220px-Intermission_(Stratovarius_album)_coverIntermission is a mish-mash compilation album by the Finnish Power Metal band Stratovarius from 2001. It was released as a stopgap between their commercially successful Infinite album from 2000 and their ambitious and slightly Prog Metal double album series Elements Parts 1 & 2 from 2003.

Its got linear notes from the band about the release and a very well designed cover art referencing previous albums (kind of like Pink Floyd’s Echos compilation does).

The album opens up with four brand new songs, first of which is the slightly power ballad style ‘Will My Soul Ever Rest In Peace?’ Its nice solid melodic Hard Rock stuff. Next comes ‘Falling Into Fantasy’ which starts off with a shimmering Empire-era Queensryche style vibe. Think ‘Della Brown.’ It sounds like the sort of stuff the band were doing on the popular Destiny album. Speaking of Queensryche the chorus is quite reminiscent of ‘Jet City Woman’ too actually. The song livens up further with a nice energetic guitar solo and a fun drum pattern underneath with a very nice tom fill at the end of the solo. At the start you thought it was just another ballad (Statovarius do a lot of ’em) but really it turned out to be one of the best songs they do in this particular direction, if a little derivative of Degarmo and company (for me that’s a good thing really).

That’s followed up by the traditionally power metal track ‘The Curtains Are Falling,’ a speedy double-kicks-a-flailin’ headbanger with a catchy chorus and memorable neoclassical keyboards. Its got a lot of energy and probably would have been the smarter choice to open the album with, I think. Probably would’ve worked better going from most to least energetic, but hey, its sequenced how its sequenced folks, I don’t make the rules.

Finally there’s a track called ‘Requiem’ which is essentially just a typical instrumental intro or outro. The sort thing most people will skip after the first few listens. A slow, keyboard driven atmospheric build up with no Heavy Metal payoff.

That’s it for the brand new specially written for this songs. The rest are gathered from mixed sources during their classic period. There’s two demos ‘Neon Light Child’ and ‘Freedom’ both of which are OK but forgettable (just the same as the final versions but with less polished production really). Then two live tracks, ‘Hunting High & Low’ (their very fun hit single) and ‘I Surrender’ (which is actually a Rainbow cover, and very fun, if a bit out of place), which are nice but kind of pointless on a compilation as opposed to a proper full-length live album. There’s two studio cover songs; ‘Bloodstone’ originally by Judas Priest (which they nail) and ‘Kill The King’ originally by Rainbow again (which has been done better by other bands, but its decent if you aren’t over-familiar with it).

The majority of the rest is all the bonus tracks from deluxe editions of the last few albums etc. ‘Keep The Flame’ is a very somber and emotional piano ballad. ‘Dream With Me’ is a power ballad that gets very jaunty towards the end when the solo kicks in. Then there’s another power ballad called ‘What Can I Say?’ which is slightly similar to track one, but with a bit more bite to it. OK yes, sensing a theme here? There are a lot of ballads on here. Its not all ballads though…

‘Its A Mystery’ is a very strong more commercial Power Metal tune in the vein of ‘Hunting High & Low’ which sounds like it would’ve fit perfectly on Infinite and probably would’ve made a great single if they’d released it that way. Its one of the best songs on this compilation. ‘Why Are We Here?’ the bonus track from Infinite is similarly just another really strong track from them in their commercial direction, and also baffling that it wasn’t a big single either. ‘Cold Winter Nights’ is typical perfect up-tempo Stratovarius, with that sort of Judas Priest’s Electric Eye vibe only with more keyboards and melody. Its also one of the best songs here and a nice surprise if it wasn’t on your version of Destiny already. ‘When The Night Turns To Day’ is a stomping mid pace track with a whiff of Queensryche’s Empire about it, just like the new track mentioned above. It would also have fit best on Destiny (even though it was initially from as far back as Episode, if you can believe that).

As you can imagine, Intermission is just a jumble of odds and ends with no particular theme or flow or consistency. Its not a must-have release or anything. Hey, if you like ’em doing ballads and covers you’re quids-in. If you want ’em doing more of a Speed Metal thing there’s not so much of that on here though, so maybe don’t start here if you are new, pick up one of the records in their glory run from Episode to Elements Part 2 instead.

