Tuesday, December 29, 2015

A Look Back at Motorhead's Inferno

Contrary to popular belief, Motorhead didn’t always release the same album every time they recorded something. While they didn’t stray too far from the template that was laid down by Lemmy’s bass distortion and gargled wheeze, their sound did evolve over time as they discovered variations to their tried and true formula. 2004’s Inferno is one of the finest examples of this phenomenon, giving the band a major burst of energy as they were reaching the latter days of their career.

Overkill and Ace of Spades are more influential and were ungodly vicious for their time, but Inferno just might be the heaviest album Motorhead ever put out. Phil Campbell’s guitar tone is at its most dominant thanks to the bright production job though the rhythm section still holds its own throughout. The songs themselves also seem to be more up tempo than usual as the pummeling “Terminal Show” and “Fight!” pack in several thrash riffs while others such as “Life’s A Bitch” and “Smiling Like A Killer” thrive on a punk oriented delivery.

Of course, the sing-along hooks still offer plenty of melody and there are some slower moments that keep things interesting. “Suicide” may be the most accessible song on here thanks to its building guitar work and surprisingly catchy vocal layering and “Keys to the Kingdom” also stands out for its mid-tempo shuffle. One also can’t forget about the closing “Whorehouse Blues” as Mikkey Dee trades his drums in for another guitar and Lemmy breaks out the harmonica for a rousing acoustic jam that makes you wonder how many of these the band had left in them.

But when it comes down to it, Inferno stands out thanks to its more ambitious scope. You won’t find any fancy frills on here but moments like the building intro on “Killers” and the lyrical imagery on “In the Year of the Wolf” give things a more noticeable weight than usual. Albums like 1916 had attempted this sort of thing before but it’s never sounded as natural as it does here.

If Inferno isn’t the best album that Motorhead ever put out, then it’s a surprisingly powerful addition to their extensive discography at the very least. The songs may be not as iconic as their classic staples but they’re written with a great deal of care and the energy involved is well worth the price of admission. It’s a shame that the band never reached their level of intensity again but they never stopped finding ways to live up to their unshakeable reputation.

“Terminal Show”
“Smiling Like A Killer”
“Whorehouse Blues”

Saturday, December 12, 2015

My Top Fifteen Favorite Albums of 2015

2015 had its share of ups and downs but it was an overall productive year for yours truly. Between various job switches and personal debacles, my band Spirit Division managed to release its full-length debut album late April, dealt with another lineup change shortly thereafter, and subsequently participated in some of the best shows I’ve ever played. But don’t worry; that recording isn’t on here even if I enjoy my own music way more than an artist ever should…

However, this was a year I made a conscious effort to check out more bands that I was previously unfamiliar with or aren’t quite as experienced. I may be naive but it seems like a culture where talent is only given attention if it is based on nostalgia or clickbait has arguably contributed more to declining profits and audience apathy than online piracy. With that mindset, this year just may have been the best that the 2010s has offered so far. This list is full of even higher quality than I’m used to and could’ve easily been a top 20 with a bit more deliberation. So with that, let’s take a look at my personal cream of the crop.

15) Moon Watcher by Witchdoctor
Epic doom band Witchdoctor strikes a great balance between savagery and class on their debut album. The song structures are thematic, the guitar work ranges from intricate to pounding, and the vocals have an unhinged quality even in their most melodic moments. The title track’s main riff is undeniable but other tracks like “The Gathering” and “Power Master” are just as strong. They’re surely one of the most promising bands that Indianapolis has to offer.

14) Dorthia Cottrell by Dorthia Cottrell
Icons such as Wino and Scott Kelly have dabbled in the genre before, but the acoustic solo debut by Windhand vocalist Dorthia Cottrell made me think more about the relationship that apparently exists between folk music and doom metal. The two genres are polar opposites in terms of sonic presentation but they’re both based more on emotion and atmosphere than technicality. This is especially true for all of Cottrell’s efforts but this album has a dark desperation to it that wouldn’t have as much depth in the hands of her main band. Grief’s Internal Flower is a satisfying listen and recommended to doom fans, but I’ve been listening to this one a lot more.

13) The Rise of Disaster Capitalism by Tyranny Is Tyranny
I had the privilege of sharing a Bloomington stage with Wisconsin’s Tyranny Is Tyranny this summer and am lucky to keep tabs on them since. While I am not as well versed in post-rock as I should be, their sense of dynamics and angry vocals remind me of Neurosis’s most recent efforts. Add in occasional horn flourishes and you’ve got a band worth chilling out to.

12) From The Ashes by Tvsk
While Tvsk’s debut album is highly recommended for fans of all things Al Cisneros, the California duo has more going for them than mere Om/Shrinebuilder worship. The songs towards the end get more atmospheric but songs like “Sacred Kind” and “Dead Womb” bring in vocals that dare to be as catchy as the heavy bass lines. Add in a perfect narrative flow and you’ve got a group to look out for.

