Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Benediction - Organized Chaos

Anyone that’s familiar with the old school death metal world should at least already KNOW ABOUT Benediction (it’s understandable if you haven’t heard their music yet). Having released some pretty important classics like Transcend the Rubicon and The Grand Leveller, Benediction has ended up in the same place as a lot of old school death metal bands. This is a place where they’ve mainly just been living off of their first couple of albums, not having released any other fantastic albums since then…maybe a couple of really good ones, but not any that compare to their first couple of albums. Some other bands that have landed in somewhat similar situations are Six Feet Under, Unleashed, Bolt Thrower, Deicide, Obituary, and Malevolent Creation.

The main reason why this album has received so much criticism is not only because this is the first Benediction record to not have Dave Ingram on vocals (who left to join Bolt Thrower for one album), but also because of how much his replacement changed the band’s sound. The new Benediction sound can be described as more of a “death-n-roll” sound (which I strongly despise) than a straight-up death metal sound. But thankfully, the rock n’ roll layer on this album is very slim.

What The Grand Leveller has that most death metal records of its time don’t is a huge variety in song structure and mood. Organized Chaos doesn’t have nearly as much darkness as previous albums, and makes an attempt on implementing various other genres like nu metal and metalcore. I’m not saying that this is 100% true, but I’m definitely hearing some nu metal in this record along with one or two metalcore-styled breakdowns. I’m going to make a comparison with a band that didn’t exist when this album came out: one of the better ways to describe the sound of this album is having the grooviness that DevilDriver has…except Benediction failed at doing so.

I can see how the band is taking advantage of having a new vocalist and using it as an opportunity to change their sound and start doing some experimentation, since they’re practically a whole different band now. Dave Hunt, the new vocalist, is one of the founding members of the progressive grindcore act Anaal Nathrakh (using the name V.I.T.R.I.O.L.). Of course, a member in a band as experimental as Anaal Nathrakh is going to start making some changes when he joins a pure death metal band like Benediction. To be honest, Benediction wasn’t necessarily meant to be progressive, but then again, it’s good for bands to have change and progress. The only problem with that is that when it comes to experimentation, it’s much easier to fuck everything up than make it sound better. That’s why we have progressive bands like Opeth and The Contortionist (just to name a couple) that do their best to make the impossible possible by making whatever experimentations they do sound fantastic. But of course, Benediction’s experimentation went completely in the wrong direction.

Despite all of that, the rock-solid death metal base that Benediction has always had is still there. The headbanging parts have a lot of groove and none of the musicians lack any sort of skill or creativity. The drumming is good as always, the guitars are very deep and crunchy, the bass kills when you have your subs turned up, and the vocals have a good powerful sound. This is a good enough album to make me smile and not skip whenever a song from it pops up when I have all my death metal on shuffle, but it’s not something that I would go “HEY, LISTEN TO THIS AWESOME RECORD!” The Benediction album that makes me do that is The Grand Leveller, which I gave a perfect score in my review of it. So I would pass this album up as being no better than just another record for the ol’ death metal collection. I would give this album 12/20. 

Misery Index - Heirs to Thievery

I was surprised by the fact that I wasn’t super excited when I saw that Misery Index had released a new album. I told myself that it was time to stop procrastinating and get the album about two months after its release. I guess I had a weird hunch that the band had fucked everything up and that it would ruin it for me if I heard the album. Before the album was finished, I started asking myself “why the hell did you think that?” In other words, this album is a solid slab of grinding brutality and that Misery Index really meant what they said after the Traitors release: they have no plans of EVER slowing down. For those of you that want a quick factual summary of the sound, Misery Index took the sound from Traitors and put back some of the grinding brutality from the Retaliate/Discordia days.

But Traitors had a lot of new melodic elements, unfamiliar in Misery Index territory. Now, it seems that the band liked the sound of Traitors and decided to make the small melodic elements part of their overall sound which, to be honest, wasn’t a bad idea at all. In songs like The Carrion Call, I can hear some Dying Fetus-style breakdowns with a lot of groove. Although there aren’t breakdowns this pronounced in every single track, the existing ones substantially affected the general sound of the record in its entirety. I can see how doing this could have easily ruined the music, but I think that Misery Index realized that these kind of breakdowns would fit in PERFECTLY with their sound. But not only that, there’s a lot more grindcore in their music.

Some people were a bit disappointed by Traitors because it didn’t have quite as much blast beat drumming as they wanted. But now, the band has brought the grinding blast beats from Discordia to dust off the cobwebs and let them shine once again. Although I’ve heard much crisper and tighter blast beats from bands like Dying Fetus and Exhumed, these blast beats are some of the heaviest and most bombarding I’ve ever heard. The drummer branches out and decides to play more chaotic fills during pauses in the music. The unfortunate thing about that is that he does somewhat of a sloppy job on those fills, which are easily noticeable. I like the simpler and much tighter fills that he did in Traitors much better. But then again, he didn’t TOTALLY fail at the more chaotic fills, he was just sloppy. The drumming is fantastic, but the bass has decreased in complexity and creativity. The bassist went from playing a much more complex set of lines to just simply following the drum patterns.

The vocals in this album aren’t necessarily better than Traitors, but they’re definitely more powerful. The seemingly belted-out growls on Heirs to Thievery are the other reason besides the drumming that this album sounds so much heavier than Traitors. Contrary to Traitors, the vocalist has more variety in what he does; which includes frequently placing screams on top of growls, which doesn’t sound half bad. His growls aren’t quite as deep as I would like them to be, which is primarily because he’s putting a lot more force and energy into them. I love how there’s more power, but I liked them more when they were deeper.

It’s starting to look like Misery Index is only further solidifying their place amongst the greatest death grind legends ever. Although I wouldn’t consider them the best out of that particular group, I would certainly consider Misery Index to be one of the best the genre has to offer. I would give this album 13/20. 

Misery Index - Traitors

I first saw Misery Index a long time ago when they opened for Deicide. I remember not being impressed very much by their performance, but that was before I became a HUGE fan of extreme metal. Traitors was my first Misery Index record and now that I’ve been listening to it for over two years, I can now agree that it is a fantastic death grind album. Misery Index has climbed their way to the top and becoming one of the biggest death grind bands ever along with Cattle Decapitation, Carcass, and Dying Fetus (sort of like the big four in death grind). I think the reason why this album in particular has been so successful is because there’s a lot more death metal than grindcore than in the two previous albums.

One thing that makes Traitors easier for me to enjoy than any of Misery Index’s other albums is the bass. Although I like the material on Discordia, the overall sound gets irritating after a while because of the major lack in the lower end. If you want a Misery Index album that doesn’t have too much treble and tons of bass, Traitors is what you need to be listening to right now. Most of the grindcore elements that Misery Index uses are the extremely chaotic, but atmospheric elements that Cattle Decapitation is known for.  But hey! This is fucking Misery Index here! There can’t be Misery Index without grinding brutality!

I’ll tell you this, Traitors doesn’t disappoint. From the second the intro concludes to the insane drumming at the end of the last song, Misery Index continues to pound you into the dirt, proving that their fame is well-deserved and that they have no plans of slowing down anytime in the near future. It seems that in the death grind genre, the drummer usually ends up being the best member of the band. Either that or it’s common for the drummer to be outstanding. I’m not kidding either, Cattle Decapitation, Dying Fetus, Carcass, Wormed, Exhumed, Skinless, Severe Torture, and General Surgery ALL have REALLY good drummers! But besides Wormed and the first two that I listed, Misery Index has one of the best drummers in the genre.

Not only is the grindcore sound lacking in the overall music, but also in the vocals especially. The vocalist primarily does exhaled growls that sound a little bit like yelling (you can hear some voice in his growls) similar to the sound of the vocals from Vader and Jungle Rot. Don’t expect something with as much voice as Vader though, I was just saying that the vocals on this record resemble that sound, but with less voice and more growl. Also, I think I should mention that there aren’t any screams on this record (that I can remember, I might be wrong), so don’t expect the whole growl-scream switch that bands like Dying Fetus and Exhumed do.

Like I said before, the overall sound of the album is very powerful and has a lot more death metal than grindcore in most of the songs. My favorite song off this record is Theocracy; not only for the drumming, but also for the crushing sections that were created for headbanging (that can also be found on almost all of the other tracks, especially the title track). I would give Traitors a solid 14/20 for being one of the more important death grind records and certainly one that I would recommend to death metal and death grind fans. 

Monday, July 30, 2012

I Declare War - Malevolence

Having lived near Seattle for most of my life, I’ve become very involved in the Seattle (and pretty much all of Washington) music scene; especially the metal part. Of course, Washington has its gems like Nevermore, Wolves in the Throne Room, Queensryche, Inquisition, and Demon Hunter as well as its underground gems like Blood and Thunder, Six Days of Darkness, Black Breath, and one of its most recent major uprisings: I Declare War. I never really bothered to listen to these guys until I heard that they were from downtown Seattle. After playing this for the third time in a row, I could at least somewhat understand why these guys rose from the underground so quickly, but when speaking in terms of the entire deathcore genre, these guys don’t really have anything special about them.

