Reviews Coming Soon

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

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Album Review: Unearth - Darkness In The Light

have always showcased plenty of hardcore clout; so much so that the schisms of metal that lie beneath often come in a good second place. I’ve always thought this to be something of a shame when you consider the freewheeling talent that they have at their disposal in the form of inseparable brothers-in-arms Buz McGrath and Ken Susi (so inseparable are they, that I tend to think of them as one entity – “Boozi”). These string-shredding demons know how to attain, maintain and entertain and this is the secret behind the band being so much better live than their albums may initially suggest. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen “Boozi” perform their trademark dual backflips, axe tosses, vertical spit and catches and multiple strap spins. So when you hear their work so often buried in the mix, as it is here, then it’s something to get angry about.

Listening to the colossal hammer blows that stand-in drummer Justin Foley () manages to squeeze out, and hearing the combination of that with Trevor Phipps new-improved, throat-ripping vocals, you can fully understand why go-to producer Adam Dutkiewicz put the brutal, rhythmic onslaught first on his list of priorities. Yes, I did say “new-improved.” It turns out Phipps’ straight-up honesty knows no bounds – describing his efforts for 2008′s The March, he admits “…that’s probably my worst vocal performance… so this time I was like, fuck man, I really need to knuckle down.” The result is a relentless onslaught of absolute aggression, yet he still seems resistant to expand into lows and highs; stuck in that one-dimensional skin-stripping howl of his. That’s where Ken Susi’s lungs come in to play and here he offers more of the startlingly enigmatic cleans that he last showcased for 2006′s The Oncoming Storm.

One thing is for certain, this is without doubt the most instantly accessible album to date. The majority of song-titles form the core of the chorus, so singing along just won’t be an option this time around. The hooks are out of this world and the breakdowns are just fucking enormous – “Watch It Burn”, “Coming Of The Dark” and “The Fallen” are destined to create legendary pits. We haven’t heard gut-drops like this since “Endless” and “This Lying World” lit up The Oncoming Storm like a pair of open grenades bursting forth from a box of nails. “Arise The War Cry” is almost at Max Cavalera standards of neanderthal ferocity, whilst “Watch It Burn” builds up such a monstrous head of steam that when the cyclical lyric “Burn your eyes on the setting sun” kicks in you can only think of as being anything like this vitriolic.

The guitars, despite being left behind at times, still pile out these shafts of euphoric light. Onto the power metal speed solos, jagged shreds and skidding chord sequences, we can now pin swaggering swamp riffery, which comes in the form of southern-spiked groover “Eyes Of Black”. They stand out mainly where the tracks ache for them most of all – tracks such as “Overcome” and the intrusively personal “Last Wish” inspired by Phipps’ experiences of close friends ending up on life support – “This life soon will come to an end / I’ll leave with my convictions”.

It’s important that we hear Susi’s emotive cadence again. His uplifting input is particularly effective on tracks “Watch It Burn” and “Overcome”, though it would have been great to hear him on more. But, alas, want you pinned down where they can get at you. You want proof? Just tune in to the no-holds-barred lyrics on final track “Disillusion” – “Lies! You fucking failed me”. In fact, “Equinox” is their only surrender to a change of pace and even that refuses to lie down, as the tinkling piano suggests it might, the build instead giving Phipps the opportunity to turn it into a crushing monster – “There’s no way out, there’s no way out”, he yells showing the band’s clear intentions. He recently pointed out “There’s a bunch of bands out there that are all trying to get in the spotlight, so it’s a case of fight or die, and our fists are flying, man.” Using brute force will only get them so far, so they may have to start seeking a more cerebral method of attack in the near future. However, if it’s brawn you’re looking for, you’ve most certainly come to the right place.

Also online @ The New Review = http://thenewreview.net/reviews/unearth-darkness-in-the-light

The full album stream is available here for a limited time.

EP Review: Ruins Of Earth - Misguided Lifeforms

Bravely attempting to combine moody melodeath with a dash of thrash and a hoard of hardcore, Ruins Of Earth bring us a whole world of pain. Hot on the heels of their first EP, 'Ashes Of The Ocean', this second collection offers plenty more ideas and asks a lot of intriguing questions.

They've recorded this bad boy themselves so it's no surprise to find that the production sounds a little odd. It's as if your next-door neighbour is trying to burst through your bedroom wall. He's trashing his kit whilst his gorilla has smashed a head-shaped hole, through which he delivers these filthy grunts. Cleanest of all is the scarred larynx of the second vocalist who hovers over you, yelling these brain-scrambling wails right in your earhole. Yes, odd, but interestingly powerful.

