I Went to see Rammstein at Cardiff Principality Stadium on Thursday 30th June 2022

This was my first concert, gig or night out at all since the pandemic. I actually got the tickthts for this as a birthday gift in 2019! 

Other bands who I had tickets for pre-pandemic, like WASP castagencelled their gigs, some postponed theirs until it wasn't possible for me to go anymore, with work or around the birth of my second son. One, I was just straight up was too anxious to go, having been stuck inside too long and I eneded up chickening-out and just giving the tickets away for free to a random fan on the internet. 

I still didn't really feel ready for this gig yet either, and thought about cancelling many times... but the idea of it being a birthday gift, and of having the tickets for basically three years now, kind of made me feel obliged to go. 

In the run up to the event, I had seen news peices about how Cardiff wasn't a good city for stadium gigs, with travel chaos and inadequate infastructure, people missing gigs due to being stuck in the car etc, which didn't help my trepidation any. 

Despite me only living a 25 minute drive from Cardiff (35 until parked and out of the car), I only arrived at the stadium exactly 40 seconds before the band played their first song, having had a ridiculous commute with lots of shenanigans, including taking of 40 minutes to drive down a road no longer than 200m that I drive through in mere seconds any other time I visit the city, then getting to my usual car park to find it full (but the "full" sign is not visible until you already enter the building, thus being totally pointless, and condeming you to a 5 minute loop de loop to get back to the very start of the road, and thus sufffer another 40 minutes again to get down the same 200m you just drove). 

After accidentally going down a one way street, missing my correct turn due to a psychotic taxi driver tailgaiting me too aggressively for me to safely turn, I then proceeded to get stuck in a residential street whilst trying to lose the taxi guy as any more beeping of his horn and I would probably get out of the car, murder him and end up in prison. After deciding prison didn't seem like the best option,  I trued to do a 3 point turn in about 18 turns, then finally make my way to an alternative car park after some more shenanigans involving a train track, and finally hoof it across the city to the stadium.  
The Welsh flag, as the intro music played

After a quick trip to the bathroom, I walked out onto the stadium floor, and 40 seconds later, the band started playing.

The band taking the stage, hard to see because the ground had adverse camber

The setlist was mostly drawn from their first 3 albums and their newest 2 albums, with approximately 3-4 songs from each, and then just 1 song each from LIFAD and Reise Reise, plus nothing from Rosenrot at all. Mostly hits and fan favourites, maybe 1-2 unexpected songs, but with a crowd this size that’s exactly the right call.

Pyro

This was the first gig I had ever attended at the stadium, and I am not too impressed with it as a music venue. It is clearly a sports venue, and the flooring they put into it to protect the grass was weird, at the wrong angel, slippery, and made it hard to see the band as it felt like you were downhill, and hard to keep your footing (I saw so many people fall over compared to normal gigs in clubs and theaters, or even arenas). It definitely wasn’t the ideal place for a rowdy metal crowd who need firm footing.

That being said, the venue wasn’t all bad – the staff were very friendly and trained, the bathrooms were good, and best of all the sound was very good, probably the best thing about the stadium experience.

Rammstein’s pounding, simplsitic, mostly mid-tempo industrial style suits a big arena sound, its not too busy for the sound system. Big gigs often have poor sound, but I was very happy with this, I could hear every thing – every drum, every bass line, every guitar chord, every word.

Light show

As you have no doubt heard if you pay any attention to metal music, Rammstein put on a good stage show.

There were all sorts of things to make the show visually interesting. Lights, lazers, confetti, foam, explosions, sparks, flames, fireworks, a flamethrower-guitar, band members using different parts of the stage or an alternative stage at times, lots of props, an elevator, a treadmill, musicians going out into the crowd. Basically, it wasn’t low-effort.

Sparks shower
Keyboardist Flake ascending into the sky on an elevator for a DJ set.

Of course other bands do big shows too, in the last few years I’ve seen Alice Cooper and Ghost do props and confetti, Slayer‘s final tour did pretty good pyro, and Parkway Drive do the flames and sparks and elevator plus going out to a second stage and going in the crowd, Slipknot do the cool stage set and treadmill. I didn’t see it with my own eyes because I didn’t want to spend the money at the time with Vince Neil’s voice being bad and with me not having time off work, but I know Motley Crue do the flame-thrower (bass) guitar thing, you can see it on their The End DVD.

Rammstein was kind of like seeing all of that in one show. It didn’t quite seem like it was living up to the hype for the first few songs, they started off without much spectacle, but they built more and more over the course of the show, and by the time it went dark outside, and they played “Sonne” I was starting to think maybe this was at least bigger than anything I’ve seen.

The band on an alternate stage in the middle of the crowd doing a piano ballad reimagining of early hit Engel.

The crowd were pretty decent where I was standing, no crowd-killing, everyone respecting eachother’s space, drunks and pot smokers just merry – not falling down or vommiting or fighting. Quite respectful of wheelchairs and mobility scooters too, which wasn’t always the case in previous gigs I’ve been to. The crowd didn’t seem full or sold-out, but there is a pandemic and the show was rescheduled twice, so they did well to have it quite full.

Because I was deliberately trying to hang back at a quite spot with lots of breathing room and space for pandemic reasons, and not getting up and sweaty, I didn’t really buy into the atmosphere of the gig, and it was mostly just an “ok” gig for me, rather than something amazing or life-changing, but the music was good, the sound was good, the stage show (if not something I’ve never seen before) was still good, and the band’s performance was pretty decent. They definitely put a lot of thought, planning and effort into it, and they did well to fill the size of the venue.

