Saturday, November 18, 2017

Album Review: Power Trip - Nightmare Logic

It’s been four years since Power Trip released their debut album, Manifest Decimation. Such a gap can be detrimental to the momentum of a growing band but the Dallas group seems to have stayed busy in that time gigging and putting out a few smaller scale releases. It also sounds like they’ve been fine tuning their particular brand of crossover thrash; Nightmare Logic not only proves superior to their debut but is already proving to be one of the strongest thrash albums in recent memory.

While Power Trip’s style is still somewhere between Bay Area thrash, hardcore, and the earliest death metal demos, they demonstrate a great deal of progress on Nightmare Logic. In addition to an endearingly muffled production job that recalls classic Scott Burns, there is a greater emphasis on mid-tempo riffs this time around. While this would raise fears of the band venturing into watered down groove territory, this incorporation helps build up tension on the lengthy intros throughout and make songs like “Waiting Around to Die” even more mosh-friendly.

Going along with that, the songwriting is quite catchy for a band with such grimy production and abrasive vocals. “Executioner’s Tax (Swing of the Axe)” is the best track on here thanks to some good friendly violent fun that’s somewhere between Sepultura’s “Inner Self” and Exodus’s “Toxic Waltz.” The title track and “If Not Us Then Who” also stand out for matching militant deliveries with infectious chugs that recalls The Legacy-era Testament.

Overall, Nightmare Logic sees Power Trip climbing to the top of the modern thrash hierarchy with only the subtlest evolution on display. You’ve heard bands like this before and I’m sure their energy alone would be enough to make them be able to blow anybody else off stage, but the memorable songwriting is what makes them truly stand out in the scene. Nightmare Logic may not be an “important” game changer like any given Vektor album but you’ll have a hell of a time listening to it.

Highlights:
“Executioner’s Tax (Swing of the Axe)”
“Nightmare Logic”
“Waiting Around to Die”
“If Not Us Then Who”

Final Grade: A-

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Album Review: Witherfall - Nocturnes and Requiems

2017 seems to have been a year for posthumous releases in metal. Several established bands like Pagan Altar and Bell Witch have put out albums in which a featured musician died after a recording was finished but before it could be released. It’s not the sort of trend that explicitly “starts” by any means but Witherfall’s debut album was where I sure took notice, as drummer Adam Sagan tragically passed on shortly a couple months before its release. I hate to associate the band with such a tag, since Nocturnes and Requiems is a strong debut by a group of musicians that clearly knew what they were doing.

Considering how Witherfall is masterminded by former White Wizzard vocalist Michael Joseph and current Iced Earth lead guitarist Jake Dreyer, the music on here is more complex and perhaps deeper than those associations would suggest. Comparisons can be immediately made to Nevermore or Control Denied as the crunchy guitar tone allows for a mix of shredding solos and elaborate riffs, the percussion is as lush and flexible as it is hard hitting, and the vocals always retain their melody whether they opt for mid-range bellows or layered falsettos.

These influences also reflect in the often elaborate songwriting. With a majority of the songs reaching over six or seven minute durations, a lot of ground is covered as songs like “Portrait” and “What We Are Dying For” go from chunky speed metal to Opeth-esque acoustic segments and back again without feeling at all haphazard. The exploration is made consistent and even enhanced by the album’s dark tone and conceptual narrative, though I’ll be the first to admit that I have no idea what said narrative is about.

As with many power prog hybrids, the degree of catchiness in the songwriting (or minimal amount thereof) may be this album’s biggest concerns. There’s definitely purpose in the compositions and tracks become distinct with further listens, but tracks like “Sacrifice” can feel a bit long-winded due to the rather hook-free approach. Fortunately there are still plenty of memorable moments with “End of Time” leaving the deepest impression due to the gorgeous acoustic work in the beginning, commanding gallops, and climactic choruses. “The Great Awakening” is also worth noting thanks to some ominously melodic guitar work that could’ve come straight out of the first two Testament albums.

