Archive for the ‘Review’ Category

Machine Head - Bloodstone & Diamonds

Machine Head – Bloodstone & Diamonds

In 2014, Nuclear Blast records released the eight full-length studio album by the now-legendary Bay Area based Heavy Metal band Machine Head, entitled Bloodstone & Diamonds.

It was their first without longtime bassist Adam Duce (a huge part of the band’s sound) and the first with new bassist Jared MacEachern. This line-up shift leaves frontman Robb Flynn as the sole original member. Luckily long-time drummer Dave McClain is still on board as he has been for everything except the debut, and Phil Demmel is still there as he has been for the last three exceptionally good albums, leaving a feeling of consistency and cushioning the blow of such a big loss.

Produced by bandleader Robb Flynn & Juan Urteaga, mixed by Colin Richardson (with additional work from Andy Sneap and Steve Lagudi); sonically, this is an exemplary record. The instruments are crystal clear, the mix is crushing and well balanced, and this only serves to highlight the superb, passionate performances and some of the best vocals in the band’s history. Its a real treat for the ears, as violins swirl warmly around and the gorgeously-recorded drum kit hammers proudly across the spectrum.

When I first got into the band, public opinion had turned on them, every magazine and website claimed they were on the way out, people spoke of them either with contempt or with rose tinted nostalgia and an “only Burn My Eyes was any good” historic revisionism. It nice to see how much the band’s star is on the rise now. Every album keeps getting better. They keep getting the recognition they deserve from critics. Live shows are full of adoring fans. This even ended up being, to date, the band’s highest charting record ever.

It deserves it. This is one stone-cold gem of an album. Almost flawless. There’s no filler, no weak songs, nothing out-of-place. The choruses are memorable. The solos are scorching. The fills are impressive and satisfying. The album is chocked full of riffs that sound like all eras of the band’s history and still move things forward to the future. There’s a bouncy scrappy Hardcore-influenced sound to “Game Over,” a haunting epic feeling to “Sail Into The Black,” a melancholy melodic feel to “Damage Inside” a big dirty sludgy sound to “Beneath The Silt” and more rampant Blackening-esque Thrashy aggression to the likes of “Killers & Kings” and “Eyes Of The Dead.” The titanic 71-minute record is full to the brim with all different sorts of ideas and directions but still feels like one cohesive whole.

The quality of the songwriting tips everything over the edge. Its not just immaculately produced, furiously performed and stylistically satisfying… but its also just plain brilliant in and of itself. It stands up remarkably well to repeat listens. All the little clever structuring decisions, neat flourishes and all the orchestral extras reveal themselves more and more with repeat listens. There’s an immense depth to this one. I’ve seen over half of it live in concert and it absolutely crushed and felt “right” beside stuff from all positions in the band’s discography. It felt incredible even without the lush production and the extra orchestral instruments. These are just brilliant songs, plain and simple.

It must have been difficult to live up to the impossibly high standards the band have been setting themselves for the last twelve-or-so years, but somehow Machine Head managed it, once again. This is an incredible record that will stand up well against any Machine Head record you care to name. Get yourself a copy if you haven’t already!

Slipknot - .5: The Gray Chapter

Slipknot – .5: The Gray Chapter

When I first heard and read about American Metal band Slipknot’s fifth major label full-length studio album, .5: The Gray Chapter, I was very skeptical. When I was a teenager, Slipknot were just breaking here in the UK and I got incredibly captivated by them. Every generation has that one band that just seems extra important, be it Maiden or Metallica or Pantera. The band you pay extra attention to, buy extra merch for, read extra articles about, pick up books about even when it seems unnecessary. That one band you just care way more about than everyone else. For me that band was Slipknot.