If you like the band already though, and just want a cheap, easy and quick way to get the bonus tracks and b-sides in one place then this is great for that purpose, and hey there’s four solid new songs too to flesh it out. Nothing life changing, but worth a look if you’ve ran out of other Stratovarius products to check out from this era.

1000x1000.jpgI initially got into Prong through a boxset, which I listened to a little too much all at once on shuffle. It seems shuffle was my enemy at the time, because just as it initially only played me the few super commercial Saxon songs that were the least like I wanted. Well, with Prong it only seemed to play me the slower weirder more experimental tracks with that sort of My War era Black Flag influence that just isn’t to my taste. Stuff like ‘Contradictions’ and ‘Sublime.’ For a while I always felt disappointed by Prong as they didn’t sync up with my own personal tastes.

A good five years later after I really sort of wrote Prong off as being not-for-me altogether, I caught them live supporting Exodus and Obituary and discovered that they were actually phenomenal; they had some really raging Thrash Metal tunes, some incredible Groove Metal tunes and their singer Tommy Victor is almost as cool a frontman as Rob Flynn.

Re-stoked on Prong I’ve been going back to those boxset albums over and over (and not on shuffle this time!) and then started branching out to more into the rest of their discography. One of the absolute best of which is Carved Into Stone. It was released in 2012 by Steve Evetts (Dillinger Escape Plan, Sepultura, Sick Of It All) on SPV records, and features the bass talents of Tony Campos (Fear Factory, Ministry, Soulfly etc.)

Prong are a really interesting band. They cover a lot of different ground. Early in their career they were a Hardcore Punk band, after that they crossed over into more Thrash teritory. Then they released some seminal Groove Metal albums before going into a much more Industrial direction with some slight Nu Metal overtones. Then they broke up and came back, and went in a few more slight alterations of combinations of all of these styles over their next few albums. Some are more raw, some are more polished, some lean more heavily in one direction, some lean more heavily in another.

The music here, on Carved Into Stone, is terrific. The album opens with two faster ragers, drops into a punkier number and evens out with a mid-paced groover in the spirit of Black Label Society (only with an alternative rock style chorus). This little run is really a mixture of all the different eras of their career. There’s a few moments of industrial flavours here and there. There’s plenty of Pantera, early Machine Head and ’90s Sepultura sounding stuff. There’s tiny little pieces of Fear Factory on the odd occasion. There’s straight up Thrash used sparingly, and moments of punk. It all mashes together smoothly and perfectly both within the songs themselves, and along the album as a whole. It flows really well and all the parts gel together within individual songs.

If you are a new Prong fan, the common consensus is that you should start with their classic 1994 album Cleansing. In my opinion the next place you should go after that is here, Carved Into Stone. I was about to list highlights, but really the aforementioned first five tracks are all absolute must-hears. They show off different parts of the Prong sound. If you wonder if this album is for you then check out any but preferably all of those. ‘Eternal Heat,’ ‘Ammunition’ and ‘Carved Into Stone’ in particular are like three different bands and no one on their own showcases the band fully, yet all of them are absolutely brilliant examples of what Prong do (in part) and really good tunes in and of themselves.

Overall; if you like bands like Fear Factory, Pantera, Machine Head, Pissing Razors or ’90s Sepultura you may seriously want to check out Prong. If you check out Prong you may seriously want to check out Carved Into Stone. It is a very well mixed combination of a few different styles within their arsenal, but what tips it over the edge is the brilliant performances, punchy production, level of consistency and better than usual songs from the band.

 

Top 50 Most-Listened To Albums:Screenshot 2017-10-31 20.25.50Screenshot 2017-10-31 20.26.03Screenshot 2017-10-31 20.26.14 (2)Screenshot 2017-10-31 20.26.27

 

 

Top 50 Most-Listened To Bands:

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220px-ExodusBloodInBloodOut (1)Exodus have had a lot of line-up changes over the years. Not as many as say Cradle Of Filth or Annihilator but certainly not as stable as the likes of Rush or Clutch. They’ve had three lead singers on record; firstly Paul Baloff on their immortal debut album Bonded By Blood, who was replaced by former Legacy (the band who would go on to be Testament) vocalist Steve ‘Zetro’ Souza. Zetro saw them through the rest of the ’80s and early nineties (on, in my opinion, their most important and seminal work and some of the best Thrash Metal by any band at all). He himself was then replaced by Baloff again in the late ’90s until Baloff passed away.

