Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Review of Motorhead's Aftershock

Every Motorhead review ever written starts with some statement about the band’s apparent invincibility and unwavering persistence, but their infallible reputation has been slightly shaken over the last year. Iconic vocalist/bassist Lemmy Kilmister’s recent health troubles have caused some alterations to their touring schedule, leading some to question the band’s future as a fully functional unit. Fortunately, Motorhead’s twenty-first studio album adheres to their longstanding status quo while reviving a few tricks that haven’t been seen in some time.

Even with health scares to consider, it’s safe to say the band dynamic hasn’t changed a bit. Lemmy’s vocals retain their slurred but commanding croaks, his ferocious bass playing often leads to guitarist Phil Campbell playing a lot of catch up, and Mikkey Dee’s drumming is as rapid fire as ever. The clear production and chorus-oriented songwriting also make it quite similar to the efforts that have been put out since 2004’s Inferno.

But with there being fourteen tracks on here, more than any other Motorhead album, it does end up being one of their more diverse releases. In fact, it has a fair amount in common with 1977’s Overkill. In addition to many tracks having a less than three minute run time and a fast punk execution, “Lost Woman Blues” plays like a mellower version of “Limb From Limb” and the melancholic “Dust And Glass” has a psychedelic tone that recalls “Metropolis” or “Capricorn.” There’s no track as massive as “Overkill,” but “End Of Time” does come close to matching its intensity.

Of course, having fourteen tracks also means that there are some bits of filler to be found. Even the most casual fan can tell you that there is no such thing as a bad Motorhead song but a number of tracks do run together, especially towards the album’s end. The highlights make up for them as always but even those seem like they needed more development or more dynamic song structures.

Overall, Aftershock has a few tweaks that make it more unique than its most recent predecessors but is about even with them in terms of quality. It doesn’t have the fire to challenge the likes of Inferno but it secures the band’s standing in a more uncertain time. I’m still holding out for a bluesier direction, but the classic aspirations may be enough to recommend it to established fans.

Current Highlights:
“Lost Woman Blues”
“End Of Time”
“Do You Believe”
“Silence When You Speak To Me”

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Local Love: Review of Stone Magnum's From Time... To Eternity

Stone Magnum’s second album may only be out a year after their self-titled debut, but they’ve already gone through some noticeable changes. Following guitarist Dean Tavernier’s decision to stop performing vocals, Nick Hernandez was recruited and Ben Elliot was also picked up for bass duties. These moves aren’t enough to suggest a name change but they do make From Time… to Eternity a different animal compared to the one before it.

 While Stone Magnum’s debut was largely caught in the crossfire of 80s Sabbath and Scott Reagers-era Saint Vitus, this album is immersed in the throes of early Candlemass worship. The production is cleaner, the guitar riffs are of a more melodic and mystical nature, and the operatic vocals are torn between Johan Langquist and Messiah Marcolin. This style is best demonstrated on “The Gallows of Ohrdruf,” which might be the best track here thanks to it sounding like it could’ve come straight from Epicus Doomicus Metallicus.

This shift not only makes the album sound more unified but also results in a more stable band dynamic. Tavernier’s thin wail did have a certain uniqueness to it but there’s no denying that the vocal switch was a smart move as Hernandez offers an approach that’s easier to get a feel for. The songwriting is also more complex, no thanks to the guitars getting a little more freedom this time around.

But on the flip side, the unity does mean that the songwriting has a little less diversity to it. Having only seven songs on here does result in a lack of filler but there aren’t many moments that go beyond your standard doom pace. Songs like “Lonely God” and “By An Omen I Went” do have a rock flair and the climax of “Uncontained” opts for a faster direction, but it would’ve been great to see an anthem like “Pictures of Your Life” on here.

Overall, From Time… To Eternity is one of the more noteworthy efforts of 2013 and should secure Stone Magnum as a staple in the doom metal community. It may be easier to recommend it to new listeners over the debut but the two may be about even as far as quality goes. It certainly wouldn’t be a bad idea to get the edition that has both albums together. Give that a listen and we’ll see where they go from here!

Current Highlights:
“Lonely God”
“In Tongues They Whisper”
“The Gallows of Ohrdurf”
“By An Omen I Went”

Monday, October 14, 2013

Review of Dream Theater's Self-Titled Album

Some may deem them uncreative, but self-titled albums often have interesting purposes in a band’s discography. Unless it is released as a group’s debut, a self-titled album usually suggests a dramatic change of direction or serves as a statement of their core tenets. Like A Dramatic Turn Of Events before it, Dream Theater’s twelfth studio effort and second with drummer Mike Mangini aims to be your quintessential Dream Theater album but has a few elements that set it apart from that particular release.

