Friday, 26 July 2013

Lord Dying: Summon The Faithless - Review

Originally this week I was set to review the new Five Finger Death Punch album. In my own stupidness I failed to notice the album was in fact out next week and so this led me to trawl the net searching for new releases that were worth checking out. My search led to me to a gem in the form of "Summon The Faithless", the debut album from Sludgy, Doomy Metal crew, Lord Dying. I can almost guarantee you have never heard of the band before but take my advice and listen to this album.

Before I get into the main body of this review I wanted to make a quick point: this particular area of Metal is by no means an something in which I have a huge depth of knowledge. I'm going to refer to Lord Dying a Doom Metal band (or Sludge, take your pick) and do my best to describe what they sound like but if you feel the need to tell me that they are in fact a "Post Progessive Doomcore" band then by all means get off my blog and die in a fire. The genre is not important, what matters is that you need to hear this album. 

That being said, let's get to it.   

What I really like about Lord Dying is that they are not afraid to spend a minute or two riffing away, throwing out and developing loads of cool ideas, before ploughing head first into some crushing verses and in many ways this reminds me of the debut Mastodon album "Remission". The other band that I was immediately reminded of with this record was Orange Goblin as I think their approach to song writing is very similar. Basically, if I'm directly comparing a band to Orange Goblin and Mastodon then in Metal terms it means I sure as hell like them.    

One of the things that struck me early on about "Summon The Faithless" was the abundance of cracking riffs that run through the entire album. It is not only that these riffs are well-written and heavy as sin but they are also very well developed. Tracks like (my personal favourite) "Greed Is Your Horse" feature long instrumental sections and this allows each song to really take on its own identity, making the album much more listenable as a whole. It becomes almost surprising how short the songs actually are, most of the tracks on "Summon..." are under 5 minutes long and yet there is so much going on in each one that they feel so much longer.

In terms of the production on the album I think that it is done to a very high standard. Unfortunately I was unable to find out exactly who the Producer was but what I can say is that the tone of the album has been captured really well. Although I am not a massive fan of the term I would say the album has a very "raw" sound and this certainly suits Lord Dying. To be a little pedantic I maybe would have liked the drums a little more prominent, particularly because the drumming on this record is so damn good, but this is a minor gripe. The album sounds dirty, sweaty and a little claustrophobic but this does in fact work.

Naturally I'm not going to focus purely on the positives of this album (as good as it is). I personally think that, although each song is really given a chance to develop, the album would benefit from a couple of slightly longer songs with extended instrumental sections. It is a little frustrating because Lord Dying keep hinting at what they are capable of and yet, to a degree, it feels like the album never quite hits its full potential. Case in point for this is the closing track "What Is Not...Is", which is a couple of minutes longer than the rest of the tracks on the album and yet the extra time is taken up with a lot of static and feedback, which slowly fizzles out. I was expecting something a little more "musical", which could have ended the album on a real high note but what I got was a little on the disappointing side and this slightly took the edge off the album.

Overall, I would say that "Summon The Faithless" is well worth checking out. It is crushingly heavy, features some immense riffs and solos and is one of the better efforts I have heard this year. It is always refreshing when I come across a new band that excites me so much and I urge anyone reading this to give Lord Dying the time of day, I will certainly be watching their progression very closely.    



Saturday, 20 July 2013

Children Of Bodom: Halo Of Blood - Review

  • Genre: Melodic Metal
  • Release Date: 07/06/13
  • Number Of Tracks: 10
  • Length: 41:40
  • Record Label: Nuclear Blast
  • Producer: Peter Tagtgren


Children Of Bodom are a band that I had lost touch with for a long time. In my youth I was quite a big fan of theirs, owning both the "Follow The Reaper" and "Hate Crew Deathroll" records and was familiar with a lot of their other stuff as well. Despite this I never really got round to listening to "Blooddrunk" properly and missed "Relentless Reckless Forever" completely. I figured that since I am doing a lot of review writing these days it would be cool to give the new Bodom record a listen to see how the band had progressed over the last few years and to see if their style of music was still as enjoyable to me in my twenties as it was in my teens.

"Halo Of Blood" is Children Of Bodom's eighth full length release and it can be said that whilst this record is a very strong effort from the Fins it is also very safe. Bodom really stick to their guns and if in the past you have been a fan of their blend of lightning fast riffing, immense lead guitar work, more keyboards than a 70s prog convention and choruses that are sometimes so catchy you can't help but bang your head and sing along then you will not be disappointed. That being said if you hate this band then this album will in no way appeal to you as it doesn't really offer much new.