Was this the best show I have ever been to? No. Was it nice to be back at a concert after two years? Yeah, kind of, but I just worry I’ve contracted Covid after being so careful and avoidant for such a long time (time will tell). Would I go back to this stadium for any other band? Probably not, unless it was something really special that I couldn’t see anywhere else, like AC/DC maybe. Would I see Rammsteing again? Definitely, but only if it was in a better venue, in a city with better infastructure. If this same show was in the same place at the same time next year, I’d give it a miss (and I wouldn’t say that for Slipknot at the Motorpoint Arena for example).

The way home was luckily much less eventful and chaotic – just a nice orderly queue for a very long time, then a clear shot home. Once I got out of the city centre, I was arguably home faster than during my normal work day commute.

Had this have been in the Motorpoint Arena instead, or had it been in a pre-pandemic world, I probably would give it an absolutely gushing rave review, but all the stress and the feelings or risk and the subpar venue took a little bit of the rose tint away for me personally.

Don’t get me wrong though, great band and I’m glad I went, I’ll probably just not be in the mood for this sort of thing the same sort of way I used to be for another year or two. I’m currently debating whether to go to any gigs at all this year (there are some tempting ones, like Machine Head, Parkway Drive and Volbeat coming to Cardiff at various points this year) but I’m still a bit uncomfortable being outdoors or in crowds at present.

Kingcrimsonprog’s Metal Nerd Blog Albums Of The Year 2021:

Its been a strange old year, but there’s been a lot of good music.

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01. Gojira – Fortitude – The album that got me into Gojira at long last, the album I’ve listened to most out of anything this year, the album I knew would be my number one from the very first listen, and yet has still grown on me more with each listen. A straight up masterpiece in my eyes that will go down as an eternal classic album in my head-cannon. Beautifully melodic, deliciously groovy, and still some great heavy moments and masterful musicianship at times. I can’t recommend it enough.

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02. Helloween – Self Titled – Well, I was never not going to like this. I love Helloween with Kai, I love Helloween with Kiske, and I love Helloween with Deris. The idea of all three coming together on one super-group-esque album bringing all the eras together (sometimes even within one song) with artwork evoking the band’s peak, but song-writing not too far away from the band’s modern style and not just a rehash of the past but also acknowledging all the progress they’ve made over the years, with tasteful tribute paid to late drummer Ingo, self-referential lyrics and yet the whole thing feeling like a proper album and not just a gimmicky cash-grab. Excellent.  

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03. Trivium – In The Court Of The DragonTrivium have been on such a hot streak in the last half-decade, and this current line-up have released arguably their three best ever albums (or at a minimum, three of the best even if you disagree on the exact placement of the best) and ‘Dragon continues that fine formula of the last two albums while also leaning into the more expansive and technical direction of their Shogun record (one of their all time best records so a very good decision) and even reworking an old Shogun-era demo into an amazing album closer for this one. Great work.

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04. Volbeat – Servant Of The Mind – A deliberate course-correct from the slightly disappointing over-polished, overly-commercial previous album. This album leans back into the band’s heavier (in relative terms, its still catchy radio music, its not exactly Alter Of Plagues or something) side, with some deliberate Sabbath tribute, a sneaky death metal riff once hidden in there, a lot more up tempo moments and a lot less bland American-sounding radio rock. They also took some lessons in diversity and stole the best parts from the previous record, making it a sort of best-of-both-worlds situation.

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05. Rob Zombie – The Lunar Injection Kool Aid Eclipse Conspiracy – Probably his second or third best album to date, this record is fun, diverse, energised, eclectic, interesting and deeply memorable. They never lose the core sound, but there’s all sorts of fun diversion. Alright, there may be slightly too many interludes, but that’s always been a part of Rob Zombie, especially on the first two albums, and there’s still 11 real songs to sink your teeth into, from the catchy singles ‘King Freak & ‘Howling Man to the dance-able “Shake Your Ass, Smoke your Grass” and the unexpected country-tinged ‘Ghost Train.

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06. Powerwolf – Call Of The Wild – Speaking of fun, Powerful are back, and don’t disappoint. This album is such a big-smiles good time barrel of fun. Imagine Sabaton covering Helloween’s  Latin-language “Lavadete Dominum” & Type O Negative’s “I Don’t Wanna Be Me” at the same time and you’re somewhere in the ballpark. Now imagine they’re dressed up as monks and singing about Warewolves.

In terms of stacking up against the rest of their discography, the band are so fiercely consistent that this is as good as any album you care to name in the whole catalogue.

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07. Todd La Torre – Rejoice In The Suffering – Current Queensrÿche frontman (and sometimes drummer) releases a solo album with a childhood best friend on guitar, and the results are phenomenal. There’s a mixture of songs that could fit on recent ‘ryche albums, with branching out into more traditional metal territory, as well as branching out the other direction into heavier harsher realms. A brilliant debut from this act, and while I hope he never leaves, if ever Todd were to leave the ‘ryche I would dearly love him to continue releasing albums like this.

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08. Exodus – Persona Non Grata – A very strong album, I confess I may not have listened to this album enough to really honestly select the appropriate position on this list, but if its anything like the last three Exodus albums, the fine first impressions it has created in me will stay forever, and only grow more over time. Already the pre-released songs like “Clickbait” and “The Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves” are constantly stuck in my head and raise a huge smile in me whenever they come on, and “Lunatic Liar Lord” is so good it could have been on Tempo Of The Dammed. Last month I called this album “as good as, if not better than” any measure of expectation, and I’m sticking by that!

