Reviews Coming Soon

Album Reviews Coming Soon: Queen Elephantine - Kala, Karg - Weltenasche

Friday, January 2, 2009

Album Review: Seether - Finding Beauty In Negative Spaces

This very week I may have suggested that bands from South Africa don‘t often reach these shores - in fact I said, and I quote, ”It’s not often you hear of bands from South Africa causing such a stir overseas.” As I write, I have in front of me a rather natty looking trilby and I’m tucking into it after every sentence. The reason? Seether are a South African hard-hitting rock trio that have been… er, how shall I put this… causing a stir overseas. They’ve notched up a jaw-dropping two million album sales so far.

After parting company with lead guitarist Pat Callaghan and vocalist Shaun Morgan going into rehab for cocaine and alcohol addictions the band have thrown themselves into the new album with Morgan admitting, “Because it was just three of us there were fewer minds to stymie the or halt the whole process. I wanted to write songs that were more melodic this time around. I didn’t feel the need to scream as I might have in the past and I felt I could have used sitars if I wanted.”

With ‘Finding Beauty In Negative Spaces’ completed it becomes their sixth studio album (if you include the one they recorded under their original name, Saron Gas) and has finally reached the UK after amassing 400,000 sales following it’s October 2007 release in the States. I imagine this has a lot to do with the extraordinary vocal of Shaun Morgan which flits between the croak and croon of Nickelback’s Chad Kroeger and the biting snarled delivery of Machine Head’s Robb Flynn. However the intricate roll and batter drum patterns of John Humphrey and Dale Stewart’s walking bass are just as bright in the mix - and with so little instrumental clutter you’d expect them to.

The fuzzed vocal opening and guitar of opener ‘Like Suicide’ is pure Nickelback, soaring into double-vocal bridge and chorus before bursting out into a red-raw scream of such intensity that lifts it to a whole new level. Its pure single material, catchy as fuck, warped enough even to dip it’s toes in nu-metal theatrics. Utterly monumentally and way beyond anything the first few bars promised. ‘Fake It’ kicks like a mule but ultimately fails to inspire trying out a few new wave effects over the rock groove that don‘t quite fit.

‘Breakdown’ and ‘Fmlyhm’ are awkward ballads and are evidence of the band’s more melodic approach. The grim out-of-place chorus of “fuck me like you hate me” on the latter proves that they haven‘t quite found a suitable home for the style. In fact it’s not until ‘No Jesus Christ’ that I find myself absorbed fully, ears popping as I gawp at the furious volley of bile spewing forth from my speakers. The didgeridoo and wobble-board opening are overlapped by Morgan’s “verbal defecation” and a screaming guitar but when we hit the chorus its grungy riffs decide that stripping skin from bone whilst the vocal slaps murky angst into our maws is best - and it is! The ever-changing nature of the song delights and troubles in equal measure. It’s a restless thing, lacking structure and eventually trickles to a listless conclusion.

This track sums up the album as a whole for me. There are moments where I truly believe it to be a possible album of the year only to find a ‘Breakdown’ or a ‘Waste’ hiding round the corner to drag it all towards a radio-friendly pile of mediocrity. Listen to ‘Rise Above This’, a song Morgan wrote about his brother before he died tragically last August. If you like that, you’ll find this new more melodic direction a revelation. The rest of us can glory when Seether stick to screaming and shake our heads disappointedly when they reach for the sitar.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Review Archive: A Life Once Lost - Iron Gag

Although this album isn't a new release, having come out in September last year, it will be a fantastic reminder on what to expect on A Life Once Lost's (ALOL) forthcoming support slot on Seattle-based Himsa's 'Summon in Thunder’ European Tour, which starts at the end of this month. The Philadelphian metalcore quintet will be on the road with other support acts Too Pure To Die and Ted Maul (UK only).

“Riffs and spliffs” is how vocalist Bob Meadows described the making of ‘Iron Gag’. He is not wrong. From the first track ‘Firewater Joyride’ it is an album of ascending, groove-laden, drop-d riffs, and heavy chugging breakdowns. It’s easy to imagine how thick the smoke was during the recording sessions. It’s a vicious and more personal album from previous efforts and you can hear all the band’s different influences throughout.

ALOL have said that they had a game plan for this album. After touring for 2 years on the back of ‘Hunter’, they wanted to get straight in the studio and create some kind of monster. If you listen to ‘Detest’ you will hear the result of that put straight onto the album. Known for their ferocious live shows, you can really hear the pummelling double-bass drums beat hard alongside crunchy guitars, squealed pinch harmonics and one hell of a sick solo. Other stand-out tracks such as ‘Worship’ and ‘The Wanderer’ have crowd pleasing shout-a-long choruses and on the penultimate track, ‘Silence’, guitarists Robert Carpenter and Snake Sustaine play stop-start riffs that have a whiff of metal-titans Meshuggah.