While Witherfall’s debut may take a bit too much absorption time to be seen as an immediate classic, it is a powerful album that’ll no doubt leave a strong impression on fans of prog and power metal. I’m glad that the band has chosen to carry on in the wake of their loss and I think they’ll become a major player once they get more experience under their belt. With the degrees of confidence and control that are already on display here, the sky’s the limit.

Highlights:
“Portrait”
“What We Are Dying For”
“The Great Awakening”
“End of Time”


Final Grade: A-

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Album Review: Cardinals Folly - Deranged Pagan Sons

Cardinals Folly seems like a pretty typical Finnish doom metal band on their fourth full-length album. Deranged Pagan Sons is here barely a year after their last album, Holocaust of Ecstasy & Freedom, and offers much of the same occult-friendly traditional doom. As with their previous efforts, Reverend Bizarre emulation is the order of the day with fuzzy-driven riffs, prominently groovy bass, and operatic yet untrained baritone vocals on full display.

However, this album does offer a grittier approach to influence its songwriting. There isn’t anything on here like the black metal undercurrent of Our Cult Continues, but songs like “Dionysian” and the title track show off some Celtic Frost inspiration in the faster tempo breaks in combination with the buzzing guitar tone and the vocals’ frequent growl slippage. Of course, there are tracks like “Three-Bladed Doom” where there is more focus put on good old fashioned Pentagram worship and even a couple where one can hear a bit of Kyuss seeping through.

But like Cardinals Folly’s previous efforts, the songwriting isn’t that memorable. The songs themselves are varied and tracks like “Suicide Commando” and “I Belong in the Woods” put in some strong riff sets during the album’s second half, but the compositions barely miss the mark that would make them classics. Something feels a little off but it’s tricky to tell if it’s a matter of song structures or the musicianship behind them.

Overall, Deranged Pagan Sons is one of Cardinals Folly’s most accessible albums and may even be their best so far but I’m not sure if the band is quite at the point of being a major staple in the doom scene. The style shifts and song variety are enough to keep them from being yet another Reverend Bizarre clone but the less memorable songwriting still makes it difficult for them to stand out on their own terms. I could see this improving with further listens, especially the second half, but it may not have much appeal to anyone but seasoned doomsters.


Highlights:
“Three Bladed-Doom”
“Suicide Commando”
“I Belong in the Woods”
“Secret of the Runes”

Final Grade: C+

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Album Review: Pallbearer - Heartless

At the risk of losing my doom cred, I must admit that Pallbearer is one of those bands that I feel like I’ve “appreciated” more than I actually “liked.” They’ve got some excellent songs to their name and deserve their success for the massive influence they’ve already had in the post-Warning world of sad boy jams, but their less riff-oriented approach to traditional doom has made them somewhat unengaging. Their third full-length album doesn’t distant itself too far from past efforts but it does hint at a different direction on the horizon.

The changes are subtle at first as “I Saw the End” starts things off. The guitar still utilizes shoegaze-inspired chord progressions and the vocals are as mopey as ever, but the production gives the singing much more clarity and confidence while the instrumental break shows off some prog influence that hadn’t been quite as prominent before. From there, “Thorns” follows this up with a more active riff set than usual and “Lie of Survival” is an especially depressing ballad in the grand Patrick Walker tradition.

While the first half is pleasant enough, the last three songs are where Heartless gets truly interesting. Pallbearer has never made a more aggressive song than “Cruel Road” as the tempo picks up the pace, the guitars take on more Neurosis-style chugging, and the vocals mix the melodic laments with some distorted, almost Ministry-esque barks. “A Plea for Understanding” is also worth noting as the guitar is completely immersed in David Gilmour territory while the vocals are at their most dynamic as a subdued baritone leads to especially cathartic choruses.

I think Pallbearer may still be in my “appreciation” box but Heartless is the most engaging album they’ve put out so far. Much of the songwriting is still merited by the emotional intent and structure transitions rather than the actual compositions, but working in the changes over the course of the album does result in some powerful tracks toward the end. Heartless may not win you over if you’ve not enjoyed the band’s previous work and it still requires listeners to be in a certain mood while listening, but Pallbearer is clearly going somewhere.



