Boris are one of these avantgarde bands from the Far East that like to push the limits of everything they do. Their sound changes with every album they make, from drone to fuzzed up stoner rock, noise to psychedelic weirdness. You really need to listen to them to try and understand their work. I recently got a hold of their 2003 ambient/noise/rock opus ‘Feedbacker’, a 43 minute single track split into 5 parts. The cover is Wata, female guitarist of the band, lying in a pool of what appears to be her own blood. An apt cover for an album that melds the savagery of noise and rock with the beauty of pure sound and experimentation. Somewhat of a listening endurance test, but not in a bad way, not at all. It’s more of an experience, a twisting collaboration of screeching feedback, fuzzy drone and all out rock.
Whatever you do, do not turn up the volume during the rippling drones that open the album. From nowhere it seems a wall of wailing guitar and thick distortion explodes over your senses, startling you completely from the peaceful, Earth like beginnings. It takes almost 23 minutes before the trademark howling of bassist/vocalist Takeshi begins, during a moment of rocking out that breaks up the noise. And there has always been that draw to Boris, they always seems to be able to effortlessly meld back into a good old rock out no matter how far from the musical template they have wandered. Guitarist Wata pulls out some of her most adventurous fret play on this album, licks of flame blaze all over the soundscape, sounding like fellow Japanese guitar virtuoso and collaborator Michio Kurihara.
And suddenly it ends, with a blast of white hot noise, squealing guitars, a thunder of drums and then the band are gone, and all that remains is the yawning chasm created by their efforts. The feedback spirals away, the visceral expression of Boris’ vision fades out and you’ve just experienced one of the more unique albums you’re ever likely to hear. Now put it on again and see what else you hear.
Now normally I wouldn’t devote two reviews in a row to a single band, especially if it is Trivium, the metal Marmite if you will. I try to review all types of metal and all different bands but I decided that ‘Shogun’ needed to be reviewed after my previous comments about ‘The Crusade’. It was a let down, a collection of riffs and ideas that was put together badly and, while showing potential for a new thrash direction (in the same way Unearth rocked on ‘III: In the Eyes of Fire’), failed to impress.So what of ‘Shogun’? Well it is a definite improvement on ‘The Crusade’, being much more of an amalgamation of that album’s thrashier riffs, and the more metalcore leanings of ‘Ascendancy’. Matt Heafy’s metalcore scream has also returned, which is a welcome addition to the record, as it comes across as a more intense and heavier album that way. Heafy’s clean vocals have also improved dramatically; he still sounds like a younger James Hetfield but he has a more confident feel about him now, and that shines through on tracks like ripping opener ‘Kirisute Gomen’ and excellent video cut ‘Down from the Sky’. Lyrically and visually, the band has focused on Japan and its culture as a concept for the album, which is good because they have moved away from their failed attempts to be socially conscious on ‘The Crusade’.
Trivium have finally managed to write the album that they were capable of doing, a technically excellent, passionate album full of inspired riffs, soaring choruses, tearing solos and a distinct lack of their past failings. The riffing now feels less like you’ve heard it before, the vocals less gratingly familiar also. Ironically, it is the rebirth of thrash-Metallica that is the best comparison here. Just like their heroes, Trivium have managed to write a new album that is a perfect mix of all their previous albums, and performed with an energy and intensity that just creates good music. Highlights include the spiralling riff that ends ‘Torn Between Scylla and Charybdis’, the Testament-esque ‘Throes of Perdition’ and the soaring choruses and technical virtuosity that enlighten ‘He Who Spawned the Furies’. But it is possibly ‘Insurrection’ that is the best track on the album, a thundering thrasher that descends into a downtuned, growling chug, then punctuated by one of Corey Beaulieu’s best solos.
Of course there are fans of metal out there that will instantly disregard Trivium as ’sellouts’, ‘pop’, ‘boyband metal’ or ‘Metallica rip-offs for the new generation’. But they should at least listen to ‘Shogun’ before they start that all again, it might just change their mind. A surprise triumph for modern metal.