In my past reviews I have often bemoaned bands for not being able to strike a balance between solid riff work and excellent leads (Amon Amarth and Megadeth I'm talking about you) but of all the albums I have listened to since writing this blog "Halo Of Blood" has to be the one that best finds this balance. The riff work from Alexi Laiho and Roope Latvala is really well done. Within the same song they will vary speeds and ideas and it helps to make the songs feel fresh. Added to that is the amount of lead guitar work the pair get through. Bodom really know how to play their instruments and they allocate just the right amount of time to solos, allowing songs to come alive and gain their own character, which helps to make each song more individual. Moreover the extensive use of keyboard leads from Janne Wirman means the listener is constantly kept guessing. I wasn't sure whether to expect twin guitar leads, a keyboard solo, a single guitar solo or guitar and keyboards together  and this helped to hold my attention ands really made me enjoy the album as a whole.

In addition to this "Halo Of Blood" has a really good overall pacing. Bodom aren't afraid to slow things down a bit and so tracks like "Scream For Silence" and "Dead Man's Hand On You" help to bring more differentiation to the album. As a result of both the excellent pacing and contrast in leads and rhythms the album doesn't get boring and that is something that, given that Bodom are on album number 8 and are basically writing the same album they always have, is a massive achievement. Somehow Children Of Bodom have managed to make their characteristic writing style sound really fresh and exciting to listen to and this shouldn't be underestimated.

There are some really great highlights on this album. Opener "Waste Of Skin" has an infectious intro that is reminiscent of "Needled 24/7". Additionally title track "Halo Of Blood" features some quick riff work and heavy blast beats that almost reminds me of something Emperor would do; being a big fan of Emperor I appreciated the reference. Also the album closer "One Bottle And A Knee Deep" has the most catchy chorus you are likely to hear this year and reminds me a lot of their classic track "Bed Of Razors". Overall I really like how Bodom have referenced older material but put a new twist on it with this record.

If it wasn't already apparent, I really like this album but it wouldn't be fair of me to focus on all of the positives and I do have some issues. The first is that, although as a whole the album is great to listen to, I feel that the individual tracks on "Halo Of Blood" are not as strong as some of Bodom's older stuff. I find it hard to identify a track that I like as much as "Hate Me" or "Sixpounder" and so it does take a bit of the edge off the album. I'm left wanting just a few more standout riffs and a few more catchy sections. It's a strange contradiction because I think the album is great and yet I still feel like Bodom could do better with some of the writing; it feels like something is missing.

Added to this rather strange issue is my perceived lack of "power" in the album. Producer Peter Tagtgren has done a decent job with giving all the instruments space in the mix but I just think each instrument doesn't sound quite as big or imposing as it could. It's a minor gripe but I like my metal to feel like it is big and crushing (like on the new Amon Amarth record) and I don't quite get that impression with "Halo Of Blood". By all means it won't stop anyone from enjoying the album but it was something that I noticed and would have liked to be better.

To sum this record up then it is pretty damn good. It is safe to say that I can still consider myself a fan of Children Of Bodom and don't think I will ever stop loving the over-the-top brand of metal that these guys offer. The album is not without its flaws but overall it is a great listen and it's good to see that after so long Bodom can still sound fresh.


Standout Track: Halo Of Blood 

Overall: 8/10 


And finally, I can announce that I am officially on Twitter. Check out the link below  to get news on all the music-related work I am doing. As always the Facebook page is still the same:


Friday, 19 July 2013

Phil Anselmo & The Illegals: Walk Through Exits Only - Review

  • Genre: Metal
  • Release Date: 16/07/13
  • Number of Tracks: 8
  • Length: 40:42
  • Record Label: Housecore


There are two things I would like to sort out before I get into the main body of this review. The first is that if you are reading this and you have no idea who Phil Anselmo is then stop reading, listen to the back catalogues of Pantera, Down and Superjoint Ritual (and any of Anselmo's countless other side projects) and then come back. The second point is a little more serious. Phil Anselmo is a legend and has been involved of some of the best Heavy Metal music created since the early 90s. Although it should be noted that Phil Anselmo & The Illegals are not Pantera and are not Down, and by no means should they sound like anything them, I still feel the need to offer comparisons between the bands just to try to make a little more sense of everything and to put things in better context. That being said I can get onto reviewing "Walk Through Exits Only".

There has been a lot of hype surrounding this record for a while as it is being touted as Anselmo's first solo album. I have a lot of respect for the man, being a massive fan of both Down and Pantera, and subsequently I was extremely excited about its release. A few days before the album dropped the video for "Bedridden" was released and this gave me a bit of an insight into the album. I was expecting something similar to Superjoint Ritual that pulled no punches and, in true Anselmo fashion, would be straight to-the-point, crushingly heavy and, most importantly, would be fun and exciting.  

When I first listened to the album as a whole all I can say is that I was wholly disappointed as I felt it didn't live up to the promise that had been shown on "Bedridden". For me it takes a long time for the album to get going. Opener "Music Media Is My Whore" is basically two minutes of Anselmo ranting about the music business, which is fine to a degree and it would be forgivable if it was one of those "throwaway" tracks at the start of an album that only seeks to build up the tension ahead of some riffing goodness in track 2; unfortunately this is not the case. Following is "Battalion Of Zero", which, although very frantic and angry, just feels like Anselmo is making a few points about  politics to some aggressive backing music. The first two tracks set the precedent for the rest of the album and it leaves little to get excited about.

