Monday, April 22, 2013

Hypocrisy - End of Disclosure

When talking about extreme metal bands from Sweden, the legendary melodic death band Hypocrisy is almost always brought up at some point. Starting out as a straight-up death metal band, these guys have become both pioneers and role models for both the death metal and melodic death genres. Because their frontman has been focusing so much on his industrial metal side-project, Pain, we haven’t heard anything from Hypocrisy since 2009...until now. The words “New Hypocrisy!” resonated throughout the world when Nuclear Blast Records announced that Hypocrisy had entered the studio. Will the new Hypocrisy be any good? On a personal level, although I think A Taste of Extreme Divinity is one of Hypocrisy’s best albums, it’s sound is not the kind that should be recycled. They really put themselves in a situation where, if they wanted to stay on this amazing path they’ve been on since Catch 22, they HAD to change their sound. Well, the only way to find out is to listen to the sucker.

The change in Hypocrisy’s sound is instantly noticeable the second that the guitars come in. For those of you that aren’t too familiar with the band’s history, they started out as a straight-up death metal band, eventually going in a more melodic direction starting with the release of The Final Chapter in 1997. More than a whole decade later, Hypocrisy continues to play melodic death, but they’ve managed to keep some of their original sound, making them one of the heavier bands of their genre. Almost all of that disappears on the new record. Replacing the brutality with keyboards, symphonics, and excess guitar melodies, Hypocrisy successfully manage to progress their sound. Progression is almost always something that tends to upset a lot of fans (i.e. Annotations of an Autopsy, Opeth, In Flames, The Faceless, Katatonia, etc.). But for some reason, there are certain instances where pretty much everyone embraces a band’s progression. This has appeared to be the case with the new Hypocrisy record. Everyone seems to be loving it!

End of Disclosure has a few similarities with A Taste of Extreme Divinity. The first similarity is the guitar distortion. Well...maybe it’s not 100% similar because it has less treble than Extreme Divinity, which is an improvement because that was one of the things about A Taste of Extreme Divinity that bothered me the most. The second similarity is the style of drumming. If you can, listen to the first track from A Taste of Extreme Divinity and listen to the drum patterns (especially in the beginning). After that, listen to United We Fall from the new album and, about one minute into the song, you’ll hear a close replica of that same drum pattern. I don’t really know what to call this drum pattern, but I hear it a lot, especially in bands like Jungle Rot, Hatebreed, Dark Tranquility, and, to be honest, a hell of a fucking lot of bands stretching all the way back to the 1980s! Anyways, on top of that, Hypocrisy uses the same blast beats that were used in A Taste of Extreme Divinity, which are ultimately flawless.

Let’s take a moment and discuss what’s new about this record. The keyboards have definitely taken a much bigger role than ever before, which can easily lead to a disaster. Because of this addition, Hypocrisy have created a masterpiece that easily competes with their classics The Arrival and Virus. The symphonics, although much more profound, still reside WAY in the background the majority of the time. Hypocrisy has always been a band to make the guitars the loudest and boldest. This is still true in End of Disclosure, but with the more profound keyboards, the overall complexity of the music is far greater than before. It’s pretty hard not to fall in love with this sound if you’re at all a fan of melodic death and/or Hypocrisy. Aside from the parts that have orchestral elements, there are numerous sections that use a soft pad keyboard voice that, although low in volume, quadruples the beauty and atmosphere of the entire sound. This element has made almost all the difference. I’m thinking that their frontman’s extensive work on his industrial metal project has caused him to try implementing more keyboard work in Hypocrisy. If this is true, it was probably one of the best decisions he’s made since deciding to play melodic death metal.

Everything else about this album is flawless. The production work is a thousand times better than the previous releases, the vocals are much more balanced and powerful, the guitar work is indescribably mature and beautiful, the bassist does everything perfectly, and, as a bonus, the album cover is fucking amazing! This is definitely going to be on a lot of people’s “Best of 2013” list, just watch. This gets a 19/20 from me.