Ah, Trivium. A metal boyband? A flash in the pan? True saviours of modern metal or an amalgamation of all the ingredients needed to make soulless music in a popular style? Well, the future will undoubtedly allow some important hindsight, and maybe they will turn out to be a classic outfit and revered. Maybe not. What is important is evaluating what they produce here and now, and before I hear their newest release ‘Shogun’ I wanted to review ‘The Crusade’, their third album and their ‘Master of Puppets’ first.Well, that isn’t a fair comparison, comparing something contemporary to such a classic release but there are definitely similar points. Matt Heafy’s voice is now so Hetfield-esque it hurts. The arrangements and writing is of a similar standard of complexity but whereas Metallica achieved this with dazzling results, Trivium’s attempt seems to be a mixture of cobbled together riffs that all seem rather similar, like you’ve heard them before. ‘And Sadness Will Sear’ sounds like a collection of riffs Nevermore left on their studio floor, and ‘Anthem (We Are the Fire)’ has a painful live Metallica style ‘Whoa Whoa’ singalong section that works in an arena with 50,000 people but on record sounds tacky and boring.
It is also a shame that Heafy seems to have left his metalcore scream on ‘Ascendancy’, and the band have moved from metalcore breakdowns to pure straightforward thrash, however impressive some of the riffing sections are. ‘Ignition’ and ‘Detonation’ are good opening tracks, but the vocals and attempt at trying to write some socially aware lyrics begin to grate very quickly and by the time ‘Anthem…’ begins at track 4, it has already become very old. The whole album leaves you with the feeling of deja vu, like you’ve heard this style and riffing before but better done. And ‘This World Can’t Tear Us Apart’ is just ‘Dying In Your Arms’ rewritten, whatever the band may claim. It contains the same radio-friendly massive choruses and sound that ensured its predecessor was a big hit for the kids.
I have heard better things of ‘Shogun’, but after two good to great metalcore albums ’From Ember to Inferno’ and ‘Ascendancy’, ‘The Crusade’ was a pretty big let down. Poor lyrics, rehashed thrash riffs and ideas and an almost copyright infringing vocal performance make this one to miss. Pick up ‘Ascendancy’ if you want to hear how good this band can be.
Is there anything wrong with finding a successful formula for your music and sticking with it? Works for Motorhead, AC/DC and Iron Maiden, bands all heralded as classic or iconic but what about lesser lights? Amon Amarth have rigidly stuck to their rampaging brand of Viking laced melodic death metal, tweaking the formula every so often to better results and have gradually grown into a formidable outfit. Live, they are a reincarnation of a Viking celebration (for Vikings are probably the most metal of all former peoples, except maybe the Celts), bursting with a passion and energy that gives you no choice but to throw the horns and bellow along. Their 2006 release, ‘With Oden On Our Side’, was simply an excellent showing of their strengths as a band, and I became a big fan of the band. Well two years later, Amon Amarth have returned with another 10 tracks of thunder (pardon the pun) and epic scope with ‘Twilight of the Thunder God’. A fine follow up from the previous record, while not surpassing its excellence, it pushes the soaring melodies more to the front, allowing the band to fully put the ‘melodic’ in melodic death metal. But this doesn’t mean that Amon Amarth have gone all commercial or sugary sweet. Johan Hegg’s guttaral roar is still fully evident in tracks like ‘The Guardians of Asgaard’ or ‘Where is Your God Now?’, and the epic thrust of riffing captured in the title track and most tracks on the album keeps the spirit alive. Lyrically the tales of battle, Vikings and heroism continue, but there is definitely a maturity in the storytelling now, capturing perfectly in ‘The Hero’. Surprises in the record include the appearance of cello masters Apocalyptica on ‘Live for the Kill’ and the almost prog influenced final epic, ‘Embrace of the Endless Ocean’. A spirited and quality release, if a bit less stellar than ‘With Oden…’, but excellent nevertheless.
