Posts Tagged ‘Metal’

I’ve said it before, but I don’t think in my life I have listened to any album more than Slipknot’s 1999 debut. I got into the band my first year of high-school and for my generation they were the biggest and most important band in the world, the way Metallica and Maiden were for people starting school in the ‘80s, or Pantera were for people starting school in the ‘90s,  or Zeppelin and Kiss were for people starting school in the ‘70s.

Slipknot were more than a band; they were so much more in my mind. I can’t count on two hands the number of pictures I drew of them, or discussions I had with school friends about them or magazines I bought just because they were in it. The first time I saw them live, on the Iowa cycle at Belfast Odyssey Arena, is one of the most memorable concerts I have ever been to. I don’t want to throw around terms like life-changing in my old and cynical age, but if I was to apply such an epithet to any band, Slipknot would be the one.

To some extent I like everything they have ever done. I am a bit of a lifer and so this review isn’t exactly going to be impartial or unbiased. But I am not 100% blind and unwilling to think critically either so I’d like to say you can trust what I say. I will admit All Hope Is Gone is not as good as the others. I’ll be happy to admit that there quite a few lyrics I dislike and sometimes Shawn’s video projects are a bit too arty and pretentious and that maybe a straighter take might do the band more favours.  I’ll even admit that some songs I like have choruses I dislike even if the rest of the song is enjoyable. (‘Sulpher’ for example has a chorus I always seem to resent, as it represents the band going a bit too far away from what made me like them in the first place). I did get a bit sceptical when a few too many clean vocals started creeping in and what were amazing and refreshing moments of clean (‘Me Inside’) amongst the heaviness became the norm and it started to seem almost every song had to have a radio chorus.

A lot of people aren’t so keen on the band’s last two albums, All Hope Is Gone and .5 The Gray Chapter, so you can expect the reviews for this will all certainly feature some kind of ‘return to form’ or ‘best since’ line or two. Now; as I said, I like every album Slipknot have ever made (and probably every song too, its just some parts I am not keen on)… but I both can and can’t see why this ‘return to form’ thing is going to be so prevalent.

Now; I think The Gray Chapter is brilliant. I’ve been reading a lot of negative things about it online in the build up to We Are Not Your Kind’s release. I don’t agree with the narrative that it was a rushed or undercooked or too much like Corey’s other band Stone Sour. Tracks like ‘Custer,’ ‘Sarcastrophe’ and ‘The Negative One’ are rabid and savage, and even though I sort of resent them, I can’t deny the radio moments like ‘The Devil In I’ are damn catchy… However; In the same way I initially hated ‘Psychosocial’ when I first heard it for the big clean radio chorus that felt like a change in what the band was trying to be and what they represented, I can see how the cleaner moments on the Gray Chapter would put people off. I mean in isolation I like almost every one of them anyway, but I just wish on principal that on the last three albums there were a few more ‘Disasterpeice’ and ‘Metabolic’ style choruses and a few less ones like those of ‘Dead Memories’ and ‘Before I Forget.’ I reckon a lot of other older fans feel the same way.

We Are Not Your Kind seems to be blowing a lot of people’s skirts up for its heaviness and brutality. There is plenty of it on here. ‘Orphan,’ ‘Red Flag’ and ‘Nero Forte’ all connect like a haymaker to the face. Corey did say in interviews while it was being written that it reminded him of Iowa and on these songs you can sort of see why he might have thought that if they were the ones he was working on at the time.

But this album has plenty of clean moments too. Hell; the first real song (track 2) on every other Slipknot album is always one of the fastest, heaviest, most brutal ones on the record, and yet here, track two is the big single ‘Unsainted’ with its absolutely huge radio chorus and festival sing-along intro. So the public’s different reaction to ‘Gray Chapter and We Are Not Your Kind can’t just be about heavy vs. clean.

One thing that is clear is that the songs on this, their sixth official studio, album are just really good. It might be that simple. The first distorted verse to ‘Unsainted’ is fierce as honey badger and the drums throughout are really impressive and energetic. The way Jay flails sideways into the china cymbal at unexpected times reminds me of what made the band’s debut so damn exciting.

