Sunday, September 30, 2012

Upcoming Reviews

Here are some bands I might or might not review depending on how I feel and if I have time:

Pathology (brutal death)
Lago (death metal)
Blizzard at Sea (atmospheric sludge)
Deicide (death metal)
Wide Eyes (progressive metal)
Firewind (power metal)
Blackguard (progressive black)
Children of Bodom (melodic death)
Goratory (brutal death)
Katalepsy (death grind)
Wormed (death grind)
Mayan (progressive death)
As You Drown (deathcore)
Absvrdist (grindcore)
Taproot (alternative metal)
Nevermore (power metal)
Amorphis (progressive death)

In Flames - Come Clarity

Like many others in my generation, this was my first In Flames album. I never played Guitar Hero or Rock Band very much, but it wasn’t hard to avoid the fact that the first track off this album was on one of those games (I don’t really remember which one, but it doesn’t matter). So because they had a song on Guitar Hero, In Flames was one of the bands my friends threw at me along with Lamb of God, DragonForce, Rage Against the Machine, Disturbed, The Fall of Troy, and Killswitch Engage. Now that I’ve come to know the entire In Flames discography very well and grow an opinion on the majority of the releases within it, it’s time that I used the reviewing process to further expand my understanding of my first In Flames album, Come Clarity.

Oh, maybe I should mention a disclaimer for those of you that are Whoracle/The Jester Race elitists: this review just might piss you off because unlike some, I happen to thoroughly enjoy the majority of the newer In Flames albums, my favorite being A Sense of Purpose. I should get it out there that I agree 100% that both Whoracle and The Jester Race have rightfully earned their respected spots as pure classics in the melodic death genre; there’s no denying that. And although I believe that, I tend to like the newer material a little more, especially A Sense of Purpose. Whoracle just doesn’t speak to me in the same way on a personal level that A Sense of Purpose does. I’m saying all this because I KNOW that there will at least be three people claiming that I don’t know a fucking thing about what I’m talking about. Well guess what, I do, and I prefer In Flames’ four most recent albums over the rest of their discography.

Now that I’ve got that out of the way, let’s go into what I’m here to tell you about (for those of you that have decided to continue on instead of blindly rejecting it). I believe that it was back in about late 2007/early 2008 when my friend lent a copy of this to me. I’ve now learned that it was this album that brought In Flames back into the metal media for the first time since they changed vocalists. Ever since then, every time they go on a tour, release a new song/ep/album, or anything, it’s a pretty big fucking deal. The thing about Come Clarity that most people point out as being the reason why it sounds so different from all of their other records is the metalcore influence it has.

Most of the metalcore influence isn’t really in the musical composition as much as it is in the melodies and guitar harmonizations. To those that are metalcore-haters, metalcore means numerous simple breakdowns and cheesy melodic choruses. Well to be honest, that’s not what metalcore is, and In Flames has always had breakdowns in their music, it’s in just about every metal band (that might be an overstatement, but hopefully you get what I mean). The really dark melodic sound that Soundtrack to Your Escape had pretty much dissipates in Come Clarity. Yeah, it’s melodic (it’s melodic death, that’s a given), but it’s not nearly as dark as Soundtrack to Your Escape. Instead, you get a sound that’s more similar to that of Soilwork’s. The heavy parts have a really crunchy, yet technical sound, and the melodic parts have an epic groove feel to them.

The vocals fit the music perfectly. Similar to Soilwork, the vocalist does very high-pitched screams that sometimes fade into really nasty yells. I should note that pretty much everything this vocalist does is pretty high-pitched. His singing has a unique powerful sound that can have similarities to Speed’s vocals at times, but it’s pretty much as unique as Speed’s singing voice. The screaming is what I would consider to be the perfect match for the melodic technical sound Come Clarity portrays. In just about every other melodic death band that has a technical style (Wintersun, Soilwork, Children of Bodom, The Agonist, etc.), the vocals are mid-range to high-pitched screams (I literally just now noticed that!).

The drums and the guitars share a complex harmony which weaves in and out of itself. Many of the harmonization patterns have a heavy metalcore influence along with some possible technical death influences. Like I mentioned before, it’s the metalcore influenced-guitar harmonies that makes this album sound so much different from all the other In Flames albums. I know that some people strongly oppose the idea of letting any sort of metalcore influence seep into a melodic death record, but honestly, it’s hard to deny that In Flames pulled it off pretty damn well. The bassist seems to have a mind of his own. And unfortunately, he seems lost in some places. He’s obviously doing improvisation in some places and trying to be excessively abstract in others. But there are numerous times where what he’s playing just doesn’t match up with the rest of the music. And yes, there are bassists that play something completely different from the rest of the band, but the two parts still end up matching up and sounding good. That’s probably why the guitars almost completely drown out the bass for the majority of the album.

Come Clarity is one of In Flames’ best albums. I wouldn’t say that this would be the best first impression, but to be honest, I wouldn’t stop you if you wanted this to be your first sample of In Flames. Come Clarity expresses musical intelligence and creativity through its innovative structure, outside influences, and complex musicianship. I would give this album 15/20. 

Revocation - Teratogenesis [EP]

Is the wait for a new Revocation album already starting to get unbearably long? Yeah, it is for me too, that’s why just like many other metal bands recently, Revocation have just released a free EP made up of 100% new material through Scion A/V! Of course, I’m just seeing this as the next chapter in Revocation’s discography, nothing more, nothing less (other than the fact that it’s a much shorter “chapter”). EPs are typically one of two things: a continuation of the newest full-length, or a marker as a major change in either style or sound. Immolation’s 2011 EP, Providence, was simply a continuation of their 2010 masterpiece Majesty and Decay. The EP that Autopsy released in 2010 represented the beginning of a new era for the band (aka their reformation) which lead to their best album since Mental Funeral, Macabre Eternal.

Read the rest of the review on Teeth of the Divine here:

Back Door to Asylum - Akathisia

Russia has been pretty reliable with the underground death metal releases they’ve been putting out recently. That’s why I was instantly looking forward to this one when Amputated Vein Records (a brutal death label I follow closely) announced the signing of the Russian technical death band Back Door to Asylum. When the label posted one of the tracks from the album on their website, I got something different than what I was expecting. Most would consider a statement like that to be a disclaimer (and most of the time it is), but fear not, Back Door to Asylum is a great fix for those of you that are starved of quality tech death. Due to the fact that there’s next to no (at least somewhat) detailed info on the band OR album on the internet, I’m basically writing this review solely on the music at hand without much background info on it (other than that they’re fucking Russian).

The vocalist is one of the better ones that I’ve heard in a while. He does all very high-quality inhales that have a very strong sound. Oh yeah, I should also mention that the former Fleshbomb vocalist and the vocalist and the drummer from Gorgasm all do guest vocals on the album. The thing is, I have no fucking idea where they are and what tracks they do vocals on. I have a feeling that the Gorgasm vocalist does guest vocals on the eighth track since there’s a couple of random brutal death-style breakdowns with extremely deep inhaled growls. But there’s no telling for sure. I’m not even the biggest fan of Gorgasm OR Fleshbomb (I don’t hate either, though), but this might be a cool thing for those of you that ARE fans of them. I will admit that the added element of the inhaled vocals does a great job of giving the music a great twist and a different sounds perfect for the situation.

Most of the TRULY underground technical death that I’ve heard over the past year or so has been mainly mediocre. The majority of the bands have either put too much focus on brutality, extreme and overwhelming technicality, speed, or a combination of two or more of those elements. For me, as long as there’s at least SOMETHING behind that extra stuff, it’s not horrible. For example, some of the most technical bands in existence: Rings of Saturn, Slaughterbox, and Origin have seemingly inhuman instrumental skills and speed capabilities. But they all have at least obvious signs of some kind of musical structure behind their overwhelming guitar shredding. An example of an album that puts 100% of the focus on technicality and brutality would be Brain Drill’s Quantum Catastrophe. This album has no signs of musical structure or attempted atmosphere whatsoever. Back Door to Asylum is an example of what I look for when I sift through enormous lists of the technical death genre’s newest underground bands.

Is the instrumental complexity at an Origin-comparable level? Not even close. The technicality most definitely shines through, but not through all of the instruments like in other bands. The guitars aren’t any more technical than Deicide, which isn’t something that hasn’t been done before in technical death. The vocals don’t follow a really weird pattern like Fleshgod Apocalypse, The Faceless, and Rings of Saturn; the vocal patterns remain fairly predictable for the duration of the album. Even the overall structure of the music isn’t overly complex and thick! That is…except for the bass and drums.