Highlights:
”Lie of Survival”
“Cruel Road”
“A Plea for Understanding”


Final Grade: B

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Album Review: Walpyrgus - Walpyrgus Nights

While Walpyrgus of Raleigh, North Carolina is instantly identifiable as a heavy/power metal band, their sound is a lot more polished compared to most of their peers. The production has a bright sheen that threatens to take the edge off the guitars and diminish any signs of darkness, the song hooks and tempos are almost too upbeat, and vocalist Jonny Aune has a nasally tenor that could almost fit in with a pop punk group. That description may have been an instant turn off for some but Walpyrgus Nights does prove to be a pretty solid album.

Much of that likeability can be traced to that upbeat songwriting. The bouncy hooks in combination with the bright tone is rather jarring at first, especially since the music is still heavy enough to qualify as metal, but it does prove to be pretty accessible once you get settled in. It also helps that the musicianship is tight and the vocal delivery on songs like “Dead Girls” has a certain cheekiness that brings to mind Volbeat or Michale Graves-era Misfits.

Fortunately there are a couple songs where the listener can get a breather without worrying about the band going too soft. “She Lives” in particular is a pretty enjoyable tune as its energy is made less abrasive by the prominent keyboard work. The cover of the underrated Witch Cross’s “Light of a Torch” also stands out as the album’s most “typical” metal song though it ironically isn’t quite as strong as the other tracks on here. Fortunately, the title track ends the album on its slowest and most menacing note.

I may still be a little weirded out by Walpyrgus’s ultra-clean way of playing traditional metal, but I really have to give the band props for executing their unorthodox approach in such a steady fashion. Their energy is surprisingly infectious and the songwriting is accessible without feeling too disposable. Classic metal fans should be able to get a feel for it but I’d be curious to see how someone of a more alternative/punk phase would take to this album. I suppose it’s one excuse to get in touch with that cute emo girl you dated back in high school, eh?


Highlights:
“Dead Girls”
“She Lives”
“Walpyrgus Nights”


Final Grade: B-

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Album Review: Lunar Shadow - Far From Light

Angel Witch is the first band that comes to mind when listening to Lunar Shadow’s first full-length album, particularly 2012’s As Above, So Below. The German group utilizes the NWOBHM greats’ melodic twin guitar approach and their vocalist even has an unpolished tenor delivery similar to that of Kevin Heybourne. There is also strong power metal influence in the band’s triumphantly upbeat tempos throughout as well as possible elements of prog in the songs’ elaborate structures and six to nine minute runtimes.

But rather than serving as mere traditionalist fanservice, these old school sensibilities also keep the band’s other influences from making the songs too incoherent. A slight folk undercurrent runs through the album as several tracks feature smoothly intertwining acoustic guitar flourishes, ultimately culminating in the minstrel balladry of “Gone Astray” and “Earendeil (Gone are the Days).” In addition, “The Hour of Dying” throws in some black metal influence in the form of tremolo riffs, blasting drums, and a few harsh vocal intrusions.

With all this going on, the album may be a bit much for some to take in. While there isn’t a single bad song on here, eight songs with so much going on can be an exhausting listen, especially during the second half. The album may have been better rounded if the band had cut off a track or two. In addition, the production makes the drums and bass sound rather distant and the vocals will likely be an acquired taste.

Overall, Far From Light showcases Lunar Shadow as an ambitious group combining familiar tropes across various metal subgenres to create one of the more unique debuts out there. While fans of traditional and power metal will likely be the ones most attracted to this release, its diversity should endear itself to just about any metal fan out there. With any luck, they could create a more accessible effort that puts them at the forefront of the modern metal movement.

Highlights:
“Hadrian Carrying Stones”
“They That Walk the Night”
“Frozen Goddess”
“Gone Astray”


Final Grade: A-