The band got back together with Zetro and released one of the best albums of their (or anyone’s) career in 2004’s Tempo Of The Damned. (Incidentally; If you don’t love ‘War Is My Sheppard’ then I just don’t know what to do with you). Then, just a year later Zetro was out and replaced by the then little-known Rob Dukes, who we were all very skeptical about but who fit the band monstrously well and eventually won a lot of people over, during the course of his tenure, lasting three studio albums, a live album and a remake compilation of Bonded By Blood. After two singers zig-zagging there was finally vocal stability and the modernized band was the going concern that would see them through to retirement.

[Before the angry comments flow in I know I mentioned line up changes and then just discussed the singers. It wasn’t only the singers. Guitarists have changed, bassists have changed. Drummer Tom Hunting has left and returned a few times (although that’s more understandable as he has a health condition). But for the last few years things had been nice and stable within the group more or less.]

Where was I? Yes… to see them through to retirement. ….Aaaaaaaaand then Dukes was out and Zetro was back again. What the hell? Do you know how hard it is to get fans to accept a third singer!? And to do so this late into their career. Imagine if Blaze Bailey actually won over Maiden fans. Do you know how rare that is? And then they go start over again. I didn’t buy this album for a full two years after I wanted it just out of sheer mourning for Dukes.

Oh well, at least it wasn’t a new singer again. As much as I love Dukes’ vocals on that run of albums its hard to deny that Zetro is an absolute legend and the definitive voice of Exodus for me. He’s who I’d want to see live and my dream setlist by the band is 80% Zetro era songs. It just makes sense. In fact, it took me catching the band live to get over the shock and realize things weren’t just reunion for reunions sake. Yes it is mentally untidy that their current singer is on their was their singer, then not, then he was again, then he wasn’t again and then he was again, and that his time in the band was ’86-94 and then not until ’02 and out again in ’04 and then not on the superb trilogy of albums between then and 2014.  Its untidy, but that’s Steve fucking Souza! That’s the guy who sang ‘Accelerating faster, devastating plaster, fabulous disaster.’ How can you deny him?

Anyway. That’s all a very long-winded bit of background to Exodus’ tenth studio album, 2014’s Blood In, Blood Out. The name presumably a cheeky wink to their history with line-up changes. The only reason to even mention all this background is that it sits there swirling away in your mind as you listen to this album. Can it live up to the monster of Tempo Of The Damned? Can it live up to their ’80s glory period? How will it affect their absolute top run of form on those previous Rob Dukes albums, are they just going to throw away all that good work?

Well the good news for all of us is that this album absolutely kills. After a strange industrial intro courtesy of guest star Dan The Automator (which if you didn’t know about beforehand would make you fearful Exodus have taken a funny turn and decided this album is going to go a bit Static X) the band burst into an absolutely ferocious and concise hour of blistering, up tempo Bay Area Thrash.

The songs are very catchy and memorable without letting up on the intensity. Its very restless, aggressive and pounding. Yet somehow there are tonnes of hooks to grab on to. The chanting gang vocals on some songs are undeniable. On some songs the razor sharp guitar solos get stuck in your head. Some songs have that one riff that is just irresistible and breaks a huge smile across your face. I mean just listen to the chorus to ‘Collateral Damage.’ You aint forgetting that any time soon! Hell; listen to its guitar solo. That’s not just any other guitar solo, its really rather unique. And that’s just one song. I can’t emphasize this enough: each and every one of the songs on the album, all of them, are catchy and memorable. There’s nothing that needs removing from the album. Nothing that should’ve been trimmed to make it more punchy.

The songs are generally less long and feature less repetition than on the previous few albums, and what is left is really just all the best parts. It may be less ambitious and less adventurous but it makes up for it in snarling, barking, high speed uuumph. It really is the pure essence of Thrash Metal writ large in modern production, triumphantly performed by absolutely bad asses who have only gotten better with age.