 Since the bassist is the biggest attraction that this band holds, I’ll talk about the drummer first. The drummer plays these REALLY tight explosive blast beats that remind me of Fleshgod Apocalypse…except not quite as fast and technical. The snare sounds like it’s had SOME of the buzz taken off, but not all (I don’t know how that would be done). But it has the really tinny sound that a snare has when you take the buzz off, but you can still hear the buzz (I can’t think of a better way to explain that). Anyway, because of that, the snare is naturally louder than normal and therefore makes the downbeats of the blast beats bolder and much more profound. Since these guys have an extremely skilled drummer, it sounds AMAZING. I could use for the kick drums to have some more body to their sound on the lower end. But they don’t sound super weak and “clicky”.

The bassist is hands-down, the man of the hour here. Not only does the technicality of what he plays the same as that of the drummer, but he’s also the most musically creative and expressive member of the band. On top of SEVERAL mind-blowing bass solos and blasting fills, there’s even an entire track on the album that’s a fucking bass solo. The interlude track titled Detachment contains nothing but the bass guitarist and some random background noises. The overall sound of the track itself is very experimental and atmospheric, not heavy, complex, or even fast at all. It’s sort of like a really ambient guitar solo…except it’s a bass. This display of musical and creative diversity raises this band’s credibility by a whole fucking bunch. I initially almost skipped over this track since it started out with…well…not much. But after I listened to the whole thing, it was one of those “I wasn’t expecting that at ALL” kind of moments where you need an extra couple of seconds to comprehend what you just heard.

Russia’s Back Door to Asylum brings you some of the most crushing technical brutality that’s been released since Spawn of Possession’s Incurso. The album could most definitely do without the unnecessary intro and outro tracks (the album needs to be longer to have those). This isn’t an easy album to find, but if you do (surefire way to find it is on Amputated Vein’s website), don’t turn down the opportunity because this is a one-of-a-kind slab of metal. I would give Akathisia 15/20.  

Sunday, September 23, 2012

For all those Sleeping - Outspoken

When I go through the screamo genre looking to see what newer bands there are, my main goal is to find the diamond in the rough. I’m always looking for that one screamo band that’s not only different, but striving to either improve or expand the genre. Of course, as many of you know, those kinds of bands are much more difficult to come by than ever before. When you look through the majority of the screamo albums I’ve reviewed, I typically only focus on the really different albums; they’re either really good, really bad, or just different/unique. And every once in a while, I like to keep my mind in-tune by reviewing an album that I DON’T consider to be unique and different. Which is why I’m now going to introduce you to one of the newer screamo bands out there: For all those Sleeping.

If you didn’t get my message already: DO NOT EXPECT ANYTHING NEW FROM THESE GUYS. There is absolutely nothing in this entire fucking record that hasn’t been done millions of times before by other generic trendy screamo bands that put most of their emphasis on crushing and simple breakdowns and implementing keyboards into pop punk-sounding interludes with corny singing. Of course, there are some bands that do this better than most, like I See Stars, Asking Alexandria, and Attack Attack!’s first and third album. I came across For all those Sleeping when I was browsing through the Fearless Records band roster in order to further familiarize myself with the label. For those of you that aren’t aware of Fearless Records, they’ve been home to several emo, pop punk, rock, screamo, and metalcore bands over the years. Some of these include better bands like Alesana, blessthefall, A Static Lullaby, The Word Alive, and some mediocre (but unique) bands like Tonight Alive, A Skylit Drive, Artist vs. Poet, and Go Radio.

Even though it’s more than apparent that there is an extremely large amount of screamo bands that put WAY too much emphasis and dependence on breakdowns, there aren’t many that are as open and honest about it as For all those Sleeping. That’s something that I could go on about for hours, but that’s a topic that can be applied to so many different bands that it’s virtually meaningless to write about it in every review of an album that has that problem. So I’m not going to ramble on about that now that I’ve at least gotten the message out there that this album is very focused on SIMPLE breakdowns.

When you listen to the single off the album (at least I think it’s the single), Mark My Words, you get the feeling of a much heavier screamo band than you may be used to. But first impressions are often deceiving, because by the time this song is half over, you start thinking to yourself “what benefit am I getting out of listening to these guys as opposed to tons of other EXTREMELY similar bands?” That’s what I was saying to myself every other song while listening to this album. There’s just nothing special about these guys at all! I can listen to Life Cycles by The Word Alive and get everything out of it that I’m getting out of Outspoken PLUS more! Not only does Life Cycles (just an example) have the same basic sound as Outspoken, it also has much more emotion, more variety in moods, more color, and more catchiness and creativity in the breakdowns! So if I can listen to Life Cycles and plenty of other likeminded screamo albums that are BETTER than Outspoken, why would I want to clog up my valuable computer memory with Outspoken?

After listening to this album for about the sixth time, I’ve come to realize that the number of definite flaws is surprisingly low (as opposed to the newest Abandon All Ships record). The thing is that there’s just a complete absence of…well…EVERYTHING! There’s NO creativity, NO color, NOTHING! But then again, there aren’t any signs of major flaws and fuckups within the album. It’s just like a boring piece of slate: nothing special, just the same old thing that we already know too well. This is the reason why I’m not giving this as low of a score as I have given other albums, because even though this album is absolutely boring and not worth your time, when put by itself, it has skill, musicianship, and credible song structure and composition.

The one thing that I will point out is that the singing sounds really weird. I don’t know if it’s just me, but the singing sounds cornier than what I’m accustomed to hearing in this kind of music. The singing isn’t out of tune, and there are only a few moments where there’s the use of auto-tune, but it just sounds really fucking corny and it bothers the motherfucking SHIT out of me! Other than weird singing and extremely uncreative and generic song composition, this album has its moments here and there that deserve to be pointed out. The production quality of the album is top-notch and shows excellent professionalism. But honestly, if you’re looking for “the next big thing” that defies the limits and strives to create instead of copy, I wouldn’t say that Outspoken is worth your time. I would give this album 8/20. 

Soilwork - A Predator's Portrait

Thanks to its release through Nuclear Blast Records, A Predator’s Portrait is known for being Soilwork’s major breakthrough album. Why this album and not the two previous ones? Because every single piece of material that Soilwork has released since A Predator’s Portrait has received rave reviews from critics and fans worldwide. So after catching the attention from the underground European metal scene with The Chainheart Machine, Soilwork landed a deal with the best record label in the world, Nuclear Blast, which is a deal that is still very much alive this very moment. Why? Because everything Soilwork just keeps getting better and better with each release, despite the fact that they aren’t as much under many people’s radars as they were in 2005.

Even though this album’s sound isn’t THAT much different from The Chainheart Machine and Steelbath Suicide, it still remains one of the band’s most successful and influential releases. Usually, with a band with as big of a legacy as Soilwork, you would expect there to be a cult following of similar bands attempting to follow in Soilwork’s footsteps. But funny enough, there really hasn’t been much of a cult following. An extreme example of this would be the number of metalcore bands out there that practically worship August Burns Red (I the Breather, Oh, Sleeper, A Past Unknown, Never See Tomorrow, For Today, etc.). Or an even bigger example is the fact that Meshuggah has caused an utter explosion of progressive metal, metalcore, deathcore, and technical death bands to play their complex breakdown style (Veil of Maya, Born of Osiris, Periphery, Animals as Leaders, Decapitated, etc.). How many bands do you know of out there that play really thrashy melodic death with some other random shit thrown in here and there? I mean, there are most definitely some whether they’ve been influenced/inspired by Soilwork or not, but there isn’t a definite group.

A Predator’s Portrait is one of Soilwork’s heaviest records. Even though it has numerous melodic guitar harmonizations, there’s minimal singing, thrash metal-style drumming, and very fast-moving breakdowns in every song. If you’ve heard any of the albums that came after A Predator’s Portrait, especially Natural Born Chaos and Figure Number Five, you might have noticed that A Predator’s Portrait is the last album where Speed’s screams are REALLY high-pitched. Ever since then, Speed’s harsher vocals have drifted closer to a yell with each release. But in order to prove that he hasn’t lost the ability to let out his bone-chilling screams, Speed continues to scream every once in a while in each album. They’re just no longer the primary vocal style of the album.

What I meant when I said that this is one of Soilwork’s heaviest albums, I meant that there aren’t very many songs that are completely melodic as a whole. There are several guitar riffs and mood shifts in each song that just bursts with soft melody, but when you listen to each song and/or the album as a whole, it sounds much more groovy and thrashy than melodic. Sort of like a more melodic Pantera or Machine Head (probably not the best analogy, but it works in my head). The drumming is extremely aggressive in this album. Part of what makes the drums sound so driving and aggressive is the fact that there isn’t a shitload of bass like there is in The Panic Broadcast and Stabbing the Drama. This really tinny sound that the drums portray is what many critics claim to be the core of what makes this album’s sound so unique along with the higher-pitched guitar distortion.