With the line-up changes – the replacement of unique drummer Joey Jordinson and the death of founding member and key songwriter Paul Gray with faceless un-named fill-ins who the band wouldn’t “count as real members,” – I felt a bit put-off. Would the band sound the same? Would the emotions result in an overly quiet ballad-filled record? Then the very not-to-my-tastes album artwork was unveiled and I felt even more put-off. That’s what you want your new album to look like? Really? I then read the reports that the album’s lyrics were all going to be about Paul, well, these circumstances collectively made me feel that this wasn’t going to be a tasteful affair. Coupled with all my obsessive reading about the band early in their career where they said that none of them would ever do drugs (which killed Paul and allegedly lead to Joey’s departure) and that they would only release four albums (this being their fifth) and that if one of them ever died they’d quit because it was all about “the nine” and nothing else, well… even though I’m older and smart enough to know its unfair and unreasonable to hold someone to something they said, probably only in passing, over a decade ago, somehow I almost felt that the band were doing the wrong thing by carrying on. The wrong thing, done without taste? – Didn’t exactly fill me with confidence.

Furthermore; upon actually getting the album, on my first few listens, I felt that this release was a bit of a cynical copy of the past two albums all over again – musically, and even structurally up to a certain point. You’ve got the intro (“Prelude 3.0”/“.execute.”/“XIX”), then that’s followed by the heavy opener (“The Blister Exists”/“Gematria The Killing Name”/“Sarcastrophe”), then the second heavy track with a clean chorus (“Three Nill”/“Sulpher”/“AOV”), then the first phase of the record is capped-off by the catchy radio single (“Duality”/“Psychosocial”/“The Devil In I”). All albums have an adventurous, slightly progressive weird track that appears clean but isn’t actually all that commercial (“Vermillion”/“Gehenna”/“Killpop”) and a heavy track late in the record to almost justify the lighter moments and defend against sellout accusations (“Welcome”/“All Hope Is Gone”/“The Negative One”).

The more I listen to it though, that sort of falls apart, and this album doesn’t feel like its trying to redo the previous two records. It feels more like its trying to balance them within the overall discography, and blend them with the first two records. “The Devil In I” may have the chorus and catchiness of a radio single, but the verses are slow dark and creepy, more akin to “Skin Ticket” or “Gently” than they are to “Duality.” The way some of the riffs work towards the end of “Skeptic” and “Lech” feel closer to the mechanics of the riffery to “New Abortion,” “Metabolic” and “My Plague” than anything more recent. “The Negative One” has that same blunt ugliness that made “The Heretic Anthem,” “(Sic)” and “Everything Ends” so good. “Custer” in particular feels like its trying to recapture some of the madcap energy of their debut, with vocal performances, screeching samples and keg-strikes that feel violent and wild. Even the sombre album closer, “If Rain Is What You Want” doesn’t feel like another ballad ala “Circle” or “Snuff” but rather, it feels like a menacing, creepy, atmospheric closer. Sonically, its nothing like “Iowa” of course, but it is somewhere close in spirit.

Its actually quite a neat idea the band have gone for here… rather than just redoing the winning formula that allowed them to headline arenas at last, they’re taking what worked about both the more aggressive roots and the commercial but still good “headliner era” and mixing the two together, making all of it fit together more cohesively. I really respect that. Ok; so the stylistic shift worries are no-longer a problem, and I realize that complaining about the album artwork is petty, and consequently have gotten over it. So that’s no-longer a problem either.

The new drummer also does a reasonably good job of copying Joey’s unique, flappy and skittery sounding drum style that previously seemed inimitable. Its not an exact match, but it sounds “like Slipknot.” That’s a major worry gone right there. Heck, they don’t even try and hide the bass. The bass is still prominent. People made sure it wasn’t too different, but not an exact copy. It works.