Fans of ALOL will notice a subtle change in Bob Meadows vocals from previous albums. Of course it is well known by now that Randy Blythe (Lamb of God) was essentially Meadows’ vocal coach on this album, and compared to the vocals ALOL on ‘Hunter’, Meadow's has been coached well. The guttural snarls that permeate each song are now coming from a deeper, darker place.

Iron Gag contains few respites from the continuing barrage of angular gargantuan riffs, grumbling overdriven bass, battering rhythm section, and rasping vocals. And that is how it should be.

Review Archive: 36 Crazyfists - The Tide And Its Takers

It’s been a long journey for 36 Crazyfists to reach this point in their careers. They’ve overcome the tragic loss of their bassist, have relocated from Alaska to Oregon and changed records labels twice. Through it all they’ve always remained faithful to their bass-heavy aggressively original sound and retained a determination to be heard by as many fans as is humanly possible by touring endlessly. ‘The Tide And Its Takers’ is the metal core outfit’s fifth full-length album and sees guitarist Steve Holt moving into the producer’s chair with Andy Sneap, continuing his mixing duties, by his side.

From the off the album bristles with an urgency that dominates. ’We Gave It Hell’, the forthcoming single, sears Brock Lindow’s scorched vocals onto a steady melodic bass groove. It has a sugar-sweet chorus lick that sits happily within the menace around it. The slow melodic beginnings of ‘The Back Harlow Road’ introduces a far more melodic way of thinking that throws the concrete breakdown slams into a whole new light.

Experimentation in a genre where the line between stunning and stricken can be so fine can be dangerous, but 36 Crazyfists are certainly closer to the former with the fine-tuning they‘ve done. At times they overdo the sweet talk as with the simpering ‘Waiting On A War’ finding itself painfully weak-sounding following the beefed-up low-end guts of ‘Clear The Coast’ (featuring Adam Jackson from Twelve Tribes). They score huge points in riposte with the pummelling intensity of ‘Absent Are The Saints’, a feast of gunshot drums and frazzled guitar riffs, and ’When Distance Is The Closest Reminder’ which rumbles along at a blistering pace when it‘s not dropping off into a smooth wash or a brick wall breakdown.

Sure, with the band trying out new vocal harmonies and supplementing them with melodic twiddling it will probably have their more hardcore fans grabbing their noses and holding it at arms-length. For those not wearing rose-tinted spectacles prepare to be battered remorselessly by an album that will kick you senseless, give you a big cuddle, then wade in again.

Album Review: King Pest - On The Town

King Pest, the Manchester quartet, invoke the soft-rock music of the 80s. Recent winners of XFM Uploaded and the radio station’s monthly panel vote, they appear to have pleased some important folks in the industry.

This EP is, however, by no means perfect. ‘Reasons’, for instance, is a two-chord traipse through a backdrop of jarring guitar and wilting vocal. The recording even comes complete with a catarrh-filled cough at the beginning. It is the seedy after-gig aging rock star/groupie romp - “she smiles as I slap her bum”. The hideous American lilt in the vocal is truly cringeworthy and nowhere is this more apparent than in ‘I Know’ - a grimly weak, tuneless wringing of the notes.

This band have spent a lot of time and effort recording this material and there is always a redeeming feature to be found. Okay, their press blurb is ridiculously over -the-top - they do not sound like ‘The Pixies playing the hits of The Beatles’, nor do they play ‘glorious, tub-thumping pop songs’. However, if they do go back to the studio and build on the promise of the pomp and drive of the EP’s title-track they’ll be heading in the right direction.

Review Archive: Loyal Trooper - One Day All This Will Work Out

Self-produced and self-released, Loyal Trooper (AKA Andy Walker) seems prepared to trudge methodically on in his attempt to break into the public consciousness through the back door. With MySpace and YouTube now available he’s got as good a chance as any.

‘Division Street Blues’ is this EP’s class act, drawing comparison with the likes of Frank Turner. It’s upbeat, angst-fuelled and cutting - It follows on from the pace set by the opener ‘Nottingham Wasn‘t Built For Me‘. When things begin to get dark, as on ’Five Year Plan’ the lyrics, along with the music, can get a bit too heavy and cloying - “Will they ever get bored of being self-important pricks“, he hisses.