So with this really gritty and aggressive sound, you’re also met with some atmospheric keyboards in the background every once in a while. I’m not quite sure what the point of having these brief moments of melodic keyboards because they don’t seem to add much to the music. But then again, there are several cases where even the smallest and seemingly-miniscule additions give the music a COMPLETELY different sound than it would without them. So maybe it’s just because they’re so slight that the difference is hard for me to imagine in my own head.

A Predator’s Portrait isn’t Soilwork’s best album by far, and I wouldn’t consider it a classic, but I would most definitely consider it to be an important record in the melodic death genre with its limit-defying attitude and groovy aggression. For those of you that are wanting to get much more into melodic death, make sure to pick up a copy of A Predator’s Portrait after you’re done getting to know Stabbing the Drama, The Panic Broadcast, Sworn to a Great Divide, and Figure Number Five. I would rate A Predator’s Portrait 15/20 for being a fantastic melodic death record. 

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Agonist - Prisoners

The Agonist released Lullabies for the Dormant Mind in 2009 and their popularity quite literally exploded. Yeah, no kidding. Their debut, Once Only Imagined got the attention of a fairly small amount of people (which included me). But to be honest, with the exception of some, it wasn’t really that impressive. This was especially true when they released their sophomore masterpiece in 2009, which I gave an extremely high 19/20 score. So now, three years later, The Agonist has their highly anticipated follow-up album out in the markets, and it’s already proving to be their most successful album yet. I’m guessing that this is partly due to extensive advertising and several anti-piracy articles and videos created by Century Media (their label) and their blue-haired vocalist/sex symbol Alyssa White-Glutz. After going on about Alyssa in my review of their second album, I don’t think that it’s necessary to do that in all my other Agonist reviews.

This album is somewhat a continuation of the sound Lullabies for the Dormant Mind portrayed, but with some variations and progressions in some areas. Most of these areas where the band progressed were areas that were somewhat premature in their first two releases (guitar solos, catchiness, etc.). Actually, I partially take that back, because the band hasn’t progressed their sound as much as they have spent time exploring other sounds, which include much more melodic rock and acoustic-influenced styles. Aside from this change in direction towards a more melodic sound, the heavier parts have much more of a catchy rock sound that is considerably less complex and technical than in their second album. This isn’t a thing that has been making me happy. Because honestly, this unusual-sounding technicality was my favorite thing about The Agonist, therefore stating the primary reason for my praise of Lullabies for the Dormant Mind.

The first song that I heard from this album was the first song that everyone else heard from it: Predator and Prayer. But then again, two of the songs off the album were released in 2011 as an EP, which I usually don’t tend to count since there apparently weren’t that many people that bothered to listen to it. But the majority of their audience heard the discreetly and sneakily-released track Predator and Prayer, which is a MUCH better first impression of this album than either of the two songs released on The Escape [EP]. So if you haven’t heard anything from this album yet, make Predator and Prayer your first priority because believe me, it is THE pinnacle of the album (although some beg to differ, which is fine). That’s the problem that I have with this album; the album as a whole isn’t as strong. There are some REALLY strong tracks that just blow your mind, some fairly good tracks, and then just some plain ol’ mediocre songs that aren’t bad in any way, but tend to be disappointing after you hear the better ones.

Lullabies for the Dormant Mind is a solid album because every single song on that album is like a titanium structure. All of the songs have a similar sound and work together to create a virtually indestructible skeleton to keep the album together. The structure holding Prisoners together isn’t quite as solid as I would like it to be. Don’t get me wrong, it’s damn solid, The Agonist doesn’t fuck around, but the weak structure exposes several weak spots that tend to be bothersome. It’s not so much the structure of the album itself that I consider weak as much as some of the individual songs themselves that are just…well…not extremely impressive. Songs like Anxious Darwinians, The Mass of the Earth, and Dead Ocean speak out to me as not being as strong as they could be. After hearing Lullabies for the Dormant Mind, I know personally that The Agonist is more than capable of composing material stronger than this. Then again, all of these songs that I’ve just listed are enjoyable listens; they’re just not what I would consider to be “highlights” of this album.

As far as the individual musicians and their technical SKILLS go, they’ve all improved. One member that you don’t hear on this album that you may remember from the two previous albums is The Human Abstract guitarist Andrew Tapley, who was replaced by Pascal Jobin in 2010 when Andrew left to focus on writing and recording The Human Abstract’s Digital Veil album. Considering Tapley’s unique complex style, this is probably part of the reasoning behind the decline in technicality on Prisoners. The harmonizations in Alyssa’s singing is MUCH bigger and a hell of a lot more complex than ever before; sometimes recording over herself four or five times. And I’ve got to admit, it adds a whole new element to The Agonist’s music and it sounds fucking amazing. Her screaming and growling hasn’t gotten any crisper, but it sure as hell sounds more powerful than ever before, which means that she’s taking very good care of her throat and focusing on her sound. The most disappointing thing that one might find is that the drums and bass don’t take as big of a part in the music as they did before. When you listen to songs off of their first two albums, you hear one bass solo and drum solo after another, which was part of what made them sound so technical.

But with that aside, this is an album that all melodic death fans should give a listen or two…or three. One thing that I’m hearing in this album is experimentation and intention to expand musical creativity, but a slight loss of focus on the overall solidness of the album’s structure. I’m not encouraging monotony, but some of the songs on this album aren’t what I would consider to be the best of the band’s capability. I would rate this album 17/20. 

Make me Famous - It's Now or Never

Make me Famous is one of the newer Sumerian Records artists. Having just released their debut through the label this year, this Ukrainian screamo group has defied the modern stereotype and taken influences from several different genres in order to make the polar opposites of their sound more extreme than ever. Sumerian Records is known for being the placeholder for two fairly big screamo bands: I See Stars and Asking Alexandria, which are both known for implementing techno and electronic elements into their metal sound. Here are the differences between these two bands: I See Stars is much more techno-based than Asking Alexandria, and their metal parts are still very upbeat and more poppy. This still creates contrast, but nothing comparable to the widely-known Asking Alexandria, who is known for playing extremely crushing (and I mean CRUSHING) breakdowns with demonic growls that blend into a poppy techno-influenced sound in the same song. Image that, but with the techno parts being a bit more poppy and the heavier parts being even more heavy.

Once you imagine that, listen to one of Sumerian Record’s latest releases, the Make me Famous debut, It’s Now or Never. I blew this album off ever since I heard about its release because it literally seemed like just another screamo album following the recent trend of mixing techno and screamo. This trend is proving to be almost as bad as all the deathcore and metalcore bands implementing the djent style (created by Meshuggah) into their already overused breakdowns. Of course, when everyone first heard bands doing that (Born of Osiris, Veil of Maya, etc.), we all thought it was a pretty damn sick idea…that is…until seemingly everyone started doing it. This was the same thing with the mixing techno and screamo thing, we all thought it was a pretty cool idea when Underoath, Attack Attack!, Asking Alexandria, and other screamo bands that started doing that 4-5 years go, but after a while, it’s just started to get old. Everywhere you look, it seems that every other new screamo album has the same exact cookie-cutter sound, and it’s depressing!

One thing that I enjoy doing is sifting through all of these bands that seem to all play the exact same thing in search for the black sheep; the band that strives to progress that already overused sound and create newer and/or slightly different variations of it. Make me Famous is one of those bands. Never before have I heard a screamo band spread these polar opposites so fucking far apart. Not only that, but some of the elements that all of these other bands seem to have in their music (auto-tune singing, prissy lyrics, stuck-up attitudes, etc.) aren’t found on this album, which has caught me completely by surprise. Because I will admit, I was expecting just another less-skilled Asking Alexandria duplicate.

Here are some things that you should expect from Make me Famous (that name bothers me): just like almost all other bands on the Sumerian Records roster, they tend to overuse the breakdowns, but they make up for that by being extra creative with them. In a lot of their breakdowns, they use a jacked-up djent style to add complexity and variety, therefore eliminating any monotony in their music. That’s something that I’ve come to appreciate about this extremely complex Meshuggah style, it’s not like simple breakdowns where there are a limited number of tempo patterns that you can use, in the case of this style, as far as I’ve been able to comprehend, the different types of patterns that one can write is infinite. Of course, human beings aren’t totally perfect, and it shouldn’t be expected that once you hear a certain djent-styled pattern that you’ll NEVER hear it again in another band or album, because there are coincidences where a band will unintentionally write a pattern that has already been used before.

Make me Famous is one of the better composers of this style in the screamo genre. The majority of their breakdowns are far from generic, the song structures (most of the time) have tons of unexpected surprises and keep the listener completely engaged. But then again, once you’re about ¾ into the album, the breakdowns start to feel a little TOO frequent, which is mainly (to me) a matter of tolerance within the listener and also if it’s the kind of thing the listener wants to hear. If you’re looking for screamo with minimal breakdowns, this probably isn’t going to be something you’ll find enjoyable, you’d find Alesana, A Static Lullaby, and Underoath much more satisfying than this. But if you’re like me and can either tolerate or enjoy plenty of creative and catchy breakdowns that keep you headbanging without even knowing, this is a record that you should have in your collection for when you’re in the mood for this style of music.

