Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Review of Lords Of The Trident's Plan Of Attack

Hailing from the most metal land of Wisconsin, Lords of the Trident is one of the more over the top bands in an already over the top genre. While their goofy themes and stage personas make them seem like power metal’s answer to Lordi or GWAR, the actual music is quite energetic and well put together for an emerging group. This EP is their latest studio effort, with there being two full-lengths before this one, and sums the band up pretty well in just four songs.

While the production is quite sanitized, Lords of the Trident sits pretty securely in the American power metal style. The guitars are as melodic as they are fast and the vocals range from mid-range cleans that recall Pharaoh’s Tim Aymar to intentionally cheesy falsettos that bring bands like Cage and 3 Inches of Blood to mind. There is also a slight folk metal side that is prominent at the climax of the particularly stirring “Song Of The Wind And Sea.”

But aside from that borderline ballad, the other three songs generally opt for a much more upbeat pace with plenty of memorable hooks. “Complete Control” may be the most distinct track as it provides the most straightforward performance and opens the EP with attention grabbing wails that would’ve flopped in the hands of a lesser singer. From there, the title track brings in a strong gallop attached to an uplifting chorus and “The Joust” closes things out in an epic fashion.

While I have yet to hear the two albums before this one in full, Plan Of Attack manages to be an excellently executed EP. The song titles and lyrics don’t seem to be as silly as before, but there is still enough camp to keep things entertaining and good enough writing to keep it from straying too far into the standard comedy rock traps. Highly recommended to power metal fans across the board.

Current Highlights:
“Complete Control”
“Song Of The Wind and Sea”

Monday, August 26, 2013

Review of Dream Death's Somnium Excessum

Despite only releasing one album in their heyday, 1987’s Journey Into Mystery, Pittsburgh’s Dream Death came to be a noteworthy influence in the underground metal community thanks to their thrashy doom blend of Celtic Frost worship. Now that the outfit has been bitten by the reunion bug and released their long-awaited sophomore effort, it is interesting to see how close they’ve kept to the original vision after over twenty-five years.

With Somnium Excessum translating roughly to “Dream Death,” it’s a relief that the album has a lot of the tropes that made their debut so distinct. The riffs are still packed with filth, the tempos and structures are all over the place, and guitarist/vocalist Brian Lawrence’s half spoken, half growled delivery has not withered with time. The band does benefit from some modern production, but it’s done more to bring out Richard Freund’s bass than to provide the sound with any real polish.

But even with those elements secured, there are some modifications that have taken place. This album actually manages to be more dynamic than its 80s counterpart as “Them” and “Bludgeon” bring in quieter sections to build a haunting atmosphere. In addition, the songwriting may be even more complex than before as there aren’t any songs that’ll stay on the same segment for long. The opening “Feast” may be the easiest track to get a feel for and “Dystopian Distress Signal” is bookended by a few catchy riffs but it doesn’t spend as much time on them as I’d like.

In a smart move, the band decided to only put six songs on this effort, allowing more care to be put into each track and keeping the tempo changes from getting too exhausting. It’s a little tricky to pick the best track since each one finds a way to stand out but “You’re Gonna Die Up There” is arguably the most distinct, coming the closest to fully exploiting their thrash side. Props must also be given to the closing “From Inside The Walls” as it manages to keep an unsettling tone through its nearly twelve minute duration.

Somnium Excessum may be one of 2013’s harder albums to get a feel for but it makes for a satisfying Dream Death reunion. There’s not a song on here as truly spell binding as “Sealed In Blood” but it may arguably be more consistent as the songs on here tend to feel unified. You should still go for their classic first but it wouldn’t be a bad idea to try them both out at the same time.

Current Highlights:
“You’re Gonna Die Up There”
“From Inside The Walls”

Saturday, August 24, 2013

A Look Back at Dream Death's Journey Into Mystery

Dream Death was one of the more interesting cult bands in the late 80s metal scene. Having had a short initial run, the band members eventually found greener pastures in Penance but have also enjoyed their status with a recent reunion. While 2013 would see the release of their sophomore album Somnium Excessum, this 1987 effort is the only full-length from their prime and has proved to be an influential though obscure listen.

