Tuesday, March 10, 2015
Periphery - Juggernaut (2015)
Periphery's most massive undertaking to date, Juggernaut continues in the vein of Periphery II but on a larger scale.
The album shows the band at the peak of their creativity. The Alpha side is the poppy side with such songs as Rainbow Gravity and 22 Faces delivering the band's trademark mix of brutality and catchiness.
Omega on the other hand is a more diverse and experimental affair. To highlight some of this diversity: The extremely catchy sing-along ballad Priestess sits alongside the thrash-influenced Graveless and the prog epic Omega.
I absolutely love Periphery II, but here one gets the clear sense that the band have pushed themselves to write their most compelling, bombastic material to date. One particular area of excellence (though many would disagree on this) is Spencer Sotelo's vocals. His performance on PII was already a dramatic improvement from the debut album, but here he's upped his game even more and is making the songs that much more dramatic.
On the downside, the album does feel a bit repetitive with the same djent-chug present on basically every song. It's not a huge issue, but there will definitely have to be some significant experimentation on the band's next album.
Overall though, this is an extremely impressive album and my favorite from Periphery so far.
P.S. Misha Mansoor should REALLY make an electronic album. The bits I've heard on Juggernaut and PII are phenomenal but there simply aren't enough of them.
Steven Wilson - Hand. Cannot. Erase. (2015)
As regular viewers of my blog (assuming there any) are aware of, I'm a huge Steven Wilson fan (I gave The Raven a 10/10), so to say I was eagerly anticipating this is a criminal understatement.
The Raven is a fantastic album on its own terms, but its genius is somewhat marred by a distinct lack of creative progression. With little to differentiate it from Grace for Drowning except its ghost themed song-stories, I see The Raven as a creative step backwards for an artist who's known to push boundaries and avoid repetition.
While Hand. Cannot. Erase. isn't entirely free of repetition (after all, Steven Wilson does have a particular "sound" that he's come to be identified with), what we see here is a quantum leap in terms of artistic progression, diversity of influences, and overall staying power of the music.
Classic albums such as Dark Side of the Moon or Wish You Were Here are awarded legendary status not simply because of the music, but mainly because of the music's emotional quality and the lyrics' timeless messages. Concept albums, when executed flawlessly, center the music around a story that the general audience can relate to. For The Raven, there were multiple ghost stories - an intriguing concept, no doubt, but the album as a whole lacks the emotional impact that a single narrative can bring.
Without intending to sound pretentious, I believe that H.C.E. can, at least in some ways, be rightfully called the Dark Side of the Moon of the modern age. The thematic basis of H.C.E. is the film Dreams of a Life, which in turn is based on the true story of a woman who died in her London apartment and lay undiscovered for over two years. These themes of isolation and alienation in society were explored in depth on Dark Side of the Moon, but they are given a modern veneer and a relatable character in Wilson's opus.
From the hopefulness of 3 Years Older and the title track to the boredom of everyday life on Routine to the disconnection from real life on Ancestral to the inconclusive ending to the character's story on Happy Returns, H.C.E. masterfully traces a sketch of life in a postindustrial, urban environment. Through Rush-like guitar passages, psychedelic keyboard noodling, and hypnotic Boards of Canada-esque sampling, Wilson's true creative genius is on display as he marries the lyrics to the music in a way that's immediately relatable for not only his longtime fans, but most likely many new ones to come.
Wilson's previous three albums are all brilliant, but this seems to be the first one where he's truly proved himself as a master solo artist. In my view, this album completely obviates any need to revive the Porcupine Tree project, which so many fans have been clamoring for. Compared to the artistic maturity shown on this record, such a move would be a significant step in the wrong direction. In fact, no other Wilson album has connected with me quite like this one has. That isn't to say that it's my favorite Wilson release (In Absentia and Fear of a Blank Planet are still classic albums for me), but the sheer diversity of every song, as well as the way they connect with each other in a beautiful, yet heartbreaking tale of loss, puts this album over the edge as my favorite album so far this year. Indeed, short of something miraculously good coming out, I foresee this album taking my #1 spot at year's end.