Just as I had read, the lyrics do certainly concentrate a bit on Paul and his death. Its full of lines like: “This song is for the dead,” “No one is bullet proof,” “Some of us are destined to be outlived,” “The world will never know another man as amazing as you” and “Life keeps taking things away” among others. At first, the chorus of “Skeptic” in particular made my nose wrinkle a bit, with its sweary sing-along tribute to the late Paul that felt needlessly cheesy and therefore a rather poor treatment for a fallen band-mate. Not so fast, nose! It really isn’t though. I don’t think the lyrics are anywhere near as cheesy as I feared. Listening to the intro track “XIX” on repeat, I came to the conclusion that the lyrics to this album are actually really heartfelt and honest, and do feel appropriate given how (Corey and Shawn in particular) the band do speak in real life. This feels like a very true-to-life, non-linear document of the confusion and contradictory emotions that grief and bereavement evokes in us, in real life. Thinking about it in this new light, the album has a depth and weight to it that is surprisingly impressive.

So; artwork nolonger a problem, line-up changes nolonger a problem, style nolonger a problem but rather an asset, lyrics nolonger a problem but rather an asset. My skepticism has melted away and all the barriers have been removed. I can enjoy this record without pointless mental baggage. Now, what about the most important (and ultimately the only important) question? “Are these songs any good?”

“Yes, very good!”

This album is full of catchy choruses, fun riffs, great dynamics, solos that don’t intrude upon the songs, memorable percussion all around, enough of the noisy electronics and DJ-scratches that you want from this band and best of all… conviction. This album is driven. It has a point to prove and is all the better for it. Anything that seems dumbed-down and mass-friendly is revealed to be darker, uglier, heavier and more complex than it first appears. Everything that could feel phoned-in instead feels intense. The album is full of hidden depths, interesting extras, and superb balance between fast and slow and light and heavy. Its not just a good album under the circumstances, or a good Slipknot album, it’s a good album period. Infinitely better than I cynically expected and a genuine “can’t put it down” type of exciting, that will rack up an enormous play-count in a short space of time.

Its hard not to feel excitement and satisfaction as the songs defiantly reclaim my waning interest in a band that used to be so massively definitive to my early music-listening years, and who played such a large part in the formation and shaping of my music-fandom. “The Negative One,” “AOV,” “Custer,” “Sarcastrophe” and “Lech” are cemented firmly in any future Slipknot playlist I’ll ever make, and it’d take a heck of a lot to get them out. Overall; It feels good to be able to say the new Slipknot album is fantastic.

Corrosion Of Conformity - IX

Corrosion Of Conformity – IX

With long-time frontman Pepper Keenan busy in the supergroup Down for so much time, the older trio line-up of Corrosion Of Conformity decided to reunite rather than simply wait for Pepper to be free and available. This started off with a nostalgia tour, playing material from their early 80s albums and EPs like Animosity and Technocracy. In 2012, they released a self-titled brand new studio album.

To the surprise of many, the music on this album was not in the original Hardcore Punk/Crossover Thrash style, but rather something new. It was a mixture of the slow, Doomy, Sabbathy leanings of the band’s then most recent album (2005’s In The Arms Of God) with a raw, powerful edge of Hardcore spirit, and occasional bursts of speed. This style was continued on their brilliant 2012 EP Meglodon, which was given away for free online.

In 2014; a full 30 years after their debut record Eye For An Eye, it came time to release more material, and the band, still in modernized trio mode released IX, their ninth-full length studio album.

Stylistically, IX carries on very much in the same vein as Meglodon and the self-titled album. There is a rawer, messier, noiser sound, attitude and performance style than on any of the Pepper-era albums, but also a slower, doomier, more stoner-rock influenced sound than on any of the early albums. The band mix the two styles seamlessly here. Its not even on a song by song basis, but within the songs themselves. Like the last two albums, there’s also a more somber interlude piece, this time actually called “Interlude.”

Highlights include the speedy “Denmark Vesey” and “The Nectar” as well “The Hanged Man” and indeed the absolutely phenomenal and catchy “Tarquinius Superbus” (about the Emperor of the same name, and not some sort of excellent tour bus).

The riffs are big, bendy and exciting. The mix of tempos keeps things exciting. The raw dirty production is incredibly charming, and there’s some genuinely great songs on here that should stay in the live setlist even when Pepper returns. Can you imagine how fun that riff from “On Your Way” would be live in concert?

