Holy blood junkies, one of the first masterworks of the American metal revival turns ten years old already! LAMB OF GOD's "As the Palaces Burn" may not have settled all that agreeably to the band's ears upon its release a decade ago, yet there's no denying this album triggered a frenzy in the metal underground alongside MASTODON's "Remission", re-released the same year. However silly the colloquial tag of the "New Wave of American Heavy Metal" that chased LAMB OF GOD may be, the arrival of "As the Palaces Burn" introduced to U.S. audiences a Dixie-fried interpretation of the dizzying Swedish extreme metal of AT THE GATES and MESHUGGAH, plus Canadian tech hounds STRAPPING YOUNG LAD. Decimating air spaces like the metallic soundtrack to Sherman's pillaging of the South and his torching of its Confederate bastions, "As the Palaces Burn" remains one of the most furious albums conjured in any era of heavy metal music. Now celebrating the pivotal album's tenth anniversary, "As the Palaces Burn" returns with a sparkling remix courtesy of Josh Wilbur, producer of future LAMB OF GOD records, "Wrath" and "Resolution". Included in this package are three demo tracks for "Ruin", the title track and "Blood Junkie", plus a 70-minute accompanying documentary, "The Making of As the Palaces Burn". As the band themselves convey in the DVD film, the original cut of "As the Palaces Burn" hardly came out to their vision, almost unfathomable to conceive with Devin Townsend helming the original recording sessions. Yet, this spit-shined redux brings forth a richer tone all-around, the biggest beneficiary being drummer Chris Adler, whose floor tom licks and clattering cymbal rides come raging to the front of the new mix. Adler all but dominates "Blood Junkie" now, those spots not occupied by Randy Blythe's scat-woofs. His throbbing double hammers shoved here to the fore of "A Devil in God's Country" changes the dynamic of the song dramatically, serving as the primary march in front of the huffing riffs that set up the dizzying solo section and outro. If there's ever been any doubt Chris Adler is one of the masters of his trade, then listen to all of his kit stations ring at once on "In Defense of Our Good Name". The titanic riffs summoned by Mark Morton, Willie Adler and John Campbell sound crisper, while the guest guitar solo from Chris Poland on "Purified" and Devin Townsend's luminous shreds on "A Devil in God's Country" carry much more vivacity. The haunting guitar chimes opening the classic "Vigil" ring even more ominously, while the broiling, guitar-slashed breakdowns on the tempo-mad "11th Hour" prove a second time around to be the absolute finest wielded by any contemporary metal band. Every single breakdown segment in today's metal scene pales shamefully in comparison to "11th Hour"'s and "A Devil in God's Country"'s, for that matter. The terrorizing agitation of "Purified"'s intro is even more gruesome now, while Randy Blythe's concentrated ralphs come scorching with perfect pentameter as the song rumbles along. More than ever, the static whirlwinds summoned on "For Your Malice" ring like the tumultuous inferno implied by the album's title. Also more enhanced are the spectacular guitar solos and writhing outro to "Ruin", plus the bee-buzzing guitar squelches on the title track. Assuming you've already heard "As the Palaces Burn" (and woe be to your sorry carcass if you haven't), there's no more elaboration needed to gush over the album's thrash-hungry tenacity and jaw-busting brutality. The main story to this package is the lush do-over to the original masters and the fascinating behind-the-scenes DVD that reveals a song-by-song breakdown with varying opinions from each band member. Randy Blythe's insight ranges from modest to peculiarly standoffish on a few tracks, while the consensus of his band mates believe this album to be their finest effort, save for an internally-perceived lackluster finish. With Devin Townsend himself chiming in on the documentary, the conclusion he leaves is that "As the Palaces Burn" was, at the time, considered a mere job, a side dish to quell the ravenous appetite stoked by his own prolific endeavors. It seems even Townsend himself was surprised by the runaway success of "As the Palaces Burn" after the video for "Ruin" put LAMB OF GOD on the map. In the end, it's the fans who helped make this album a modern-day legend. LAMB OF GOD set out to raise the bar on themselves following their lone BURN THE PRIEST album and "New American Gospel" thereafter. "As the Palaces Burn" subsequently found LAMB OF GOD playing at their highest level. Still a reliable metal act today, "As the Palaces Burn" is nonetheless a precedent LAMB OF GOD will always be held accountable to, now even more so with this gleaming anniversary edition.
SAXON are one of the immortals of heavy metal. That's a fact. Their latest LP "Sacrifice" coasted through from last year into this one and now comes "Unplugged and Strung Up", a back catalog visit featuring interpretations of SAXON tracks through orchestral accompaniment, acoustic revisions and re-recordings. If you buy the double disc digipak, you'll get "Heavy Metal Thunder", not the fantastic recent docufilm, but a CD bearing re-recordings of the band's classics. Unfortunately, what's wrong about "Unplugged and Strung Up" is that a considerable number of the main program's tracks have already been released before, i.e. the orchestrated version of "Call to Arms", plus five songs that were featured on the bonus disc of the "Sacrifice" special edition: "Crusader (Orchestrated Version)", re-recorded versions of "Just Let Me Rock" and "Forever Free", plus acoustic takes of "Requiem" and "Frozen Rainbow". If you missed out on these previously, then "Unplugged and Strung Up" is your chance to hear SAXON do some pretty killer overhauls on most of those previously-mentioned tunes plus orchestral versions of "Red Star Falling" and "Broken Heroes" along with acoustic treatments of "Coming Home" and "Iron Wheels". Of the orchestral songs, the most impressive is "The Eagle Has Landed" with its dense layers of metal, synths and strings, all superbly mixed. Of the acoustic songs, "Frozen Rainbow" from "Saxon" is the most remarkable, stripped down to a gentle ballad with its twelve string textures and sensuous solo. The live acoustic version of "Iron Wheels" is one of the most poignant tracks on "Unplugged and Strung Up", served as a biographical account of Biff Byford's father. Then the swampy moonshine slides of "Coming Home" from "Killing Ground" is a knee-pumping bit of fun as SAXON's tribute to Robert Johnson and American delta blues. There are new takes of "Battle Cry" from "Rock the Nations" and "Militia Guard", plus a remix of "Stallions of the Highway", the latter two coming from the first album. These songs have been tweaked and re-recorded with extra layers. In the case of "Militia Guard", there are traces of acoustic guitars filtering behind the main drive of the song, accenting it more than the original cut. To SAXON's credit, this new version of "Militia Guard" is very strong. In all honesty, the re-recording of "Just Let Me Rock" is throwaway since the "Crusader" version is plenty hefty and the new version doesn't have the same drag-lurch-stomp feel of the original. The update of "Forever Free" is agreeable enough, but hardly necessary, which leads to an argument of weakness in this project, especially the "Heavy Metal Thunder" bonus CD. The re-recordings on that disc are fine, that's not the issue. Everything is delivered faithfully and professionally from Biff Byford, Paul Quinn, Nibbs Carter, Nigel Glockler and Doug Scarratt. "Wheels of Steel", "Princess of the Night", "Motorcycle Man", "Dallas 1pm", "747 (Strangers in the Night)" and "Denim & Leather", they're all there as a plausible overview of the band's best songs. If you're a newcomer to SAXON and want to save some scratch instead of digging up the band's esteemed first six albums, that's your prerogative and the "Heavy Metal Thunder" disc will suit you fine. Yet, as competent and proficient as SAXON's current lineup is, you're still short-changing yourself by not owning the original records that included Graham Oliver, Steve Dawson and Pete Gill. If you're a longtime fan, "Unplugged and Strung Up" is thus either mandatory or not, depending upon how deep your SAXON section runs on your shelf. Frankly, the recent trend of hard rock and heavy metal legacy acts re-recording their best-known catalog as bonus albums is irksome, as annoying as the rock 'n roll and doo-wop heroes of the fifties re-recording their songs in piss-poor fashion during the seventies and early Eighties. Thankfully, "Heavy Metal Thunder" in this package is hardly piss-poor, but it is by all means, annoying. SAXON has been riding tall for numerous albums straight now. "Unplugged and Strung Up" is a gimmick, let's face the facts. Those who have yet to dig into its material are hardly going to cry foul but nevertheless, this package was hardly needed.