Yes, "Walk Through Exits Only" is reminiscent of Superjoint Ritual but for the most part I find it to be incredibly samey and after a song or two the listener has honestly already experienced everything on offer. My main issue for the album is that there doesn't seem to be any time for The Illegals to do their thing. A good 95% of the album involves some kind of lyrics, which means that there is very little chance for the music side of the album to breathe. A case in point for this is the fact that on every song Anselmo comes in almost instantly, leaving no time to build things up musically. Tracks like "Walk Through Exits Only" feature a couple of cool ideas but as a listener I wanted these to be developed more than they are for two reasons; the first is that I really love riffs and the second is that it would give the album chance to have a bit of differentiation. It isn't that The Illegals aren't good at what they do, it's just that their work feels totally overshadowed.

Something that really annoys me about this record is closer "Irrelevant Walls and Computer Screens". Closing an album with a 12 minute song is a bold move but in this case it feels like the wrong move. If you are talking Phil Anselmo and long ending songs then Down's "Bury Me In Smoke" has to come to the forefront, "that" riff is incredible and it brings such a crushing and heavy end to NOLA (which is brilliant); unfortunately "Irrelevant..." does not quite have the same effect. This track has 5 minutes or so of the same old that you have come to expect from the album and then enters a good (or bad) 7 minutes of random noises, bad solos and the like that feels totally pointless. It doesn't exactly end the album on a high note and more has the effect of petering out the record than bringing it to some kind of triumphant end.  

I find it difficult to pull positives out of this album because everything that is good about it leads me to something I don't like. For example, Anselmo is spot on with his vocals and his lyric writing is as strong and angry as ever; unfortunately there is far more of him on the album than there should be. The riff work is really good in places but nothing seems developed and I want there to be more of it, same for the drums. The guitar solos are few and far between but the solos that do feature are, for the most part, enjoyable. The production is very clean and sounds really good but then I question if it's the right style for the album and would prefer something a little more "raw". Naturally this creates a frustrating feel to the album and prevents me from fully enjoying it.

It is probably evident that I don't think this album is as good as I wanted it to be. I wouldn't go so far as to call the record boring but it becomes very hard to not turn it off because, as with Megadeth's "Super Collider", it does not hold my attention. I remember the excitement that I felt when I heard Pantera, Down and Superjoint Ritual for the first time and that excitement was definitely lacking with "Walk Through Exits Only". I leave the album wanting so much more and this saddens me because I was hoping for one of the best records of the year. Overall "Walk Through Exits Only" is similar, in a way, to Superjoint Ritual but nowhere near as good and truthfully I think that if the Anselmo name wasn't on the album it would have passed into obscurity.


Standout Track: Bedridden

Overall: 4/10    


Just another quick point in that I now have a Spotify playlist for my blog. When I do reviews I will take a couple of the best tracks from the album and bang them on there for your enjoyment. Just search "The Braindead Metalhead" in the search bar and you should find it, enjoy.

Friday, 12 July 2013

Double Review: Chthonic - "Bu-Tik" & Autopsy - "The Headless Ritual"

When I reviewed Megadeth's "Super Collider" two days ago, I said that one of the downsides of review writing was that every so often bad albums would come along that I would have to force myself to be subjected to. Today I can say that there is a definite upshot of this hobby; every so often I will come across good albums by bands that I would otherwise never have listened to. It just so happened that I had 2 of these albums at once, Chthonic's "Bu-Tik" and Autopsy's "The Headless Ritual". Although neither of these are the best album you will hear in 2013 they are definitely both worth checking out. I hope that at least one person reading these reviews gives the albums a listen and is maybe, like me, exposed to some new and enjoyable music; naturally if you are already aware of either, or both, of these bands then this will provide an insight into their latest efforts.

Chthonic: Bu-Tik

"Bu-Tik" is the 7th effort from Taiwanese metal band, Chthonic (I think it's pronounced "Thonic", I may be mistaken) and I think the best way to describe this album is a mix between Children of Bodom and Arch Enemy with traditional instruments thrown in for good measure. With "Bu-Tik", Chthonic provide the listener with 10 tracks of fast, aggressive metal goodness and, for a first-time listener, I was really taken into the band. 

There are many things about "Bu-Tik" that really stand out. Firstly, Dani Wang's drumming is phenomenal, providing a really strong platform for the rest of the band. Wang blast beats and double kicks relentlessly through all 40 minutes of the album and it was the feature that really got my attention. Additionally, the guitar work from Jesse Liu is also notable, moving from aggressive circle pit riffs to more groovy, metalcore-like riffs seemingly at the flick of a switch whilst also throwing in some solid lead work for good measure. 