You know what else makes this album so good? (Now; I’m not saying it wasn’t there on the last two albums, but…) on this album the amount of time given over to the band’s extra members and how high they are in the mix seems to be higher on this record. Lots of Sid’s DJ scratches. Lots of additional percussion from the two extra percussionists. Lots of samples and sounds from the mysterious Craig. It feels like this album really goes out of its way to justify having all nine members and revels in what makes Slipknot unique… After the massive success of Vol. 3 and its radio singles and ballads, it felt like on the follow up, All Hope Is Gone that the band were trying to be more of a ‘normal’ band instead of celebrating their uniqueness. Here they seem to shine a spotlight on them more often.

What else is great is that the band aren’t afraid to do new things. ‘Birth Of The Cruel’ for example sees the band discover ‘90s Groove Metal, and lean into the sort of riffs and drum beats that would fit on Burn My Eyes or Chaos Ad at times, with bendy riffs, and stomping jarring rhythms. Obviously through a Slipknot filter, but still…

I think the best thing about the album though might well be the fact that Corey isn’t holding back with his vocals so much. On the first album he screamed his head off so much that we were told he wasn’t allowed to talk between shows so he could rest his voice. By the time Vol. 3 came around he had to find a way to scream without damaging his voicebox and came up with the new voices that he has been using on that and all subsequent albums. It feels at times though that on this album (and maybe ‘Custer’ off of the last album… because as I said, I don’t get the hate for that one) that Corey is back to shredding his throat to pieces like back in the glory days. Some of the vocals on ‘Red Flag’ and the start of ‘Orphan’ could be straight out of ‘People = Shit’ or ‘The Heretic Anthem’ and that is the sound I fell in love with all those years ago. That was a big part of the initial magic that hooked me in and made me such a lifer for this generation defining band. Corey howling himself hoarse is just one of the best noises in all of heavy music and its nice to hear it so much again.

The production is also good, it keeps the mix clear without losing the frenzied and chaotic feel too much on the heavier tracks. You can hear each beater on the kick drum, you can hear the bass under the vocals, but you can also tune out and just be swept away in the energy of the whole thing. It doesn’t feel like the edges have been sanded down too much.

One little minor niggle against the album is the exclusion of the track ‘All Out Life’ (which was separately released back around Halloween 2018, but it contains the title line ‘We Are Not Your Kind’ repeatedly chanted). Admittedly; There was one bit I didn’t like in it, where they slow down and there is the spoken word ‘‘I will not…’’ section that was a bit similar to the intro of ‘Pulse Of The Maggots.’ Otherwise however, that track was quite a rager. I really love how driving the first verse is and when he sings that ‘’the horizon is coming like a hellbent killing machine’’ you really feel this sense of urgency and momentum. I have just added the track in as number 15 on my iTunes and phone so I get to hear it every time I hear the album (which has been pretty much non-stop since release). If you want it on CD though, you’d have to buy the special Japanese bonus track edition. Bit of a shame though that everyone doesn’t just get it as standard, because it’s a great song that I’ve really grown to love and it fits into the album well.

I feel it’s a bit weird to leave it out, as the biggest complaint I have about The Gray Chapter is that it needs just one more heavy song to balance the album out. It’s a bit frustrating to see them make the same decision again. I mean don’t get me wrong; I like ‘A Liar’s Funeral’ and ‘Not Long For This World’ and their atmospheric build ups. (Slipknot have always been the master of that, with the likes of ‘Gently’ and ‘Skin Ticket’ in the good old days, and ‘If Rain Is What You Want’ recently). But what right-minded metal fan wouldn’t want the majority of a Slipknot album to be flailing double kicks and gnarly riffs?

Now I don’t want it to be exclusively speed and power. Slipknot’s diversity is as big a draw as their ferocity. The band have always had a creepy experimental side (often driven by Shawn) to balance out Joey and Mick’s love of Deicide and Morbid Angel. All the way back to ‘Tattered And Torn,’ ‘Frail Limb Nursery’ and ‘Scissors’ from the debut and evolving into things like ‘The Virus Of Life’ and ‘Danger Keep Away (Extended Version)’ they have been balancing out the aggressive songs with nightmarish moments. They have also been experimenting with clean and subtle moments on recent albums like ‘Killpop’ and ‘Goodbye.’ So you can sort of see the legacy and evolution there and so it isn’t a total bolt out of the blue, when this album takes the cleans and mixes them with the creepy to come up with a new sound. I have read a lot of reviews of this record saying this record is dominated by experimentation. You can sort of see why. The album is full of creepy nursery rhyme-meets-experimental electronic tracks. ‘Death Because Of Death,’ ‘What’s Next,’ ‘My Pain’ and ‘Spiders’ for example come across at the same time as being both something that the band has never done before but also as a continuation in their long line of broadening the scope of their albums by adding in something more esoteric.

