Critical Update 1 2008
Reviewed this time: Aetherius Obscuritas, Annihilator, Ayreon, Blut Aus Nord, Dave Corp, the Foreshadowing, Gamma Ray, Melechesh, Pathosray, Rob Rock, Six Gun Symphony, Struggle Within, Thine Eyes Bleed, Type O Negative, Virgin Black.
AETHERIUS OBSCURITAS “Viziok” (12 tracks. 53:14). PARAGON RECORDS
Rating: 8. Country of Origin: Hungary. Release Date: available now.
Hungarian black metal has had some notable characters. Here’s another, a guy who goes by the moniker, Arkhorri. A lot of what you find here may well be what you would expect—whispered screams for vocals, shrill guitars, and lightning fast drumming, and so on—I have to say that he does it in an interesting way. Though the sole performer on AO’s three previous albums, he was joined on this album by an unnamed drummer. Thus he was able to discard the drum machine for some and give the songs a real band feel. Musically Arkhorri displays a variety of approaches to the genre. He plays at multiple tempos, uses acoustics in key places, keyboards to good effect, and choirs in a few places. Some of the riffing comes very close to death metal, and with this excellent production, could cross into death metal territory. Most of the lyrics are in Hungarian, three songs are in English, one is the poem, “The Lockless Door” by Robert Frost.
ANNIHILATOR “Metal” (10 tracks). SPV USA.
Rating: 6. Country of Origin: USA. Release Date: January 15, 2008.
On the plus side, there are some great (as expected) guitar riffs on this album. Jeff Waters has remained remarkably faithful to his thrash roots over the years. And so he does here, but with the added bonus of many great guest musicians like Jeff Loomis (Nevermore), Jesper Stromblad (In Flames), Michael Amott and Angela Gossow (Arch Enemy), William Adler (Lamb of God), Anders Bjorler (The Haunted), and several other notables. Even so, to me the album is appealing only for occasional fist-pumping entertainment, not regular play. This is because the lyrics are cliché and the songs, while thrashy, still have a commercial 80’s vibe. Take, for instance, the song “Army of One.” First, doesn’t everyone know that this is one of the U.S. Army’s slogans? It just shows that there is something “fast food” about Waters’ writing style (slogans and couplets strung together because they rhyme, not because they really mean anything). Again, for me, this is the sort of disc I get out about once a year for when I just want some mindless, fist-pumping metal to get my adrenaline going, but not what I look to time an again for satisfaction.
AYREON “01011001” (2 discs. ). INSIDEOUT/SPV
Rating: n/a. Country of Origin: . Release Date: .
On his/their worst day Ayreon is a great musical project. The musicianship is great, the songwriting is great, the guest musicians and vocalists are great. Loyal fans will rejoice to find this release and curious prog-metal consumers will likely dig this album if they take a chance on buying it. But for me, I cannot get excited about this disc. I think it is too perfect. I can put it on while doing other things and it makes great background music, but I cannot consciously sit through these two discs.
BLUT AUS NORD “Odinist: The Destruction of Reason by Illumination” (9 tracks. 36:58). CANDLELIGHT USA.
Rating: 7.5. Country of Origin: France. Release Date: November 6, 2007.
I think BAN have managed to carry their sound forward with this album. In some ways it is a bit more “traditional” in terms of black metal, and yet it is unmistakably the same band that produced Mort. Since my initial listen I have not been able to escape the urge to associate Odinist with recent Enslaved albums. The psychedelic element mixed with progressive chord arrangements and black metal might be the common factor. This is fine by me, because I like Enslaved a lot and find this CD the very listenable of BAN’s releases to date. Mort was my first exposure to this band, and while I still enjoy that album, the songs do tend to run together. That is not so much the case here, though I will argue that one can detect a method to this band’s madness: looping drums, psychedelic guitar riffs, and dungeon vocals. This band has been highly praised for their uniqueness and “evilness”. I concur, but I am still looking forward to their further progression in the future.
