticed already, I’m not too fond of Meshuggah (although I do own one of their CDs); but I do enjoy listening to them, it’s just that their music gets boring very quickly. If you consider In Dreams by After the Burial to be just breakdown after breakdown, you would be incorrect. Just listen to the first song and you will find that the song opens with a perfect moshing sound (even though it doesn’t have fast double kicks).

I’m not going to bother looking to see if their second vocalist is only on this album or not because regardless of who does the vocals, whoever did it on this album was flawless. The high-pitched vocal fry screams have a touch of intentional distortion to help them fit the rest of the chaos that the record contains. The vocalist also expresses the ability to belt out nasty mid-range yells filled with rage and to exhale some of the deepest growls the deathcore genre has ever heard.

The guitar distortion is very clean therefore making it pleasant to the ears. The album has many sides (not making it constant breakdowns). One of the sounds that this album puts out is a Gojira-influenced sound that sounds fast and creates moshpits on its own, but doesn’t have a very fast double kick being done by the drummer. Another sound that this album drops on you is numerous explosive breakdowns that almost guarantee that whiplash will occur (the best one being during the second half of Pendulum). The last sound that I want to talk about is a powerful melodic death sound similar to that of Soilwork. In the song Pendulum, there are several parts with very melodic parts that even have some clean singing in the background to give the music some beauty. Most of the guitar solos on this album have a traditional heavy metal sound; the best example being the majestic guitar solo during the opening track.

The heaviest track on the record, ironically titled Sleeper, really has a prominent modern Soilwork sound because of the fast tempos and powerful drumming. Another thing that I would like to point out (and this is probably true for all Sumerian albums) is that the amount of bass that is put out by the kick drums and the bass is indescribable by me and possibly is part of the reason why so many people dislike this album because they just couldn’t handle it. I first discovered this album when a couple of the songs leaked and I got my paws on them. I then went on their website and pre-ordered the damn record and will never regret it. I’m giving this fucking masterpiece 19/20. 

Ex Deo - Romulus

I’ve been listening to Ex Deo since the start, so I sort of have a sense of pride that I will be following them throughout their entire career. I have in fact had the pleasure of witnessing one of their live performances (and probably will again because they are coming to Seattle again on the Paganfest tour). For those of you that can’t quite put your finger on what these guys’ theme is, it’s Ancient Rome. Although they focus more on the aspects of battles and wars that the Romans were involved in, there is quite a bit of Ancient Roman mythology entwined in their lyrics and is further expressed in their music. For those of you history fans that were intrigued by bands with ancient mythology and folklore themes like Behemoth, Amorphis, and Nile, Ex Deo explores realms that metal has never before set foot in. Prepare yourself to be taken on a journey back in time to a thriving empire that lasted longer than any other civilization has.

Ex Deo is pretty much the members of Kataklysm plus a member from Blackguard. Although when you see Ex Deo, you won’t be able to tell it’s Kataklysm (unless you know the vocalist’s face really well) because instead of having hair below their shoulders and wearing jeans and black shirts, they’re wearing leather armor, they have their hair tied back tightly, and they’re wearing the symbols of the Ancient Roman Military. I have always loved it when extreme metal bands chose to step away from the traditional themes of death, destruction, anger, and gore and create something that the metalhead community hasn’t seen before. Although this theme is now commonly used, I still love it when the technical death bands chose to go into a science fiction area (mainly cause I’m a sci-fi geek). There are also an increasing number of bands embracing ancient middle-eastern and European themes.

The vocalist for Kataklysm has an extremely brutal and powerful sound to his vocals, making it perfect for the traditional death metal style that Kataklysm plays. But now we have him doing vocals in a melodic death band; it actually sounds really cool! My favorite track still remains the opening song, Romulus. The song starts with the sounds of a windy battlefield as if representing the aftermath of a war scene. His voice then pierces the air belting out the name Romulus. Romulus is the twin brother of Remus, who are said to be the mythological characters who founded the beginning of what would lead into most of the Roman Mythology tales we hear about in our history classes. In Ancient Rome, the twins were taught to the kids as being the ones who founded the Roman Empire (mostly Romulus though). Romulus and Remus were said to be raised by a wolf (therefore supporting the second line of the song “from the wolf’s mouth”). It was said that Romulus wanted to create a certain kind of empire, and Remus wanted a different kind. Even though most of the other people’s opinions were in favor of Rumulus’, the twins were still partial to their own desires. This ended up in a series of fights and disputes between the brothers which eventually ended up with Romulus killing Remus, therefore making Romulus the “true founder” of what became one of the most powerful civilizations that has ever existed.

Enough history, let’s talk about the music that this album fires at you. I’m not sure how to effectively describe the term “epic”, but for those of you that know that something’s epic when you hear it; this album has an extraordinarily epic sound. I’m going to admit that the instrumentation is extremely simple (sorry to break that to those of you technical metal fans). There are several people out there that dislike this record because of its simplicity boring them to sleep. But for me, being a fan of all kinds of music, the mood that this album ignites in the listener is what keeps me engaged in the music. So if you’re an amateur musician that wants to be able to play some metal, this is a good start. But I honestly don’t think that the lack of complexity and technicality in the music is unintentional and due to a lack of creativity; I believe it was done intentionally because for some reason, that’s what the band thought the music needed to sound like.

For being a band that has only released one album, I’m impressed with how high the positions are that they get placed on tours. When I saw them, they were the last band to come on before the headliner of the tour which was Nile. And I’m aware that they’ve headlined at least one Canadian tour and have gotten high ranks on European tours and now getting the spot below the headliner of this year’s Paganfest tour. And I know that this is most likely because Kataklysm is so huge, but it’s still impressive.

Kataklysm has expressed their ability to compose creative and inventive music of several different genres. They apparently liked the melodic death sound so much that they decided to make a whole other band/side project so that they could have something to vent out all of their melodic creativity so they could keep making the signature Kataklysm sound that everyone loves. I would give this album 18/20 so that there is room for improvement. 