A truly deserved 10/10
Wednesday, January 28, 2015
Blind Guardian - Beyond the Red Mirror (2015)
Blind Guardian are one of metal's biggest bands. Their over-the-top style and retelling of Tolkien's stories have endeared them to countless metalheads around the world. Albums like "Imaginations From the Other Side" and "Nightfall in Middle-Earth" are considered defining works of the power metal genre. And let's not forget that Hansi Kursch is one of metal's best vocalists.
Despite all that, I've never been anything more than a casual fan. I always felt like the band had talent and a number of really good songs but there was always something stopping me from counting the band as one of my favorites. I think it can partially be explained the fact that BG songs usually have too many lyrics/singing and not enough instrumentation for my taste, but mainly because other power metal bands have simply released more enjoyable material (i.e. Stratovarius' "Nemesis," Kamelot's "Black Halo" etc.)
But here on "Beyond the Red Mirror," Blind Guardian have truly proven themselves to me, despite it sounding quite typical for their style. I largely dismissed this album on my first listen, impressed only by the title track and not much else. However, on the second listen it began to click very quickly.
Whether it's the incredible chorus in "The Ninth Wave" or the catchy, extremely memorable choruses on pretty much every song, this album is absolutely killer. Their previous album "At the Edge of Time" was good, but here they've really refined and focused their sound to make something very cohesive, much like a concept album.
The only issues I have are with the slightly uneven production and the song "Miracle Machine." The latter piano ballad is pleasant enough but would have been a true testament to the band's songwriting abilities were it composed with an acoustic guitar.
Other than that, this is a stunning album that's already one of my favorites not only of 2015, but of power metal in general. For a legacy band far along in their career to release something of this caliber is incredible. Even if you're not a Blind Guardian fan, I highly suggest you give this a listen. In all likelihood it'll be the album that turns you into a fan.
Wednesday, January 7, 2015
The Contortionist - Language (2014)
The thing that stuck out to me the most on my first was just how integrated and seamless this album feels. "Intrinsic" is a collection of great songs, but this album has a narrative quality that makes it all the more cohesive and impressive. But the single-best element here are the crystal clear, jaw-dropping vocal performance given by Lessard. The end of "Ebb and Flow," "Intuition"...I could go on and on about all the memorable vocal lines here.
The instrumentation is top-notch too. The futuristic, cosmic vibe is reminiscent of Cynic, Scale the Summit, and post-rock. The riffs can be a bit too staccato at times, but as this is a vocal-oriented album, they don't stray too far from the main plot. The play-off between heavy and light keeps things extremely dynamic, and it doesn't feel at all forced.
"Language" is an incredible accomplishment for this young band. Much more than their previous two albums, this one emotionally resonates with me in a way that few prog metal albums have. With Lessard at the helm and the band's forward-thinking musical vision, things are looking very bright indeed for the next Contortionist album.
Wolves in the Throne Room - Celestite (2014)
My favorite track on the album, "Celestite Mirror," is as powerful as anything WitTR have recorded to date. Its grandiose, mysterious synths are backed by a choir of violent guitar chords, immersing the listener in an eerie, captivating sonic world. The bold, yet sparse composition of this track and "Turning Ever Towards the Sun" are, at times, heavily reminiscent of Romantic-era classical music, a fact made more apparent by the intermittent horn swells.
Those who need convincing should at least check out "Initiation at Neudeg Alm," arguably the album's most accessible and melodic track. It reprises the melody of "Subterranean Initiation" from "Celestial Lineage," thus making it recognizable to fans of the band's metal era.
The more I listen to this album, the more I'm convinced it's one of my favorites in the ambient genre. The cover is a perfect visual description of the album's sound: "Celestite" is the ideal album to listen to when virtually exploring the universe. While I still fervently hope they make another black metal album, I'd be thrilled to hear a follow-up to this one.
Sunday, January 4, 2015
Amaranthe - Massive Addictive (2014)
While some may lament that this is a perfect example of the watering down of melodic death metal, my view is that albums like show its diversity and willingness to go in new directions. In fact, I'd argue that it's keeping the genre's spirit alive, especially in light of In Flames' subpar "Siren Charms" (which I won't even bother to review). But regardless of whether you're a death metal fan at all, you should definitely check this out. It's infectiously catchy, and is more refined and focused than their first two albums.
