Archive for the ‘Music Reviews’ Category

Canada’s superb Thrash Metal band started off strong, releasing their best two albums first, and the next three albums they released were also pretty darn good, but the critics and audiences drifted away. Then they released the ill-fated and misguided Remains album in 1997, and needed a major rethink to get back on track.

1999’s Criteria For A Black Widow was that rethink. The linear notes on the reissue state it was originally meant to be called Sonic Homicide but the record label at the time changed it. The big talking point on this record is that the line-up from the band’s classic debut Alice In Hell was back. The artwork harkens back to Alice In Hell. There’s even an instrumental track called ‘Schizos (Are Never Alone) Part III’ which harkens back to parts I & II of the same name from the debut too.

(Also, confusingly, there’s a track called ‘Back To The Palace’ that clearly refers both lyrically and musically to ‘The Fun Palace’ from not the debut, but the sophomore record. Hey its still calling back to some of their best material, but slightly off theme!).

Now; in terms of righting the ship, this album is undoubtedly a huge step up from the controversial Remains album which preceded it. Unfortunately however it didn’t reach the insanely high quality of the band’s near-perfect debut album. Arguably, its not even the best album they released during Thrash Metal’s wilderness period in the 1990s. King Of The Kill and Refresh The Demon were a lot better than you’d expect for their lack of fame, its just the grunge focused times and lack of record label/press support that hindered their success.

That’s not to say it’s a weak album, its just not the huge return to form and game-changer it was intended to be. There’s still some damn fine material to be found. The Pantera-influenced ‘Nothing Left,’ the speedy ‘Double Dare’ and the title track that never was especially, ‘Sonic Homicide’ are all worth checking out.

There are however a few draw backs, such as a few underwhelming tracks like the disappointing ‘Punctured’ and ‘Criteria For A Black Widow’ which don’t quite reach the band’s usual high standards, and returning singer Randy Rampage doesn’t quite recapture the old magic here either. This material would mostly probably have suited lead guitarist Jeff Waters singing on it like the last few albums.

Its not the worst Thrash Metal album from 1999 (Just ask Megadeth what they were up to at this time); but if you were expecting Alice In Hell part two, expect into one hand… you know how the old saying goes.

I have been meaning to review this album for weeks now. However, I feel rather unqualified to write about it. Sometimes I feel kind of unqualified to listen to it. My good friend said of it, that it was intimidatingly good. I completely agree.

Now, Sepultura are such a weird band in Metal’s history, and mine. Their earliest material was influential to the development of Death Metal, what followed that was some very beloved Thrash Metal that you’ll find in any good list of best Thrash albums. Personally; I initially didn’t know about any of that (‘Old School Seps’) stuff though, for a few years at least, as although I knew about the Brazilian band and occasionally heard music from Sepultura in the background from before I even became a metal fan*, I always associate the band with Groove Metal albums with Max Cavelera… specifically Chaos AD and Roots. About 2-3 years into being a metal fan, it was a surprise when I found out about their faster, heavier, rawer past.

(*My cousin was a huge fan in the early ‘90s and my older brother rented a cassette tape of Roots in the mid-‘90s and kept it so long we eventually had to pay huge late fees as it was kept for nearly a year, when I was just a preteen. I knew the name Sepultura before I knew the name Iron Maiden or Judas Priest, just due to family coincidence).

Then of course, the band lost their frontman, in a horrible bitter situation best read about in the ex-singer’s My Bloody Roots biography (I got it for Christmas this year, well worth a read!), and hired replacement singer Derick Green. Ever since, legions of fans have been turning up their noses at new Sepultura albums with a verve normally saved for Bailey-era Maiden or Ripper-era Priest, but with a duration equivalent only to Derris-era Helloween.

Every so often, I’d see someone who really liked a Green-era Sepultura album, or an album like Dante XXI get a positive review in a magazine, but on the whole, the vast majority of the public seem to have decided that the band was over when Max left. Me included until about 3-4 years ago, when I bought their Live In Sao Paulo DVD on a friend’s recommendation and slowly started collecting the studio albums with Derick (I’m only missing two now, which I would have got recently if not for the coronavirus situation at time of writing).

When I started collecting Green-era albums, I felt almost like a bit of a weirdo collecting them though, as despite my one good friend’s fandom, I almost fear I am wasting my money on albums so ignored and dismissed by the public. 90% of the time if I read something about Sepultura it was about how great the olden days were, or about how unloved the latter days are.

