Posts Tagged ‘Metal’

emperor_of_sand_coverAtlanta Prog Metal legends Mastodon return in 2017 with their seventh proper full-length studio album, Emperor Of Sand. Speaking of returns; frequent collaborator Scott Kelly returns for yet another guest vocal performance and producer Brendan O’Brian returns as well, having last done their fourth album, the 2009 masterpiece, Crack The Skye. Also returning is the concept-album format. Leviathan, Blood Mountain and Crack The Skye had all been story-driven concept albums that also served as a metaphor for the band’s lives and Emperor Of Sand continues that tradition after a break into more traditional territories with The Hunter and Once More Round The Sun.

The concept on this record is of a man being handed down a curse/death sentence and wandering the sands of the desert to his ultimate death and or salvation. The band haven’t been shy in interviews of describing the fact that story serves as a metaphor for cancer and especially guitarist Bill Kelliher’s mother’s death from brain cancer. There’s even a dedication to her cleverly hidden in the artwork on one of the creature’s shields.

When you get told that information before hand, you immediately analyze the lyrics for clues. Is this about a biopsy? Is this about a scan? Does this represent the prognosis? Is this about the stages of grief? Does this represent the loss of cognitive function associated with illnesses of the brain? Is this line about a donation? Is this one about a family dispute? Does this character represent the doctor? Does this one represent cancer itself? …We do know for sure from the documentary that sand represents time. Sometimes it isn’t even so hidden at all; the album ends with the line ‘Its right in front of me, your malignancy.’ It all gives the album such a layer of depth, not unlike Crack The Skye had with Brann’s family tragedy. It feels a bit distasteful going into it so much, but then again if they didn’t want us to it wouldn’t have been released and promoted in such a way as to make it so possible.

Background aside, the main thing that sticks out about this album is the lead guitar. Now, Mastadon have always been musical virtuosos, innovators and masters of distilling broad and extreme influences into a cohesive singular whole, but still, even when we get used to excellence from the musicians, the guitars here are especially strong. There are some really stand up and take notice leads, some very crack a smile solos and some screw up your face and nod riffs on here.

It really is a guitar-centric record. Even with the story, Brann’s superhero drumming, all the bonus keyboards and studio touches, and the team approach to vocals… man those guitarists sure are on damn fine form here.

In terms of direction; this one seems to be an attempt to merge the Crack The Skye formula into the most mainstream moments of the most recent two albums. The first half of the album is all more sing-along, catchy, easily accessible stuff, and the second half drops down the prog. Tracks like ‘Show Yourself’ and ‘Precious Stones’ have radio appeal, then tracks like the magnificent album closer ‘Jaguar God’ are a trippy journey through a dozen speeds, tones and moods with bonkers Robert Fripp-esque guitar noodling meeting metal meeting acoustic meeting big beautiful wailing solos. The middle of ‘Clandestiny’ sounds like it could be on a Yes or Genesis record, something they’ve always talked about but I’ve never heard so litterally before.

With Emperor Of Sand it feels like they’ve taken all the lessons they’ve learned with big vocal melodys, hit appeal and targeting a wider audience, and applied it to the slow-burn, grower, hear something new on every listen nature of Crack The Skye. It doesn’t sound anything like that record, but the second half has the same spirit, ethos or vibe as it did. Its all about the repeat listens, the new discoveries, the changing attitudes. I mean, it doesn’t sound like my favourite album, Leviathan, and that is always an adjustment, but when you get over it, like you do every new release you realize that the band can still be amazing even when they are doing a different style.

On first listen, I wasn’t keen on this album, the next time I wasn’t sure, I felt a bit negatively about this but I was sure one more listen would prove whether there was something good going on here and then from there it built and built for me until I was a bit positive to satisfied and now I’m very impressed. Its got big ideas, its got big ambitions, and its undeniably Mastodon. Some of these songs feel one way, then they hit the halfway mark and morph into something else. There’s all these neat subtle touches in the background (listen in depth to ‘Steam Breather’). There’s such badass little drum parts (hey there, Ancient Kingdom’s midsection!). There’s such sticky vocal parts. From all the singers. They’re working together even better than before, blending better. Its a team approach to vocals and it works really well. Then you get all the different takes on the album. Sit there with the lyric book in an empty room and the album feels one way, listen to it on a sunny walk and its very different again. Listen concentrating on one instrument and it feels like a different record than concentrating on another, or the vocals.