Electric Wizard - Time to Die (2014)
Sadly though, while this album isn't at all bad, much of it feels like a rehash of older material. The first three songs: "Incense for the Damned," the title track, and the extremely evil "I Am Nothing" are the clear standouts. The rest of it feels a bit plodding and unfocused. The album's lead single, "Sadiowitch," is quite unimpressive compared to the driving, groovy stomper "Black Mass" from the previous album.
While many may praise EW for their consistency, I think that most fans see the band's age starting to show. Most of those fans will also lose interest in this album fairly quickly and want to spin the classics such as "Come My Fanatics" and "Dopethrone" rather than the albums that try to imitate them.
"Time to Die" isn't a bad album by any means. In fact, "I Am Nothing" is possibly their darkest, most evil song to date, and really stands out in their career. However, as a whole, this album feels rather formulaic. If I were in the band, I would consider branching out into more psychedelic and non-metal territory to really make the next album stand out from the rest. But all in all, this is solid addition to this great band's catalog and I'm excited to see what they do next.
Earth - Primitive and Deadly (2014)
Being recorded in a desert, "Primitive and Deadly" makes no secret of its emulation of the desert landscape. Take, for example, the wide open, simple chords and apocalyptic tone on standout "Rooks Across the Gate." This utterly haunting track speaks to the desert's mercilessness, sheer beauty, and glacial rate of change. One can easily imagine this as the soundtrack to the desert portions of "Fallout: New Vegas" and "Red Dead Redemption."
At the same time, despite the album's beauty, it has a steep learning curve. Ff the new Yob album is hard to get into, this album is even more challenging. There's very little in terms of dynamics here, (let alone on any other Earth album) so it requires a tremendous amount of patience to even begin to process it. Nevertheless, this is undoubtedly their finest work and one of the best drone albums (if it can be called that) I've heard.
Yob - Clearing the Path to Ascend (2014)
Like Pallbearer, Yob craft a very heavy, dense, psychedelic sound. The difference is that Yob are a bit more "metal" and less melodic than their doom counterparts, and they have shouted vocals akin to post-metal such as Isis and Cult of Luna.
Yob's lumbering, mammoth riffs on this album stand in extreme contrast to the introspective, Pink Floydian acoustic sections. Each of the 4 gargantuan tracks on this record perfectly matches the mood of the album cover: a journey into an unknown, exotic land lost in the mists of time. Mike Scheidt's vocals are some of the best I've heard in doom. His mournful, languid clean vocals perfectly compliment his throaty, caveman growls.
But what I consider to be the underlying strength of this album is that despite all 4 songs being over 10 minutes and quite repetitive, I rarely felt bored. Instead, I found the hazy, dark atmosphere on "Clearing the Path to Ascend" the perfect enticement to keep listening. The wait was well worth it as I reached "Marrow," my favorite track. "Marrow" is a haunting, brooding doom masterpiece that is easily the culmination of Yob's discography. "Clearing the Path to Ascend" is certainly not something that most people will get into on the first listen, but it's well worth investing time into as it's truly a doom gem. Along with the new Pallbearer record, this one gets my vote as best doom album of 2014.
Opeth - Pale Communion (2014)
"Pale Communion," though, is a different story. The meandering fusion-inspired passages of "Heritage" have been trimmed down, and the end product is much closer to their metal days. "Moon Above, Sun Below," with its heavy, distinctly Opeth-ian riffage and harmonized acoustic interludes, could have easily fit on "Deliverance" or "Watershed." Similarly, the driving, Middle Eastern-tinged lead riff in "Cusp of Eternity" echoes back to "Atonement" on "Ghost Reveries." Mikael Akerfeldt and co. are clearly more confident in their songwriting abilities, whereas on "Heritage" it seemed as if they were approaching the writing process with an explicit desire not to make a metal album. And though "Pale Communion" is anything but a metal album, which makes it all the more unique in Opeth's catalog.