Back to what I was saying before: the contrast. That’s the thing that I want to put the most emphasis on because that’s what sticks out to me as being the most unique quality of this band. The techno parts are definitely as techno-y as I See Stars, but not quite as upbeat. So a better way to put it is that the techno parts are not quite as upbeat as they are melodic. The heavy parts are easy comparable to that of Asking Alexandria; and in some cases, much heavier. The one thing I hate doing the most is judging a band on the looks of the members, but in some cases (because I’m merely human), I just can’t help myself. In other words, when I saw the picture of these guys on the Sumerian Records website, I simply passed it up as another I See Stars that played techno and pop rock with screaming. But obviously, I was greatly mistaken and I COMPLETELY underestimated the heaviness of Make me Famous. The growls aren’t what I would call SUPER deep, but they sure are fucking powerful. The screams aren’t the best that I’ve heard, but holy damn; they create a hell of a lot of contrast with the growls, which only make the growls sound deeper than they actually are. The singing is pristine. I can notice some amount of editing in the studio in order to give the singing a crisper sound, but there isn’t any auto-tune that I can hear at all, which is what I look for.

Make me Famous have caught me completely off-guard with their rock-solid debut release. I would recommend this to all fans of screamo and metalcore. Although I will admit that there’s one thing about this album that just bothers the motherfucking SHIT out of me, the fifth track. For those of you that don’t know anything about my music tastes, my favorite kind of music is none other than black metal. I’m not a black metal elitist or anything, but it sure as hell bothers me when a band writes a screamo song titled “This Song is Blacker than Black Metal”. I mean, what the hell is that supposed to be about? I’m not going to let that bother me TOO much because it mainly seems like they’re just trolling the Ukrainian black metal scene (Drudkh, Nokturnal Mortum, Gromm, Moloch, etc.), which I know that their drummer is a fan of. Anyway, I would give this album 14/20 for being a better-than-average screamo release that has proven to be written by a band that strives to push the limits of recent trends in order to expand their creative abilities. 

Upcoming Reviews

I have a lot of new stuff to review, here are some of the bands that I'm looking forward to sharing with all of you:

Wide Eyes (progressive metal)
Make me Famous (screamo)
Manowar (heavy metal)
Back Door to Asylum (technical death)
Buckcherry (hard rock)
Behemoth (black death)
Deicide (death metal)
Marduk (black death)
Destruction (thrash metal)
The Agonist (melodic death)
Putrid Pile (brutal death)
Grave (death metal)
Goratory (brutal death)

Thursday, September 20, 2012

New Partner in Crime: Fearless Records

Looks like I have a new "partner in crime". I have just joined the street team of the awesome record label Fearless Records. They have a wide variety of genres on their repitoire including pop punk, screamo, metalcore, and rock. Some of their most notable bands (some of which I've written reviews on) include Alesana, The Word Alive, Every Avenue, blessthefall, A Skylit Drive, and Go Radio.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Through the Eyes of the Dead - Malice

This South Carolina deathcore group has been crushing skulls since they released their first EP in 2004. This is a band that has toured relentlessly for years on end (I’ve had the pleasure to see them on stage) and has solidified their name in the deathcore world. That name, which was inspired by a Cannibal Corpse song, is Through the Eyes of the Dead. Although I would say that any release by this band is at least worth a listen, Malice stands out to me as being the strongest and the best.

The style of deathcore that you hear on Malice is one of my favorite types: deathcore that’s primarily death metal-based. Some other bands that play this style are Whitechapel, Carnifex, As You Drown, Rose Funeral, and The Red Chord (although they implement some grindcore into their style as well as death metal). Some assume that the more brutal deathcore bands out there are brutal because they use a lot more death metal in their music. But I’ve come to realize that there are plenty of generic deathcore bands that manage to create a more brutal sound without letting more death metal leak into their music (Suicide Silence, Oceano, Salt the Wound, Fit for an Autopsy, etc.). When it comes to Malice, though, anyone that’s extremely familiar with death metal will easily notice that this album has a hell of a lot more death metal in it than most other deathcore records out there.

Aside from the musical composition (which I will describe later in the review), the two main reasons why MALICE sticks out to me more than any other album by this band are the sound production and the vocalist. This album was produced by none other than the motherfucker that is the leader of the brutal death band Hate Eternal, Erik Rutan. I’ve come to recognize that Erik Rutan not only has excellent taste in cuisine and that he’s a fucking mastermind when it comes to writing death metal, but that he also is an expert in the field of audio production. I do know that he’s produced several death metal albums out there, but I guess I never fully recognize how prolific and GOOD he is at producing!

What I meant before when I said that the sound production is one of the main reasons why I love this album so much was that everything is just so deep and meaty. The lower end is so solid and everything from the kick drums to the guitar distortion is so thick and mouth-watering. And now that I know who’s responsible for this perfect sound, I’m not surprised at all why, because that’s one of the things I’ve always loved about Hate Eternal, the sound of the production is just so amazing and bass-oriented! Also, the way everything sounds matches the music itself with razor-precision. The music is extremely dark and relentlessly brutal with enraging and crushing breakdowns; the way everything has been produced amplifies all of those qualities to make everything sound even MORE extreme.

Now here comes my favorite musician on this album: vocalist Nate Johnson. Haven’t heard of him? Those of you deathcore nerds have probably picked up a copy of the debut full-length of the newish deathcore band Fit for an Autopsy. Remember how fucking deep and powerful the vocalists’ growls are? This is that guy. I can’t seem to find the reasoning behind Nate’s departure from Through the Eyes of the Dead one year after Malice’s release, but I’m pretty sure that Fit for an Autopsy was already on his agenda, so he simply put all of his focus into them once he was no longer with Through the Eyes of the Dead. If you haven’t heard this album OR The Process of Human Extermination by Fit for an Autopsy, Nate lets out some of the deepest and most powerful and spine-chilling growls I’ve ever heard in my life. If that’s an exaggeration, it’s a fucking slight one, because there’s no valid argument that can prove that Nate isn’t among the deepest death metal growlers (if not just deathcore) of the 21st century.

The drumming is fantastic. The blast beats are crisp, tight, and very fast. Josh’s style is that of a simple technical death drummer. Although when speaking in tech death terms, the majority of what he plays is simple, his blast beats have a fast and complex sound that just creates pure adrenaline inside me (this is an album I like to run to because of that). His kick drumming NEVER, and I mean NEVER falls out of line. I’ve focused on the drumming on this album countless times in search for fuck-ups by the drummer. But I have yet to find any.

This is one of the better deathcore records out there and it shouldn’t be turned-down. If I were you, I wouldn’t pass up a listening opportunity when it comes to Malice. The album’s creative flow of death metal-intensive deathcore fills the listener with energy with some of the heaviest guitar riffs and bass lines the genre has ever seen as well as some of the best production work in the business. I would give this album 15/20.  

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Revocation - Chaos of Forms

Combining the likes of thrash metal and technical death, Revocation come back with Chaos of Forms in 2011 with all of the force they’re capable of bringing to their audiences. I’ve seen Revocation live several times since they released Empire of the Obscene and have watched them mature and attract more attention with each release. After they got the attention of the masses in the extreme metal world when they embarked on a tour with Job for a Cowboy, Whitechapel, and Cattle Decapitation and Despised Icon’s farewell US tour, the next thing they had to do was come back with a release like none other they’ve ever brought to the world (which is only two albums). The thing that confuses me is that even though I’m blown away by their energetic performances and blasting technicality, I’ve never really bothered to follow them and actually get to know their music in an up-close manner. That is, until I sat down to review their Existence is Futile record. After analyzing that album, I realized the pure potential these guys actually possess. Now, it’s time for Chaos of Forms.

Revocation has never been a band to have the same sound for several albums in a row. In other words, each Revocation album sounds different. Empire of the Obscene is more of a traditional thrash death record with some melodic influences, Existence is Futile has a full-on technical sound with tons of thrash metal influences. Chaos of Forms is something completely different. It still has all of the extremely complex guitar-bass interplay, the hard rock guitar solos, and the extreme thrash metal-style drumming; but it brings a whole different mood to the table that reminds me of a revived old school thrash metal sound that’s been edited and influenced by Gojira, Atheist, Arsis, and Exodus.

The guitars are much less technical on this album than the other two Revocation albums. But don’t take that statement and apply it to the entire album, because the solos are filled with colorful technicality and complexity. Based on what I’m hearing on this album, the bassist plays a less technical part and focuses more on musical creativity and interplaying with the guitars.