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09. Angelus Apatrida – Self Titled – A new band to me, but this is actually the Spanish Thrash-revivalist’s 7th release. Bludgeoning, pummelling, furious… these are just some of the words to describe this beast of an album. There is also some serious groove on the album to break up the speed, but its thrash through and through. If you like bands like Evile, Dust Bolt or Power Trip, then you really need to get on board. Check out the opener “Indoctrinate” from this album for a Vulgar-Display’ album-cover style punch to the face (in musical form).

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10. Accept – Too Mean To Die – Much like Trivium, Accept are on a hot-streak right now (for about a decade this time, since their reformation and the introduction of Mark Tornillo on vocals… that’s Kreator-levels of hot streak!). They have a definite identifiable style and formula, which some people might feel is beginning to get a bit samey by now, but when the formula is this good, I can live with quite a few albums in that style. Alright, its not as good as my favourite, Stalingrad or its very strong follow-up Blind Rage, but I’ve listened to it a lot this year, and have enjoyed it every time.

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Honourable Mentions:

Salem – Salem II EP – Wasn’t included because it is an EP, not an album, but probably would have been number 2 or 3 on the list if it did count. Really great fun, super catchy, super memorable, and my go-to car record this year.

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Weezer – Van Weezer – I’ve only owned this a few days, so can’t objectively rate it against things I’ve had almost a whole year (eg. Todd La Torre and Accept), but I feel very positively towards it and just want to give it a little appreciative nod. Imagine if The Green Album had even better guitar solos and paid deliberate homage to some classic tracks like “Crazy Train,” “Girls Girls Girls” and “Panama.”

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And just in case you want it, here’s my list from last year. See you again next year!

Rammstein albums ranked:

This list feature is based on my subjective personal opinion, not fan consensus or journalistic research. They are ranked from best to worst, best being simply “my own favourite” and worst being “the one I personally like the least.” I know it is customary to rank from worst to best, but I prefer to lead with the positive. Check out the rankings home page for more albums-ranked lists.

Today, I’ll be discussing German Industrial Metal icons, Rammstein. I’ve been putting off reviewing their records on the blog for a while now, as I wanted to save it for that pre-concert peak excitement phase I get right before I see a band live. I got tickets to see them live for my birthday in 2019, but with the covid delays, the concert still hasn’t actuall happened yet! However, I am in the mood to blog about something today, and I’ve just got their Live In Amerkia blu ray for Christmas and its put me in the mood to talk about this band in particular. Sure, its not the pre-concert excitement peak due to covid, but oh well, at least I have the concert-film to simulate the live experience now. Better than being sick or dead.

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1. Reise Reise (2004) – I was a bit silly, and didn’t get this album when it was new. Like most of the UK, I got into Rammstein around the release of 2001’s Mutter and worked backwards to Sehnsuct, but after a few years, when I was getting out of things like Nu Metal and Industrial and getting into things like Thrash Metal and traditional heavy metal, I somehow just stopped listening to Rammstein, and was always surprised when I would hear about them doing large concerts, assuming they were just another flash in the pan band that came and went. Big mistake. Many years later at the insistence of a good friend, I gave the band a second chance and was gifted this record. What a record, where had it been all my life? Why on earth did I ignore Rammstein for like…a decade?
I think this is the band’s strongest work all the way through. The highlights are immense, but there is also little to no filler, and the album works as a single album all the way through, rather than a vessel for hits only. The production seems timeless, the tunes are memorable, the hooks are strong, the guitar tone is perfect.

I don’t know if I’d go so far as to say “masterpiece” but if you ever dismiss Rammstein just because you hear someone treat them like a novelty band because of the rude music videos and sexual lyrics, or some dim-witted xenophobes who just make fun of them singing in German (I had an ex like that), or people who say the music is bad and they are only headliners because of the fireworks and pyro, then this is the album to check out to learn that Rammstein are a legitimate classic band who write genuinely great music that doesn’t need any kind of novelty or showmanship to cover up for. They could go on stage in jeans and t-shirts and play this album in full without moving on an empty stage with no lights or show, and it would still be the best concert you saw all year. Why? The music is brilliant.

Why is this one number one? Probably the fine line between consistency and diversity. It always sounds like Rammstein, but it tries a lot of different things, and hits the mark every time.

Best songs: “Keine Lust,” “Mein Teil” & “Moskau.”

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2. Mutter (2001) – My first Rammstein album, the public’s favourite Rammstein album, the one with the highest quantity of hits on it. Back in the day, you couldn’t move for the music videos from this album, you couldn’t switch on a rock or metal radio station in the UK without hearing the singles from this, it was an absolute smash hit. There’s a good reason for that, its catchy as all get-out. If you are new to the band and need to pick up a first album, then this should be the default go-to first album. Very much their Ace Of Spades moment.

After coming back into being a Rammstein fan, I want to slap myself for neglecting this record. I loved it when I got it, but I just sort of stopped listening to it after a year or two, too excited by trying new things (1980s things usually). Since revisiting the band though, I can’t stop listening to these tunes, and every time I listen to them, I like them more. It is a pretty instantaneous album to begin with, but it just keeps growing and growing on me.

It feels like an expensive album, the production values clearly higher than the albums that preceded it, but without slipping into the “over-produced” category. The album has such a strong opening with the big strings (the industrial metal equivalent of Kashmir?), ends with a smoky soft ballad, and has a bunch of utter bangers in a range of tempos in between. If you want an album that sounds like angry robots marching towards battle, and yet somehow has a lot of artistic depth, you’ve come to the right place.

Best songs: “Mein Hertz Brennt,” “Feuer Frei!” & “Links 2, 3, 4.”