God bless MOTÃRHEAD. At age 68, Lemmy Kilmister, of all the genuine rock 'n roll bad boys left to us, is monitoring his health. Having had to postpone numerous live dates including a European leg that just would've gotten started, the unstoppable Lem was recently sidelined after doctors discovered a hematoma that had been affecting his muscles. Kilmister has also been battling Type 2 diabetes for more than a decade and currently uses a defibrillator to treat "uneven bumps" in his heart. Hell if you'd be able to tell any of this by MOTÃRHEAD's feisty new album, "Aftershock". If you don't know what to expect from a MOTÃRHEAD record after 21 of them now, you just don't know, period. However, there are heaps of variations and change-ups on "Aftershock" that marks it as a justly motivated effort. Few bands get a free pass for issuing the same album ad nauseum throughout their careers, but "Aftershock" should not only get a pass, it should get well-deserved horns-up from each able-bodied MOTÃRHEAD fan in the land. It's not just token respect and sentimentalism. "Aftershock" kicks serious ass. It's a marvel Lemmy, Phil Campbell and Mikkey Dee still have so much throttle to shove into their eminent blues and grit rock. As always, MOTÃRHEAD is everything louder than everyone else and "Aftershock" rumbles like there's no quitting until The Reaper says so. The fact MOTÃRHEAD can still rocket like the days of "Iron Fist" and "Overkill" on "End of Time", "Queen of the Damned", "Paralyzed" and "Going to Mexico", geez, it surpasses expectation. Mikkey Dee decimates these songs with mashing fills while spanking the tar out of his skins on trad MOTÃRHEAD rock 'n rollers like "Do You Believe", "Coup de Grace", "Death Machine", "Silence When You Speak to Me", "Knife" and "Keep Your Powder Dry". After all this time between his stints in KING DIAMOND and MOTÃRHEAD, if you don't think Mikkey Dee is one of the absolute finest drummers in heavy music, you're mad. Sure, much of "Aftershock"'s songs ring like old hats, yet there are crafty chord diversities and a slick breakdown on "Death Machine", a dirty snarl to Lemmy and Phil Campbell's riffs on "Silence When You Speak to Me" and a jiving shuck providing a groovy groundwork beneath a staple set of top chords on "Knife". One of the other deviations from the norm on "Aftershock" comes with "Dust and Glass", which rings like "One Track Mind" for a moment before assuming a slow boogie drawl in the vein of early ZZ TOP. "Lost Woman Blues" is one of the standout songs with its John Lee Hooker drag that allows Phil Campbell to show off more of his blues repertoire than usual. Lemmy's choky sighs serve the droopy grafts of "Lost Woman Blues" before the song about-faces with a stepped-up overhaul of Norman Greenbaum's "Spirit in the Sky" psych-blues descant. "Aftershock" contains many more surpluses spread over MOTÃRHEAD's tried and true schemes including Phil Campbell's awesome fret note taps dotting in tandem to the blunt speed of "End of Time". Plus, there's such intensity to "Heartbreaker" and "Paralyzed" it's hard not to be moved by the enduring power of these guys. Checking in and checking out with maximum decibels and showy precision, MOTÃRHEAD serves up another clinic at ages that find others long put out to pasture. MOTÃRHEAD is no mere rock 'n' roll band; they're a freaking inspiration.
Quickly turning into ol' reliables of the neo-thrash circuit, SKELETONWITCH make next to no modifications to their turbulent speed routine for their fifth album, "Serpents Unleashed". If you've heard their 2007 breakout "Beyond the Permafrost" or their previous recording, "Forever Abomination", then you'll find little, if any, surprises to "Serpents Unleashed". Consider this one more of the same restless intensity and spiraling precision that decorate the band's customary blends of black, death and power metal methods. Because SKELETONWITCH plays at such a demanding pace, they've historically had the good grace to relegate their albums to thirty to thirty-six minutes' running time. At thirty-one minutes for this round, "Serpents Unleashed" somehow manages to throttle SKELETONWITCH's listeners with zero mercy and still leave an inescapable wanting by the end. Same as they've ever done. Eleven songs banging away at top flight with modified-mosh recesses that hardly rob the album's blazing integrity. Only the dominantly mid-tempo, power-meets-black metal march of "The Evil Embrace" avoids thrashing things up, and still, the song manages to dish out gratuitous double kicks from former DEMIRICOUS and FOREVER ABOMINATION drummer Dustin Boltjes. Within seconds of play, the title track socks audiences in the puss with fierce velocity that grows even more tenacious with random blast patterns. How SKELETONWITCH continues to efficiently squeeze in moshing slowdowns between the unholy speed here and on the subsequent tracks, "Beneath Dead Leaves" and "I Am of Death (Hell Has Arrived)" is remarkable. Considering the constant reeling effects SKELETONWITCH dishes up from their uncompromising thrash modes, the fluid changeovers hardly feel like impediments. "From a Cloudless Sky" and "Burned from Bone" go to the next level and stay nearly at full thrust as Chance Garnette spools his best Stygian hisses, while Scott "Scunty D". Hedrick and Nate "N8 Feet Under" Garnette shred gleefully along. Bassist Evan "Loosh" Linger plucks away in equally rapid measures behind his front line. On the guitar solo sections of each song, Linger's back notes dance up and down in response to the scaled-back tempos. The striking intro march to "Unending, Everliving" may fool newer listeners into thinking this one's keeping itself hung upon a straightforward power groove. That becomes an afterthought once the song quickly rockets away, decelerating only enough on the bridge to give a momentary chance for listeners to breathe before scampering once again. The guitars are stellar and gusty, stopping abruptly on the edge of a chord cascade that's hoisted right back into action with "Blade on the Flesh, Blood on My Hands". Finally, the tranquil intro to "More Cruel than Weak" is an appealing, sprawled set-up to the jettisoning chaos that ensues thereafter. Once again, SKELETONWITCH shows how to justly carry the old-school banner forward with their surmounted mastery of prevalent metal techniques, old and new. "Serpents Unleashed" is cast with a whipping cadence that uses interchange as a furtherance instead of a disadvantage.
One name synonymous with class in heavy music has always been FATES WARNING. The Connecticut power proggers have laid dormant the past nine years since last releasing "FWX". In that time, bassist Joey Vera took another ride with ARMORED SAINT while Jim Matheos and Ray Alder spent time in their side ventures, OSI and REDEMPTION respectively. Now coming back together to reignite FATES WARNING for their eleventh studio album, "Darkness in a Different Light", they do what they do better than most calling themselves prog metal. The sound is retro FATES WARNING circa the nineties when they were frequently packaged with QUEENSRÅ¸CHE and DREAM THEATER for mega tours, but there's also an amplified toughness hinting of at least the attitude of "No Exit", if not the same hustle. "Darkness in a Different Light" moves primarily at a mid-tempo or slinking groove, but heaviness prevails all over this album, and that's heartening. FATES WARNING maintains their customary traces of RUSH (particularly on "Firefly", "Desire" and "O Chloroform") while stepping forward to recognize what's hip in contemporary prog rock via PORCUPINE TREE (courtesy of the delightful "I Am" and the mesmerizing "Into the Black") to keep themselves honest and better yet, relevant. Joining Vera, Alder and Matheos are Frank Aresti and Bobby Jarzombek, the latter recording for the first time with FATES WARNING after serving as the band's touring drummer on numerous occasions. Jarzombek's rapid bass drum thwacks and impeccable fills give FATES WARNING an added dynamic to the point "One Thousand Fires", "Firefly" and "Desire" ring as some of the heaviest-driven tunes written by this band in quite some time. Even at seven minutes, the spellbinding and often bombastic "One Thousand Fires" is a stellar opening number that puts the seasoned FATES WARNING fan into a happy place. The vibrating Alex Lifeson-esque guitar twangs hovering over the jagged riff daggers of "Firefly"'s verses is so enchanting you'll get audibly high on them. Having worked on this album for nearly two years, the extra care going into "Darkness in a Different Light" shines on all levels, whether you're talking about Bobby Jarzombek's expansive rolls and trip hammers or Ray Alder's sooty yet smooth croons that (as always) present a welcoming ambiance no matter how soft or aggressive the composition may be. He soars on "Firefly", "O Chloroform", "Into the Black" and "Kneel and Obey" while he breathlessly pants and coaxes on the opulent "Lighthouse". Jim Matheos and Frank Aresti are explosive as ever, putting on a tremendous exhibition of splintering solos and intertwining melodies that sweep through the bridges of eventful songs like "Into the Black". "Kneel and Obey", "One Thousand Fires", "O Chloroform" and "Desire" boast some of Matheos and Aresti's (and Joey Vera's, for that matter) thickest riffs summoned in this band. The pervasive slow grind of "Kneel and Obey" is laced with a hypnotic back melody that offsets its moodiness and erects a set of diverse (and a bit peculiar, honestly) solos, all before taking a banging strut home to the finish. Of course, what would FATES WARNING be without a fourteen-minute closing epic, "And Yet it Moves?" Beginning with a medieval-kissed acoustic duet from Matheos and Aresti with Joey Vera slowly peeking in, the song bursts with some of the briskest pacing on the album, increasing and decelerating with Bobby Jarzombek forcing the song to stay on the cusp of agitation. "And Yet it Moves" jams for four minutes solid until Ray Alder finally sneaks in and the song takes a more melodic spring forward while maintaining the winding rock grooves in-between the verses. Joey Vera almost steals the limelight behind Alder, plunking up and down for a few measures before the song drops the hammer with Vera, Matheos and Aresti chuffing along to Jarzombek's rolling tides. Then back to the jamming modes and reverberating guitar tweaks that segue into another acoustic-led section redirecting "And Yet it Moves" into the first of at least ten different signatures. FATES WARNING has hardly missed a step in their downtime. "Darkness in a Different Light" may have needed longer to be laid down versus FATES WARNING's other albums, but the effort pays off with their trademark sophistication and bonus heaviness. If they're trying to prove anything with this album, it's the fact they remain one of the most important prog artists of their time.