Production on the record was handled by Rickard Bengtsson and, although the production style of "Bu-Tik" is not something I would usually enjoy (I'm not huge on overly clean production with drums that feel triggered, I prefer a bit more dirt and more of a natural sound) I find in this case the "cleanliness" of the mix works really well for bringing out all the keyboards, synths, traditional instruments and choirs that feature abundantly on this record. Extras like that can really clog the mix up if handled badly and I think that Bengtsson has done a really great job with giving everything its own space.

Despite "Bu-Tik" being a solid effort from Chthonic, I feel it suffers from being just too damn repetitive. Album opener "Supreme Pain For The Tyrant" is great and really grabs the listener's attention but when faced with the rest of the album effectively sounding the same, and without any great changes in song length or tempo, I find that the album can go stale faster than I would have liked. There is an effort with "Sail Into The Sunset's Fire" to change the tone slightly, experimenting with an almost pirate-esque sound, but it is an early track on the album and I think that after the third of fourth track there isn't much else to offer. 

With "Bu-Tik" I think that Chthonic have released a decent album and the songs taken as individuals are really good. However because of its repetitive nature I find it hard to keep my full attention on it and after 4 full listens still can't differentiate a lot of the songs. Yes, the songs on the album are good but listening to it as a full album is often difficult and tedious and so I leave "Bu-Tik" wanting a little more than I got. I rate this album 6.5/10 and if you are looking for tracks to listen to check out "Supreme Pain For The Tyrant" and "Sail Into The Sunset's Fire".      

Autopsy: The Headless Ritual

"The Headless Ritual" is the 6th album from veteran Death Metal band, Autopsy and is only their 2nd since their hiatus. The best way to describe this band is a fusion of Cannibal Corpse, Mayhem, Slayer, Death and Sleep with a hint of Black Sabbath to boot; if you are unsure what I mean by that then what I am saying is that Autopsy are awesome. "The Headless Ritual" combines all the best bits of extreme metal to make one truly unique album that is at once surprising, crushing and heavy. 

When I first put this album on and listened to opener "Slaughter At Beast House" I had a huge grin on my face. The song opens up with some immensely fast riffing and threatens to be a very good Death Metal song before the pace drops and shifts straight into more of a Doom Metal feel. This shift completely took me by surprise and before I had chance to register what was going on the pace changed again. Without a doubt this is one of the best Death Metal tracks I have heard, it sounded fresh and exciting and kept me on my toes which, in the often predictable world of Death Metal, felt very welcome. 

The first 3 tracks of this record are arguably 3 of the best songs you will hear all year. I particularly liked 3rd track "She Is A Funeral" which, just as I was thinking I was listening to a Death Metal band with Doom Metal influences, took me completely off guard as it sounded more like something Mayhem would release. Here is a band that isn't afraid to move out of the constraints of Death Metal and they do it extremely well. In fact I would go so far as to say that if this was a 3 track EP then I would give it a 10, they are that good.

Before I talk about the rest of the album I wanted to briefly mention the production (as I always do). Duties were handled by Adam Munoz and he has worked really well to give the feel of an old-school Death Metal album and it does take me back to early Death and Cannibal Corpse. I guess in a lot of ways this sort of feel is to be expected as Autopsy were one of the pioneers of Death Metal, having started out in the late 80s, and I think the production style does the band's sound justice.

In a way "The Headless Ritual" is a little bit frustrating. Autopsy set the bar very high from the get go but I feel like after the first 3 tracks the album isn't quite as strong. Although the stylistic shifts in "Slaughter..." felt really fresh and exciting they are used in a very similar way in both "Coffin Crawlers" and "When Hammer Meets Bone" and so it goes from exciting to somewhat predictable. The latter particularly I feel would benefit from being a straight-up Death Metal track with nothing fancy added to it. Sometimes these changes work well and sound fresh and other times it feels overdone and it does take the edge off the album.

Album closer, the instrumental "The Headless Ritual" is also a bit of a let down. From a band that throughout the album shows off so many great riffs and awesome solos akin to Slayer I think that the closing track just falls a little flat and would benefit from being a little longer instead of feeling a more like an afterthought. It is a bit of a shame because I wanted this album to end as brutally as it started and it just seems to fizzle out a little.

Overall "The Headless Ritual" is well worth a listen and contains some of the best tracks you will hear in 2013. Yes there are some issues with song structure and arguably there are some things being done that don't need to be and vice versa but ultimately the album is very much enjoyable. I would rate it an 8/10 and recommend listening to "Slaughter At Beast House", "She Is A Funeral" and "Mangled Far Below". 


So there you have it, two new releases that are both worth checking out. Just a quick note in that I now have a Facebook page for this blog so please check it out for news of upcoming reviews and stories. You can also recommend me an album if you want me to review it. Thanks to everyone that has read my stuff so far, I have amassed over 100 views on my posts in the week and a half that I have been doing this so thanks a lot.


Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Megadeth: Super Collider - Review

  • Genre: Metal
  • Release Date: 04/06/13
  • Number of Tracks: 11
  • Length: 45:14
  • Record Label: Tradecraft
  • Producer: Johnny K / Dave Mustaine


When I decided that I was going to start doing reviews I knew that every so often I was bound to come across a terrible album, that I would have to subject myself to a few listens of it and then try to stop it being erased from my mind long enough for me to write something about it. I thought I would tackle Megadeth's 14th album, "Super Collider" and lo and behold, after just over a week of reviewing, I have my first bad album to write about.

Writing about music this bad leads to some issues; I want to be taken semi-seriously as a reviewer and so the two word review "shit sandwich" was out of the question, as was trying to crack a load of jokes at Megadeth's expense. Instead I will settle on being honest about how I feel about this's shit.

As of late Megadeth have been really churning out albums; 
"Super Collider" is Megadeth's 4th album in just 6 years. Truthfully this is the first of those records that I have actually heard so I don't have much reference material. The album starts well enough with "Kingmaker" which, although is not the greatest Megadeth song you will hear, is at least a solid effort to write a semi-decent Metal track and, from other reviews I have read, is considered the best track on the album. Personally, I think that the song isn't that special but is made to look good by the rest of the piss-poor, half-arsed effort that Megadeth seem to find worthy to release under their name. What follows "Kingmaker" are 9 tracks (and a cover) of mid-tempo, riffless, boring as sin songs that leave me with a bit of a dilemma because I find it difficult to believe that all 4 members of Megadeth sat round a table, listened to the album then all agreed that it was a decent effort and fit for release (if the band is indeed a democracy). 

"Super Collider" is a very special album in that it manages to make 4 minutes feel like 4 hours. When I first looked at the track lengths I was surprised to see that there was not a single song over 5 minutes; that instantly got me thinking that the album would offer little variety and that is indeed the case. The songs really do drag and it is probably the only time I have ever felt that a 45 minute album is way too long. It feels like everything has been heard by track 4 and repeat listens to the album are laborious. I can totally understand that, after writing 13 albums, Megadeth were not really up for writing another Thrash record and didn't want to re hash old ideas too much. That being said they seem to have fallen into the exact same trap that they fell into with "Risk". It is more than possible for a band to have a little bit of a change in style and to do it sounding fresh and exciting (Mastodon and Opeth, for example) but with "Super Collider" it feels like Megadeth are making the mistakes that they made in the 90s all over again.

I guess now I should delve into what specifically makes the album so bad. First and foremost it seems like Dave Mustaine has forgotten some of the advice he once gave out that myself, as a guitarist, held in such high esteem for a long time. He once said something along the lines of lead playing being 10% of a song and that rhythms were the most important; I couldn't agree more. With this in mind it's astounding that tracks like "Super Collider" and "Burn!" ever got released. Here are two tracks that have no good riffs to speak of and rely on flashy solos to make the song sound exciting; unfortunately this is the case for most of the album.

When I reviewed the new Amon Amarth album last week I said that it was a shame that the great riffs in that album weren't backed up by killer solos and with "Super Collider" it's the polar opposite. Yes, Chris Broderick and Dave Mustaine do have some good lead guitar work on the record but it doesn't make up for the fact that the songs they feature in are boring. It almost feels like Megadeth are taunting their fans by showing some examples of them being really good musicians but doing it to a backdrop of bad, bad music. It's a bit like seeing a delicious cake surrounded by shit.

Another thing that really, really sucks about this album is the lyrics. I don't even necessarily feel the need to comment on them, just read:

Burn, baby burn... 'cause it feels so good

Burn, baby burn... like I knew it would

Fire, I've got the fire

Fire, burning desire... my desire to burn

Built for war, what do you think your fists are for? Built for war!
Built for war, are you looking at me, you want some more?
What do you think your fists are for?

These are examples from the tracks "Burn!" and "Built For War" and I don't think any words are needed. Even worse than that, at one point, Mustaine says, just no. What's even funnier is that the cover track, thin Lizzy's "Cold Sweat" also has bad lyrics! It's like Mustaine wrote a whole album of bad lyrics, covered a song with equally bad lyrics and then didn't at least have the courtesy to sing in a way that half covered it up; every word is very clear and 

it's horrible.

Moving on from that, the track "The Blackest Crow" is interesting. Interesting because it is Megadeth's "experimental" track and features heavy use of a banjo. There are two things about this song, the first is that it is really, really bad, the second is that it reminds me of Warrant's "Uncle Tom's Cabin" to the point that I want to stop "Super Collider" entirely and bang on the whole "Cherry Pie" album. If your music is reminding me of a band that I would sooner be listening to then you are doing something very wrong.