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3. Rammstein (2019) – This might be a controversial placement, I don’t think this is exactly their most beloved album in fan estimation consensus, but what can I say… I just love it. This is their newest album at time of writing, it was released after a relatively long gap, it will probably be their final ever album, and long time fans feel it doesn’t live up to their expectations. Because I hadn’t been waiting with baited breath however, I don’t have the expectations, and I’ve just loved it from first listen. To me, this is one of their most accessible, memorable, fun, easily-digestible and instantaneous records to date.

Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t shallow, it doesn’t lack for dark and interesting lyrics (“Puppe” especially) and it isn’t overly simple, but it just washes over you like a nice warm bath and everything just feels right. It is probably actually their cleanest and least heavy album to date, which would usually be a problem for me, but it just works so well here and the songs are so strong that I actually don’t mind.  

Alright its not particularly transgressive, alright it doesn’t crunch as hard, alright its not the hands-down best thing they’ve ever done, but it sure goes down easy!

Best songs: “Puppe,” “Ausländer,” “Deutschland” & “Diamant.”

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4. Herzeleid (1995) – Arguably, this is may be objectively dated (some of the electronics sound very of-the-time) and it is also probably the most simplistic release in their cannon, but the core premise of the band is so strong that you don’t need to expand on it too much to make it work, it is a great formula in and of itself without needing to stray too far (ok, that may be a bit hypocritical given the positive comments I made about the first two albums on this list, but it makes sense to me in my own head context, I think it’s the charm-factor… it doesn’t need bells and whistles because it is so charming as it is).

This is the album I’ve picked up the most recently (got it this Summer) so there may be a bit of recency-bias going on here (had to stop myself placing it even higher already for that very reason) but I feel like this is one of my favourite things they’ve ever done.

Best songs: “Wollt Ihr Das Bett In Flammen Sehen,” “Weisses Fleisch,” & “Du Riechst So Gut.”

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5. Sehnsucht (1998) – I know there are a large portion of fans who could pick this as their favourite, so I wouldn’t want to come across as too dismissive of it by having it in the bottom half of my list, but for me, this album isn’t as strong all the way through as the others above it in this list.

This is an album that I’d argue suffers with a bit of filler, that suffers with a slight lack of diversity (without the raw debut charm of Herzeleid to compensate for that), and one where the best songs are so good that the rest just feels a bit “lesser” in comparison.

The best songs here are magical, but since the first listen I’ve always felt the album was a bit up and down, with clear amazing standout tracks, but not as good a whole-album experience as Mutter (or now that I’m older, with more context, not as good a whole album experience as most of their albums).

Don’t let that put you off too much though, we’re splitting hairs on a pretty great discography, and the highlights are very high.

Best songs: “Du Hast,” “Bück Dich,” & “Spiel Mit Mir.”

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6. Liebe Ist Fur Alle Da (2009) – By no means a bad album despite its low placing here, its just that I prefer the others more. There’s some great use of melody here that wasn’t present in the early material and a more live human-approach to the performance compared to the robotic quality of the earlier albums.

However; A bit like Sensucht it doesn’t work as well as a whole-album journey for me. There are some forgettable moments (I honestly couldn’t tell you what “Mehr” or “Roter Sand” sound like now if you offered me a million pounds to do so) and its efforts to be fun are a mixed bag of qualified-success (“Haifisch”) and outright cringe (overrated single “Pussy” – yes it had a clever marketing campaign, but I just dislike the song).

However, A bit like Sensucht it has high highs. Some absolute career highlight bangers, and for a band best known for repetitive crunchy stompers, they constantly try new things and cover new ground.

Best songs: “Rammlied,” “Waidmanns Heil,” & “Frühling In Paris.”

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7. Rosenrot (2005) – Well something had to be last, and to no-one’s surprise, it is 2005’s Load-esque leftovers album, Rosenrot.

Now, this album is not a write-off, and actually has a few of my favourite Rammstein tracks, but there is no getting around the fact that this is the weak link in the band’s discography. Too many ballads, too much silliness, too much forgettable material, frontloaded and generally, just not quite as good as the band’s peak.

I wouldn’t say skip it entirely, but definitely pick it up last, after you’ve exhausted everything else. I heard this after a five year gap in listening to the band, and it made me take about another five year gap, so it is not enough to win over skeptics.

Best songs: “Mann Gegen Mann,” “Benzin,” & “Rosenrot.”

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(Ps. It doesn’t fit anywhere on this list, but the one-off new song from their greatest hits compliation, “Mein Land” is an absolute gem, and should be checked out too).

Volbeat – Servant Of The Mind Review

2021’s Servant Of The Mind is Danish Rock/Metal band Volbeat’s eight studio album, it was produced by Jacob Hansen (with Michael & Rob from the band) and follows up 2019’s Rewind, Replay, Rebound album.

I first got into the band after seeing them live on the cycle for Seal The Deal & Let’s Boogie, and fell in love instantly, then devouring their back catalogue and becoming obsessed, listening to them more in one year than it takes me a decade to listen to most other bands, but when it finally came time for me to get in on the ground floor with a new release; 2019’s Rewind’ was a bit of a disappointment for me (especially at first, but to be fair it was a grower), as it initially felt like it was missing a lot of the charm, variety and quirkiness of their earlier work, and also was significantly less heavy or metallic than my favourite side of Volbeat’s many sided style. For me, Rewind’ leaned much too heavily on the band’s radio rock side. That’s always been a part of their sound – but not the whole sound, and to me Rewind’ just focused on it too deeply, too often.