This album is certainly diverse; you have the four aforementioned quiet creepy ones, you have the two above-mentioned atmospheric ones, a selection of ragers as discussed prior, the huge big radio single with the surprisingly heavy verses and great drumming to open the proceedings. There’s also ‘Critical Darling’ which toes the line between radio and rager with its chorus reminiscent of Alice In Chains’ track ‘God Smack,’ and then there’s the album closer ‘Soloway Firth,’ which is a sprawling, strangely structured and winding song that goes in many different directions and which requires a good few listens to even pin down and follow what’s going on. Its not prog, but its certainly not three-chord trick, verse-chorus-verse, rock either.

All in all it is a very interesting listen (even without adding in ‘All Out Life’ for heaviness sake). I don’t want to go and say ‘’The best album since…’’ because I am really fond of all their albums, but it is certainly really good. Really, really good in fact. As a bit of an over eager fan it certainly satisfies, but objectively it is a damn fine record with a good flow, a good balance of different directions, a good sound and fantastic vocal performance. It not only meets my high expectations but exceeds them.

I remember when Baroness first broke out, they were quite sludgy and while not inaccessible, certainly not quite radio-friendly either. Early albums like Red Album and Blue Record mixed Thin Lizzy clean guitar with thick stoner-sludge and swampy vocals. I remember also, when they dropped their double album ‘Yellow And Green’ and they went from a band I liked a bit due to a slight Mastodon similarity, to a band I really cared about and actively followed.

To date, I still think of Yellow & Green as an utter masterpiece and that it was one of the best albums by anyone I care about to be released that year. Its when the band really stepped out of any other band’s shadows or any one subgenre’s constraints and just went everywhere they wanted all at once…. The follow up Purple was near as good, trying (and succeeding) to condense the sprawling mix of styles, tempos and timbres of the very diverse double album into one single straight-up rock record with flavours from everything the band had done before but a focus on being succinct and accessible (without sounding too far from their more metallic roots of course).

With their new album, Gold & Grey, the band are leaning a bit back more into Yellow & Green’s experimental territories. There is a focus on diversity here. Succinct is not a word I’d use to describe this. This album seems to be reveling in the freedom to do everything and anything. ‘Seasons’ for example has spidery guitar lines that wouldn’t feel out of place on a King Crimson album, mixed with a strange lo-fi noisy production job that makes it sound like some Sonic Youth style art rock piece, but then there are also blast-beats in their briefly to bring back the metal. Sometimes it goes full prog, with ‘Sevens’ sounding like mid period Camel. ‘Broken Halo’ has some lovely bridges that I can see crowds loving when this material is toured live, but goes a bit Yes during the solo.  

There are also quite a few brief quiet, sombre, slow numbers across the album’s 17-track duration. ‘Blankets of Ash’ for example is a nice sounding acoustic guitar interlude over some creepy foreboding soundscape. ‘Crooked Mile’ is a jangly acoustic number that sounds more like an intro than a full blown tune of its own. ‘Assault On East Falls’ sounds like the music from a dream sequence in a Japanse videogame.

You can hear a bit more Radiohead and a bit less Red Fang in the DNA at times I guess (the intro to ‘Tourniquet’ or for example), but that being said there are still enough big fat choruses and catchy hooks to keep the sing-along feel of Purple. The album opener ‘Front Toward Enemy’ for example is just a foot down melodic rocker to get the blood pumping. The chorus to the single ‘Throw Me An Anchor’ is almost as catchy as something like ‘Take My Bones Away’ or ‘Shock Me’ from previous albums. ‘I’ll Do Anything’ sounds like it could be used to advertise the Olympics. Its like if Bon Iver took happy pills and wanted to inspire people to action.