Despite their complex compositions and structure, Revocation’s music is fairly easy to comprehend and swallow. Some of the progressive-heads see that as a big no-no, but in this case, it actually works in the opposite way. The band’s extremely catchy hard rock-influenced style (similar to that of DevilDriver) helps the listener to grasp every aspect of their sound almost instantly with no trouble at all, therefore causing the addiction process to begin to commence sooner. When I see something that’s extremely complex, yet easy as shit to grasp, I see a lot of musical knowledge because well…pulling off something like THAT isn’t anywhere NEAR being in the realms of being easy. The addition of the second guitarist helps add complexity to the guitar parts as well as have a soloist that plays with a different style. I know that Revocation has always cited classic rock and jazz as being influences on their sound (especially their solos), but I feel that this album has a stronger rock/jazz feel than any of their other records. Of course, the increased prominence of thrash metal in their music is one of the major causes for the catchiness, but the solos and crisp vocal harmonizations seem to have more of a jazz feel to them than ever before. As well as that, the bassist plays with more of a funky style in songs like Harlot and Beloved Horrifier.

And just by hearing all of this, I can tell that there’s SOME extensive musical knowledge going on here, and as a matter of fact, the vocalist/guitarist has gone through numerous studies of musical theory of all kinds including jazz, rock, blues, and some classical. When I read this, I INSTANTLY understood the reasoning behind all of those bluesy guitar solos that can be heard on all three Revocation albums.

This album is definitely a heavy metal highlight of 2011, there’s no denying that. After showing extensive progression and musical intelligence in each album, does Revocation have the capability of further raising the bar for themselves in the future? This is a must-have for anyone who likes hearing something new. A perfect blend of technicality, thrash, progressiveness, and death metal that has enough of everything to make anyone happy. I would rate this album 19/20 for not only being virtually flawless, but for completely destroying the walls of the realms of extreme metal and being one of the bands that strive to progress and create, not copy and perfect. 

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Grave - Into the Grave

Yes, this is the legendary Grave album you keep hearing about. The reason why I usually don’t like reviewing albums like these is because I’ll end up just giving it an extremely high score just because of its status and amount of influence. Well, I’m going to review this album like I would any other album without letting its status influence my opinion, because it’s a damn good record anyways. As most of you know, 1991 was a major hotspot for the death metal genre, especially when it comes to bands’ debuts. For those of you that aren’t aware of that, some of the most legendary death metal and brutal death bands released their first album in 1991. Some of those include Edge of Sanity, Dismember, Immolation, Suffocation, Malevolent Creation, and the band that we are going to discuss today: Grave.

After releasing a few demos and an EP, Grave got their name out in the European death metal world enough to get a contract with the (at the time) very young record label, Century Media. The label saw the band as being the outcasts in the Swedish death metal scene with their much darker and atmospheric sound. When I listen to a lot of these really old death metal bands from Sweden, they all seem to have the same type of material: some of the songs are the really fast and crunchy death metal sounding-stuff that most people know, and then the others are really slow and pull you down to the darkest pits of the death metal sound. Neither of those perfectly describes Grave. In their first two albums, Grave had probably what was one of THE darkest sounds at the time, fairly (but not completely) consistent and predictable tempos, and purely crushing brutality with just a hint of thrash metal-influenced groove.

There are only a small handful of death metal vocalists that could be considered the deepest and most guttural vocalists at the time, and this guy is one of them. There is no voice that can be heard (as opposed to David Vincent, Glen Benton, and Peter from Vader) in the growls on this album, they’re just pure horrifying guttural darkness that sends chills through the spines of the weak. The voice of this demon that has arisen from the pits of hell sits on a support system that has an oily and rough sound. The extremely crunchy guitars are as sharp and gritty as a saw blade, but flow through the rest of the sound like lubricant. The bass guitar has almost as much distortion as the guitars, but the edginess of the treble that the distortion brings is removed in order to enhance the intense (unbearable for some) amount of bass that the drums create.

The only sounds that the drums create that aren’t filled with explosive bass occur when the cymbals and the snare are hit. If you have shitty speakers, the kick drums are just going to sound like weak clicks; but if you have anything that could even be considered as having “average” sound, there is no escaping this one, man. The extensive skill of the musicianship of this album makes me doubt that this was actually Grave’s FIRST album. I mean, they had only been around for four years or so when they released this thing, there are very few cases where the SKILL and MUSICIANSHIP (not the creativity) is as high quality as THIS! I’m serious! Even though Death’s Scream Bloody Gore is filled with an indescribable amount of creativity and power, let’s face it, they kind of sucked at their instruments; they weren’t anywhere NEAR as good at their instruments as they were in Leprosy, Human, and all of their other albums (except for Spiritual Healing). Of course, this probably means that the recording process of this album was longer than usual due to the group of perfectionists that we all know as Grave.

Although the actual composition is different with each song, the whole album pretty much sounds the same. But the fact that each song has a different set of chord progressions and vocal patterns makes up for that monotony, therefore keeping the listener in a merciless grip that doesn’t get old. Although Cannibal Corpse’s Butchered at Birth outshined Into the Grave as being the single most brutal album of 1991, the sheer brutality of this record shouldn’t be left unheard and unrecognized. This is an ESSENTIAL for anyone who even WANTS to say that they know shit about the history of one of the greatest musical genres in history. I would give this pure death metal release 18/20.  

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Kreator - Enemy of God

One of the best thrash metal groups ever released one of their best albums in 2005. Although Kreator has always been huge in the heavy metal community, it was THIS album that really brought them to a much higher level. It brought them to a higher level not because it’s their best (it’s not), but because of their more complex song structure and their extensive outreach to the masses when advertising the album before its release. Probably the thing about this album that means the most to the band is that they crafted this album together for one reason: to remind everyone what true thrash metal sounded like. That’s what you hear from almost everyone, but actually, wasn’t that the whole intention of Violent Revolution? The whole point of Violent Revolution was to break away from their melodic/experimental/whatever it was they were doing and to go back to what REAL thrash metal was. Well, apparently this is like “Violent Revolution Part 2”. Except instead of going back to their much harsher sound, Enemy of God takes most of the elements from the 80s thrash metal sound and brings them to the modern stereotype of thrash metal.

When you talk to a metalhead from my generation (born in the mid-80s to mid-90s) and ask them to give you their understanding of thrash metal, there are two words that I guarantee you will ALWAYS hear: yelling, and SPEED. And when you listen to modern thrash metal records, they all have the same Slayer-influenced sound of just playing SPEED SPEED AND MORE SPEED. Of course, that speed and brutality was the original Kreator sound, so Violent Revolution didn’t really do them much good despite how amazing it was. As well as attempting to deliver a purer thrash metal sound in hopes of keeping the generic form of the genre alive, Kreator also cites the German death metal scene (Fleshcrawl, Morgoth, etc.) and melodic death as influences on the album’s sound.

Focusing more on the musical structure of the record rather than the technical details like speed and complexity, Kreator go as far as to bringing in traditional heavy metal influences into the guitar solos. That’s the first thing that this album struck me with; the guitar solos sound like something from a Judas Priest record or a melodic thrash metal album. One thing that this album lacks is energy. It’s not a significant amount, but it is definitely noticeable. You put this side by side with the albums released before and after it, Violent Revolution and Hordes of Chaos, and you can EASILY hear that Enemy of God has less of an energetic output than either of the other albums. I mean, the damn thing has everything that describes a thrash metal album, but could it be possible that Kreator, the band that released one of the single heaviest thrash records ever (Pleasure to Kill), might have put SO much focus on musical creativity that they forgot to play what they wrote with energy?

I think that it’s because the direction that their creative minds took them didn’t call for as much energy and anger as some of their other records. But then again, even though that’s totally acceptable in my book, I still feel that there’s something missing whenever I listen to this album, and it gets irritating. So in other words, if you’re hoping for a brutal and extremely energetic thrash record, look elsewhere in Kreator’s discography because this might leave you somewhat unsatisfied. This is where being a music review has paid off, because I can focus on different sections of the music and see how good it truly is instead of blindly ripping the fucking thing apart at the first sight of something negative. I will make a note that there are some pretty energetic songs on this record like Suicide Terrorist, World Anarchy, and Dying Race Apocalypse (my favorite song off the album).

Would I recommend this album? YES! I would recommend this primarily to thrash metal fans and also to extreme metal fans in general. This is an album to have for anyone! One of Kreator’s best and most musically creative releases gets my score of 17/20.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Kreator - Extreme Aggression

Extreme Aggression is not what I would consider to be a “highlight” in Kreator’s career. Especially not as much as Pleasure to Kill, Cause for Conflict, Enemy of God, and Hordes of Chaos. I’ve had Kreator’s entire discography for almost two years now and I will say that there aren’t any disappointing records to be found. But there are a couple of mediocre ones that I would only listen to if I was in the middle of a temporary thrash metal phase (like the one I’ve been experiencing for the past week or so). So while I’m listening to all of these thrash metal albums that I don’t normally listen to, I thought that it would be a good idea to review some of them while this phase is still present so that I can have a chance to actually get a closer look at these records.