11) Render Unto Archarus by Archarus
Thrash and doom are another two subgenres that aren’t combined often, due to their contradicting approaches. While no one will confuse Indianapolis’s Archarus for one of the Bay Area speed legends anytime soon, songs like “Under A Tattered Banner” and “Tower Of The Wizard” are packed with more energy than your average doom group. They’ve come a long way in such a brief time and are sure to get even further.

10) The Plague Within by Paradise Lost
A successful return to death/doom is enough to make Paradise Lost fans rejoice but The Plague Within also manages to be the band’s most diverse effort to date. “Beneath Broken Earth” may be the slowest song they’ve ever done, “Flesh From Bone” may be their fastest, “An Eternity of Lies” and “Victim Of The Past” both show symphonic influence, and “Cry Out” even throws a nice groove out there. It’s a grower compared to Tragic Idol but also a nice example of how veteran bands can still keep putting out strong material.

9) Extinct by Moonspell
Moonspell has always jumped between their goth and extreme metal sides for the bulk of their career, to the point of giving each side its own disc on 2012’s Alpha Noir/Omega White. Extinct serves as a great combination of both sides as songs like the pounding title track gel well with the post punk rhythms on “The Last Of Us” and “The Future Is Dark.” It isn’t on the same league as Wolfheart or The Antidote but it comes pretty damn close.

8) Pre-dating god Parts 1 & 2 by Satan’s Host
Satan’s Host may have set their ambitions high with the release of two albums this year but the blackened power metal style they’ve mastered on their most recent efforts is just as strong here. While the first part is a bit more consistent and the second is more melodic but it is an incomplete project without both editions. Still hoping that more bands will find ways to follow in their footsteps.

7) Gates of Winter by Thorr-Axe
If Wall of Spears was Thorr-Axe’s Kill ‘Em All, then Gates Of Winter is their answer to Ride The Lightning. The Viking conquest storyline has a more epic scope, black metal influences run rampant on songs like “The Seer’s Vision” and “Awakening,” and you’ll find plenty of stomping riffs on “Mountain Crusher” and the title track. It was definitely worth the wait and is just as excellent in the live environment.

6) Black Age Blues by Goatsnake
Despite showing off more authentic blues influence and more unique vocals than your typical stoner metal fare, Goatsnake never got full due back in their heyday. Fortunately, their first album in fifteen years manages to just as good as their classic two, if not a smidge better. The overall sound is more laid back than before but you can’t deny the swing on songs like “Another River To Cross” and “Grandpa Jones.”

5) Out Of The Garden by Crypt Sermon
In a scene full of stoner and sludge, Crypt Sermon does an excellent job of carrying the epic doom sound on their full-length debut. While the vocal performance has a rougher quality more in common with Solitude Aeturnus, the massive scope, heavy riffs, occasional tempo shifts, and even the muffled guitar tone perfectly emulate the sound of classic Candlemass. I highly recommend it for all doom fans and still hope they can make their way to the Midwest in the near future.

4) Eidos by Kingcrow
Having seen Kingcrow open for Pain Of Salvation in 2013 and then promptly forgetting about them, I feel fortunate for having rediscovered them just in time for their sixth album. The Italian group is one of the finest in prog metal today and captures a lot of the elements that made POS, Porcupine Tree, Anathema, and others so special while keeping things direct and memorable. I’ll definitely need to explore their discography further but I’d be surprised if this wasn’t a major highlight.

3) Psychic Warfare by Clutch
Clutch isn’t a band known for making any drastic changes over the years but there’s one thing about them that many of their peers lost long ago: They still give a shit. Psychic Warfare may have the same tricks as 2013’s Earth Rocker but it executes them in a much more energetic and infectious fashion. Even that guy who kept calling for “Spacegrass” couldn’t have been too disappointed when they played this sucker live in its entirety. I wouldn’t expect anything less from these sons of Virginia.

2) Tempora Infernalia by Demon Eye
There’s a reason why I thought Demon Eye’s second studio effort was going to be my top choice for most of the year. While the North Carolina group has been grouped in with the doom community, the weaving twin guitar work, energetic tempos, and nasally vocals suggest the likes of classic Deep Purple, Rush, and Iron Maiden than anything else. Either way, it was impossible to find songs that swung better than “I’ll Be Creeping” or “In The World, Not Of It” this year.

1) Hand. Cannot. Erase by Steven Wilson

Steven Wilson’s fourth solo album was an album that I expected to see on here but maybe not at the very top of my list. Past albums like The Raven That Refused To Sing remain ambitious favorites but Hand. Cannot. Erase hits me in a way that I haven’t felt since the classic run of Lightbulb Sun to Fear Of A Blank Planet. It manages to capture every aspect of his long running career as the title track and “Routine” have poppy vocal lines that rival the best of Porcupine Tree, “Perfect Life” has some appropriate industrial flirtation, and “Ancestral” has plenty of neat instrumental work to please prog fans. As much as I strive to hear the best that the new generation has to offer, it can be just as pleasing when the old guard still gets the job done.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Review of Kingcrow's Eidos

With a solid six studio albums under their belt, it's safe to say that Italy's Kingcrow knows what they're doing at this stage of their career. They're still fairly obscure but have gotten some wider exposure thanks to higher profile tours and festival appearances. Eidos is their latest studio offering and cements their status as the unsung heroes of modern progressive metal.