'Funeral' emerges from an electro-industrial squall to thrust forth a punchy, bass-packed groove. It screams and thunders its way through a thrashy, dipping spot of jagged deathcore and even throws in a shambolic gang-chant to try and hook you. The dark themes continue through the instrumental 'The Wait' which locks onto a swaying, two-chord hook and doesn't shift. It's missing something and I'd have loved them to expand on the thought rather than just cutting it off in its prime with the sound of rain on a tin roof.

'Becoming Inhuman' has a nifty, crawling riff underpinning it and plenty of Carnifex-cum-Sylosis battery layered over the top. It's by far the most effective track, grabbing on hard and pulling you backwards through falling masonry. There's even a spot of symphonic metal backing and a dark piano outro - the kind of elements that have recently surfaced with bands like Hope For The Dying and The Human Abstract. Now, comparisons like that show just how far Ruins Of Earth have to go to make the grade.

If only that mix, was cleaner and crisper, the switch between brutality and melody would be ten times more effective and they'd have a real slice of shock and awe to wave in the faces of their peers. It's being offered as a free download here so there's no excuse not to be checking it out - just don't pin all your hopes on finding those answers.

Also online @ MTUK = http://www.metalteamuk.net/june11reviews/cdreviews-ruinsof.htm

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Album Review: Khariot - Disymposium

Over their short lifespan, Khariot have set themselves the seemingly impossible task of welding deathly grind to prog metal. That’s one genre characterised by fleetingly abrasive bursts of anger, the other an assortment of rambling tracks that morph before your eyes over an aching passage of time. The result is, naturally, an infinitely complex warzone that has to be heard to really be believed.

The result is like this manic welding job between bands; one offering the unstoppable force, the other the immovable object. There is an impressively-crafted proficiency married to this chameleonic imagination - it makes them sound like Psycroptic covering Protest The Hero songs. They also offer this blackened death undercurrent that you could liken to 1349 giving their take on a Cephalic Carnage set. Pretty nuts, huh? All this mind-blowing mayhem and yet the music has a clearly defined path. Whether it runs along it as smoothly as it could do is debatable.

'The Hermit' offers you rambling scales, damaging chugs and rolling double-kick. You also get interwoven pig grunts and scowling top-end which team up for the scathing lines "Damn you, cursed sun! I am the tainted one! First of the last-born son", all around a section of proggish guitar that picks its way through the carnage of all that has gone before. There's a slog of unexpected piano and bow-effect synth that beckons you through from 'Dimension Shift' to the fascinating instrumental layering of 'Cacophony Of The Insane'. There is definitely some method in this madness.

Yet, there are times when the tracks become like overworked dough - like the structures have been fiddled with until their constituent parts have started to flake away to leave this incohesive mess. 'Cerebral Continuum' suffers badly from an ambitious sequence of drums and overtly jazzy stringwork. Likewise, 'Spectral Monarchy' which drives its weighty tank over most of its content. 'Crimson Sanctorium' isn't far behind but, at least, offers a section of recognisable rhythm within to settle the stomach. When they do segment the music, you are able to grab onto the coat-tails of the more insane material. I'm talking about the kind of slow-build that '...Of Frail Entanglements' offers, with its solid lump of progressive power lurking menacingly within. When you are steered through like this, to their audaciously manic attack, the music absolutely demands your attention.

Sadly, more than anything though it is the lack of fun that comes from this conglomerate of styles. It's the kind of album that comes with a frown and the bonus option of a splitting migraine; it's a work of artistic integrity that must be appreciated within its own space. Heads will nod appreciatively, oh yes, but will they be attached to thrashing bodies? I certainly have my doubts. 'Disymposium' isn’t a thing of beauty, by no means, but it is something to pin up and marvel at every now and again.

Also online @ MTUK = http://www.metalteamuk.net/june11reviews/cdreviews-khariot.htm

Monday, June 27, 2011

EP Review: I, Inside - Mental Exhibition

Sucking lazily upon the fumes of Metallica, this Belgian quartet plunder their heroes thrash and groove, disappointingly turning it into bit of a chore. Behind a wall of volume, there seems to be very little variation to the tracks, one wandering aimlessly into another. There is a distinct lack of bite and there aren't exactly any hooks to cling onto to. A lot of it is just two-chord faffing around. All sounds pretty damning but there is an occasional flash of inspiration. The artwork is pretty neat, for one. Also, the bass blast that steps in around the 1:45 mark of 'Verdrängtes Trauma' is pretty worthy, and the vocal occasionally finds an impressive guttural edge for 'Moral Midgetry' - yes, I'm really grasping at straws here. The trouble is you simply have to concentrate too hard on blocking out the biggest weakness that this EP exudes - the production.