This album has something for every Opeth fan. Yes, there are obvious nods to their metal past, a fact much appreciated by old school fans such as myself. However, with songs like the Damnation-esque "Elysian Woes" and "River," Opeth are yet again charting new territory while still retaining the distinct melacholic sound that's defined them throughout their career. "Voice of Treason" and "Faith in Others" are some of my favorite tracks on this album. They both feature string sections that are employed so skillfully that one could hardly imagine the songs without them. "Faith in Others" has a particularly cinematic and even cathartic quality about it that makes it not only Opeth's best closing song, but also some of their most intensely depressing (in a good way) lyrics.
"Pale Communion" is Opeth at their most honest and emotional, unwilling to care what the press or even their fans expect of them. This is a gorgeous story of loss and betrayal that pays homage to the greats of 70's prog rock with the kind of authenticity and focus that "Heritage" sometimes lacked. It may be difficult for a lot of fans to look beyond Opeth as a metal band, but with this album it's clear that they're more than capable of branching out into different directions and redefining their identity, even at such a late stage in the game. I know of no other band who has changed styles so drastically, yet retained the high quality of their music. Where Opeth goes next is anyone's guess.
Tuesday, October 7, 2014
Devin Townsend - Z2 (2014)
Nevertheless, the album starts off with a bang on "Rejoice." Anneke von Giersbergen's ethereal, wordless melody is layered on top of a massive, driving groove. Devy's singing style vaguely reminds me of Chuck Billy from Testament.
The album starts a streak of amazing songs with "Fallout" and "Midnight Sun," the latter strongly reminding me of "Where We Belong" on "Epicloud."
The next song, "A New Reign" is one of the darkest, most melancholic songs Devy's written yet. For some reason the chorus reminds me of The Cure, at least vibe-wise. And the overall atmosphere of the song makes it an intense, emotional thrill-ride. It's a truly brilliant song and possibly my favorite on "Sky Blue."
Skip ahead to "Silent Militia" and you see another side of Devy that hearkens back to his SYL days. It has an infectious, industrial groove that wouldn't sound too out of place on a Rammstein record.
After this, things slow down considerably and we're treated to a very "Terria"-esque treat with "Rain City." It's a very subdued and beautiful track that winds down into a lengthy ambient passage, transitioning seamlessly into the "Ghost"-esque ballad "Forever." Side 1 of Z2 gives us one last rocker with "Before We Die." This track makes excellent use of the Universal Choir with an instantly memorable, anthemic chorus. Like "Rain City," it fades into ambience but not before Anneke delivers some downright unearthly vocals to send you off into the haunting "The Ones Who Love."
"Sky Blue" is possibly Devy's most mature and diverse metal album. It continues in the tradition of "Epicloud" and "Addicted" while refining it and taking it in some new directions. As opposed to the narrative fiction of "Dark Matters," this side gives us insight into Devy's personality and experiences. It's definitely my favorite part of Z2 and, if it were to be counted as a separate album (which it arguably could), is in my top 5 list of Devy albums.
Dark Matters: As the follow-up to "Ziltoid the Omniscient," "Dark Matters" showcases Devy's epic, over-the-top style while continuing the Ziltoid narrative.
To start off, I've honestly never been a big fan of Z1 other than a few tracks. Most of it is tedious, unmemorable, and too wedded to the story to really stand out.
7 years later, Devy has made a record worthy of the Ziltoid name, one whose music shines with or without the narrative (hence the bonus disc).
The serene, Anneke-driven "From Sleep Awake" segues into the "Deconstruction"-esque "Ziltoidian Empire" which sets the tone for the album with wacky choir vocals and an intricate prog section near the end.
And now we get to what I consider to be the most epic song on the album: "War Princess." Featuring the theatrical, sinister vocals of Dominique Lenore Persi from Stolen Babies, this is a bombastic behemoth of a tune that will you have you headbanging like there's no tomorrow. There's not a single second of this track I didn't love. It's probably my favorite on Z2.
"March of the Poozers" is another heavily "Decon"-influenced, circusy song with an infectious, zany chorus. It doesn't quite stick out like "War Princess" but it's quite fun and should translate well in a live setting.
The mostly spoken-word "Wandering Eye" is kind of a filler track that Devy should have either scrapped or incorporated that part of the story into a more musically-oriented track. There is a pretty good riff about a minute in but the potential is wasted as the narrative takes over.