Servant Of The Mind by contrast seems to be very conscious that the previous album was a bit too far away from their metal side, and is a pretty hard and deliberate course-correct towards heaviness. There is much more speed, power, groove, crunch, umph, tiny bits of Thrash-esque moments here and there, even one cheeky Death Metal riff hidden in there once.

Tracks like “Becoming,” feel built for fans who like the band’s heavier material (think “Slaytan”), while “The Devil Rages On,” “Step Into The Light” and “Say No More” more than make up for the previous album’s lighter touch. Heck, “The Sacred Stones” seems to be a deliberate tribute to Black Sabbath’s “Heaven And Hell.” In addition to Metal though, they’ve also always had a bouncy punk tinge at times, and “The Passenger” covers that side of them as well.

While I may be banging on a bit too much about the metal; Volbeat have never been entirely all about heaviness – it is an important part of the puzzle, and it is nice to see it get enough focus again, but it is only part of the bigger picture. For those fans who like the bigger, catchier moments, the album does still have some nice radio rock moments, for example the single “Dagen Før” (featuring Alphabeat’s Stine Bramsen doing guest vocals) covers that kind of “Cape Of Our Heroes” or “Last Day Under The Sun” melodic vibe, and the choruses of even some of the heavier tracks lean into big American radio rock at times (its still there, its just blended better on this album).

Volbeat have also always had a fun side, and while I sort of make it sound like I didn’t like their previous album, it certainly had its great moments. This record takes some of those great moments and builds upon them. Single “Wait A Minute My Girl” has a jaunty saxophone solo, kind of like the fun “Die To Live” from the previous record, while “Step Into The Light” with its reverby twisted surf-rock guitar lead feels like a sequel to the previous album’s “Sorry Sack Of Bones.”  

Now, while I have spent most of the review describing the album’s stylistic decisions, being heavy, or melodic, or bouncy or fun is pretty pointless if the album isn’t actually good. Luckily, the material is really strong. There are riffs that will stick in your head for days, choruses you’ll be dying to sing along to, memorable fills and a very clear production job. More than three quarters of the album I want to see live, I’m spoiled for choice over which songs I’d include in a best-of compilation or playlist.

While I wouldn’t make an argument that it is their all time best album, it is certainly in the top half of their discography, pleasantly surprising, and I would whole heartedly recommend it.

Ps. If you can, try and get the edition with the bonus tracks, the extra cover songs are brilliant!

Trivium – In The Court Of The Dragon Review

Florida based Metal band Trivium have been on a seriously good run of form over the past half-decade. Their career up until that point had been almost cursed with a boom and bust critical reception of incredible praise followed by critical trashing over and over. For the past two albums (The Sin And The Sentence from 2017 and What The Dead Men Say from 2020) they’ve been on an incredible high again critically and artistically, and now with 2021’s In The Court Of The Dragon they’ve pulled their third absolute classic out of the bag in a row. While I am partially to all of the band’s albums to different degrees, never before have they unleashed three absolute masterpieces straight in an unbroken row.  

Over the years the band had tried a few different directions, mid-00s Metalcore, Thrash, classic metal, commercial radio metal, and they’ve also hidden in tiny little snippets of death and black metal every now and again for a bit of extra flavour. For the most recent three albums now though, they’ve mixed all their various directions into one broad but cohesive whole and developed their own speedy, stompy, melodic, aggressive, technical, blunt mashup identity. Matt’s singing, screaming, growling and shouting voices have never sounded better and have never blended together so seamlessly. Matt and Corey’s guitar work has never been as memorable, and Paolo’s bouncy high-in-the-mix bass lines are always entertaining.

The real turning point for trivium however, was the astounding one-two punch of incredible new drummer Alex Bent joining the band, and producer Josh Wilbur finally figuring out how best to blend the band’s classic and modern sides together and make them sound like their own thing altogether. Now, some of the band’s previous productions were good, and most of the band’s previous drummers were very good (much like Sepultura in that regard) but this combination of drummer and producer has unleashed an x-factor that elevates ‘Sentence, Dead-men’ and ‘Dragon to a higher level than most of the rest of their discography.

With all that preamble out of the way, you wouldn’t be given a dunce cap to wear if you guessed that “if you liked the last two, you’ll love this one” and “this is one of the finest albums of the band’s career.” Stylistically, this is very much a continuation of the previous two (not a mere repetition of them mind you, it is still engaging, original and forward thinking).

Highlights include the groovy “Shadow Of The Abattoir” the catchy “Like A Sword Over Damocles” and the lengthy “The Phalanx” (which actually started life as an offcut from their Shogun album, and has a bit of a Shogun-esque flavour, but has clearly evolved a bit since that time).

Some people may still brush Trivium off as just ear-plugs, Overkill t-shirts and the too-commercial chorus to 2005’s “Dying In Your Arms” but to do so is folly, and just results in you missing out on one of Metal’s finest bands of the moment, and especially makes you miss out of three of Metal’s absolute best albums of the past 5 years. There is nothing even 1% “Emo” about ‘Dragon. If you like bands like Judas Priest, Death Angel, Fear Factory, Manowar or Metal Church but have never checked out Trivium because it just makes you think of eye-liner and youths, I strongly urge you to check out “No Way Back, Just Through.” Ignore this band at your own detriment!

Gojira – Fortitude Review

I have been putting off reviewing this album for a while since I feel a little unqualified to talk about it. Sure, I bought their live DVD about 7 years ago and listened to it a few times, and I bought two of their studio albums as a gift for my brother about 5 years ago and have heard those in passing. I’ve always known I should get into Gojira, but never quite got around to it. Basically, I have been hearing a constant gushing stream of praise about this band since about 2005 in print, online, in podcasts, from word of mouth and just about every source imaginable, yet somehow never really properly tried the band enough, and had certainly never personally “got” them.

