Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Annihilator: Feast - Review

Let's face it, a good portion of Metal fans have a preferred style within the genre, whether it be Black, Progressive Death, etc. Although within our particular favourite we try to listen to every band we can there is always someone that slips by unnoticed. For me that style has to be Thrash Metal and although I have gone through all sorts from The Big 4, Testament, Exodus, Sepultura, Kreator and even the revival bands like Municipal Waste, Evile, Warbringer and Lazarus A.D., I have managed to go all these years without really giving Canadian thrashers Annihilator a real go. My experience with the band really goes as far as hearing the track "Alison Hell" (which I think is ace) and so I thought that, 
as they had just release of their 14th album, "Feast", it was time to really give Annihilator the time of day. 

To very briefly sum up my opinion on "Feast" before I delve into the details, I would say that it is the epitome of a mixed bag. There are so many elements that the band gets right and yet there are so many other elements that totally ruin the record for me and stop it from achieving its full potential.  

I'll start off by talking about what Annihilator get right on "Feast". As they predominantly play Thrash it is to be expected that the band can write good, fast and aggressively heavy riffs and this is indeed the case. Tracks like opener "Deadlock", "No Way Out" and "Fight The World" have a real old school, Testament-esque feel to them, which I absolutely loved. Any good Thrash album should make me want to start headbanging on the spot and make me wish I was in a circle pit somewhere and in many ways this feeling is achieved on "Feast". I can only imagine what it is like live when Annihilator play "Fight The World" live, with its maniacal riffs and Anthrax-style chorus and I think that a lot of the tracks present really would sound absolutely incredible live.

Along with the great riffing the album also features some immense lead work. The solos feel very well placed and always enhance the songs whenever they are used and again this is to be expected given Annihilator's Thrash background. A good example of the calibre of lead playing on show from Guitarist Jeff Waters is about two thirds of the way through "No Surrender", this solo is long and frantic, like all good Thrash solos should be, and when it is played over the cracking rhythm work from Dave Padden that section of the track comes alive. There are also some nice twin leads in tracks like "One Falls, Two Rise", which add a little variety to things and overall work really well.   

Whilst "Feast" does, in my opinion, feature many positives, there are numerous times throughout the record where Annihilator deviate from their Thrash roots and things start to go a little wayward and that is both from a musical and vocal perspective. 

Starting with the musical side of things and, to be quite honest, Annihilator don't sound the least bit coherent on this record. There are Thrash songs ("Deadlock", "Fight The World"), Hard Rock songs ("Wrapped") and ballads ("Perfect Angel Eyes") and this variety is fair enough to a degree but then there are tracks like "No Surrender" and "Demon Code" that try to fuse all these elements together and things start to get very messy. In many ways the songs all sound totally different from each other and that's not in the "ooh there's a nice bit of variety" way, it's more like "what the fuck is going on here!?". 

To further describe the song structure on the record, "No Surrender" has a Red Hot Chili Peppers-style verse, a Five Finger Death Punch-style pre-chorus and then a Slayer-esque chorus. As it can be imagined these riffs don't blend together so seamlessly and so portions of the track are, quite simply, horrible (I say portions because, as I already mentioned, the solo section is really good and it is this inconsistency within songs that really bothers me). Another example is "No Way Out", which is 90% pure Thrash and then drops into a groovy, Hard Rock bridge, which again feels out of place. There are so many sections in each song that are really damn good, featuring great riffs and ideas and then other sections where you question what exactly Annihilator think they are doing. This has the effect of making it hard to fully like everything about most of the tracks on the record and in fact it's only "Deadlock" and "Fight The World" that I really enjoy, the other tracks feature good parts that are totally overshadowed basically by poor song construction.    