For me; my favourite tracks would have to be ‘Roots Remain,’ especially towards its end which has a Cysquatch feel to it, as well as aforementioned album highlight ‘Jaguar God’ and the most Remission-like track ‘Andromeda’ with its jagged caustic riffs and awesome guest vocals from Brutal Truth’s Kevin Sharp… but hey, if the weather improves I can see it being the singles ‘Show Yourself’ and ‘Sultans Curse.’ Pretty great for an album I initially had a negative impression of, ey?

A grower. An exceeder of expectations. A Mastodon album.

220px-anthraxforallkingsAfter a brief cinematic-sounding instrumental intro, the East Coast Thrash Metal legends Anthrax’s eleventh full-length studio album kicks into gear with the stompy upper-midpaced ‘You Gotta Believe’ calling to mind the longer tracks on their Persistence Of Time and State Of Euphoria albums; the clicky drum production serves to balance the modern with the classic, the repetitive but not hypnotic song structure harkens back to State Of Euphoria even further, but when the lead guitar kicks in it is apparent that Dan Spitz and his unique and singular style are nowhere to be seen, nor can we hear the warm feel of the excellent Rob Caggiano. New man and former Shadows Fall member Jon Donais has some big shoes to fill.

Joey Bellandona, back for the second studio album since rejoining the band, sounds a little more at home here than on 2011’s Worship Music, which makes sense since the songs weren’t written with someone else in mind first. He still tries a bit more of the Bush-aping choruses which were a weak point on Worship Music since the two very different vocalists had different strengths, but there’s a bit more umph to the verses this time. A bit more of a spitting delivery. A bit more bite. Ironically, on this one he sounds more like he has something to prove, incumbent though he may be.

So far so good. The end of the songs when a few more double kicks let fly and the guitars get a bit busier are always good. The guitar solos are always entertaining. The musicianship is great in general on all the instruments all the way through. The mix is good, and you can really separate the bass drum for the bass guitar or concentrate on whatever you chose, be that a ride cymbal or an individual guitarist’s part.

There’s a few pretty damn enjoyable songs worth pointing out too, such as the speedy politically-charged closer ‘Zero Tolerance’ as well as the aggressive ‘Defend/Avenge’ and the complex and entertaining album highlight ‘Blood Eagle Wings.’

Sounds like a good album to me. The only problem is that it lacks a wow factor. It’s a bit repetitive, a bit unadventurous, a bit ploddy and a bit dull. The song tempos could use a boost. There could be a bit more variety (especially in the vocal department, the choruses sort of blanket over the tracks and make them feel a bit too safe, too samey and too slow). The song lengths could do with a trim. Heck, some of the songs could do with being trimmed altogether… there’s value for money and there’s quality control. ‘Suzerain’ is a perfect example of the whole album, it has a great verse recalling the best parts of the likes of ‘What Doesn’t Die’ or ‘Discharge’ but then the chorus comes in and you just start planning your groceries, looking out the window at the fat guy with the interesting shirt or checking your phone messages. Not even on purpose. Its not like its even bad, its not like you want to lose interest, its just that musically and vocally For All Kings just isn’t special enough to keep your attention. Where’s the choruses like ‘Fueled’? Or ‘Metal Thrashing Mad’? Or ‘Lone Justice’? Where’s the drama of ‘This Is Not An Exit’ or ‘Indians’ ? Where’s the damn excitement?

Its one of those albums where no song is bad and there’s nothing actually even bad or objectionable on there, but overall its just not that great. I like the album, but I don’t love it. Much like the recent Slayer or Megadeth albums, you don’t initially want to compare them to the past, but they just don’t have the same spark and you can’t help but feel that no-matter how objective you would prefer to stay. Its more an album of ‘Ooo, that’s a cool drum part’ rather than ‘Ooo, that’s a cool song.’ Its more, ‘wow, this is slick’ than ‘wow, this is awesome.’ Its good, but its good in the wrong way. It doesn’t grab you. It doesn’t speak to you. I don’t hear too much on here I’d love to hear in concert. I don’t hear too much I want to run out and show my friends. I don’t hear too much to even discuss at all. It one of those classic 6/10 albums that you’ll have in your collection, but never actually love, you might even listen to it more than an actual great one to try and get something more out of it. Overall; It feels like Anthrax are on the right path, but they just haven’t gotten all the way to the desired destination.

Kingcrimsonprog’s Albums Of The Year 2015

Posted: December 21, 2015 by kingcrimsonprog in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

I’ve said it a lot this year, but its been a very good year for music to my tastes!