An interesting point here is the guest appearance from Metallica’s Kirk Hammet who we all remember was in Exodus before he joined Metallica (Tempo Of The Damed featured a song he’d written on). Kirk adds some guest guitar to ‘Salt The Wound.’ Its a nice touch. Speaking of guest appearances, Testament’s Chuck Billy also comes in and does guest vocals on ‘BTK’ and the title track. He is always a great guest. I loved it when he showed up on Forbidden’s reunion album Omega Wave and I love him showing up here (just as Zetro guested on Testament’s First Strike Still Deadly). I love the whole Bay Area Thrash camaraderie thing.

Side note: Does anyone else remember that fun, weird, N64 game ‘Body Harvest’ ? I can’t forget it now. Exodus have a song by that name here and now all I can think of is giant blocky praying mantis-looking aliens. Every time I spin this album all I can think of is those aliens, Chuck Billy’s smile, and how weird it is that Rob Dukes is out of the band and yet they totally make their discography make sense with this album. Oh, and while we’re at it; Best guitar solo on the album? Body Harvest!

After a brilliantly strong opening, the guest appearances, the great stomping ‘Body Harvest’ and its great solo and ‘BTK’ and all that stuff, you’d think the album may start to lag towards the end. That is a remarkably good first half, and by anyone’s standards they could dump a bunch of filler at the end and most people would still go away thinking it was a great record. Well, that is exactly what they do not do. The second half arguably mirrors the first for quality, for ferocity, for catchiness and for interesting memorable moments: ‘Wrapped In The Arms Of Rage,’ ‘Honor Killings,’ ‘Food For The Worms’ …these are all raging tunes.

Overall; despite line up drama, this is an absolutely ripping album from the Bay Area legends, and people like me were wrong to doubt them. The band are arguably in much better shape than three quarters of the rest of ’80s Thrash bands are at the minute, arguably stronger than ninety percent of new Thrash revival bands, and this album is arguably in the top half in not top quarter of their entire discography (and those are damn big words, but I genuinely mean it). If like me you are skeptical of yet further line up changes or just plain sad to see Rob go, don’t hesitate like I did. Blood goes in, Blood goes out, but Exodus are always bloody brilliant.

Theater_of_salvation.jpgAsk me what either the best or my favourite album by Edguy is and nine times out of ten I’ll tell you its Theater Of Salvation (the other one time its the 2000 remake version of The Savage Poetry). Ask me what my favourite Edguy song is and one hundred out of one hundred times I’ll tell you its ‘Babylon.’ Heck, I’ll probably tell you that uninvited most days because I’m just that enthusiastic about it.

Something magical was in the air in 1999 when the German Power Metal band burst out of Rhoen Studios in their homeland of Fulda. Their first two albums showed potential. Vain Glory Opera saw them truly find themselves. Then they absolutely cemented their legacy with this magnificent release. Talk about knocking it out of the park. It was their first record with the famous rhythm section of Tobias Exxel and Felix Bohnke on bass and drums respectively, who’ve been there ever since.

The album begins strongly with the aforementioned ‘Babylon’ and ends on a high with the 12-minute diverse mini-epic Title Track. There’s some nice speedy heavy Power Metal tunes in ‘Arrows Fly,’ ‘The Headless Game’ and the excellent ‘Falling Down’ (another of the must-hear tracks here). There’s some slower quieter moments too with ballad ‘Another Time’ and power ballad ‘Land Of The Miracle.’ If you only like Power Metal at its most pounding and chest beating, these two might be a bit wet for your tastes, but they add variety.

As you can see from a lot of those titles, there’s a sort of religious theme going on here. It doesn’t just show up lyrically but also in the keyboards and vocals a lot. You know how ‘Suite Sister Mary’ by Queensryche has a sort of religious sound to it? That sort of thing, but if that was dark, this is very very bright and colourful and shiny. You may think, “well how the heck does that fit into Power Metal? I can’t imagine a mixture between the background music in The Borgias and the galloping of Iron Maiden” but I assure you it gels really well with these particualr songs and how the band have constructed them.

Speaking of vocals, these would have to be in the running for a career best from mainman Tobias Sammet. Its a very different style to whats used in their later more hard rock albums like Rocket Ride and Tinnitus Sanctus, and slightly less adventourous than his work in his other project Avantasia, but it is really one of the finest recorded examples of the pinnacle of him/the band doing this style of music.