Before I even got a chance to hear this album I’d been bombarded with online and magazine reviews, opinions and comments about its quality. Best album in 20 odd years, oldies trying too hard and failing, etc etc. So I got the album, have listened to it a good 5 or 6 times in the past few weeks and finally decided what I felt about it. The problem with Metallica is that their past discography is littered with 4 classic thrash gems, the biggest hard rock/metal album of all time and some decent if uninspired hard rock albums. Plus St Anger, which I think would have been regarded as a decent enough album if it didn’t have Metallica blazoned across the front. For them it was very average, anyone else it could have been regarded as good. But Death Magnetic is the reawakening of thrash-Metallica, the one that died after the release of the Black Album. But the band have been aware enough to not erase all they have learned in the past 20 years, the radio and MTV megastar metal has not been ignored, neither the Southern-rocking Load and Reload band either. What they have created is an amalgamation of all of their essential parts; speed, thrash, technicality, rock and groove, and created a monster of a comeback. ‘That Was Just Your Life’ roars out of the starting blocks like ‘Battery’ and ‘Blackened’ did so well in the past, but it contains some chugging groove which makes more appearances throughout the album. Kirk Hammett’s solos are back as well, and thank the Lord for that, because Metallica without solos was a bit like Motorhead without Lemmy; just plain wrong. It’s heartening to find that Metallica still have that ability in them to write a truly cohesive and quality thrash album even after their dalliances with more commercial material. ‘The End of the Line’ keeps that ‘Load’-style groove and rock but couples it to some rocking thrash riffs, ‘The Day That Never Was’ is a decent enough attempt at writing another ’One’ but without the lyrical content or ‘instant classic’ feel that ‘One’ had. ‘All Nightmare Long is probably my favourite song on the whole album, it has some excellent speed metal riffing, coupling with a ripping solo and Hetfield’s best vocal performance on the record. It’s also catchy as hell, just the way prime Metallica should be. Death Magnetic isn’t without its problems however. ‘Suicide and Redemption’ doesn’t possess that essential Metallica instrumental feeling that ‘Orion’ or ‘The Call of Ktulu’ does, which is a bit of a shame as it’s an impressive enough piece. ‘The Judas Kiss’ sounds a bit like the best song the band didn’t put on ’St Anger’, ‘The Unforgiven III’ is, I’m guessing, only titled as such so people who notice it sounds familiar don’t start claiming the band are just rewriting older songs, and James Hetfield’s voice doesn’t quite retain that snotty punk attitude that suited the 80s thrash sound well, and some of his lyrics are average in comparison to previous stuff. But Hetfield possesses that iconic sneering roar that gives Metallica a signature sound, and he gives a more lively performance here. Above all, Metallica have managed to write an album full of catchy, thrashing anthems just as only they could, and for someone who grew up with the Black Album, Load and Reload as a few of their favourite albums, I’m glad they incorporated their entire career’s styles into a quality cohesive album. After all, trying to rewrite ‘Kill Em All’ at their age wouldn’t work; they don’t possess the youthful energy that current thrash-revival bands have, but when they truly release, Metallica show why they are still thrash legends. And I thought I’d never get to write that. Master, master, THESE are the dreams I’ve been after…
‘Under a Funeral Moon’ was Darkthrone’s second foray away from the early death metal stylings of their debut into full blown black metal. It was and still is an instant classic of the genre, created with a swirling maelstorm of ice cold, malevolent riffs and inhuman shrieks and covered in that classic monochromatic cover style that adorned ‘A Blaze in the Northern Sky’. Its difficult to say anything new or original about this album, as it has a well documented history as an undisputed classic, but the sheer amount of grimness in this record has proven somewhat difficult to surpass even in the 15 odd years since it’s release. The key element of the album, captured perfectly in tracks like ‘Natassja in Eternal Sleep’ and ‘To Walk the Infernal Fields’, is the icy atmosphere of foreboding, of danger, of evil. It’s like something you would experience wandering through a snowy forest in the dead of night, the feeling that something is there, something intangible and yet something inherently haunting. Nocturno Culto’s shrieking rasp only adds to the harsh raw sound that the minimalistic approach has created. Darkthrone never seemed to be overly concerned with the amount of riffs in a song, or even the quality of them but more with the hypnotic edge that the repititon brings. It is this that helps the atmosphere and creates such a quality album. Early black metal albums were rife with examples of atmosphere over musicianship, and Darkthrone were a perfect example. They may have now become a ‘black n roll’ metal band rather than the frost-bitten force for evil and dread that their classic triumvirate of influential albums suggest, but those three albums (A Blaze in the Northern Sky, this and Transilvanian Hunger) have a legacy that survives to this day and it is one that is well deserved. Style over substance maybe, but when you’ve got this kind of style, maybe the substance isn’t that necessary.