It’s no exaggeration to say that Dream Death didn’t really fit into a particular scene in their early days. Their style of doom was more unhinged than Saint Vitus or Pentagram but wasn’t as extreme as the sludge and death/doom that they would help inspire. Instead, they played an odd fusion of doom and thrash metal with Celtic Frost, Slayer, Venom, and the obligatory Black Sabbath as influences.

These cues can be heard in the riffs and muddy production job, but the vocals are where it stands out the most. Clearly inspired by Tom G Warrior with some Tom Araya inflections here and there, guitarist/vocalist Brian Lawrence has a harsh bark with an almost spoken word approach. It can run the risk of sounding bland but it definitely fits the filthy atmosphere in a way that a standard death grunt just couldn’t.

The songwriting is also diverse and covers the doom to thrash spectrum, oftentimes in the same song. The opening “Back From The Dead” and “Dream Death” show more thrash, “The Elder Race” and “Sealed In Blood” offer the most doom, and other like “Bitterness & Hatred” and “Divine In Agony” are a little harder to predict. The results are a mixed bag as four songs are pretty much perfect and the others range from great to somewhat directionless.

A couple lesser songs bring it down a notch, but Journey Into Mystery should be seen as a classic doom release. While there are more influential efforts from this period, its uniqueness makes it worth checking out and it definitely grows on you with repeated listens. And since the band has put out a solid comeback, I suppose we can finally stop wondering what could’ve been.

Current Highlights:
“Back From The Dead”
“The Elder Race”
“Sealed In Blood”
“Dream Death”

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Review of Hatriot's Heroes Of Origin

It seems like the metal community has been experiencing more intergenerational camaraderie in recent years. Ol Drake of Evile had a brief stint as Destruction’s touring guitarist, Gary Holt produced a Warbringer album, and a whole new can of worms was opened when Max Cavalera revealed that his son would be the newest drummer for Soulfly.

Cue the debut of Hatriot (or Hat Riot as I like to call them), a new thrash band featuring former Exodus/Tenet vocalist Steve “Zetro” Sousa alongside a group of kids that includes his two sons as the rhythm section. Fortunately any signs of nepotism are lost as the group offers a pretty solid debut.

Considering how dear old Zetro is the band’s mastermind, it goes without saying that their first outing feels like it could’ve been a follow-up to Exodus’s Tempo Of The Damned. The production has a clean but crisp tone, the guitars run through numerous trade-offs and harmonies, and the vocals are as pissed off as ever. They even one-up some of his alma mater’s recent work with shorter songs, more extreme drumming, gang vocals, and those punny lyrics that every thrash band was obsessed with using back in the day.

Of course, Heroes Of Origin still has a few quirks to it. The production is somehow even cleaner than your typical Andy Sneap sound-alike with the drums in particular sounding rather triggered and the songs generally operate at faster tempos with very little room to groove. In addition, Zetro seems to be falling into the Tom Araya trap of shrieking at a higher pitch than necessary. His voice is full of energy and never cracks, but you rarely hear the lower Bon Scott sneer that was always his most distinct asset.

And while there aren’t any tracks that make for truly distinct highlights, they’re all well constructed. Tracks like “Weapons of Class Destruction” and “Murder American Style” offer memorable vocals and guitar runs while “Globicidal” and “The Mechanics of Annihilation” provide the most intense hooks. In addition, “The Violent Time Of My Dark Passenger” has more subdued verses, “And Your Children To Be Damned” dabbles with more guttural flourishes, and “Shadows Of The Buried” starts off with the album’s sole slower moment before picking up speed.

Hatriot’s debut album shows a good balance of old and new elements as it gives thrash fans a sound that they’ve been clamoring for while leaving room for further development. It’s not at the level of a modern classic but it is the kind of album that makes one wonder what could happen if more band mentoring took place in this fashion. And considering how this is supposed to be the Kill ‘Em All of the band’s career, we’ll just see where they’ll go from here.

Current Highlights:
“Weapons of Class Destruction”
“The Violent Time of My Dark Passenger”
“Murder American Style”
“The Mechanics Of Annihilation”

Review of Newsted's Heavy Metal Music

Even though bassist Jason Newsted was Metallica’s butt monkey for the better part of fourteen years, Cliff Burton may be the only member in its history with a more favorable reputation. In addition to not having contributed much to Metallica’s commercial period, he also proved his chops through his stint in Voivod among other projects. Now with the recruitment of Staind guitarist Mike Mushok, Newsted is back with a full-length debut that builds from the Metal EP and lives up to its incredibly bone-headed title.

