Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Review of Demon Eye's Tempora Infernalia

There are some things in life that are either so inherently likable or just so easy to pull off that it's really hard to screw them up. Along with such life staples as pizza and sex, any band playing 70s style riff rock seems to be set for instant likability no matter how plain the presentation may be. North Carolina's Demon Eye could get away with this given their choice of genre but they really manage to go above and beyond for their second full-length album.

While Demon Eye is gritty enough for them to be associated with the stoner doom community, you won't find too many slow tempos or downtrodden riffs on here. Instead, the band pulls influence from several different bands; the intricate guitar work is somewhere between Rush's first three albums and Iron Maiden's first two, the nasally vocals remind one of a lower pitched Geddy Lee, and the songwriting has the same shuffle that defined the early efforts of Rainbow and Deep Purple.
The songs themselves don't stray too far from the upbeat swing tempos but there are some that break the mold. "Listen To The Darkness" and "Black Winds" opt for fast paced stoner rock, "Give Up The Ghost" combines a mid-tempo with a neat Eastern vocal/guitar harmony, and "Poison Garden" and "Please, Father" take things into spacier directions. Of course, the upbeat songs end up being the best with "I'll Be Creeping" and "See The Signs" in particular throwing out hook after hook.

Demon Eye's second album has no aspirations of genre revolution or any epic scope, but the fun factor makes it one of the strongest albums 2015 has to offer. The songwriting shows a lot of skill and care behind it and the band's energy matches it in spades. I have yet to hear their debut in full but I just may have to look into it as I wait for even greater things in the future.

Highlights:
"End Of Days"
"I'll Be Creeping"
"See The Signs"
"In The World, Not Of It"
"Black Winds"

Monday, July 27, 2015

Review of Moonspell's Extinct

Moonspell seems to have spent the better part of their twenty year career jumping between their roots in extreme metal and interest in post punk and goth rock. An album or two has come close to marrying the two styles but most seem to prefer one over the other to the point where 2012's Alpha Noir/Omega White was available as a double album with a disc for each style. Moonspell's eleventh full-length album isn't on the classic level of Wolfheart or The Antidote but it may be their most successful integration yet.

No matter what approach they're going for, there are always certain elements you can expect to hear when listening to a Moonspell album. The guitars go between clean melodies and aggressive chords, the rhythm section is more active than many of their peers, and the vocals alternate between rough shouts and Peter Steele style crooning. There aren't too many twists though the album seems to be split to where the first half is more upbeat while the second focuses more on mid-tempo brooding.
Predictably, the first half provides the album's strongest highlights. The building contrasts on the opening "Breathe (Until We Are No More)" and the rather bouncy title track provide the album's heaviest moments while "The Last Of Us" recalls "Herodisiac" with its infectious vocal layering and driving Sisters of Mercy beat. Fortunately the second half doesn't slouch as "Malignia" balances a symphonic bridge with a hard hitting chorus, "Funeral Bloom" has a smooth post punk hook, and "La Baphomette" closes on an almost jazzy note.

As someone who enjoys Moonspell's forays into goth rock about as much as their metal, it is quite nice to see the band mix the two styles in such a satisfying fashion. The band's usual talent for diversity is in great form and the hooks on "The Last Of Us" and "Medusalem" among others make this one of the year's more entertaining efforts. They'll never make anything as genre defining as Wolfheart ever again but Moonspell is still essential listening for goth fans of all trades.

Highlights:
"Breathe (Until We Are No More)"
"Extinct"
"Medusalem"
"The Last Of Us"
"Funeral Bloom"

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Review of Goatsnake's Black Age Blues

Goatsnake only released two full-lengths and a couple EPs in their brief heyday but they've gathered a sizable following in the doom metal community due to shared members with groups such as The Obsessed and Sunn 0))). The group reunited in 2010 and has finally gotten around to releasing their first full-length album in nearly fifteen years after a series of sporadic live shows. A new bassist in the form of Scott Renner (Not to be confused with Scott Reeder) is along for the ride but things are still looking pretty familiar in Goatsnake territory.

For the most part, Black Age Blues picks up right where they left off. Guitarist Greg Anderson is still running the best Iommi and Victor Griffin riffs he can come up with through a heavy blues filter and lead singer Pete Stahl still puts in a unique croon that is somewhere between Robert Johnson and Bobby Liebling with smooth harmonica to match. However, the band's overall approach seems to have gotten more laid back as its members have grown older. The guitars haven't gone soft but the song structures still more laid back and the vocals have an aged quality that adds to the bluesy touch. The backing vocals by Dem Preacher's Daughters also keep things interesting and act as a doomy answer to Lynyrd Skynyrd's Honkettes whenever they pop up.
The songwriting also works well and offers a good deal of variety to go along with the memorable riffs and vocals. "Another River to Cross" and "Grandpa Jones" mix drawn out choruses and heavy swinging riffs though the former feels like it could be a bit longer after such an epic intro. Elsewhere, "Elevated Man" has a trudgy groove to it, "Coffee & Whiskey" has an aggressive yet infectious hook, and "Jimi's Gone" has another interesting swing to it. There aren't too many dark moments but these are the sort of blues stomps that are damn near impossible to hate.