Now I’ve heard good things about this album, and I’ve been a fan of the Haunted for a number of years now. I tend to not take notice of good press on albums until I’ve actually listened to them; subjectivity is both the blight and soul of music reviewing. There’s only so many times I can hear people say Trivium are actually amazing before I want to scream ’slowly becoming average’ at them! But I wasn’t quite prepared for actually how good this album would turn out to be, even with the press drooling over it. The fact I always loved about the Haunted were that they were from the spiritual home of melodic death metal, Gothenburg Sweden, and yet their sound is classic thrash with vocals that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Sick of It All album. Does that make it ‘thrashcore’? Lets hope not, but if it does, I’m claiming royalties on that title! They wield the thrashing excellence of Testament and Exodus through an excellent production system and infuse it with a coherent socio-political lyrical bent, with dalliances into violence. They are also the masters of pit-fuelled anthems, like ‘Trenches’ and ‘Moronic Colossus’. Whether you can put forward an argument that The Haunted belong to this current old school thrash revival (simply because they currently play thrash that wouldn’t sound out of place in the Bay Area of the 80s) or not, they possess a power that bands like Municipal Waste, Evile or Merciless Death don’t. Those bands have all released some quality material recently, but they appear to more keeping the spirit of thrash alive in their music, rather than the Haunted’s pure power and groove attack. ‘Ceremony’ is one of the best thrash tracks of the year so far, hurtling forward at breakneck speeds while still containing an instant classic riff at the core of its chorus, and middle track ‘Skuld’ has a doomy, malevolent sound ending in the line ‘to be once more, like first snow’ which melts straight into the fire breathing ‘Crusher’. It’s actually heartening to experience a thrash album in this day of retro-thrash wannabes that sounds modern, not outtakes from 20 years ago. Strangely though, for me the album highlight is ‘Rivers Run’, a track that could sit comfortably on any Corrosion of Conformity or Down album, so infused is it with a Southern NOLA groove and feel. Maybe if Anselmo ever wants to retire as Down’s vocalist, Peter Dolving can step up! ‘Imperial Death March’ is not, sadly, a metal rendition of the Star Wars track, but a slow, rumbling condemnation of religious fundamentalism. Yet another quality addition to the Haunted’s back catalogue, and to this year’s list of worthy album of the year contenders. This is gonna be pretty difficult…
I became a fan of Keep of Kalessin when my friend lent my a copy of 2006’s ‘Armada’, their previous album to this. They had a solid sound in comparison with many black metal bands that seem to enjoy recording their albums in a cave or something. Raw black metal is good, but there’s differences between sounding necro and sounding just plain bad. Thankfully, KoK possess a thicker sound, each note can be clearly heard, and the band possess a formidable album in ‘Kolossos’, their latest outing. The Norwegians employ subtle Middle Eastern effects and orchestral effects to fully realise their creation, without the saturation of bombast like some bands may (Dimmu Borgir, I’m looking at you here!). Opener ‘Origin’ applies these pastoral acoustics well without overindulging, but ‘The Birth of a New Empire’ is where the blast begins however, raging forward with little remorse for those who cannot cope. The epic 9 minute ‘Against the Gods’ is a high point for recent symphonic black metal, and is probably the best song on the album. The chugging outro to it lasts almost three whole minutes and yet doesn’t come across as filler or wasted recording space. But it’s tracks such as ‘The Rising Sign’ and ‘Warmonger’ that show the album’s major strengths, the former complete with great pace changing and piano and acoustic moments, and the latter a raging war metal anthem highlighted by a fluid solo and memorable riffing. There are moments here that reminded me why I enjoyed the last two Emperor albums so much, and, where as the music will never reach quite the dizzy heights of ‘Prometheus…’ or ‘… Equilibrium’, the vocals of Thebon do conjure Ihsahn’s gravelly shrieking roar and perhaps we’re looking at a possible successor to the symphonic black metal throne. I’m glad that Keep of Kalessin were able to keep the quality of Armada intact for the successor, and keep the spirit of late period Emperor alive too. It is now up to them whether they wish to claim the Emperor’s throne as their own, or continue to blast on as a faithful servant of the sound. Either way, if they keep making albums of this undoubtedly quality, they will at least gain a similar amount of respect.
