Clutch – Psychic Warfare

Clutch have come a long, long way from their Hardcore roots, and if you do a side-by side comparison of the likes of the Pitchfork or Passive Restraints EPs, you’d scarcely imagine it is the same band. They’ve weaved their way from defining Stoner Rock, to becoming loose and jam focused, to exploring Blues territories. All the way through they’ve been inventive, impressive, consistent and a whole barrel of fun. Almost no band going can claim to have more charm, personality or dependability, and there’s barely been a group on this Earth with the same down to earth vibe and strong work-ethic for such a long, long time. I mean, what other band still has all the original members of its debut album’s line-up, ten albums later?

That’s Clutch for you. Always honest, always consistent and always excellent. They do what they want and they do it well and it always sounds good. With their previous album, 2013’s Earth Rocker, the band stripped away all the frills and delivered the most focused and electrifying performance possible, with arguably the most trim and electric collection of tunes to date. It was a damn good album, with a good direction for the band at that moment in time, and the press and the public stood up, took notice and started to realize just what an amazing band Clutch had been all along. Clutch concerts had bigger audiences, you see more people in the streets wearing Clutch shirts and Clutch get more mentions on podcasts and magazines and popular music websites than they have in a while. Altogether; a triumph, well deserved and long-earned, with no hint of compromise. The band’s public mindshare has gone up and down over the year but right now feels like a golden era.

Psychic Warfare now comes along, two years later in 2015, and follows the same formula. Clutch give a damn focused, lazer-beam version of their trademark sound, in a briefer, more succinct fashion than ever before. They speed up the tempos, they give an even sweatier more powerful performance, and they never compromise what makes them so good in the first place.

‘X-Ray Visions,’ ‘Sucker For The Witch,’ ‘Decapitation Blues’ and especially ‘Noble Savage’ are barrelling, fast-paced rockers. Hold on to something or the album might well knock you over. ‘A Quick Death In Texas’ is a funky ZZ Top-flavoured smile-inducer that recalls previous work like ‘DC Sound Attack’ in its funky midsection and ‘50,000 Unstoppable Watts’ in its uplifting chorus (and features amusing lyrics about a man in mortal peril after having seduced ZZ Top’s singer’s wife). Balance is achieved with the sublime ‘Our Lady Of Electric Light’ and ‘Son Of Virginia’ which recall the very best of the slow side of Clutch; think ‘Drink To The Dead,’ ‘The Face,’ ‘The Regulator’ and ‘Basket Of Eggs’ and you’re in the right territory… but damn, these two are particularly strong, evocative and entertaining. It doesn’t overdo the slow moments, it doesn’t overdo the instrumental noodling, and even with all the speed it isn’t repetitive or simplistic. It is a pretty perfect mixture that captures Clutch as they are in 2015 absolutely masterfully.

As always, the musicianship is otherworldly with some of the most subtly fantastic drums in the industry and bass and guitar lines that will stick in your head for years if history is anything to go by – no one’s showing off but everyone comes across like a virtuoso. Fallon’s superb vocals are as sharp as ever; full of story-selling conviction and passion as he screams, sings, bellows and worries his way through poplar music’s greatest lyrical adventures since Phil Lynott passed away. The man knows how to convey drama, that’s for sure! I want to single out a few choice lyrics every time I review a Clutch record, so stupendous are the band at creating memorable lines, but man, I’d just have the whole damn record’s lyrics down this time!

Album highlights? Every damn song! Don’t even bother with a tester. If you like the band, you’ll love this. Overall; If you like the band then you absolutely need this in your collection. If you don’t like the band then you’re seriously missing out on something special – maybe try again now and reevaluate. In any case; I don’t reckon it would be humanly possible for Clutch to have made a better album and I can’t imagine enjoying anything they could’ve come up with this time more. I know it goes against my Catholic upbringing, but I’m a sucker for this album.

Greatest Hits Vol. 7 – Slipknot

Posted: October 7, 2015 by kingcrimsonprog in Greatest Hits Series

Inspired by the entertaining blogs of the excellent wordpress blogger Nick’s Album Reviews, I’ve decided to join in the fun, and copy his Greatest Hits blog formula and match the bands chosen with my own personal taste (select my personal favourite 10 tracks by the band that would feel like a good greatest hits cd).

This time around is all about Slipknot. Here we go:


Wow; other bands have been hard to choose 10, but this barely scratches the surface… I’d need 30 tracks easily before I felt comfortable calling it the best of Slipknot.