Goatsnake's comeback may not be revolutionary but it is a reminder of their unique place in the doom metal scene. Blues has always had its influence present in the genre but not many bands pull it off to such an authentic degree and their experiences only accentuate the assertion. Hopefully they'll stick around and develop even further with future installments.

Highlights:
"Another River to Cross"
"Elevated Man"
"Jimi's Gone"
"Grandpa Jones"
"A Killing Blues"

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Review of Kamelot's Haven

Kamelot has had its share of ups and downs since their breakthrough in 2005 with The Black Halo. That album was a masterpiece and the two following it were solid though never quite hit the same height. Switching singer Roy Khan for Seventh Wonder's Tommy Karevik and the subsequent release of 2012's Silverthorn seemed to be a shot in the arm but arguably a conscious attempt to recapture the fire of their classic material. Unfortunately, their eleventh studio album doesn't quite keep up the momentum going even if it is put together well.

For the most part, Haven's style is about the same as it's been since The Black Halo and Ghost Opera. The production is dark but clean, the symphonic keyboards and crunchy guitars drive the style, and the vocals still sound as if Khan never left. You'll also find the usual guest appearances though they don't seem to have the same impact as usual. Delain's Charlotte Wessels has a nice duet on the rather plain "Under Gray Skies" and while Arch Enemy's Alissa White-Gluz comes back on to give "Liar Liar (Wasteland Monarchy)" a solid kick in the pants, it doesn't quite have the same effect on "Revolution."
Since Kamelot has always been a strong chorus-oriented band, the thing bringing Haven down to merely decent territory is its inconsistent songwriting. The insanely catchy "Insomnia" and the "Forever"/"Center of the Universe" rewrite "Veil of Elysium" were obvious choices for lead singles but less obvious was the choice was to start things off with the awkwardly structured "Fallen Star" instead of a single or one of the interludes that is on here for some reason. Fortunately, songs like the "March of Mephisto" recalling "Citizen Zero" and "My Therapy" (Not to be confused with "My Confession") are pretty solid rockers and "Here's To The Fall" makes for a better ballad towards the end.

Overall, Haven is an album that feels comfortable enough but the less ambitious songwriting does make it one of the weaker additions to Kamelot's discography. The singles are great and having the usual tropes in place makes it a safe purchase for fans but newcomers would be better off with going for one of their mid-career albums before this one. This is still an enjoyable album but the band may be starting to get a bit stagnant.

Highlights:
"Insomnia"
"Citizen Zero"
"Veil of Elysium"
"My Therapy"
"Liar Liar (Wasteland Monarchy)"

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Review of High On Fire's Luminiferous

High On Fire isn't at the point where they're making the same album every time but you can always tell what to expect whenever they do release something new. Each of their efforts has its unique flavors but they never venture too far from their established Motorhead meets Celtic Frost brand of sludge. Their seventh full-length has been hyped for being the first that guitarist/vocalist Matt Pike has recorded (relatively) sober and for its conspiracy theory themed lyrics, though anyone who knows anything about the band shouldn't be so surprised by the latter element.

On a musical level, Luminiferous just might be the most straightforward album that High On Fire has ever put out. Past albums such as Death Is This Communion stood out for the epic structures and exotic instrumentation that went along with the thunderous aggression, the songs on here tend to just opt for the thunderous aggression and are based more on speed than anything else. This is most evident on "Slave The Hive" and the title track, both of which border on all-out thrash metal.

The musicians' performances are also a bit basic this time around, especially when compared to the brilliant intensity that was captured on De Mysteriis Vermis. Des Kensel's drums are as powerful as always but they aren't quite as flashy as bassist Jeff Matz only seems to shine on "The Cave." Fortunately, Pike's riffing patterns are as bludgeoning as ever and his gravelly howl has an odd way of making one feel right at home.

A smaller scale thankfully doesn't mean incompetent songwriting as the songs on here retain that solid High On Fire quality. "The Black Plot" and "Carcosa" start things off in an intense fashion and "The Falconist" and "The Lethal Chamber" feature some excellent mid-tempo riffs, but "The Cave" is easily the strongest standout on here. Its dreamlike vocal effects and spacy bass work make it one of the band's more unique slow tracks. It's also yet another track in the vein of "Bastard Samurai" and "Warhorn" that makes me that much more curious to see how that ever elusive Sleep album will turn out when it's ready...