Quite a few people have been saying that Malevolence has been one of the leading albums in the newer “waves” of deathcore (hopefully that doesn’t mean “Emmure-core”). When I was hearing people say this, I was really hoping that they had too much vodka before saying that. As far as deathcore standards go, the song structure is devastatingly simple and boring. But the main contributor to the boring factor isn’t the song structure; I’ll talk about that bigger factor later. The drumming is very simple and never does anything. The only things that I can hear from the drummer are the annoying sound of the double kicks, the bass booms at the beginning of some of the breakdowns, and the cymbals in the background. If I want to hear the snare, I have to listen closely. The drummer doesn’t seem to have any trouble at all staying in time, but other than that, he shows no creativity or skill what so ever.

The vocalist reminds me a lot of Adam Warren of Oceano (my favorite deathcore band). I love this really strained growl sound, but the difference between Warren and this guy is that Warren does more than just that cool growl. He screams, he yells, and he even inhales every now and then. This guy just does the cool growl in monotone and occasionally inhales in a way where you virtually can’t hear him unless you block the rest of the music out. The guitars aren’t super overpowering, but they do cover up the majority of the overall sound. The distortion that they have is your average really gritty metalcore distortion that was designed for brutality.

A lot of the elements in the music (including the overall sound) can be found in several older records by some of deathcore’s earlier artists like Suicide Silence, As Blood Runs Black, and Impending Doom. Besides the huge resemblance of Oceano that I Declare War has, most of the simplicity tends to date back to As Blood Runs Black’s debut album, Allegiance. I’m not saying that I know for sure that these bands are actual influences on I Declare War’s sound, but I can say with great confidence that I can hear a lot of elements that were pioneered by As Blood Runs Black and Oceano. The Oceano side is the slower, really thick and sludgy sound and the simplicity is more of the early As Blood Runs Black sound.

The first thing that I think of whenever I see or hear this album is monotone. When you play the first song after the intro, New Age Holocaust, you hear a really thick and dark brutality from the veins of Oceano. But after the first breakdown, the dynamics and overall mood of the music never changes. This sound quickly dulls out by the third or fourth track, and has me asleep by the eighth or ninth track. The sound is completely monotonous for the duration of the album with no changes at all in vocal pitch, volume, dynamics or structure. Some deathcore bands (like All Shall Perish) like to have a complex song structure during the really intense part, and then simplify the structure in order to enhance any mellowness or decline in brutality and intensity.

Some deathcore bands (like Suicide Silence, Carnifex, and Oceano) keep a generally simple song structure (some being simpler than others) and tighten up the intensity to its maximum potential to then release it in an explosive drop in tempo known as a breakdown. I Declare War is one of those bands, but the problem that they have is that the tension never builds OR declines; IT’S ALL MONOTONE, the mood or tension of the music barely changes at all! Once you realize that, it’s already too late because you’ll already be bored to death.

Despite what I’ve heard, I can’t see how I Declare War could be influential in any way. Although their overall sound and song structure is solid, their tone and intensity generally remains unchanging for the duration of the record. I would rate this album 10/20 for not being a bad album, but nothing that I would say good things about either. I would only “recommend” this to diehard deathcore fans. 

Upcoming Reviews

Here are some possibilities of upcoming reviews:

Deicide (death metal)
God Dethroned (death metal)
Upon a Burning Body (deathcore)
Darkest Hour (melodic death)
Bloodboil (brutal death)
Benediction (death metal)
Goatwhore (thrash black)
Brain Drill (technical death)
Overkill (thrash metal)
Misery Index (death grind)
Blind Witness (deathcore)

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Chelsea Grin - Evolve [EP]

Well, Chelsea Grin is back again with another release. This time it’s a 5-song EP titled “Evolve”. Before I listened to the teaser, I was hoping that the title was implying that they had evolved their sound and changed since the My Damnation atrocity (my ears are permanently scarred from reviewing that record). Going to the point of being worse than Emmure, Chelsea Grin started out at a fairly average point by releasing a mediocre EP and a mediocre, but promising full-length debut. This debut was followed by one of the single WORST deathcore albums in history, but if you want to see my thoughts on My Damnation, just read the review I wrote on it. I’m here to talk about the brand new EP that was released just a month or two ago. How bad will my ears be hurting this time? Will they even hurt at all? I’ve already heard the album teaser, so there’s no point in trying to get my hopes up at all because the teaser alone was hard enough to listen to, and that was just 30-second clips of each of the FIVE tracks!

The album cover is intentionally similar to the cover of their self-titled EP, which consists of a face that has a freshly-cut “chelsea grin”. I’m not letting the cover influence my opinion on the record itself (although it wouldn’t make my opinion any more positive if I did), but this album cover SUCKS! Yes, the cover of your self-titled EP was 100% appropriate and I wouldn’t have chosen any other album cover, but this is an embarrassment to visual art! On top of that, the logo has been squished in order to put the record title right above it (why? I don’t know) without blocking the face (which it kind of does anyway). But enough of me bitching about the artwork, let’s just get this thing over with.

Usually I do a track-by-track review with EPs, but even I, Crinn, am not strong enough to be able to dissect and analyze each track with great detail and make it out alive or with the ability to hear. The first thing that I’m noticing is that Chelsea Grin is deciding to take on the recent trend of implementing symphonic and orchestral elements into their music, which was pioneered by Winds of Plague. Then, we also have a HUGE increase in the number of breakdowns in each song (averaging at about…4-6 breakdowns per song).

I can SORT OF see what they’re trying to do, but when you look at it from an overall perspective, what each musician is trying to do is very confusing and doesn’t match-up when put back together. The guitarists seem to have completely lost focus. They’re looking to be more progressive and “avant-garde” than good, which is one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard of because you can’t just try to be progressive and have it end up well. Do you think that THE ONLY thing on the minds of Iwrestledabearonce was being fast, random, and technical? No! Iwrestledabearonce still shows a shitload of focus on song structure, skill, being tight, and solid performance. Once they get that down, THEN they start doing stuff like wearing cowboy hats and giving songs names like Karate Nipples. Chelsea Grin just do what’s already second nature to them (deathcore) and are making honest attempts at being progressive and FAILING MISERABLY AT IT!

Thankfully, the vocals aren’t as loud as they were in My Damnation, but even then, that isn’t really saying much. The drums are a little bit better, but they still don’t even have enough color or catchiness to them to keep me awake. Everything besides the atrocious attempts at melody, singing (yes, singing), and atmosphere seems to just be outright BORING! There isn’t any taste to this record at all! This EP IS HORRIBLE! DO NOT BUY THIS! There is nothing you haven’t heard before on this record, and everything on here that you haven’t heard before is better left untouched and forgotten. I would give this record 1/20. 

Enter Shikari - Common Dreads

Screamo band Enter Shikari released Common Dreads in 2009. Their past releases have gotten the attention of critics and listeners alike with their unique style of combining the sounds of hardcore punk and metalcore with electrifying synthesizers and techno. I would imagine that there are a few HUGE fans of this band, but most people that I’ve talked to either consider them mediocre/average or completely atrocious; I agree with the latter. I first heard this record a little over two years ago when a friend showed me the song Solidarity (which I will talk about later). Even then, being a much bigger screamo fan than I am now, I really didn’t like the sound that Enter Shikari brought to the board. After being extremely disappointed with Common Dreads, I decided to listen to Take to the Skies, the album previous to Common Dreads…but it wasn’t any better at all; in fact, it was much worse. But I find Common Dreads easier and more interesting to discuss because it’s just the overall musical quality and complete lack of effort that makes Take to the Skies so bad. The things wrong with Common Dreads are just…”Dreadful”.

The ideas and goals behind Enter Shikari have a lot of potential, and have been pulled off in similar forms by other screamo bands such as Asking Alexandria, I See Stars, and Attack Attack!. Enter Shikari know all of the things they need to do to make this fusion sound good…but they couldn’t do it to get another pair of pants. In other words, these guys can’t do ANYTHING right! They can’t write, they’re one of the most unorganized metal bands I’ve ever heard, they can’t play their instruments, the way everything is produced and mixed only does further damage to the already hopeless sound, and they seem to be confused as to what they’re trying to play.

I like my screamo to be very powerful and epic. One thing that can really up the power-factor is a good crunchy guitar distortion. The guitars on Common Dreads aren’t even DISTORTED! It sounds like they could be, but it’s so slight that it weakens the music. Throughout the whole album, I’m eagerly waiting for the guitars to get LOUDER and MORE DISTORTED! But NOOOOO!! They want to fucking tease (or torture) you in order to get you to listen to the whole album and get their songs stuck in your head and never forget the day you listened to Enter Shitari.