For a good few years I had heard that they had toned down the extreme metal sections and upped the amount of prog on their previous album, Magma, which I kept meaning to buy but didn’t get around to, but I heard one single from it at the time which I was thoroughly impressed by, and I had already always said to myself, “if they get a little bit less extreme, I’ll start listening to Gojira.” Cut to 2021, and the environmentally-themed French Prog—Metal released their seventh full-length studio album (on Roadrunner Records), and to my delight all the reviews and press beforehand had been talking about how it was less heavy and more proggy, with a huge chunk of groove metal added to their palate. I finally decided to take the plunge.

Review in short: Love. At. First. Listen.

I listened to it every single day, sometimes twice, for about a month after release day and still try to listen to at least some of it very regularly now. I’m going to be coming back to this for years. I don’t think it is unfair to say this album has had as big an impact on me as some game changing album that you heard back in high-school and bonded with forever. Wow, I wasn’t sure you could get that feeling again as an adult, but wow, this record really floored me.

Take all the best parts of the proggy but accessible Crack The Skye by Mastodon, mix it with the best parts of the groovy but experimental Against by Sepultura, add in the best sort of Architects’ thought provoking the-planet-is-doomed lyrics, blend them together with an utterly unique and singular musical voice (which is the Gojira signature sound, I later discovered when going back to all their previous albums after this), and out comes Fortitude, one of the most instantly loveable metal albums I have heard in years and years.  

From the teasing drum build-up of the disjointed and rhythmic opener “Born For One Thing” to the delicate acoustic fade out (following the otherwise brutal sonic bombardment) of “Grind” this album is sheer bloody perfection from start to finish, with not a wasted second. Everything is so perfectly balanced; each song is such an intriguing and hypnotic journey and they strike the perfect balance between expansive and catchy. It feels at times just about as cosmic and floaty as you can without disappearing up your own ass, but then by contrast still so instantaneous and crushingly metallic when it wants to, bouncing between the two at just the right moments so you never get sick of one style, and never staying at one pace long enough to get boring.

You know how some albums have to be listened to from start to finish in one go? This isn’t one of those. Its certainly benefits from that don’t get me wrong, but it isn’t reliant one it. The album has a brilliant flow, sequencing and journey, and travels across the sonic landscape with a clear beginning, middle and end, however, if you want, all the songs sound great without that context, and literally any single track from it sounds great away from the album if it comes up on shuffle. Basically, it has all the best features of a concept album without the drawbacks.

The production, by singer/guitarist Joe Duplantier is majestic, and Andy Wallace (who mixed Iowa and Toxicity) mixes everything to perfection. The actual sound of this record feels like it was made just to appeal to me. I can’t get enough. I just melts in the ear. Speaking of Duplantiers, drummer Joe Duplantier is one of the most instantly loveable drummers I have ever heard. What a drummer, such a unique drumming “voice.” Such a balance between virtuosity and restraint. Utter magnificence.

Possibly the best thing about the album though, is that I always wanted to like Gojira but was a bit intimidated, and this album finally “unlocked” them. I’ve since gone back and been blown away by all their other amazing albums (I’m damn partial to a bit of The Way Of All Flesh now, and can finally see for myself what everyone was telling me about From Mars To Sirus for years. I guess some fans who love the heavier early days could potentially be a bit disappointed by the band being a bit too accessible with this album, but on the other hand, if anyone else like me out there knows they could like Gojira but don’t yet, this album is the way in for sure. For a few years, one of the thing that stopped me fully going in on Gojira was that the vocals were just a bit too abrasive for me, and the music was a bit mysterious. However, like the leap between Mastodon’s Lifesblood EP and their Crack The Skye album, the vocals here are so advanced and impressive compared to the earlier Gojira records my friends all told me to love in college like The Link of the fan-beloved From Mars To Sirus that it is like night and day. Sure, the more brutal vocal stylings suited those albums because the music was more brutal itself, but here, you can actually say, these are objectively fantastic vocals. The mid-section vocals on “Hold On” send a shiver up my spine in the way Tool sometimes do when they’re being particularly majestic.

If I was to choose one song to suggest to newcomers to test the waters, I think I would recommend the groovy mid-paced “Sphinx.” It has a few heavier moments, it grooves, the lead guitar section is proggy and weird and overall I think it is probably the mid-point of everything on the album. That said, if you do like things heavier, the one to go for is definitely the energetic and punchy album closer “Grind” which despite the aforementioned outro, is the most punch-to-the-face pick-scraping stomper on the record, and the closest thing to their more famous albums. For the opposite end of the spectrum, the surprising stoner-rock left turn of “The Chant” has the cleanest vocals of any Gojira to date, so if you don’t like any extreme metal at all, that is the one to check out first, after which you can graduate to “The Trials” which reminds me a bit of a darker version of the Title Track to Coheed And Cambria’s The Afterman mixed with the haunting end of Roots Remain by Mastodon.

Never a dull moment, delicate, crushing diverse, intriguing, infinitely replayable, Fortitude is all these things and more. I don’t use this word often, and my opinion might not be worth much coming to the band so late, but to me this album is an utter masterpiece. Can’t recommend enough.