All hail their attempts for, presumably, digging this out without assistance, but it just hasn't paid off. The dull, lifeless thud of the solitary cowbell lurking inside 'Liquid Recollection' pretty much sums up the kind of contrast between hissing top-end and thick, sludgy bottom-end - I see big black boots and a bobble-head but where's the body? The drums are particularly paper-thin, sounding ridiculously clipped next to the incessant grunt that the guitar chugs offer. Throw on a vocal that sits about thirty feet back from everything else and you've just got this grotty mess that is never going to showcase the band's nascent talent for digging out a groove.

This opaque mess continues right through until 'Turbid Shape' opens out and starts revealing slow, delicately plucked open chords. The undulating nature of it is a bit of a revelation, as it proves the band are prepared to blossom out into more than just one-dimensional grunt. Vocalist Kris' last verse is delivered with real menace behind a flux of dark, minor chords - "He has no face / he has no shadow".

I guess, sometimes what's on the cover just doesn't match the innards. No matter how much I try and constructively criticise this beast, it's always going to end up sounding pretty ugly. I honestly believe 'Mental Exhibition' isn't a great example of what this band are actually capable of. They need to put this behind them and come at us again with a more solid, fine-tuned attack.

Also online @ MTUK = http://www.metalteamuk.net/june11reviews/cdreviews-iinside.htm

Monday, June 20, 2011

Album Review: Steak Number Eight - All Is Chaos

Steak Number Eight may be a Belgian post-rock band who sound like they're something you'd order off a meat-lover's menu but, having an average age of 18, they're also a band that would struggle to order a beer in a bar. It's probably this fact that will make you sit up and take notice rather than any other. Although these are all pretty impressive facts, your eyebrows won't raise any higher when you learn that they've supported Deftones, Torche and Pelican, nor the fact they've played Graspop, won their country's most famous rock competition, or that the legendary Matt Bayles (Isis, Neurosis, Mastodon) has mixed this sophomore album of theirs. Yes, there is a serious amount of teenage angst being laid down here. Trust me, you'll know it when they're aiming it at you.

From an introductory squall of feedback they proceed to adeptly lay down some of the heaviest, pounding rhythms I think I've ever heard. The drums and crunched guitars are like solid concrete - the gormlessly-monikered 'Dickhead' is the sonic equivalent of experiencing a bombardment of hailstones the size of baseballs. You'll find yourself ducking as each sludgy beat batters into the side of your head. There's a punkish, unhinged edge to 'Pyromaniac' where vocalist/guitarist Brent Vanneste digs out an electronically-twisted, frazzled squawk that sits somewhere between Kurt Cobain and Scott Kelly. And yet this isn't where Steak Number Eight like to idle too often.

From here, you'll recognise the shift into cleans and complex structures that mark out their more well-known progressive side. Vanneste conjures up this fantastical, distant vocal that just echoes on and on sounding like something out of the 90's Madchester scene - think Oceansize's Mike Vennart and you'll be in the ballpark. The music behind wanders somewhere between the dreamily psychedelic bent of that particular band but tacked onto the dirtier, pistoning rock slant of Pelican. The tone is very much darker than either of these though - it's almost menacing. The 9-minute 'Track Into The Sky', for instance, gets all Isis on us for a moment as the vocal roars bloody murder and the cleans chunk up before dropping out to reveal a brewing storm beneath a clunky, cyclical riff that will plink away until it annoys the hell out of you - especially when the following 'Trapped' just apes the same pattern. Opposing that 'The Calling' is almost pop-rock in its simplistic construction and transparent time signature, and the insanely lengthy 'Drowning In Your Blood' is just absolute batshit mental - things get awful messy as it tries to head in four directions at once.