Fear Factory – Genexus Review

Posted: October 6, 2015 by kingcrimsonprog in Metal, Metal - Studio, Music Reviews
Tags: ,

2015’s Genexus is the Los Angeles Metal band Fear Factory’s ninth officially recognized full-length studio album proper (discounting compilations, rereleases, remix projects etc). It is the third album since guitarist Dino Cazares rejoined the band when Christian Olde Wolbers and Raymond Herrera left. It is also the first album with Mike Heller on drums (although Deen Castronovo plays on single ‘Soul Hacker’) who the band made a point of getting to play live following an online controversy with the use of no human drummers on their previous record, The Industrialist.

For me, it doesn’t matter who played on it, what’s a real instrument and what isn’t; all that matters is if it is enjoyable and memorable. An album could be soullessly generated by a computer algorithm for all I care if it made me genuinely enjoy myself. This is definitely the most memorable and enjoyable album the band have released since 2004’s Archetype in my opinion. It sticks to the same futuristic lyrical well and imagery that the band are best known for, it contains plenty of the same staccato riffs synched-up with the kickdrum patterns that are the band’s trademark, and its got the same Burton C Bell clean/heavy splits… it all sounds very Fear Factory, but crucially the songs are fun, they stick out more, there’s no filler and there’s more bounce and groove than the last three records. It’s a Fear Factory album, and it’s a damn good one. Its not boring, its not repetitive and its not a failed experiment.

Imagine the verses from the band’s heavier album Mechanize, with the choruses from the band’s clean and commercial Transgression, topped with the balance, character and personality of Archetype. That’s the sort of ballpark the band are working in – its not a throwback album trying to recapture Demanufacture or Obsolete, its not a sell-out, its not an attempt to write their most brutal album ever… the band have kind of mixed different aspects from different eras together (Heck; there’s even one or two moments where the Rhys Fulber additions feel a bit like they did on Digimortal for a few seconds).

For me, that mix achieved here is an absolute winner. Having had time to live with the album and let it all really sink in, I feel that Genexus is one of the band’s very best albums, easily in the top half of their discography, and I’d be more than happy to see lots of these songs in live setlists and compilations from now on. Its not a throw-away album by any stretch of the imagination.

Highlights include the ridiculously bouncy single ‘Soul Hacker’ (the most outright fun Fear Factory song this side of ‘Edge Crusher’ or ‘Cyberwaste’), the brief and perfect ‘Church Of Execution’ as well as the crushing ‘Protomech’ and the quieter, more dreamy ‘Expiration Date,’ which almost reminds me of modern-day Anathema at times. Anything on the record is good though, there’s legitimately nothing I would delete or skip at all.

Fear Factory are such an underrated band who never really got their due. Compared to how historically important and influential they are (basically informing much of the music for the next decade), and considereing how any time Roadrunner Records does anything special there’s a Fear Factory connection in some way (boxset series, compilation series, 25th anniversary series, Drilling The Vein, Roadrunner United etc), or indeed just how many people have something positive to say about them… when they come play my city its never to an audience big or passionate enough to reflect this, and that’s kind of sad. I can’t see this album winning over a legion of new fans, I can’t see it thrusting the band to superstar status, but what it definitely can do is satisfy existing fans, cement the different eras of the band’s discography into a more sensible cohesive whole, and raise the band’s stock and hit-to-miss ratio in the right direction. Its one more top quality album to add to the list of good Fear Factory albums. It makes me excited about this band again and makes me feel validated and vindicated after sticking with them through different line-ups and stylistic shake ups of varying quality. It makes me want to talk about Fear Factory all the time again like I used to a decade ago. It makes me want to convert new fans. Most importantly of all, it makes me want to listen to it over and over.

In summary; it’s a mixture of Fear Factory’s heavier and lighter sides, done right, with memorable catchy songs full of character. Its one of the band’s better records to date and I highly recommend it to any existing or potential future fan without hesitation or qualification.

Queensrÿche – Condition Hüman

With their previous album, the self-titled one, American Progressive Metal band Queensrÿche had the eyes of the world on them due to the much publicized split with Geoff Tate and the existence of two competing Queensrÿches. There was the intrigue of a new singer, and the “they’ve gone back to their Metal roots” tagline to get everyone’s attention. Luckily, It was a brilliant album, but people would’ve been paying attention anyway. In 2015, with all the dust settled, and no more special taglines, the band have to sink or swim solely on the merits of the music.