I recently caught up with METAL CHURCH vocalist Ronny Munroe at the Rock Harvest II benefit festival on the outskirts of Baltimore. Munroe was in town as a special guest of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania's GHOST OF WAR where they banded together for a mini-set of METAL CHURCH classics and "Pierced by the Maiden" from Ronny's second solo album, "Lords of the Edge". I found Munroe to be congenial and excited to have another run with METAL CHURCH, as he discussed the reformation of the band following their four-year pause. "We both knew that one day was going to be the right time and that was for Kurdt (Vanderhoof) to decide. He called me one day and said 'I think it's time. What do you think?' So I said 'I'm in, let's do it.' Now we have a second shot at this, especially for me, coming back. This is unfinished business with METAL CHURCH. When we do end, we need to end on a better note than we did (before)...because how we put it out there was that it was the industry (prompting the band's hiatus), but we really disappointed the fans. So this time around, we waited until we felt the time was right. It's a blessing, I'll say that, just to be able to come back and do this again and to have a chance for the fans to want this again. That's always a blessing". For a band that's suffered more than its fair share of adversities, Ronny Munroe has endured as one of METAL CHURCH's constants since he joined up for 2004's "The Weight of the World". Having to live under the shadow of the late David Wayne and to lesser degrees, former vocalist Mike Howe, Munroe has handled the mike for METAL CHURCH with grace. Meanwhile, the relentless Kurdt Vanderhoof (who spent downtime from METAL CHURCH with Munroe in the power prog unit PRESTO BALLET before Munroe was called over to TRANS-SIBERIAN ORCHESTRA) has been bleeding his skull to restore honor to this band. Though he cites "Generation Nothing" as a return to the band's eighties roots (namely "The Dark"), that's a slight misnomer. "Generation Nothing", like its predecessors "The Weight of the World", "A Light in the Dark" and "This Present Wasteland", is reflective of the band's new order that came with Ronny Munroe. Frankly, there's not a damned thing wrong with that as long as you're not expecting "Beyond the Black" or even "Psycho". As a lyrical contributor to METAL CHURCH's next-gen, power-modified style of songwriting, Munroe is credited as a co-lyricist on "Jump the Gun" and "Suiciety" from "Generation Nothing" while singlehandedly penning "Hits Keep Comin'" and "The Media Horse". Otherwise, the new album is a riff monster courtesy of Vanderhoof, Rick Van Zandt and Steve Unger, while Ronny Munroe toughens up his pipes in most spots, letting them loose with broader ranges on "Suiciety" and the nine-minute epic "Noises in the Wall". Munroe pulled off a convincing David Wayne impersonation at Rock Harvest II with a ripping cover of "Ton of Bricks" and on "Generation Nothing", Munroe mirrors just enough fragments of his predecessor throughout the brisk "Scream" (one of the fastest METAL CHURCH cuts they've recorded under Munroe's tenure) and "Dead City" to bring longtime listeners to a comfy place. On the steady opening number "Bulletproof", Munroe rings closer to what he's done in the past for METAL CHURCH, yet there's a bit more fang between him and the band here, which is likely where Kurdt Vanderhoof lays his claim to rekindling the old days. Nevertheless, the spotlight remains upon Munroe doing what he does, only he carries more of an edge this time. The scoffing title track "Generation Nothing" may pine for the days of rad, but it's still a headstrong beast of a cut with chuffing chords and clambering kick drums from Jeff Plate. Much of "Generation Nothing", however, sticks to a straightforward power metal drive with heaps of resounding guitar intros and dense plods, using "Close to the Bone", "Jump the Gun" and "Hits Keep Comin'" as examples. Vanderhoof and Van Zandt are stellar in the solo sections of "Dead City", "Suiciety" and "The Media Horse". As extensive as "Noises in the Wall" is, veteran listeners will hang in there just fine, particularly as Vanderhoof, Van Zandt and Unger plow through a terrific homage to the NWOBHM at the end, leading to the final clangs of Jeff Plate's crash cymbals. "Generation Nothing" is a product of its time separate of the fiercer "Metal Church", "The Dark" and especially "Blessing in Disguise", the latter of which Kurdt Vanderhoof was only a contributing guitarist and is otherwise relegated to long-past members. This album, like its immediate precursors, carries a distinction pocked outside of METAL CHURCH's best-known period, but it does so with respectable pride and polish. "Generation Nothing" boasts a personal best METAL CHURCH outing for Ronny Munroe, while the band as a whole plays tight lines all the way through. Thus this album is an agreeable career extension for METAL CHURCH, even if we're unlikely to hear anything new as frantic as "Merciless Onslaught" and "Battalions" or as volatile as "Gods of Wrath". At least Munroe can peel the paint whipping up "Gods of Wrath" onstage, as the Rock Harvest II attendees learned.
Of all the symphonic and folk metal acts out there, LEAVES' EYES is one of the least-touted despite boasting a worldwide audience. It hardly has anything to do with their talent. NIGHTWISH, WITHIN TEMPTATION and EPICA overshadow them in the popularity department, but LEAVES' EYES latest album "Symphonies of the Night" stands to elevate them in the field. For certain, Liv Kristine Espenaes Krull and husband Alexander Krull have engineered a world-class resonance that now carries more conventional rock drive than ever before. In the past, LEAVES' EYES have concentrated upon presenting histrionic metal soundtracks to Norse and Viking folklore. "Symphonies of the Night" maintains that nuance, but the glaring difference from this album over LEAVES' EYES past efforts is its emphasis of groove. Without emulating their mainstream counterparts, LEAVES' EYES issues the most ear-pleasing, rock-oriented album they've yet conceived. Whether you like this thread of metal or not, it's hard to ignore "Symphonies of the Night"'s energizing lilt. One of the other notable improvements to LEAVES' EYES outside of the album's lustrous production by Alexander Krull is Liv Kristine's delivery. Already superb in this band and THEATRE OF TRAGEDY a lifetime ago, the Norwegian livewire has spent obvious time expanding her ranges as well as her fluidity. On "Hell to the Heavens", Liv Kristine hits timbres surpassing even her expansive reach. On "Fading Earth", her pitch lowers for the most part, but it's her congruous pentameter to the song's fixed pulse that really impresses. Only with the overdubbed tracks do Liv Kristine's vocals float beyond a couple of seconds. Her main lines are pressed snugly against "Fading Earth"'s power rock throb and that's something to be taught across-the-board to symphonic, folk and even Goth metal bands. Even more pleasurable, on "Galswintha", Liv Kristine fuses a gallivanting second persona into the song outside of her customary operatic guise. The rootsy folk supplements to "Galswintha", "Saint Cecilia", "Hymn to the Lone Sands" and "Nightshade" are all sharply mixed or in some cases, showcased. "Saint Cecilia" strips the metal gone, leaving Liv Kristine to weave an intoxicating narrative amidst the synthesized score, fluting, piping and choral supplementation. Film scoring is all but inevitable for the Krulls at this point. The dichotomous plotting of serene folk music in the beginning of "Hymn to the Lone Sands" as it's ripped asunder by a speedy metallic tempest leaves the listener breathless. Alexander Krull, who continues to play aural devil's advocate with his monstrous growls on the album, munches all over "Hymn to the Lone Sands" while Liv Kristine swoons then majestically stabs the choruses with her punctuated delivery. "Symphonies of the Night" maintains its humming course with gorgeous if occasionally haunting siren calls from Liv Kristine, "Angels and the Ghost" being a prime example. Alexander's interjecting grumbles are part and parcel to LEAVES' EYES sound (a beauty and the beast vibe they helped usher into fashion), but after such enhancement to Liv Kristine's ranges and carriages, the snarls just get in the way after too many appearances. "Eleonore de Provence" is designed to transmit Alexander's huffing on the agro-punched verses, but the irony is that his wife's soothing arcs serve as an elegant counterpoint to the blazing thrash ripping behind her on the choruses. Other than that criticism, "Symphonies of the Night" is by far LEAVES' EYES most accomplished work to-date. They've figured out the average listener responds more to groove instead of impressionism and it would be no surprise to see this band reap its due reward this time around.