1. Parkway Drive – Ire

What an album! Crushing beatdowns, catchy fun memorable sing-alongs, twin guitar widdly joy, it’s a surprising and bold move from a band who already perfected their formula, but now seem somehow even better. I didn’t even fully expect it to be my AOTY but it just grew on me and grew on me and grew on me. Monumental!

Highlight moments: The music, vocal delivery and lyrics of the part ‘Tell me motherfucker how the hell do you sleep at night’ as well as ‘Now snap your neck to this’ and ‘…and we all go to heaven in a little row boat.’

2. Bring Me The Horizon – That’s The Spirit

Chocked full of catchy and memorable moments that I’ll remember for years, this album sees the band further distance themselves from the past but in an organic and logical way. This thing just sticks in your head. Its masterful.
Its surprising how well Ollie can sing nowadays. Also, I don’t care if they’re childish, the lyrics to ‘Throne’ are awesome.

Highlight moments: The whole of the songs ‘Doomed’ and ‘Throne.’

3. Clutch – Psychic Warfare

“Oh… I hope Clutch stay focused after Earth Rocker” I found myself thinking…. ‘av some of that Psychic Warfare replied as it slapped me in the chops with exactly what I wanted. Razor sharp, not a wasted second, just as good as always but never-been-tighter focused, Psychic Warfare is the right move at the right time and I hope it pays off for the band like the last one did.

Highlight moments: The music, vocal delivery and lyrics of the part ‘It goes against my catholic upbringing, I admit it…’

 

4. Fear Factory – Genexus

Their best, most exciting release in years. The very opposite of bland; Genexus just gets everything right and perfectly blends everything the band do, creating a real career highlight, possibly their second or third best ever!

Highlight moments: The first few seconds of ‘Soul Hacker’ smashing you in the face.

 

5. Tesseract – Polaris
I was always going to be harsh on this because I loved their previous singer Ashe O’Harra so much, and because Altered State is a genuine masterpiece and in my eyes one of the best albums of the last decade. Even with the weight of those unreasonable expectations Tesseract still managed to make an album this good. That’s talent!

Highlight moment: The chorus to ‘Hexes.’

 

6. Coheed & Cambria – The Color Before The Sun

Is it just me or is the guitar to the verse in ‘Island’ straight off of Permission To Land? What’s all that about? Anyway…dropping the sci-fi doesn’t seem to have harmed the band one bit… As usual, if Coheed release an album its one of the best albums anyone released that year.

Highlight moments: The music, vocal delivery and lyrics of the part ‘Where’s My Life-saver When I’m Screaming Danger’ and the drums to ‘The Audience’ as well as the lyric ‘And if there’s one good thing that comes from my away it’s that you won’t be anything like me, and so better for it you will be’ and the music to the intro of ‘You’ve Got Spirit, Kid.’

7. Queensryche – Condition Human

Was Toddryche’s debut a fluke? Was it fuck!

Highlight moment: ‘The Arrow Of Time’ in its entirety, the guitar solo In ‘Bulletproof’ and the ending to the title-track.

 

 

8. Baroness – Purple

Maybe not as earth-shattering and game changing as its predecessor Yellow&Green (and how could it be, reasonably?), but Baroness’ attempt to create a better version of Mastodon’s Once More Round The Sun is a damn strong album, those Lizzy-esque guitars make me weak at the knees!

Its maybe a bit unfairly placed seeing as how recent it was, so I’ve not listened to it anywhere near as much as the others on the list, but I was always disappointed that Mudvayne’s self titled album missed many AOTY lists due to its late-in-the-year release, so I won’t let that happen here.

Highlight moment: The entire song ‘If I Have To Wake Up (Would You Stop The Rain?)’ in every way.

 

9. Helloween – My God Given Right

Its arguably just another Helloween album… so in my eyes that means its an absolute gem! All Hail the pumpkins, as they say in Germany (I assume).

This makes up for their previous album missing out on my AOTY list when I got it too late.

Highlight moment: Deris’ vocal performance on ‘If God Loves Rock N Roll’

 


10. Periphery – Juggernaut Alpha

I still don’t feel like I’ve fully gotten into this album, plummed all its depths, or really had it click with me yet, but the fact that its still here shows you how good it is. I haven’t researched the concept behind it, or seen songs live and both of those things always make me like an album more so you definitely haven’t heard the last from me on this! This, this weird jazzy, proggy, deathy, emoey, unpredictable melting pot. What, me wearing a Periphery t-shirt to work regularly… never! (shifty eyes).

Highlight moments: The music and vocal delivery of the parts ‘As the water beats upon the window turn the sad song up on the radio” and “Fuck me I am dying for sleep!”