DAVE CORP “The Sweet Life” (6 tracks. ). SLUGGO’S GOON MUSIC
Rating: 8.5. Country of Origin: USA. Release Date: Available now.
Though I am a metal reviewer, I always enjoy very interesting diversions such as this one. I am not quite sure how to label it—experimental, freeform jazz … I really have no idea. All I can say is that it is really cool to listen to, like the soundtrack of a movie from the 70’s.
The band consists of only a drummer, a bassist, and a keyboardist. They play their instruments with great technical ability and it sounds as if they are having a great time doing it. Bass (Mr. Grin) and drums (Matt Hankle) create a great foundation of rhythm while keyboardist Dave Archer (At War With Self) improvises and solos. Quite often the keyboard leads are made to sound like a guitar, and somebody not aware of the lack of a guitarist may never be the wiser.
THE FORESHADOWING “Days of Nothing” (10 tracks. 52:25). CANDLELIGHT USA.
Rating: 9. Country of Origin: Italy. Release Date: November 6, 2007.
This band epitomizes my great love for gothic doom metal. They play with power and emotion, but are at other times calm and melancholy. Great vocals, excellent musicianship, and interesting lyrics abound. At times they evoke comparisons to My Dying Bride’s crunchy guitars and morose vocals, at other times, Paradise Lost’s melodic guitar lines. Lyrically and stylistically this band could be a near cousin to November’s Doom though they possess a smoothness that reminds me a lot of several Finnish doom bands, their fellow Italians, How Like a Winter, and remotely like the now defunct Morgion. A band like this would be very comfortable on Firedoom Records, but Candlelight Records got to them. They make excellent label mates with Funeral and Swallow the Son. Every song is a pleasure to listen to, but especially notice “Death is Our Freedom,” “Ladykiller,” and “Days of Nothing.”
GAMMA RAY “Land of the Free II” (12 tracks. 65:18). SPV USA.
Rating: 7. Country of Origin: Deutschland. Release Date: January 2008.
I do not have Land of the Free part one, but I do have a number of Gamma Ray albums. I’m not sure this matters since GR have a trademark sound and repeating lyrical themes. You can always count on them making some very enjoyable, fast-pasted and melodic German power metal, on the other hand, they do deviate little from this path. My favorite GR album is No World Order. Land of the Free II does not quite rise to its level in my opinion, but is still quite good, especially the closing track, “Insurrection.” And as always, Land of the Free II demonstrates why GR are one of Germany’s top power metal bands.
MELECHESH “Emissaries” (11 tracks. 55:34). THE END RECORDS.
Rating: 9. Country of Origin: Israel/Holland. Release Date: 2007.
If you have not heard this amazing band you are missing something spectacular. While many reviewers have naively and incorrectly wanted to compare Melechesh to Nile and Orphaned Land, it is not too surprising in light of their Middle Eastern origins and subject matter. (One might point out, though, that the instrumental “The Scribes of Kur” definitely sounds like Orphaned Land material). However, musically Melechesh have much more in common with Scandinavian bands like Dissection and American pagans Absu (even borrowing their drummer once) than Nile’s brutal death metal style, or Orphaned Land’s progressive/folk/doom metal. Lyrically they have more in common with Therion and Behemoth, perhaps even Celtic Frost, but not in terms of sound. In other words, though the total experience of listening to Melechesh’s music and lyrics may remind of many other groups, the band itself has a claim to their own place.
PATHOSRAY “Pathosray” (9 tracks. ). SENSORY.
Rating: 9. Country of Origin: Italy. Release Date: October 23, 2007.