The reason why I want to talk about THIS album in particular is because now that I’ve taken the time to actually LISTEN to it with great intensity, it turns out that this album is actually significantly better than I originally thought. Which lead me to conclude that the reason I’m not too fond of this album isn’t because it lacks certain elements and qualities, but because there are several things about it that just fucking bug me. But then again, there are some things about Extreme Aggression that lack importance and that are less than they are in other Kreator albums, so I guess I stand corrected. The first thing that bothers me about this album is that there’s not NEARLY as much edge in the music as I would like.

I don’t know what it is, but I’m not receiving that anger-filled energy that I’m used to getting from thrash metal albums, especially from Kreator. Pleasure to Kill instantly gave Kreator the reputation of being an extremely brutal and edgy thrash metal band. And their next album, Terrible Certainty did nothing but strengthen that reputation. The ironically-named Extreme Aggression speaks with more of a sound that Slayer’s first album does, which isn’t anything at all like Pleasure to Kill or Terrible Certainty. For those of you that think that I’m forgetting Endless Pain, I’m not, I’m just not including it because it has a whole different sound all together. So with more of a traditional thrash metal sound, but still with the unique Kreator vibe, the German thrashers (whom by this time were pretty big) decided to expand their musical horizons.

The guitars are more melodic and less focused on the REALLY FAST low chords with really crunchy distortions. The guitar solos on this album are slower and aren’t just pure high-pitched shredding. As well as that, the distortion isn’t nearly as loud and gritty as the previous albums. The bassist tends to follow the guitars more closely than ever before, which has led to a much less interesting bass line. I don’t have a problem what so ever with Kreator progressing their sound, but if they want to progress their sound, they have to progress ALL of their sound. In other words, they’ve moved their music in a softer direction, but the vocals still sound like they always have. Petrozza still does those extremely harsh vocals from when Kreator was a thrash black band. Although the grit is significantly less in Extreme Aggression, it still creates WAY too much contrast with the openly melodic changes in the music. So that’s what mainly bothers me about this record.

Extreme Aggression is by no means an album I would consider to be a good first impression for Kreator. In fact, I would only recommend it to the thrash metal fans that haven’t heard it yet. Despite the unnecessary contrasts and the roughness, the album checks out to be a good thrash record with a nice solid base. If you want to REALLY build up your thrash metal collection, this would be a great addition to have, especially if you’re looking for old school thrash releases. I would give Extreme Aggression 11/20. 

Slayer - God Hates us All

Slayer doesn’t need an intro. Even people that HATE metal know who Slayer is. If you don’t know who Slayer is, they’re the second biggest thrash metal band and one of the single most famous metal bands of all-time. Now that I’ve educated those that have lived out the majority of their pathetic lives underneath the dirt, I can now commence with reviewing one of the best Slayer albums ever released. It’s pretty obvious that Slayer’s lyrics tend to be up-front anti-Christian, but none have been so upfront as to having the album title be as blunt and just brutally simple as God Hates us All. I mean, it’s pretty hard to top that without going over to Satanism, which isn’t really an area that Slayer tends to go very often.

I consider Slayer to be similar to Motorhead. Not musically, but because both bands, throughout their careers, have played the exact same sounding music without making any major alterations to their sound AT ALL. But because that sound is so fucking AWESOME and since it was crafted to make room for a lot of creativity, it’s never gotten old and neither of them have worn out their welcome. You almost never hear people talk about Slayer or Motorhead and say “They’ve been playing the same goddamn stuff for the past 30+ years, they need to progress! They need to experiment a little!” You NEVER hear people saying that because World Painted Blood doesn’t sound any different than Seasons in the Abyss, which sounds a hell of a lot like South of Heaven which sounds very similar to Reign in Blood which is almost a fucking duplicate of Show no Mercy; and so on and so forth. Yes, I know that Slayer started putting less focus on speed starting with the release of South of Heaven, but I think it was a genius idea because it gave them enough elbow room to keep releasing thrashterpiece after thrashterpiece for the next two decades (with the exception of Diabolus in Musica).

When it comes to sound production, everything on this album checks out except for one thing: bass. Those of you that have read my reviews know that I’m a major bass junkie. I’m more understanding with the older albums because good equipment wasn’t as easily accessible as it has been for the past 10-12 years. The reason why I’m cracking down on THIS album is because..well…it’s Slayer! They have the fucking money to make sure that they have the BEST sound possible. Although I’ve come to realize that it’s normal for Slayer to turn up the treble a bit and turn the bass down a bit. It gives their music a lot more attack and gives the guitars much more of an edge. But that doesn’t make it any easier on the ears, man! I’m fine with turning up the treble on the guitars, but I want more bass on both the kick drums and on Tom Araya’s guitar! But obviously, this never acted as an obstruction for the world’s enjoyment on the album (since sound quality isn’t everybody’s #1 concern like it was in the 60s and 70s). All I have to do is turn up the bass on my computer speakers, and then the problem goes away in a fucking flash.

The only thing that I have to say about Tom Araya is that his bass skills continue to get better with each release while his yells, after 30+ years of Slayer, still sound the same. I’m serious, his yells haven’t changed AT ALL since the release of Show no Mercy. The master guitarist Kerry King does nothing but play beautiful brutality with his talent and quickly-acquired skill, as does Jeff Hanneman. Speaking of the guitarists, the guitar work in each of the songs vary JUST enough to eliminate any possible accusations of “repetitiveness” and “monotony” on the record. But honestly, there isn’t any TRUE variations in the guitar work (if you don’t count the godly solos). But remember! Although all of the songs ALMOST all sound the same, the sound that they portray never gets old. Now whenever Slayer is a topic of discussion, 94.2384% of the time it always funnels down to one name: Lombardo.

Dave Lombardo is always the most celebrated member of Slayer as well as one of the single greatest musicians in the entire thrash metal genres. Not only has he been in more than one legendary thrash band, he’s also made it a goal to play as many types of music that he possibly can. What other legendary thrash metal band, you ask? Well, while Slayer wrote and released Divine Intervention, Undisputed Attitude, and Diabolus in Musica, Dave Lombardo was busy with Testament while they were at the absolute TOP of their game, which includes their classic, The Gathering. Aside from that, he’s acquired extensive experience in rock, jazz, reggae, and numerous guest appearances for Apocalyptica, John Zorn, and Voodoocult. But then again, in God Hates us All, Lombardo sounds like a purebred thrash metal drummer that has been doing nothing but thrash metal.

There are no individual songs that I would recommend. Listening to only a few songs off this album is like enjoying the image on a jigsaw puzzle that’s only been partially done. The only option with this (and every other) Slayer record is to have the whole entire thing. It’s absolutely impossible to know the true power of ANY Slayer record without listening to the whole thing. I would give this album a rating of 18/20 and would recommend it to all thrash metal fans. For those of you that haven’t heard Slayer’s music, listen to Reign in Blood first like everyone else. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Exodus - Shovel Headed Kill Machine

I was introduced to Exodus when I saw them open for Arch Enemy in 2010. Of course, bringing a legendary thrash metal band as an opening act wasn’t the best idea for Arch Enemy, because roughly 1/3 of the people left after Exodus finished their set. I heard this band and was blown away by the amount of brutality these guys delivered. The next day I played the first Exodus record I could find on the internet (I now own it on CD along with two other Exodus records), and it was called Shovel Headed Kill Machine. Since then I have grown to love this record all the way from the brutality to the production to all of the extremely unique qualities it has. Although Exhibit B became my favorite Exodus record when it was released, Shovel Headed Kill Machine is more of a monument for the thrash metal genre itself.

As far as each individual musician goes, I can’t see any FLAWS, though there are some areas that LACK some skill and creativity. No, I take that back, the areas that lack are in skill, not creativity; the creativity part of this album surpasses my expectations by miles. Since the vocals are what I like to talk about most on this album, I’ll save that for last. To me, the “old school thrash” sound has more of a rock n’ roll feel to it; sort of like if you took Motorhead and turned up the speed. Of course, with the exception of Slayer (who ALWAYS seems to be the exception) and a handful of other thrash bands that started in the mid-to-late 1980s like Kreator, the majority of the old school thrash metal bands had that sound, which included Exodus. As the 20th Century turned into the 21st Century, several thrash metal bands evolved their sound into what’s known as the “modern” thrash sound. Some examples would be Overkill, Destruction, Testament, Venom, and Sodom. Exodus was one of the bands that kept that old school sound a fairly big part of their music.