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Decapitated - Carnival is Forever

I was browsing around on Metal Injection and found a YouTube video that had been recently posted that was a mish-mash of all the songs off the new Decapitated album. The video consisted of 30-second clips of each song that tore through my speakers with pure anger and rage. I immediately called my friend Tristen and said “YOU HAVE TO HEAR THIS!!” His only response was “Holy Balls…” It was at that moment when I knew that Decapitated had presented an album that was so impressive to me that I finally said that they deserve the credit they’ve gotten. The only thing that would make me say that is if this album is flawless…which it is. I would also like to pay my respects to this band for living through all of the shit they’ve been going through over the past five years.

Starting with the difficult departure of their original vocalist, the next five years would end up being rough for the band. In 2007, the band got in an automobile crash that killed the drummer and left their vocalist in a coma. While the guitarist was transported back to Poland (as well as the rest of the band), the band decided to disband to let everyone recover from the traumatic events. During the hiatus, Vogg played the guitar for the Polish death metal band Vader on their 2009 masterpiece Necropolis as well as participating as a live member during the tour that supported the album.

In early 2010, Vogg put together a completely new lineup and got a record deal with Nuclear Blast (which was when I found out about them). They then started touring the world for the rest of the year including the 2010 Summer Slaughter Tour where I didn’t see them (I’ll explain why later in the review). During the late months of the year, Decapitated finalized their new songs and entered the studio in early 2011 and soon released Carnival is Forever in July.

The Knife is nothing but an utter explosion of madness and fury; releasing the horde to leap at you out of your speakers. Being in the middle of the moshpit during this song would be considered by some to be nothing short of suicide. But right when you think it’s over, the powerful bass from the kick drums in the beginning of United continues the bombardment of your ears. Continuing on for over half an hour until the beginning of the track known as Silence starts playing to start the relaxation process to help you recover from the beautiful apocalypse that hit your ears.

Now let’s talk about the lineup on this album. Their new vocalist sounds almost exactly like the vocalist from Demon Hunter. He has that growl that’s not really even a true growl because it’s too high-pitched and it doesn’t have enough of a rough texture to it. It would actually sound very good in a thrash metal band (still something I’m looking for but haven’t found yet). Although there is still quite a bit of Meshuggah influence throughout the album (you can tell because the guitarist is wearing a Meshuggah shirt in one of the promo photos for this album), the album is 92% Decapitated. The guitar distortion has a similar sound to that of Organic Hallucinosis, it has a much more controlled sound and is less high-pitched, therefore more pleasant to the eardrums. The kick drums have A LOT OF BASS, if you have subwoofers on your stereo, turn them up a bit and play this record to experience the punch that they put out. Although the bass guitar sound is overpowered by the guitars, you can tell it’s there because how else would the album have so much damn bass?

I also feel that it is necessary for me to admit the pathetic fact that even though I have been to two Decapitated concerts, I have never seen Decapitated play live. In other words, I ended up leaving before they came on; and not only that, I ended up leaving after the band before them finished playing! Now before you attack me, I want to tell you that it was only on purpose the first time at the 2010 Summer Slaughter Tour; I wasn’t at all familiar with them, I only had one album and didn’t really think much of it, and I had just seen ten other death metal bands and I was bushed. The second time was when they were touring to support this album, I was there with my friends Jacob and Christian. So after Decrepit Birth finished their set (my fourth time seeing them), Jacob and I wanted to stay because of the guilt we felt for abandoning Decapitated at the Summer Slaughter show. But then I got a text from Jacob’s mom saying “I’m waiting outside.” So that time, we didn’t have a choice, so before I left I bought a Decapitated wristband so that I wouldn’t feel as guilty; so that I felt that I at least contributed to them in some form. I do promise that the next time I go to a Decapitated concert that I WILL SEE DECAPITATED.

Overall, this album is perfection, there is nothing I would do to change it and would love to see Decapitated release another album exactly like this, and then release another one that shows further progression (it’s ok to have two albums that sound exactly the same as long as you change the sound on the third one to show that you have decent creative abilities). My favorite song off the record is 404, although the entire record is mind-blowing. I would give this 20/20. 

Nightwish - Imaginaerum

When Nightwish fired their vocalist, Tarja Turunen, there was a complete outrage amongst the metal community. Although I understand completely why they would fire an over-egotistical sexy female vocalist, her voice was most of what made Nightwish’s music so amazing. Now even though I discovered Nightwish after they had released Dark Passion Play, the first album I heard by them was their 2004 masterpiece Once which was the last Nightwish album that Tarja appeared on. I was amazed by Once, and set out to find some of their other material, but the only albums I could find at the library (which was where I got a lot of my music at the time) were Century Child and Dark Passion Play. Yet again, I loved both of those albums. So now that I have been listening to Nightwish for almost five years, I’ve become extremely familiar with their music as well as their history. And here comes their long-awaited 2011 album, Anette’s chance to prove that she truly belongs in Nightwish; to prove that Dark Passion Play wasn’t just a fluke. Turns out that it wasn’t a fluke.

I’m going to start off with a topic that I bet a lot of you love getting involved in. Who is better: Anette or Tarja? Tarja is a classically trained singer, so her vocals tend to have a more operatic sound most of the time which is what causes the utter beauty and musicality of her voice. She also has a very unique sound and a wide vocal range. Anette’s vocals aren’t operatic at all. She has more of a traditional singing style; but she still is very well in-tune and has a beautiful crisp sound. Also, Anette’s harmonizations are very clean with a little bit of an edge which is helped with a wide vocal range that mainly goes to the higher ranges. Notice that I did nothing but list the qualities and traits of the two singers; I didn’t say either one was better than the other. Here’s something that you might not have noticed before: the entire band’s music from when Tarja was singing is a lot different than the music that backs up Anette.

In all of the albums before Dark Passion Play, the guitars were very loud and had an extremely dirty and crunchy distortion that sometimes even overpowered the rest of the band (like in the song Nemo). The music was faster and more aggressive and the music was also filled with lots of powerful sounds that come from an orchestra. Tarja’s powerful operatic vocals fit the music perfectly therefore making her the only vocalist able to sing along with the older songs and still have the music sound amazing.