Then something interesting happened.  In 2017, Sepultura released Machine Messiah, and it seemed like every review, blog, facebook comment and stray discussion was positive. Not just ‘good for a modern Sepultura album’ but full on, unqualified praise. Good, period. Sepultura, the band who could do no right in the public’s eye, had released an album everyone if not liked, then at least agreed was good. Maybe it was the Dream Theater influenced ‘Iceberg Dances’ that swung the pendulum of public credibility? Who knows. The bottom line was Sepultura were praised again (rightly so, that album is a banger, come back for a review of it too in the future).

I don’t know if aforementioned praise has revitalised their confidence, or they just landed upon the perfect line-up and got better with each album featuring that line-up, or indeed if its just inexplicable lightning in a bottle no one could predict… but 2020’s Quadra is a masterpiece. Its not ‘good for a modern Sepultura album’ its more like ‘possibly the best Sepultura album.’ This is undeniable album-of-the-year material, but more than that. You know when you hear an album, and you just know its special. Crack The Skye? The Blackening? Endgame? Sometimes you just get that ‘I’m hearing something special’ feeling, you know it’s a classic even before time has passed.

Its damn tempting to say the secret to this album’s success is drummer Eloy Casagrande. The man is quite possibly the best drummer in the genre right now. He throws in latin and world music beats sure, it is Sepultura after all; but he can also Thrash like Dave Lombardo, prog out like Thomas Pridgen and bounce like John Otto. Just listen to drum-centric ‘Raging Void’ and then all out Thrasher ‘Isolation’ one after the other to see what I mean. The man is amazing.  

Another thing that its tempting to attribute the albums startling quality to, is the bells and whistles. Its almost like a Fleshgod Apocalypse album at times with the God-Of-War style hell-choirs and apocalyptic sounds, guest female vocals and dynamic production job. The album sounds gigantic. It sounds like an actual giant. Just listen to album closer ‘Fear, Pain, Chaos Suffering’ to see what I mean. It sounds like a videogame boss-fight where the player faces off against a giant/titan/colossus/take your pick of huge thing.

For a while, I also thought the secret to this album was the lead guitar. OK, I like Andreas Kisser, and for the past few years I particularly liked his rhythm work on tracks like ‘Choke’ and ‘Sepulnation’ …but I’d never consider him an amazing guitarist.  Over the years however, he has clearly been listening to a lot of prog metal and become a crazily good lead player. Some of the guitar solos and leads on this record are fantastic. So unique, so interesting, so invigorating. Just check out the instrumental ‘The Pentagram’ or the track which follows it ‘Auetem’ for solid guitar gold.

All those factors certainly contribute to what elevate this album to that ‘special’ place, but I guess the main factor is simply the song-writing and the flow. Every song is needed. Every song contributes something new, but works well against the previous material. There’s no filler, but there’s no repetition either. It strikes a hell of a balance.

Furthermore; Where some other Sepultura albums like Nation or Kairos are jumbled and too varied for their own good, and others like Roots and Against are bloated and in need of an editor, this album just feels like one perfect, consistent, cohesive, singular journey. Wikipedia states it is structured in four parts, to represent the four classical arts, but it really flows like one story from beginning to end. It starts out fast and mean as hell, turns groovy, gets varied then turns prog. Sort of a summary of their career over the course of one record.

Overall; this is one hell of an album. A monster against which all their future efforts will be judged. An amazing sequel to the lauded Machine Messiah and a new standard for quality for aging bands in general. If you had told me in 2005 that Sepultura would release an album this brilliant this late in the game, then I’d have been very sceptical, but I’ll be damned it seems they’ve only gone and released arguably one of the best albums in their whole career

(Ps. For context; as above, this is coming from someone who spent the better part of the last 20 years thinking this band essentially began and ended with Chaos AD and the first half of Roots, so you can trust this is not just blind fanboy devotion).

Testament – Brotherhood Of The Snake

Posted: March 22, 2020 by kingcrimsonprog in Metal, Metal - Studio, Music Reviews

After many years of loving Testament’s (and many other Thrash bands’) ‘80s output but being suspicious of anything new, in 2008, Testament blew my mind with their superb The Formation Of Damnation album, it was a real game changer. In 2012 they followed it up with Dark Roots Of The Earth which was also amazing, real album-of-the-year stuff.

Could Testament keep up the hot-streak of superb modern albums, like Exodus have been able to? Or would they have ups and downs like Anthrax and Megadeth have?

2016 saw them release Brotherhood Of The Snake and match all expectations. Yet another winner! The album opens really strongly, with its best two songs ‘Brotherhood Of The Snake’ and ‘The Pale King’ but isn’t front-loaded. Side two contains perhaps the hardest tune ‘Centuries Of Suffering’ and the ridiculously catchy and memorable late-album highlight ‘Canna-Business’  (Side note: Not just a typical rock ’n’ roll excess druggy song, but about them de-criminalizing it and using it for medicine).