Mastodon have become metal media darlings since the release of this, probably still their finest work. ‘Leviathan’ took ‘Remission’’s powerful metal stomp, injected it with the progressive elements and just plain weird moments that turned them from respected underground band into mainstream gods, and left critics and fans reeling. How could it ever be followed? Well ‘Blood Mountain’ made a commendable attempt, and to be honest was a contender for album of 2006 in my estimation, but I felt never quite reached the same level that ‘Leviathan’ did. Whether it was just good timing that it was released as the metalcore revolution really kicked off and was so brilliantly different or whatever it was, lead track ‘Blood and Thunder’ was a moment for true metal fans to savour. A powerful, groove based track with Clutch’s Neil Fallon on guest vocals, it nailed the Mastodon sound perfectly. For a band thats been described as prog, there’s no real moments of self indulgence, the instrumental sections feel as part of the album as the vocal parts, and to be honest the only general hint of a progressive nature is the 14 minute epic ‘Hearts Alive’ and the ‘concept’ nature of this album. Where progressive can be truly applied here is in the ferocity of delivery and the lack of pretension in its determination to be something different. Mastodon aren’t different because they try, Mastodon are different because they don’t necessarily need to. There is something effortless about how they create their music, rather than the more forced attempts of many modern bands to make themselves stand out in scenes that they have a rare chance to. Instrumentally sound, with drummer Brann Dailor’s tour de force performance underpinning massive grooving riffs and the primitive roar of dual vocalists Brent Hinds and Troy Sanders, this is an album that manages to still feel cutting edge even though it is four years old. Stand out tracks include ‘Seabeast’, ‘Naked Burn’ and ‘Aqua Dementia’, but to be honest the entire album stands out. If you want to introduce yourself to the Mastodon sound, nowhere is better than here.
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Electric Wizard are a bit of a British doom standard bearer. Their new album, Witchcult Today, possesses the sort of riffs that would make Tony Iommi smile in brotherly admiration, and all the time soaking them in the kind of fuzzing that would make Kyuss and My Bloody Valentine proud. The opening title track feels like it could fit onto Kyuss’s stoner rock masterpiece Welcome to Sky Valley, and it’s only the beginning of a winding, psychedelic journey through a smoky tunnel with only a pipe and a set of Sabbathian riffs to guide you. The great thing about Electric Wizard is that, even though they are doom, and to be honest one of the best sound indicators of what a doom record sounds like, it never sounds overly depressing. In fact, the spread of obscure occult references, the tendency to rely on the use of the word ‘dopesmoke’ in every song and the tale of a weed powered vampire (‘The Satanic Rites of Drugula’) make this album somewhat uplifting, the most prime example is the catchy ‘Dunwich’. Drenching it in a pure Seventies atmosphere (see ‘Torquemada 71′) takes it back to its spiritual home alongside Black Sabbath, if of course viewed through a cloud of smoke, and the psychedelic influence is only heightened by tracks like the shimmering ‘Raptus’ and the rumbling ‘The Chosen Few’. The whole album is a triumph for doom fans everywhere, the legacy of crushing albums like ‘Come My Fanatics’ and ‘Dopethrone’ has been continued here, and for you non doomers out there, its just a devastatingly heavy album full of hooks, fuzz, dope and riffs. What more could you want?