Fear Factory – Aggression Continuum Review

2021’s Aggression Continuum is the tenth full-length canonical studio album (discounting compilations, remix albums, demos, and their almost-debut Concrete – which doesn’t count) by the veteran Metal band Fear Factory. It has a long and storied history, which you can go into at length online should you wish, but the gist of it was that the band recorded an album called Monolith a few years ago, featuring less polished versions of these tunes, but that record got delayed due to legal issues and wasn’t released. Most of the various old band members hate each other, and all of them seem to hate guitarist and current band leader Dino Cazares, who crowdfunded for the cash to improve Monolith and turn it into this current album via a series of small upgrades. He used the cash to hire Mike Heller on drums (who’d done a great job on their previous album Genexus) to replace Monolith’s drum-machine tracks with actual drums, and to add in additional keyboards, electronics and atmosphere to flesh the whole thing out and give it the finishing touches. In the meantime however, iconic singer Burton C. Bell left the band in a less-than-amicable split, but rather than start afresh with a new singer, Dino decided to keep just his old vocal recordings from 2017 and release the album anyway, as a weird hybrid of old and new.

A messy genesis to be sure, but you better believe I crowdfunded this record and was looking forward to it, because despite the recent mess they have become, Fear Factory were actually one of my favourite bands growing up and when they are on top form they can be one of the best bands in the entire genre. After the uncivilized sniping by the press; I really wanted one more record from them, and I wanted it to be great. Even though it is sad to see how the mighty have fallen, and hard to believe they would ever continue without Burton, it is still good to have this one last record.

Even going in wating to like it, I am a bit skeptical of the album, and feel there is something a bit cynical on some of the tracks. Perhaps the biggest fault on Aggression Continuum is that there isn’t enough importance placed on the drums or especially not enough focus on the bass, whereas the band had one of the best rhythm sections in the history of Metal in the 90s, which was an equally big selling point to their sci-fi lyrics, clean/growl vocal dynamic and crunchy staccato guitar style that made them famous. Sure that was the hook, but there was always more to it than that. Maybe there is bit too much repeating old glories (one of the songs is a pretty shameless fan service reference to their ‘90s hit “Replica”) and maybe there is a bit to reliance on formula. The album lacks the diversity and nuance that made their earlier work pop, focusing instead on the aforementioned surface level similarity between those early records. Whereas their first four albums were a constant evolution and no two albums sounded that much alike, ever since Raymond and Christian left the band, Fear Factory have kind of just fall into a formula of what they think they should sound like, rather than pushing what they can sound like or even what they did actually sound like. Before, there was a signature guitar and lyrical style in a diverse catalogue. Now its all just riffs and robots, but lacking in all the other parts that complemented the surface level similarity of recurrent crunchy metallic terminator vibes, and stopped a recognisable style from being a gimmick, instead turning it into the basis for some utterly classic albums.     

That all being said however, this album isn’t the worst thing the band have released. It may be a bit by-the-numbers. It may be a bit cynical. However; It is more realized and less rushed than 2005’s hit and miss Transgression, and it is better produced and less boring/forgettable than 2012’s The Industrialist (having a human drummer instead of a drum machine certainly helps it compare favourably to that record).

Sure the spark that made their best albums really shine is missing, but there are a few really quite good tracks, such as the exciting opener “Recode,” the energetic title track “Aggression Continuum,” the bouncy single “Disruptor” and also the deep track “Monolith” which has a nice little guitar solo (a rarity in Fear Factory songs). Its also short enough not to overstay its welcome, which is always a plus. I don’t think in years to come this album will be anyone’s absolute Fear Factory album, but it is an OK end to the Burton C Bell era of the band, and it is not an embarrassment.

Overall, not their best release, but not without its merits. Buy if you are already a fan, don’t start here.

Gama Bomb – Sea Savage Review

Since being a teenager, my favourite subgenre of Metal has always been Thrash Metal. However, for some bizarre reason, when the New Wave Of Thrash Metal started, and lots of younger bands started making top quality Thrash, I utterly slept on it, not exploring it at all, or sometimes I even outright dismissed it.

This year I’ve been rectifying that, giving bands like Hazzerd, Harlott, Hyades, Havok, Power Trip, Lich King, Mosh-Pit Justice and Municipal Waste their fair shot and being won over time and time again.

The one exception to my New Thrash blind spot has always been Gama Bomb, maybe its because they’re my fellow countrymen, maybe its because they strike the right balance of humour and fun without descending into parody, maybe its just because they write the most memorable songs, but even when I had a “1980s or GTFO” attitude towards Thrash, I’d still find time to listen to Gama Bomb, recommend them to people, and I was even lucky enough to see them live (remember concerts guys?) when a guitarist I knew gave me a free ticket and transport (good guy!) back before I went to concerts regularly or was able to drive.

Many years since I first went in on the band with their Tales From The Grave In Space record, Gama Bomb have now released what I believe to be not only their best album to date, not only one of the best NWOTM albums I’ve heard, not only an album as good as what the ‘80s bands can put out nowadays, but one of the straight-up best Thrash albums I’ve heard to date from any era.

You heard that right. This album is their best one yet. This album can stand proudly up to the best things Slayer or Anthrax have been putting out since the ‘00s, and this album can stand up happily to some things Death Angel or Heathen were putting out in the late ‘80s. Never mind simply holding its own; this album is actively better than most of the output Thrash bands put out in the ‘90s and arguably better than some (if not a lot) classic Thrash and Proto-Thrash albums of 1983-1985 too!

I was a week one buyer (December 2020) after getting mega hyped by the pre-release singles, but it has taken me this long to write a review simply because I wanted to make sure how hard I like it wasn’t just hype or a sort of bubble-gum scenario where the flavour will go away really soon kind of thing. However, a few months later and I still think this record is a damn masterpiece of Thrash.