The album is brief, to the point and filler free. There isn’t too much experimentation. This constantly shape-shifting band found yet another perfect new identity on their self-titled album, and this album is an even more focused realization of everything good about it. Don’t overlook it because its not in the 80s style or because its not got Pepper on it, this is one bad-ass C.O.C album that is absolutely worth your time!

Judas Priest – Redeemer Of Souls Review

Posted: December 23, 2014 by kingcrimsonprog in Metal, Metal - Studio, Review
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Judas Priest - Redeemer Of Souls

Judas Priest – Redeemer Of Souls

In 2014, Judas Priest returned with their 17th full-length studio album, Redeemer Of Souls, stripping away the concepts and extras from their previous album Nostradamus and returning more-or-less to the direction of their 2005 Halford-reunion record Angel Of Retribution.

Stylistically; its classic Heavy Metal; not too heavy, not too soft. There are one or two more somber and reflective moments, but nothing you could call a ballad, and one or two fast moments but nothing you can call Thrash. In that sense, Redeemer Of Souls is a very focused and consistent record – all very positive. The drawback however is that Redeemer Of Souls is something of a strange album, its exactly what a lot of fans wanted in a lot of ways – just giving you a full album of the best songs from the last few albums with no messing about – but it is unfortunately delivered a little bit too politely and calmly, so it can’t really be called exceptional or exciting.

Lyrically, everything is on track with what you’d expect (and somehow feels oddly grateful somehow, which is a plus) and the vocal performance is as good as can be expected – not the shrill phenomenal highs of Painkiller or the variety of the ’70s era, but equal to the last two records. New guitarist, Richie Faulkner fits in well and luckily doesn’t let the side down despite the odds. So far so good. The production is solid and clean, although a little flat. That’s the first thing against the record.

Musically, the performances are also solid but a little flat. Its not as if anyone is running away with passion or “playing the fuck out of it” at any stage, ever, but nothing is poor or mishandled. Likewise, the songwriting is never poor and there is no track that feels like it needs cutting – but nothing is likely to become your favourite Priest song ever. There’s a lot of great potential, but it could’ve done with a slightly heavier sound, slightly harder drumming, slightly wilder vocals, slightly more passionate guitar solos. Maturity and sophistication are welcome, sure, but there’s no competing with sounding hungry.

Highlights include “Metalizer,” “Battle Cry” and the title-track, which are three of the livelier tracks on the record. If you are on the fence about the album’s merits and haven’t bought yourself a copy yet, those tracks are probably the best advertisement available.

Overall; This is a completely rock solid and almost perfect album from a veteran band who really know what they are doing, but could’ve done with just a bit more “umph.” Its good, but its not special.

Rishloo - Living As Ghosts With Buildings As Teeth

Rishloo – Living As Ghosts With Buildings As Teeth

Living As Ghosts With Buildings As Teeth is the crowd-funded reunion album from the incredible Seattle Progressive band Rishloo. Its their fourth full-length album overall and sees the band back together now that singer Andrew Mailloux has returned to the fold and the other bandmembers changed their separate crowd-funded new instrumental band The Ghost Apparatus back into Rishloo. Its been an interesting wait as a fan, but I won’t bury the lead… that wait was well worth it!

Consisting of just eight tracks with no intros, outros or hidden bonuses, this is the bands most succinct and concise offering to date, but you can file that under fat-free and lean rather than skimping on extras.

Stylistically; if you haven’t heard the band before, they are often compared to bands like Tool, A Perfect Circle, Coheed & Cambria, The Mars Volta, Porcupine Tree, Soen, Dredg, Fair To Midland, Jurojin, Cog, Karnivool, Circe, The Mayan Factor and others. No single comparison there really does justice to what you can actually expect, but if you understand the sort of common theme between all of those bands you can at least expect the right ballpark. On top of that, Rishloo are also constantly developing and evolving, and no two of their albums sound that much alike because they progress and change over time (while always retaining a certain core identity where you can still tell its them straight away) so even their own catalogue doesn’t necessarily train you for what to expect here. This album is stylistically a million miles from their 2004 debut Terras Fames, but in a way that makes sense and feels logical.