The vocals are fucking atrocious. Yes, that’s the hardcore punk influence I was talking about, but his yells are fucking WEAK! He doesn’t have the really gravely rough voice he’s supposed to have. His yells have NO energy and NO emotion or dynamics anywhere in the album. His screams are so bad they aren’t even worth pure liquid shit, that’s all I have to say about that. The singing is the worst part. He can’t sing in-tune at all, the harmonizations suck, and there’s no color OR dynamics in his singing. Although there is a shift in pitch, the volume of his singing never changes. So he can’t yell, sing OR scream…WHY IS THIS GUY EVEN A FUCKING MEMBER OF THE BAND!?

The songs don’t have any structure whatsoever. Let’s dissect Solidarity to see what I’m talking about. The song opens with the only good thing this album carries: the one keyboard riff. This opening keyboard riff gets the listener expecting a LOUD and highly distorted hardcore punk-styled opening lead by the guitars. But instead you get the soft, mushy sound of the weak guitars which is then followed by the extremely annoying loud talking (it’s not even yelling anymore, I’ve made that decision). After that goes on for a while, you get introduced to singing that’s better off being auto-tuned. Ok, the song seems to have some solid structure, then right as you’re thinking that, the song COMPLETELY falls apart. You get a…what I think is supposed to be a breakdown (I’m not sure at this point), which contains sudden breaks in the music where…what the hell?

A random electronic sound. That’s the best these guys can do during a breakdown. When bands pause, you usually get a really fast drum fill…BUT NOOOOO!! You had to go ahead and put in that really weird…whatever it was so that you could get some cheap laughs and say “HAHA, FOOLED YA!” After that breakdown, everything seems to be randomly generated and rushed (the music itself isn’t rushed, the writing process was rushed). It sounds like each member wanted to put something different into the song, and the band decided to put all of the things in the same song in order to make everyone happy. This guy here wanted a breakdown, Rou here wants to have plenty of techno, Rory here wants a more melodic sound, and so on and so forth.

Common Dreads is an embarrassment. I’m embarrassed by the fact that I actually waste time THINKING about it. THIS ALBUM IS ATROCIOUS, DO NOT GET THIS RECORD! I’m giving this album 1/20 for being one of the worst albums I’ve heard in a LONG time. This is the last time I will ever waste brain space on this band. 

blessthefall - Awakening

I remember first listening to blessthefall in 2008 when all they had was their debut, which, at the time, I thought was mediocre. Now, I have a much harder time enjoying it whenever I listen to it. Once my heart was sold with the fantastic follow-up record, Witness, I became a huge supporter of their music. Although blessthefall can be found NOWHERE on my list of my VERY favorite screamo bands, they’re still amazing enough for me to donate $12 in exchange for a pre-ordered copy of their newest album, Awakening. I usually like to at least hear a teaser or a leaked track before I pre-order something, but my gut told me that I wouldn’t regret this one. And I was right; blessthefall went on to release their best album yet, catching the beautiful trend of making each album better than the last.

Now that I’m starting to truly realize how overused this breakdown thing really is, blessthefall seems to be one of the major ground-breakers in the “core” community (not including grindcore). When you have screamo and metalcore bands that abuse the breakdown like I the Breather, Beneath the Sky, and Abandon all Ships, blessthefall is one of those reliefs and pieces of proof that “all is not lost”. They do this by bringing back a modernized version of the old screamo sound created and shaped by bands like Hopesfall, The Used, Atreyu, Killswitch Engage, Demon Hunter, and the early works of All that Remains.

The old screamo/metalcore sound (commonly referred to early post-hardcore by some) is an ambient and more melodic version of the type of music that the hardcore punk bands from the 1990s played. But then again, on top of the music part being more atmospheric, the vocals are much harsher (therefore giving it the name “screamo”) and the breakdowns are much more pronounced and heavier. Sort of like a much heavier version of hardcore punk, but with less energy. When you think of MODERN screamo, it’s a much simpler version of the old screamo that’s also extremely poppy. Think of taking a modern screamo band, taking out some of the breakdowns, and making it slightly less poppy in order to expose the ambient Hopesfall-sound. That is what blessthefall plays.

When critics talk about blessthefall, one of the most discussed topics is how much the band’s sound resembles the original screamo sound from the turn of the century. But don’t be expecting something really dark, the melodic parts on this record are EXTREMELY melodic and have a beautiful sound. Beau’s singing is what brings out the melodic sections so much. In my favorite song off the record, 40 Days, his singing adds the missing piece to the puzzle that, when complete, creates a powerful melody. His screaming isn’t something that’s super common in this kind of music. It doesn’t really sound super high-pitched like Austin Carlile, but it’s not really deep either. I think it can be best described as a really dirty, forced out yell…but then again, it sounds like a scream! The heaviness and brutality of his screams match the heaviness of the music PERFECTLY. You want heaviness? Listen to Bottomfeeder.

The guitarists aren’t amazing, but the really loud and gritty distortion they have on their guitars is what makes the heaviness factor so great. But of course, they somehow made it so that they can make the melodic sections sound beautiful while still using the exact same distortion. They probably pull this off by playing deeper and more complex chords in the heavy parts and simpler chords in the melodic parts so that they can allow the lead notes to sing through and be heard easier. There’s not really anything about the drummer in particular that I would consider out of the ordinary or special. He does exactly what he needs to do to stay on tempo with minimal (if any) room for fuck-ups. The general simplicity of what he plays makes the overall music easier to swallow, but the drumming does get repetitive after a little bit in certain songs.

Overall, this album is fantastic for a screamo record. With bombarding tracks like Promised Ones and Bottomfeeder and melodic tracks (my two favorite songs off the record being) like The Reign and 40 Days, I would rate Awakening 16/20. I would definitely recommend checking this one out to fans of melodic metal music. 

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Gridlink - Orphan

If there’s one metal genre that I’m the pickiest with, it’s grindcore (including all of its subgenres like pornogrind and goregrind). In fact, there are only a handful of grindcore bands that I actually truly like (there are other bands that have only released one descent album) which are Fuck the Facts (my favorite), Wormrot, Pig Destroyer, Napalm Death, AxCx, and most recently, Gridlink. When listening to grindcore (which the exception of Fuck the Facts), it’s pretty damn hard to imagine there being ANY kind of creativity or skill involved in the music writing process. And to be honest, most of the time…there isn’t! I have a couple of friends that LOVE pornogrind and goregrind stuff, and they all tell me that the reason that they love it is because they love the sound of literal utter chaos. They respect the people that are willing to record these extremely chaotic noisy records and professionally release them under a record label. Although I’ve come to (at least mostly) understand the genre and even appreciate some of its artists, grindcore is still a whole different planet for me. But this review is on one of my personal favorites from the genre, Gridlink’s 2011 release, Orphan.

The sound that Gridlink plays is a really atmospheric chaos. The chaos part is obviously because of the intense blast beat drumming and the near-constant abuse of the cymbals. But here’s the thing about the drummer: HE’S GOOD! There’s a lot of grindcore that has some atrocious drumming. When you listen to the really good grindcore drummers in bands like Pig Destroyer and Wormrot, what they do is a little less chaotic and more focused on a bombarding blast beat and staying tight with the bass. Gridlink’s drummer is horse of a completely different color. If you want chaos, Gridlink gives you chaos. I never thought it to be possible to play the drums with this much chaos and craziness and still manage to keep things tight! The reason why I haven’t even mentioned tempo is because…well…there is no tempo! That’s grindcore! But it’s very possible to have a bad drummer that slows down from loss of energy, therefore causing the music to sound sloppy and confusing.

I have no idea how the fuck the two guitarists and the bassist manage to keep up with the drummer, but they do! The bassist doesn’t play an extremely technical part on this album, he basically just plays a gradual melodic bass line really fast with three fingers (kind of like tremolo picking, but without a pick). The level of intensity that the guitarists play is nearly indescribable. But then again, every member (at least) seems to be tight and on-track with the rest of the band! I don’t know how that’s possible, but Gridlink does it.

The vocalist does those really loud, high-pitched shrieks that are really hard to do well. I’ve heard a lot of different vocal styles in grindcore, but this style seems to be the most popular. The next most common grindcore vocal style is the really nasty yell done by Napalm Death, Pig Destroyer, and Inhumate. But the highest screams go to Gridlink. That’s another thing that makes their music sound like an uncontrolled chaos, the screams! But more so than that, I think that the vocals make an even bigger contribution to the noise factor, which is one of the things that Gridlink is known best for.