The production, as with the last two albums, is spot on. Even though Andy Sneap is the best producer for modern albums by ‘80s Metal bands, and isn’t in charge this time (choosing to self-produce instead), they seem to have learned a lot from working with him last time around, and capture much of the same sound and energy.

Unlike some other veteran bands still putting albums out nowadays, Testament don’t let this snake outstay its welcome. At just 10 songs, there’s no filler and no flab.   It makes the album much better. There’s no point filling the disc up with more songs and diluting the impact when you can just use only what you need and have a better experience overall. All the songs here are necessary.

The performance out of the band is great. Its precise and technical without loosing the crunch and power. The riffs pummel you and the leads impress. This is not an album that finds you loosing attention or letting your mind wonder.

Expertly produced, savagely played, finely crafted. Brotherhood’ is a firing-on-all-cylinders gem that is everything a Testament album should be… fast, hard, concise, musical and catchy as hell.

Having been deeply impressed with Death Angel’s modern material after seeing them live, I rushed out and bought myself a copy of their latest album, 2019’s Humanicide. I’ve loved the band’s original output for years, but hadn’t checked out as much of their post-reunion material as I could have.

Turns out, that might have been a bit of a mistake because this album absolutely rips. A succinct and perfectly formed 10 tracks of Thrash. Fucking. Metal. Every bit as good as the latest albums by their Bay Area compatriots Exodus and Testament. Better in fact than some of the reunion albums by other Bay Area bands like Forbidden and Heathen. Heck… better even than the newest albums by most of the Big Four.

Stylistically, there isn’t too much material that you could say would fit on any of the band’s first three albums, it isn’t the youthful meathead Thrash of The Ultraviolence, nor the diverse and off-kilter Thrash of Frolic Through The Park and it isn’t the experimental restrained Thrash majesty of Act III… it is however, utterly perfect modern Thrash.

Drummer Will Carrol throws in such bouncy and creative patterns when possible amongst the relentless pounding, all four limbs flailing with powerful control. Damien Sisson is one of the more interesting bassists at this level. The lead guitars are spectacular from Rob Cavestany, even more impressive than the ‘80s output. Rob and Teds riffs are chunky and aggressive. On top of the furious musical canvas, singer Mark Osegueda demonstrates a wide array of different vocal styles, from melodic, to deep, to high, to harsh and several mixtures somewhere in between. He has a knack for memorable vocal hooks and catchy vocal rhythms.

Highlights include the utterly perfect title track, which opens the record and could be used as a study aid for modern thrash, as well as the much more diverse ‘Aggressor’ which covers a range of tempos and styles and really lets the band showcase their immense musical prowess, as well as the catchiest song on the record, the punkier ‘I Came For Blood.’ That’s not to say its frontloaded either. There is no real filler or unnecessary material here. Everything is good.

I really enjoy Jaon Suecof’s production job here. It perfectly suits the style and direction of the music. Guitars up front, vocals slightly lower than average, and a lot of presence for the drums.

Overall; this is a magnificent album, from an underrated band. Each song is a rager, it sounds good, each musician is great and the record doesn’t outstay its welcome. I’ve just been absolutely pasting it for the last week in the car and at home, can’t go a day without it.  I really wish I’d gone in on it sooner.

Released to no inconsiderable amount of hype, 2020’s Ordinary Man is Ozzy Osbourne’s 12th full-length studio album.

There’s been a veritable whirlwind of press about it, which you’ve probably read already, but the salient facts are these: It’s a star studded affair full of collaborations, it was written and recorded really quickly during a period of ill-health, and it is better than anyone expected. (Also; anyone reviewing it seems to be legally required to state that Ozzy is not an ordinary man and act like saying so was very original).

The most relevant guest appearances to rock fans are Guns N’ Roses’ Slash and Duff, Rage Against The Machine’s Tom Morrello, Red Hot Chilli Peppers’ Chad Smith and of course, Elton John. However, read the Wikipedia article if you want a Chinese Democracy’s worth of further participants.

It was produced by Andrew Watt (remember him, from California Breed, the Black Country Communion spin-off ?) who has since gone on to all sorts of success in the mainstream music world. Watt also contributes much of the lead guitar, as neither Gus G nor Zakk Wylde were involved in the record.

Stylistically, the album doesn’t feel like a continuation of the previous albums Scream (2010) or Black Rain (2007) but rather, its feels like a strange midway point between No More Tears (1991) and Ozzmosis (1995). Well, for the most part at least, its also really diverse and a little unfocused and not really any one thing.