In that spirit, Living As Ghosts With Buildings As Teeth is no simple retreading of their back catalogue, nor any attempt to sound like someone else. On this album Rishloo sound like nobody but Rishloo. Even the previous Tool comparisons bounce limply off this album like wooden arrows off a tank. Hints is all you get, the rest is new. This record sees the band mix things up even more and explore different sounds, textures and combinations. Drew tries out new voices and styles he hasn’t used before, such as the deranged sounding heavy vocals in the middle of ‘Winslow.’ There are guitar styles a past fan wouldn’t expect. Things that only came up once on a previous album are given more time.

The rhythms are more disjointed and jarring. There’s even more playing in uncommon time signatures and switching between tempos; opener ‘The Great Rain Beatle’ is particularly jagged, its unhinged and yet hypnotic like some psychedelic nightmare and makes Mars Volta comparisons more understandable… its like the most jagged parts of ‘Scissorlips’ made into an entire song. So too is the jazzier single ‘Landmines’ in its heavier sections. Although that being said, towards the end from the guitar solo onwards that kicks into some beautiful, straightforward head-banging energy.

There are also more hints of classic ‘70s Progressive Rock here than there have been on previous albums, to the point where (deep and hidden) you get feelings of almost Tales Of Topographic Oceans era Yes sounds at some stages (such as the middle of ‘Dark Charade’), and the intro to ‘Salutations’ reminds me a little of Pink Floyd’s ‘Hey You’ and ‘Don’t Leave Me Now’ updated through some Radiohead and Deftones filters. There’s also five-second bursts of King Crimson influence all over the place in spidery Fripp-esque guitar runs crammed in there every now and again by the underrated Dave Gillet. None of it is overt though, its subtle, bubbling under the surface. Hints.

Its difficult to pick album highlights in such a well-crafted, concise and consistent body of work; ‘Dark Charade’ for example has THAT riff, and afterwards kicks off into an exciting build-up that feels like the sequel to ‘Downhill’ off of the previous record and ‘Dead Rope Machine’ is just so unique, its like every song has its own identity and something completely singular to offer. Gun-to-my-head I’d have to recommend that you check out ‘Winslow’ (which people who followed the whole Ghost Apparatus period might recognize) and ‘Just A Ride’ as your tester-songs to see whether or not you’d like the album. Jesse’s drums on those two are particularly excellent. ‘Just A Ride’ is the absolute perfect ending to this roller-coaster of an album and features the defining lyrics of this whole saga. That said, the whole thing works so well as a single journey that I almost feel bad picking favourites.

There are some things you can always count on Rishloo for; Firstly – interesting, poetic, provocative, intriguing lyrics. Secondly – powerful, emotional, evocative vocal performances. There’s also always interesting, spiraling, unexpected music that will defy initial expectations but feel ‘right’ once you’re used to it. Furthermore you can count on a certain arty air of mystique and most of all, quality songwriting depth that means you never get sick of the tracks, they just get better and better with each listen. Considering all these aspects, this new album is no exception to the rule, no misstep and no weak one in the set. This album has it all; whimsy, brooding, passion, intensity, subtlety, power, aggression, chilled out moments, virtuosic moments and scaled-back serve-the-song-not-the-player moments. Its got a strong sense of diversity yet feels like one cohesive whole throughout and a single journey (or ‘ride’) from start to glorious finish.

If you are a fan of the band then you unquestionably need this satisfying grower of an album. That may be a bit of a redundant sentiment but it’s the absolute truth; I know that if you are an existing fan of the band then you probably crowd funded The Ghost Apparatus or pre-ordered the record already and got rewarded with early access downloads, so recommending it to you seems like preaching to the choir… but if you haven’t checked out the band yet, or were waiting for the reviews then by all means please do give this a chance. This album is just as good as their previous work and if you give it enough spins to reveal its subtleties and hidden depths you will be greatly rewarded.