Most of what I’ve been describing to you can apply to just about any other better-than-average grindcore band out there. So with all of that, what’s so fucking special about Gridlink? Well, although there are other grind bands that do this, Gridlink is the only band out there to combine the sounds of uncontrolled chaos with ambience and atmospheric melodies. The guitarists don’t have their guitars tuned way down like you would expect. In fact, they’re guitars are tuned to a more “standard” tuning, which gives them the ability to play really ambient and melodic chords at a higher range. Some of the melodic lines are just melodies with no specific roots, but there are some that I can hear, like in the second and fourth tracks, that remind me of really old black metal. So with the possibility of having black metal-influenced melodies and having more than just pure grinding brutality, Gridlink is looking to be more than just another grindcore band.

With the really strange, but ambient chords that the guitarists play and the more melodic parts played by the bassist, ambience doesn’t seem to be an accidental element in Gridlink’s music. Being one of the best grindcore records that I’ve ever heard, Orphan gets my score of 15/20. Grind fans should check this one out. 

Fleshcrawl - Soulskinner

So many people know about Fleshcrawl. Yet only a handful of those people are actually familiar with their music. Well for those of you that don’t know where to start with these German fuckers, Soulskinner is the place to start. But the reason why people read album reviews isn’t JUST to know what and what not to get, it’s to find out WHY they should or should not get a particular album. This was my first Fleshcrawl record and, to be honest, I’m glad it was, because although Soulskinner has several strong albums, none of the others even compare to the crushing power of this one. Making their first appearance in 1991 with a four-song demo tape under the name Suffocation (for obvious reasons, they had to change it due to the brutal death band that was rising out of New York City at the time), Fleshcrawl got their name out mainly in western Europe where they opened for bands such as Bolt Thrower, Benediction, and Sinister on small European tours and shows.

But enough history, Soulskinner is the topic of the hour! Fleshcrawl uses one of my favorite types of guitar distortion, which is probably the loudest and crunchiest guitar distortion out there in the death metal world. This guitar distortion is also used by Swedish death metal masters Dismember and Demonical. Along with the music already being fucking intense, the guitar distortion infinitely intensifies the music. The guitarists themselves are very solid and have just the right amount of skill and creativity for the traditional death metal genre. In fact, they play death metal SO well that I can’t really imagine them doing anything else. The bassist is right on the dot with everything that he plays and writes. He mainly follows the basic root-note of the chords that the guitarists are playing (although he’s the only one playing them sometimes).

The drummer and the vocalist are the best musicians on this album. The drummer is virtually flawless. He doesn’t do anything amazing or outstanding, but he’s fucking flawless. His kick drumming is NEVER out of time, the way that he plays is filled with power, brutality, and obvious skill and practice. If I had to put my money on which member I thought worked the hardest, it’d be the drummer without a doubt. The vocalist’s growls are fucking outstanding. When it comes to traditional death metal (with the exception of bands like Obituary, Death, and Divine Heresy), I like to hear deep and powerful exhaled growls that send chills down my back. The vocalist on Soulskinner passes that test with flying colors and proves to be a near-perfect example of what a death metal growl SHOULD sound like. On top of that, his screams are crisp and have a unique edge that reminds me slightly (and I mean SLIGHTLY) of Kataklysm’s screams.

Other than that, everything about this album is exactly what you would expect from a good traditional death metal album. The song structure, tempo changes, and overall sound burst with the classic death metal sound we’ve all loved since its formation in the mid-1980s. For those of you that are looking for a good, classic, and pure death metal release, Soulskinner should be on your “to-get” list. I would give Fleshcrawl’s Soulskinner 16/20 for being a VERY solid death metal record and to be my first Fleshcrawl recommendation. 

Friday, July 27, 2012

Relics of Humanity - Guided by the Soulless Call

This is not what I was expecting AT ALL. Relics of Humanity released Guided by the Soulless Call earlier this month under Amputated Vein Records, which is the label that introduced me to the underground brutal death world with bands such as Visceral Disgorge, Bloodboil, Disentomb, Severed Crotch, Slaughterbox, Eden Beast, and Awaiting the Autopsy. If you want the full story, read the countless other Amputated Vein reviews I’ve written over the past year or so. One thing that bothers me about the label is that their updates are very rare. They posted an update announcing the release of Slaughterbox’s debut (which I own and love) in November of last year. They didn’t make any update at all until February of THIS year announcing the new signing of Belarusian brutal death band Relics of Humanity. In fact, they’re SO bad at updating that they STILL haven’t even made a post announcing the album’s release! But that aside, I ordered a copy from the band at their Bigcartel store and finally got it in the mail.

Let’s talk about the general sound of the individual instruments because they actually make a large contribution to the overall sound of the record. The guitars are tuned EXTREMELY, and I mean EXTREMELY low and have an EXTREMELY deep, crunchy distortion that sends chills down the backs of the weak. The drums are more in the background, but not to the point where they’re being covered up by anything. In this record, the drummer took the buzz off his snare drum, which is (obviously) a very risky choice. Why is it risky? Because it can ruin the fucking music! But then again, if the volume, sound, and intensity of the snare are perfect, it can then act as a positive element that brings the music up. The vocals are what make the biggest contribution to this band’s sound, but I’ll talk about them later on.

The sound that Relics of Humanity plays is very similar to Devourment. And I don’t necessarily mean the speed and brutality part; I’m talking about the scary and atmospheric darkness that it creates. Think of the really creepy and dark sound that Devourment plays, take out the speed, and turn up the creepy darkness factor to the maximum. If you’re looking for SLAMMING brutality that sounds like it was just dragged out of the deepest pits of the underworld where people only rot in agony and depression; you NEED to get this record. Before the album’s release, Amputated Vein posted one of the tracks from the album as a teaser (the song being Pray for Obscurity). This was the song that made me say “FINALLY something DIFFERENT!”

I’m being honest here, as much as I LOVE extreme brutality; I’ve gotten a little tired of listening to new bands that have NOTHING but tasteless brutality. This was right about the time where I started my search for brutal artists that played something more than JUST brutality. So once I heard the song that was as thick as old molasses and creepy as FUCK, I decided that I’d order the album when it came out (since Amputated Vein doesn’t do pre-orders).

The flaws in this album are strongly overridden by the positives, which is kind of ironic because one of the flaws that this band has is not only one of my pet-peeves, it actually enhances the really mushy, atmospheric sound the band plays. It’s kind of hard to imagine just by reading text, but seriously! Listen to one of the songs off the record, and you will see that the drummer kind of has some minor tempo issues, but it just makes the music sound THAT scarier!! Another element that enhances the nightmare-inducing sound is the vocalist. Probably one of the DEEPEST and wettest inhales I’ve ever heard in my life with effects on it making it sound like you’re hearing it inside an underground cave. That’s how I would describe the vocals; and I fucking love it.

Relics of Humanity should be the new hot topic in the underground brutality world because of their uniqueness and desire to bring something new to the slaughter. With a sound that comes from the veins of Devourment, Shattered Eyes, Wormed, and Awaiting the Autopsy; I would give Guided by the Soulless Call 17/20 for being one of the better brutal death albums of 2012 (so far) along with At the Gate of Sethu, Anomalies of Artificial Origin, and Global Flatline. 

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Five Finger Death Punch - War is the Answer

Yes, I know that Five Finger Death Punch (5FDP) destroyed their reputation (and career) with their third album, but that’s not what I’m here to talk about, so I won’t even let that album influence my opinion on this album. So before these guys turned into a hard rock band, they released two nu metal records. I first discovered them in 2008 when I was just really getting into metal. I think that I heard them at the right time because I was listening to a lot of nu metal and alternative metal (Breaking Benjamin, Disturbed, Korn, Slipknot, Staind, Taproot, Mudvayne, etc.) around the time that I first heard The Bleeding on the radio (yes, I used to listen to the radio). Even today, I still get chills when I listen to that extremely emotional anger-driven song that contains more power than the entire album. Apparently, The Way of the Fist received very positive reviews from critics worldwide. All that happened after that was opening for Disturbed on some big tour they did and then 5FDP was one of the most talked-about metal bands in both the mainstream and underground metal communities.

Yes, it’s true; I’ve talked to grindcore and diehard death metal fans that say that they have a guilty pleasure for 5FDP’s first two records (as do I). So after I was familiar with The Way of the Fist, I heard somewhere that the band had released a new album (this was sometime during the summer of 2009, I can’t remember exactly when it was). I got ahold of a copy and listened with great excitement. It turns out that 5FDP passed the “sophomore release challenge” by proving to the world that their debut wasn’t just a huge fluke.

Probably the most easily recognizable qualities this album holds are the guitar distortions, and the song structure and influences. The guitar distortion is an extremely gritty sound with almost all of the treble cut out. This unique guitar distortion doesn’t necessarily make the album feel heavier (like albums like Mudvayne’s Lost and Found, Drowning Pool’s Sinner, and Godsmack’s self-titled debut), but it definitely causes the album to sound a hell of a lot darker. If you want nu metal with a melodic twist, but with a thick sheet of darkness covering it, I would recommend checking this one out.