Singer John Dyer Baizley’s rich voice really sets this band apart from the crowd, and when he really leans into the big melodies, it is proper 360 degree helicopter shots on a cliffside stuff. He has such a powerful and evocative voice that can make any line sound immensely meaningful and majestic.  

Considering the line-up change between albums, it still sounds totally like Baroness. You may not have had female backing vocals back on Blue Record but the way John and Gina’s vocals blend and mesh together just sound right.

The album isn’t without its flaws however. The production seems to be quite controversial based on all people I’ve seen complaining on social media. It is also a bit tough to swallow in one go, sitting somewhere between standard and double album length. (Its only an hour, but with 17 tracks there is a lot of different moods, directions and sounds to digest and so it takes up more brainpower than your typical 10-14 track album. If you just wanted an album of ‘Shock Me’ clones, something like ‘Can Oscura’ might be a bit off-putting for example). You couldn’t just slap this on in the background once and love it forever, it’s a grower that you’ve got to give a lot of attention to. That being said, these are minor flaws at the most. I didn’t really consider the production notable until it was pointed out to me by others, and usually an album being a grower at the start leads to an album you’re still loving years later rather than an album that would lose its flavour as fast as chewing gum if it popped right away.

Maybe if you were only into the band for the heaviness of the early days, this album won’t suit you. If you liked the last two albums though, this album is very much going to be right up your street. Its softer, proggier and more considered than it is bludgeoning and meaty. It’s a bit more ponderous than direct and rocking. But it is definitely worth checking out, sticking on repeat and loosing yourself in. It’s an odyssey of new worlds to glimpse, it’s a journey to get lost on. You might not want to head-bang, but you’ll never be bored.

Queensrÿche have been on a hell of a hot streak since they got former Crimson Glory frontman Todd La Torre in and started a band called Rising West, playing material from Queensrÿche’s first EP and first 4 albums, following the departure of their long time legendary singer Geoff Tate.

When they changed their name from Rising West back to Queensrÿche, and released their self-titled album in 2013, (with great tracks like ‘Where Dreams Go To Die,’ ‘Redemption’ and ‘Vindication’), it was an utterly excellent batch of material and the ensuing live shows saw the band energised and revitalised in one of the best late-career renaissances in the history of Metal (up there with the likes of Kreator and Accept for later-year triumphs). The following album Condition Human was a strong follow-up that kept up the quality.

As you can imagine, their third album since this revitalisation, 2019’s The Verdict, is my most anticipated album of this year. When they dropped the pre-release tracks, such as ‘Man The Machine,’ ‘Dark Revierie’ and ‘Blood Of The Levant’ it was every bit as good, if not better, than Condition Human’s pre-release tracks like the excellent ‘Arrow Of Time’ and ‘Hellfire.’

With all these expectations I had built up in my head, I was fearful I had built it up too much and set myself up for disappointment.

After having listened to it both via streaming while I waited for the postman, and on CD repeatedly after delivery, I am happy to inform you that not only is it not a disappointment, but rather it is the best Toddryche album to date. Arguably the band’s best album in a very long time at all, Todd or no Todd.

Even from myself, who doesn’t dislike any Queensrÿche album, (even the controversial ones), this ranks easily in the top half of their discography, top quarter even! I hate statements like “it’s the band’s best album since…’’ but in this case, it really feels true.

The production, (once again by ‘Zeuss’) is brilliant. All instruments are clear and distinct, you can hear the bass at all times, you can separate each guitar from each-other and the drums sound fat and powerful. Speaking of drums; Now that singer Todd La Torre is also playing drums this time around as well as his singing duties while classic drummer Scott Rockenfield is on paternity leave, you also get some drum styles you don’t usually hear on a Queensrÿche album. (Have a quick listen to ‘Launder The Conscience’ and ‘Light Years’ and listen to the beats to see what I mean).

The press prior to this saw Whip telling everyone that this was their heaviest and most progressive album in a while. Usually statements like that are always wrong. Strangely though, again, in this case, it really feels true.