This Italian prog-metal band has an ample supply of talent. In terms of instrumentation and song structure, Pathosray are clearly prog-metal, but they do not limit themselves to flair and finesse. On the one hand they can hold their ground with any of the best prog-metal bands on Sensory (e.g., Circus Maximus), on the other, they sound at times like an updated, more aggressive, more diverse Iron Maiden. Songs like “Lines to Follow” perfectly demonstrate this point, though I admit it may simply be vocalist Marco Sandron’s Bruce Dickenson-like voice that evokes this comparison. Whatever the case, the finesse is definitely there (e.g., intros to “Free of Doubt” and “Scent of Snow”) to balance out the youthful aggression. Two ballads, “Scent of Snow” and “In Salicis Umbra,” are also present. This makes for a great combination. Fans of Kamelot will also appreciate this band.
ROB ROCK “Garden of Chaos” (). CANDLELIGHT USA.
Rating: 8. Country of Origin: USA. Release Date: 2007.
This follow up to 2005’s Holy Hell has upped the aggression a notch. Mostly co-written with Roy Z (producer of Halford, Judas Priest), and performed with members of Narnia—albeit in a much heavier vein than Narnia, will delight and satisfy Rob Rock’s fans old and new. In addition, his well-traveled vocals chords have never sounded more metal. As an added bonus, whereas many bands write evil lyrics because that is what is expected in metal, Rock writes from his convictions as a Christian. Thus the lyrics songs like “Garden of Chaos” and “Satan’s Playground” (about terrorism) are not just words strung together like some sort of metal magna doodle might produce, but rather, words that express Rob’s convictions.
SIX GUN SYMPHONY self-titled (9 tracks. 36:15). Demo.
Rating: 8. Country of Origin: USA. Release Date: available now.
These guys are personal friends. I know their musical interests somewhat: progressive metal, power metal, King Diamond/Mercyful Fate, and death metal. Still, it is interesting to hear them create their own musical amalgamation of these influences. The result is a nice demo consisting of power and progressive metal with definite forays into death metal. The opening song, “Jenning’s Yard,” even reappears at the end of the disc as a Quicktime video. Vocalist Reese Martin definitely has a voice for this genre. Though I’ve known him for a while, I had never heard him sing. He reminds me of bit of Ken Tamplin because he has a full-bodied tenor voice that can reach down for some low notes and growls. Guitarist Mark Johnson plays comfortable within the styles they have adapted here. My friend, Evans Martin, also demonstrates a good hand at drums. Overall I’m just proud of them for getting their music recorded. This is not to say there is no room for improvement. But as far as demos and budget considerations go, this one is well done. Few people realize what an incredible undertaking that is—especially when it is done independently. The real question with my friends is: will they press forward, or will this demo be the only monument to their creativity?
STRUGGLE WITHIN “Angel’s Face” (10 tracks. 35:49 ). ARCTIC MUSIC MUSIC GROUP.
Rating: . Country of Origin: USA. Release Date: available now.
Struggle Within is a very decent modern metal outfit. It is difficult to quite peg them beyond this general category, but at least I should say that they combine heavy rock/thrash riffs with commercial choruses. Though it sounds like material for your local modern metal radio station, I think this band is a bit more complex than what usually winds up on the radio. Occasionally they may evoke comparisons to Testament, but any semblance to old school thrash is overruled by their progressive side and modern tendencies. At other times they evoke comparisons to late 90’s grunge influenced post-thrash Metallica. And though they are from Texas, I think they sound most like some New York styled modern bands such as Celldweller and perhaps Rob Zombie minus the electronics.
THINE EYES BLEED “Thine Eyes Bleed” (10 tracks. 40:31). THE END RECORDS.
Rating: 8. Country of Origin: Canada. Release Date: .
Honestly, my first impression of this band when I heard their debut, In the Wake of Separation, was that they were a modern metal/post-hardcore thrash band capitalizing on the latest trend. More listens to the debut convinced me that I was wrong. But what really won me over was their performance on the Unholy Alliance Tour (with Slayer, Lamb of God, Children of Bodom, and Mastedon). They played their hearts out despite the fact that, as the opening act, they played to a lot of empty seats. Further, because they did not rush to record a second album once that tour was over (2006), it seems fair to put any doubts out of my mind about this band’s seriousness.