To answer everyone’s questions right off the bat, this doesn’t sound all that much like Metallia. Newsted’s vocals do have their Hetfieldisms and the music has traits of …And Justice For All and the Loads if you squint a little, but the songwriting and instrumental performances are much more basic in comparison. Albums like Megadeth’s Youthanasia and the last few by Testament make for more accurate comparisons though Motorhead is definitely the leading influence if the gruff vocals and distorted bass are anything to go by.

And when you take Newsted’s extreme meat and potatoes goal in mind, it is rather interesting to see how diverse this effort can be. While it’s presented under a groovy traditional metal umbrella, each side seems to have a certain style to it. Just as tracks like the opening “Heroic Dose” and “Soldierhead” guarantee an upbeat first half, the second half has a doomier direction as “Nocturnus” and “Kindevillusion” offer slower tempos and “Twisted Tail Of The Comet” has a strong stoner groove. There are also a few melodic moments as seen on “Above All” and “King Of The Underdogs.”

But with the variety taken into consideration, Heavy Metal Music isn’t as dynamic as it could’ve been. Newsted’s voice is stronger than expected but his limited range runs the risk of sounding monotonous at times. A few songs do make one wonder how they would’ve turned out with someone like Chuck Billy on the mic and a more skilled backing band in tow, but the overall package is still more competent.

Overall, Newsted’s Heavy Metal Music lives up to its name by serving as your “typical” metal release. The variety offers a lot of promise and the performances allow for consistency, but there is also room to develop from here. It’d be great to see Newsted experiment with their style and try some different vocal techniques, but I may be just as happy with a more creative title. Sometimes that extra effort can make a world of difference.

Current Highlights:
“Heroic Dose”
“Above All”
“Twisted Tail Of The Comet”

Monday, August 19, 2013

Review of Oliva's Raise the Curtain

When you’re as invested in your projects as Jon has been with Savatage and its spinoffs, it is easy to question why you would want to release a solo album. While Oliva does stick to a few of the frontman’s core templates, the last name basis is justified as he picks up a few new conspirators and provides even more experimentation. This may also be the last album to feature contributions frm the late Criss Oliva, effectively bringing an end to what I like to call the Shoebox Era.

Just as Jon Oliva’s Pain and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra as seen as offshoots of Savatage, Oliva could certainly be viewed as an extension of Jon Oliva’s Pain. That project’s penchant for theatrics and the vocals’ raspy tone are still secure, as are the layered structures and progressive influences that were developed on 2008’s Global Warning and 2010’s Festival. The appearance of Pain drummer Christopher Kinder also helps with the connection though he doesn’t really shape the sound either way.

What truly sets this apart from past projects is a distinct lack of metal. The upbeat “Big Brother” borders on heavy but there are more prog and classic rock touches than anything else. The title track serves as a cheerful overture in the vein of Styx and Boston, “Father Time” is driven by a light 70s style riff, and snatches of Beatles pop up on “Soldier” and the closing “Can’t Get Away.” A few songs are also made interesting by the inclusion of a horn section with “Ten Years” arguably being the album’s best song because of it.

Of course, Raise The Curtain still has a few flaws despite the successfully lighter direction. While its second half is noticeably darker, the writing is a little jumbled as “Armageddon” has a slightly awkward structure while “Stalker” and “The Witch” blur together. The lyrics are also rather plain though that’s been noticeable with every band that has been formed without Paul O’Neill’s involvement.

As Jon himself points out in the liner notes, Raise The Curtain could be seen as a companion to Savatage’s Handful of Rain. While this effort is much lighter in comparison, they both feature Jon providing a bulk of instrumentation and both have a feeling of closure. Considering how Jon wants to go back to a heavier sound with his next venture, this probably won’t be the last we’ll see of him. Let’s just see how well he does without the shoebox…

Current Highlights:
“Raise The Curtain”
“Ten Years”
“Father Time”
“I Know”
“Big Brother”

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Review of Megadeth's Super Collider

It’s no secret that Super Collider is already becoming one of the most controversial releases in the Megadeth discography. While the band has certainly pulled off more, since the 90s, but this album is coming out right after they spent a good ten years reclaiming their thrash metal reputation. But while this album will never be worse in the public eye than Risk, it does prove to be a pretty rocky listen.