There are some nice heavy moments on here; such as the aforementioned pre-released tracks, ‘Man The Machine and ‘Blood Of The Levant’ as well the very crunchy ‘Inner Unrest’ amonst others, and furthermore, there are some great proggy moments; such as ‘Bent,’ ‘Portrait’ and ‘Inside Out.’ There’s moments that recall the middle-eastern vibes of their American Soldier and Tribe albums, there’s some of the bass-driven textured stuff like their underrated Operation Mindcrime 2 album, and there’s some of the trippy expansive stuff reminiscent of their Promised Land album.

As well as the heavy and proggy stuff, there is just loads of great, catchy, accessible Hard Rock meets Heavy Metal material that has been the core thing tying all of the band’s albums together to date. You can hear bits that sound like the last two albums, like calssic material such as Rage For Order and all sorts of new things as well.

There’s so much great bass guitar parts and lots of space for Todd to show off his impressive vocal range. Album upon album he pushes it further, showing off more and more styles and becoming more of his own thing and moving away from the Geoff Tate style, but still staying close enough that it always sounds quintessentially Queensrÿche. (Take that vocal style and mix it with those really distinctive guitar leads, and you’ve got Queensrÿche in a bottle.)

Overall; its yet another strong Queensrÿche album, but more than that, it is an interesting album, with a strong production, a great range of material, and some of their honestly best material in years, even if they have already been on a very strong run.

I went to go see Parkway Drive with Killswitch Engage live in Cardiff Motorpoint Arena tonight, (February 1st 2019). It was my second time seeing Parkway, after they decimated Download Festival and were so powerful that they made Guns N’ Roses, even with all their money and with Slash and Duff back in the band, still pale in comparison. It was my third time seeing Killswitch, who I had seen supporting Bullet For My Valentine on Incarnate and Headlining over Trivium on Disarm The Descent.

I wasn’t sure if the gig was going to go ahead though, as it had been snowing prior and I was afraid (given that we live in Britain and they close down all the schools if a snowflake looks at them funny) that it might be called off, but luckily by the time I needed to leave, the roads were clear. (This must sound funny to my Canadian readers, but seriously, google ‘frozen Britain’ and see what the British reaction to snow is like).

Rather than arrive late and hang at the back like I did for Architects a few weeks ago, I new I had to be in the front row. Parkway at Download had whetted my appetite, and I needed more.

So I got there just as doors opened and didn’t have to queue in the post snow chill, but got to walk right to the front without any trouble at all.

The speakers usually play the same few songs at all the gigs I go to. Walk by Pantera, Snap Your Finger Snap Your Neck by Prong, Sad But True by Metallica, Psychosocial by Slipknot.

Not this time. They played some obscure hardcore punk. I couldn’t pin point anything I recognized from my meager 20-30 album Hardcore punk collection. I am not an expert, but I heard something that sounded like or was early Suicidal Tendencies (pre-Thrash) and something that sounded like but probably wasn’t Black Flag.

Not important, but just, different that basically every concert I’ve went to since 2012.

To open the evening where Deathcore lads, Thy Art Is Murder. Their front-man announced he regretted eating fruit around the start, and ended up barfing on stage around the end. He was a weirdly unprofessional burping, farting lads lad who was very charming, like how Orange Goblin‘s singer won me over with his topless enthusiasm a few months ago. Their music was Deathcore, which I am not too familiar with, but I know Metalcore, and I know Death metal, and its basically a mixture of that. There were death growls and blast beats, but there were beat downs and grooves. They were fun enough, and their guitarist has a fun sweeping style of leads/solos that reminded me more of Periphery or Dream Theater (or the Periphery song with John Petrucci from Dream Theater guesting on it). The drummer was very fun to watch, he was very inventive as a blast beater, and did it in more ways than I knew existed, and alternated hands and speeds and cymbals the way Tommy Lee would for a rock beat. They even had a catchy bit in ‘Puppet Master’ where the intro sounded a bit like Lamb Of God‘s ‘Redneck’ gone evil.

I enjoyed them. A much better support band than Beartooth had been last time. I’d be happy to see them again. A heck of a lot more than Asking Alexandria had been at Download. Generally, one of the better modern bands I’ve seen supporting people I like, but whom I didn’t know the support act beforehand.