I couldn’t fit some interesting records like F5DP and Lamb Of God’s newest efforts (or Periphery’s other album from this year, two-album-releasing blaggards!), and I haven’t even heard some pretty important ones like Maiden, Saxon and Faith No More’s latest so its not maybe what the average listener’s Top 10 may be… but this is my blog and I’m me, so you didn’t come here to ask what I thought other people’s top 10 might be (presumably).

Also, I thought my number 1 would be Rishloo’s latest but they changed the official release date to its early pre-release date of December 2014 so it didn’t technically come out this year. I was torn over whether to include it anyway or not. So, I’ll retroactively name it my number 1 of last year, because …that sort of thing totally matters to anyone, obviously.

What surprised me was that The Libertines and The Fratellis both had new albums and neither made my Top 10. The Libertines are one of my favourite ever bands and I was an absolute obsessive at one point on all the forums and fansites listening to every single demo, scratch track and live bootleg ever, I’ve been a member of bands that cover their songs, I’ve had a poster of theirs on my wall for years (until this year when I finally moved into my I’m-an-adult apartment with my partner, as a matter of fact) but yeah, this new album didn’t make the top… guess the rest of the years releases were just too good. You’re ok, Anthems Of The Doomed Youth, but you aint no Psychic Warfare! …The Fratellis is trickier, as I think I’ve listened to it more than most of my Top 10, and I think really it might have a good claim to edge Periphery out but the choruses of its two best songs are soooo good they elevate the album as a whole crazily high. Still… ‘(Imposters) Little By Little’ is a song that I’ll never grow tired of. Such a difficult choice.

Top 10s of the year are just top 10s of new releases though….and I didn’t just spend the year listening to new releases…. My actual yearly top 10 would have Stairway To Fairyland, Shout At The Devil, Out Of The Cellar & Detonator, Smash, and several other non-2015 releases in it. I mean, I spent almost the entire spring and summer listening to Slipknot’s newest album almost every day on the way to work.

Hey but at least I’m not broke and can afford some new releases, last year I was so broke I only bought about four new releases and couldn’t make a top 10 list. Anyway, for further reading see my previous year end articles:

2014
2013
2012
2011

FIRST IMPRESSIONS, Volume 79: King Diamond – Abigail

Hello. Welcome. I’ll skip the preamble, you know it by now. Nerd. Not a real review. Classic album I’ve not heard before. Listening in real time. Sound familiar? Good. Lets roll… This entry finds me listening to Danish Metal icon King Diamond’s 1987 concept album Abigail for the first time.

[Side Note: Before we start, I noticed today that I had a huge spike in web traffic from Finland… any idea why? The only reason I could imagine is if a Stratovarius or Children Of Bodom article of mine got shared or something? …any ideas?]

Anyway; I don’t know that much about King Diamond. I’ve not heard a full song, only the segment in the movie Clerks 2.


– not exactly a good advertisement for the band, ey?

I also know he likes concept albums, the occult, has Kiss-esque make up, had Motorhead’s Mickey Dee as a drummer, and that he was in Mercyful Fate… who I have one album from (check out my First Impression of that here… the appropriately spooky 13th article in the series which was absolutely intentional…cough cough… shifty eyes…) and hey, isn’t it almost Halloween…sure, that’s why I did this article now…and not just because I saw a shiny boxset for a low price.

Anyway, I like ‘80s Metal, but King Diamond’s voice on that album was ludicrous and offputting on first impression (I got used to it more over time, and like the album about a medium amount now… but that’s mostly the music not the vocals) so this will be interesting… I have no idea if I can stick him in his solo career. I don’t find much interest in the occult, and you can’t hear make up, but I do like Mickey Dee and concept albums. This could go either way.

Lets find out…

[Play]

‘Funeral’ starts out with some spooky music somewhere between Cradle Of Filth and Doctor Who…with a silly voice modulated funeral prayer that sounds quite sci-fi and very artificial keyboard noises doing a film score in the background. Its an intro rather than a full song.

‘Arrival’ bounds on next though, with a sort of Rhime Of The Ancient Mariner swagger and a nice spacey clear production job. There’s some more very artificial keyboards but a very sturdy Heavy Metal backing. The vocals sound like Venom’s Chronos at first then turn into the very silly King Diamond I know from Mercyful Fate, and at times there’s a slight Mille Petrozza sound. He does a lot of different vocal styles and is very operatic. He reminds me of Hell and Cradle Of Filth in that way.