30 years in the life and what a mondo bizarro ride it's been for the MELVINS. It's only appropriate they mark the occasion with a distorto-huffing nutjob album featuring the 1983 lineup. Buzz Osborne and Dale Crover reunite with original drummer Mike Dillard for the sometimes messy, always loud "Tres Cabrones", a splooging rawk party catered specially for MELVINS muties. Sampling the album's gonzo liner notes scored with mangled cars and a hilarious portfolio of grinning goats, the immediate impression of "Tres Cabrones" is this played strictly for kicks. Four songs in, the out-of-nowhere hoedown hooliganism staked by the MELVINS' hike of the raunchy camp classic "Tie My Pecker to a Tree" busts up any sense of uprightness to this album. For a moment, you almost think the MINUTEMEN revived D. Boon and got back together to hit the stoner trail. From this point, it's a safe assumption "Tres Cabrones" is going to ring every bit the car wreck the packaging implies. That's largely to the good. Crover shifts over to bass and supplements "Tres Cabrones" with extra percussion, King Buzzo wrangles every oozing squawk he can out of his frets and Mike Dillard comes to this goofball gala with his chops on full display. Osborne wrote ten new songs for "Tres Cabrones", splicing them with nerdy and gut-busting rips on "traditional American folk songs" (as cited by the liner notes) including "Tie My Pecker to a Tree", "99 Bottles of Beer" and "You're in the Army Now". The latter is especially comical with the ensemble chanting "bitch, bitch, you son of a bitch!" with humping drums and nutty static assisting the trudging hilarity. Many songs on "Tres Cabrones" are sludge-crushed ditties such as "Doctor Mule", "City Dump", "Psychodelic Haze" and "Stump Farmer" that will ring like raucous pleasure pills to longtime fans. The old BLACK FLAG and FLIPPER fuzz-dragging ethos that first inspired the MELVINS are back at work here, only with more accouterments such as swarming synths and other assorted aural flotsam smudged into the tunes. "City Dump" is one of the meatiest songs on the album and should emerge as an immediate fan favorite. The seventies era of KISS plays a hand in the grinding "Dogs and Cattle Prods" until the distortion is turned down minus some rear filters while Osborne lays down a ZEPPELIN-esque acoustic line that morphs and slows through quirky child's piano lines and a mucky deconstruction to its brittle finish. Afterwards, "Psychodelic Haze" hacks away with Dale Crover's punctuated bass whumps and King Buzzo's reeling guitar gasps that pull in a sliver of Ozzy Osbourne's "Believer" as part of the song's primary melody. The irony of Buzz Osborne's twisted homage is hardly lost here. Expect more absurdity on "99 Bottles of Beer", which wraps on a looped "beer" mantra accompanied by chunky instrumentation, leading into the completely bonkers "I Told You I Was Crazy". Instigated by shrill stylaphone screeches from Osborne and a subsequent demonic doom march, there's more than a bit of honesty playing into the song's title. Osborne and Crover jerk every malevolent tone they can through a prolonged period of unhinged strings and electronics as Mike Dillard lays down a sluggish beat ushering the ear-gouging bedlam around him. The Pong-esque blipping at the end of the song marks a point of salutation to the MELVINS' first slogs out of the Atari age. "Walter's Lips" (also a nod back to the band's formative years as seen through the omnipresence of late famed reporter Walter Cronkite) exhibits a gleeful punk ploy hijacked straight out of early English punk, i.e. THE VIBRATORS, THE ADVERTS and SHAM 69. It thumps heartily along as one the album's gnarliest jams, while "Stick 'em Up Bitch" steps on the gas a bit, staying in classic punk mode and taking "Tres Cabrones" home on a high note. Dale Crover rolls some impressive winding lines beneath Buzz Osborne's humming distortion and Mike Dillard's tapping tempo. Stripping down the dense layers of more-recent albums such as "(A) Senile Animal", "Nude with Boots" and "Freak Puke" for this way-fun bro-down from the MELVINS' Class of '83, "Tres Cabrones" is chaos personified. However, Osborne, Crover and Dillard do kick a lot of ass while spreading their frequently shambolic audile goo. The intentionally-slipshod clapping at the end of "Doctor Mule" affirms early-on that "Tres Cabrones" takes itself as seriously as a Friday night crank pull. Nonetheless, for all of the lunatic fringe spread throughout this album, it does tighten up more often than it doesn't and it's sure to be received giddily by MELVINS aficionados.
It seems weird that KORN now carries senior status in the metal scene, but here we are on album eleven, nearly two decades following their crusty and tense self-titled debut. In that time, KORN has partaken quite a journey that has seen them cast as heroes and rogues, depending on whether you carry a metaller-than-thou point-of-view. Say what you will about this band; "Korn" 1994 and their second album, "Life is Peachy" have their place in propagating the return of metal music to America. To certain degrees, the mainstream muscle of "Follow the Leader" and "Issues" helped legitimize heavy music in this country once again, at least from a marketability standpoint. "The Paradigm Shift" comes on the heels of the dubstep-licked "The Path of Totality" from two years back and with the new album marks the return of estranged guitarist Brian "Head" Welch. If you're expecting KORN to come out with all guns blazing accordingly on "The Paradigm Shift", then you're in for a rude awakening. Hardly the most urgent album KORN's laid down, "The Paradigm Shift" settles for groove and a direct attack that dips its ladle back into the "Untouchables" and "Take a Look in the Mirror" period of the band, along with a skein tap here and there into "Issues". One might say "The Paradigm Shift" is reflective of the band's tenure in the industry. At least until the seventh track, "Never Never", the album tames down KORN's unhinged animal that's given them primal attraction, so much they flip through their midline playbooks and opt for safe, almost conservative formations halfway through the ride. The brittle opening number "Prey for Me" is as beastly as KORN gets for a while and even that carries a tempered slide instead of the blunt clubbing effect that's been their m.o. With Head bringing his reborn chi into the band, KORN dumps much of their ferocity and menace, to the point the "Issues" sloppy-kissing cousin "Mass Hysteria" shambles instead of shakes, even with a return of nervous guitar shivers lurking throughout it. The drag to "The Paradigm Shift" is that it carries so much ripeness for a while, many of KORN's fans are wont to go "WTF?" as they likely did an album prior. There's no fault to KORN tooling with their sound, even to mixed results. "See You on the Other Side" was to the good, while the 2007 self-titled was its bipolar bastard. Yet, "The Paradigm Shift" keeps largely to the cautious side while re-assimilating Head back into their graces. The electronics remain a part of the KORN-scape, but not to the overt measures of "The Path of Totality". "Fieldy" Arvizu's humping bass licks continue to be the dogged backbone of KORN's music and Ray Luzier drives the band as slow or fast as they want, even if "The Paradigm Shift" stays largely at a skulk. Jonathan Davis has emerged over the years as a legitimate singer after his earlier efforts were more on the agitated and undisciplined side. By now, Davis sounds perfectly controlled, which is good for KORN's future, albeit the band's purists might be pleading for a return of his crunky scats and tortured howls from yesteryear. On "The Paradigm Shift", Davis utilizes hard growls at a premium. Only when he elevates his vocals into a couple of ralphing yelps on "Paranoid and Aroused" does KORN sound like their old selves in full and frankly, "The Paradigm Shift" thus becomes more engaging (if continuously experimental) from this point forward. The electro vacuum huffing behind the slinking and often uplifting "Never Never" changes "The Paradigm Shift"'s tone dramatically and for the better. If KORN is going to continue exploring new horizons in their future, here's a damned good way to go about it. Utilizing Jonathan Davis' willingness to stay in crooning mode helps them greatly. Supplemented by dreamy backing vocals, "Never Never" only gets ugly on a digitized bridge that checks down the song's primary lilt. Afterwards, "Punishment Time" lights a gnashing buzz germinated from "Issues" and the first album, only to turn the song's ominous slither on its skull with a gutsy soaring chorus that sounds appositely cheerful. Jonathan Davis waits for the final bars to wreak havoc with his throat, but that brackish verve is undermined by the time the disarming "Lullaby for a Sadist" slips into its deceivingly sedate verses. True to the band's lyrical themes of angst and self-torment, "Lullaby for a Sadist" plays a soothing loft that's brought to cinders with a slow roast as Davis raises the tension level and momentarily peppers a psychosomatic malady into the mix. "Victimized" employs a digital simulation of conga rolls overtop Ray Luzier's humanized thrusts and Munky, Head and Fieldy's whumping crux. As the murmuring keys flail behind the song's fisting throb, we find KORN not so much at a crossroads in their career, but at a new-is-old rekindling point. The first half of "The Paradigm Shift" putters about through their staple sounds, but all of it seems engineered as a focal point from which to blossom into their new dawn, capitalized by the second half of the album. KORN's haters will hardly be impressed, but if there were any lingering doubts cast by the incredulously-nowhere 2007 self-titled album and their boundary-pushing "The Path of Totality", at least "The Paradigm Shift" answers where the band's looking to go.