All this negativity and then it all slots into place for the stunning instrumental 'Man vs. Man' and the blindingly barren 'Stargazing', which both score deep marks in the sand and dare you to walk over them. The riffs are oblique enough to dig their claws in and the guitars grind away, then simply flip over and chime. It's all very perplexing. The meshing together of tracks just falls apart under scrutiny. Their colossal opening salvo gives us a vicious scowl and yet peels away to reveal this confusingly beatific, oddly fake countenance. Having said that though, this is very much a young band with already a vast abundance of skill and a firm grasp on each concept they're attempting to pull off. They're not a million miles away from nailing it, but at the moment 'All Is Chaos' is, unsurprisingly, just too chaotic for it's own good.

Also online @ MTUK = http://www.metalteamuk.net/june11reviews/cdreviews-steak.htm

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Album Review: Devin Townsend Project - Ghost

is probably one of the most imaginative songwriters of our time. He’s also one of the most ludicrous. His ambition seems to know no bounds, although occasionally you do wish his brain would actually kick in and start vetoing things – judging from projects like the crushingly dark ambient drone of 2004′s Devlab (with its stolen front-cover and its 15 untitled tracks) or 2007′s extra-terrestrial rock opera Ziltoid The Omniscient (complete with that Mars Attacks-like comic-book character) he’s finding it harder than most.

So, when Ghost honed into view promising “ambient new wave” it’s fair to say that there would be some amongst us who would question its place on a heavy music site such as this. These folks would no doubt give it short shrift but I, despite my initial skepticism, like to think I am just a tad more open-minded.

Having now heard this, the sister album and polar opposite of the raging force that is Deconstruction, I needn’t have worried. This is still , drug-free, drink-free, utterly sound of mind and body. He is, in his own words, in “complete control” and this is startling proof that he’s starting to master the art of sober songwriting. This crazy fool has rapidly established himself as a rarity; a jack of all trades; a musical Swiss army knife.

One thing you must consider; before hitting play on Ghost, you have to completely detach yourself from anything and everything you thought you knew about . If you don’t do that, you’ll find yourself endlessly searching for the bass drum to kickstart this baby into action, some kind of drug-addled lunacy hidden within its folds, or contorted, screaming feedback bleeding its way into the background. No, this is Devin, freed from making complicated statements, kicking back, totally relaxed, jamming the kind of music that he listens to the most – “folk, new age-y stuff”. Ki hinted at the possibilities, but Ghost still has more dreamy ambience than you could ever begin to imagine could come from either the monster behind , or the avant-garde experimentalist that he has become.

Right from the off and his haunting lullaby, “Fly”, it really feels like we are hearing the real , perhaps completely, for the very first time. Close your eyes and you’re floating over mountaintops, guided on what feels like a very personal, intimate journey. Without blinking you’ll be through the gentle pulsing of the -esque “Heart Baby” and into the proggish ambience of “Feather”. Devin’s vocal, acoustic guitar and bass may be the sturdy canvas of the music, but it’s the accompaniment that surrounds it that completes the picture – not so much a collection of musical instruments as they are a palette of pastel colors daubed in bold streaks. Kat Epple’s striking flute, Dave Young’s tidal keyboard and twangy mandolin, and Mike St. John’s understated, shuffling drums. You could actually make a case for the star of this album being Epple’s flute. I defy you to listen to her fluctuating, exploding flourishes that mark out “Monsoon” or her breathy, accented dawn chorus at the centre of “Heart Baby” and not be blown away by her skill.

You’ll also pick up a few of Devin’s field recordings – the river running through, the croaking frogs, the crying gulls and the crashing waves – and the occasional, elegant accompanying female vocal (provided by Katrina). These are the things that, during the initial spin, will have you thinking “Isn’t this the music they were just playing at the massage parlour?” Or maybe, you were fooled into wondering if Devin had spent too long listening to the undeniably eerie sound of whales mating and released a tape for all you desperate insomniacs out there. However, repeated intensive listens should uncover just how dense this album is. You’ll begin to hear, not the three minutes of crisply plucked strings that form “Kawaii” but the wobbling wall-of-sound behind them, not the vocal or mandolin on the frazzled country of “Blackberry” but the sliding brushes on the snare – the multi-hued textures are mesmeric. There is material here that is reminiscent of , late-, , , , ’s Local Hero and, getting a little closer to a more appropriate reference point, the and In Your Honor‘s experimental, acoustic flourishes.

Devin does allow his metal chops to briefly gnash for “Texada”; a driven beast that gathers momentum until he seems to realise, hits the brakes and leaves it spinning out across the desert, oscillating gently until it finally comes to rest at the feet of a man whispering a prayer. With the sublime, surf-riding of “Seams” and the tribal chanting of “Infinite Ocean” (every time I put a conch shell to my ear now, this is what I expect to hear) seeing this album out, we are granted dead air to allow us to surface.