While the appropriately symphonic “False Awakening Suite” and lead single “The Enemy Within” initially hint at a heavier, more theatrical direction, the bulk of Dream Theater is actually driven by the tropes that defined efforts such as Octavarium and Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence. The influence of other bands is back on their sleeves as “The Looking Glass” and “Surrender to Reason” channel the pep of early 80s Rush while “The Bigger Picture” and “Along For The Ride” serves as the token ballads. Elsewhere, “Enigma Machine” is the first instrumental to be seen since the Train Of Thought days and “Illumination Theory” is another one of the band’s beloved twenty-minute epics.

The musicians also offer their typical virtuosities though the dynamic seems to be shaken up a bit. John Petrucci’s guitars and Jordan Rudess’s effects continue to assert their dominance and the drums have integrated well enough, but bassist John Myung appears to be the album’s standout contributor as his performance is his most energetic since Falling Into Infinity. On the flip side, James LaBrie’s vocal performance will continue to divide listeners though there are a few signs of slippage that even the most dedicated of fanboys will notice. He still works well with the material but the cringe-worthy wails during the climaxes of “Illumination Theory” threaten to derail an otherwise solid closer.

 But for an album that features shorter song lengths and a less than seventy minute run time, it is strange to note that its biggest flaw is a lack of true catchiness. Detractors have always been quick to identify Dream Theater as a band only capable of endless wanking and cornier lyrics, but they have known how to craft a good chorus and have many a grand riff in their repertoire. A few tracks like “The Bigger Picture” and “Behind The Veil” do come close to reaching this point, but most of the songs are rather interchangeable despite the album’s variety. They’re still good enough but aren’t as memorable as usual.

Overall, Dream Theater’s self-titled venture is a solid release that mixes good songs with a looming threat of stagnancy. It might not be a bad idea for the band to consider recharging their batteries in the near future, but a return to a heavier sound or even entertaining the idea of another concept album could make for an equally satisfying remedy. There is still some enjoyment to be found here but it’d be best to get the new albums by Queensryche and Fates Warning if you want to hear the old prog metal elite at its best.

Current Highlights:
“False Awakening Suite”
“The Enemy Inside”
“The Bigger Picture”
“Behind the Veil”
“Illumination Theory”

Monday, October 7, 2013

Review of Fates Warning's Darkness In A Different Light

Much like the case with Black Sabbath, Fates Warning released their first album in nine years under some odd circumstances. Sporadic activity and numerous side projects cast the prog giants’ future in doubt, but they’ve come back with an album that is stronger than anticipated. They even brought touring drummer Bobby Jarzombek and classic guitarist Frank Aresti along for the ride, drawing even more comparisons to the Arch/Matheos project that was spawned in 2011.

Fates Warning and Arch/Matheos may have the same players in their ranks aside from the singers fronting them but each project does have a distinct sound to it. While Sympathetic Resonance exerted long song lengths with a dark prog metal execution, Darkness in a Different Light offers a more accessible approach. The songs are shorter in comparison and tracks like “Desire” and “I Am” sound more like Soundgarden or Tool than Dream Theater. This album also has a more contemplative side with “Lighthouse” and “Falling” sounding like lost OSI tracks.

Of course, there are some inevitable similarities to their sister project. There are some heavy tracks to be found as “One Thousand Fires” starts things off with an appropriately fiery delivery and “Kneel and Obey” has a crunchy riff or two to match the slower tempo. “And Yet It Moves” is the strongest overall connection as it goes through several changes over the course of fourteen minutes.

And like any Fates Warning album, the performances are what truly sell it. Ray Alder may have lost his higher register years ago but his lower range has held up and works well with the material at hand. The rhythm section is also incredibly tight as Joey Vera’s bass playing is some of the best that the band has ever had and the drumming is consistent intricate through even the simplest of grooves.

Sympathetic Resonance may have been a touch more worth of the Fates Warning banner but Darkness in a Different Light is a surprisingly satisfying comeback. The style may be tricky to get into but it is executed well and the band sticks to its strengths. It’s hard to tell which project has more momentum behind it but the players still have plenty of life in them.

“One Thousand Fires”
“I Am”
“And Yet It Moves”