English experimetallists MONSTERWORKS describe themselves as "progressive thrash supermetal," but that's not quite hitting it on the head with full blunt. What can be said is that their latest album "Earth" is a challenging culture clash of metal and prog theories hoisted from as far back as the 1960s. MONSTERWORKS' brainy mini-tutorials of earth science (lyrics attributed to a chap named Blade) throughout this album will run far over the heads of many listeners, but the go-green memorandum should resonate through all of the spiraling signatures and rear-ending genera. Vocalist/guitarist Jon might be the most ranged-crazed singer this side of KING DIAMOND. While there's a narrative rhyme and reason to KING DIAMOND's pitch-flung techniques, Jon's propensity to screech like an Eighties hard rocker (i.e. CINDERELLA's Tom Keifer and DANGEROUS TOYS' Jason McMaster) all over the opening track "From Dust And Gravity" leaves no indication of where he'll go on the rest of the album. One automatically assumes this album won't linger in its brief knock at the gates of Hairball Heaven. Assumption correct as Jon wields death metal and metalcore yelps on the subsequent track "The Last Universal Answer". However, don't expect MONSTERWORKS to follow suit toward either subgenre, save for brief rapid tempo bursts and engorged tones. Instead, they assume a more progressive, softer interlude before delivering a roundhouse punch of sonic layers delved between Jon and his fellows Marcus (guitars) and Hugo (bass) that whoosh in and momentarily settle over James' tapping march strikes before changing direction a final time on the stomping outro. The gorgeous acoustic lead-in to "The Last Universal Ancestor" gives a deceitful illusion of placidity as the song drowns itself in pounding tides immediately thereafter. "Ancestor" shifts tones between walloping power metal blasts and swooning prog lines that open the gates for a terrific guitar solo and revelation of Jon's cleaner vocals that bounce in between his death ralphs. In some ways, MONSTERWORKS' batty attack is similar to BETWEEN THE BURIED AND ME, but there are also subtle hints of KING CRIMSON and early PINK FLOYD sprinkled into their cerebral stew. Those muses play even more into the lofting swirls of "Oxygenation", even if Jon's dynamic amalgam of sculpting, screeching and puking unhinges the track's elevating bars for a moment. The instrumental section of the song grows denser and more aspirant between the song's ply for mankind to embrace conservation. As with the entirety of "Earth", these guys deliver "Oxygenation"'s caveat from a textbook orientation. Once more do CRIMSON and FLOYD play their hands in the often slower and murkier "Powered by Fate". Much of the journey conveys the sensation implied by the lyric "treading steps steeped in the basest microbial crud." However, the last third of the song hoists the listener into the stratosphere with the stern warning of global annihilation, positing to make him a "pioneer in a new frontier, colonizing emptiness". If you think you've figured MONSTERWORKS out at this point, stand by for the 2:13 brackish black metal hellhole they stake out for "Bookended by Extinction", brought to frightening realization with Jon's dread-inducing throat belches. And so it goes throughout the adventurous mind fuck of "Earth", one continuous mood change after another, filled with immense variation and every metallic and progressive nuance MONSTERWORKS can cram into their hyper-intelligent arrangements. The epic-length title track all but delivers a eulogy through an isolated piano and chant section before dirtying things up in the sinewy final section. Despite the glum feeling projected through the title track, there remains a message of hope for survival as MONSTERWORKS unravels the majesty of our planet's formation like a prospectus. The prime directive delivered by MONSTERWORKS' "Earth" is best contained within one line from "Aeon of Man", "doom or success, it is still our choice to avoid a holocaust". You can view "Earth" as a series of academic diatribes from metal hippies or interpreted communications from the bastard children of alien scientologists who have an outsider's view of our planet's inevitable implosion. Either or, MONSTERWORKS forces their audience to take a stand or at least ponder the effects of environmental indifference. Not everyone is going to able to hang with this album, that's a given. "Earth" is total sensory rape but its intellect far outweighs its weirdness.
If you've ever seen Chicago's CZAR perform live, the temptation to compare them to NEUROSIS and, to lesser degrees, A STORM OF LIGHT, is inescapable. This trio rolls their set with little illumination outside of white light flushes below and rolling projections of terror behind them. Yet, CZAR's music is and it isn't in the vein of NEUROSIS. Their static sculptures and vexing industrial minces put them in the same dirge art bloodline, but these guys have their own vibe that remind of MASTODON, QUICKSAND and even KNUT at times. CZAR embraces their terse ugliness and yet they shove a lot of their bleak arrangements into elevating, cathartic pastures. Following up their acclaimed debut "Vertical Mass Grave", the minutely stripped-down "No One is Alone if No One is Alive" is sure to hit hard with the sludge metal crowd and with damned good reason. As before, CZAR operates with no bassist. Guitarists Brian Elza and Jason Novak stay in lower chunk keys and they milk the crap out of the deepest tones they can come up with. Viably, it's easy to forget to listen up for a bassist. Only when one or the other drifts out of the other's way does the absenteeism of bass become apparent. However, Elza and Novak are so evenly matched at creating hypnotic airs even in low keys they almost never sound naked. Drummer Dan Brill hangs on the edge at all times throughout the album, thrusting into grind patterns or gratuitous fills when called upon to spike CZAR's moments of fury, and yet Brill is also often the discreet ace up the band's sleeve. "Whorchard" starts the album with a definitive statement by mixing between mid-tempo plods heaped with despairing riffs and sporadic increases of speed. Towards the rear section of the song, drenching gloom is supplemented by spooky electronics while the twittering guitars climb in pitch, creating a subtle window of hope through "Whorchard"'s heaping smog. The main rhythm of "Whorchard" carries straight into "Aortic Flower", which the latter banks on to get its stride before picking up the pace for a few bars. Quickly, "Aortic Flower" slows down and turns shivery with static-filled chunks and phlegm-choked vocals from Jason Novak. Grind beats mingle with moshing tempos and finally a steady crunch that allows CZAR to pour shrill sensory attacks through a mechanical synth and searing guitar strikes, all up to the brittle final note. The skulking hardcore lines of "Black in Black" have reminiscent threads of QUICKSAND. The quickly-delved guitar scrapes on the song's breakdown sets up for an ethereal guitar solo and a hammering, emotive midsection that changes directions once again with scattering drum rolls and swelling agitation. Whereas "Aortic Flower" settles from its heavy outpouring, "Black in Black" pools and ultimately bathes in its scalding denouement. "Fuming Rotter" likewise stakes its course with a crashing poke pace ala QUICKSAND before chewing up their rhythm with gnawing choruses and a sinewy bridge. You literally feel CZAR tearing this song apart at cartilage's strain before letting it snap back into a compound groove. Their clamorous cover of THE BEATLES' "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" is the best metal-injected hike of the Fab Four since long-ago thrashers REALM summoned a tornado behind their insanely fast rip on "Eleanor Rigby". Here, CZAR sacrifices "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" upon a bloody altar of doom, lighting up portions with frightening black metal thrusts and gory pukes from Jason Novak. Kudos to CZAR for recognizing the potential for a nervy metal-up of this song. Those cumbersome rolling drags of the final section pitted by THE BEATLES was so stinking brilliant decades ago and CZAR is shrewd enough to run with those lines and turn their version into a brutal affair that hardly offends. "Spitter Attack" is even more astute by effectively plotting a course in the same dynamic structure as "Whorchard" and "Black in Black". There's nothing redundant at work in "Spitter Attack", and it smartly hops tempos between punk bashing, black metal thrashing and ultimately, a blaring crawl that abruptly stops and leaves the listeners sitting on the brink. The nearly-cautious slink of "Megafauna" maintains a teetering sensation as CZAR sieve out their spiking rhythms incrementally. The guitars wail in spots, gouge divots in others and the song methodically builds momentum with Dan Brill's restrained double hammers that come in and out before sending the track home with a brief but terrific smacker groove. On "Priestess", a return of piercing coldwave frosts the song's jagged path and gurgling guitar furrows, emptying its icy spew into the numbing closer, "Empty Thrones". Like KYLESA, CZAR have refined their dark sludge to assimilate the best elements of the scene around them and mold them into their own unique take. CZAR is a different animal than KYLESA, of course. KYLESA has the humid, sweltering South to propagate their crushing tension, while CZAR comes from a bipolar opposite cold territory northwards. Yet together they represent what's innovative and intrepid in American underground metal. By all means, CZAR is worth your invested time.
As long as new artists keep flocking to the works of Steve Vai, Tony MacAlpine and Frank Zappa for inspiration, we're going to keep finding more technique-oriented instrumental albums knocking on our door for attention. The latest of these comes from Venezuelan guitarist Felix Martin and his idyllic-titled "The Scenic Album". The fourteen-stringer has oodles of chops, there's no question about that. To watch Martin work over double necks with both hands is like watching a sculptor at the height of a caffeine bomb work the hell out of clay. That is to say, Felix Martin at work is expressive, detailed and above all, hyper in every sense of the sense of the word. There's no other way to describe the tirelessly spiraling scales through the first two minutes of "Triangle Tune" than hyper. Martin also has an impressive supporting cast in the studio with him. Joining him on his mission to assault listeners with scores of scales, taps and occasional decorative lucidity is former NECROPHAGIST, Steven Wilson and Paul Gilbert drummer Marco Minnemann plus dubstep bassist Nathan Navarro. For all the artillery Felix Martin has stashed in his creative compound, "The Scenic Album" feels remiss of something outside of the spellbinding scale laps and irrefutable virtuosity. Those who find the most value in method are going to be well-turned-on by "The Scenic Album". At his best, the stunning wonderment generated on "High Spirit" and "Triangle Tune" (which retains its dizzying awe even when switching flavors to a lower-key blend of samba, funk and prog) are brought to genuine climaxes the more Martin allows his partners help him create mood. On the flipside, Martin has a tendency to let freestyle be his guide instead (i.e. his "Tango" and "Viroliano" suites) and in those moments, the average listener feels pushed out somewhat. Even "High Spirit", which could've been bisected into two pieces or at least capped by the song's spectacular rolling tides, gets broken into with a couple of isolated sections that diminish the composition's vivacity. The "Tango" suite is a ton of fun to dive into, at face-value anyway. The second section sounds like a more prog-chopped take on the gonzo ska melodies from MR. BUNGLE's "Egg" for a spell. However, the segment belongs more to Nathan Navarro than Felix Martin, who frolics like hell, but becomes secondary to Navarro's funk plucks and Marco Minnemann's grinding drive. The best part of "The Tango II" comes with a brief flash where all stations gel together nicely. "The Tango I" has moments when the ensemble mashes the tar out of their metallic parts, but mostly the track rings like a jam session played for themselves only. "Spam II" is so tech-heavy your brains will melt trying to keep up with it note-for-note and you can expect that mathematic magma to sear you completely when Marco Minnemann rushes into a grind tempo. Martin shows that he can easily keep up with such arresting speed, which is impressive beyond all words, but there's not a ton of actual musicality lurking behind "Spam II"'s sensory rape. Felix Martin employs a nutty succession of theory experiments entitled "Viroliano Tries Prog", "Viroliano Tries Jazz" and "Viroliano Tries Metal". Somewhere between Steve Vai's "Flex-able" and Mike Oldfield does this triad attempt to excavate for Martin's supposed amusement. Only when Marco Minnemann challenges Martin with acceleration does any of it carry any actual weight. Again, the issue is a lack of overt songwriting. "Eleven Drums" shows ornate promise featuring some of Felix Martin's most delicate possessions, yet the potential for a tranquil, chop-filled ballad spirals backwards into naked indulgence that serves mainly the interests of future guitar students. Felix Martin is a stunning player, make no bones about it. Word has it he custom-made his fourteen-string and the way he patters all over his necks, he's destined to become a future innovator. Even better he has a stellar group of session players who keep him honest, if only in the briefest sense. Martin could've merely set himself up next to a drum machine and had at it, but honestly, if you come to "The Scenic Album" without knowing Martin has live musicians in his stead, it's tempting to think he did exactly the former. There's not a lot of musical soul driving this album, but if all you seek is forty-five minutes of mechanical grandiosity, then step on up here; you'll hardly be disappointed.