It takes strength of the mind

Then the room got a bit fuller. After a Thin Lizzy ‘Boys ‘Back In Town intro; metalcore legends Killswitch Engage took to the stage. I have written before about how utterly majestic KSE are live, and how captivating it is when a whole room full of people sing ‘The End Of Heart Ache’, with its big long…

”This distance
This disillusion
I cling to memories
While falling
Sleep brings release
And the hope of a new day
Waking the misery
Of being without you”

…all done in perfect time, in its entirety. As a music fan it is one of the purest joys you can experience. Its crazy how good it makes you feel. And the band are always such fun, with Adam D clowning around like a hyperactive toddler making better masturbation jokes than Blink 182 ever did and brightening up the room with his infectious sense of fun and his big smile.

You knooooooooow me, you knooow me all too well!

I’ve also said before that Jesse is one of the, if not the, greatest live singers in the genre. Almost no-one can sing cleans that well live. He is a master of this type of music. Sam Carter, Ashe O’Harra and Jesse Leech are probably the best clean singers I’ve ever seen with my own two eye. Up there with Maynard incomparable James Keenan.

They played a set-list that was mostly greatest hits (Rose Of Sharyn, My Curse, End Of Heart Ache, All In Due Time, My Last Serenade) with a few early numbers (Fixation On The Darkness, Breathe Life) and it was more compact than any other time I’d seen them but no less potent.

The crowd seemed to really, really love ‘Always’ too, and Jesse doing the very last line while the band were all silent was some Freddie Mercury level skills. They played the two best songs off the new album too, (‘Hate By Design’ and ‘Strength Of The Mind’) which are even better live than on record, with more of a crushing Pantera groove to them.

Darkness will give way to light

Speaking of better live; ‘My Last Serenade’ is so, so good live. Joint with ‘End Of Heartache’ for the most audience participation (and augmented by all the fun guitar squeals and extra shenanigans) it is just excellent live in every way. And of course, they finished on my favourite Killswitch song, the fantastic ‘All In Due Time’ which turned me from a Jesse-reunion skeptic into the kinda guy who goes and sees em three times even though I don’t go to that many gigs.

Building a revolution to heal nations

If it was over then, it would’ve been enough. A solid opener, and mighty Killswitch doing themselves proud with a perfect set-list, excellent performance and decent sound & lighting. That would’ve done me nicely as a gig.

But I wasn’t ready for what happened next.

Now, I’ve banged on and on in this blog numerous times about how good Parkway were at download festival, and if you’ve met me in real life I’ve probably talked about how Ire is a modern classic that deserves to have the reputation sort of The Blackening has. You’ll have noticed the new album Reverence was high in my most played albums and highly ranked in my end of year list for this year just gone.

Well, that’s about to get a whole to more, because I have just seen. The. Best. Show. Of my whole life. No qualifications. No caveats. No exceptions.

I am not been hyperbolic. I am not exagerating. This was the best concert I have ever seen in every way. Visually, muscially, sonically, intangiable x-factor magiaclly. It was absolute bliss.

The set-list leaned heavily on the newest two albums, with just one song from Atlas and Deep Blue each, and two songs from Horizons, but otherwise all newer stuff since the change in direction.

The sound was immense, and the cruch and chug of big riffs like ‘Absolute Power’ or ‘Crushed’ was immense and made you pull that satisfied ”riff face” even harder than usualy. My view was perfect for most of the show, with a spot where I could see every member and even every cymbal on the drum kit. And the band’s performance was so bombastic, confident and commanding that it felt like witnessing something truly extraordinary.

The way Winston would sweep his hands or stomp his feet, or when he got topless and the end and would throw fists, always timed to some musical highlight like a conductor or film director was so entertaining. He is such a fucking golden rock star like we were back in the 1980s again. Having only been born as the ’80s died, its great someone is that for this generation and I don’t just have to read about it in old books.

The crowd were so into it, doing a gigantic circle pit during ‘Idols and Anchors’ and clapping along to the drumbeat in ‘Writings On The Wall’ like it was ‘We Will Rock You’ by Queen. They sang out not one or two but five or six songs guitar lines like when you see footage of Maiden or Megadeth playing South America. It was a brilliant vibe.

And that’s all without mentioning the fucking sheer spectacle of it all. If you haven’t been paying attention, it might be surprising to learn that Parkway Drive have become one of the most explosive live bands of the modern era. (Or any era).

