I have a strange musical mind. Now I’m sure a lot of metal fans whose tastes range over a number of genres, be it black, thrash, death, doom, prog, whatever really, like to have a period where they’ll only ever listen to one of them. For example, you put together an awesome death metal playlist on your iPod, and listen to only that for the next few days. I like doing that. But I find new and strange ways to twist that formula, if just to keep myself challenged by my music collection. Until this morning, I have spent the last week listening to only bands that begin with A on my iPod.
I originally wanted to do all 27 letters (I’m counting bands that begin with a number (3 Inches of Blood etc) separately) in a row but I think i may leave gaps for a while. Its quite an exhausting idea, because I found myself thinking ‘I wanna listen to Nile, but I can’t’. Of course, I could have but that would have ruined the experiment. So I stuck by it, and made it a week. I’m pretty glad I did, because I listened to a selection of albums I haven’t heard before, listened to in a while and some I haven’t appreciated fully until now. I also found that there is such a massive range of styles in my A column that I was always able to find something to suit the taste of the day.
Surprise of the week was Aborym 666’s ‘Generator’ album. Released in 2006, it is a harsh industrial black metal album that I got, listened to once or twice and then forgot about. I’ve listened to it repeatedly since, it is a bleak, vicious black metal album; its cold atmosphere enhanced by industrial/electronic moments. Other highlights included the latest Amorphis album ‘Skyforger’, Belgian death mob Aborted’s ‘Goremaggedon’, progressive death legends Atheist’s ‘Piece of Time’, and newcomers As You Drown’s ‘Reflection’.
Disappointments were Abigail Williams’ ‘In the Shadow of a Thousand Suns’ and Axxis’ ‘Paradise in Flames’. Abigail Williams basically play Dimmu-lite; its not that they aren’t a competent band, or the album did have some good points, but Shagrath’s squad have done it all before, and done it better. As for Axxis, they are WAY too power metal for their own good. Sure the formula works over a few tracks, but not a whole album and it became painful to listen to.
As for my favourite? Well, its pretty close between a few albums. I got my hard rock on to AC/DC’s classic ‘Back in Black’ a number of times. It’s a timeless album of stomping rock riffs and classic tracks, and only the bleakest, kvltist black metal bedroom geek could fail to love it. On the more metal side, I enjoyed Austrian Death Machine’s ‘Total Brutal’ probably too much. I mean an Arnie metal band? It’s genius, especially coupled with moments like the opening roar of ‘Get to the Choppa!!’ It’s hilariously tongue in cheek, and all the better for it. Its big, dumb and heavy, and you’ll find it difficult not to enjoy it, no matter how bad it gets. Just like Arnie’s movies. But the winner is Amon Amarth’s ‘With Oden on Our Side’. It’s a masterclass in epic melodic death metal; heavy enough to appeal to diehard metallers, melodic enough to please the air guitarist in all of us. ‘Cry of the Black Birds’ and ‘Valhall Awaits Me’ are the essential tracks, but it is one of the best albums of the last few years. And its about Vikings, pillaging and thunders gods; you can’t get more metal than that…
Ethereal Collapse are a melodic death metal band that hail from Pennsylvania, and I’m glad to say that they are actually melodic death, not the American version which is almost always metalcore-y. There is not a single breakdown to be found on this EP, which is a rather refreshing thing in these ‘chug chug slam’ days.
‘Categories’ is a concept EP, just over 16mins long, dealing with different branches of philosophy. It’s a tight, well written and well played EP, full of soaring melodies and plenty of head bang thrashing moments. ‘Category II: Discovering the Absolute’ has a wonderfully melodic solo halfway through, and opening track ‘Category I: Slave to the Empirical’ has some of the same excellent moments. Vocally the band stick with a traditional melodeath approach, there’s not too much variety in it, but it is quite refreshing for there not to be clean vocal choruses in this genre, so that is a plus. I love the riff that opens the last track, ‘Category III: Architect’; its a great section of arpeggio riffing that then breaks into a nice heavy Soilwork-esque riff.
I notice that these guys are unsigned on their Metal-Archives.com profile, which I think is a damn shame. The EP shows more than enough promise to earn them a label. They’re one of the better melodeath bands I’ve heard from the USA. They may take a huge amount of influence from the Scandinavian scene (Gothenburg in particular, but there’s definitely some Bodom/Kalmah in there too), but this EP shows that they have the ability to forge their own identity if given the chance. Now hopefully they can get signed and bring their melodic metal to the masses. We Europeans would lap it up, that’s a promise.