Luminiferous does lose a bit of its impact when compared to the awesome De Mysteriis Vermis but it's a great album that stays true to their monolithic sound. More traditional metal fans may take to the faster approach and it has some of the band's best songs to date. Part of me is wondering if the risk of stagnancy is on the horizon but stuff like this will keep me more than satisfied.

Highlights:
"The Black Plot"
"Carcosa"
"The Falconist"
"The Cave"
"The Lethal Chamber"

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Review of Dorthia Cottrell's Self-Titled Debut

Despite an abundance of stereotypes that suggest the contrary, heavy metal has always had an interesting relationship with acoustic music. It has been used for melodic contrast since the early days of Sabbath and Zeppelin but certain doom singers to be taking it a step further in recent years. Icons such as Wino, Dax Riggs, and even Buzz Osborne have released solo albums of singer-songwriter fare, each with its own voice but still seemingly part of some undetected movement. A new name is added to the list is that of Dorthia Cottrell, who is already making a solid claim as a solo artist after only putting out two studio albums (and a third on the way) with the up-and-coming Windhand.

Despite the major differences in sonic output and instrumentation, doom metal and folk are linked by their emphasis on emotion and atmosphere over technical ability. Thus, the feel on here isn't too far off from Windhand's heavier approach. Replacing the droning riffs with simply strummed chords and the occasional steel guitar or sitar may result in a lighter sound and more prominent vocals, but the album is still defined by a dark aesthetic. Even the gentler patterns on songs like "Maybe It's True" and her take on Townes Van Zandt's "Rake" have a melancholic feel to them.

But with this being the sort of albums where the songs tend to blur together, much of its strength comes from Cottrell's vocal performance. While she normally just adds to the haze of Windhand's Electric Wizard worship and doesn't stick out much, she really comes into her own here. Her vocals do tend to stay within a limited range but the echoing effects combined with her reassuring alto result in a performance that isn't too far off from one of Jarboe's more depressing streaks.

Seeing how Windhand had already flirted with acoustic material before prior to this album's release, it isn't too surprising to see their singer pull it off in a solo format. However, the atmosphere and the beauty of Cottrell's voice keep this from being an overlooked curiosity. The material isn't flawless but it sounds like the perfect soundtrack for driving down a quiet backroad at 3am. Highly recommended to lovers of dark Americana and doom fans looking for something new to mellow out to.

Highlights:
"Gold"
"Vessel"
"Maybe It's True"
"Moth"
"Rake"

Friday, July 17, 2015

Review of The Gentle Storm's The Diary

Prog mastermind Arjen Lucassen may have recently gotten his rock opera band Ayreon back up and running, but that's apparently no reason for him to not continue meddling with his series of seemingly endless side projects. Featuring The Gathering singer and previous collaborator Anneke van Giersbergen, The Gentle Storm is one of Lucassen's more introspective ventures and perhaps one of the most unique in his career.

While The Diary could be placed safely under the prog umbrella, its specific style is harder to pinpoint. Its theatrical atmosphere and use of classical instrumentation suggest a folk rock approach, especially on the more upbeat tracks such as "Heart of Amsterdam," but it varies in mood throughout and lacks aggression even on its heaviest segments. It is bombastic and conceptual as all of Arjen's projects tend to be but its Old World aesthetics capture the feel of the 17th century star-crossed lovers narrative in a way that his sci-fi oriented themes could never match.

Much could also be made of the decision to release the album as a double album with light and heavy versions of the songs, respectively referred to the Gentle and Storm editions. In reality, they aren't that far removed from one another. The Storm edition may throw in some heavier guitars and drums that beef up songs such as "The Storm" but the songwriting generally keeps to the same structures and tends to be dominated by the strings, horns, and Anneke's voice more than anything else. Whichever version is the "true" one likely depends on your personal tastes, but the Storm should be reassuring to established fans while the Gentle could probably be played at your local Renaissance Faire without too much trouble.

Whichever side you prefer, the album is put together and performed quite well. The clean production allows the various instruments to stand out and the vocals are always performed in an exotic but always relatable fashion. The songs also offer a lot of moods as previously mentioned; the opening "Endless Sea" and "Shores of India" have a dramatic air, "Heart of Amsterdam" and "Eyes of Michiel" offer upbeat waltzes, "The Moment" goes into a more somber direction, and even the largely atmospheric "Epilogue" ends with a whimper that avoids feeling like filler.

It's hard to tell which of Arjen Lucassen's projects are meant to be further developed and which are destined to be one-offs (I'm still waiting for another Guilt Machine album, damn it). I get a feeling that The Diary will be an example of the latter but its unique aesthetics may make a followup unneeded. The presentation is classy and the style could be enjoyed by fans of several different genres. My only hope is that they have period appropriate costumes and sets when performing this material live.

Highlights:
"Endless Sea"
"Heart of Amsterdam"
"Shores of India"
"The Storm"
"Eyes of Michiel"