In Dark Passion Play, the guitars still have a deep growl sound, but it’s a much much cleaner distortion. On top of that, the guitars are turned down a great deal to balance out the rest of the music. The music isn’t as fast, and has less of an aggressive sound; but still has an unbelievably amount of power that it puts out. The songs have a more traditional radio-friendly structure (not necessarily a bad thing) but still have a good length. The operatic instruments (played on the keyboards by Captain Jack Sparrow) are turned down a great deal, focusing more on the atmosphere that the music creates rather than complicated orchestral arrangements to back up the music. The only vocalist that can sound good with this album is Anette with her crisp, high-pitched (but still powerful) voice.

What I’m trying to get at is that ever since Wishmaster, Nightwish has always sounded good, even though they have been going through several major and minor shifts in their musical style. So neither vocalist is better than the other because they’re both amazing; just amazing in two different ways.

So the writing process of the new album was delayed by resting needs of the band members and Anette’s pregnancy. So the writing process of Imaginaerum started in late 2010 and was finished fairly quickly. Unlike their previous album, Nightwish didn’t make constant updates on their website about how the production and such of the new record was going; they stayed pretty low for the majority of the process, probably still pretty exhausted from all the media attention following Tarja’s departure. I’m still confused about what record label they’re on because on Spirit of Metal it says that almost all of their albums were released purely under Nuclear Blast, but when I looked on the Nuclear Blast website, it said that Nightwish was a “former” artist and that they were on Century Media (Nuclear Blast’s lesser partner). But then I saw under Nuclear Blast that they were releasing Imaginaerum so I don’t know it’s too confusing to even bother with it.

Nightwish uses Imaginaerum as an experimental album because they had been playing the same general sound for about eight years, making several minor changes in their sound in 2007. But they still needed to show that they could still be inventive and come up with something new. Imaginaerum is what they used to explore different musical realms. Throughout the record you hear other genres and elements being toyed with like folk, jazz, acoustic rock, alternative, new age, and even some screaming being done by both Anette and Marco. For those of you that are thinking “SCREAMING?? You can’t be serious!” Look up the song Ghost River. You also hear a lot more of Marco’s voice than in any of the other previous albums (probably because of Tarja’s ego and huge need to be the center of the music).

If you are a music fan at all, you should already know that there are a few songs out there that put a big huge smile on your face and give you butterflies no matter how many times you listen to it. You should also know that these particular specialties are extremely rare. Nightwish has already come out with two songs that create that kind of emotion in me and those songs are Dark Chest of Wonders and Amaranth. Well, let me tell you that there is one song on Imaginaerum that yet again creates that emotion, that song is the one that has a strong folk metal-induced sound, I Want my Tears Back. When you listen to this song, the crunchy guitars at the beginning take you back to the “Tarja Era” to then be sucked into a familiar form of vocal harmonization being done by the female and Marco that was in I Wish I had an Angel. After that you are immediately pulled into a melodic power metal sound surrounded and empowered by the sounds of bagpipes and flutes.

There is one song that was a major disappointment for me and that is the ballad that comes right before I Want my Tears Back. The song is beautiful, but the drummer completely ruined it. In this song the drummer uses those metal brushes on the symbols and snare, and he’s completely lost and out of time. It just completely ruined it to the point where I just skipped to the next song. Other than that, this album is a masterpiece that deserves much credit. Being a true album of creativity and experimentation, Imaginaerum gets 19/20. 

I also want to show you what the full picture on the album cover looks like: 

Wormrot - Dirge

I completely understand how hard it is to truly appreciate grindcore. Heck, when I heard my first grindcore album which was Phantom Limb by Pig Destroyer, I didn’t know what the hell to think! After about a week I decided that I hated it; but for some reason I kept that album on my computer. I actually still listened to the first track every once in a while, but I still couldn’t stand listening to the whole thing. But I gradually started to understand grindcore more and more as time went on, and even now I’m still a little iffy about the genre. The band that really turned me on to grindcore was the Canadian band Fuck the Facts, whom I saw in concert and ended up pressing my lips against the vocalist’s. But we’re not here to talk about kissing Mel Mongeon, I’m here to tell you about a grindcore band that has been through a lot of shit and is from a place that you wouldn’t expect to find a metal band, and that is Wormrot from Singapore.

The majority of people would listen to Wormrot and say that this is your average traditional grindcore band. The majority of full-length grindcore albums out there have no less than 11 songs, this album has 25. And someone might look at the less-than-two-minute song lengths and just assume that it’s just random noise (later to be mocked by Wormrot’s 2011 Noise EP). But if you sit down and listen to the album straight through a couple of times, you will find that there are actually several different kinds of songs. I would recommend that you listen to the songs in order (rather than on shuffle like I do most of the time) because a lot of songs blend into the next one therefore enhancing the Wormrot listening experience.

 Their vocalist expresses the ability to make several different sounds come out of his mouth. You will hear the Lee Dorian-style yell, the Seth Putnam-style scream, exhaled growls, inhaled growls, and even the traditional grindcore pigsqueal. Like most grindcore lyrics, there isn’t a specific theme or topic that is generally followed within the album; the lyrics just seem like a bunch of random shit that the vocalist wrote down in his notebook while high on some unknown substance.

A lot of people would listen to this album and say that there is no music in this, it’s just freaking noise. I tend to agree with that actually, but then again, what is music? Some say that music has to have notes and a steady beat, some say that real music doesn’t have any auto-tuned vocals, some say that good music died when Britney Spears released her first single, the list goes ON AND ON! Here’s the reason why I love music so much: There are no limits, if you take ANY sound, there are at least three people in this world that would call that sound music. A lot of people call the sound of raindrops hitting the leaves on the ground music, some people consider the chirping sound that birds make music, some people consider grindcore to be music. I believe that there’s no true definition of what “true” music is, it’s all just opinion! And although I rarely consider a grindcore band to be musical in any form, I would be one of the first people to buy a ticket to see Wormrot when (or even if) they come to Seattle.