But then again, by the time the band came out with Tempo of the Damned in 2004, their sound had evolved into something unique. It definitely wasn’t old school thrash, but it wasn’t the typical tremolo picking and fast double bass that thrash has come to be. These bands that have evolved into their own sound (Artillery, Tankard, Metallica, Sepultura, Death Angel, etc.) are the thrash metal bands that I find most enjoyable to talk about, because they each have different things to talk about them, there isn’t just one slightly flexible description that fits all of them. So, back to where I was before: when Tempo of the Damned came out in 2004, it was more than obvious that Exodus had moved on from the old school thrash metal sound and created something of their own. Shovel Headed Kill Machine, on the other hand, works as a time machine.  

Of course, because they can’t create something that’s a COMPLETE resemblance of the old school sound, it’s a modernized-version of the sound that Bonded by Blood and Fabulous Disaster gave off. Here’s how it’s different: it’s just simply heavier. There’s no other difference, yes, there are certain contributors that cause the increase in heaviness (which I will talk about in this review), but really, if this monster was released in 1988, it would be considered simply as “a really fucking heavy thrash metal album”. What are these contributing factors that I just referred to? Well, the guitars have an insane amount of distortion that has a lot of crunch. And just about any fan of extreme metal knows that a crunchy guitar distortion makes for a heavier sound. Also, the amount of bass that this album carries is enough to flatten the Eiffel Tower. And if there’s one thing that I say in most of my reviews, it’s that “more bass=more heavy, more brutal, more awesome”.

The drummer is the hardest musician for me to describe. Not because I can’t think of adjectives extreme enough to describe his skill and creativity, but because it’s just hard to ACCURATELY describe his style. He plays with a lot of power and has these random explosions of just completely tearing up the drum set. The most noticeable thing that he does is those random kick drum explosions (you can really hear them in Raze). I don’t know why he chooses to do that, because it’s just weird and not something that you’re used to hearing. But yet again, it’s so awesome that I can’t imagine the music sounding good without it. Of course, the hot topic whenever it comes to Exodus is Mr. Dukes. His vocals are literally THE most unique in the ENTIRE thrash metal genre. Most of the time he’s pretty much borderline screaming. And in fact, he actually does scream quite a bit. I don’t know if he does these vocals on purpose or if it’s just his natural really nasty yell; but whatever it is, it adds brutality and infinite energy to Exodus’ music.

Shovel Headed Kill Machine isn’t my favorite Exodus album, but it can’t go untouched by ANYONE that chooses to give this bay area thrash metal band a listen. Bonded by Blood isn’t the only good Exodus record out there, man! There’s more to it than just that! I would recommend this to all thrash metal fans and also people that are looking to get more into the genre than just the major essentials (i.e. Metallica, Slayer, Testament, Kreator, etc.). I would give Shovel Headed Kill Machine 18/20. 

Upcoming Reviews

I'm having trouble coming up with ideas on what to review, so I'm going to make another list (for my personal benefit) in hopes that it will get my juices flowing again.
Here are some bands that I might or might not review:

Kreator (thrash metal)
Autopsy (death metal)
Blizzard at Sea (atmospheric sludge)
Exodus (thrash metal)
Goatwhore (thrash black)
Staind (alternative metal)
Marduk (black death)
Exhumed (death grind)
Grave (death metal)
Pig Destroyer (grindcore)
The Agonist (melodic death)
Keep of Kalessin (progressive black)
Spawn of Possession (technical death)
Lago (death metal)

And as always, feel free to leave a comment on this (or any) post if you have any review or interview recommendations/requests.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Veil of Maya - The Common Man's Collapse

Everyone that listens to deathcore at least knows about this album. There’s no denying it, regardless of whether you think it’s good or bad, this is one of the single most influential and important deathcore albums ever. I know that sounds like a pretty major accusation right off the bat, but it’s just something that’s near impossible to disprove. The only other deathcore albums that have been THIS influential on the deathcore sound are Whitechapel’s This is Exile, All Shall Perish’s The Price of Existence, Suicide Silence’s The Cleansing, Ills of Modern Man by Despised Icon, and Allegiance by As Blood Runs Black. ANYWAY, not only is The Common Man’s Collapse amongst the most influential deathcore records EVER, it’s also just flat out awesome.

Yes, Veil of Maya was the first deathcore band to play EXTREMELY complex breakdown patterns. But unlike other bands that have abused that style to the extreme (to the point where it sounds like Emmure, but more complex), Veil of Maya has always had MUCH more to their music since the beginning. When describing Veil of Maya’s music in a very brief manner, I simply say Meshuggah + All Shall Perish = Veil of Maya. So being the most technical deathcore band next to All Shall Perish, PLUS the extreme complexity derived from Meshuggah in their breakdowns.

So the album kicks off with an intro track consisting of a really long breakdown. To be honest, it’s not really a bad thing because it’s in every Veil of Maya record; and they were a huge contributor in starting that trend. The drumming is always the hot topic when it comes to these guys. The drummer’s kick-work is so phenomenal it isn’t even CLOSE to being funny. Not just the speed, but the complex patterns and how he NEVER EVER falls out of time. If someone were to sneak up behind him and shoot him with a 50 caliber at point-blank range (pretty much vaporizing him), he still wouldn’t fall out of time, that’s how solid his feet are. The way the drums sound is also a huge positive element. There are very few cases where the bass drums are this loud and have THIS much bass tone, and everything is still balanced out. Everything about the drums has had the treble removed and the bass turned to 11 (inside joke for you old farts).

The guitar distortion is like nothing else I’ve ever heard in my life. That’s not a good thing or a bad thing, it’s just that the distortion is 100% unique. The guitars have all the sharpness of the treble removed and the rest left in balance. Of course, the 7-string bass is turned to the max for the entire duration of the album. There is not a single SECOND where the bassist falls out of line with the drummer; it’s like the base that the drummer and bassist create is virtually indestructible no matter what condition it’s put in. The vocalist does extremely deep exhaled growls AND screams. Yes, his screams aren’t that high-pitched, but they do get the message across. His growls are as deep as the kick drums and the bass, only FURTHER solidifying the base of Veil of Maya’s sound. The biggest thing that I’m confused about is why THIS band is considered generic deathcore. The only deathcore bands that are at least AS technical as Veil of Maya are Iwrestledabearonce and All Shall Perish. Although I consider All Shall Perish to be the #1 representative of technical deathcore (aside from the fact that they’re one of the best deathcore bands EVER), there is NO OTHER description that I would choose to put on Veil of Maya other than technical deathcore. I haven’t heard their first album (I have yet to find it), but this is Veil of Maya’s LEAST technical album. They’ve gotten more technical with each album over time, but still, you can’t deny the utter complexity of this fucking record.

Will all of that said, there is one downside to this album: energy. In fact, this is the only Veil of Maya album that doesn’t have it. The lack of energy in this album really brings me down some of the times when I’m listening to it. When you listen to songs that were released AFTER this album, like Unbreakable, Vicious Circles, Divide Paths, and Punisher (ALL of them are AMAZING songs and I’d recommend that you look them up if you haven’t heard them), from the point the song starts to the closing guitar riffs, you can FEEL the energy flowing from the speakers through your auditory system. This album doesn’t have that. It has ANYTHING you could ask for in a good metal album: complexity, catchiness, creativity, skill, tightness, and variety; one of the most important elements is missing: energy. This is one of the only elements that, if missing, can just BUTCHER an album’s sound REGARDLESS of how good the music actually may be.

The reason why there are so many people that don’t like this album (not including Sputnik Music cause they hate everything on there) is because it has no energy and, well, literally bores them. And I’ve got to admit, yeah, there’s so little energy in this album that it’s bothersome! Although that may be, for me, at least, it doesn’t totally ruin the album because I like the music it plays, I LOVE the fact that there’s so much bass, I love every single musician and their talent and skill, and I love how fucking catchy they are! In conclusion, I would recommend this to all fans of deathcore and those of you willing to AT LEAST hear an extremely influential album. This gets 17/20. 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Hour of Penance - Sedition

If you want to know how I discovered Hour of Penance, read my review of The Vile Conception. Although I would highly recommend that you read that review first because it’s my favorite Hour of Penance record, it still will only minimally prepare you for the epic power of Sedition. For those of you Fleshgod Apocalypse fans that pretty much only listen to The Vile Conception because it features Fleshgod members on drums and vocals, you’d be surprised how much this band has stuck to their sound. And if there’s one thing that I know for sure, it’s that the Fleshgod drummer is one of the best and the fastest drummers of all-time. Of course, to Hour of Penance, settling for less was out of the question; so they went out and got a drummer that was fully capable of the speed and complexity of his predecessor, AND a vocalist (that’s so short he only goes up to my shoulders) that sounds maybe a little TOO much like Francesco.