The evening started with a dubstep or electronic noise while various lights were going off on the empty stage, with crazily loud concussion bombs going off to match the ‘the truth drops like a bomb’ lyrical theme.

Behind use, we could feel heat. Then in unsion we turned and saw that the mixing desk behind the crowd had pyro on it. And then the band, marched through the middle of the crowd, carrying flaming torches like a strange religious ceremony until they got up on stage. Then, wearing matching black outfits like some kind of Apple technology expo, they moved in choreographed and weirdly alien or robotic unison until the music really kicked in after the intro.

Crushed by the fist of god

Attention, attention, welcome to the stage

The first few songs they played in a tasteful white lighting set up. But it just got bigger and bigger.


You never miss your shadow
Till you’re alone, alone in the dark

There were various lights. And then there was smoke. And then there were fire balls. And then there were towers of fire. And then there were rows of fire. And then there were hydrolic platforms going up and down. And then there was a string quartet.

And we all go to heaven in a little row boat

Let’s get this straight, while you’re listening


And then there was an acoustic moment somehow behind the audience again. Then there was mini fire works. Then lights, lasers and fire together. Then well timed concussion bombs, like literally going ‘bang bang bang’ when Winston sang ‘bang bang bang’ in ‘Absolute Power.’ There was a Kiss-esque shower of sparks from the ceiling bouncing off their heads.

We’ve been waiting for the sky to fall!

At one point he came out with a bottle, and a rag in it, and set it on fire for real with a real lighter, and tossed it onto a big floating PWD shield, and there was really well timed explosives that made it look like he blew it up. And they just kept adding in more and more pyro and explosives until it looked like the whole building was on fire, and Winston would sweep his hands and flames would match the directions, such as during ‘Crushed.’

The truth drops like a bomb
Bang, Bang, Bang, drop the hammer of conscience


Between the spark and the ember
You are smoke threading the wind

Messages written within our columns of fire
No life blooms from the ashes of ire

Slayer had more pyro than I expected on their Farewell tour, but this made them look like a bar band with a packet of sparklers. It was almost Rammstein levels. At one point they had everything going off all at once in complete strobe light sensory overload destined to trigger epilepsy and PTSD sufferers in a way I would genuinely advise them not to attend due to. Absolute bloody war. I’m surprised health and safety let them get away with it to be honest.


Burn your heaven, flood your hell

Bombastic doesn’t do it justice. It was so well thought out and planned, cribbing all the best ideas from Motley Crue and Kiss and updating them with touches of Maiden and Rammstein and Tool but somehow feeling like a really cohesive and excellently orchestrated performance piece than a cobbled together greatest hits of concert ideas, the spectacle side of things was off the charts.

And all that being said, if they had have came out in day clothes and played the same set in an empty room with not so much as dry ice or a single light, it would’ve still been the best concert I saw in the last decade purely on the utter majesty and perfection of the performance. Songs like ‘Vice Grip’ are so goddamn triumphant sounding that when you see it live you feel like your team won the world cup. Songs like ‘Wishing Wells’ and ‘Chronos’ are so well constructed that you feel like a tween discovering the love of music for the first time. Songs like ‘Wild Eyes’ and ‘Karma’ are sing along fun that you just don’t have enough of as an adult. And best of all, ‘Bottom Feeder’ and ‘Crushed’ just level the place. When he sang ‘Now snap your neck to this’ and the payoff riff after the build up came in I got the kind of euphoric rush normally exclusive to a wedding day or the birth of a child. Ok, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but the best part is…not by much!

Speaking of the birth of children. This will probably be my last concert for a while. Ozzy with Judas Priest got cancelled due to Ozzy’s ill health (just like my first ever Ozzfest, Ozzy didn’t play due to a quad bike accident.). My son is going to be born just a few months before Kiss say farewell and Download rolls around again so as much as I love music I’m not traveling for any of that this year, and so far nobody seems to be playing in between now and then.

As a last concert for a while, possibly of the year, I could not have asked for a better one. Hands sown the best concert of my life so far. If you ever get the chance to see Parkway live I advise and border on demand that you go. I hope to high heaven that they release a live DVD from this tour. This is how live music is done!