The story behind this album is not an enjoyable one. And it might be especially hard for those of you hardcore Earache Records fans. It’s pretty surprising that none of the other reviews of this album on Spirit of Metal mention this. This album was released in March of this year, in a world where the music industry is just barely skidding along, especially that of the extreme metal industry, where bands made little money even before illegal downloads were available on the internet. I don’t know when the first illegal internet music downloads happened (please tell me if you know) but it’s taken over the global music industry. Although the biggest and most used file storage/sharing website for pirating music and movies, Limewire, was shut down in 2010, the music industry is still suffering; and yes, even the rap and pop artists are having less of an income.

I’ll never forgive Earache Records for doing this because this is the most retarded thing a record label has ever done. Wormrot released Dirge while they were on tour. Their tour bus for some reason got impounded in the middle of the tour, so the only thing that could give them the money to pay the impound to get their bus back was the sales of their second full-length album. But without them knowing, Earache wasn’t being careful with the album and it leaked all over the internet. When Earache saw that this was happening, the amount of downloads that had already been done was so large that the label decided “what’s the point of selling the damn album?” and they started giving the record out for free on their website! Although Earache records started charging money for the album about a month or so after they started giving out for free, Wormrot was still stuck with all of their equipment locked inside their impounded van.

This is an amazing grindcore record that can’t get any purer than this. This album is enough to make a grindcore fan happy. Although they don’t have that big of a fan base, the critics (myself included) love them! This deserves 16/20. 

Decapitated - Organic Hallucinosis

After touring the world constantly throughout 2004, Decapitated needed to go back home to Poland and start writing new material. By this time, Decapitated was becoming one of the biggest European death metal acts of the 21st century. Every album that they had released had gotten rave reviews by the critics and the fans, all of the albums being considered instant classics. Ever since their original vocalist was given the pink slip, the rest of the band quit hard drugs all together and decided to go completely herbal to prevent further conflict and confusion. At this point in their career, the band had been pretty dependable with their releases; releasing a new album during the late winter months every other year.

There is quite an increase in the amount of blast beats being used. And when that is mixed with the clangy-sounding guitar distortion, it actually has a somewhat unattractive mushy sound that can take some getting used to in order for you to truly appreciate the sound of the music. One of the best examples of this sound would be A Poem about an Old Prison Man. Because of that mushy sound and the lack of palm-muting on the guitars kind of makes the notes that the musicians are playing somewhat difficult to follow. But after a while of listening to the album a couple of times, you start to hear that the band is very tight and extremely focused. Organic Hallucinosis shows that the members of Decapitated know and have the ability to control their instruments.

The vocalist that is on this album (and this album only) has a really unique that fits the rest of the music surprisingly well. Even though I don’t like this guy as much as Pig, I still enjoy his growls and would definitely listen to the next band he does vocals for. His vocals have a thrash metal sound; they sound more like a really dirty yell than a growl. He sounds like the vocalists for Vader, post-1997 Sepultura, and DevilDriver. But he was unfortunately unable to continue on with the band after the big car crash in 2007 because of how slow his recovery was going. 

I also would like to point out that this is pretty much the end of the band’s Meshuggah phase; so the music on this album is 92% Decapitated. The easiest (and sometimes the best) way to get through a “writer’s block” is to take sounds from other bands, build a basic foundation out of that, and then build up from there; it’s easier to build a song off of a foundation than to start completely from scratch. But it’s always possible to have too much of another band’s sound in your music. But I’m not going to ramble on about that, if you want to see what I have to say about that, read my review of Decapitated’s Nihility album.

I will admit that I feel the guitars are a bit overpowering and make it hard to hear the bassist; but it’s not to the extreme point to where it really bothers me. You can also tell that the band spent quite a bit of time on the production of this album because there are a lot of special effects being done on the instruments and vocals; therefore showing signs of curiosity and experimentation, which is just what I like to see.

As far as the overall sound of the album goes, this is their craziest and most chaotic album. The uncontrolled drumming never stops; keeping the music going at an aggressive pace. The lead guitarist’s solos are backed up with blast beat drumming and fast constant chord changes being done by the rhythm guitarist and the bassist. The bassist has his guitar tuned down very low, but has the treble turned up so that you can hear the sound of the metal strings being picked and hitting the frets. There is an increased use of breakdowns at the end of songs like in Post(?) Organic and Visual Delusion. This album is amazing and only gets better after this making me score this album 17/20. 

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Decapitated - Negation

I personally think that this album is Decapitated’s major breakthrough album (in other words, every album that has been released after this one so far has been really good). I’m not going to talk too much about their history because I go on enough about it in my reviews of their first two records. I will say that by this time, Decapitated was rarely opening for other bands; they were headlining pretty much every show and tour they played. My complaint about their album previous to this one is a major lack of originality that is overtaken by a sound that relates to that of Meshuggah. Although this album still has a strong Meshuggah influence, the music doesn’t revolve completely around it; it’s Decapitated, but with a hint of Meshuggah.

It was this album that really turned me on to Decapitated. After Organic Hallucinosis, I got the rest of their albums in chronological order and wasn’t fully impressed until I played this one. Although I would still consider this band the least technical tech death band, I guess the drumming makes up for the simple guitar work. You can tell that in their second album, there was an increase in drug use because that’s what the majority of the lyrics are about, and that is even more apparent in Negation.

Unfortunately, this is the last album to feature “Pig” on vocals. I personally think that Pig was the best vocalist Decapitated has ever had. But although the rest of the band loved his growls, he was eventually fired from the band for some reason that I can’t find. It’s funny because after Pig departed, they burned through almost four vocalists before settling with their current vocalist in 2009.

My favorite song from this album is undoubtedly Three-Dimensional Defect. The song having a breakdown-like tempo leading into blast beat drumming and deep, powerful trembolo-picked guitars is a piece that is what is known as a metalhead’s dream. The guitar distortion doesn’t have a crunchy sound like you would expect from a European tech death band. It actually has a really smooth sound, but you can still hear the edginess of the distortion; it just sounds more controlled and high-quality compared to other European technical death groups.