The music itself is a lot tighter, crunchy and satisfying than I’d expected. Its Heavier than Accept, but not as Heavy as Slayer… a very satisfying level for the ‘80s. It is also quite adventourous and proggy in terms of structure and musical show-offery. Its like Images And Words era Dream Theater covering Black Metal era Venom. Thrashy at times but not enough to be Thrash, but still meatier than most NWOBHM. Lots of guitar solos. I’m warming to this.

‘A Mansion In Darkness’ comes in sounding like German Power Metal, with that sort of Helloween drum confidence and some nice melodic lead guitar. Its showier and more eccentric than most Helloween saving the Keeper’ title-track though. Cradle Of Filth keep coming to mind, I guess this must’ve been a big influence on them maybe? I like how it keeps altering between fast and slow and the guitars do neoclassical for a bit but also dirty noisy too, and are melodic without being twee. Yup, satisfying. I’m getting a lot more out’ve this than I did from Mercyful Fate. I wonder would I like Rob Zombie more than White Zombie?

There’s a bit in the middle that reminds me of Mountain King era Savatage, a very good thing to remind me of. The solo at the end reminds me a bit of Yngwie but then it ends abruptly as the song closes.

‘The Family Ghost’ (excellent title!) comes next. Its got a great intro, then goes into the same sort of sturdy bounce as the slower bits from the past two songs. You know who it reminds me most of though? Hammerfall! Swap out the vocals and you can imagine Joacim singing about dragons and glory quite easily. To be honest this is what I expected when I bought Helstar. This is great, then halfway through it just goes ‘screw you, its Judas Priest time!’ and just erupts into some classic speed metal. Its pretty damn great. After the solo it also randomly throws in a funky groove metal riff before going off in an awkward prog direction clearly only there to fit all the lyrics in, then back to the bounce. I like this tune. King’s high vocals are the hardest thing to take seriously but they do suit it after a fashion.

Next comes ‘The 7th Day of July 1777’ which is one thousand years short of having all the sevens, but whatever, which opens with acoustic guitar that really would fit perfectly on the first two Hammerfall albums, then goes into some nice Thrash but in an awkward time sig. Its interesting. The drum fills are so slick, clean and confident, it really reminds me of Mickey Dee …if that makes any sense. I can’t articulate what I mean. I guess, I can see how he ended up in Motorhead doing what he does so well now. Then hey, Yngwie style solo again! This is a pretty damn delicious album, no wonder it has the reputation. I bet if they had a normal singer, they’d be gigantic. Imagine this, but with Bruce Dickinson? Wouldn’t that be successful. I guess the novelty factor of King draws in fans but I imagine it’s as much a barrier as it is a hook.

The drum breakdown is really satisfying. I’m saying satisfying a lot. I guess you can tell what I’m starting to feel about the album then.

‘Omens’ kicks in with an excellent riff that could be either Pantera or Skid Row. It’s the jauntiest moment on the record so far. Makes me want to dance, almost. The song goes off in an unexpect direction afterward though. The keyboards in the background sound a little sci-fi. If this song was about aliens and not hauntings, you could really picture it. It too has a bit of a Savatage feel at times, sort’ve. The guitar solos are nice. Then hey, it goes into a key break that feels very out’ve place, but is excellent. You know what, the complex structures and jarring transitions are a bit much on first listen, but every section of music is excellent, and I’m betting when you’ve heard it a few more times and know the material better the changes seem more natural. Images And Words was an interesting point to bring up because that’s what I’m picking up for everything after the keyboard break.

‘The Possession’ is next and it sounds like the three recent Accept albums. Hey didn’t I mention them earlier too….what is the supernatural aspect here changing history to alter the recording based on my whims or something? Wow… great drums… I love when drummers…excuse the phrase…tickle the bell. You know, when they throw in a quick series on strikes to the bell of the ride cymbal when otherwise the drum hand movements ought to be slow?

This song is badass! One of the best so far. Then in the middle it just turns into ‘Lie’ by Dream Theater. This album is really different than what I was expecting. But it is really enjoyable and impressive. I’m glad it is what it is and not what I thought it would be.

[Also, side note, the snare drum sound reminds me both of Powerslave and Countdown to Extinction… don’t have the knowledge to guess why? Wooden drums or something?]

‘Abigail’ is a bit different than everything before. Less chuggy, more clean, more high pitched. Still NWOBHMy but with a shimmer. It sounds a bit eastern at times…a bit Stargazer. The ending which goes extra synthy is pretty interesting. You get overwhelmed by keys like maybe it represents something in the story?