It’s by no means a perfect collection of songs; there are those clunky moments that shake you from the reverie you’ve been lulled into. The title-track, for instance, is heinously repetitious and so cloyingly predictable that it brings to mind white swinging flares and Europop mullets. There are moments when both “Blackberry” and “Texada” get carried away with themselves and I just can’t work out why “Dark Matters” has been given its own space when it doesn’t have an identity – it merely acts as a two-minute link track. But then Devin being Devin, he goes and throws something awe-inspiring at you; a sensory explosion like “As You Were” that sends shivers up your spine and dissolves your knees.

I must admit I struggle to even begin to get my head around the concept of the tetralogy, of which Ghost is the concluding part, but it all suggests some kind of schizophrenic, workaholic mind in overdrive. All I can say for definite, despite the order in which they were recorded, is that without the purging of evil that Devin went through to create Deconstruction, he would never have been able to create the angelic beauty that inhabits Ghost. Such is the power of music and I’d swear if you cut this man, music would flood out. The less polluted that lifeblood gets, the more transparent his skin becomes. A couple of times here, I swear I could even see the man’s soul.

Also online @ The New Review = http://thenewreview.net/reviews/devin-townsend-project-ghost

Monday, June 13, 2011

Album Review: Devin Townsend Project - Deconstruction

With Deconstruction and Ghost being released simultaneously, ’s self-defining tetralogy of albums is now complete. He’s been pushing boundaries so far and Deconstruction is no exception. We’ve had the dynamic soft touches of Ki and the heavy, yet commercial pomp of Addicted, but here he’s back to show off just how easily he can rip our faces off.

Having said that, whatever you do, don’t try too hard to analyse the concept behind the album. Yes, the skullet may be gone, the mind may be clear but the lunatic on his shoulder is still present and he’s still calling the shots. The lyrics, on the surface, are completely bonkers. I’ve attempted to decipher it for you and it’s basically about the fact that we’ve been taking ourselves too seriously to the point where you can look at a subject (in this case, a cheeseburger) so deeply that you’ll lose track of what it is and why you’re doing it – “like trying to document infinity.” So, naturally, this review will dispense with the bullshit and give it to you straight up. Deconstruction will, most likely, be your album of the year. Go and buy it.

What… you want more? Okay, okay. Well, I’m not sure I have enough words in my vocabulary to actually describe just how vast this is, but here goes. Devin has hauled in yet more special guests (eleven, count ‘em) for this one but, unlike on so much of Addicted, their presence (vocal, or otherwise) is required to mark the tone of each track and their integration is a thing of beauty. Take Mikael Åkerfeldt’s () turn on the stunningly effective “Stand” – following Devin’s soft completion of the dark build, he pops up to breath black death over the chorus. Also check out Tommy Rogers’ () cohesive touches with Devin on the math-to-prog monster “Planet Of The Apes”. Incidentally, the drums on this track are nothing short of legendary – it’s no wonder the man needed two skin-beaters (Ryan van Poederooyen and ’s Dirk Verbeuren). I smell burning drumsticks.

There are inspired orchestral movements that explode into great chants that begin in the loins and end as goose-pimples on your arms. There are fiery blasts birthed out of the belly of the beast and then sudden side-swipes of these catchy, insanely poppy, sections featuring the most virginal of vocals. The music constantly keeps you alert and on your toes – it honestly feels like the denizens of heaven and hell are playing catch and you’re the ball.

Dig in far enough and you’ll reach the disgustingly-titled “The Mighty Masturbator”. It’s over sixteen minutes long but every second is worth it. It’s absolutely riddled with twists and turns that take you on a voyage through symphonic, folk, prog, electro, power, black, tech and death metal. There are choirs oohing and aahing, acoustic guitar spots, a large dose of string battery, scat singing and a countdown that explodes into Pi. Devin shifts from a gentile storybook vocal style so reminiscent of (who, incidentally, features on the pumping fists of “Juular”) to clambering all over Bruce Dickinson’s operatic vibrato, before finally getting out the oratory ringmaster within to shout out his edicts. There’s even a spot for the scathing vocal of ’s Greg Puciato. It’s utterly immense.