Except for Behemoth, all of the Polish metal bands I listen to I discovered somehow through Decapitated. I guess mainly because of clicking the links of the other bands the Decapitated members have been involved in on Spirit of Metal. Some of those bands that I’ve discovered include Sceptic, Key to Nowhere, Vader (yes, that Vader), Thunderbolt, Vesania, Lux Occulta, Totem, Anal Stench, and the thrash metal band Virgin Snatch. Honestly, Behemoth still remains my favorite Polish band (mainly because I’m a black metal guy). But I do feel that even though they weren’t around in the early 1990s, Decapitated stands as one of the most influential death metal bands Europe has ever produced.

The lyrical themes really took on the direction of drug-induced psychedelic themes. The vocals are higher pitched than in Winds of Creation. The drummer also progresses by using lots of highly creative and powerful blast beats with tons of bass on the kick drums so that you can feel them pounding when you turn up the bass on your speakers. So far, this is the album with the best sound quality that Decapitated has ever put out. This album is definitely a classic in my book and deserves my score of 17/20. 

Dragonforce - Inhuman Rampage

Being part of the generation of American youth that was born in the mid-1990s, Dragonforce came to my attention because of the XBOX game Guitar Hero. I don’t have an XBOX (or any videogame console) of my own, but I do play them when I’m at a friend’s house. Other than that, I just had a couple of games I would play on my computer (currently it’s just Minecraft). I honestly think that the majority of Dragonforce fans know that the band owes their fame to the Guitar Hero video game. The song that is on Guitar Hero is Through the Fire and Flames. And all you have to do is listen to the song to realize how big of a deal it was if someone got a score of 85% or higher with this song on the “expert” level. Of course I do believe that they did have a good sized fan base before their recognition skyrocketed, but when you think of it, it’s kind of pathetic knowing that you’re fame was made possible by a freaking video game.

My friend came to me one day; I think I was in 5th or 6th grade. He went on YouTube and showed me this song, and honestly, I really didn’t like it. This was before my interest in the extreme metal genres, although I had already started listening to a handful of death metal bands out there like Suffocation, Insision, Obituary, Scar Symmetry, Cryptopsy, and Arch Enemy. Even then, I hadn’t really heard anything as fast as this (I was still in my 70s progressive rock/heavy metal phase). So I really didn’t like it and heard nothing but instruments playing random notes as fast as they could.

Literally about two and a half years passed by before I thought about Dragonforce again. By the time I gave them a second go, I was listening to a lot of metal (mainly nu metal). I had fallen in love with new records coming out like Lamb of God’s Wrath, Blooddrunk by Children of Bodom, Holographic Universe by Scar Symmetry, and Awaken the Dreamers by All Shall Perish. I couldn’t find a copy of this album, but I got ahold of the mediocre Sonic Firestorm. I was minimally impressed, although I did like the song Fury of the Storm. But I wanted a taste of their best material! I then remembered that I could most likely find it on YouTube. So I found Through the Fire and Flames, listened to it, and was blown away.

Even to this day, I am still amazed by the seven-and-a-half minute masterpiece. But there’s one problem, the rest of the album sounds pretty much the same. Obviously this band has talent and mad skills when it comes to speed. The acoustic guitar intro at the beginning of the song is actually keyboards, and the switch from a driving, angry sound to a beautiful melodic powerful sound is one of those things that make me smile. The vocalist puts an unbelievably huge amount of emotion into his singing, which is something I love to see and is also something that isn’t that common. The band is very tight, well-practiced, and creative. The first song isn’t repetitive at all even though it has a traditional radio-friendly structure (besides the length). But there’s one problem I have with this album: the rest of the songs aren’t as good and they all sound the same. When I first got my hands on this CD, I listened to it constantly and got tired of it after about...maybe four days. Of course I never got tired of this song, but it seems that the band is putting most of their focus on speed Speed SPEED!!

Of course this was right before I became aware of the release of Ultra Beatdown, a huge improvement in the band’s musicality. So this was the only album by them I listened to.

The most known member of the band is their Asian lead guitarist. I consider him (and is known as) faster than any other rock or metal guitarist that has ever lived. Most consider him to be the fastest guitarist PERIOD, but look around the interwebs and see how fast some of the classical guitarists can play. I (and apparently a lot of others) think that he’s majorly overrated and has received far too much credit and awards than what he has deserved. His solos all pretty much sound the same because it’s just constant shredding. But there is still a lot of improvisation involved. Improvisation is very hard, it’s even harder to make it sound (even a little) different every time. Some people just have a natural talent for it (I’m not one of those people, mainly because I don’t know scales and other theory stuff like that). But you at least have to give him some credit for being able to play so damn fast.

Overall, this album is very enjoyable to listen to…every couple of months. After listening to it once, I can’t listen to it for at least two months or so because if I listen to it again too soon, it bores the hell out of me and I’ll switch right to a Firewind album to give me something more interesting to listen to. The only truly good song on this album is the first one (I think I’ve made that clear enough already). But if you haven’t heard this record yet, I highly suggest that you do, because despite what I said, it truly is a one-of-a-kind record. I would give this a solid score of 11/20. 

Decapitated - Nihility

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: a band’s sophomore release is far more important than their debut!! That means that it has to be BETTER than their debut. A band’s debut is just a compilation of the best songs they’ve written since they formed. It really helps a band’s commercial success if they release a well-received debut, but in their second album, they need to show that they have the ability to grow, mature, explore, and write songs. There have been several cases where a band has failed to display this, and when that happens, it takes more than one REALLY good release to make up for the loss (in my book). Nihility is Decapitated’s most popular album. Out of all the people I’ve asked, about 67.44071% of them said Nihility was their favorite Decapitated record. Personally, I think Nihility is Decapitated’s most unimpressive album.

Having discovered the Polish death metal monsters in late 2009 with Organic Hallucinosis, I was never extremely impressed with them until I (for some reason impulsively) pre-ordered Carnival is Forever. I listened to Carnival is Forever and then went back and listened to the rest of their discography that I had downloaded back in 2010 but had barely touched. The next couple of times I listened to their albums, I came to love them. Each time I listen to them, I like their music more (including this album).

I just realized a couple of seconds ago that starting with this album, Decapitated is strongly influenced by a certain Swedish band. If you’re curious as to what band this is, listen to the song Spheres of Madness. Until Carnival is Forever, Decapitated’s music strongly related to that of this huge Swedish band whose name I will not mention because you should be able to tell. If you like, you can post a comment on this review saying what band you think it is.