Having personally been introduced to the band on a past tour with Pain of Salvation, I find it easy to compare them to the Swedish masters. Vocalist Diego Marchesi isn't as flamboyantly charismatic as Daniel Gildenlow but he excels at delivering some tricky yet catchy vocal lines. In addition, Kingcrow makes good usage of atypical rhythms, flamenco acoustic guitar work, and a sense of drama that are right in line with the best of The Perfect Element and Remedy Lane.

Of course, there are other influences at work here. The heavy guitar tone is similar to late era Porcupine Tree, the swells remind one of Anathema's lighter efforts, and traces of Opeth and Dream Theater are used to fill in the gaps.
But while the band is open about its influences, the songwriting takes them to another level. The tracks are structurally and instrumentally complex but there is a conscious effort to keep the compositions memorable. Songs like "The Moth" and "Slow Down" offer the most straightforward hooks but the climactic moments on "The Deeper Divide" and the title track also leave a lasting impression.

I'm unfamiliar with Kingcrow's other works but Eidos is a powerful effort that pulls from the best of modern prog. Its easily identifiable influences may lead some to deem it too derivative and its connection to metal is loose at times, but the songs are well written enough to make this a highlight for the year. Here's hoping they'll achieve the acclaim that's been long overdue.

"The Moth"
"Slow Down"
"Fading Out (Part IV)"
"The Deeper Divide"

Monday, December 7, 2015

Review of Lords Of The Trident's Frostburn

Those previously acquainted with Wisconsin's Lords Of The Trident won't be too surprised by their full-length studio album. Their energetic brand of power metal is at full force as songs like the "Bark At The Moon" inspired "Winds Of The Storm" pack in a flurry of guitar harmonies while the vocal hooks and wails on "The Longest Journey" fly with optimism that somehow doesn't clash with the winter aesthetic.

That said, Frostburn seems to be more mature than their previous outings. The band members haven't dropped their personas and an over the top presentation is all but inevitable when it comes to this genre but it feels less like they're trying to be silly here. "Manly Witness" may still be a goofy title but the album's themes of conquest and adventure are almost played straight here.

This is further reinforced by the more unified songwriting. Just about every track on here is executed in a similarly upbeat tempo, not often reaching breakneck speed but lively enough to avoid sounding middle of the road. Fortunately the touches such as the acoustic work on the more mid-tempo "Haze Of The Battlefield," percussive breaks on "Den Of The Wolf" and "Light This City," and epic sweeps on "Shattered Skies" keep the songs from running together.

Overall, Lords Of The Trident's third album is a solid alternative to those who feel that the power metal legends such as Helloween have faltered on their most recent efforts. The Plan Of Attack EP may be the band's strongest moment but Frostburn is a strong recommendation to those still unfamiliar with the band's methods of madness. One can sense that the band is on the cusp of something truly inspiring.

"Knights of Dragon's Deep"
"The Longest Journey"
"Winds Of The Storm"
"Den Of The Wolf"
"Shattered Skies"

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Review of Pyramaze's Disciples Of The Sun

Pyramaze was never a household name in the power metal community but they did achieve some recognition in the mid-2000s thanks to collaborations with such legendary singers as Lance King and Iced Earth’s own Matt Barlow. The band technically never split up but their status was called into question due to the departures of several members, including guitarist/main songwriter Michael Kammeyer. Their first album since 2008’s Immortal is a potentially questionable revival but one that is welcome all the same.

Considering how drummer Morten Gade Sorensen and keyboardist Jonah Weingarten are the only band members left that played on Melancholy Beast back in 2004, it isn’t too surprising to note that Disciples Of The Sun sounds a lot different than past efforts. Pyramaze has always leaned closer to the European end of the power metal spectrum, but the guitar tone lacks the Iced Earth-inspired crisp of before and Terje Haroy’s voice isn’t quite as distinctive as King or Barlow had been.

Fortunately, the performances are still worth praising. The vocals aren’t cast from the ideal power metal mold but they work well with the material and never feel too weak. In addition, the production job may be cleaner than before and the songs themselves are definitely more upbeat.

The skepticism that one feels when thinking about this lineup’s usage of the Pyramaze name also dissipates when one realizes the strength of their songwriting. The band’s original run had a degree of inconsistency that is largely avoided here. “The Battle of Paridas” comes the closest to matching their old style after coming off the swells of “We Are The Ocean” while songs like “Back For More” and “Fearless” charge in with furious optimism.

In an odd twist, Pyramaze’s fourth studio album could very well be the most consistent album that the band has ever put out. Its connection to past efforts is rather questionable but the sound isn’t too unrecognizable and the quality of the writing makes it difficult to really care all that much. It’s hard to say how things will go from here but this should be enjoyable for old and new listeners alike.

“The Battle of Paridas”
“Disciples Of The Sun”
“Back For More”

“Hope Springs Eternal”