There are other Edguy albums that show off raw charm, that show off adventure, or that go down fun and silly routes. If you want them at their absolute perfect core, with their absolute best set of brilliantly made and catchy, memorable and musically impressive songs, then go for Theater Of Salvation every time. This album for me is up there in the pantheon of absolute Power Metal greats. When I’m thinking of Keeper Of The Seven Keys, Nightfall In Middle Earth, Land Of The Free, Glory To The Brave and their likes, I’m definitely thinking of Theater Of Salvation too.

gusano).jpg***This review is regarding the single disc, UK Blu-Ray version only. Which contains the full uninterrupted concert only, with no special features or documentary footage.***

Now, you might be thinking ‘I’ve already got three Slipknot videos with concert footage on them’ if you already own Disasterpeices live in London from the Iowa touring cycle, (Sic)nesses live at Download festival 2009 on their first headline performance there during the All Hope Is Gone touring cycle, and the 2nd disc of the documentary release Voliminal Inside The Nine which had a smattering of live tracks from different dates and locations during the Vol. 3 touring cycle.

So what has Day Of The Gusano got to separate it from the others and make it worth buying as well? Well; first off, it is their first official concert video with the new rhythm section of Jay and Alex on drums and bass. Its their first ever show in Mexico City and the fans are energetic and grateful. Its their first video of a Knotfest performance and features all the associated spectacle and backdrops. It has songs from the .5 The Gray Chapter album, which obviously none of the previous videos will have had.

Comparing it to their other DVDs, there are 11 songs here that aren’t on Disaterpieces, including the rarely played ‘Metabolic’ off of Iowa, and ‘Me Inside’ & ‘Prosthetics’ off of the debut. There are 6 songs here that aren’t on (Sic)nesses at Download ’09. Compared to Voliminal‘s concert section, well, its a full length concert in a single location not just 9 random tracks from various locations, and none of it is in black & white.

So, onto ‘Gusano itself. (If you didn’t know already or bother to google that, its Spanish for ‘Maggots’ by the way, which makes sense, since y’know, they call their fans ‘Maggots’ and its filmed in Mexico). The audio visual quality of the release is really high. The picture quality, camera work, variety of shots, editing and general watching experience of the concert are the best that Slipknot have had to date. It is beautiful to look at, and there’s nothing distracting or interrupting about the editing. The performance visually has lots of pyro and fireworks and big backdrops and set pieces, fancy lighting. There’s  generally lots going on up there on stage… its big and flashy and never boring.

The mix and production are very good. The only niggle is that Corey’s vocals are a bit lower in the mix than any previous live efforts from the band, but that’s real nitpicking. Otherwise, the instruments are really clear and well balanced, you can make the kick drum out clearly in all situations, and its even easier to hear Craig and Sid’s stuff than usual too which helps you notice them a bit better. If there’s a key riff or drum fill or whatever its given priority and generally its all beefy, heavy and just plain well put together.

The band themselves’ performance will always make or break a concert though. All the audio visual quality in the world, with the most expensive fireworks and lighting can’t hide a crappy performance. Slipknot have been through different phases in that regard. Old bootlegs off of the first album cycle show them as a sort of messy raw jumble. On Iowa they were a tight well-oiled million dollar perfect live-band (I remember seeing them live in Belfast on that cycle and its still one of my favourite ever concert experiences all these years later). On Volume 3 they flipped between the two but generally they were let down by Corey’s vocals (both times I saw them on that cycle and indeed both their 9.0 Live album and Voliminal DVD from that cycle all suffered from Corey’s vocals not being as great as usual). On All Hope‘ however, they came back blazing and were incredible and put in career defining performances and Corey sounded like one of the world’s greatest ever frontmen.

Luckily, here, the band are really on top form. This is a fiery, energetic, fun performance that everybody seems into. There are no complaints about the new line up and they do a great job of trying to fill some pretty massive, childhood-defining, shoes. (Heck, Jay arguably plays ‘Vermilion’ better live here than on any of the other three officially released versions of it). The veteran members are all super practiced, tight and precise. Corey is really strong here, arguably the second-best that he’s ever been on an official release next to Download ’09. (There are some minor questions about that on ‘Sarcastrophe’ and ‘Prosthetics’ maybe, which are a bit sketchy perhaps, but for the majority of it he really, really nails it). Its also nice to see him making an effort to speak Spanish which he does rather a lot and appears really humble and grateful.