After Forever - Remagine

At this point in their career, After Forever was already sharing the same status as other Dutch symphonic metal masters including Within Temptation and Epica. All of the albums After Forever had released before Remagine had been fairly consistent, which meant that this was now a time for them to dust off the bar and raise it a level or two. The band knew that and promised to release an album unlike anything they had ever done before; in both sound and quality. Writing an outstanding symphonic metal album seems to be pretty damn hard, because there doesn’t really seem to be many out there. Well, maybe I should rephrase that by saying that there aren’t that many bands that have the skill, creativity, and overall ability to write a fantastic symphonic metal album. But, although that may be true, the symphonic metal albums that ARE fantastic really are fucking fantastic (I’m having trouble coming up with words that can describe the ultimate beauty of some of the symphonic metal albums out there). Even though plenty of people would beg to differ on this, I believe that After Forever still had yet to put out a really good album, that is, until Remagine.

Symphonic metal, to my understanding, is a blend of power metal and gothic metal, putting some extra emphasis on the symphonic and orchestral elements (hence giving it the name symphonic metal). Despite the fact that After Forever is and always have been a symphonic metal band, Remagine seems to be the least “symphonic” record out of their discography. I guess this is what they meant by “unlike anything they had done before”. This isn’t exactly what I had in mind, but it makes sense. The thing that’s different about Remagine is that it uses a lot more synthesizers. Yes, it still uses keyboards for all the orchestral sounds and that sort of shit, but there are a lot more semi-generic electric synthesizer voices being used that would most commonly be heard in gothic metal and melodic death (Scar Symmetry, Eternal Tears of Sorrow, and Children of Bodom are melodic death bands that use a lot of that kind of keyboard stuff). This fact that Remagine puts less emphasis on the symphonic elements kind of upset some of the metalhead community, but this is where the surprises that After Forever unleash in this album come into play.

This is easily noticeable right after the intro track flows into the first song off the album, Come. Floor Jansen has a naturally operatic singing voice, so when she sings in a normal tone, it’s extremely powerful. That’s why when I heard the chorus of Discord from their self-titled album, the powerful singing just won me over. But, unlike their legendary self-titled record, the vocals on Remagine tend to be inconsistent. There are several bits where Jansen seems somewhat uninspired. The fortunate thing is that the other guys in the band seem to know this, because the intensity of the music goes higher during the parts where Jansen’s singing feels bland as well as during instrumentals.

As well as that, the complexity of the music tends to go down as Floor’s vocals break out into full operatic mode. Although I understand the whole balance thing, the way that it’s done on Remagine doesn’t sound very good. The whole point of this genre is intensity; especially during the climaxes where the music, the symphonics, and the vocals are at their highest point which creates the feeling that everything around you is going to explode into some Narnia-like world all around you. That’s the reason I love Epica so much. Yes, I know that there are some symphonic metal bands that don’t have that as their main goal. Some bands like to have more of a baroque/classical/more sophisticated sound, like a lot of the stuff that Therion has put out (especially my favorite album by them, Sitra Ahra). The reason why this bothers me on THIS album is because After Forever deliver everything perfectly, create a flawless build-up, and seem to just...fall through the ground. I’m hearing this huge build-up and thinking “oh man here comes the chorus!” and expecting something spectacular, only to be met with an end result with only half of the intensity that the build-up created. Don’t get me wrong, everything on this record is beautiful; the melodies, everything. It’s just that it’s missing the energy.

An example would be the chorus on Come. You get a nice catchy build-up that leads into a BEAUTIFUL, but somewhat phlegmatic chorus. Despite these drawbacks, After Forever produces a fabulous piece of work that can easily be considered one of the best records of their career. I would highly recommend this to any symphonic metal and gothic metal fans. As well as that, even people that are into progressive rock and gothic music in general might find this an enjoyable listen. I would give After Forever’s Remagine a score of 16/20.