Things pick back up with "Earth" which features one of the catchiest lines on Z2, sung by the incredibly talented Ms. Persi. It does feel a bit too long, but it's still quite enjoyable.
And things REALLY pick back up on "Ziltoid Goes Home" which sounds like a lost SYL track. The verses are very aggressive and thrashy, with Devy's vicious snarls being as powerful as they were back in the early days of his career. The chorus, however, is set in the "Sky Blue"/"Epicloud" style, making for a fascinating contrast.
"Dimension Z" and the Universal Choir round out Z2 with a lighters-in-the-air metal anthem. I won't tell you exactly how the track, and hence the entire album, ends but suffice it to say it'll leave you surprised and smiling.
As I said before, I like "Sky Blue" a lot more than "Dark Matters" but I think a lot of that is due to the narrative. The story is great of course, but it also interrupts the flow of the music in some places, at least for me. That said, I can't wait to listen to the bonus disc.
But as it stands, "Dark Matters" is everything that Z1 and, for that matter, "Deconstruction" should have been. The songs are intricately composed with a lot of moving parts, but are nevertheless highly accessible and engaging.
Overall: This is easily one of Devy's most ambitious, most diverse, and most accomplished albums to date. No matter which Devy album sits closest to your heart (unless it's "The Hummer"), you're gonna find something you enjoy. It's incredible to think that after so many albums, Devy still has so much creativity and so many new musical avenues to explore. While it's not a perfect album, Z2 is still phenomenal, containing many songs that I already consider to be some of the best in Devy's extensive repertoire. I can only imagine how all this will sound live...
Overall score: 9.5/10
Monday, October 6, 2014
Threshold - For the Journey (2014)
2012's "March of Progress" was a resounding success for the band after the death of their previous vocalist and the return of original vocalist Damian Wilson. The album showcased their unparalleled knack for writing fun, heavy, catchy songs that still retain a distinct prog edge (mainly in the form of the keyboards).
"March of Progress" ended up being one of my top releases of 2012 and "For the Journey" nearly matches it. The new album is a bit more varied than MoP though I mean that in the sense that there's more emotionality and moodiness, not an actual change in musical style.
This change in lyrics and atmosphere from the political and social of MoP to the personal and introspective on FtJ can be seen in such dark numbers as "Unforgiven" and "Autumn Red." Similar emotionally charged moments include the gripping chorus to "Siren Sky," the poignant verses of "Lost in Your Memory" and the soaring guitar work of "The Box."
In particular, "The Box" is probably my favorite piece on the album.The solos are incredible and the song manages to be technical, showing off some of the band's most accomplished songwriting to date, yet it's also very accessible.
The only song that drags the album down a bit is "The Mystery Show." It's not bad per se, just rather average and a bit less memorable than the other stellar tracks on "For the Journey."
Overall, this is a excellent follow-up to the band's chef d'-oeuvre "March of Progress," even if it falls a tad short of matching the latter's brilliance. Given all the excellent riffs, sing-along choruses, and tight songwriting, it's unlikely that Threshold fans will feel disappointed.
Wednesday, September 24, 2014
While Heaven Wept - Suspended at Aphelion (2014)
On this album the band decided to make a concept album and from a lyrical and aesthetic standpoint they succeed. Musically though, "Suspended at Aphelion" leaves a bit to be desired.
It starts off well enough with the gorgeous classical piece "Introspectus" which sets the tone for the whole album. Then we come to my favorite track "Icarus and I" which doesn't have any doom to speak of, but is nonetheless epic and grandiose. The last few minutes of the song make you feel as if you're soaring through the heavens just as Icarus did.
Things slow down after that with "Ardor" which repeats the last few minutes of "Icarus and I." Reprises are a common musical device, but using one right after its parent track, rather than at the end, and not making it acoustic are not very good ideas.
The next moment of excitement comes with track 5 "Indifference Turned Paralysis" which shows the band's proficiency with translating classical musical structures into metal. A power metal band could have easily written this piece (and that's not a bad thing at all considering I'm a fan of power metal).