While you try to think deeply into the title of ARGUS' third album, "Beyond the Martyr", let's simplify things a little. The Pittsburgh trad metallers used the title in remembrance of their close friend and author, Bruce Nelson. "Beyond the Martyr" is from one of his works. From that point forward, dig for deeper meaning if you so desire, but the more important thing is the music, which demands enough attention itself. The cyberpunk fantasy art executed by Brad Moore is in the vein of VOIVOD's Michel "Away" Langevin, and as you drink in the hyperactivity of giant locusts and larvae tearing down a purported microelectronic utopia, the members of ARGUS take a more conscientious and methodic pace to their songwriting. Former PENANCE vocalist Brian "Butch" Balich is one the main catalysts to the success of this album that slides from one mid-tempo groove to another with dips into sluggish doom pastures. He has the capability to infuse occasional dramatics but overall, he simply assumes control over the fore of ARGUS' systematic power metal and doom attacks. One of his finest performances on the album comes on the smartly conceived "Four Candles Burning". Balich wails confidently over the lobbing bass knocks from Andy Ramage and twin guitar gusts by Jason Mucio and Erik Johnson. Balich thrusts himself through the steady yet busy bob of "Four Candles Burning" and the song is a vastly fulfilling venture. While ARGUS is fortified by Mucio and Johnson's congruous guitar lines and frequently pretty solos (their intro lines to "By Endurance We Conquer" are sublime), one of the back-end stories is drummer Kevin Latchaw, whose cymbal rides throughout "Beyond the Martyr" are terrific, especially in the opening bars of "By Endurance We Conquer". The rapid clangs emitted by Latchaw out the gate on this album sets a high mark that's mostly met, even if the doom-spirited "The Coward's Path" could use tightening up on the verses prior to its galloping second half. To be frank, ARGUS is a better power metal act than doom. Andy Ramage deserves a ton of credit for keeping ARGUS' instrumentation glued together. Even when "The Coward's Path"'s parts separate a bit too much in the doom section, Ramage acts as a buffer until the song speeds onward. Ramage rumbles and picks in the style of Steve Harris and you'll hear him taking charge in the back of "By Endurance We Conquer", "No Peace Beyond the Line", "Trinity" and "Cast Out All Raging Spirits". As much as Brian Balich, Jason Mucio and Erik Johnson will receive their proper accolades in this band, take away Andy Ramage and you have a grossly average sound. What ARGUS does isn't full-frontal; it's restrained and on its way to finessed. Ramage's bass is the fundamental element to keeping this band tight. "Beyond the Martyr" is sometimes detailed but largely understated. In the end, it's a classy bit of old-fashioned heavy metal sitting on the cusp of exceptional. ARGUS should be pleased with themselves at this point. There's still room for improvement, but "Beyond the Martyr" is nevertheless a solid ride into Valhalla where their beloved chum Bruce Nelson is likely fist-pumping with appreciation.
Referred to by their fans as S&S or SandS, Rochester. New York's SIRENS & SAILORS are amassing a solid following for their semiautomatic-echoing style of metalcore. A lot of the band's success rides on feverish blast beats and crashing thrash parts administered by Doug Court. The rest of what S&S brings to the table is tons of repetitive low-end chugs from Todd Golder, Jimm Lindsley and Steven Goupil and prototype rise and fall screams from Kyle Birhle, who is countered by soaring cleans from Golder. Count on as many breakdowns as a highway choked by permafrost on the band's second full-length and fourth overall release, "Skeletons". Kyle Birhle has been quoted in an interview with Broken Records magazine as saying "our influences range from the music our parents made us listen to growing up, all the way to current music that we listen to today". What this means is that for all of the butt-ugly tones, clogging riffs and bludgeoning tom kicks, S&S does find peppy segments to squeeze into their gory mix. For young acolytes of this stuff to which SIRENS & SAILORS is principally marketed, the about-face upswing in moods from brutish verses to florid choruses on "Not That Easy", "Straightjacket", "Weight of the World", "Hold Fast" and "Go for the Throat" is going to be a long-affective pleasure pill. For those who pray metalcore sees its official demise sooner than later, "Skeletons" will hardly be in their best interest. The fact of the matter is that S&S have the capacity to play in many modes including grind, and herein, they milk the hell out of every bpm Doug Court allots them. The mix of the album brings Court's berserker bass pedals forward to the point they can sting a few overstimulated brain cells after a while. He appears to take inspiration from MESHUGGAH's Tomas Haake, FEAR FACTORY's Raymond Herrera and of course, the double hammer jackrabbit, Gene Hoglan. Doug Court's so much a factor in this band the blipping guitar squibs from Todd Golder and Jimm Lindsley are prominently dialed up ("Exorcist", for example) to make themselves heard, as well as to break open their monotonous riff creases. At least the album has gorgeous, effervescent guitars and electronics to spice up the undulating instrumental "Reflection". Then "Born & Raised (Flower City)" makes the attempt to streamline S&S' chunky onslaught with tempos fluctuating between mosh and stomp before a couple of breakdowns change the feel of the song a few more times. Some nice violin and cello fragments interrupt the battering bedlam of the title song and to the band's credit, they modify their tone up a level to match the chamber feel. The thing with SIRENS & SAILORS is they employ their husked-out schemes so many times it becomes old hat in a hurry unless you're really that deep into what they're doing. For the occasional shake-ups that appear on "Skeletons", the album stays in a primarily coarse key and abides by a set of slow-fast interchanges that grow routine and weary after a while, despite the band's sharp execution. Metalcore fanatics will embrace all of this, naturally, and thus SIRENS & SAILORS is holding the torch for them with a firm grip.
Tommy Mezmercardo, these days known as "Trouble Tommy", has a little psych metal band from yesteryear that he maintains is in hiatus even though there's been no proper new release since the mid-Eighties. Until now. THE MEZMERIST has remained a deep cult legend best remembered by southern and coastal Californian metalheads and punkers. Of late, however, THE MEZMERIST has emerged from a well-kept secret whose four song EP, "The Innocent, the Forsaken, the Guilty" has fetched hundreds of dollars by obscure band treasure hunters. Part of the allure to the myth behind THE MEZMERIST is its metallic shamanism that's part doom, part drone, part power metal, part punk and something else altogether unclassifiable. The main attraction to "The Innocent, the Forsaken, the Guilty" is the fact it boasts none other than BLACK SABBATH legend Bill Ward on drums. Which is not to diminish the efforts of guitarist/vocalist Tommy Mezmercardo and bassist Roger Abercrombie. In fact, Bill Ward's contributions to THE MEZMERIST are understated, workman-like, even, compared to the scorching fret work of Mezmercardo. The latter's child-like falsettos are going to summon comparisons to KING DIAMOND, even if the two artists never met when "The Innocent, the Forsaken, the Guilty" was recorded in 1983 and later released in '85. Originally issued as a 500 copy run after Mezmercardo was able to raise enough money with his uncle's help to kick start his own label, Destiny Records, Shadow Kingdom resurrects "The Innocent, the Forsaken, the Guilty". To make the package more attractive, included is a never-before-released second EP, "Beg for Forgiveness, Pray for Your Life" plus a biographical DVD. In the early days, THE MEZMERIST (originally known as MEZMERIST AND THE PROPHETS OF DOOM) came up playing Cali keg parties in the same time and turf as VAN HALEN before moving on to beach clubs and old apartment complexes taken over by transients. As Mezmercardo tells the story, he hopped the fence to a private party where Bill Ward was playing drums and their meeting prompted the eventual collaboration leading to "The Innocent, the Forsaken, the Guilty". Mezmercardo proudly admits the popping track music from classic Looney Tunes shorts had as much a hand in sculpting THE MEZMERIST's sometimes daft compositions on "The Innocent, the Forsaken, the Guilty". That, along with LED ZEPPELIN and SABBATH, plus it's probably safe to say BLUE ÃYSTER CULT, PINK FLOYD and HAWKWIND held influence as well. The swishing electro-psychedelics atop the whirring vacuum on "The Forsaken" is pretty out-there stuff, but nowhere near as weird as Mezmercardo's unnerving shrieks during "Dead Ones Cry No More" and "Arabian Nights". Frankly, his oohs and cackles at the beginning of "Dead Ones Cry No More" feel undeniably like KING DIAMOND, regardless of whether or not the two singers crossed paths. At least the plodding bass of Roger Abercrombie and the twittering guitar dashes topping the main melodic swirls counter the creepiness of Mezmercardo's vocals. "Arabian Nights" carries a hypnotic desert sway even with power metal lines and expansive rolls from Bill Ward hammering things down with more coarseness. The best song on this EP, "Victim of Environmental Change" rings like early JUDAS PRIEST to the point Mezmercardo ditches most of his shattering falsettos and follows Rob Halford's mid-ranges. In many ways, the new EP "Beg for Forgiveness, Pray for Your Life" is the better offering. Conceived on money given to THE MEZMERIST from then-new drummer JR's parents, it's mentioned that "Beg for Forgiveness, Pray for Your Life" was done to prove to the band's benefactors their son had really joined a band after running away from Colorado. The musicianship is considerably stronger, even if the scathing testimonial "No Family No Friends" sounds a hair cluttered in spots. "Kingdom of the Dead" and "No Family No Friends" yield subliminal traces of Eighties SoCal punk even while trying to come off like an early-age death metal band. The coolest song of the three on this EP is the third cut, "The Jam Song", which Tommy Mezmercardo conveys was done to burn 25 minutes of prepaid studio time so it wasn't wasted. He and bassist Steve Conrad go bonkers showing off their chops, which are plenty sharp here. "The Jam Song" is almost nine minutes long, ringing like early dawn days of THE CURE at first before toughening up and hitting improv lines and squealing rakes for the rest of the ride. Mezmercardo states that this lineup of THE MEZMERIST had only been together a few days when laying down "The Jam Song". Their congruity sounds as if they'd been together longer. This is a nifty artifact excavated for metal historians that has more value than just the short-term appearance of a drumming lord amongst their ranks. THE MEZMERIST may or may not come to bear more psychedelic shredding down the road since Tommy Mezmercardo states he's written hundreds of songs. For now, it's best to simply enjoy what's been unearthed and dial in to this trippy stuff with a copy of the most recent "Heavy Metal" magazine in your lap.