Monday, April 15, 2013

LTH: Monthly Black Metal Column

Salutations readers! For those of you that don't already know, I'm a writer for the new heavy metal webzine Louder Than Hell. Although I do write album reviews, I also have been conducting band interviews which have included Horseback, Gloryhammer, Dying Fetus, and most recently, the mighty Exhumed! As well as that, the awesome guys that run the site have given me the unique privilege of having my own monthly column. The column, titled "Within the Abyss", is about all things black metal. In each post, I may write about a specific era in black metal, a certain black metal subgenre, a particular country's black metal scene, or even a specific band in the genre. If you've been reading my reviews for awhile now, you will strongly recognize my writing style and my way of explaining shit. The first post in this series was just posted a couple days ago and can be read by clicking the link below (if the link does not work, you can simply copy the address and paste it into your browser's address bar):

On another note, as I mentioned before, I got to interview one of my favorite bands, Exhumed, last Saturday when they played with Psychonaut Deathtrip, Lord of War, Admirion, Rings of Saturn, Jungle Rot, and Suffocation. I will have that and a written report on the show with some photos up on Louder Than Hell very soon.

If you don't give a crap about what I have to say about black metal, you can click the Louder Than Hell link in the right-hand column under the "Partners in Crime" section to visit the site.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Wormed - Exodromos

Spanish death grind masters Wormed are finally back with the long-overdue sophomore follow-up to 2003’s Planisphaerium. Well, people that were paying attention last year probably remember Wormed releasing an EP containing two new tracks (to hold us over), a remix of Voxel Mitosis, and a live recording of Tunnel of Ions. Apparently, this EP was more than just a gift to hold us over, it was a teaser for future material. Earlier this year, Wormed officially announced the title and release date of their new album, titled Exodromos. I’m going to be honest, I fucking flipped out when they released this info along with one of the songs from the record (and I know I wasn’t the only one). I honestly don’t think that the band was expecting this extreme of a response (hell, almost all the metal webzines were talking about it), which brings it down to one question: does Wormed still have the power, skill, and uniqueness that they had in 2003?

Planisphaerium was a fucking masterpiece, earning my score of 19/20. A debut THAT strong sets the bar pretty fucking high for the next release to live up to. My worst nightmare would be for Wormed to join all of those other bands that fluked out by making a perfect debut and never again making an album quite as good. The one thing that Planisphaerium was missing that, if present, would’ve pushed that 19 up to a 20, was better sound production. The sound quality, although helpful towards the music’s “ambient” sound, seemed hollow. Exodromos is pretty much Planisphaerium with much better sound quality.

The band’s 2012 EP showed quite a bit of experimentation with digital effects and computerized sounds. Although this was somewhat toyed with in Planisphaerium, their 2012 EP (which has yet another foreign name that I don’t feel like typing out) really put a lot more focus on that. This is probably why the band decided to do a remix of Voxel Mitosis. So the Wormed superfans that actually jammed the EP when it was released got the message that there’s probably going to be a lot more computerized effects on Exodromos. And, well, just as many people (myself included) had predicted, Exodromos does introduce a lot more digital effects than previous releases. Most of the time, it’s just in the intros of songs or during the interludes; but there are a lot of sections that have the weird high-pitched crackling in the background behind the wall-of-sound death grind that Wormed creates with their music. To be honest, although musically, Exodromos is extremely similar to Planisphaerium, Wormed does pack a pleasant surprise with the digital effects used in Exodromos.

After a month or so of listening to Exodromos (I still can’t figure out how to fucking pronounce that), you start noticing some flaws in Planisphaerium; mainly because Exodromos is…well…better! Exodromos demonstrates more intelligence, organization, confidence, structure, and variety. Although the seemingly randomized structure that the songs on Planisphaerium has is one of the really cool and interesting things about it, you realize how much better Wormed sounds when they’re more organized! I guess if Wormed had kept releasing new records every two or so years, we would’ve seen a steady increase in organization and structure. But instead, we get to wait a whole goddamn decade and have the organization sharply increase in just one album! This, my friends, is one of the few cases where a band releases a near-perfect debut and then creates an album that COMPLETELY blows it out of the water.

Those of you that are reading this and thinking “who the fuck is Wormed?” could probably use a brief description of their sound. The vocals are all inhales, mainly mid-ranged pig squeals with the occasional guttural growls. The vocals seem to have more rhythm than on Planisphaerium, which obviously increases the interest factor. Because this is death grind, there will be blast beats. And let me tell you this: this guy knows how to fucking blast beat. That is not an exaggeration; this drummer is perfect at extreme music. His blast beats aren’t exactly the most unique, but they’re still flawless. The types of chords played by the guitarists are pretty undefinable; they’re really weird. Sometimes even sounding ambient or melodic.