As for the vocal, all I can say is that I found Dave Padden's voice incredibly irritating most of the time. I run the risk of sounding like a broken record but again things are all well and good when the music is kept Thrashy but then begin to fall apart elsewhere. Padden clearly tries to be a diverse vocalist but this attempt fails miserably. At some parts, such as in "Perfect Angel Eyes", he reminds me of Ivan Moody of Five Finger Death Punch (this is not a compliment) and at other times he sounds like a mix of Axl Rose and Dave Mustaine such as in "Wrapped". There is even what I assume to be an attempt to become Jesse Leach on part of "No Way Out"! Arguably Padden's vocal approach varies more than the riffing styles do and that really helped to put me off "Feast" because I don't think he is that good at singing in any other vocal style than Thrash (is that a vocal style?) and his bad vocal deliveries are all over the album. The best way to highlight this issue is during the chorus riff to "No Surrender". When Padden sings over it the riff sounds average and boring and yet when it is played underneath a solo is sounds incredible and really heavy. Maybe I would like this album a little more with a better vocalist, maybe. 

I would be hailing "Feast" as a great album if Annihilator had stuck to their Thrash roots. When they do the album really comes alive but unfortunately things are totally ruined by a total lack of coherency. It feels as if Annihilator are too trying hard to please too many different groups of people, attempting to appeal to the fans of bands such of A7X and FFDP (and maybe the great successes of these bands influenced that thought process, who knows?) and to garner more radio time, whilst still trying to show that they are an old school Thrash band and stay somewhat true to their original fan base. To a degree, I can appreciate that Annihilator, 14 albums down the line, don't want to churn out the same record again and again but the direction that they have gone with "Feast" just tries to cover too many bases and that is its downfall. There is no factor that really ties "Feast" together and so the record feels like a total, incoherent mess. For an album that shows so much potential and some genuinely good passages of play I still feel the need to recommend that this album be avoided because nigh on every song has been butchered by this apparent desire to please everybody.




Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Turisas: Turisas2013 - Review

Turisas will always have a special place in my heart as they were the first band that I went to see live where it was just me and my friends and no parents (and I was older than I care to admit). On that warm September evening in Nottingham, having just released their second album, "The Varangian Way", they tore the stage down and truthfully are one of the better bands I have had the pleasure of watching. If you have never had the chance to see them then I would highly recommend it if only to be surrounded by a load of people in war paint wielding (yes wielding) axes and swords and going nuts as soon as anyone says "Battle Metal", it is truly a unique experience.

Anyway, I digress. Turisas are back with their new album, the follow up to 2011's "Stand Up And Fight", imaginatively titled "Turisas2013" (which makes me wonder if I should have some kind of vote to see if this name is worse than Newsted's "Heavy Metal Music"). I was not so impressed with "Stand Up And Fight" as I had been with the first two Turisas records, to cut a long story short it just didn't do it for me, and unfortunately with "Turisas2013" this trend looks set to continue. On this record Turisas are a shell of the band that had such a unique blend of Viking/Folk Metal and now seem, for lack of a better phrase, to be a lot more "poppy". 

There has been a bit of a shuffle in band members in Turisas as of late. The most noticeable is that accordion player Netta Skog has left the band and has been replaced with keyboardist Robert Engstrand. The casual reader may be wondering how much difference it would make not having an accordion around in a Metal band but unfortunately, for a band that's signature sound is a fusion of Metal and Folk it makes a huge difference. This is made worse by the fact that violin player Olli Vanska sits back a lot more than in previous records. What has basically happened is that the "Folk" element of Turisas' sound, that was key to their being so good, has diminished and those gaps have been filled with an electronic instrument that often makes things sound more 1980s than 980s (check out the keyboard solo in "Piece by Piece"). The overall result of this is that as a listener I didn't feel the same sense of epic scale that I felt with Turisas' previous works and so it was much harder to get into.

I never considered Jussi Wickstrom to be a particularly good guitarist but in this record his riff work is, for the most part, particularly mediocre. Quite often, in tracks like "Ten More Miles" and "Into The Free" he just plays very boring power chord progressions. In previous albums this was passable as I often saw him as driving the songs and providing a platform for Warlord to bark and shout about Vikings whilst the violin and accordion did some interesting interplay but now, as the guitars have become a little more prominent, his playing just comes across as being really unexciting and bland. Despite this, there is an exceptional Metal riff in "Greek Fire", which is really fast and heavy but it doesn't last and quickly things revert to dull chord progressions. To be fair to Wisktrom it isn't always him playing these mediocre riffs, "Greek Fire" and "Ten More Miles" both feature Bassist Jesper Anastasiadis doing something very similar but I think it is fair to say that neither of them are at their most creative on "Turisas2013".