Like their previous self-titled effort, Condition Hüman was crowdfunded, and if like me you pledged I’m sure you’ll already be very familiar with the first three tracks which the band let you download while you waited for the full album to be released. As it turns out, these three tracks are actually a pretty fair cross-section of the album proper and display the different moods explored on the record quite adequately. Opening with ‘Arrow Of Time’ which is now firmly in the band’s live setlists, the band show off their Heavy Metal roots, going for a “remember, we wrote ‘Queen Of The Ryche’ and ‘The Needle Lies’ too you know!” sort of feel. Promotional single ‘Guardian’ is next which I would say is the average sound of the album overall, so go out and listen to the song and watch the video because I think it is a pretty clear indication of what you can expect from the band nowadays. Then comes the slower, darker, less conventional ‘Hellfire’ which explores the progressive side of the band – never going so far as to have a 7-minute keyboard solo or songs about flowers developing split personalities in space, but certainly finds the Seattle group putting more thought into structuring, dynamics and unusual ideas than your average bread and butter Heavy Metal bands would. It wouldn’t feel too out of place on Promised Land beside ‘Damaged’ or even Hear In The Now Frontier beside ‘Hit The Black’ at a push but there’s a more modern feel too it… making it feel more like a logical successor to the type of music the band were writing on Operation Mindcrime II (an underrated album in my opinion).

The band do explore more of their overall discography on this one, which feels fair to me. It was unquestionably good to go back to the EP-Empire days, but it would also be a shame to outright ignore the best parts of what came afterwards and keep an artificial boundary in place forever. This album seems to be a reconciling of the previous Todd-fronted album with the post-Empire material to excellent effect; ‘Selfish Lies’ for example sounds at first like a bit the Tribe album, then goes a bit Empire-esque towards the end once the delicious album-highlight guitar solo comes in. ‘Eye9’ opens with a nice Tool-esque bassline and heavily processed vocals that reminds me of a mixture between ‘I Am I’ and ‘The Hostage’ from previous releases, but the song takes so many twists and turns in its duration it crosses all sorts of territory from American Soldier to Rage For Order, and when the (also album highlight) guitar solo came on for the first time it made my already high estimation of the song double or even triple (the lead guitar on this album is simply joyous!). Most surprising of all, ‘Just Us’ is an acoustic-flavoured, jangly Alternative Rock song that wouldn’t be out of place on either Hear In The Now Frontier or Q2K and even though the thought of that is off-putting to a lot of the fanbase, well, the rejuvenated band show us how good it can be, (and hey, when you’ve not got a full album of it, it works as a nice contrast) injecting an almost Houses Of The Holy feel into the proceedings and elevating it to something special.

The album lasts twelve tracks long, (with one of those just being an intro for the final song), and clocks in at 54 minutes, which is a lot more substantial than the trim and cheerful album which the Todd-lineup debuted with. Not only is it in the addition of more tracks that this extra length manifests itself, but the individual tracks themselves are all a little longer…the previous record’s tracks all lasted between two-and-a-half to four minutes in length and this album sees that average shift to something like between four and five, with the final track lasting almost eight. What you get for your extra invested time isn’t simple repetition or wasted time or filler… you get extra guitar solos, more thoughtful and sophisticated song writing and the ability to work in slower tempos alongside the fist-pumping Metal. You could make an argument that it isn’t as lean and focused, but you could also make the argument that there’s more depth.

Yes… my two favourite songs are predictably ‘Arrow Of Time’ and ‘All There Was,’ (which just happen to be the two most traditional songs on the record and the closest that the album comes to Speed Metal because I’m dreadfully predictable) but the band’s experimentation here is a profound success… with the record’s most progressive moment, the album-closing Title Track being not only one of the best songs on the album but one of the best songs the band have written in years and years, ending on an almost Voivod note and showing the guys still aren’t afraid to try new things.

All the background history and discography comparisons certainly get you to adjust your expectations, to guess what type of music might be here and get you interested in talking about it… but its all for nothing unfortunately, if the actual music is cack. Well, to put your mind at ease, it isn’t cack. Not by a long shot… stick on ‘Hourglass’ and just drink in those vocals, stick on one of the aforementioned guitar solos and bathe in the whip’s distinctive playing, pay close attention to the drum fills and hi-hat teasing from the unique and enjoyable Scott Rockenfield (in my opinion, one of the most important things in separating Queensrÿche from their peers). Yes, the musicianship is out of this world, with the same renewed passion and energy as the last album but more time to show off in! On top of that, the production job is better, with a more satisfying, less harsh sound and a clearer more balanced mix.