I could honestly talk about how bad this album is forever but I will just focus on one more thing; the production. This album is boxy and sounds incredibly small to the point that it is almost uncomfortable to listen to. It's a little like I'm Uma Thurman (stay with me) in Kill Bill 2 and I'm trapped inside a coffin underground and Megadeth are playing 6 feet above me. It sounds horrible, it feels horrible and it's just...horrible. Production was handled by Johnny K and, you guessed it, Dave Mustaine. I in fact think that Mustaine controlled this album from start to finish and arguably is responsible for the outcome.

My concluding thoughts on "Super Collider" are that, frankly, I don't want to hear it ever again. I think that Dave Mustaine, if he even cares anymore, should focus less on bashing Obama and the US Government and should focus more on his music. At least when Mustaine was angry with Metallica his band were churning out decent albums but now it feels like Megadeth are stale and all but finished, fresh out of ideas and heading for another low period. I would usually conclude with a standout track but in this case the only thing that stands out is the mediocrity of this god-awful album, Rust In Peace it isn't.

Overall: 2/10


Monday, 8 July 2013

Black Sabbath: 13 - Review

  • Genre: Heavy Metal
  • Release Date: 10/06/13
  • Number of Tracks: 8
  • Length: 53:18
  • Record Label: Vertigo
  • Producer: Rick Rubin


In June 2012 Black Sabbath headlined the 10th anniversary of Download Festival. The whole saga surrounding this performance including the absence of Bill Ward and the health issues with Tony Iommi have been well documented so I won't delve into them here. What I can say is on that Sunday night I was witness to probably the best performance of any band I have ever seen. Sabbath sounded brutally heavy and blew away every single band that had played over the whole weekend (and the 2012 line up was phenomenal). Naturally then I was pretty excited about the announcement for a new album because clearly Sabbath still have what it takes to be a brilliant live band. At the same time I was a shade apprehensive because I did not want them to release a terrible comeback album that could tarnish their reputation and that reeked of the need to make a quick buck.  

"13" is Black Sabbath's first album with Ozzy since 1978s "Never Say Die!" and is arguably as close to the "classic" Sabbath line up as we are ever likely to get again given the issues with Bill Ward. Instead of Ward, drum duties on the album were handled by Brad Wilk of Rage Against The Machine; I was a little disappointed not to see Tommy Clufetos on drums as he had played with Sabbath on their comeback gigs and was more than a perfect fit for the band. Whatever the reasons for Clufetos' absence, Wilk still does a solid job. The album was produced by Rick Rubin, who was an interesting choice given the infamous backlash from the production on Metallica's "Death Magnetic" (I'll try to avoid mentioning that too much!) and also given how much hate he got from Slipknot regarding his work ethic; more on him later.

What can be said about "13" is that Sabbath are definitely making a conscious effort to sound like they did back in the 70s when, arguably, they wrote their best material. One of the fun things about this album, for better or worse, is that there are riffs and tracks that sound reminiscent of classic Sabbath tunes. For example, opener "End of the Beginning" sounds like "Black Sabbath", "Loner" sounds like "NIB", "Live Forever" sounds like "Hole in the Sky" and if "Zeitgeist" isn't a deliberate sequel to "Planet Caravan" then I would be astounded. It can certainly be said that Sabbath are not trying to do much new and are instead playing on the nostalgia of their classic albums and to a degree this works really well, I for one really like it. "13" is a nice bit of vintage Sabbath and could easily have been released in '73 as 2013. 

As for the individuals in the band I think for their age they all do a brilliant job. Ozzy's voice still has that characteristic feel to it and he hasn't seemed to have lost much of his range with age. Geezer Butler locks in with Wilk all the way through, which, for me, gives Iommi the platform he needs to really steal the show. For a man with Cancer and missing fingers Tony Iommi is really still on top of his game. His guitar work on this album is incredible from the crushing riffs in the chorus of "God is dead?" to the beautiful solo that closes out "Zeitgeist" and it is this playing that  really makes the album. All things considered it is amazing that these guys can still write music like this but then, given their stellar performance at Download in 2012 I really shouldn't feel that shocked. 

Yes, "13" is a really enjoyable album and can be said to be a return to form for Black Sabbath and yet there are areas that prevent it from being considered as good as classics like "Master of Reality" and "Paranoid". The first issue with the album is the production value. I don't want to be the hipster douche that says albums are unlistenable due to production and it is by no means the case on "13" but it does have an impact on the overall feel. The album is definitely over compressed, leading to audible distortion (check out the intro on "End of the Beginning"), which means that everything sounds a bit lifeless. Some of my biggest gripes are that the drums sound like a MIDI kit, Ozzy's vocals do not sit well in the mix and I think the solos are too loud. I don't know what Rubin was playing at but I have to think that he should have targeted a feel more like 70s Sabbath instead of trying to bring the band into the "loudness wars". This will obviously impact on the listener depending on their tastes and knowledge of production, for me it wasn't a deal breaker but more of an annoyance.