Exodromos is the first album of 2013 to get a perfect score from me. This is definitely going to be setting the bar high for this year. Like I said before, although Exodromos sounds very similar to Planisphaerium, there are so many things about it that just fucking blow all previous releases out of the water. There is nothing about Exodromos that I have to complain about except for the fact that I still can’t figure out how to pronounce it. I can’t really see everyone loving this, but if you’re a hardcore fan of extreme music, this is something you NEED to give a listen, because it is something else! Once again, I would give this 20/20. Now, all we need is to have Wormed come to America. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Upcoming Reviews

2013 is starting to pump out some good shit. Here are some of the bands I would like to write reviews on:

Wormed (death grind)
Otep (nu metal)
Hatchet (thrash metal)
Benightened (brutal death)
Finntroll (folk metal)
Hypocrisy (melodic death)
Unbirth (brutal death)
Delusions of Grandeur (deathcore)
Defeated Sanity (brutal death)
Soilwork (melodic death)
Syrebris (technical death)
Thousand Foot Krutch (hard rock/nu metal)
Manowar (heavy metal)
Thy Art is Murder (deathcore)
Gorod (technical death)
After Forever (symphonic metal)
Frostagrath (depressive black metal)
Sevendust (nu metal)

Monday, April 1, 2013

Otep - Atavist

Atavist is the fifth and least talked-about studio album by nu metal behemoths Otep. Ok wait, what the hell happened? Otep releases The Ascension and their popularity skyrockets. They then release Smash the Control Machine and make record sales. I got so fucking tired of hearing the word Otep at this point that I was about to punch someone. I don’t hear anything from them for years until I notice that it’s been awhile since their latest release. I checked up on them to discover that they released a new album months before. Crap, man, talk about a lack of advertising, did anyone even KNOW about this? Anyway, Atavist is a strong album, and even progresses in some ways. But to be honest, it’s the weakest album of Otep’s career. Not to make assumptions, but it could be that Atavist was used by the band for experimentation purposes in the same way that Nightwish used Imaginaerium. Here’s the problem with experimentalism and progressivism in music (and every musician knows this): it’s risky. It can either end up sounding fucking fantastic (Opeth, Portal, Augury, Devin Townsend Project, Dream Theater, Animals as Leaders, Soulfly, etc.) or it can end up being a complete disaster (We Butter the Bread with Butter, Metallica, Korn, etc.). With Atavist, it seems that Otep does a little playing around with the instrumentals, which makes it quite an interesting listen. But is it any good?

Chances of an album being good are greatly increased if the band jumps into the writing process with confidence. If a band is either forced to write a new album or force themselves to write a new album, the album can end up sounding pretty bad. Metallica front-man James Hetfield even said that this was the main reason why (cover your ears if you’re going to read the next two words aloud to someone) St. Anger was such a disaster; the band just wasn’t fucking ready. Well, Atavist sounds forced, unconfident, and uninspired. It doesn’t sound like the band knew what they wanted while writing this album. There are some bands where this is how they work. But with a band as traditional and simple as Otep, this wasn’t the best state of mind to be in during the writing process. The mood is hard to follow. There are parts where it has that eerie and really creepy sound they’re known for, which then jump into a really bland “heavy” chorus to then start going into weird…almost jazzy sections. It’s hard to describe, but the mood of the album is very inconsistent. But isn’t that a good thing in a lot of cases? Fuck yeah it is! But that’s where transitions come into place (dear bands: TRANSITIONS ARE YOUR FRIENDS, USE THEM ALWAYS). Otep use next to no transitions in between mood swings on Atavist. It ends up leaving the listener either confused or annoyed.