There’s a few ballads, one or two mid paced rockers, a big album centrepiece in the varied ‘Under The Graveyard’ and then the weird punky closer ‘It’s A Raid’ which also has a guest appearance from rapper de jour, Post Malone.  

Interestingly, this album ends with the line ‘Fuck You All’ which contrasts Scream, which ended with ‘I Love You All.’  This makes the album end on a less soppy note, which it easily could have, as the title track and a few others definitely bare the hallmarks of being written during a health scare and having the ‘this is my last album’ vibe to them. Luckily Ozzy has since stated that he intends to make another record.

The general consensus among fans, critics and the general public has been that this album is way better than anyone expected. Some people have started throwing around ‘’best album since…’’ statements.

I would have to agree with this consensus, but also preach caution on the ‘’sinces.’’ Don’t buy into the unrealistically positive hype. It doesn’t live up to that high bar. Randy Rhodes hasn’t come back from the dead and Ozzy hasn’t hand delivered the vaccine for the corona-virus with every CD. There are flaws (the lyrics for one, and the production for another). This probably won’t turn out to still be many people’s favourite Ozzy album 10 years from now.

It is however, a brief, refreshing and entertaining hodge-podge of loose, sometimes ‘90s-sounding Ozzy and a few ‘’fuck it, lets just have fun’’ moments. In summary; Its simultaneously better than you’d expect, but realistically not as good as people say it is.

[Ps. You can get a version with a bonus track, ‘Take What You Want’ which isn’t an Ozzy song, but in fact actually the rapper Post Malone’s song, which features Ozzy. It’s a bizarre choice. I can’t recall another example of someone putting someone else’s song on their album.  The song isn’t to my taste, but I guess it will help with sales/streaming, and may hopefully convert some new fans to the world of Rock and Metal]


 

I went to go see Testament, Exodus and Death Angel live last night, on The Bay Strikes Back Tour at Bristol 02 Academy, on Tuesday 02.03.2020.

As you probably know if you read this blog, I really, really like Thrash – it is my unquestionably favourite type of music.

Boy, I was so pleased when I saw this concert bill advertised. This is one hell of a concert line up! Three bands that I’ve been listening to since my teens, together on one bill, all playing Bay Area Thrash Metal, my favourite type of music bar none.

The media always likes to talk about the Big Four of Thrash Metal, (all of whom I’ve been lucky enough to seen live before!), but for me it has always been the Big 6 with Exodus and Testament in there too.

Exodus and Testament are so representative of everything good about Thrash. I can never decide which one is my favourite and it can change on any given day. In fact, Exodus and Testament logos occupy both the left and right shoulder positions on my patch jacket, equal in size and position. I’m also quite partial to early Death Angel and their Act III album in particular is one of my favourite Thrash albums.

[Trivia fans may also be aware that there are a few other connections between these three bands. I’ll type just a few here now – Death Angel’s demo was produced by Kirk Hammet, who was in Exodus, and Exodus’ singer Steve Souza was the singer of Testament before their debut album, back when they were called Legacy. Nice connections there].


I’ve been lucky enough to see Exodus before, back in 2016, when I lived in Manchester, on a bill with Prong and Obituary. That gig that got me into Obituary and properly into Prong where before I was just a causal fan. This is my first time seeing the mighty Testament live though, and I couldn’t be more excited. (Crazy as it sounds, sometimes I almost feel like I’ve seen them before though, as I have watched their Live In London DVD more than 50 times, to the point where reality blurs and my memories of it almost feel like I real memories and like I was there). Its also my first time seeing Death Angel live who are a perfect opener for such a bill.

As has become a habit of mine in recent years, I have been listening to these bands constantly in the weeks leading up to the concert, building anticipation. I also listened to them all on shuffle on the drive to the concert, which was in Bristol. This is only my second ever concert in Bristol, as I fear the unfamiliar and large city and much prefer the convenience and familiarity of Cardiff for concerts most of the time – but this line up is too good not to travel for!

I thought since it’s a bit of a stressful drive, I’d book the day afterwards off work, so I don’t go to work on less sleep than usual. Turns out I’m an idiot though, as I booked the day of the concert off rather than the day after! Woops! Oh well, at least I wasn’t in a rush to get there after work then. I tried to get some sleep beforehand to balance it out.

It was much less stressful navigating my way there this time as I made no wrong turns and I was familiar with the parking lot (which is down a weird cobbled side street that looks like you aren’t allowed to drive down) so everything went smoothly. After I queued up and got in, I was just in time to catch Death Angel’s first song. Somehow, I managed to get a good spot with a good view, only a few places from the stage slightly to the left of the venue, stage right.