The one bit where all Slipknot concerts drag is during ‘Spit It Out’ when the band get all the audience to squat down so they can all jump (the fuck) up at the same key moment. The actual process of cajoling them all to squat down can be a bit boring to watch or listen to if you aren’t actually there yourself sometimes, but luckily here it really doesn’t drag on too long and they payoff is great; the image of the gigantic Mexican crowd all bouncing in unison is really rather impressive.

So just to go through the list: It looks great. It sounds great. The band play great. The setlist is different enough from previous live releases to be worth it. That setlist itself is also pretty great, doing a good job of pleasing fans with the songs they’d expect to hear (Old fans could never see a set without ‘(sic)’ or ‘Surfacing’ and newer fans would never accept a set without ‘Duality’ and ‘Psychosocial’ for example) with pleasing them by spicing things up a bit and not just repeating themselves every time. On a personal note as well, its just so damn nice that they played ‘Metabolic’ live. I’ve been banging on for years about it and how its my favourite Slipknot song and they’ve finally put it out on something. I’m very pleased about that. Underrated song!

Anyway, that’s just personal preference. Everyone has their pros and cons to any setlist by any band. I’m sure some people are gutted ‘Sulfur’ and ‘Left Behind’ are missing considering they were big singles. I myself am kind of surprised ‘Skeptic’ is missing. With its catchy-ass chorus its absolutely built for big audience sing-alongs. I’d have thought that would be in every live set ever following Paul’s death, but I guess maybe its too personal for them lyrically or something like that.

Overall; this is a damn fine release from the band and not one to miss out on. Not even if you’ve already got a lot of live material by them already, as discussed at the beginning. Its probably their best video album on purely video terms, and its really worthy of inclusion in your collection in the other aspects like tracklisting and performance. If you are desperate to see the documentary, don’t get this version, but if you, like me, only really want the concert then this is the perfect version (at the lowest price).

Accept – The Rise Of Chaos review

Posted: October 27, 2017 by kingcrimsonprog in Metal, Metal - Studio, Music Reviews
Tags: , ,

220px-Accepttheriseofchaoscdcover2017 saw the legendary German Heavy Metal band Accept releasing their fifteenth studio album. It is their fourth album with former TT-Quick vocalist Mark Tornillo handling the vocals and as with all the albums of this era it features the slick polished production style of Andy Sneap and has been released on Nuclear Blast records.

It is noteworthy in that it has a significant line-up change following the departure of Herman Frank and Stefan Scharzmann, who had both been consistently in the band since 2005. They’ve been replaced by former Grave Digger/Rebellion guitarist Uwe Lulis, and War Within’s Christopher Williams joining in to the anchoring presence of Baltes and Hoffmann.

The music on the album is very much of the same formula that the band found renewed success with on their excellent previous three albums. With the same vocal styles and production job as the last three albums and roughly the same musical direction there are a lot of similarities with those previous three records and so, if you like those and want more of the same then this is a highly recommended album.

If you want some diversity, new ideas, or progression then this album isn’t for you. If you didn’t like the previous ones due to the production or vocals, this isn’t for you. Luckily for me, I am an absolute blind fanboy to the Tornillo era of Accept, and simply can’t get enough. I really enjoyed the recent Restless & Live concert release from this current line-up too.

One thing I would mention is that it is slightly safer and less energetic in terms of performance. I wouldn’t use the phrase ‘firing-on-all-cylinders’ or ‘firecracker’ anymore, although the difference is so slight it will only come up if you are sat directly looking for criticism. This is seriously top quality stuff, don’t be fooled into thinking otherwise.

Album highlights include the firey opener ‘Die By The Sword,’ the nostalgia fueled ‘Analogue Man’ and the uplifting ‘Weight Of The World. ‘ To be fair its all solid, with absolutely no filler.

Overall; The Rise Of Chaos is more of the same from Accept and a very good installment of that. Unless you don’t like them recently as it is, or are actively looking for faults this is a rock solid and very entertaining addition to their catalogue and you’d be mad to miss it.