The album's second truly great track is "Reminiscence of Strangers" which is a beautiful ballad which builds up into the kind of epic doom melody I was hoping to hear on this album.
There are three tracks under 2 minutes on this album and that is a pet peeve of mine. Unless it's punk or grindcore, I'd prefer albums have songs at least 2 minutes long. The band would have been much better off combining the time used for those three tracks into something better.
The long and short of it is that the truly epic moments I was hoping for are few and far between. Much of this album is repetitive and not all that interesting. While Heaven Wept are clearly a talented band and I'm a big fan of theirs. However, it seems like this time they couldn't focus that talent into something really cohesive and memorable like "Vast Oceans Lachrymose." Concept albums are fine as long as each song can shine on its own. Most of the songs here, unfortunately, cannot. That said, this is still a good album and it contains creative songwriting and a couple of really good tracks that make it worth coming back to.
(Special thanks to Nuclear Blast to providing me a promo copy.)
Thursday, September 18, 2014
Scar Symmetry - The Singularity (Phase I - Neohumanity) (2014)
Like a lot of Scar Symmetry fans, I was massively disappointed when Christian Alvestam left after the monumental "Holographic Universe" album in 2007 (still my all-time favorite melodeath album). His growls and clean vocals are simply some of the best I've ever heard and I doubted the band could be any good after that or, indeed, that it could even continue. The next two releases, "Dark Matter Dimensions" and "The Unseen Empire," somewhat reassured me of the band's vitality by featuring choice cuts such as "Sculptor Void" and "The Anomaly." However, up until this album, the first three albums with Alvestam were still my go-to Scar Symmetry albums.
"Neohumanity" is undoubtedly the band's best release since "Holographic Universe." The songwriting is superb and the songs are all catchy and exciting. This is arguably the band's most "progressive" album with two songs that reach past the 8-minute mark. The lyrical content is really interesting (I've always loved the bands sci-fi/philosophical themes) and the album is simply more memorable as a whole than the previous two. The growls are actually better than Alvestam's and make a fantastic contrast with the improved clean vocals. The cleans are still not quite as good as Alvestam's perfect, polished crooning, but they're more than good enough to get the job done and don't detract from the songs' catchiness at all.
If I had to pick a favorite song it would probably be "Neohuman." It's ambitious, bold, and holds my attention throughout. The riffs, solos, and keyboards are all fantastic, especially the Haken-esque circus bit. It's just a fantastic piece overall.
The award for best chorus though would probably go to "Neuromancers." Something about the melody just makes it really stick out.
The album ends with the supremely epic "Technocalyptic Cybergeddon" which sounds like it could have fit on "Holographic Universe." The calm ending of the song is the perfect way to close out the album.
Overall, I am extremely pleased with this record. I have a feeling that fans like myself who were lukewarm about the last two albums will really get into this one. I absolutely can't wait for Phases II and III.
(Special thanks to Nuclear Blast Records for providing me an advanced copy.)
(Special thanks to Nuclear Blast Records for providing me an advanced copy.)
Tuesday, September 16, 2014
The Oath - The Oath (2014)
Like Blues Pills, the most unique thing about The Oath is the vocals. Johanna Sadonis' bewitching vocals are the centerpiece of the album. They're confident, passionate and fit the lyrics quite well.
Musically, The Oath fit perfectly into Rise Above Records' roster of bands, joining such doom heavyweights as Blood Ceremony, Angel Witch, and Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats. They basic style could be said to be 60's/70's garage rock meets doom but it's obvious that they are incorporating a wide range of influences. Just some of the identifiable influences include Black Sabbath, King Diamond, Blue Cheer, Saxon, Motorhead, and Iron Maiden.
Yet, don't be fooled into thinking that this is merely a thrown-together hodgepodge of disparate influences. Rather, it's a focused, musically adept project that sounds great from start to finish. Songs such as the immediately catchy "Night Child" and the somber, psychedelic "Psalm 9" are evidence of this duo's success in cultivating their own musical identity, thus enabling them to stand out from the crowd in an over-saturated metal market.
Overall, even if it's not particularly ground-breaking, "The Oath" is a creative and thrilling album to listen to. There are plenty of killer riffs and instantly memorable choruses to keep you busy for quite a while.