Death Angel’s setlist was mostly a mix of tunes from their modern post-reunion albums. I only own one studio and one live album from the modern era so far, so it was a bit unfamiliar with the material they chose. They only played two and a half songs from the classic first three albums (‘Voracious Souls’  and a little bit of the title track from their debut album The Ultra-Violence and then the classic opener ‘Seemingly Endless Time’ from their masterpiece Act III). Nevertheless I had a great time.

Death Angel call for blood, and you’ve not spilled enough!

Their performance was great. Tracks like ‘Thrown To The Wolves’ and especially ‘The Dream Calls For Blood’ sounded really powerful and energetic live. There wasn’t much of a stage show, but they really didn’t need it. They really got the crowd gonig with their enthusiasm and crowd ineraction.

I was quite happy with how into it the crowd were. Sometimes the crowd doesn’t go for the opening act. When I saw Diamond Head support Saxon, the vibe was utterly dead for Diamond Head until their last song, but here, people treated Death Angel like a headliner. There were sections of people throughout the room singing every word and most of the crowd were thrashing like a maniac, so to speak. It was a perfect way to start the evening.

Death Angel

The sound was really well mixed. It was a thousand times better than Megadeth had been recently. You could hear everything perfectly but it still had a real crunchy, aggressive power. The vocals soared, the leads were clear and the drums hammered at you. The rhythm guitars hit that sweet crunch spot that makes Thrash so perfect.

In the gap between bands I managed to get closer to the stage still as people went off to find drinks and toilets. I’m not a push to the front kind of guy and am allways mindful of people behind or beside me’s personal space, so sometimes you can’t get the best view, but I got a pretty great view through sheer luck.

Next came Exodus. Steve ‘Zetro’ Souza is still fronting the band. Its nice to see some line-up stability, as there was a lot of upheaval over the years. Tonight was my first time seeing them with main guitarist Gary Holt in the band. Last time I saw them, Garry wasn’t there as he was busy touring with Slayer at the time, following the untimely passing of Slayer’s Jeff Hanneman. Tonight he played a little snippet of ‘Raining Blood’ and Zetro quipped about how he could do it legally now due to having been in Slayer.

Holt and Altus

[Trivia fans may also be aware, just for more Thrash connections, that Exodus’ current line-up featurs Heathen’s Lee Altus. Heathen have also previously had Exodus’ first singer Paul Baloff in their line-up briefly and they currently feature former Slayer drummer Jon Dette.

There are innumerable other trivia links between these bands. If you want to get on with the review, skip to after these brackets. Otherwise; strap in guys, this is a convoluted one…

Also worth mentioning since we’ve brought up Slayer, is that both Testament and Exodus have had Slayer’s second drummer Paul Bostaph behind the kit, and Testament have also had Slayer’s first drummer Dave Lombardo, and while we’re talking about shared drummers – both Testament and Exodus have both had John Tempesta on drums!

The aforementioned Paul Bostaph used to be in Forbidden, who have also had Glen Alvelais, and Glen was in Testament in the ‘90s and has been in Tenent alongside Exodus’ singer and Steve Souza. Testament’s current drummer is former Dark Angel drummer Gene Hoglan. Hoglan has also been in Forbidden briefly and done backing vocals and drum teching for Slayer in the early days.

Speaking of Hoglan, this not strictly Thrash, but he has been in Death with Steve DiGorgio, but it loops back around to Thrash, as DiGorgio is Testament’s current bassist – Its like musical chairs in the Trash Metal world!

I haven’t even gotten into all the Machine Head links yet. Don’t get me started. I had a whole blog about this stuff in my teens called The Thrashagram. Its proably kid’s stuff looknig back at it now, but at the time I was pretty proud of it].

Anyway… When I saw Exodus last time, their performance was great live. I remember writing at the time that if you get the chance to see them, no matter how high up or low down on the bill they are, you really must take it. They aren’t a nostalgia act, they’ve still got the fire in their eyes. This time however, they were even bloody better! They were utterly amazing. On fire. In the zone. Blistering. Whatever you want to call it, they tore the venue a new one. What a difference a Holt makes, am I right?

Zetro made a big speech about how Holt was back and how we were all lucky to catch him on his first UK date back in the fold, and by god was he right. The energy, chemistry and indescribable x-factor going on made the performance utterly captivating. Zetro made a few speechs that night, including one about Bay Area Thrash that really locked into my old teenage love of Thrash and made me smile like a goon.

Exodus’ set was more balanced between their modern and classic material than Death Angel’s had been. They didn’t have enoguh time to cover ever single album, but they hit all the key periods. There were a few tracks from their Paul Baloff-fronted debut Bonded By Blood, a few from the Souza-fronted ‘80s albums (my favourite era of the band), a few from the Souza-fronted modern albums and even one from the Rob Dukes era.