Additionally, some of the songs are too damn long. "13" has 8 tracks and 5 of them are over 7 minutes in length. To put this into perspective I counted 4 songs of that length over the first 5 Sabbath albums. Don't get me wrong, I have no issue with long songs but I do have a problem with "classic" bands making new records filled with tracks that are way longer than what they usually write. The reason for this is because, in my opinion, it often doesn't work out as well as it could (Iron Maiden and Metallica I'm looking at you). What I find with "13" is that sometimes this approach works really well, "Damaged Soul", for example, builds slowly and has some awesome solo sections and everything blends nicely, it doesn't feel like parts were added on. However, opening track "End of the Beginning" feels like the opposite. It's not like parts of these tracks aren't really good but it is often very easy to lose interest as the approach to writing these longer tracks often feels "formulaic". Personally I think it would be better to keep maybe 2 tracks at that length, at most, and trim the fat on the others to make a more to-the-point record. Sabbath aren't usually a band that write loads of longer songs so I don't see why they felt the need to start now.   

Finally, although it is great that Sabbath are tipping their hat to their older music (and this is indeed one of my favourite things about "13") they often fall victim to the ridiculously high standards that they set for themselves. It is great that they have nostalgic riffs but then consequently you can't help but end up making comparisons to older Sabbath albums. Yes "Loner" sounds like "NIB" but the song isn't as good. This is the case for any of the songs comparisons previously mentioned and this just takes the edge off the album a little bit because you know what Sabbath are capable of. It could be said that Sabbath are imitating themselves to a degree but do not quite do it with the same levels of success. 

Black Sabbath were always going to have a hard time writing an album that was as good as their previous material but "13" is a really good listen. It is riff-laden, has amazing solos, is heavy as hell and is as good a "comeback" album as you could have expected from guys that are their age and have been through what they have. Of course the album is not without its flaws and doesn't necessarily stand up to some of their greater works but then was it ever going to? I personally think that "13" is a decent album and is well worth a listen.

Standout Track: "Zeitgeist"

Overall: 8/10


Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Jared MacEachern, Sanctity and "Road To Bloodshed"

In February of 2013 Machine Head announced the departure of Bassist and founder member, Adam Duce. To fill the huge gap that Duce left, Machine Head turned to the internet, inviting individuals to send in videos of them playing a collection of Machine Head songs whilst also filling in with backing vocals. Fast forward to June 2013 and it was announced that the vacant position had been given to Jared MacEachern, formerly the Vocalist and Rhythm Guitarist of metal band Sanctity. 

When news of MacEachern's appointment reached me I became very excited and for those reading this blog who have heard of Sanctity that excitement may have been apparent. To those less familiar with the band I thought it would be cool to talk a little bit about them and their sole album "Road To Bloodshed", which, in my humble opinion, is one of the most under-rated metal albums of the last decade.

Formed in 1998, Sanctity got their first real break when noticed by Matt Heafy of Trivium who promptly got them signed to Roadrunner. From being signed the band were catapulted into the limelight. They were personally asked by Dave Mustaine to join Gigantour after he saw them live and they were also able to share the stage with the likes of Machine Head, Arch Enemy, Children of Bodom, Black Label Society, Trivium, Gojira and more.

As mentioned, in 2007 Sanctity were able to release one solitary album; "Road To Bloodshed". This album is quite simply amazing. "Road..." treats the listener to 12 tracks and 45 minutes of incredible riff after incredible riff, courtesy of MacEachern and other guitarist Zeff Childress, who manages to shred his way through the record without it ever getting boring or sounding stale. MacEachern handles vocal duties for the album and his voice is so well suited to the brand of metal that Sanctity play that it is easy to see how vocally he would fit perfectly with Rob Flynn in Machine Head. Every song on "Road..." could be a single, from crushing opener "Beneath The Machine" to anthemic track "Zeppo", it is that good. If I'm being super-pedantic the album is very atonal - near enough every track is a 3-4 minute, high tempo, straight up metal track. Despite this, when the songs sound as good as they do you really don't care, it's riff-laden, it's catchy, its brilliant and I don't care how you consume music, consume this, you won't regret it.

So I guess the next question is that if this Sanctity were touring with so many big bands and released an album that was so good then why have most people not heard of them? I guess there are really two answers to that question. Firstly, if you consider how many amazing metal albums were released in the second half of the Noughties it is very easy to miss a debut like "Road to Bloodshed". When it was released in April 2007 , Lamb of God had just released "Sacrament", Slipknot were about to release "All Hope is Gone" and merely a month before "Road..." dropped, in March 2007, an album by the name of "The Blackening" was released. I can't help but feel that everyone got too caught up in the hysteria caused by Machine Head's magnum opus to really give "Road..." the credit it deserved.

The other reason the band is almost unknown is that, unfortunately, Sanctity all but disbanded in 2008. MacEachern left to be with his newborn daughter and Bassist Derek Anderson also quit the band. At the time I had in fact heard that Sanctity as a band were completely finished. This was a real shame because it is arguable that if they were able to get a few more quality albums under their belt then by now, with the promise they were showing, Sanctity would be up there with the real heavyweights in their genre. As it is I have only ever spoke to one other person about the band who has known anything about them. 