There is almost too much to take in as it furtively tips its hat to about a gazillion bands – you name them, this album features an echo of them in either a brief moment or a lingering passage, all effortlessly knitted in amongst the complex folds of this rich, rock opera backdrop. It’s one of the busiest, longest (at 70+ minutes) and, consequently, most challenging albums I’ve ever heard. All the same, no album has ever compelled me to press that repeat button like this one has.

Naturally, the production is absolutely through the roof. The textures are layered on generously with each one allowed enough space for the next, yet everything remains honest, crisp where it needs to be and distorted where it doesn’t. There is so much going on it boggles the mind and every single note is completely there, flying around like a bee in the background or driving into your body like its sting – “Sumeria”, for one, should come with a damn health warning: attempting to listen to every note may cause permanent damage. You can hear everything at once and it all feels 100% relevant (yes, even the shitty farts, burps and “cheeseburger” chants on the title-track – he’s making a very valid point very well, with his tongue firmly placed in his cheek of course – why else would he have asked ’s Oderus Urungus to get involved). I’m completely sold. So settle down, clamp on some high-quality cans and brace yourself for ’s finest hour – Deconstruction is an absolute fucking masterpiece.

Also online @ The New Review = http://thenewreview.net/reviews/devin-townsend-project-deconstruction

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Album Review: Barn Burner - Bangers II

Montreal’s released their absolute killer debut album, Bangers, two years ago. It marked them out as a band who somehow managed to effortlessly thread the electric wire of rock n’ roll through the hefty needle of stoner metal far more effectively than most – whilst swilling, smoking and smiling, they just kept on chucking riff after riff of this groovy muck and thunder at our ears. Now, they’ve finished touring the backside off it, they’ve found the time to write a follow-up and here we stand expecting more of the glorious same. The steadfastly unimaginative titling of this sophomore effort (and this from a band who gives their songs genius titles like “Beer Today, Bong Tomorrow”, “Brohemoth” and “Skid Marks The Spot”) certainly suggests this to be the case. Well, hold onto your hats, because they’ve gone and got nasty-assed on us.

For starters, the production is much meatier – they’ve ironed out the cymbal-hiss, butched up the bass, and cranked up the guitars to achieve a far stronger, more solid hit. The wickedly named “The Dark Side Of The Barn” is instant proof of their development as it takes the pace down, issuing a volley of thudding bottom-end, to steer us blithely into a corner where it then flips and beats us into submission. Vocalist Kevin Keegan is a force here, finding a moment to distort his delivery in an attempt to recreate the gargled death throes of metal’s infamous roarers. “Gate Creeper” continues the dark theme as it suddenly disassembles itself, presenting us with a final movement that rips out the rhythm, chants “hellfire” and plops a gently, warbling organ underneath it all – “call on your hordes”, indeed.

It doesn’t take a genius to see they’ve been experimenting with twisting their music into evil shapes, taking them ever further away from their debut’s more happy-go-lucky, rock n’ roll roots and burying themselves deeper into chucking out heavy-lidded power chords that make your head pulsate. There’s still rockers, like “Keg Stand And Deliver” and “Skid Marks The Spot”, but even these bristle with a viperous attitude. In my head, I see four big, sour faces and a wall of tattoed muscles so big you fear they might burst. Comparisons to and suddenly seem vaguely inappropriate. By the time they hit “The Earth’s Crust” you’ll be dragging forth names like Bison B.C., , and . There are even moments when the lunacy of , and are needed to describe their hectic force.

Unfortunately, I spy a problem. They’ve done the musical equivalent of venturing into a crowded, rowdy bar – furniture and fists are flying as brethren clash. These days, you’d need an abacus to count the number of bands peddling this kind of Sabbath-saluting, cotton-wool quality, Orange-amped, wall of sound, riff-loaded music. At least when they had the emphasis on headbanging, they had something different to stun us with. That is, of course, not to say they aren’t mastering the genre. No, not at all. In fact, Bangers II is one of the finer examples.

Sure, there’s “Scum Of The Earth”, with its crooked, curling riff and frenzied pace – the sound of them breathlessly grabbing on to ’s shoelaces and mischievously tying them to the flying coat-tails of – but there’s also “Quest For The Cube” and “Brother Fear” which are sheer fire and brimstone tracks. The drums pop and sizzle, the guitars speed chug until you can picture the smoke rising from the strings, Keegan sucking up the fumes and breathing out a sneering, seething Scott Hill () vocal. There’s huge, towering riffs that place you on the same battlefield as ’s Gods Of The Earth album. Their time spent touring together has clearly had a profound influence on . Hell, this is a seriously solid piece of stoner art. But there’s a small part of me that still craves more of those lighter, crunchily addictive licks, those beer-swilling blues and that party-hard frivolity that so marked out their debut.