It is nice that they mix the setlist up. Last time I saw them, they didn’t play ‘Deliver Us To Evil’ or ‘Fabulous Disaster’ for example. Last time I saw them, they played ‘The Ballad Of Leonard And Charles’ from the Dukes era, and this time they played the cleverly titled ‘Deathamphetamine.’ I love how this band play material from all eras. It’s a lot better for us fans than situations where some bands have a line-up change or reunion and the returning old guy refuses to play material from his former-replacement’s era. Most fans want to hear it all.

Murder in the front row, crowd begins to bang!

The band were tight, the sound was great again and they played some of my favourite songs (I was so happy to hear ‘Fabulous Disaster’ and ‘Black List’). What a brilliant time. If the night ended here, I would have been utterly satisfied.


Finally came the headliner, Testament. This band’s first four albums absolutely defined my teens and their mighty comeback album The Formation Of Damnation was the metal oasis in my otherwise prog-centric first year of university.

Testament were great live too. Their sound was a bit more restrained and less savage than it had been for Death Angel or especially Exodus. Furthermore; Gene ‘The Atomic Clock’ Hoglan’s drumming is mechanical and perfect, compared to Tom Hunting’s crazed and exciting beast-man drumming style. This made for a nice contrast, and was suited for Testament’s more melodic parts, even if it was a little less pulverising in the heavy parts than Exodus had been.

Atomic Clock

What they lost in savagery however, they made up for in professionalism. Compared to the other two bands, Testament got more time and more of a stage show, with an hour-and-a-half set. Clearly the headliners then!

They had banners, smoke cannons, lazers and a much more colourful light show. The banners changed depending on what album they were focusing on. They had raised points for the guitarists to climb on during solos. Eric Peterson in particular was really impressive. Many of the solos I always thought were Alex from the newer records, were actually Eric. Live, he delivers them with such flare and precision it was a joy to watch.

Peterson slays!

Speaking of joy, after all those years of watching Live In London on repeat, my brother and I always talked about how much fun singer Chuck Billy has. The man looks like being in Testament is his dream come true and that he’s having the best time in the world. His huge smiles as he plays air guitar on his mic stand, and air drums in sync with all the cymbal catches are so infectious. I feel like he is Testament’s number one fan and his joyous enthusiasm is such fun to behold.

Native Blood

No setlist at any concert ever satisfies everything I want to see, and tonight I’d love to have seen the title track from Souls Of Black or something like ‘Alone In The Dark’ or ‘Apocalyptic City’ from their debut. Most of all, I would have really loved to have heard ‘More Than Meets The Eye,’ from Formation Of Damnation which I think may be the band’s finest hour, but overall I was really satisfied with Testament’s choices tonight. Their set list was a real mix as well, not just all old not all new. They covered early stuff, mid-period-stuff, and even a brand-new song from the as yet unreleased next album.

They also played a few songs from their most recent album, The Brotherhood Of The Snake which I’ve been meaning to review for ages now, but spoilers, they managed to play the best two songs from it! Huzzah! Combined with many of my favourite tunes like ‘Practice What You Preach,’ ‘Over The Wall,’ ‘The Preacher’ and ‘Into The Pit’ I was pretty chuffed.

Disciples Of The Watch

Overall, this night was a thrash fan’s dream night if ever there was one. Once again, if it had just been Testament and Death Angel, I would have been wholly satisfied. However; given the utterly perfect set from Exodus, this was a whole other level of good. (And to cap it all off, the traffic and roads were so good, I managed to get home in time to get a fair amount of sleep for work next day! Bonus!).

Next on my concert schedule: Rammstein in Cardiff this Summer, Helloween in Manchester around Halloween, and then WASP doing only tunes from the first four albums in Cardiff a few days after Helloween. (Possibly Sepultura too, depending on money, work and tickets – I’m thinking about it).


 


I don’t often do requests on this blog, since nobody is asking, but here for your reading pleasure is my first blog by request.

Fear Factory are an interesting band. Beloved by many, but overlooked by a great many more. They are the kind of band who in 2020, more people seem to respect than actually listen to. Their influence on Metal has been huge, both in the underground for their popularisation of clean vocals and samples in extreme metal and also in mainstream metal for their popularisation of rhythmically interlocking kick-drum/guitar chugs in catchy staccato patterns. When you look at a retrospective of best albums from the ‘90s, if the list doesn’t feature at least one Fear Factory album, the list is sorely lacking.