Overall; Condition Hüman was a surprise to me, but a really welcome one. I love the Todd line-up and I’ve loved their previous album so much that I still can’t stop listening to it ahead of numerous other classic releases, so when this record abandoned the formula slightly it could’ve been a bad move for this particular listener… but hey, the whole point of Queensrÿche was that they evolve between every album, never sounding the same twice. This album is not only another evolution, but a reaffirmation of everything that worked with every era of the band’s prestigious history, and its an album I’ll be listening to for a long time to come. Get yourself a copy without delay!

Five Finger Death Punch – Got Your Six

Dependable as always, the American Heavy Metal band Five Finger Death Punch return in 2015 with their sixth full-length studio album, Got Your Six, showing no signs of fatigue, letting-up or diminishing returns. The band have released another barn-storming collection of stompy, groovy, catchy melodic Metal equally as high in quality as the best of their existing discography to date.

Five Finger Death Punch are the kind of slow-evolution band that don’t mess with their formula too much, if you liked their previous albums then you’ll love this because its pretty similar sounding, but with enough of a twist that it doesn’t get boring. Its not suddenly a jazz record or a dubstep album, but that doesn’t mean you’ve heard it all before.

The production job by Kevin Churko is excellent as usual, the man just gets this band and how they should sound. The musicianship is strong, with the lead guitars better than ever, singer Ivan Moody stretching himself and exploring new vocal ground, and the rhythm section delivering the same kind of powerful post-Pantera stomp the band is known for just that little bit better. The drums are a little bit more flashy, the structures are a little bit more advanced, but it still grooves. Performance-wise this record is one of their most intense and exciting performances since their debut album, there’s a renewed enthusiasm and a bit of a harder edge than the last two or three records… its just got a little bit more of an umph.

Highlights include the excellent and varied Title Track, as well as the fun and fast-paced ‘No Sudden Movements’ which has a different feel than you’ve heard from the band before, as well as the very fun ‘Boots And Blood’ which is honestly one of my favourite songs the band have come up with to date. There’s also a fun little acoustic guitar solo in the middle of ‘Question Everything’ which is a delightful surprise and makes it stand out on the album.

Sure, the artwork is cheesy and the lyrics are adolescent (even I can’t defend them), but when the music is this good, the songs are this catchy and it sounds like a million bucks… who really cares? This is a damn strong, damn entertaining and completely reliable band, and Got Your Six is among the best of their output to date. If you hate them on principle it won’t change your mind, but existing fans need not hesitate for a moment – Got Your Six is excellent and worth a place in your collection without question.

If you can, try and get yourself a copy of the edition with bonus tracks by the way, because for my money, the bonus tracks are even better than the majority of the album… more in the direction of The Way Of The Fist; ‘You’re Not My Kind’ in particular is an excellent song and one that draws my attention. If there’s a negligible price difference, opt for that version.

Helloween – My God-Given Right

Its 2015, the German Power Metal legends Helloween have released their 15th full-length studio album proper, not counting EPs or compilations or the symphonic Unarmed album. It is their fifth consecutive release with the same stable line-up (a big deal for a band who’ve had such a turnover of musicians in their time), and their tenth overall with Andi Deris fronting the band (making that now twice as many Helloween albums with him as without him).

It was produced by Power Metal producer extraordinaire Charlie Bauerfeind (Freedom Call, Gamma Ray, Blind Guardian, Primal Fear, Hammerfall) and released through Nuclear Blast. The version I got came in a 3D lenticular box with bonus tracks although there are many versions available.

My God-Given Right very much picks up where the last couple of Helloween albums left off. Sometimes Helloween make a change-up to their sound for about half-an album, like on The Dark Ride or 7 Sinners being heavier, or Rabbit Don’t Come Easy being more experimental, but this isn’t one of those times. This is the core Helloween sound through and through. It wouldn’t be too mean spirited to say “you’ve heard most of these songs before” because it just lets you know that you are getting what you want: fun, melodic, cheesy, commercial Power Metal with a bit of a sense of humour.

There are moments where they throw in piano, synths or mess around with progressive structures – but mostly its driving, fun Power Metal in a mix of tempos. You get the more Hard Rock flavoured single, the slower more ballady track, the balls-out fast paced track, and the rest of it is what I’d call the medium Deris Helloween sound (which is exactly what I wanted, expected and appreciate having). If you are a fan of any album since Master Of The Rings, and the albums since Keeper’ The Legacy in particular, you’re going to love it!