To appease, even the doubters, we get a sly little ray of sunshine to end the show. Hail the acoustic opening and twangy, raw punk blues of “Ghost Jam” which finishes proceedings off nicely with Keegan’s vocal breaking through to lay down an unencumbered clarity, once thought lost. Here’s a band who like to leave their audience with a fat, shit-eating grin, no matter what. If you missed them first time round, have provided just enough to make sure you won’t be making the same mistake twice.

Also online @ The New Review (with samples) = http://thenewreview.net/reviews/barn-burner-bangers-ii-scum-of-the-earth

Also read: my review of their debut album, Bangers, @ TLOBF = http://www.thelineofbestfit.com/2010/03/barn-burner-bangers/

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Album Review: Twin Atlantic - Free

When you discover a quality band at the early stages of their musical career (and I mean a real band, not one that’s been moulded and shaped by either a label or a fanbase’s desires, nor a band that’s been beaten down by the rigors of the road, but a band with energy, hopes and a love of life, a band that makes the hairs stand on the back of your neck) it really is like you’re the metal detector and you’ve just unearthed this golden nugget. You feel like the very first person to witness the shimmering chunk since its emergence from the bowels of the earth. You feel a bond, an attachment, like a sports fan does to their team. This is just one of the reasons I do what I do, and it explains my relationship with .

After sampling the promise shown by their A Guidance From Colour EP, their so-called “mini-album”, Vivarium, hit me like a shockwave; 8 songs, 33 minutes of heart-racing genius. It was almost long-enough and was most definitely meaty enough to qualify for a full-length so I, naturally, always considered it to be their debut. That was until a short while ago when the band announced that they weren’t really happy with it, worrying that in making it they had strayed from the ethos of why they got into music, and that this new album, Free, would be their debut. “This band was meant to be based on integrity,” said vocalist/guitarist Sam McTrusty cryptically. “We wanted there to be a brutal honesty in the lyrics. I think we’ve done that.” Intriguing, no? Well, they’ve got 13 songs and 46 minutes to prove their point.

First things first, if you’re one of our readers who hated the regional accent of Mike Duce (), then you’re going to absolutely despise the Glaswegian brogue of McTrusty. To me, the guttural intonation and complex drawl doubles the effectiveness of the words, to others it may sound like Simon Neil () is being fed through a mincer. The bad news is that producer Gil Norton (, , ) appears not to agree with me and has moved his vocal back in the mix and smothered it with layer after layer of harmonies and guitar squall. The result? Their opening big-hitters don’t grab you; they slide across your lugholes in one big long smear. “Time For You To Stand Up”, in particular, is just a song that wanders in, picks its nose and walks out. Sure, it threatens to ignite, yet never quite does. Every time McTrusty goes to scream out the chorus the music is beating him into the background. Likewise, the braids and buckles of tracks like “Apocalyptic Renegade”, “Dreamember” and “Eight Days”, all catchy in their own ways, sound dulled – they’re being throttled, smothered, suffocated from being overworked.

“Yes, I Was Drunk” and “Wonder Sleeps Here” manage to wriggle through Norton’s clutches, escaping with just minor scratches, but then you get to these destructively crass statements like the paint-by-numbers grunge of “Ghost Of Eddie” and the forced post-rock noodling of “Serious Underground Dance Vibes” – these are the songs that will make fans want to tear their hair out. You’ll get to the point where “Edit Me” will suddenly sound more like an invite; an Alice In Wonderland moment where you’ll imagine drinking the bottle and editing the whole damn shebang yourself. And titling their final track “We Want Better, Man”? – they’ve been reading my mind.

If you do listen to one song, listen to “Crash Land”. Actually, considering it’s bookmarked by a rare quality combo of songwriting and delivery, also listen to the enigmatic title-track (“Where’s your passion? Where’s your fire tonight?”) and the heart-breaking “Make A Beast Of Myself” (“You know, you know it’s the end of our sweet universe”). In fact, when they hit you with a trio like this it’s hard not to stand back and applaud. Really though it’s “Crash Land” that is the key to accessing this album – a paired down, acoustic slow dance that proves just how much quality the band have truly got in their locker. The frugal nature of it allows the strength of the vocal to soar, supplemented beautifully by Barry McKenna’s impeccably-reserved cello.