Scandinavian black metal horde CURSED 13 has some unfinished business. They could still use plenty of tightening up, but at least there's a dedication to chaos that prevails throughout their sinister album "Triumf" which will appeal to their longtime fans who have been waiting for a proper full-length to emerge. "Triumf" covers a hefty period of time between 1998 and 2013 with many of its tracks intended for a never-released album entitled "And Hell" along with redone demo and EP tracks from CURSED 13's early years. Band leader Heljarmadr (also of DIABOLIC LUST) relays in CURSED 13's biography that he spent some time in jail in the span of CURSED 13's doings that saw the band's single for "I Love Cyanide" spread worldwide in 2005. After recording a lot of material, Heljarmadr and drummer Dimman released a 2009 split with DOMGARD and many of the remaining songs intended for "And Hell" remained dormant until now. "No Return" starts "Triumf" on a high note with an evil tide of riffs pocked by evocative loops of train wails and later, clacking slats amidst the swell of a winter's gust. All of it lends an astute shivery cadence nobody's ever seemed to fit to employ in metal before. The rugged tempo and menacing creep of "No Return" thus establishes a haunting tone to "Triumf" that's quickly ripped to shreds by the fast and slashing "Dead and Gone". Lead guitarist and bassist Maugrim's insane solo on this track hits such shrill notes it sounds like high-pitched radio waves. After these two balls-out compositions, "Triumf"'s middle territory rolls through more stripped-down affairs such as "Death 'n Roll", "Fralst av Eld" and another version of "I Love Cyanide". As clunky as "I Love Cyanide" may be, the choppy rhythms and barren spaces between drums and guitars work as the track speeds up and slows down. In both extremes, the song huffs like a beast instead of choking outright. Ditto for the banging "Nar Marornar Kallar" and the militant snare strikes breaking into "Fralst av Eld" that sets up a pretty killer breakaway and trance-filled outro. Some of the most accomplished songwriting comes on the slithering and malevolent "Seductress" with its well-structured doom and black grooves setting up a succinct and extensive guitar solo. Afterwards, "Requiem/Victory" varies its tempos between mid-tempo march and chuffing deliberateness. The drums are a bit uneven until the later sections where Dimman throws out sharp sets of rolls and then carries the song home on a measured crawl. The sliding electro shuffles of "Vrede" may be out of the norm for black metal, but they effectively allow for a terrific sequence of layered guitars that languish on the bottom and clout overhead until the song hits an organic trail allowing Dimman to take over with a steady pound that almost drowns the rest of the band in the mix. The synths creep back in-between Helharmadr's outraged snorting and plugged-in soundbytes of throng cheering, but those synths operate subversively in a GOBLINS-esque fashion it makes "Vrede" the best-written and produced track on "Triumf". For black metal purists, "Triumf" is mandatory listening. Sloppy it may be at times, there's heated integrity running throughout the entire project that makes it perversely compelling. It serves as reminder that no matter how polished and streamlined black metal's become over the years, it belongs underground. That's hardly a rip.
The Detroit-based metal troupe COVEN from the mid-Eighties is not to be confused with the more notable Seattle thrashers of the same name arriving shortly after these guys. Having originally hung up their leathers in the early nineties after releasing one album, "Worship New Gods", the renamed COVEN 13 reunited in 2011 to take another run. Citing themselves as Nordic doom metal, nobody's really going to buy into the tag save for maybe the SABBATH-hiking "Walpurgisnacht" and the Thor lore spread throughout much their wobbly new album, "Destiny of the Gods". In actuality, COVEN 13 in sound is more about power rock and trad metal, i.e. JUDAS PRIEST and DEEP PURPLE, though they sound like them in theory, only. Alas, this album is the little engine that stalls at the roundhouse despite the appreciable fact these guys have their hearts in the right place. What's positive about "Destiny of the Gods" is that the instrumental front line of guitarists Todd Kreda and Richie Karasinki plus bassist Roger Cyrkeil provide a doughty backbone for COVEN 13. Not all of the scratchy guitar solos are great, but some are hefty and there are a number of songs where Kreda and company riff the hell out of their spots, such as "Isle of Man", "Witches Kiss" and "Frost Giants", the latter actually reaching close to the boundaries of awesome. Unfortunately, for all that is good in COVEN 13, vocalist David Landrum, is well, not. In snarl mode, Landrum can hang in there, barely. Landrum's having a goblin grog-sloshed time on this album, and it's his party, which means it's not even invitation-only. The only time he's genuinely invasive and not merely discordant is when he peels off a grotesque take of Ronnie James Dio on "Witches Kiss". The first two tracks, "Thor's Twins" and "Winds of Revelation", are absolute messes from top-to-bottom, starting with Landrum's off-key caterwauling and trailing down to drummer Brian McGuckin's slacker beat patterns. "Winds of Revelation" is so hard to accept you're to be hardly blamed for bailing out on this album. However, McGuckin tightens up through the rest of the album (though he's a little off-target in spots on the poorly mixed "She Rides the Dawn") and at least the band's crunching riffs will help listeners roll through the way-long "Solitary Days" and a so-so cover of SIOUXSIE AND THE BANSHEES' "Spellbound". If the rest of "Destiny of the Gods" was up to the pounding coolness of "Frost Giants", then COVEN 13 would have something to write home about. Unfortunately, writing home to 1986 finds the God of Thunder not swinging Mjolnir against those hulking lords of the rime, but being turned into a frog in Issue # 364 of "The Mighty Thor". Take that as you will.