It is obvious that this album is different when compared to the last few efforts before it, but it’s hard to tell just how it is different. Unlike Risk or Cryptic Writings, there are no blatant sellouts or dance music experimentations. If anything, you could say that it is just a dumbed version of their signature melodic metal as the tempos are slower and the vocals return to a more prominent position.

Of course, these changes do lead to a somewhat disjointed band dynamic. While some training and honest effort led to fairly enjoyable vocals during their last commercial period, Dave Mustaine’s voice just sounds tired and almost bored in this day and age. Thankfully Chris Broderick gets some good leads in when he can and Shawn Drover’s drumming has its moments, but the limited writing means that the talent is more competent than it is impressive. That’s not even going into the banjo on “The Blackest Crow” or the David Draiman influence, though those elements aren’t as offensively prominent as one would think.

Speaking of which, the writing also feels like a mixed bag and seems to lack the hooks the band had gotten really good at putting together. “Burn!” and “Built For War” would’ve been bigger highlights with smoother transitions, “Dance In The Rain” and “Beginning Of Sorrow” have a few pacing issues, and the title track is the kind of hard rock song that makes one wonder why AC/DC couldn’t have gotten to use the title first…

Fortunately, there are still some good moments on here. The opening “Kingmaker” and “Don’t Turn Your Back” make for solid metal tracks as the former channels some Diamond Head influence and the latter features a particularly tight drum performance. The cover of Thin Lizzy’s “Cold Sweat” also makes for a decent closer and “Forget To Remember” actually has a few hooks in there though it could’ve been even better in the hands of a more melodic group.

While Super Collider certainly isn’t at the Lulu level of disaster, it is certainly the weakest Megadeth album since The World Needs A Hero. The best moments are when the band sticks to what they’ve been doing since United Abominations and even some of the other good ideas may have been better with other bands performing them. Seriously, doesn’t the title Super Collider sound like it should’ve been for the best AC/DC album in twenty years?

Current Highlights:
“Built For War”
“Forget To Remember”
“Don’t Turn Your Back”
“Cold Sweat”

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Review of A Pale Horse Named Death's Lay My Soul to Waste

While Sal Abruscato may always be best known for being the original drummer for Type O Negative and Life Of Agony, he’s getting more of a name for himself as the mastermind behind A Pale Horse Named Death. While the group’s 2011 debut was largely collaboration between Sal and guitarist Matt Brown, Lay My Soul To Waste features a full band that includes drummer Johnny Kelly in an amusing fit of irony. Either way, this project successfully carries the dirty goth metal torch once held by the late Peter Steele.

As with their debut, A Pale Horse Named Death’s second release has a similar sound and set of influences as Seventh Void, the other Drab Four spinoff that seems to be more sporadically active in comparison. Type O Negative and Alice In Chains are the leading influences in the grunge doom style though one could also find similarities to Paradise Lost, Kill Devil Hill, and the doom album that Hank Williams III put out a couple years ago.

But while Seventh Void, spent more time on the grunge end of the spectrum, this band is as close to Peter Steele’s vision as you can get. The opening “Shallow Grave” perfectly channels the Bloody Kisses tone with its “Christian Woman” verses, “Black No. 1” drum beats, and a morose chorus that really sends the point home. Tracks like “Growing Old” and “Day Of The Storm” also do a good job of showing off the keyboard-driven slower side last expressed on October Rust and World Coming Down.

Fortunately, there are songs on here that branch into the styles beyond the goth tag. “Dead Of Winter” is a neat acoustic number with a hammering rhythm that plays out like a downer version of Johnny Cash’s “God’s Gonna Cut You Down.” There are also a few spurts of harsher vocals on the lyrically cheesy “Devil Came With A Smile” and the bridge of “DMSLT.”