Insomnium are a band I first came across when I caught them supporting Zyklon and Enslaved back in 2006. I bought their previous full length, ‘Above the Weeping World’, and was startled to find a melodic death metal band that provided an excellent melancholic atmosphere, not unlike fellow Finns, death/doom titans Swallow the Sun. I was excited to learn of ‘Across the Dark’, their newest release, and have been glad to receive it.
The thing that most struck me about Insomnium were that they were a melodic death metal band that took a more measured pace, and injected a more mournful atmosphere into their work than the majority. Bands like In Flames or Soilwork tend to barrel full speed ahead, and while I am a fan of the genre and of those bands, I prefer the more atmospheric pacing of bands like Insomnium. I have the same views on death metal and black metal, it is just a preference of course, but I think a slower pace can enhance an album. Insomnium have also a commanding ability to structure their songs to include delicate pastoral acoustics as well as grandiose riffs and melodies. The stand out track that allows these elements to shine through on ‘Across the Dark’ is the 9 minute epic ‘The Lay of Autumn’. Encompassing all the parts of Insomnium that make them such an excellent band, it could almost be THE defining song of their career. They clearly have the spirit of their Finnish counterparts working magic in amongst their riffs; gloomy legends like Sentenced and Amorphis influence the rousing ‘Down With the Sun’.
The vocals are your more standard death metal growl, but they are interspersed with whispered lines and the clean singing of Jules Näveri (Enemy of the Sun), which adds a nice touch to the atmosphere. As bands like My Dying Bride have shown, a clear vocal can really bring a melancholic atmosphere gravitas and weight, and here it does the same. The album takes more influence from Katatonia and Opeth too, welding subtle melodies to a sweeping riff structure and it never fails to soar, even in its darkest moments. Closer ‘Weighted Down with Sorrow’ has an inappropriate title, for if there is one track that is fully free it is this one. The sorrowful violin line that opens it soon melts away into a huge riff, which allows the melodic lead to take it onward and upward, reaching to break through the gloom. This is an album full of landscape moments like this, written by a band who know how to handle huge on a professional level.
I thought that Insomnium would struggle to surpass ‘Above the Weeping World’, but this album is certainly a worthy successor. It continues a line of impressive albums from these guys, and with every release they become stronger, more inventive and more essential. Hopefully ‘Across the Dark’ will allow them to be named up there as one of the best Finnish exports for a long time.
Winds of Plague have an interesting genre description on their Metal Archives page. They’re referred to being ’symphonic deathcore’. Now deathcore is beginning to stagnate at the moment, nothing really changes with each release, and previous gems in the filth ridden pools of the genre have moved onto more easily definable death metal plains (Job for a Cowboy, Suicide Silence). So understandably, to keep interest in the style, bands need to start introducing new elements to keep it fresh. I’m not convinced on symphonic deathcore, but hey, I wasn’t convinced on symphonic black metal until Dimmu Borgir’s ‘Enthrone Darkness Triumphant’ so who knows what can happen?!
I was not really a fan of Winds of Plague’s last effort, ‘Decimate the Weak’. It didn’t stand out to me as a high point of the burgeoning deathcore scene, especially when efforts from All Shall Perish and Suicide Silence showed that there was definitely a sustainable element in the genre. It appears that the symphonic elements are in there merely to give them something different from other bands, not as an integral part of the music. ‘The Great Stone War’ is a definite improvement, the song writing is more mature and keyboard work actually enhances the rumbling menace of ‘Soldiers of Doomsday’. Super heavy breakdowns pepper every song, almost perfectly designed for headbanging and the charm of the album is in these dumber moments. You get the feeling that the symphonic keyboards and piano lines are in there to appeal to the more discerning metal fan, rather than the mosh happy headbanger. To be honest its kind of disappointing that the second half of the album slides away from the more impressive opening tracks. I was hoping that we’d finally get to see something truly essential from these guys.
But the album isn’t all doom and gloom. They’re a young band, and have legitimately improved with every release; the song writing is tighter, the riffing is more precise and the symphonic elements have now been worked into the music better. It is a genuine breath of fresh air in the style, and I applaud them for being brave enough to try something like this and have it actually work to some extent. If they were a movie, they’d be ‘Godzilla’; all weight, impressive effects but no real substance. It’s a shame, and I do hope that they can bring together for an essential release because they are a good band. Musically talented and capable of some excellent tracks like ‘Battle Scars’, ‘Our Requiem’ and ‘Approach the Podium’, they have the potential. Let’s hope that the next time they can move from ‘Godzilla’ to ‘Cloverfield’, and create something that is worth repeated attention, instead of being a guilty pleasure.