The bass in this album is so low that it’s still not much of anything when I turn up my subwoofer on my computer (talk about pathetic). I feel that the production part of the album was rushed and done lazily because the overall sound quality of the album is low compared to their well-received debut. I will expect that you don’t call me someone that judges an album on the quality of the production because my favorite black metal band is Xasthur. And I probably listen to more low-quality bands than you’ve even heard of.

The musicality of the album does show a lot of signs of progression and exploration of other genres. But the amount of focus and commitment seems to have decreased. Decapitated mainly owes their lack in focus to an increase in hard drug use after the release of Winds of Creation. This generally explains the really abstract lyrics and themes that don’t seem to have any point at all and the unorganized song structure. The members did increase their instrumental skill, but they didn’t increase their musical and creative abilities. I feel that it’s completely necessary to bring in inspiration and influence from other bands and mix it in with your music, but there’s a point to where there’s more influence and inspiration than originality. In other words, there’s less Decapitated and more of other bands’ sounds in their music. The music that Nihility puts out is actually pretty good, but I still find all of their other albums more enjoyable to listen to; mainly because there’s more Decapitated in those albums.

Making music original and unique is extremely difficult. When you actually get down to it, coming up with good music is very hard and frustrating. One of the things that make it easier is taking some qualities and sounds from other bands and mixing it together. Once you have that platform, it’s a lot easier to build up a song from there. But I think it’s very possible to have too much influence. An example would be: if there’s a lot more Psycroptic in your music than you, there’s a lack of originality. This is definitely obvious when you keep mistaking bands like Warbringer for Destruction, or if you keep getting Impaled and Carcass mixed up, or when you can’t tell the difference between Foreigner and Journey (I certainly can’t!).

Overall, the lack of creativity aside, this is actually a really good album and would deserve a much higher score if there was more Decapitated in it. After this album, Decapitated gets better and better over time as they get one of those random creativity boosts that keep them high in the sky to eventually become one of the biggest death metal acts of the 21st century. I would give this album 12/20. 

Drowning the Light - An Alignment of Dead Stars

A lot of people (including many of my friends) have a very difficult time enjoying music with an extremely low production quality (in other words, the album sounds like crap). There are people out there that actually love the low-quality sound of a lot of black metal that is out there; I can say that there are many instances where I feel that the music wouldn’t sound as good if the production quality was better and less raw. When you hear black metal fans use the word “raw” when talking about music, the term refers to the extreme lack of editing done to the original recordings. An Alignment of Dead Stars is a perfect example of a “raw” black metal record. One of my favorite types of music, ambient black, is almost always consisted of very low quality and raw recordings. I only know of one ambient black artist that actually puts some time into the mixing and production of his music and that is Elffor.

The sound that Drowning the Light creates is a modernized traditional black metal sound that has the production quality of a Velvet Cacoon record. I think it’s because of the raw sound of the music that the majority of the people I know of that have even heard of Drowning the Light are people that pretty much only listen to black metal. Just look at a bunch of the profiles on Spirit of Metal that have added Drowning the Light to their bands list, you will see that the other bands on their list consist of mainly other underground black metal bands.

I’m mentioning that purely as an observation. I’m not saying that to bash or support Drowning the Light. Currently, I only have three albums by these guys, and it’s hard to imagine that they could have anything better because the three I have sound pretty much the same. Those albums are The Blood of the Ancients, An Alignment of Dead Stars, and The Serpents Reign. The reason why I gave this album one more point than the others is that the vocals sound a lot better. The vocalist seems to be putting a lot more power and emotion into his vocals as well as in the rest of the music.

This album reminds me somewhat of Woods of Desolation’s 2008 debut because there are several songs that have parts where there is just an out of tune acoustic guitar playing a melodic lick to give the music some atmosphere and set a certain tone that can’t really be put into words. The song where this is most notable is Dragged to an Ocean Grave. There are also a couple of short acoustic interludes sprinkled here and there like The Flame and Drifting Away in a Sea of Sorrow (which is a beautiful track).  

This record is one of those that I think is best for background music; mainly because the album drags out and sounds like one long song (not necessarily a bad thing). I’m saying that because it’s really hard for me to just focus on the music for the whole album; it’s not one of those albums that sucks me in and takes me away from reality like some albums do. So when I just put all three of the albums I have on shuffle, you can’t really tell the difference between all of the songs except for when you hear the vocals from The Serpents Reign that sound like a cat choking on a duck.

Although it may seem like I’ve been ripping on this album for most of the review, it’s not a bad album at all and is something you should sit down and listen to. But rather than it sucking you in, it creates a mood inside you that’s quite relaxing after a while. I would like to see Drowning the Light do something different and a little more interesting. Other than that, there isn’t really much else I can think of to say about this album other than I would give this 14/20. 

Decapitated - Winds of Creation

My first Decapitated album was Organic Hallucinosis, which I don’t think is technical enough to be considered technical death. I got that album during the summer of 2009 and for the longest time, was the only album I had by them. That is, until January of 2010 when I saw that they had been signed on to Nuclear Blast. I guess I wasn’t quite fully aware of how big their fan base really was until I saw the hype they created by announcing the release of Carnival is Forever. A month or so after I saw them get signed onto Nuclear Blast I decided to get the rest of their discography. After listening to their other three albums, I guess I realized that technicality doesn’t always have to be in the guitars.

The majority of Decapitated’s technicality can be found in what the drummer does. Even though they’re technical enough for me to consider them a true tech death band, they’re probably the least technical band in the genre. I say this because there are traditional death metal, death grind, and brutal death bands that are more technical than Decapitated. Some of those bands include Dying Fetus, Death, Nile, early Cannibal Corpse, and some material by Abysmal Dawn. But yet when you ask the average Decapitated fan what genre they would put them as, they would say something like “DERP, tech death!”

But don’t get the impression that genre specification has anything to do with what I think of the band. Although I will admit that I have a soft-spot for technicality. I did hear someone say something that I feel has a lot of truth, he said “a good band is not defined by speed or how technical they are; they are defined by whether or not they create an emotion within the listener.”