I got into Fear Factory on the Digimortal cycle, when I was either 12 or 13 years old, and music channels like MTV2 and later KerrangTV (and later still, Scuzz) played songs like ‘Linchpin,’ ‘Cars’ and ‘Replica’ every so often. It was the good old days of Nu Metal and the band’s toned down Digimortal album fit in well beside the flavour of the month bands that were grabbing my young attention at the time. I have many fond memories of listening to Digimortal and playing Pro Skater videogames.

I remember the day I got my first Fear Factory cds, it was my birthday, and my dad had taken me to a music store in the big city, and I got to pick out my own presents. I chose Digimortal and Demanufacture by Fear Factory, and three others I can no-longer remember for a certainty (I think Ill Nino’s debut and Biohazard’s Urban Discipline were in there, but my memory gets fuzzy). The store had a deal on, where if you bought 5 albums on Roadrunner Records, you got a free VHS of music videos called ‘Drilling The Vein.’ I took my treasure to the counter, and asked about the free tape, only to be turned down by the clerk as he stated that Demanufacture didn’t count as it wasn’t on Roadrunner. It was, but it had an old-fashioned long thing colourless Roadrunner logo, rather than the modern red and white square logo. I remember very clearly my dad squaring off against the clerk and demanding ‘Just give him the tape!’ in an intimidating way that brokered success, and thus an additional birthday gift. A very fond memory, him standing up for me, when I would’ve totally just given up. Its my version of the Lorelai Gilmore mustard pretzel story from A Year In The Life.

So I had the then newest Fear Factory album, and the big classic that everyone should own, and later I rounded off the collection with the intermediate release, the sci-fi concept album Obsolete. What feels like much later though, I found out they had another record. Their debut. Soul Of A New Machine. Time has passed and I don’t quite remember where or when or at what age I bought this, other than I was still in high school.

I was young at the time. I hadn’t read much rock press, seen any rock documentaries or thought about rock much outside of ‘I want to listen to this.’ I had no idea about recording, budgets, any of it. I assumed every album was as successful as Appetite For Destruction and all bands just started out with infinite money and the best studio possible. (If I even knew what a studio was yet). I just assumed every rock star was a millionaire. I thought the bassist from P.O.D or Black Flag would be just as rich and just as famous as Axl Rose or Gene Simmons. It was still early enough in my musical life that I barely owned any bad albums. You start buying albums, you generally end up buying all classics for a while, as the things that get recommended to you aren’t the bad ones, and you have limited money and options, and you end up getting the best albums.

So, I was kind of shocked when I finally got a chance to buy Soul Of A New Machine. It looked cheap. The album artwork kind of fit with the band’s robotic aesthetic, but somehow…wrong. The actual CD case and booklet looked thin and budget in a way I didn’t know existed yet. Then the music played. Ummm. This sounds wrong. Crystal clear this is not. I think I learned about production values there on the spot. Compared to the cutting edge (at the time) sound of Digimortal or the futuristic sounds of Demanufacture, this sounded so basic. Demo quality, if I knew what a demo was at the time. Maybe I would have understood what demos were based on bonus tracks from Slipknot’s digipak, or having gotten a pirate version of Mate Feed Kill Repeat.

Stylistically, this was very different than I was expected. The ‘machine gun’ patterns that make up 75% of verses on most Fear Factory albums hereafter are almost absent, or where they are present, they are slower and more organic, less mechanical. There’s also a lot more samples and a lack of the Rhys Fulber electronics. It’s a lot less melodic. This is a million miles away from Digimortal. The vocals, while still distinctively Burton C. Bell, are really different. Less accomplished. He doesn’t project the same way. Its more primitive. It doesn’t even sound more youthful, like how Hetfield’s vocals sound more youthful on Kill ‘Em All, just like he hasn’t had enough practice yet, or like he isn’t being as loud in the actual studio. Also, he sounds a bit like Barney Greenway at times, especially towards the back of the album.

Now, I had some limited understanding of Death Metal at the time, as my friend and brother were into Cannibal Corpse and this was probably around the same year I got into some Deicide and Napalm Death, but I has a surface level knowledge at best. In later years, the more I knew about music, the more I would come to realise what a Death Metal influence this album had. (Also the short songs, aforementioned hoarse throaty Greenway-esque vocals and even a few blast beats, are reminiscent of Napalm Death’s Harmony Corruption – the album when the Grindcore band went Death Metal). There’s also a touch of Deicide and moreso, Morbid Angel in some of the riffs. [Not a lot, but some. I remember reading a mean-spirited review that complained when people claimed the band had a Death Metal past. I disagree with that. They totally do. Its there in the guitars, especially towards the back of the record].