Let me cut to the chase. On one hand, you’ve got Vivarium and in the other you’ve got Free. The former has ingenuity, impetuosity, hooks, jagged edges, a damaged quality. In other words, a raw punk demeanour that has allowed it to strut its way into our minds and hearts. The latter feels like a misnomer. It feels constricted by design, regressively smooth and suave. Rather than spit in your face, this punk kisses you and runs. The pinged strings and ear-scraping feedback that so perfectly marked out the pitch changes and shifts in emotion are gone, replaced with a steady, monotonous muffled hammering. The incredibly cute songwriting and McTrusty’s passionate delivery are still all present but all around him the music has been diluted to supposedly make it more accessible, poppy, radio-friendly, mainstream, bland.

I witnessed the sad demise of and, then, , as both bands slowly, steadily sold out on us. I stared in anguish as they set about wringing all the life and passion out of their music. … no, let me rephrase that… my weren’t supposed to go down this road, especially since Vivarium recalled the edgy, tenacious quality that so marked out Biffy’s early work. This is why listening to this “alternative” debut is so galling on a personal level. Free is just about solid enough to throw these Weedgies into the limelight as planned, but it could and should have been so much more. It seems no amount of polish can get the shine back on this particular golden nugget.

Also online @ The New Review (with samples) = http://thenewreview.net/reviews/twin-atlantic-free

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Album Review: Alestorm - Back Through Time

Being in a pirate-themed band means there is a finite number of songs about sailing and drinking that you can hope to conjure. Listen to 'Scraping The Barrel' from this, Alestorm's third album, and you'll see what I mean as the band ridicule their own situation with a hearty chorus of "There are no more tales to be told / no more stories from battles of old / Now it seems our journey has come to an end / We are scraping the barrel, my friend". However, Alestorm have always been on the goofy side of even the goofiest metal, so don't expect this to be them sounding their ship's "eight bells" obituary just yet.

No, it seems they have identified a new foe. "Cap'n, there be Vikings off the starboard bow" is the incredible opening cry of the title-track as the Scots, through a rather handy "mystic portal", commence battle with the kind of blazing thrash that is so redolent of Swashbuckle's debut effort. Is this the sound of them actually declaring war on Viking metal itself? Now that is a tasty prospect. Although a brief glance at the stature of the opposition initially suggests it might be a bit of a rout, I suspect these wiry old sea-dogs have more underhand methods in mind. It's all very interesting when you consider that the choral gang-chant of "One more drink" from 'The Sunk'n Norwegian' is the absolute spit of Turisas' 'One More'. Methinks, they've been eyeing up the opposition a little too closely.

Talking of drink there are plenty of drinking-themed tracks on offer. Could it be that the fist-punching 'Rum' is their answer to Korpiklaani's monstrous "Vodka"? They've certainly upped the ante when it comes to loading the backline with different instruments. There's their standard penny-whistle and accordion in there, but they've also layered the whole shebang with symphonic strings and horns. Consequently, 'Shipwrecked' swings from side to side with a catchy chorus and an impressive display of gusto whilst the long passionate lament of the aforementioned 'Scraping The Barrel' shows humour and courage (and that tacked-on noodly solo is enough to illicit a small tear).

After the acrimonious departure of Ian Wilson, who left citing he'd "had enough of the bullshit", replacement drummer, Peter Alcorn, comes through with flying colours. His lightspeeding drum-rolls, double-kick rallies and cannoning crashes forcefully lift the tracks up a notch from previous efforts. Perhaps it's his swaggering presence that has led them to try and give pop-punk an eye-patch and a peg-leg for 'Barret's Privateers' and load their closing highlight 'Death Throes Of The Terrorsquid' with death-edged black metal.

At the end of the day, 'Back Through Time' is still a bit one-dimensional, which is not a new experience when it comes to experiencing Alestorm, both recorded and live, (there's only so much "yarr", "yo-ho" and "matey" a person can take) but the determined tone of the album and the fact that they've begun to expand their sound to take on other genres makes this easily the finest work that Alestorm have yet produced. Exciting times for a band that have discovered new methods for interpreting time-worn songs. Or, in their own words, "So when the time comes to write album four / We'll scrape out the barrel once more!"

Also online @ MTUK = http://www.metalteamuk.net/june11reviews/cdreviews-alestorm.htm