Songs like “Miami Super-Cops,” “Sea Savage,” “Ready, Steady…Goat!” and “Sheer Khan” just get stuck in my head for days. I have so often been on a walk these days and been unable not to sing aloud “Down, down, town!” during “Miami Super-Cops” when I had otherwise been walking in silence, sometimes leading passers-by to look at me like I am a lunatic. I don’t care, its so catchy it is irresistable!

Alongside top notch, catchy as hell tunes, everything else works perfectly. The production is tight, the playing is brilliant, the vocals just get better every time you hear them (some of those crazy Agent Steel-style screeches are so catchy) and the mixture between serious traditional Thrash music but goofy lyrics just works so well (but importantly, without being comedy music, which is always a turn-off for me). For example, when they go into “What shall we do with a drunken sailor” in the middle of the title track, it comes across as really clever even though it probably shouldn’t.

In summary, if you like Thrash Metal and can get over the fact that the band are not from the 1980s, you absolutely need this album in your collection, no questions asked.

Metal-Nerd Blog 2020 Round UP and AOTY list, part 2:

I know, I know, it is probably two weeks too early, but I’m in the middle of moving home and working 65 hours a week on top of that, so may as well get it in while I have the chance. It’s the tenth year of this blog, and I’d hate to miss out on what is now a yearly tradition.

Last week in part 1, I wrote a round-up of what I’d been buying and listening to this year, and links to reviews of the concerts I had been to prior to lockdown.

Next up;

Here are my most-listened-to artists of the past 12 months according to LastFM:

Quite a mix there; Classic Metal, Classic Rock, Metalcore, Thrash, Prog, Hair, Power, Groove, Death, even a bit of indie. Old favourites, new discoveries. Nicely balanced, didn’t even mean to.

And finally; since it is December now, here is the Metal-Nerd Blog Album Of The Year List, 2020:

Honourable Mention: Salem – S/T EP. – Creeper went from being a fun pop-punk band with some Halloweeny lyrics to a ‘90s Britrock band tapping into older American sounds. Afterwards, their singer has a side project basically making a fun pop-punk band with Halloweeny lyrics. Highly recommended to fans of early Creeper (or Alkaline Trio).

10. BMTH – Post Human Survival Horror – Review here.

09. Five Finger Death Punch – F8 – Review here.

08. Annihilator – Ballistic, Sadistic – Review here.

07. Creeper – Sex, Death & The Infinite Void – Review here.

06. Haken – Virus  – (Rhymes with Bacon, not Kraken) British prog metal wizards release a captivating sequel to their previous album and continue to escape comparisons to other bands and forge their own identity. Might have even been higher, but I came to it late and haven’t even fully unpacked all its hidden glories yet.

05. Lamb Of God – S/T – Review here.

04. Testament – Titans Of Creation – Review here.

03. Protest The Hero – Palimpsest – Review here.

02. Trivium – What The Dead Men Say – Review here.

01. Sepultura – Quadra – Review here.

Agent Steel – Skeptic’s Apocalypse Review

Call it Speed Metal, Thrash Metal, US Power Metal or just plain old Heavy Metal; Agent Steel’s 1985 combat records debut album Skeptic’s Apocalypse is a frentic, buzzsaw of an album that pounds along with an almighty force.

This album is the pure flawless distillation on Metal at the time. No wonder it caused a stir back then. It rocks all the way through, from the (excluding a brief intro) meaty opening track; “Agents Of Steel,” which sounds like if someone took an early Venom song, produced it well, and then inserted insane falsetto shrieks and impressive virtuoso lead guitar work, to the catchy album closer “Back To Reign” – that mixes Iron Maiden’s gallop with some of that Show No Mercy-era Slayer tinny bounce and Feel The Fire-era Overkill vocal power,

Singer John Cryiis is incredibly diverse; sounding by turns like Katon W. De Pena of Hirax, Bobby Blitz Ellsworth of Overkill, Geoff Tate of Queensryche and strangely Philly Byrne of Gama Bomb (check out “Evil Eye/Evil Minds”). His ultra-high moments even give King Diamond a run for his money at times.

In terms of the instrumentalists; Guitarists Juan Garcia (also of Evildead) and Kurt Kilfelt are both an absolute master of the instrument, coming up with lots of memorable lead lines and solos. Drummer Chuck Profus puts in a really solid performance behind the drum kit. The production really leans into the ride cymbal and toms (almost as if the fills were recorded separately afterwards) and makes the drumming really stand out. The bass guitar, courtesy of George Robb can unfortunately be a little inaudible on some songs (or conversely almost too audible in other songs, for example the Queen Of The Reich copyist “Guilty As Charged” has quite loud bass).  

Highlights include the speedy/thrashy “Bleed For The Gods” and the more dynamic and versatile “Children Of The Sun” which has a sort of Warning-Era Queensryche feel meets the vibe of Metal Church’s debut (a Seattle-sound if you will – but not in the flannel shirt meaning of that phrase!) and the slightly darker “144,000 Gone” which sounds like a mixture of Anvil and Iron Maiden but more depressing.  

If you like Iron Saviour or Gamma Ray’s sci-fi lyrics with Judas Priest influences this is worth checking out, or if you like the production, music and vocals on debut albums by Anthrax, Exciter or Armoured Saint this is really worth checking out. If you want something Thrashy but clean, familiar but distinct, well-produced for the time but still charming and unmistakably 80s, then this is the perfect meeting point. It also helps that its just 30 minutes with absolutely no filler, so it doesn’t get old or outstay its welcome. Don’t overlook it for too long, I can’t believe I never tried this when I was younger.