‘Black Horseman’ opens like a Rush ballad. I wonder what will happen next? Oh, no, it went a bit sinister like a Cradle Of Filth intro. Oh, no. Now it’s a bit like Crystal Ann by Annhilator with Spanish guitar. Its vocals are like a horror version of Fish era Marillion for a while. This is very very different than everything else so far. Even when it goes electric it sounds like a different band. It reminds me a little of Mother Russia by Iron Maiden. Its also so much brighter than the rest of the songs. It kind of feels like Annihilator’s Never Neverland too, especially the little shimmery arpeggio. This song is pretty grand, epic if you will. It sounds like an album closer. The solos are great, more Ozzy Osbourne than Yngwie Malmsteen. It even has more bell tickling! This is a very good song indeed.

Well well, that was a bloody good album, now wasn’t it. Good stuff. On my way home from the shop yesterday I felt a bit foolish and hoped I hadn’t wasted my money, but if the rest of the 5 album set is up to a similar standard it is money well spent for sure. King Diamond… he’s ok in my book. (Or blog, as the case may be).

FIRST IMPRESSIONS, Volume 78: Yngwie J. Malmsteen – Trilogy

I think my usual long intro for these articles is too long so I’ve condensed it from here-on to this simpler version:

Forward 1: This is not a review, but a stream of consciousness written as I hear something for the first time. It’ll be subjective, personal opinions and un-researched speculation. The tone goes for fun rather than informative.

Forward 2: If you wonder what I’m talking about you can stream anything I reference on websites like Spotify nowadays and read about anything I reference on databases like Wikipedia.

Forward 3: Everyone is a nerd about something. Maybe its Heavy Metal, maybe its football, maybe its beauty products and grooming tips but we all get our nerditidy from somewhere, whether or not society currently thinks its nerdy or not right now.

So; today I find myself listening to the third studio album by Yngwie J. Malmsteen, a nine-track record from 1986 entitled “Trilogy” with very Targarian looking album art and featuring in the line-up not only the titular Swede but also the very talented Jens Johansson who later went on to join Stratovarius to awesome results.

I have no idea what to expect… I have heard the name Yngwie Malmsteen bandied-about before (was he the guy who said “you have unleashed the fucking fury” on an airplane??) by people citing great guitar players, and I half-remember that he helped popularize the neoclassical guitar style in Heavy Metal (alongside of course Ritchie Blackmore and the late Randy Rhodes) but other than that I’m a blank slate.

Is it instrumental? Is it heavy? Is it Rock or Metal? …I have no idea. Let’s find out together…

[Play]

“You Don’t Remember, I’ll Never Forget” energetically bursts the record open, with bright shiny ’80s keyboards and some chugging NWOBHM-esque guitar stabs. Seconds later and it sounds like I’m listening to Dio’s classic Holy Diver album. Hey…speaking of which, the vocals (ah, so there ARE vocals?) come in and what’s this? The guy sounds massively like Ronnie himself! Is that Ronnie?

Hmmm… a quick sly look on Wikipedia reveals its someone called Mark Boals…. My oh my, I feel like I did when I heard Eric Adam’s name for the first time.

Oh hey! A guitar solo kicks in… hmmm that IS a nice guitar solo… and I’m a sucker for a good guitar solo…oh and hey before the end there’s plenty more guitar soloing.

Then Foghat’s ‘Coming On Down The Line’ plays because I forgot to unselect ‘shuffle’ in my iTunes. Its got a nice boogie, I have to admit, but its not strictly relevant so I’m going to have to stop listening to it and get back to the matter at hand.

Next comes ‘Liar’ which opens up with one of those great gallop parts like ‘Aces High’ by Iron Maiden or ‘The Needle Lies’ by Queensryche. When the vocals come in there’s a sort of feel like Rainbow’s ‘Stargazer’ (oh Hey… DIDN’T DIO SING ON THAT?) but with a nice NWOBHM-y chug underneath. This song is right up my alley. Then hey, when he says the word ‘Liar’ the song jumps a bit into a syrupy Power Metal mould for just a second and the whole mixture together is intoxicatingly perfect. I imagine this album was probably an influence to some of the early Power Metal pioneers for sure. Wow… its like listening to Tygers Of Pan Tang’s ‘Gangland’ along with ‘The Needle Lies’ and ‘Stargazer’ at the same time, and then at the break when all the neoclassical guitar heroics break in its like a big slice of Stratovarius pie as well! Then when the actual guitar solo follows it sounds so fresh and unique and unlike anybody else that I feel all nice and warm inside.