Until next time…

cocCorrosion Of Conformity have had a lot of different line-ups over the years and a few very distinct career phases. Some of the most notable and best of which are the short-lived Blind era of the very early ’90s, where Pepper Keenan and Karl Angel joined the band and wrote a very dark, yet strangely melodic mixture of Sludge Metal and Groove Metal. Then Karl left, Pepper took over somewhat and they released three brilliant mixtures of Stoner, Southern Rock and good old fashion Metal with a bunch of diverse records that had acoustic sections, interludes, ballads and speedy-ragers all mashed into one record. Their final album in that line-up (well, with a new drummer actually, but close enough…) was very Doom Metal focused. Then Pepper left, and the Trio line-up from before even the Blind era reunited but instead of making Hardcore or Crossover Thrash like they did in the ’80s; they released two Doom albums with raw punky influences.

The celebrated and arguably most popular line up (the Pepper-in-charge on from the mid 90s-early ’00s) reunited recently and toured the globe with incredible reunion shows and now the time has finally come for them to put out some new music together. Its probably one of my most anticipated albums in a very long time. What on earth could it possibly sound like?
Well, the first track is a slow instrumental Sludge intro, bringing immediately to mind the Blind era. Next comes the third single, ‘The Luddite’ which is almost indistinguishable from the style on their Doom-focused In The Arms Of God album from 2005, which is interesting to hear with Reed Mullin on drums. It totally works. Speaking of that album, the creepy-ass title track here might remind you of a certain dark semi-acoustic track from there too.

Like their seminal Deliverance album, there are a few instrumental interludes and mood pieces sprinkled throughout. The first two singles, ‘Wolf Named Crow’ and ‘Cast The First Stone’ hark back to the Wiseblood sound, recalling hits like ‘Long Whip/Big America’ or ‘King Of The Rotten’ in a certain specific way that the instruments interact with each other and with the production style (by John Custer, who did Wiseblood too!) leaving the space at the end of sections and sounding very organic and Jammed-out-in-a-rehearsal-room, if you know what I mean. ‘Little Man’ has a very characterful and southern-fried sound, reminiscent of the under-rated 2000 album, America’s Volume Dealer, only without the over-polished production.

So far, so great. Towards the end, there are a also few slower, sludgy, dragged-out pieces that hearken back to both ‘Pearls Before Swine’ and ‘Bottom Feeder.’ It just wouldn’t be a C.O.C album without mixing in something slow and dirty sounding towards the end, would it now?

The overall feeling is a mixture of all the Pepper-era albums, with a warm and very earthy production. It doesn’t stand out as an immediate drop-everything, earth-shattering revelation, but it is a very welcome return (although they were never really that gone recently, and I’d still love if they threw ‘Demark Vessey’ or ‘Tarquinious Superbus’ into the setlist nowadays too!) that gets better with repeat listens. If you walk in expecting to be blown away like the first time you heard Deliverance you might be disappointed, but if you go in with realistic expectations you’ll find a very solid and rewarding album. My favourite track on the album is ‘Forgive Me’ which has a sort of Thin Lizzy vibe to its hook, but a very metallic breakdown, and Pepper’s vocals are very exaggerated and full of character like they were on ‘Volume Dealer.

To top it all off, there’s a cover of Queen’s very heavy and Sabbathy debut album deep-cut, ‘Son And Daughter’ and it really, really suits C.O.C’s sound. I remember Iron Monkey covering it in the past and it is a very suitable track for this end of the Rock & Metal spectrum. I know people imagining ‘Radio Gaga’ or ‘I Want To Break Free’ might raise an eyebrow, but Queen’s debut was a lot heavier than you remember. For Stoner, Doom or Sludge bands it is a natural fit.

In summary; without disrespecting the fine work of the trio line-up, its nice to have the four guys from Deliverance through to ‘Volume Dealer back playing together again with their unique chemistry. The album is pretty diverse, with a nice mix of fast and slow, clean and dirty, stoner and doom, sludge and hard rock, atmospheric and immediate. The production job is perfect and there’s a fairly decent proportion of the tracks would make it into any fan’s future dream setlists or best-of playlists. If you don’t immediately do a spit-take and have heart-shaped eyeballs the very first time you hear it though, don’t worry, it grows on you.

 

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.