To be honest, I actually really like it when a band throws in a cover as the final track on an album. In this case it’s a Slayer cover that’s from my favorite album by them, South of Heaven. I know that there are a lot of you out there that like to bash on bands that play covers saying that they’re “uncreative”, “rip-offs”, or “that the original is better”. When I hear a cover, whether or not it’s better than the original is the last thing that pops into my head. I see a cover as a band’s demonstration of respect towards the bands that have influenced them. But I will admit that there are several covers out there that are better than the originals like Vader’s cover of Black Metal by Venom, blink-182’s cover of All the Small Things by Men at Work, and Hatebreed’s version of Thirsty and Miserable by Black Flag. And remember, I love Venom, Men at Work, and Black Flag, A LOT.

One might think that the production quality of this album is poor. But all you have to do is add some bass and turn up the volume, and it actually sounds really powerful and dark. The vocalist’s guttural growls are pristine with a very crisp sound. For those of you long-haired freaks (like me), this album is perfect to do the hair twirly thing (I don’t know what else to call it, but you know what I mean). The guitarists express a great deal of creativity and teamwork even though they don’t take up very much of the technicality that the album holds.

I love how you can hear the bassist, but unless you’ve been listening to death metal for a long time or unless you’re a bassist like me you might not be able to hear the bass guitar as easily. The music on this album is very fun to play on any instrument. There is something on this record that bothers me; and that is that the majority of the songs have the same general sound. It’s one of those things where if you’re not giving the music your undivided attention, it all sounds like one long song. But this is pretty understandable since this is an extremely young band and it’s their first album. But that aside, it’s obvious that this group has a lot of potential.

Overall, this is actually a really good record considering that this is only a debut. I did learn that Decapitated had already built up a pretty good sized fan base in Europe by the time this album was released; so they had quite a bit of support to give them an extra boost to make their future success run more smoothly. If I could change some things around a little bit, I would turn the bass up a bit, turn down a few of the percussionist’s drums (specifically his snare), and increase the production quality. Other than that, there isn’t really anything I would want to do to make this album better. I would give this 15/20. 

Friday, December 23, 2011

Dark Funeral - Attera Totus Sanctus

The space of time in between Dark Funeral releases gets bigger and bigger each time. But recently, since the release of Diabolis Interium, the albums have been getting better, and Attera Totus Sanctus is the best album Dark Funeral has put out so far. Although this is considered by most to be the start of a decline in the quality and originality in Dark Funeral’s music, this album has still won the place of one of my favorite black metal albums. Attera Totus Sanctus is the biggest sign of Dark Funeral’s boost in maturity and musicianship, even though they already expressed that very well with Diabolis Interium. Around this point in the band’s career, they were finally recognized as not being a stereotypical “poseur” Satanic band; they were rather considered true and real to the religion (which is how I proudly consider them).

I’m not going to talk too much about their history because I talk about that enough in my reviews their other albums previous to this one. So because of that, I’m just going to jump into talking about Attera Totus Sanctus. First, I would like to point something out. Look at the color of the album cover on their first two albums; notice a similarity? Then, look at the color of the album covers of the three albums that were released after that and unless you’re colorblind, you should notice a slight lack of creativity as far as color scheme goes. Now I find it ok if a band has most of their album covers in black and white, but when they have actual color in the album cover, and when it’s only one color, and when it’s used in more than two albums in a row, that’s when there’s an obvious lack of creativity and need to make something interesting. Plus, I actually find the Attera Totus Sanctus album cover quite unattractive, so I “made” my own version (I found the background picture on Google, pasted on the band logo, and fixed the band logo and the background image a little bit to make it look awesome, I’ve added a link to the album cover at the bottom of the review).

When Diabolis Interium came out, people thought “there is no way that their drummer can go faster than this!” That is, until this album hit the shelves. Now before any of you call me a pirate, I plan on buying all of their albums (except for their second one) when I see them in February, but I have a system where I download all of my music, then if I love the album, I will decide that the band deserves my money and go out and buy a physical copy. So the downloaded version I have right now is missing the first track, so I’m going to leave it up to you to hear about it because I haven’t taken the time to look it up. I do though, have the rest of the album and can tell you that it’s like nothing you’ve ever heard before, I’ll guarantee you that.

The volume of all of the instruments is balanced out perfectly; none of the instruments are drowning everything else out. I’m especially glad that they turned the drums down a little bit because even though it’s one of the quieter instruments, you can still hear the impossible speeds it’s achieving. The best example of this is Godhate. Unlike their previous albums, there is actually some softer stuff off this record as well as the heavier songs being much more melodic. There is much more of a progressive sound on this album, especially in one of the songs.

Atrum Regina is not a traditional black metal sound. The beginning starts out with a low bass tone that is soon pierced with the tranquilizing sound of the lead guitar playing a slow, almost sorrowful line. This is a slower song, with the kick drums going at a steadier pace. Even though all of the instruments are filled with emotion, melody, and color, Emperor Magus Caligula’s vocals impale the air with the sounds of pure anger and controlled insanity that gives the song its real edge. This is one of those songs that give me that buzzy, almost jittery feeling inside and I highly recommend that you at least look this song up and let it engulf you.

Godhate used to be my favorite song off of this record. It’s one of the fast songs off the record and has some of the angriest and most hateful sounds of any black metal song I’ve ever heard. I’ve always wondered how long it takes before the drummer gets fatigued. But that sparks the question, what happens first: does the drummer get fatigued first? Or do his arms fall off first? I’m half assuming that the opening track is a slower piece that blends into the blazing 666 Voices Inside.

Although many of my reviews are generally positive, this album is one of my favorites that for some reason I feel a special connection to. There is one question, I noticed that both their drummer and their vocalist left after the release of their 2010 record (still on good terms with the band) and that they’ve since replaced them; my question is: are they any good? Because I’m going to see these guys in February and I don’t want to be disappointed. So I would like to see some of you that have heard/seen their new lineup comment on this review saying that they’re still good or they suck. This album gets a high 19/20, but very close to being a perfect score.