‘Okay At Best’ picks things back up, with a little help from his friends, and backing vocals and extra instrumentation give it plenty of layers into which to delve. The guitars have a pleasant twang to them and the pistoning drums sit strongly in the mix. To finish with the gentile, stripped-down ‘M1 To The A52’ is inspired. If Andy Walker really is a trooper, then he’s got every chance of success.

Album Review: The Boat People - Chandeliers

To give you an idea of what Aussie quartet The Boat People sound like, think of a more softly-spoken Crowded House. Their gentle indie-pop soliloquys are strong enough to have secured them a stage to share with such acts as Idlewild, The Shins and Midlake. ‘Chandeliers’ is their second album and has certainly been well-received back in the land of Oz. Now with a UK release, we get a chance to hear what all the fuss is about.

‘Awkward Orchid Orchard’ sets the pace with an upbeat rhythm and plenty of backing harmonies showcasing vocalist Rob Waters softly-spoken style. It’s somewhere between Brendan Benson and Sice (The Boo Radleys) and screams of perfect summer days - sunlight streaming in through trees and the surf lapping on the beach. Fuzzed guitar breaks into twinkling keys for ‘Light Of Love’ and familiar chord structures. In fact, everywhere you turn there’s little hints of 80s and 90s pop acts - a slowed-down Lightning Seeds riff during ‘Born In The 80s‘, Dodgy’s keyboards on ‘Tell Someone Who Cares‘, Athlete on ‘Babysnake‘.

So, great if, like the song, you were born in the 80s and are still into any of the above bands, but if you’re looking for something ground-breaking you’re not going to get it here.

Album Review: The Sword - Gods Of The Earth

Beneath towering mountains a battle rages on as a mighty barbarian army trade blows with the Roman legions for ultimate supremacy of the land. In the midst of the fighting stand one band, The Sword, bashing merry hell out of their instruments. That’s the image I have whilst listening to ’Gods Of The Earth’. Perhaps I should lay off the sauce.

Stoner grooves and menacing doom metal chords drive this album as they did on their superb debut effort. Yet the echoing slightly-detached vocal of J.D. Cronise sounds cleaner, intense and more vital. In fact the same can be said of the guitars which aren’t quite as muddy as before. This is instantly noticeable from the opening salvo, ‘The Sundering’, which sets the scene with gentle plucking ballooning out into cantering hooves of guitar riff and steady pounding snare. This pushes through to ‘How Heavy This Axe’ with its epically mystic mutterings and pistoning riffs that grab you firmly by the balls and won‘t let go.

Then there’s a moment at the beginning of the bizarrely titled ‘Fire Lances The Ancient Hyperzephyrians’ where there’s a four-bar of filthy dirty, chugged guitar riff, which in the next four-bars wipes it’s feet and comes back cleaner. That’s when you really notice the extra ping in the strings. From here on the album rocks like a bastard. From somewhere the groove finds a more settled pattern and it starts sounding like an amalgam of High On Fire and Saviours - a band who they just happen to be touring the UK with over the next couple of months. ‘Mother, Maiden & Crone’ is glorious steel on steel, fist-in-face rock music at its best. I defy you to remain motionless through it. I see your head nodding there, indie-kid. We end on ‘White Sea’, an instrumental gem, with cannoning beefed-up guitars over exacting cymbal and snare combos. It’s a fine way to finish. In my reverie I see the last body fall and the valley battlefield become silent once more. Awesome.

Album Review: Graveyard - Graveyard

Graveyard, the perfect Father’s Day gift!

With an insane pattern of dragons and horned beasts within a kind-of drugged-out comic version of Da Vinci‘s ‘The Last Supper’ it’s difficult to know what to expect from just the cover art. Upon playing what’s within though it’s immediately apparent that Graveyard have spent way too long immersed in the psychedelic rock of the Seventies. The blues-folk sensibilities of Cream do battle with the harder edge of Black Sabbath whilst a Gong injection of space rock are the source for all on offer here.

Lead singer Joakim Nilsson’s vocals take surprising shifts with an awesomely impressive range. They sashay from Chris Cornell’s yelped cries on ‘Lost In Confusion’ to Eric Clapton’s lazy vocal on ‘Blue Soul’. With lashings of hushed bass and warbling, bluesy guitars and rhythmic drums Graveyard plant us firmly back in time. Memories of my childhood burst into view; of my father’s record collection and his particular affection for that era. If you took Cream’s ‘Strange Brew’ and placed it in the middle of this album you simply would not notice.

Hell, how do you criticise something that’s been done so well but is so lacking in imagination? Tell you what, if you’re my Dad and you’re longing for another album to add to your collection, then go out and buy this. You’ll love it for many, many years until the next time all this comes around again.