The album sounds utterly emotionless. How did Otep get their big fucking break in the first place? Oh yeah, it was because their music was angry as FUCK and heavy as FUCK and catchy as FUCK. Part of the catchiness was because of the hip-hop influence that’s a part of the nu metal genre itself. Well, kiss all that awesome hip-hop influenced catchiness goodbye because you won’t get any of that beautiful shit on this album. To look at this with an optimistic perspective, the structure of all the songs stays fairly solid most of the time. It’s just that all the other junk added on top isn’t organized. If they took some time to re-arrange a lot of the extra shit they put on the base of their sound, Atavist would’ve had a much more satisfying outcome.  Is the sound of this album angry? Unfortunately, it’s not anywhere near what you remember from everything they released before it. It does retain some of the heaviness left over from The Ascension (probably the album that’s the most similar to Atavist, only a thousand times better). There is screaming, but even they sound forced and uninspired. Not that I’m saying that I want the band to stay angry at the world, but if they’re having changes in emotions, they need to shift their musical style along with them in order to stay fresh and original. This is what my favorite band, Opeth, did when they released Heritage. After years and years of releasing extreme metal albums, they decided that they wanted to go in more of a progressive rock direction. And because of that decision, they still sound fucking great. If they went ahead and wrote another progressive death metal album, I’m pretty sure that it would’ve sounded forced, dry, and uninspired.

Most of where the band sounds insecure and unconfident is in the instrumental section. The bassist is going fucking crazy, and it sounds cool; but it doesn’t connect with the music in any way. The drummer seems to be following the basic patterns that I would expect to hear out of them, which is cool. It’s when he plays these weird fills that just don’t make any sense that throw me off. The beginning of the first song, Atom to Adam, sucks. Did they have to start out with that shitty breakdown? Because right after that, the drum pattern is catchy as hell! The problem that I have with the guitars is that they don’t do anything special at all. Don’t get me wrong, they don’t make any mistakes, they’re spot on with what they do. But with a band this big and this old, they can do better than this, that’s for fucking sure. Once again, the bass is hard to get past. The band will be playing a dark, but driving section when, out of nowhere, the bassist plays this funky arpeggio that completely throws you off because of how LITTLE sense it makes.

I’m sorry, but this album just isn’t good. Any band that’s released an album that I gave a score of 18/20 shouldn’t be releasing an album like Atavist, which I’m giving a below-average score of 9/20. The band should’ve taken an extra year with this one like they did with The Ascension. Atavist is bland, forced, uninspired, dry, confusing, and hard to swallow. The songs, although structurally consistent and never fall through, are void of transitions and show little effort. I love the fancy bass riffs, although they have nothing to do with the rest of the music. None of the musicians make any obvious mistakes or errors, but I personally know that they’re capable of a better writing job than this. To be honest, if you’re not a hardcore Otep and nu metal fan, I wouldn’t bother with this one. 

Finntroll - Blodsvept [EP]

It’s not easy to make a list of Finnish metal bands without mentioning the folk metal masters Finntroll. Yes, they aren’t as big as some of Finland’s other metal bands like Apocalyptica, Nightwish, HIM, Wintersun, Children of Bodom, Ensiferum, Turisas, Korpiklaani, Sonata Arctica, Amorphis, and Stratovarius, but the chances of Finntroll not coming up on a “best metal bands from Finland” list are next to nothing. And Finntroll aren’t new at all, they’ve got almost 20 years, five full-lengths, and now three EPs under their belts. Blodsvept is the first new material that we’ve heard out of Finntroll since the release of their highly-acclaimed Nifelvind in 2010. The Blodsvept EP features two tracks of fresh, new material, two live recordings of songs from their Nattfodd album from when they played at the legendary Wacken Open Air metal festival, a cover of a techno/new wave song, and a previously unreleased demo of a song that only the hardcore Finntroll fans know, Rivfader. Although I would prefer for the EP to be completely made up of new material (and then maybe a live bonus track or something), this is enough to hold me over until their next release.

I’m not sure what was up with the logo from the cover of Nifelvind, but I’m glad to see them go back to their fucking awesome logo on this EP. I usually don’t take the sound of material on EPs and assume that their next full-length is going to sound just like it. In fact, most of the time, EPs seem to sound different from the rest of a band’s material. These mini records tend to act as little splurts of random and unusual creativity from a band and are released as EPs because of that. I like to listen to EPs that bands release, especially if they’re released later in a band’s career, because they sometimes show a different side of that band’s sound that hasn’t gotten very much exposure. This seems to kind of be the case with Finntroll’s Blodsvept EP. The thing that puzzled me the most as to why I couldn’t understand anything Finntroll wrote (song names, lyrics, album titles) is because although the band is Finnish, their original vocalist was part of the Swedish-speaking population of Finland. I guess he felt that the sound of the Swedish language was more fitting to their odd music than Finnish. And apparently although the band has gone through several vocalist changes, the Swedish lyrics have remained a tradition within the band. So if you’re like me and can’t understand Swedish, Blodsvept is Swedish for “Blood Swept”. The title song, which is the opening track on this EP is the song that I am going to talk about first.