It also has the utterly confusing track ‘Natividad’ which to someone who hadn’t heard any prog or industrial at the time, just sounded like the sound of a junkyard for no reason. What the hell?

For a long time I’ve thought of this album as the weird Death Metal demo, before they became a real band with their next album. My friend and I, for many years, had a saying that no band has ever had a bigger shift in quality between one album to the next. The difference between how good Demanufcature is, and what is on offer here, is the gold standard in my mind. I spent almost my entire first year of university walking around in a Demanufcature t—shirt. By contrast, I have only listened to this album about 20 times in my whole life and have resented it basically every time I listened to it.

I developed something of a mental block around this album for a long time. I could only really listen to 2 or 3 songs from it all the way through. I developed an affection for a few tracks, like ‘Martyr’ and ‘Crash Test’ over the years, but even then, ever since the band re-recorded those songs on the Mechanise bonus tracks, I would rather listen to the updated versions. If I try listen to the actual album, as I would intermittently out of a sense of duty and trying to get my money’s worth, then my eyes would glaze over and my mind would fog and I wouldn’t really hear the songs. Often I would try and skip through songs to see if there were good parts I’d forgotten, but then not really hear the songs properly and the whole thing would jumble up in my mind. If you asked me which one was ‘Leech Master’ and which one was ‘W.O.E’ I would have absolutely no idea which was which. If you asked me to name you more than six songs on this, I would really struggle. There’s seventeen tracks on here! That’s too many. Why didn’t someone edit this down?

I vaguely remember that the band used to be a Death Metal band called Ulceration, and then started listening to industrial and punk and changed their name to Fear The Factory before settling on the better name, Fear Factory. (Kind of like how Ratt used to be called Mickey Ratt, which is much worse). I wonder if some of these tracks, the heavier blastier ones, were Ulceration tracks and the more melodic and ones closer to the sound of the later albums were the newest tracks. I wonder if the ones that are halfway between are from the short-lived Fear The Factory days? Or maybe my memory of this timeline is wrong and they had the same songs the whole time and just changed their name three times between three live gigs in sweaty LA clubs, who knows? Other bands have gone through numerous name changes in the early days.

Maybe if some of the tracks were old Ulceration tracks that are very different, then they could have trimmed those tracks off… 17! Seventeen! Seven-bastard-teen!

Since I got the request to review the album though, I decided to really concentrate and open my mind to it. I’ve tried listening to it in full in the dark, on shuffle in the background while driving, in between other Fear Factory albums for contrast. I have it on in the background while I wrote most of this blog. I went online and I read dozens and dozens of reviews of it, positive, negative and neutral. I really wanted to understand the album. I wanted to focus and lose the mind fog.

I came in wanting to write the story of how I found out this was actually an amazing album and I had been mistaken the whole time. Or at least wanting to write that this was the worst musical turd in my collection and getting my readers to laugh at it. Well, sorry. I don’t have a great revelation about this album. I did ‘get it’ a lot more than I ever had. I’ve been listening to lots of Death, Morbid Angel, Deicide and Obituary recently, so the few bits of Death Metal that are on here are coming to the light more, but also I am learning just how much Death Metal is not on here. I could never understand how Fear Factory said Korn ripped them off before. Now I kind of get it. I can also hear how this could have influenced System Of A Down. Another big thing I can pick out is Chimaira. People always point to Demanufacture in the influencing of modern metalcore and bands like Chimaira and Killswitch Engage. Soul Of A New Machine not so much. However, listening now, with today’s ears I can really pick out multiple points that are clear Chimaira influences. There’s even a riff or two that Chimaira almost lifted note for note.

Having gotten it more, its not like I love it now, but I do like bits of it and understand it. Its gone from a 1/10 album next to a 9/10 classic, to more like a 6/10. What does that do to me and my friend’s gold-standard of improvement argument? I’m not sure. New American Gospel, From Ember To Inferno, Sombre Eyes To The Sky, This Present Darkness, Don’t Close Your Eyes, Killswitch Engage’s self titled… There are lots of early, raw, primitive albums from bands that aren’t great or terrible, next to classic breakthrough albums. Even Tool’s Opiate to Undertow is a big step up. Does this mean Soul’-Demanfacture has lost its status? I guess only time will tell. I do hold it in higher regard than when I started off. That being said I’m already struggling to remember which is which. I can remember some of the movie samples more than the songs they are in. I can remember the 2nd half of the album is heavier than the 1st half.  What does ‘Escape Confusion’ sound like? Does it sound different to ‘Fleshhold’ ‘Scapegoat’? I don’t honestly remember.  I’ll have to keep listening to it now. See if it goes back to being total mind fog, or if I get a bit more out of it from now on.