When it comes down to it, Lay My Soul to Waste is a great album that makes for an especially entertaining listen for Type O Negative diehards. While no group could ever match their broad influences and lyrical wit, A Pale Horse Named Death still offers good writing and enough diversity to keep things interesting. In the meantime, we’ll just have to see if another Seventh Void effort will ever see the light of day…

Current Highlights:
“Shallow Grave”
“Killer By Night”
“Dead Of Winter”
“Day Of The Storm”

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Local Love: Review Of The Gates Of Slumber's Stormcrow

I don’t know whom at Scion came up with the idea to release exclusive music for free on their website, but I owe that guy a beer. I’m not sure how the exact details work, but it makes for some great promotion for everyone involved and shows some great taste if the deals made with bands like the Melvins and Meshuggah are anything to go by. The Gates Of Slumber is one recent participant and has brought drummer Bob Fouts back into the fold with a five song EP available as a free download through Scion AV.

Despite the drummer switch, Stormcrow serves as a direct extension of 2011’s The Wretch as its songs are in the same bare bones doom metal mold. Every track is played out at a lumbering tempo with plenty of heavy riffs, drawn out chords, tricky structures, and downtrodden vocals to spare. The fast-paced climax of “(Devil’s Grip) Driven Insane” may provide a noteworthy pulse but you certainly won’t find another “Coven Of Cain” on here.

Fortunately, the EP format and songwriting skill allows each song to truly stand on its own. “Death March” is probably the most memorable track thanks to the strong vocal delivery, brief bass spot, and Saint Vitus references though “Son of Hades” and “Dragon Caravan” also stand out for their classic riff contributions. In addition, “(Devil’s Grip) Driven Insane” and “Of That Which Can Never Be” do a good job of rounding things out as the former features a strong drum performance and a theme reminiscent of High On Fire’s “Samsara” while the latter makes for the EP’s slowest dirge.

While releasing an EP through Scion for free may be seen as somewhat gimmicky, Stormcrow is a worthy addition to The Gates Of Slumber’s discography and seems to be stronger than a lot of the actual full-lengths in metal this year. While I would definitely recommend an album like The Wretch or Conqueror as a better place to get fully acquainted with the band, this EP does represent their sound well and provides a safe investment for any curious listener. We’ll just have to see how the band evolves from here.

Current Highlights:
“Death March”
“(Devil’s Grip) Driven Insane”
“Son Of Hades”

Monday, August 5, 2013

Review of Alice In Chains's The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here

Four years after Black Gives Way to Blue blew the rock world’s collective mind, Alice In Chains has come back with their fifth full-length album and second to feature guitarist/vocalist William DuVall. That album’s success and ensuing tours gave the band the right to be complacent. But while The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here upholds the band’s expectations for excellence, it’s a much safer listen than its oddball title would suggest.

For the most part, the album doesn’t stray too far from the one before it and could be described as a “typical” Alice In Chains effort. Jerry Cantrell continues to dominate and define the sound as his riffs provide a murky atmosphere and his vocal harmonize well in the rare moments when he is not singing lead. Fortunately, the other members still stand out as DuVall is a little more prominent than before and Mike Inez’s bass playing is as prominent and powerful as ever.

But in an odd twist, this album is somewhat brought down by it lacking the depressing mood that the band has thrived on since the days of Dirt. The tone is certainly morose and would be absolutely melancholic with a lesser band, but the ballads don’t tear your heart out as badly and there isn’t a heavy track that truly makes you want to crawl in a hole and die. It’s as if the band exorcised their last demons with Black Gives Way To Blue and is still figuring out what to do with their newfound freedom.

Fortunately, the band’s songwriting prowess ultimately prevails and the songs continue to showcase their signature variety. The heavier songs prove to be the strongest as the sludgy riffs on “Hollow” and “Stone” make them obvious choices for singles, the title track serves as a smooth successor to “Love, Hate, Love,” “Phantom Limb” is an doomy update of “Sickman” and “Junkhead,” and “Lab Monkey” dares to be among the slowest songs under the Alice In Chains name. The ballads are also put together well with “Voices” being a particular highlight.

If Black Gives Way To Blue was the glorious comeback that no one expected to be good, then The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here is the great album that everyone expected to be glorious. They’ll certainly never get to the same mindset as their early 90s reign, but this album is cut from the same cloth as its predecessor and should please a good bulk of its fans. Now where’s another acoustic EP? You bastards are way overdue…

Current Highlights:
“The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here”
“Lab Monkey”
“Phantom Limb”