Well this is technically an old release, and I’m supposed to be concentrating on new ones at the moment, but since I only just managed to get myself a copy of this, it’s technically new for me. Massacre are best known for being made up of a number of ex-Death members, most notably guitarist Rick Rozz and vocalist Kam Lee. After working with Chuck Schuldiner on genre classics ‘Leprosy’ and ‘Spiritual Healing’, they decided to form their own separate band from Death, and thus rose Massacre. Their debut album ‘From Beyond’ was released in 1991 (but many of the tracks were written in the 80s, hence the slightly dated sound by this point), and ignoring the garish cover for a second, is a pretty apt descriptor of the early death metal sound.
Opening track ‘Dawn of Eternity’ has, for me, a classic intro of a howling wind and tolling bell, and it instantly captures that early 90s atmosphere; trying to make everything sound evil. The songs have the similar thrashy death metal sound that characterised early Death, but Kam Lee possesses what was once the original growling vocal style (although now we know its been totally done to death, it must have been startlingly original at the time). His vocal style, while being low and vicious sounding, loses very little coherency and you can still make out a number of the lyrics. The album is full of great riffing sections, mixing it up with faster, thrashier riffs and a chunkier set of chugging riffs, adding a much needed variety. Coupled this with squalls of guitar solos, hurtling in your direction with little respect for tonality or talent but more in the creation of a foreboding sense of madness. It was all about creating atmosphere with early death metal, and Massacre achieved that.
With regards to song writing, it is pretty much standard fare for the time, although the album possesses a couple of gems in ‘Chamber of Ages’, the title track and ‘Cryptic Realms’, but being having such an illustrious personnel, the album suffers from too many Death-isms. Unique enough to stand out but too similar to create a legacy of its own, ‘From Beyond’ is a lost classic, revered when remembered but largely forgotten about.
While never reaching the heights of Death, Obituary or Morbid Angel, ‘From Beyond’ should still be regarded as a landmark of early Floridian death metal; its personnel and style should grant it that at least. But the band have managed to create some excellent songs in amongst the brutality, and even though it sounds pretty dated now, I ‘ll bet it melted some minds back in the day.
Suffocation are almost the Motorhead of death metal. You know what you’re going to get with them; relentless, brutal death with enough technical moments to sway most of the guitar-wank fans out there but never losing the slam. They’re an institution in New York death metal, and have created genre defining albums for the past 19 years. While ‘Blood Oath’ is not on the same level as ‘Effigy of the Forgotten’ or ‘Pierced from Within’, it shows the band still has what it takes to create great death metal albums.
Now ‘Blood Oath’ leads on from the band’s self titled album full of razor sharp riffs that are heavy as fuck and yet still retains slightly melodic edges. Technically the riffing is complex enough without moving into Cryptopsy territory, which can become overbearing sometimes. The tracks are also of a slower pace, chugging their way through the competition like a bulldozer through twigs. For me, I prefer death metal that is slower, it possesses a much more foreboding atmosphere and a much more powerful sound, but I know some fans of Suffocation have complained about the lack of pace in this new album. I ask them to listen to the title track and just give into that first riff, it reminds me of Bolt Thrower’s ‘World Eater’; crushingly heavy, made more so by its slower pacing.
Vocally the album is excellent, Frank Mullen becoming easily coherent to the trained ear, and even newer fans to death metal can understand his roars about paranoia and insanity. The production is nice and powerful, lending extra weight to this devastating vehicle of death, and its yet another triumph for old school death metal bands this year.
It’s nice to see Suffocation still being able to produce such excellent albums two decades into their illustrious careers, and it displays that no matter how hard the new bands try, there’s rarely any substitute for the originals. Classic and heavy as hell, ‘Blood Oath’ is a triumphant continuation of Suffocation’s legacy.
Man a holiday takes it out of ya. Basically I’ve been away from writing and stuff for about 8 weeks plus now, due to a holiday and a lack of time, but I’ve been also catching up on a lot of metal over the last few months, so expect reviews a plenty starting tomorrow. Hopefully will have new Suffocation, Job for a Cowboy, Voivod, Insomnium and many more up as soon as possible.