I already mentioned how the keyboards detracted from the "classic" feel of Turisas and matters are not helped by Warlord's performance on the record. I am used to seeing him leading the charge as it were, with his characteristic bark giving a terrifying and aggressive edge to Turisas' music, making them feel like big, aggressive, scary Vikings. What I am left with on "Turisas2013" is a vocal delivery that is far too clean far too often. I accept that Warlord does like to dabble in clean vocals and "One More", "Miklagard Overture" and "A Portage To The Unknown" are some of my favourite Turisas tracks but I always felt the clean vocals were used to good effect. Here things are different, with tracks like "For Your Own Good" and "The Days Passed" being more driven by a cleaner vocals far too much, Warlord still does shout a bit but no where near as much. The lyrical content too doesn't feel the slightest bit Viking and is barely even folky. Check this out from opener "For Your Own Good":

This is all for your own good,
You will come to see
I don't expect you to thank me now,
But I do all this for you

Tearing down the walls surrounding you
Tearing down your world

Reach out and take my helping hand,
You see, you have to understand,
It's my duty, it's what I owe you after all

On their earlier works every sentence that Warlord used to sing had some kind of Viking feel but with this record the feel is totally different. On older records Turisas made me feel like I was on a longboat in the rain ready to go and invade somewhere whilst being led by a massive bloke wielding a big sword, "Turisas2013" makes me feel like I'm about 10 and going on a quest to the shops with my dad on a sunny day whilst riding a pony. 

Production-wise there are some really awkward, and noticeable flaws that are really annoying to listen to. A special mention has to go to the section in "Into The Free", where Wiskstrom plays a lead guitar riff that is mixed far too low, he is panned far right but then the main vocal is then panned to the far left, which is incredibly disorientating. This is made worse by the fact that when it is panned to the left the vocal sounds painfully boxy and the change when it moves back to the centre and becomes "normal" again is so noticeable that I had to double take to check what I had just heard (it's easier to hear than describe). It surely wasn't done on purpose so then I wonder how it was missed during the mix stage, madness. Another annoyance is the horns, which don't feel at all like real instruments and so sound at odds with everything else. This was never an issue in previous records, which were filled with horns, so I am at a loss to figure out why it has become one here. 

The final point I want to make concerns the overall pace of the album. There are so many tracks here that are mid-paced and samey, particularly at the start of the record; it becomes boring to listen to very quickly. There is an attempt with halfway track "Run Bhang-Eater, Run!" to make things a little more exciting and in many ways this track is in the same vein as "In The Court Of Jarisleif" or "Sahti Waari". The start of this track is actually pretty good but then it soon dissolves into (quite literally) a woman doing sex moans over something resembling a sax and then rambles on and fizzles out. The song is far too long and doesn't have the same impact as the other tracks mentioned, it easily could do but Turisas managed to ruin it quite spectacularly. Also the closing track "We Ride Together" was a big disappointment. For a band that had written "Miklagard Overture", one of the most epic closing tracks I have ever heard, I was expecting so much more for the closer on this album but "We Ride Together" sums up the whole album really: it just isn't the Turisas that I know and love.   

To sum up, "Turisas2013" was a big disappointment to me. I was hoping for epic, heavy Viking Metal but what I got was pretty lame and unexciting Pop Metal (if there is such a thing). There are one or two good riffs and ideas in the album but they are overshadowed by all of the bad things that I have mentioned. Sufficed to say, Turisas in 2013 are not the same band that I saw in 2007 (or 2011 at Download, still excellent) and for their next album I would certainly like to see a return to heavier and more aggressive music with the folk elements becoming more prominent. Now if you'll excuse me I'm going to put on "Battle Metal" and remember why I liked the band in the first place...TO HOLMGARD!