For a contemporary heavy music market where intricacy is valued more than ever, once in a while, straightforward and simple wins the day. Chuck Garric, veteran bassist for Alice Cooper and affiliate of a Who's Who list in hard rock and metal ranging from Ronnie James Dio to Steven Tyler to CHEAP TRICK, leads his own power rock posse reportedly named after his dog, BEASTO BLANCO. Garric's mission to release his own music (once under the monikers THE DRUTS and THE BARONS) finds him adding guitar and vocals to his bass licks for a tirelessly whumping rawk ride, "Live Fast Die Loud". Garric brings with him Chris Latham (lead guitars) plus Glen Sobel from the Alice Cooper band and Uncle Alice's daughter Calico, who cuts some backing vocals for the title track and the album's first single, "Breakdown". Joining the femme fatale hit squad fuming behind Garric (and supplying keys) on some of the songs of "Live Fast Die Young" is Tiffany Lowe. BEASTO BLANCO's trio of kit smashers consist of Tim Husung and former Alice Cooper drummer Jonathan Mover in addition to Glen Sobel. Additionally, Jan LeGrow laid down some bass contributions. Clearly Garric's been chomping at the bit to get out on his own and BEASTO BLANCO is an energetic mofo, whipping out a guileless overhaul of Rob Zombie all over the place, most gratuitously on the title track, "Blood Shot", "Beasto Blanco" and of course, "Breakdown". Yet Garric and company don't dip into Zombie's world of undead drag queens and grade babe ghoulinas. "Live Fast Die Loud" instead attempts to recreate a full-frontal, party-minded style of modern heavy rock cultivated largely from the buzz-bombed jives of Rob Zombie. It's not all played in this key, however; for example, MOTÃRHEAD is an obvious inspiration for "Beg to Differ". Sometimes the vocals mimic Rob Zombie with alarming exactness ("California", for example), but most of the time, Garric, who handles primary singing duties, spews more choke and spittle into his raspy delivery. The coolest quality to BEASTO BLANCO is its unabashed thrusts and throbs, living for the kinks of rock 'n roll. They would be an automatic Billboard burner if it was more rock-friendly these days. Whether you rebuke or embrace what Garric's trying to accomplish with "Live Fast Die Loud", the guy knows how to pour it on, making his album an entertaining, if at-times derivative jaunt. The stifled and repetitive "Viva Las Vegas Nights" is the only real throwaway tune, but "Motorqueen" comes snarling immediately thereafter as the heaviest thing on this album, coiled with a beefy set of riffs that sound bred from KISS and Alice Cooper's darkest corners. Opening the album with a pretty cool flamenco sprawl on "Ill Nostro Spirito", Tiffany Lowe subsequently rips out her best Lucia Cifarelli (KMFDM) impression behind Garric on the anthem-driven choruses of "Beasto Blanco". Calico Cooper later seethes pleasingly on "Breakdown", getting right into the heat of things with Garric as he woofs "bang bang, baby!" lasciviously in response. BEASTO BLANCO's biggest asset is that they shoot for the same level of arena amp rock that Chuck Garric and his cohorts are plenty familiar with. Whether they make it there on their own remains to be seen, but "Live Fast Die Loud" refuses to quit, and you have to tip your hat in that respect. This album makes no pretentions of what it is. It's loud, it's pumping and it's surprisingly effective.
Canadian doom sect FUNERAL CIRCLE are a well-read bunch who weave creeping, elegiac dirges featuring dark fantasy and arcane muses. The Necronomicon, Paganism, Lovecraft's sinister realm of Cthulhu and Conan the Barbarian's duke-outs against the snake cult of Set all figure into FUNERAL CIRCLE's brand of "epic doom metal." This, as opposed to regular ol' doom metal, supposedly. True to their word, though, count on plenty of "epic" with this band. FUNERAL CIRCLE has spent as much time consuming CANDLEMASS, PENTAGRAM, CIRITH UNGOL and GRAND MAGUS as they have occult literature and pulp novels. While Jeremy Hannigan's tormented swills appear to still be in their refinement stages, the other two components of FUNERAL CIRCLE, Matthew Barzegar and Steven Mulleady, carry the lumbering weight of the band's music, which accelerates past two miles an hour only in spots, i.e. in later segments of "Black Colossus" and "Obelisk". Barzegar plays electric guitar while Mulleady adds supplemental electric and acoustic guitars along with bass, keys and drums. FUNERAL CIRCLE's biggest attribute is their encapsulating guitars, shining from the commonplace conventionalism of doom metal, which these guys are obliged to honor. Structurally, there's not much to this album you haven't already been privy to on a doom record, but Barzegar and Mulleady's reeling swirls that ring atop the clambering plods of FUNERAL CIRCLE's compositions are fantastic. The explorative, wailing tag solo opening "Scion of Infinity" sets up the song's unhurried grind. The longer the song winds on, expect Barzegar and Mulleady to return with an extensive series of traded and ultimately morphed solos. Containing their work to a largely ponderous pace, the sonic-bled layers FUNERAL CIRCLE stacks into the 8:48 "Corpus of Dark Sorcery" not only add malevolent consistencies, they elevate the mysticism of the song's primary whispery feel. The sweaty final sections and screeching outro to the 11:35 "Obelisk" are magnificent, while the articulate though bleak acoustic guitar and echoing keys on "Tempus Edax Rerum" create one of the more stylish points to the album. The same lucid sway is carried into the intro of the quick-to-be-ugly, sluggish clout of the 9:22 "The Charnel God". Jeremy Hannigan tries to be entrancing in his delivery, but there's too much shakiness in his effort to stray from monotone. His vocal patterns slowly rise and fall in routine patterns, but stand prepared for him to peel off a few unnerving falsettos throughout the album, along with a demon growl in the beginning of "The Charnel God". Hannigan doesn't extend himself too far otherwise, yet his tones could use some polishing in order to keep up with FUNERAL CIRCLE's expressive guitars. In all, a pretty stout offering with attractive guitar work frequently stretching beyond the anticipated low-end chords and timeworn doom scripts. Matthew Barzegar and Steven Mulleady load their distortion with fragility as well as heftiness. When they have vocals to stand tall with them, FUNERAL CIRCLE will emerge as a potential force.
Back in March of this year, Zakk Wylde and BLACK LABEL SOCIETY put together a special treat at Club Nokia in Los Angeles, a scaled-back, relaxed retrospective set filled with ten BLS songs, three from the PRIDE & GLORY days and four selections from Zakk's 1996 solo album, "Book of Shadows". "Unblackened" is perhaps the most intimate look at Zakk Wylde onstage you'll hope to witness outside of actually sitting in the man's presence. There's a passionate and sensitive drive to "Unblackened" that transcends the mostly slow to medium pace of the concert. You won't find BLACK LABEL SOCIETY staples such as "Bleed for Me", "Demise of Sanity" or "Suicide Messiah", but you will get "The Blessed Hellride" almost off the bat, an acoustic-driven fan favorite that translates naturally into this reformed set. Ditto for "House of Doom" with its peppy collision of smooth jive and static jumpiness. In many cases of the "Unblackened" set, new or modified arrangements were employed, making this an even more savory delicacy for Wylde's fans. The PRIDE & GLORY songs performed here are "Losin' Your Mind", "Sweet Jesus" and "Machine Gun Man", while "Road Back Home", "Sold My Soul", "I Thank You Child" and "Throwin' it All Away" represent "Book of Shadows". While the BLACK LABEL SOCIETY numbers are reaped with a heavy lean on "Hangover Music Vol. VI" (i.e. "Queen of Sorrow", "Won't Find it Here", "Takillya (Estyabon)" and "House of Doom"), there are set standards such as "The Blessed Hellride", "In This River", "Speedball", "Spoke in the Wheel" and "Stillborn", plus an appearance of "Rust" from "Stronger Than Death". Still holding court in the BLACK LABEL SOCIETY are guitarist Nick Catanese and bassist John DeServio along with recent drumming addition Chad Szeliga, backing vocalist Greg Locascio and keyboard troubadour Derek Sherinian. Catanese and DeServio's faculties speak for themselves, but the inclusion of Derek Sherinian is one of the best moves Zakk Wylde could've made. As Sherinian fields a number of song intros and loads of fills, his veteran prowess well-serves Zakk's purposes for the set. When Zakk takes the piano, it's enough he can leave the guitar solos in the trusted fingers of Nick Catanese, who shows off on "Road Back Home", "Spoke in the Wheel" and "In This River". With Derek Sherinian across from Zakk onstage, they work magical keys together on "Sweet Jesus" and "In This River", but the most breathtaking moment of unity between them comes on the flamenco-blitzed "Speedball". Watch for Zakk to grin like the devil after Sherinian matches his flurrying acoustic scales. It's fair to assume playing for Zakk Wylde comes with a sense of gratification since his nods of appreciation and silent gestures of accolade come frequently. While the "Unblackened" set restrains the players to a seated position for the entire show, there's an evident brotherhood swarming over the stage at Club Nokia. John DeServio can hardly contain his excitement, much less his butt to his stool. Numerous times he lurches off as if ready to pounce to the front of the stage before zipping back in place. During the band introductions, though, DeServio hops off to embrace Zakk and that's unrehearsed sentiment you can't fake in public. It's unnecessary to gush over Zakk's presentation, be it on the strings or the keys. He's a phenom and always has been. Even now it's still hard to cue to mind the young, beardless whiz kid kicking off his career on Ozzy Osbourne's "No Rest for the Wicked". Zakk Wylde today is brawny, scruffy, a real deal roughneck who doesn't need "Duck Dynasty" to endorse his chin wag. His instruments speak for him, proven by the marathon solos on "Throwin' it All Away" and "Stillborn" in this set. The fact a dusty dude is capable of such an emotive set as contained in "Unblackened" defies convention. Yet one of the most poignant moments of the show comes with a family archive video clip showing Zakk and his daughter Hayley Rae in a cut-up daddy-daughter duet, which leads into his sweet fatherly ode "I Thank You Child". It's a precious moment of grace that leads into the show's finale, a slowed and reworked version of "Stillborn". Even without Ozzy's added vocals, this rendition serves as a dramatic, reflective finish to a largely beautiful set. Among the bonus features on "Unblackened" are an interview segment with Zakk, the promo video for "Losin' Your Mind", and the real treasure, a one-man jam contained in "Zakk Visits HM Prison Stocken (UK)". Here Zakk crams at least twenty music theories into one hyperactive guitar solo and then fields Q&A with the prisoners. For the Zakk Wylde connoisseur, this alone is must-see material. If you want a full frontal video exhibition of BLACK LABEL SOCIETY, drift back to 2006's "The European Invasion, Doom Troopin'". If you want to see a more expressive and disciplined set assembled for longtime Zakk Wylde fans, then "Unblackened" is where it's at.