The next song comes on and its is pure shimmering 80s Dio. Are we sure iTunes didn’t shuffle again and actually stick on Sacred Heart? Nope? OK. This one is called ‘The Queen Is In Love’ and its amazing. I feel like I’ve heard it before. It sounds like it would’ve been on Grand Theft Auto Vice City.

Guitarwise, I think Yngwie is even further down the neoclassical spiral than Randy or Ritchie are. A lot further. Its cool that its on such a nice ’80s Metal record though. I thought it might’ve just been pagganini lines on an electric guitar but not actual songs and not heavy or catchy on the rhythm section. I like how they throw in double-kicks for the last verse of the song, I always like when a song will do that.

‘Crying’ comes next and really reminds me of Dream Theater ballads for some reason. Will it be a ballad? There’s some nice clean guitar. It’s a bit softer. The keys remind me of Hammerfall album closers, especially ‘Glory To The Brave.’

Two minutes in and still no vocals. Not a ballad per sae but rather a slightly softer instrumental. Not brushes-instead of drumsticks levels of soft though. It sounds like the music in a movie’s credits. Vague as that could be literally anything… but its what the song makes me visualize.

Then next he unleashes the fucking fury so to speak, in as much as the next song is called ‘Fury.’ It starts off with a nice ‘The Needle Lies’ sort of drumbeat… but the music sounds a bit more like Iron Maiden’s ‘Invaders’ than ‘Aces High’ if you need a Maiden reference point (because of course you do, right?). The keyboards dampen the heaviness a bit, and the vocals, though still Dio-esque are a little less biting so it feels like a laid back kind of heaviness. Then the guitars and keyboards dual in the way great Power Metal often does and it is delicious. I like this drummer, wonder who he is?

Hey hey, wait up… the drummer is Anders Johansson out’ve Hammerfall? Well I’ll be a son of a paladin! I had no idea. That is a nice bit of business. Hey, this record has members of Stratovaris and Hammerfall on it? If I’d known that I’d probably have tried it out quicker!

Next up is ‘Fire’ which is very much the kind of song that is the most-commercial song on a Dio album. It REALLY sounds like the 80s due to the keyboard sound… it feels like it’d be in the soundtrack to an 80s movie and by extension sounds hugely like GTA Vice City again. I can imagine competing against the rich preppy kids as a poor but determined underdog in a Ski Tournament in a montage to this song. Side note: A lot of these songs just fade out and don’t have a specific ending.

‘Magic Mirror’ follows. I’m getting more Dio, it’s a mix between the Speed Metal ones and the commercial ones. It doesn’t have the Maiden/Queensryche thing of the other two I mentioned. Its Still pretty Dio sounding though. And yes, after a period there’s a nice fat slice o’ neoclassical. The guitar solo in this one is wonderful, if brief, sort of that Black Label Society paradox where the band famous for guitar would be expected to really have mostly guitar solos but it isn’t the case. Nice song though, catchy, fun, easily digestible but Metallic enough to satisfy that urge as well. Its like a halfway point between Cacophony’s Speed Metal Synmphony and Ozzy’s first four solo albums.

Next up is ‘Dark Ages’ and it’s slower. I don’t know if its going the ‘epic’ route or the doomy route. I think it might be a bit like ‘Egypt (The Chains Are On)’ where it’s the ‘epic’ route without the bells and whistles, and only a regular length. A similar example would be Exodus’ ‘Like Father, Like Son’ which you imagine lasts ten minutes but it really doesn’t… or a modern example would be Trivium’s ‘And Sadness Will Sear.’
Its not an especially memorable song, but towards the end, when the song starts fading out, there’s a really nice guitar part that is pretty entertaining.

The album closes with ‘Trilogy Suite Op 5’ which has an unwieldy title but a nice guitar intro that actually reminds me of the aforementioned Speed Metal Symphony, up until the drums kick in with a sort of shuffle that reminds me more of Saxon’s ‘A Little Bit Of What You Fancy’ and ‘This Town Rocks.’ This song seems to be 7 minutes of solid guitar solos (and instrumental, and much more neoclassical focused) and in that respect is exactly what I expected from the album (I never figured all that Dio stuff would be on it, but lots of guitar solos is exactly what I predicted).

Side note, the drums are excellent, all the fills and little touches with the ride’s bell are right up my street. Oh wait, what’s this… it goes the ‘2112’ route and stops the rock in the middle for some quiet acoustic guitar! Its remarkably well done. At 2.51 it comes back to rock and boy what a fun riff! Nice and bouncy! At this point its not too dissimilar from Michael Schenker Group at times but then there’s also great heavy guitar that’d be happier with Dave Mustaine than Mr. Schenker, but again the keys dampen it so you wouldn’t notice if you weren’t looking.