Although I believe this particular album to be nu metal, there are elements in both the song structure and the sound that remind me of Slipknot, Pantera, Machine Head, Killswitch Engage, Cold, and Taproot. The song structure and the majority of the sound seem to take on a softer and less aggressive version of Slipknot. But there are chugging riffs that sound like they were pulled out of either a Machine Head or Pantera album (which is easily understandable, because just about everyone seems to be doing that these days). The melodic sections remind me strongly of the early works of Killswitch Engage and the more recent works of Taproot. And, of course, 5FDP is one of those nu metal bands that always throws in a couple of hard rock (sometimes acoustic) tracks that can be considered ballads when compared to the rest of the album, which in this case remind me of the alternative metal band Cold.

I’m not a huge fan of the singing on this album. Not because it’s bad, but because it’s not good; it doesn’t stick out to me in any way. I will say that there is plenty of emotion in the singing…but nothing else. A perfect singer has plenty of emotion, dynamics, volume control, pitch control (able to be in-tune), power, and the ability to sing in a style that fits the music. This singer has emotion and a considerable skill to generally stay in-tune, but nothing else. The place where the vocals pack the hardest punch (pun intended) is in the enraged screams that are purely belted out with PURE ANGER. When I say PURE ANGER, I FUCKING MEAN PURE ANGER!! So obviously this vocalist writes lyrics that are anger-venting (which is what a lot of the lyrics I write are). The vocals are also what remind me of Slipknot the most; the switch between belted-out low screams and melodic singing.

As far as nu metal goes, I wouldn’t consider this an essential by any means, but I would definitely recommend that you AT LEAST give it two good listens. I would rate this album 15/20 for being one of the better (not one of the best) nu metal albums out there in the world. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Imperanon - Stained

Any of you looking for a “Children of Bodom” band that ISN’T Children of Bodom; Imperanon is what you’re looking for! I would personally consider Imperanon to be more of a mix of Children of Bodom and Wintersun (although the Wintersun part is subtle). Imperanon was a Finnish melodic death band (just like Children of Bodom and Wintersun) that existed for almost ten years, but only professionally released one album, which was under the Nuclear Blast label. Oh, I think I should mention that their lead guitarist is also one of the guitarists for…wait for it…WINTERSUN! Ok, so we have that guy, the keyboardist for Finntroll, and the vocalist from Norther; that in itself should be at least mostly promising of something at least better than average.

I mentioned before that these guys sound a lot like Children of Bodom. I think I should clarify that statement because there’s one COB aspect that you won’t find in Imperanon’s music, the blazing speed. If you listen to Children of Bodom, you’re already well aware that they’re capable of playing some pretty damn incredible tempos. Imperanon plays fast compared to the majority of the melodic death genre, but not fast enough to be compared to Wintersun and Children of Bodom, which are some of the fastest bands in the genre. One thing that Imperanon has that Children of Bodom doesn’t is supreme melody. Yes, I know that Children of Bodom is, in fact, melodic (why else would they be considered melodic death?), but Imperanon takes on a more power metal-influenced style, therefore causing the melodic elements to be more profound. I guess a simple way of describing Imperanon’s sound would be a much slower and melodic version of Children of Bodom.

The vocals aren’t super unique, but it is at least somewhat uncommon to hear high-pitched screams in melodic death. That aside, the vocals are fantastic and have a very crisp sound. I would like the screams to be a LITTLE stronger and powerful, but they’re perfectly fine how they are in the recording; they provide a solid element to the music without bringing it down in any way.

I’m not going to spend too much time covering every member, but I do want to talk about the keyboardist. The keyboards seem to take on a more up-front position rather than just providing the atmospheric background. This is what reminded me of Wintersun (as well as Children of Bodom, but more so of Wintersun); when you play the first track, Blade, the lead instrument is obviously the keyboard in the intro. The cool thing is that the lead riff that the keyboardist plays eventually fades into the guitarist playing it, and then back to the keyboardist. Being a somewhat experienced musician, I find it pretty obvious that being able to do this takes quite a bit of synchronization skill. As well as that, the whole band is so tight that I can’t find any faults at all. This tightness is actually pretty fucking incredible because (like Children of Bodom and Wintersun), Imperanon plays some really technical and complex stuff! To help cover any slip-ups, bands may play more drawn out chords or have a rhythm guitarist playing long chords to make the music sound a little mushier and less technical; which isn’t necessarily a bad thing if it’s needed and if it sounds good. But you rarely hear any of the members playing drawn-out stuff in Imperanon, it all sounds like pure melodic technicality.

The song structure is complex, the melodies are complex, the solos are BEYOND complex, and the overall musicality and creativity is fucking outstanding. I think that this album is more than deserving to be released under Nuclear Blast. I would recommend this to any fan of melodic metal that hasn’t heard it before because even though this sounds a lot like Children of Bodom, it’s still a one-of-a-kind record. I would rate Stained 18/20. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Word Alive - Life Cycles

Life Cycles was literally JUST released in the past few months. Like I always say in reviews of sophomore albums, it’s the sophomore release that helps determine a band’s success. Not only does it help prove the bands ability to write and perfect music in less than two years, it also proves to the public that the debut release wasn’t just a huge fluke. There are plenty of bands that go all out and release something better than their debut like Whitechapel, Nile, Darkthrone, Lord Belial, and Augury. I mentioned in my review of The Word Alive’s first album that they might have set the bar too high with that record. And it turns out that they did set the bar too high to live up to with the follow-up album. But then again, Life Cycles has a COMPLETELY different sound than Deceiver. It’s almost like a whole different band.

So apparently the band’s goal with this album wasn’t to build on top of the sound of Deceiver and make something better. The focus was basically to create their own sound…which ended up sounding NOTHING like Deceiver. I’ve checked again and again to see if there’s a new vocalist, but it’s still the same guy! He’s taken the sparingly-used mid-range growls from the first record and made it almost the only thing he does. Hell, even the singing sounds 100% different. I can’t hear any similarities between these two records, so I’m not going to spend any time trying to make comparisons because that would just be fucking pointless. It’s like trying to compare oranges with jellyfish; there’s just NOTHING that they have in common.

One thing that I will point out as a possibility for the reason of their decrease in quality is that they got a new drummer. If you don’t remember my review of deceiver, the drummer was the BEST musician on the album due to his inconceivable complexity, creativity, speed, and technicality. I don’t hear as much complexity in the drumming on this album, which is obviously because this drummer isn’t as good as the previous one. This drummer is much more violent with his set; you can tell just by listening that he’s pounding the SHIT out of the snare and the china. He doesn’t have as much variety in volume and dynamics; he just knows how to play loud, very loud, and “there goes the drum set” loud.

As far as song structure goes, there is a considerably larger number of breakdowns in their music, less keyboards, but more electronic effects on the vocals and guitars (no, not auto-tune, chill out). When I noticed this increase in breakdowns, I was petrified with fear that The Word Alive had joined the infamous trend of simple breakdown after simple breakdown with not much else. Fortunately, the band pulls these breakdowns off with care and make sure to keep throwing in something different in each one to kill any notion of repetitiveness. The instruments don’t all blend together as one like they did in Deceiver, so I can hear each member individually with ease, which makes it much easier for reviewing purposes. The breakdowns are not all in a row, and they’re not all simple. The Word Alive makes sure to keep the breakdowns in the icing and not in the cake (in most of the songs). But in some of the songs, they just couldn’t help themselves; which is understandable because those songs sound fucking epic and leave my neck throbbing with soreness.

If you’re looking for “Deceiver Part-2”, you might as well say goodbye to The Word Alive because, unfortunately, they’ve chosen to take on a different direction. For those of you that are more tolerant of change, Life Cycles gives the listener a completely different feel and portrays a whole new sound for those familiar with Deceiver. With a much darker, slower, and atmospheric sound, Life Cycles gets 17/20. I was right about The Word Alive setting the bar too high, but I was also right when I said that The Word Alive still has yet to disappoint me. Song recommendations? Entirety would be the most colorful, melodic, and emotional track on the album. Although I feel that Dragon Spell should be your first impression. 

The Word Alive - Deceiver

I was introduced to The Word Alive when I saw them open for Alesana in 2010 and was extremely impressed by their purely energetic performance. This was one of those bands where I saw them live but never bothered to look them up. They had me by the throat during their performance, but there weren’t any bruises left behind to remind me of their set. In other words, they were awesome live, but they didn’t have any qualities that made them stick in my head when I got back home. Sometime last year I was flipping through the Fearless Records roster to listen to any bands that I may have missed. The Word Alive was the last band on the list and the one I had overlooked. Here is the magnitude of this band’s music: by the time the first song was HALF over, I had already come to the conclusion that this was the best screamo band that I’d heard since I first discovered I am Ghost in 2007. After over a year of procrastinating, I feel that I am now able to put my opinion of this record into text.