For those of you that are familiar with the type of technicality played by bands like Fleshgod Apocalypse, Decapitated, and (obviously) Hour of Penance, don’t expect anything disappointing. The sound of Sedition is similar to the rest of the band’s discography, yet it gives off a vibe unlike no other. Most of Hour of Penance’s other albums have the same epic and explosive technicality, speed, and brutality. Sedition has all of that, but there’s just something about it that gives the listener a WHOLE different experience. But what I like (and a whole lot of other people like) about Sedition and Hour of Penance in general is that technical death can’t get any purer than what Hour of Penance plays.

I know that technical death has been around since the late 1980s (Atheist), but, let’s be honest, the genre didn’t explode until the late 1990s. We have the purely generic tech death bands (who oddly enough ALL sound different) like Decapitated, Neuraxis, and many others. Now my goal isn’t to degrade any bands here, but ever since the turn of the century, the technical death genre branched off into so many different variations in just…what…FIVE years? Maybe less?? It’s branched off into SO many different variations that what we consider to be GENERIC technical death metal is in fact not generic at all, it’s just a trend.

The same way how people are starting to consider “generic” deathcore to be deathcore bands that put 90% of their focus on BREAKDOWNS (thanks to two of the worst metal bands in history, Emmure and The Acacia Strain). People take bands like Emmure, Dr. Acula, and any other breakdown-focused band and put THEIR name on the “generic” label when they should be putting the REAL generic (not necessarily bad) deathcore bands under the generic label like Carnifex, Suicide Silence, Impending Doom, I Declare War, and Oceano. NOW, back to what I was talking about with technical death.

The technical death trend that has been placed under the GENERIC label is the stuff that has the most complexity possible; usually consisting of a lot of high-pitched guitar shredding and sweep picking. Although I will admit that I am a fan of a lot of those bands (one of them being one of my favorite bands EVER), it’s not the generic form of the technical death genre! People are taking bands like Origin, Rings of Saturn, Decrepit Birth, Brain Drill, Slaughterbox, and Spawn  of Possession, and calling THEM generic. Bands like Decapitated, Necrophagist, and Hour of Penance play truly raw technical death metal.

The thing that’s UNIQUE about Hour of Penance is one of the things that makes Fleshgod Apocalypse unique. The drumming is so beyond brutal and technical that it can pretty much only be described as “insanity”. The song structure is fairly complex, but not overly complex. Hour of Penance always decides to create the base of the technical death sound and make it AS SOLID AS THEY POSSIBLY CAN, and then throw on a layer of insane drumming. After they do that, they don’t touch it; they leave it as is, raw, a bit unique, crisp, and pure. Seriously, there isn’t a single tech death fan out there than can deny the fact that Hour of Penance is not only one of the best, but also one of the only bands striving to keep the PURE and REAL sound of technical death alive and well. I mean, you can’t paint a picture unless you have paper to put it on. Hour of Penance is one of the best representations of the paper that everyone else builds on top of. I would give this album 18/20. 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Gromm - Pilgrimage Amidst the Catacombs of Negativism

This is the second Gromm record to be released under a label based in Ukraine, where the band is from. Gromm is a band that generally likes to take their time with their music writing. They never stick to a certain pattern and they seem to never release more than three albums under the same label. Like a lot of other bands out there that I love, Gromm never rushes their writing process; if they feel inspired, they get down to business and compose purebred black metal until their temporary inspiration runs out. Another band that does this is Augury (who REALLY takes their time in between releases) who released their first album in 2004, their second in 2009, and their third sometime in the next year or so (I had an interaction with their vocalist over email and he told me that a new album will be coming soon). And like a handful of other metal bands out there in the world, they’ve done nothing but get better with almost each release.

One thing that I’m hearing quite a bit of in this album is atmosphere. Although it still has that really gritty black metal sound, there are sections with enough atmosphere to be mistaken for a depressive black metal song. In the first minute or so of the first song, the ambience is one of those simple yet indescribable kind of sounds. Then, the action really starts! The band takes you down a path of black metal with a slight groove to it; very, very similar to Ravencult and Carpathian Forest. Although I would consider it to have more of a Ravencult sound because of the extremely low production quality.

The vocals aren’t what I would personally consider generic, but they’re definitely the most disliked kind of black metal vocals amongst the metal community. I don’t know if there’s a particular name for this kind of vocals, I usually just tell people to listen to Transylvanian Hunger by Darkthrone and Black Metal ist Krieg by Nargaroth and say “that kind of vocals”. There have been many cases where black metal vocalists have taken this style TOO far to the point where they sound like they’re choking on a turkey. This guy has a more relaxed sound like the vocalists from Immortal and Darkthrone.

I consider each individual track to be a gem in itself; but each is too complex for me to describe. Unlike most EPs, all of the songs have the same GENERAL sound (not IDENDICAL), so it feels like you’re listening to a full-length album once the last track has reached its conclusion. If I had to pick a “favorite” or the song that I would consider to be the BEST first impression, it would be the intelligently-picked first track, Necroscope. I would only recommend this EP to black metal fans and would give it 15/20. 

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Carnival of Death tour 2012

The only band on this bill that I've seen before is Decrepit Birth, and when I do, it will be my SEVENTH time seeing them! I've always wanted to go see Jungle Rot and who wouldn't want to go see death metal legends Obituary??

The Agonist - Lullabies for the Dormant Mind

Let’s be honest with each other, for at least 80% of us, the thing about The Agonist that initially caught our eye was the vocalist. I mean seriously, it’s kind of hard to pass by an EXTREMELY attractive female human being with luscious bright blue hair. This is something that a lot of people (especially reviewers) try not to spend time talking about because it’s not the band’s image that matters, it’s their music. But there’s no denying the fact that Alyssa is one hell of a woman! But because this is a music review and not a fashion critique, I decided to only spend a couple of sentences on Alyssa’s looks before the review so that I don’t end up going on and on about her. The Canadian melodic death band has achieved a reasonable amount of success with the three albums that they’ve released and a considerably rigorous touring schedule. Due to a seemingly constant loss of words whenever trying to review this album, I haven’t been able to write one until now.

The part where I get stuck most often on reviews of albums THIS good is where to fucking start! Although I will at least attempt to cover every aspect of this album, I won’t be able to. And on another note, I will not be organizing everything I say in order of how important I think they are. Because although the amount of technicality these guys have in their music is huge and certainly important, it’s not the biggest reason why I love them.

It’s not very often that you hear a melodic death band that has THIS much technicality in their music. Although there are definitely plenty of other bands that are this technical, the only other melodic death band that I’M aware of are Wintersun, Children of Bodom, and Imperanon (I just noticed that all three of those are Finnish). So for those of you that are HUGE fans of melodic music and want something with a much more technical and complex song structure, I would highly recommend this album. Every musician in this band is playing with an extreme amount of complexity; and although that may be, none of them are at the same level as the drummer. Although you can clearly hear his complex drumming style, I think that it’s heard easiest in my favorite song off the album, The Tempest [The Siren’s Song; the Banshees Cry], although I just call it The Tempest for obvious reasons.

Whenever I’m telling people about REALLY good bassists in the metal genre, the bassist from The Agonist is one that I always make it a point to mention. If you’ve decided to go out and listen to The Tempest while reading the rest of this review, you’ve already noticed that the bassist is a prominent instrument on this album. If you haven’t chosen to do so, you’ll get your first whiff of his colorful style in the intro of the damn song. Since there’s only one guitarist, the bassist takes on the extra task of playing complex harmonizations with the guitarist as well as providing the lower end (as if the drummer doesn’t do enough of that!). Another thing that this band does better than most melodic death bands is transitioning smoothly between really heavy and really melodic parts. Once again, this can also be heard easily in The Tempest. Most melodic death bands tend to stay melodic, and if they make any mood transitions, they’re either slight (some more than others) or gradual. There are some bands that decide to take on the challenge and play two extremes of the same sound and putting them together in the same song. Another band that does this VERY well is Scar Symmetry with their absolutely crushing verse sections that transition PERFECTLY into the extremely epic and melodic choruses.

The vocals are another thing that helps make the transition not only smoother, but also more extreme. Her growls and screams are obviously what make the heavy parts HEAVY (especially the breakdowns), and her singing does none other than enhance the beauty of the flawless melodic elements. Also, her vocals cover an unusually wide range of pitches and styles throughout the entire record; from deepish growls to really nasty and gritty yells to mid-ranged screams to screams as high as a canary. For me, nothing else needs to be said about this album (although there are plenty of topics that I haven’t covered). Anyone that is a fan of melodic metal and extreme metal in general would thoroughly enjoy this melodic death masterpiece. I would rate this album 19/20.