Dark Fortress - Séance

Dark Fortress is a German black metal band that tends to be more on the melodic side of the genre. Although they are fairly well-known here in America, they’re generally thought of as mediocre (like not horrible, but nothing too special). In Europe, though, it’s a completely different story. Dark Fortress has been getting a lot of hype, especially since their 2010 release. I’m only aware of these guys coming to America once, and apparently that was about four years ago. Séance was the first album I heard by this band, and I was actually not too impressed by the opening song, but I did like it. It was when CataWomb started that I got a boner. Although black metal is my favorite genre, I’m surprisingly not easily impressed when it comes to that genre. There are only a handful of black metal bands that I would call myself a true fan of even though there are a lot that I listen to.

Their vocalist doesn’t use what is generally known as the “traditional” black metal vocal style. He actually uses the vocal fry scream, which is typically found in screamo, metalcore, and occasionally deathcore. There are some other black metal vocalists that do this (like the vocalist for Naglfar), but it’s just interesting that they would chose to use that. It’s actually a better idea because it’s the best way to do screams due to the fact that if done right, vocal fry screams hurt your throat as much as singing does. He also just has a great tone to his vocals; high-pitched, powerful, and not sounding like he’s straining his voice.

The majority of black metal bands either have 90% of their songs at a high speed or have 90% of their songs being more slow. Dark Fortress has quite a mix of those two types of songs, especially in Séance. When it comes to traditional black metal, I’m more particular to the faster bands, so the faster parts of this record are where I get the most enjoyment out of. But I don’t really like it when the only thing that a black metal band cares about is speed speed SPEED!

The guitar distortion on Séance is very similar to that of Diabolis Interium by Dark Funeral. If you don’t know what I mean, I mean that the guitars have that really clean, fuzzy distortion with a lot of bass. Ever since the release of Dark Funeral’s Diabolis Interium, the fuzzy guitar distortion started being used by a lot more bands, especially by those from the European countries. But we’re here to talk about Dark Fortress, not a Swedish black metal band.

The best songs on this album are CataWomb, To Harvest the Artefacts of Mockery, and Shardfigures. I think that Shardfigures should have been put as the opening track because it has a quiet intro and a great buildup in the beginning of the song, which is the description of the best kind of opening track for an album. So whatever the reason was that made the band chose Ghastly Indoctrination as the opening song for the album, it wasn’t the best choice. Shardfigures is one of the slower (and really melodic) tracks off the album, so it would have been really cool to put it as the first song because then it would lead into the blasting and faster song, CataWomb, causing a smile to form upon the face of the listener. I should also mention that towards the end of Shardfigures, there is a really soft progressive rock part with an orgasmic guitar solo to show the listener that they have the ability to play different kinds of music. One last thing, about four minutes into the last song, there’s a solo, and not just any solo…a stand-up bass solo. Have you ever heard something like that in black metal? I didn’t think so.

Overall, this is a pristine metal album that has made it hard to put most of what I like about it into words. So I would suggest that you look this album up yourself and give it a good hard listen. I would call Dark Fortress one of the best underappreciated black metal bands of the 21st century. I would give this an 18/20. 

Dark Funeral - Diabolis Interium

Diabolis Interium is where I think Dark Funeral started getting really good. After two fairly good albums that sounded pretty much the same, it was about time these Swedish black metallers changed things up a bit. The time of this album’s release was when I think the extreme metal genres were at their point of absolute zenith. Unfortunately, I started really getting into metal several years after this point, just barely missing the wave. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t enjoy the pre-2007 stuff. There are some people that disagree with me when I say that Dark Funeral really changed their sound on this album; but try to view it from the musicians’ standpoint. The entire band said that there were going to be a lot of changes in their overall sound starting with Diabolis Interium, and that is wasn’t going to stop there.

The biggest change that they made is that they greatly improved the overall quality of the sound production, therefore making the music sound ten times more powerful and epic. The music is also not completely consisted of low, down-tuned guitar chords; they’ve turned up the bass and set their guitars to a higher tuning. On top of that, if you haven’t read my earlier Dark Funeral reviews, I mentioned that the drummer’s blast beats only get faster with each album, and after listening to this record one would think “how could it get any faster than this??” Some of you may know that their vocalist and drummer left the band last year (still on good terms with the band) and that they would only hire a new drummer that could play as fast and as good as their previous. So whether the drummer digitally speeds up his drumming or not will be something that I will find out when I see them live this coming February.

Even though their sound has sped up dramatically, it’s also gone in a more melodic direction. So it’s really fast…but not super heavy. There are also some songs that aren’t super-fast at all, like Goddess of Sodomy. But the song that really got me hooked on this record is Hail Murder. This song has a really atmospheric and sometimes ambient vibe to it. Most of you that are still new to the whole extreme side of metal are still probably only hearing the really fast drumming, highly distorted guitars, and screamed vocals. And don’t worry, after a while of listening to the extreme genres, the fast and distorted instruments won’t stand out as much and you’ll start to hear more qualities of the music like technicality, melodicness, atmosphere, shittiness, etc.

The guitar distortions have a really clean, fuzzy sound that for some people sounds really annoying. I think that it really fits the music better than a more crunchy distortion. As far as lyrics go, I don’t really know anything he’s saying except for in Heart of Ice, which is basically about demons hunting down the mortal. As I was just double-checking the lyrics for that song on Spirit of Metal, I decided to look at the lyrics for the other songs, and to tell you the truth, they’re not all that impressive. This is part of why I typically don’t pay attention to lyrics much, because there are so many uncreative and at times cliché lyrics that are being written that for a lot of people, it completely ruins the music for them (and probably would for me if I really paid attention to them).

For some of you that have only heard this record and the ones before this; be warned that this isn’t their best album. My favorite thing about this album is that it has some of those songs that are headbanging songs, but are still really fast. What I mean is that the kick drums are at full speed, but the guitars are going a lot slower therefore giving you that weird impulse to start headbanging. So overall, this is one of my favorite black metal records and I’d highly recommend that you check this out, unless you can’t handle the really fast music. I would rate this 18/20.