I wish I could talk about each song individually because every single track on this album is unique and contains its own special sound. But since I don’t do track-by-track reviews on full-length albums, I’ll just talk about my favorite song off this record, The Hounds of Annibus.

One thing that’s hard to find these days in screamo bands is a good vocalist. There are so many screamers out there in the screamo and metalcore world that are just…well…really bad (to put it nicely). I’ve just become so worn out from these shitty and occasionally edited vocals in bands like The Devil Wears Prada, Beneath the Sky, I Killed the Prom Queen, Haste the Day, I the Breather, Vampires Everywhere, Enter Shikari (yes, I know they’re not screams, but they suck and don’t match the music), Abandon all Ships, and plenty of others. But The Word Alive is a COMPLETELY different story. This long-haired guy can not only belt out a demonic growl that’s deep and powerful enough for death metal, he can also let out one of the best screams the genre has to offer. Yes, he is up there with Spencer Chamberlain and Austin Carlile. The singing is above and light-years beyond amazing. That’s all I can say about the singing because it’s one of those “you have to hear it for yourself” kind of things.

I can’t really pick out the guitarists and bassist because they’re so fucking TIGHT! I’ve never heard a screamo band this tight in my LIFE. I’ve actually taken the time to listen to this album with extreme focus to try to find even ONE time where ANY of the musicians fall out of time. I did that twice and came up empty-handed. That in itself is saying something pretty damn huge. Yes, these guys play screamo and love breakdowns and keyboards in their music, but they actually take the time to PRACTICE their music and make sure that it’s the best it could possibly be. And to be honest, they might be setting bar a little too high with this record. Right after I finish writing this review, I will write a “part 2” review which will be on their brand new album, Life Cycles.

So we have above and beyond quality vocals, amazing guitar solos, precision bass, where else to go than up? Well they went up alright; the best musician in the band is the drummer. Although I’m not a drummer myself, I know very well how difficult it is to stay EXACTLY in time for the entirety of the song, especially when there’s an extremely complex double kick pattern that you have to keep up with as well as what you’re doing on the top of the set. Not only can he double kick EXTREMELY fast with great complexity, he never gets tired and is always doing some blasting fill whenever he can without overdoing anything. There’s one thing that can for-sure cause a band to fall apart: a bad drummer. If you have an extremely solid drummer like this guy, it makes it much easier for the rest of the band to stay tight because they follow the drummer closely, trusting that he/she won’t fall out of time.

Ok, so the thing about The Word Alive’s music that sets them apart from a lot of screamo and metalcore is that their music has an incredible amount of power and emotion. There are several bands out there like Hopesfall and Alexisonfire that have the good solid base, but almost completely lack any sort of emotion or flavor. The Word Alive’s music has a sound that’s epic enough to be compared to some symphonic metal bands, more power than HamerFall, and one of the most skilled, talented, and creative musicians that I’ve ever heard in the screamo genre. I would give this album a perfect score and would tell everyone to look up THE HOUNDS OF ANNIBUS before anything else! 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Belphegor - Bondage Goat Zombie

My two favorite Belphegor albums are Bondage Goat Zombie and Blood Magick Necromance. Today, I’m just going to talk about Bondage Goat Zombie because its qualities are easier to put into words than the more complex Blood Magick Necromance. Although black death is a HUGE genre, it’s actually fairly simple. There are the bands that have more death metal than black metal (Behemoth, Goatwhore, etc.), and there’s the bands that have more black metal than death metal (Belphegor, Setherial, etc.). Although the bands that have a little more death metal seem to be better, Belphegor still sticks out to me as being an extremely important contributor to both the black metal and death metal genres.

This album in particular is Belphegor’s most unique and unusual release to date. The different kinds of experimentation with Pantera-style groove and Marduk-style brutality as well as other forms of experimentation and fusion that I will mention later have really had an impact on how I view both black metal and death metal music. Although I like to think of them as more black metal than death metal, there’s a shitload of both sides tightly packed into this record. One thing that I should mention is that when people think of black death, they think of INSANE brutality like Behemoth, Setherial, and Goatwhore (especially Behemoth and Goatwhore). The gist of Belphegor’s sound is NOT pure brutality. These guys are known for taking a more experimental and calmer style of black metal, but I’ll remind you that they’ve done plenty of extremely brutal material; but they’ve made it so that it’s not a huge ingredient of their basic sound.

Probably the place where you can hear the death metal side the easiest is in the vocals. The choice of primarily using growls instead of screams is what gives this album most of its death metal feel. But as well as in the vocals, you get a death metal feel from the rhythm guitars. This layer of sound is thinly spread across every second of the album, as well as some Nile influence in Justine: Soaked in Blood. The groove sound is mostly in my favorite song off the album, Sexdictator Lucifer. To be honest, Pantera isn’t the best example to describe the type of groove Belphegor uses in this song. The type of groove in Sexdictator Lucifer has a heavy rock sound that is really slow, thick, and sludgy. As well as that out-of-place sound and the moans of The Lord’s female servants, you get to hear more black metal-style vocals than death growls. Even though this song sounds nothing like anything else on the album, I would highly recommend that you look it up because it really is something unique.

One thing that I have a problem with all pre-2011 Belphegor albums is that the treble tends to be overwhelming. This album has the best balance between the treble, mid-range, and bass, but it still has the potential of getting irritating. There are some parts that sound like they have a metalcore influence. This isn’t a bad thing, but it doesn’t really fit the music; which is probably why this is the only album you hear it in. But hey, I’ll give them credit for experimenting a bit with metalcore, as well as BEING SMART and realizing that it probably wasn’t the best thing to implement into their sound.

Giving this record an 18/20, Belphegor has yet to seriously disappoint me. I would highly recommend this to fans of Setherial, Behemoth, Goatwhore, (obviously) Belphegor, and black metal fans. I would also recommend it to people who are into some of the darker death metal bands and melodic death. 

Vacation thing

Hey guys,
I think I should mention that I will be leaving on vacation for about a week or so this Sunday. And obviously, I'm going to a place in Canada where there will be no internet and no phone (I doubt that there will be any fucking computers for that matter...). So yeah, I will try to post a shitload of reviews this week so that you can have something to keep you busy when your friends are all at work and you're stuck at home. Or, you could just go outside and enjoy the nice weather like I will be doing, as well as possibly putting some color on my neon-white skin (I live in western Washington, guys, we only get about two or three months of sun). Soooo yeah...just thought I'd let y'all know. Any emails or comments will not be read until I am back.


A Static Lullaby - Rattlesnake!

It’s always nice to hear a screamo band that sparingly uses breakdowns. Well, not only does A Static Lullaby sparingly use breakdowns, they’re also one of the most fun screamo bands to listen to. I found these guys about two years ago when I was browsing through all the different bands on Fearless Records, who is/has been home to bands such as blessthefall, Alesana, Artist vs. Poet, Motionless in White, The Word Alive, and A Skylit Drive. So the label is pretty well-rounded by having bands coming from metalcore, crunkcore, screamo, rock, emo, hardcore punk, and alternative. A Static Lullaby is no longer on the Fearless roster, but I still think of Fearless Records when I hear their name, primarily because the only album that I like by them was released under that label. Well, anyways, this is A Static Lullaby’s Rattlesnake!

I always love seeing the look on peoples’ faces whenever I show them the title/first track off this album; it rarely fails to make people smile. The majority of screamo music is, unfortunately, the stereotype: BREAKDOWNS. No, the majority of screamo bands DO NOT use auto-tuned singing (the only ones that come to mind are pre-2011 Attack Attack!, Vampires Everywhere, and Abandon All Ships). But it is true that breakdowns are WAY overused in the screamo genre, even by bands that I like (Attack Attack!, Asking Alexandria, Greeley Estates, etc.). But have no fear, A Static Lullaby is the black sheep; they’re one of the few screamo bands that have figured out how to exceed without the excessive use of breakdowns.

The title track is the one I always like to go back to. First, it has more than a screamo sound; it has a very…I don’t know, fun drive to it! It’s a lot like Attila’s Outlawed album. It makes you want to go fucking crazy and start an insane moshpit, but at the same time you feel like dancing to it. Now when bands can do that, THEN we have something interesting we can talk about!