Oh, and if you enjoy it make sure to go back and check out the rest of their records too!

*** Side note: If you are a regular reader of this blog and generally agree with most of my taste in music, or like any of the comparison-bands, you can consider checking out this band as a personal favour to me. That’s how much I recommend them! ***

Trivium - Vengeance Falls

Trivium – Vengeance Falls

Vengeance Falls is the Florida Heavy Metal band Trivium’s sixth full-length studio album (fifth since their breakthrough). It was released in 2013 on Roadrunner Records and was produced by Disturbed’s David Draiman. Furthermore; it was drummer Nick Augusto’s second and final album with the band.

Musically, the album is very much a continuation of the previous album In Waves. It seems as though the band have settled upon a sound that is “them” and its pretty good. They don’t have the momentum that they had when Ascendency was breaking anymore, but they’ve cemented their place as a solid and respectable, hard-working Metal band. Similarly; this album isn’t their most exciting record ever but is an absolutely solid and welcome addition to the discography. It doesn’t have anything particularly special about it in a sound-bite kind of way…its not “their most commercial” or “their heaviest” or “their most progressive” album – its another well-crafted, well-played, respectable but not world-shattering selection of Trivium material just like In Waves was.

There are some highlights; such as the fantastic “Incineration: The Broken World” and the catchy ”To Believe” which are worth noting, but otherwise its an album that is best consumed in a single sitting as a whole. There are great solos, crushing breakdowns, fun melodies and a mixture of everything the band tried on their varied first four albums all meshed into one whole.

Overall; Vengeance falls is a decent and totally respectable album from these guys. If you are a Trivium fan, buy it and enjoy more of that same great sound you already love. If you are on the fence, maybe start somewhere else first and pick it up when you’re already on board.

Manowar - Sign Of The Hammer

Manowar – Sign Of The Hammer

In 1984, just two years after their debut, the legendary US Heavy Metal band Manowar released their fourth full-length studio album, Sign Of The Hammer. This was no rushed affair, just the shining output of a prolific and incendiary band hungry for success.

The album opens with the absolutely brilliant “All Men Play On Ten” which is like some kind of Heavy Metal mixture between Kiss’ “I Love It Loud” and Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Working For MCA” with its storytelling approach and behind-the-scenes setting, coupled with the love of high amplifier volumes. Musically, a bit of a slow groover, with lots of neat guitar work and a chorus designed for singing along to.

The rest of the album, with the exception of the brief guitar solo “Thunderpick,” is all pounding, exciting, varied and interestingly structured classic Heavy Metal.

Tracks like the catchy “Animals” and the thunderous Title Track, alongside the Speed Metal of “The Oath” and the absolutely superb album-highlight “Thor (The Powerhead)” are some of the most consistent and enjoyable tracks you could hope for. The band sound so right, but so unique. There’s no messing about, no filler, not even any ballads this time either. Instead the diversity comes from within the tracks themselves, with tunes like “Mountains” containing enough exploration and deviation from the norm to stop it all feeling samey.

If you look at the back of the record and see the title “Guyana – Cult Of The Damned” you’d be forgiven for thinking this was also a track about Greek Mythology… “Who is Guyana? She must be the goddess of cults or something” but it turns out that the track is about the Jonestown mass suicide where over 900 people died – “Thanks for the Cool Aid, Reverend Jim” – and then you remember where Guyana is. The track itself is an interesting, theatrical, seven-minute mini-epic that tastefully explores a lot of ground and is a fitting closer to the well-crafted album. All the choral sounding backing vocals and the “grand” sound of the production really makes it feel like something important.

Overall, Sign Of The Hammer is a concise, interesting and entertaining album from Manowar that is both surprisingly tasteful and still good honest fun. It may not feature any half-naked barbarians on the cover but it should be in every Manowar fan’s collection without exception.