I really like this last song. Heck, I like the album rather a lot… Its like if the Europe song ‘Ninja’ was a whole album… but that album wasn’t The Final Countdown.

No… I don’t know what I’m talking about anymore… I’m going to bed.

Sabaton – Carolus Rex

Carolus Rex is the charismatic Swedish Power Metal band Sabaton’s sixth full-length studio album. The Gold-Certified album was produced by Hypocrisy’s Peter Tägtgren (and indeed features some guest contributions from him) and released on Nuclear Blast Records in 2012, just before a radical line-up shift that saw all but two members (singer Joakim Brodén and bassist Pär Sundström) leave the band.

Its too early to tell at time of writing, but this magnificent album feels like a future classic to me. This is such a strong, perfectly crafted, and interesting and entertaining album that it really feels like something of a landmark. It is the culmination of everything the band had always been excelling at. Its got brilliant lyrics about interesting Swedish historical subjects with surprising depth and occasionally quite good characterization (the Title Track especially), its got fun riffs, a nice mix of tempos and superb confident melodic vocals. I can really see it going down as a genre classic in a few years time.

Tracks like “The Lion From The North,” “Killing Ground,” “Gott Mitt UNS” and the Title Track are among the best in the band’s repertoire, and there is absolutely no weak moments or filler. It’s a good length that feels substantial but doesn’t overstay its welcome, and there’s a fine balance of variety versus consistency.

Most of all; there’s just so many great choruses that will stick in your head for days. Sabaton have always been masters of the hook, and this catchy masterpiece is no exception. These are memorable songs that make you want to sing along. Combine that with the bombastic, big, grandiose sounding music and you’ve got some serious umph going on here.

Overall; Carolus Rex is an excellent, catchy album full of memorable, well-produced and well-written songs. If you are a fan of the band its an absolute must-have and if you are interested in checking the band out it’s a fine introduction. I highly recommend anyone with an interest in this sort of music to give them a try.

of the band its an absolute must-have and if you are interested in checking the band out it’s a fine introduction. I highly recommend anyone with an interest in this sort of music to give them a try.

Life Of Agony – Ugly

Life Of Agony – Ugly

1995’s Ugly is the second full-length studio album by the New York band Life Of Agony. It was produced by Steve Thompson and released through Roadrunner Records.

It must have been damn hard to follow up their amazing, one-of-a-kind, conceptual, brutal debut album River Runs Red, and there are a segment of fans who argue they never adequately did, but for me, this album is an absolutely stormer too.

Musically, this album is a pretty interesting hybrid. Its got a touch of Ross Robinson Nu Metal flavour in the way some of the riffs work, its still got a hangover of the band’s NYHC roots but dialled back a bit, there’s touches of Doom, Stoner and Grunge in there at times but not enough to take over the whole album. It’s a pretty unique beast, and there’s plenty of variety on there to further add to the melting pot.

The lyrics on this album are absolutely brilliant. Kind of intense and emotionally weighty. There are topics of disillusionment, alienation, isolation, identity crisis, quarter-life crisis, complex relationships with family members and other such introspection. I know some people hate anything personal and deem anything like this to be “too emo” but in context and in and of itself, the lyrical quality of this album is sky high. Considering the life course of Keith (now Mina) Caputo, the lyrics just have such power and import and really “speak to you.” Topped off with really powerful, evocative and harrowing vocal performances that really project the message of the lyrics, its pretty intense stuff.

Songs like “Lost At 22,” “Damned If I Do” and “How It Would Be” all fell pretty damn profound. It also helps that the musical quality of the album is equally high. “Fears” is absolutely crushing, “Drained” has serious hooks, and “I Regret” feels like a hit single.

The album ends surprisingly with a cover of Simple Minds “(Don’t You) Forget About Me” which you will likely recognize from the movie The Breakfast Club. It’s a pretty straight cover too, no drastic reworking. It feels a bit gimmicky to me, but not enough to spoil the record.

Overall; this is a superbly well-written, interesting and affecting album with some brilliant performances and a lot to offer. If you want it to sound more like Biohazard, Madball and Sick Of It All then the change in musical direction might be a bit off-putting and likewise if you’ve always hated anything “alternative” then perhaps steer clear, but if “a good song is a good song no matter what genre” to you, and you don’t mind the idea of emotionally draining lyrics, then I highly recommend you check out this record.