Every musician in this band is fantastic, but not in every way. This is a band that does a perfect job of covering each other’s weaknesses. I want to tell you about each of the members, because after three years of listening to this one record, I’ve come to know it inside and out. The vocalist, let’s start with him. First of all, I know perfectly well how hard it is to do that kind of screaming (commonly referred to as “vocal fry”). Don’t know what I mean? Vocal frys are used by bands like Asking Alexandria, Austin Carlile in Attack Attack’s first album and in Of Mice and Men, Miss May I, Threat Signal, Oh, Sleeper, All Shall Perish, The Black Dahlia Murder, and many others. I always refer to it as having a lot of voice and not sounding like the vocalist is being strangled (Carnifex, Suicide Silence, Arsis, etc.). If there’s one thing that I know about vocal frys, it’s that they’re a fucking bitch to get good at. I just recently figured it out, but my voice is too deep for me to go really high. The vocalist on this album is spectacular. His screams hit the nail right on the head by sounding good, powerful, and crisp while having a unique and recognizable sound that fits the style of the music like a square peg going into a square hole. Also, (I almost forgot to mention) the singing is awesome. It’s not the best singing I’ve ever heard, but I can tell that there’s very minimal editing (if any at all, because I can’t hear any) on the singing, as well as it fitting the music. The singing sounds like something that you would hear from a 90s punk band, so it actually gives the music even more of a hard rock/punk feel.

Besides the vocalist, I have to give credit to the drummer. I mean, talk about an enormous range in style, this guy is the definition of that! For the duration of this album, he plays abstract rock patterns, blast beats, new breakdown fills, hardcore punk-influenced metalcore shit, and even some jazzy sounding stuff! But that’s only the beginning of what this guy can do. The rest of what he plays is impossible to describe because it’s new. Yes, I bet that the style of drumming that he uses has been done in the past; but in this kind of situation? I have yet to hear another drummer that’s this good and this fucking insane in a screamo band. The only other screamo drummers that are either as good or better than this guy are in Underoath (both Aaron and their new drummer), Asking Alexandria, and The Word Alive.

The whole way the album is mixed and produced is perfect. The perfect loud and chaotic rock/screamo fusion is at full-volume while still enabling you to hear every single musician perfectly. Every single song on this album is a MOTHERFUCKING BLAST to listen to! I would recommend this album to EVERYONE. What are my ABSOLUTE favorite tracks? Bear Trap, The Turn, Aller Au Diable, and Rattlesnake! I would give this album 19/20 for being one of my favorite and one of the most unique screamo records out there. If you still have a spark of hope left in you that says there HAS to be a good screamo band still out there, A Static Lullaby’s Rattlesnake is exactly what you need.  

Dragonforce - The Power Within

Dragonforce, remember those guys? They’re a British power metal band that was HUGE in Europe. Owing a large part of their fame to speed, one of the makers of the infamous Guitar Hero video game chose Through the Fire and Flames to be one of the songs. Just a side note, I HATE guitar hero/rock band, primarily because most of the songs that are on those games are FUCKING LEGIT! But now, those songs have been ruined by the game because when you ask someone from my generation if they like Rage Against the Machine, White Zombie, Disturbed, and The Red Hot Chili Peppers, they’ll say that they just know Bulls on Parade, Black Sunshine, Stricken, and Suck my Kiss (none of which are any of those bands’ best songs). And of course, the song that everyone knew and that all Guitar Hero players spent countless hours trying to beat, Through the Fire and Flames by Dragonforce.

Once this song became heard by the millions (probably billions) of “guitar hero-ers”, Dragonforce’s WORLDWIDE fame EXPLODED. Dragonforce started touring for several years at a time here in the United States playing sold-out headlining shows and having HUGE bands as OPENING ACTS such as Sonata Arctica, GWAR, All that Remains, Turisas, Gamma Ray, and a spot on the main stage of the very first Rockstar Mayhem Festival. I have one word in response to that: DAMN!

Once the hype toned down a bit while the question of a new album rose in 2008, people started getting really critical about Dragonforce. For a lot of people my age, who were about 12-14 when Guitar Hero III came out, weren’t at all familiar with the metal genre (I was just getting into metal with the classics like Sabbath, Zeppelin, Nazareth, etc. and the more popular bands like Breaking Benjamin, Staind, Korn, Godsmack, etc.). So when they heard the lightning-speed of the entire band (not just the guitarist), it seemed like this Asian dude was the fastest guitar player of all-time. People started assuming that it was literally impossible to play the guitar that fast and that the band HAD to be speeding up the guitar recordings in the studio.

Here’s something that I realized just recently: he can’t be faking his guitar playing because there are plenty of guitarists as fast as him in bands like Rings of Saturn, Obscura, Children of Bodom, Arsis, Dying Fetus, and many others! Although I personally haven’t seen Dragonforce play on stage, I have heard from several people that did see the band that Dragonforce played their fastest songs at a slower tempo than in the recording. Ok, if this is true, maybe he did speed up his guitar in Sonic Firestorm and Inhuman Rampage. But seriously, with all the proof supporting that it’s more than possible to play as fast as him, I don’t think that he’s lazy enough to not have improved his skills enough to play that fast since then.

I apologize for my ramble about Dragonforce as a band instead of focusing on the album itself. One thing that everyone wanted was for Dragonforce to focus more on being MUSICAL SPEED instead of just PURE SPEED. But, as you can see in my review of Inhuman Rampage, Through the Fire and Flames still remains my personal favorite Dragonforce song because although it’s not their fastest song, it’s definitely their most emotional, touching, epic, and colorful song. Contrary to popular opinion, I think that Ultra Beatdown was a big step in the right direction. They focused more on keyboards and electronics than blazing guitar speed, which I think sounded really cool, especially in Heartbreak Armageddon.

After Dragonforce concluded their supporting tours for Ultra Beatdown, they turned silent (as far as I can remember). Earlier this year, I saw on Metal Injection that Dragonforce didn’t break up (which is what many assumed) and were almost done with a new album which had a different long-haired power metal freak on vocals. Here was the quote from the band that really gave me a bad first impression: “One of the songs on the new album will be our fastest song yet”. Seriously guys? You’ve come out with four albums already and SPEED is still one of your main priorities?? GODDAMNIT!! I was hoping for something more musically-focused! But then again, speed is a big part of Dragonforce’s signature sound, so no matter what, if it’s Dragonforce, there’s going to be plenty of speed. So with the assumption that speed is going to be there no matter what, I was hoping for something a little more like “This is going to be our most melodic album” or “prepare yourselves for a much darker sound”. Something like that would have been more appealing for my teenage eyes.

I decided not to listen to the promo track when they posted it on YouTube when I noticed that it wasn’t the first song off the album. I wanted to hear the songs in the order that the band wanted me to hear it.

The first song, Holding On, was going to be my first impression of the new Dragonforce album, which I had a hell of a fucking lot of hope with. I had a HUGE hunch that this was going to be Dragonforce’s best album. But here’s the thing I had to make sure to filter out: the speed. Dragonforce makes really fast music, I need to be able to listen to that and not be distracted by the insane tempos. Due to my desensitization to bombarding tempos over the years, this is going to be a lot easier for me to listen to than when I was 13 (oh, by the way, I actually HATED Dragonforce back then because I thought their guitarist was literally playing random notes). I knew speed was going to be there, but I’m looking for emotion, color, and melody. Seriously, it’s a power metal band, you have to have a lot of melody for it to sound as epic as possible.

The one-worded response that I would give to this album would be the exact same word that I said in response to Dragonforce’s explosion of fame: DAMN. I know that the original vocalist did plenty of editing to his vocals in the studio, as well as some auto-tune (although it was usually for the digital-sounding effect, which is an exception because it can put a really cool effect to the music. Right after they released the new album, my friend went to see them live in Seattle (he’s always been a diehard fan of them…and power metal in general). He said that they played everything the exact same speed as the recording, there wasn’t any auto-tune on the vocals, and that their performance was flawless. Well, since I’m NOT a diehard fan of them, I’m not just going to take his word for it; but I do believe that they are much better on stage than they were four years ago.

This is not going to be a track-by-track review (I only do those for EPs), but I will say that there are plenty of ballads and songs with NORMAL POWER METAL tempos, but the fast shit is faster than ever. One thing that everyone was looking for was a break from the speed, and this album gives that. But do you honestly think that there will ever be a Dragonforce record with the absence of incredible speed? Yeah, I didn’t think so either. But if you want a break from the speed, this album has sections of songs and even entire tracks that offer you just that. Also, the musical quality is so much better!

I thought that Ultra Beatdown was more of a work of experimentation than an attempt to focus more on musical quality. This album is musical quality, hands down. Yes, the freakish Asian dude plays those really weird computer-sounding guitar solos that he’s known for. But the melody behind all of the technical speed is a thousand times stronger than it was in the previous albums. If you want a good, fast, and melodic power metal record, The Power Within should be a consideration.

Ok, what’s the new vocalist like? He has one of the strongest voices that I’ve ever heard in the power metal genre. This guy with razor-straight blond hair sounds quite similar to the previous singer, but with a much crisper voice that has more power, a larger pitch range, and more emotion. Is there really anything else I need to say to imply that this guy has really improved Dragonforce’s overall sound?