My closing remarks on Sanctity are that they seem to have just missed out on being a band that everyone was talking about. The departure of MacEachern and Anderson stopped Sanctity dead in their tracks, leaving them unable to capitalise on the platform they had made for themselves. As a result, with the other great albums around at the time from more established bands, Sanctity have become more or less forgotten in the 6 years or so since "Road..." was released. Researching for this article led me to discover that the band have reformed (albeit with different members) and are in the writing process but whether they can ever reach the same heights again is highly doubtful.

I wish Jared MacEachern every success with Machine Head. 



Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Amon Amarth: Deceiver of the Gods - Review

  • Genre: Death Metal
  • Release Date: 25/06/13
  • Number of Tracks: 10
  • Length: 47:52
  • Record Label: Metal Blade
  • Producer: Andy Sneap

"Deceiver of the Gods" is Amon Amarth's 9th full-length effort and features more of the Viking-themed Death Metal aggression that the band has become known for over the last 15 or so years since the release of their first album back in 1998.

The most apparent thing upon the first listen is how powerful the album sounds. One of the main reasons for this is Andy Sneap's commendable job with making everything sound crystal clear; there is no real muddiness to speak of and every instrument sits nicely in the mix. Fredrik Andersson's drums sound massive and pummel away at the listener whilst the guitars of Johan Soderberg and Olavi Mikonen have real bite and aggression. As a comparison, "Deceiver..." sounds cleaner than Amarth's 2008, Jens Bogren produced, "Twilight of the Thunder God" but this is in no way detrimental to the overall feel and rather enhances the sound.

One word that comes to mind for this album is "riff". "Deceiver..." is littered with killer riffs, from the Thrash influenced opening of the title track to the groove-filled section about a third of the way through "Warriors of the North" giving plenty to keep the listener interested. There is also the extensive use of Maiden-esque twin guitar leads. Mikonen and Soderberg really go to town with this and it leads to some really nice sections in songs like "As Loke Falls" and "Coming of the Tide". It can be said that every single member of this band is in top form for this record.

Lyrically "Deceiver..." is more of the same for Amarth. In the past Vocalist Johan Hegg has said that he does not wish for the band to be considered as "Viking Metal" however this album will inevitably reinforce that label. The subject matter is firmly placed in Norse mythology and has the usual commentaries on wars and the gods but isn't all guts and glory; the song "Under Siege", for example, deals with the effects of being trapped inside a city that is under attack and is a welcome change of pace.  Hegg's vocal delivery is very well done. His growls are terrifying and match the aggression and the themes of the music perfectly. Song-to-song there isn't a massive change in his style, the exception being on "Hel" where his growl becomes deeper and more menacing, which is a really nice touch given the song's subject matter.

Overall then there are many positives to this album but there are so many things that stop it being great. As good as the guitar work is it becomes frustrating because it leaves you begging for a solo. I'm not saying Amarth should shred for the sake of it but if "Deceiver of the Gods" and "Coming of the Tide" are compared, the latter has a really nice guitar solo followed by some awesome twin leads going back to the main body of the song whilst the former opens with a killer riff then a lead section which doesn't match it for pace and fizzles out. There are too many sections where the lead work on offer just doesn't feel like enough. Yes, the leads are Maiden-esque but Maiden back them up with awesome solos, something Amon Amarth, unfortunately, rarely do.

Another issue is that by the time the album is halfway through there isn't much more to sink your teeth into and it feels like you have already heard everything on offer. As I listener I was begging for something different or a change of pace but for the most part it can be said that the album is very "safe". I was especially let down by 8 minute closer "Warriors of the North". This could have been an epic song with some really nice guitar work and with an epic feel akin to "Miklagard Overture" by Turisas, as it was it just felt like 2 songs added together that sounded the same as everything else and missed the mark of being an epic album closer.

Arguably the only real experimentation on the album came from "Hel", which features former Candlemass singer Messiah Marcolin. Although I liked the idea of the "operatic" vocals, I don't see why they felt the need to have Marcolin and Hegg singing at the same time and instead think a Dimmu Borgir-esque section with an operatic vocalist singing exclusively would have worked much better. This seems to be the only place on the whole album that Amon Amarth move away from their characteristic sound and unfortunately it doesn't work as well as it could.

My overall feeling with this album is that it seems to be a missed opportunity. There are so many songs that lay the groundwork with awesome riffs only to be let down by unsatisfying lead playing. Additionally the pacing of the album is very samey and it can get tiring very quickly. If you have followed this band for some time then this album will probably be very satisfying as it is Amon Amarth doing what they do best but for me it just isn't as good as it should be.

Standout Track: Coming of the Tide

Overall: 6/10