The highlights for me are ‘Russian Roule,’ ‘Living On The Edge’ (which I always feel like its called ‘Carry On’ since that’s the main chant in the chorus) and the very fun, and very very cheesy ‘If God Loves Rock And Roll’ which has the best chorus on the album, and a deliciously silly breakdown in the centre which I should hate but absolutely love for some reason. The bonus tracks too are very good, being a bit more experimental and in a slightly different mood to the rest of the record, making a nice little contrast at the end.

The band have been on a roll for the last few albums, each one in turn could be called a career highlight or have the “…the best album since” tag applied to it, and this is no different. This is a perfect Helloween album. No filler, no messing about, nothing worth skipping, just an album chocked full of giving the people what they want and somehow not feeling tired or like they’re repeating themselves, something this band have a real knack for. I’m biased, I know, but I highly recommend checking out this album, and have nothing negative to say about it whatsoever – get yourself a copy and enjoy the pumpkin-y goodness.

Bring Me The Horizon – That’s The Spirit

Bring Me The Horizon have had an interesting evolution as a band, with the material on their new record being utterly unidentifiable as being the same band as the one who made their debut EP, and yet every release in between has been the completely logical sequel to its predecessor.

A journey that very much started when Suicide Season had less death growls and blast beats on it than their debut album, and featuring the odd little touches of electronics here and there, has album-by-album seen the band evolves into a BBC Radio 1-friendly band with almost entirely clean vocals, absolutely no touches of Death Metal anywhere in the proceedings whatsoever, and electronics out the wazzoo (so to speak). Its still Rock music (with Pop and Dance tinges), but there’s very little Metal left. They loose fans with each step on the road but seem to recruit 50 for every 1 who drops. A good guide to the band’s evolution is to take the two least-extreme songs on any album and that becomes the average sound of the next album… so, considering that their excellent previous album Sempiternal featured ‘Can You Feel My Heart?’ and ‘…And The Snakes Start To Sing’ – following my train of thought, you can see what sort of thing you can expect on 2015’s That’s The Spirit.

So that’s evolution covered. “Stylistically” would be the next concern – There’s tiny touches of Nine Inch Nails, there’s tiny touches of Pink Floyd, there’s even a moment with cheerleaders singing (like on Mastodon’s ‘Aunt Lisa,’ Marilyn Manson’s ‘mObscene’ and Faith No More’s ‘Be Aggressive’ amongst others) but it seems to me that most of the direction is from outside the comfort zone of the average Rock/Metal fan. What else can be said? Well its melancholy as hell, with a real hopeless, negative, depressing feel straight from the opener ‘Doomed’ – but its bittersweet, with euphoric electronic dance music sounds in the background and the most melodic and talented clean singing of the band’s career. Even the track called ‘Happy Song’ seems to be dripping in misery, and I guess you can see why if you read any interviews with the band’s frontman and his struggles with addiction. The songs do have some nice structuring and are well constructed, dynamic and interesting… its not just verse-chorus-verse, but it is immediate, accessible and catchy as all hell.

“Sonically” comes next – well, it sounds like a million bucks, which is interesting because its actually self-produced. It is amazingly clear, the electronics are top drawer, the mix is perfect, the drums are shimmering and the little touches of keys stick out like they’re tapping you on the shoulder. The production is actually notably good. Almost distractingly good.

Songwriting? Forget about it! All this direction changing might upset me (I am absolutely in love with the Suicide Season sound and would happily have taken four clones of it instead of evolution) but the thing that makes it all work is that the band just write absolutely furiously good songs. Songs that stick in your head. Songs that you think about all day at work. Songs that make you buy concert tickets. Highlights include the excellent single ‘Throne’ which just makes you want to throw fists in the air, ‘True Friends’ which is just stupidly catchy …as well as ‘Blasphemy’ which is something special, it would be the best song on almost any album by any of the band’s peers and its difficult to describe why, other than a plain and simple “Its just that damn good!”

Bring Me The Horizon have made a lot of great albums, but even so this one won’t be forgotten. In an already foolishly good year of excellent releases from a great many bands (this really has been a great year for music I enjoy) this one still stands out. That’s The Spirit isn’t an album I’ll listen to a few times and shelve, its still going to be in heavy rotation next week, next month, next year, and on the band’s next album-cycle. If you have similar tastes to me, get yourself a copy, you won’t be sorry!