Compared to Dragonforce’s entire discography, this is amazing. This is a true high-quality power metal record that all power metal fans should have a copy of. Yes, it has the signature Dragonforce technicality and speed that everyone knows, but the musical wall behind all of the insanity is stronger and more solid than ever before. Think of it like this: the wall behind Sonic Firestorm was made out of really strong oak wood; the wall behind The Power Within is made out of titanium. Now the moment you’ve all been waiting for: I would score The Power Within with a 16/20, which is a VERY high score considering how hard it is to impress me with a power metal album!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Truculency - Eviscerate the Paraplegic

Ok, time to review another underground brutal death band. This time, it’s going to be a band that released this album under Amputated Vein Records: Truculency. Although Amputated Vein hasn’t always been the most dependable label when it comes to quality, they sure know how to deliver brutality. And I think that I’ve expressed well enough that brutality alone just won’t cut it for me. Well, they sure do have tons of bludgeoning brutality, but that’s not all that Truculency put into this record. I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone outside the underground brutal death community, but this isn’t a record that I would put the “STEER CLEAR” sticker on (that bands like Putrefy, Guttural Engorgement, and Waking the Cadaver have received).

One thing that most brutal death (especially the underground type) doesn’t seem to have is the presence of guitar solos. I fully understand that in many cases, guitar solos are not what the music requires. Putting in guitar solos when they’re not needed can make the music sound over-cluttered, unorganized, and just not good. Even when their presence doesn’t hurt the music at all, bands still have the capability of fucking everything up when choosing what to do with the background music (if any) during the guitarist’s solo. I’m not talking about bass solos, that’s a topic for another day (don’t think that I’m dissing bassists, because I AM a bassist). Hearing guitar solos in brutal death is really something I look forward to when I hear about it because I want to know whether the band is good enough to totally fuck up the music (and yes, obviously the guitarist has to be good). So when I hear Truculency’s guitar solos, I don’t hear disaster, but I don’t hear a miracle either; the guitar solos and the way they’re implemented in the music is completely mediocre. The lead guitarist obviously went for the bare minimum, but for him, the “minimum bar” was set at a much higher level than usual. I hear a guitar solo that sounds completely void of any kind of creativity or emotion…but still catchy and fitting with the music.

This is going to sound really geeky, but the thing that I like the most about Truculency is the arrangements and their extremely solid song structures. For me, being completely predictable isn’t a good thing, but neither is being completely unpredictable (with the exception of Iwrestledabearonce and a few others). Truculency has figured out how to make a nearly perfect balance between the two. There are parts when the brutal breakdown comes when you expect it, and there are parts that kind of slow things down for a bit with a slightly repetitive guitar riff, then explode into a cacophony of brutal blast beats and extremely technical guitar shredding. This balance between being predictable and unpredictable that Truculency has created is something that not only enhances the music for myself, but is the key to making the listener happy by giving them the brutal sound they want, but with some hidden surprises to keep them engaged.

The vocalist is obviously an example of a very good death metal vocalist. I’ve come to figure out that some people’s vocal chords are built in a certain way that enables them to make EXTREMELY low exhale growls. I’m not talking about the kind of deep that you hear in Whitechapel, Amorphis, Opeth/Bloodbath, and The Faceless, I’m talking about shit like Nile, pre-1995 Cannibal Corpse, and Mummification. You can tell that he’s exhaling because it sounds really breathy and it sounds really fucking shitty when he actually DOES do inhales. Either he’s really good at making a DEEP inhale sound like an exhale, or he’s just doing really fucking deep exhale growls that I wish I could do (my growls sound like the ex-The Faceless vocalist that did the vocals on Planetary Duality, Demon Carcass). But that aside, his vocals are extremely deep and not only matches the brutality of the music, it enhances it and makes it stronger.

The drummer is the main problem that this band has. He has astonishing skill and great technique, but he has an issue of falling out of tempo. I would imagine that it’s because of the high intensity and speed of the music. Also, I can tell that he’s playing the drums REALLY hard. He probably spends his miniscule paycheck on drum-skin and cymbal replacements because he keeps breaking them. So obviously, if you’re hitting the drums too hard, you’re going to get tired. The thing that sucks is that the rest of the music isn’t going to slow down for you, it’s going to keep going. And if the rest of the band DOES slow down for you, they’re not going to notice that you’ve slowed down for a couple of seconds because they’re so focused on what they’re doing. In Truculency, they mercilessly push through it and get the job done without stopping or slowing down for others. So after the drummer does some more bench presses, he shouldn’t have any problem at all by the time the next Truculency album comes out.

Overall, this record has amazing vocals, exceptional guitars, great bass, amazing drums that could use a little tweaking, and an overall powerful and (of course) BRUTAL sound. I would give this record 16/20 for having positive ends so big and powerful that they almost drown out the negative ends. Along with that, most of the guitar solo sections come with a melodic sound that blends very well with the rest of the song. Although I wouldn’t personally recommend this to anyone outside the underground brutal death community, this wouldn’t be a bad album to check out if you’re unfamiliar with the sound of underground brutality. 

Sunday, July 8, 2012


Oh hey, did I mention that I'm seeing Agalloch this week? Well, in case I didn't, I'M SEEING AGALLOCH THIS WEEK!!!

Tankard - The Morning After

These guys are the kings of alcohol-induced thrash metal. Tankard has been banging heads and breaking bottles since the mid-1980s. I don’t know why it is, but I seem to be “out of the loop” when it comes to the less-popular but still legendary classic thrash metal bands. Tankard is the latest addition to my thrash metal collection and goddamnit they hold a fucking solid spot that will never go away. I’ve listened to almost their entire discography very thoroughly and so far, this record has been the most enjoyable listen. To help tame my excitement for their upcoming release under the legendary Nuclear Blast Records, I’m going to write a review on my personal favorite Tankard album. For those of you that haven’t heard Tankard and are into the classic thrash metal sound, this record is what you want.

Tankard was one of the more underground thrash metal bands during the 80s and 90s, only being known amongst the metalhead community. I’ve heard mixed views on Tankard. Some, like myself, say that they’re a motherfucking blast to listen to, but others just refer to Tankard as “just another thrash band”, nothing more. Personally, I don’t think Tankard has been around for almost 30 years to be considered “just another thrash metal band”. And to be honest, ever since this album came out, they’ve been at the top of their game. But if that is so, then why are they still going unheard? Why haven’t I heard of these German fuckers? Well, thanks to Nuclear Blast, I now know who they are and understand completely why the label chose them to be on their roster.

Well, these guys are thrash metal, but what kind? You’ve got the slower thrash metal like Sepultura, the undeniably fast thrash like Slayer and Destruction, the more experimental, yet HEAVY thrash metal like Overkill and Havok, and the more melodic thrash brought to you by Artillery. What would I consider Tankard? Well, there’s an obvious amount of hardcore punk (The Exploited, Black Flag, etc.) influence in their music; primarily in the drums. The guitars play really fast, that when played along with the hardcore punk-style drums, has the capability of moving the pit to deadly levels.

The vocals are extremely harsh and remind me of Sodom’s earlier records where there was even some screaming involved. Either that or the vocalist was just drunk as a cockroach in a pool of beer as always. What people say about Tankard is true, these guys are heavy drinkers and enjoy it very much. Lucky them, they’re not angry drunks, they’re METAL drunks (yes, I know that was a bad joke). The style that the bassist plays runs back to the early roots of hardcore punk and crust (Black Flag, Napalm Death, Condemned?, etc.), which adds on a thicker punk layer to the drums. The guitar distortion is cheap and VERY crunchy. So this is going to be a huge enjoyment for people who love really under produced and “underground” sounding thrash metal…sort of like Motorhead, except more metal.

The biggest and best trait that the hardcore punk influence gives this album is its catchiness. The utter groove and catchiness is one similar to Exodus and Testament (more so Exodus). In fact, there’s even a PUNK song on this very album! What do you hear when you listen to the sixth track, Try Again? Well, I don’t know about you, but I hear good ol’ 1980s punk rock. That’s it, this is thrash for the punk rocker, which is probably why the members are always wearing Exploited shirts. Alright, here’s something about the guitarists: they get the job done, but they do the bare minimum. They don’t do anything special or over-the-top. Probably the most interesting thing that they do is a couple of shredding solos here and there. But the guitarists don’t really show much skill beyond the skills needed to play thrash metal.

Overall, this is a fantastic and fucking FUN thrash metal album to listen to. Giving this one 17/20, The Morning After has proved to be a thrash metal classic in its own sense by fusing punk rock and thrash metal better than Exodus did in the 1980s. I would highly recommend that you pick up a copy of this shit because we don’t know how much longer this band will stick around.