As one might expect, this second release exhibits confidence. If they showed promise on their previous album, they have delivered it here. It is, of course, a modern thrash album, but it bears more resemblance to classic death and thrash bands than to the recent trend. The execution of the songs is tight and James Murphy’s production is impeccable. The riffs are catchy and the solos are dead on. The songs are very consistent, and depending on how much you value diversity, stay on a similar course with the exception of the acoustic piece (not a ballad) “Moth Diablo.” I personally might prefer more variety in the vocals and lyrics … well, I don’t pay much attention to these. Overall, though, I think it’s a classic.
TYPE O NEGATIVE “Dead Again” CD/DVD. 10 tracks. 10.2 hrs. SPV USA
Rating: 8. Country of Origin: USA. Release Date: available now.
Review by Criticalnate.
Dead Again is a progressive gothic-rock-solid continuation of the trademark TON sound. Opening with the punk-inspired title track, and closing with the slow and morose song, “Hail and Farewell to Britain,” Dead Again proves TON has range. While the whole album is superb, tracks like “Tripping a Blind Man,” “Some Stupid Tomorrow,” and the rockin’ “An Ode to Locksmiths” stand out. (They’re the heavier songs). The recording and production quality is crisp, leaving nothing to be desired in that area. Fans of the Bronx Casket Co, Cathedral, and similar bands will probably enjoy this album.
The bonus DVD gets a rating of a 7. It contains four songs (approx. 30 minutes) from Wacken, two music videos (The Profits of Doom, September Sun) clocking in at about nine minutes (The concept video for “The Profits of Doom” includes Peter Steele as Rasputin!), and a quite humorous interview (14:34 minutes). The total running time for the DVD is 55 minutes. The Wacken ’07 performance is a top-quality recording like the other recordings we’ve seen from SPV bands at Wacken. The thirty-minute set includes fan favorites such as “Christian Woman” and “Love You to Death.”
VIRGIN BLACK “Requiem: Fortissimo” (7 tracks). THE END RECORDS
Rating: 10. Country of Origin: Australia. Release Date: February 19, 2008.
Until last year’s “Mezzoforte” Virgin Black’s music had been many things: intriguing, confounding, exciting, energetic, emotional, creative, and so on. But all in all they kept themselves very clearly in the realm of gothic metal—at least as far as many fans and reviewers are concerned. I for one have thoroughly enjoyed their work, even though I typically go for doom and death metal more than gothic. But Virgin Black has been the one gothic band that I have really enjoyed listening too over and over. Requiem Mezzoforte was a delightful take on the Virgin Black sound because it really did sound like Virgin Black, but it was mixed with the addition of a full orchestra and soprano vocals. The cumulative effect of multiple listens over the last year is that it has become engraved into my psyche. The overall feel was a Romantic era classical album. Imagine my delight, then, when I received this latest installment, an oppressively heavy, doomy album, but still with the classic Virgin Black vibe. Life is good!
I finally got to meet Rowan and Samantha in person last summer (June 29, 2007). They told me that this album would be totally brutal and doomy, with harsh vocals from Rowan. But no one—not even Rowan and Samantha themselves—could have prepared me for this level of intensity, I just wasn’t expecting it to be this heavy. Of course there are many echoes on this new album of musical and lyrical themes from all previous VB stuff, especially Mezzoforte (and it is probably safe to assume Requiem: Pianissimo will too). But there is also plenty new stuff to surprise and stimulate the mind. To say that Rowan and Samantha have outdone themselves will be to grossly undervalue their work here. I don’t think I can say much that can do justice to it. The album begins with a full-on metal attack that doesn’t let up until the end, where it ends ominously with the soft sound of a piano playing the trilogy’s main melodic theme. Like the month of March (as we say here in the U.S.), it comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb.
VB is one of my favorite bands, and doom is my favorite genre of metal. To get both on one disc is indescribable.