Blodsvept starts with the awakening of…I don’t even want to know. The only words that pop into my head when I hear the intro to that song are “it’s alive!!” So after this…thing that doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the song (it probably does, though, just assume I’m wrong about that) comes out of the dark, what comes next may come as a surprise to some Finntrollheads. Instead of the blasting and energy-filled montage of fiddles and distorted guitars that just about every Finntroll album starts off with, Blodsvept comes in with a fairly mellow tone. Not to say that it’s SOFT, but it definitely sounds considerably less energetic when compared with all the other Finntroll releases. The production quality is cleaner than most of the other really rough Finntroll albums, but it still sounds great. To be honest, there really isn’t anything at all about the sound quality of the two new tracks that I can complain about; everything’s balanced, the distortion is clean, the vocals are audible, it all checks out! I guess you could say that the symphonic instruments on the song Blodsvept make it sound almost cheesy. Being more used to their fun, but extremely chaotic and aggressive sound, this lack of aggressiveness made it harder to get into. But now that I’ve listened to it over and over again, I understand the music a lot more and even see what kind of sound these guys were aiming for. For those of you expecting fast, moshable song, Blodsvept isn’t that. I love the song, and I love the mood that it sets, but I think there’s a little bit TOO much energy that has been taken out. The drum patterns are tight, but end up becoming boring and repetitive. This is the same with the guitars. After a while, it kind of seems like Finntroll wrote this song with more of a minimalistic perspective, which makes it more understandable than the complexity that they’re known for writing.

Because a lot of websites don’t seem to like it when I type in foreign letters, I’ll just say that the second track is Swedish for “When Giants are Marching” or something along those lines. And it makes sense because the song has a thick and heavy beat that sounds like…well…a marching song! I like this song a lot more than Blodsvept simply because it has more to it. There’s more texture, it’s more complex, there are a lot more interesting and catchy riffs, and it just sounds fucking epic! Again, it appears that Finntroll wrote this song in a minimalist state of mind. The fact that this song has more energy is the main reason why it’s more enjoyable. But it’s also because it doesn’t grow stale and repetitive after the first two minutes. The strings, whistles, and horns (uncommon in folk metal, but common for Finntroll) give everything an exhilarating feel. I would like for there to be more of a contrast in speed during the chorus, but it’s good nonetheless. My favorite parts of this song are the parts right after the melodic lead line in the chorus, right where everything breaks down and releases all the energy in the same manner a breakdown releases the tension in deathcore and metalcore.

I’m not the biggest fan of live recordings, but the two live tracks are good. The song that surprised me was the cover. If you were alive and aware of popular culture during the 1980s and early 1990s, you most likely remember the new wave/pop duet known as The Pet Shop Boys. Yes, that’s right, the fucking Pet Shop Boys. Finntroll apparently decided to cover one of their most famous songs, Can You Forgive Her? In the same way that Children of Bodom covered Britney Spears, the folk metal behemoths cover The Pet Shop Boys, Finntroll style. And by “Finntroll style” I mean the whole shebang; the heavy guitars, the fun folk metal sound, the strings, the bagpipes, everything! As much as I am NOT a fan of The Pet Shop Boys, this is a damn good cover, probably one of the best metal covers of a pop song I’ve ever heard.

Finntroll’s Blodsvept EP is definitely worth a listen for any fan of Finntroll, folk metal, or Finnish music. The difference in sound isn’t something that I’ll be expecting from their new album (watch their new album sound like this just because I said that), but it’s a fucking treat to the ears. I probably won’t be listening to this a whole lot due to the lack of energy, lack of new material, and the fact that one of the songs is monotonous and repetitive after a while. I would give the Blodsvept EP a score of 14/20.