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Tokyo’s Boris are an interesting artist in a creative sense as they’ve never felt confined to any one sound or scene &, as a result, people really struggle to pigeon-hole them under an easily understood subgenre tag. I’m not sure whether that’s been an advantage or a hindrance for them over the years in all honesty as they seem to have developed a huge cult following & always seem to draw positive acclaim from critics but have probably never managed to truly break into the sort of fanatical support that they so clearly deserve. Us metalheads seem to want to make sure they stay tightly wrapped within the banner of the underground metal scene however they’ve never really sat all that comfortably there & Boris' seminal 2002 fourth full-length album “Heavy Rocks” is a prime example of that.
The first three Boris albums were heavily directed towards a drone inspired sound & saw the band really building a niche for themselves through highly regarded records like 1998’s “Amplifier Worship” & 2000’s “Flood” but with “Heavy Rocks” we see Boris moving into new territory with a fresh sound that’s much more focused on traditional rock music than their previous records were. In doing so though, Boris lost none of their street appeal as they very quickly proved themselves to have a deep understanding of what it is that makes heavy rock music so exciting. There’s a danger in these sounds that we find so rarely in modern rock music & it takes me back to a time when rock represented an exciting escape for me as a youngster with the experience of the live performance taking on an almost transcendent stature in an artist’s creative image. You see, as with most of Boris’ lengthy back catalogue, “Heavy Rocks” really does sound like a recording of a live band with very few of the rough edges having been buffed out. You can feel the amplifier’s buzzing & almost see the kids leaping from the stage & thrashing themselves about in glee & that’s what makes a band like Boris so appealing.
Musically speaking, I have to admit that “Heavy Rocks” doesn’t sit as close to my musical comfort zone as Boris’ drone metal works though. Most people seem to want to lump it in with Stoner Metal which isn’t entirely accurate. There’s far too much of a late 60's blues rock influence in this material for it to sit primarily in the metal space. In fact, I really struggle to see why "Heavy Rocks is not unanimously tagged as Stoner Rock because it fits the description of that genre to a tee in my opinion. The loose vocal delivery is miles away from anything a metal front man might attempt while the overall feel of the instrumentation generally possesses a much noisier & bluesier outlook too. The psychedelic guitar excursions are brilliantly executed & are a real highlight for me personally, particularly album high point “Soft Edge” which is nothing short of spectacular (&, as is so often the case with me, is also the least popular track on the album). Boris simply seem to “get it” if you know what I mean & the fact that front man Takeshi doesn’t even try to stay in tune is completely overlooked in the interest of the elusive quest for heavy rock supremacy. There’s a deep-seated authenticity to this material that makes it inherently relatable but gives it some added x-factor as well. To put it bluntly, it's simply a way cooler record than the vast majority of the competition could ever hope to muster up.
In saying that, I do think that “Heavy Rocks” is a fairly top-heavy release. Despite not possessing anything that comes close to being a weak track, I have to admit that all of the best material sits on the A side with the flip side seeming to be a little bit lacking in comparison. Perhaps it’s simply a matter of taste as I would suggest that I was always going to be more drawn to the crushingly heavy stoner metal of opener “Heavy Friends”, the stripped-back psychedelia of “Soft Edge” & the more aggressive & dangerous rock outings like “Korosu” & “Dyna-Soar”. Boris would perhaps execute this stoner rock sound with slightly more consistency on 2003’s “Akuma no uta” album too but one can’t be too critical of a rock record with this level of potency. It’s all too rare that you encounter music that encapsulates what it means to be “rock” in such a clear & concise fashion these days so “Heavy Rocks” should be celebrated for what it represents as much as what it’s achieved.
For fans of Melvins, King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard & Church of Misery.
When discussing the making of this album, the members of Dream Theater have said that their goal, inspired by all the "classic" metal albums by bands such as Metallica and Iron Maiden, was to make a record full of "live songs" that will work well in a concert setting. An album full of metal classics, that'll get energy flowing, fists pumping and heads banging.
As is always the case when bands stray away from their original sound, there are some who dislike this record for being more centered on metal, as opposed to the progressive elements that Dream Theater made famous in the early 90's. Being a metal fan as much as a prog fan, I love this record, and whilst anyone can see that they stepped away from a lot of their progressive roots on this one, the band more than compensate for it with these pumping metal anthems.
Of course, at the time this album came out (November 2003) I was still fairly new to Dream Theater, and definitely more of a metalhead than anything else. So why wouldn't I love tracks like 'As I Am' (that riff...), 'This Dying Soul', 'Honor Thy Father' or 'In the Name of God'? Each track perfectly demonstrates why Dream Theater can stand toe-to-toe with any of metal's elite.
As you would expect from this band, the musicianship is phenomenal. Most of the songs are definitely guitar-centered, with keyboardist Jordan Rudess taking more of a backseat in most songs. But he's there none-the-less, and when he's trading solos with guitarist John Petrucci, especially on tracks like 'Stream of Consciousness', you know that there's no one that can match these guys.
'Train of Thought' certainly has its prog moments, but ultimately, this is an all-out, straight-up, ballsy metal album. And it's a damn good one, at that!
I've really enjoyed this week's revisit to one of the more popular black metal releases of the 2010's. "Litourgiya" is essentially made up of some fairly traditional & simply structured but very well executed Polish black metal with the ground-breaking addition of some church-style chanted male vocals as a clear point of differentiation. This certainly making for an interesting combination but if I'm honest I'd have to suggest that it's not that component of Batushka's sound that I find most appealing. In fact, the weakest moments on the album generally match up with the less inspired chant sections. The best elements at play here are the searing black metal screams & the incredibly precise blast beats. For the record, I actually had to check I wasn't listening to programmed drums when I first encountered this album, such was the sheer confidence & control on display. The riffs aren't anything all that different to what you would usually expect however the guitars appear to be down-tuned which gives Batushka a slightly different tone to most of the competition. Closer "Ектения • VIII • Спасение" is the only track that I find to be a genuine classic but there are no weak tracks included which makes "Litourgiya" a very professional & high quality release with enough accessibility to appeal to broad cross-section of extreme metal fans.
For fans of Cult of Fire, Mgła & early Uada.
From the glorious country of Hungary, comes an unusual take on classic power metal. There's a certain audacity to the band, as this album is based off the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy. I vaguely remember how compressed Ralph Bakshi's movie and the Rankin/Bass not-sequel were, completely removing everything not directly related to the actual plot of destroying the one ring.
Well, despite that they've got a good album. It doesn't always work. The lead vocalist has a surprisingly sad voice for power metal. Kind of like if Alfred Romero drank heavily. A poor grasp on the English language and a bit off-key. Its somewhat amateurish. There's a lady vocalist who sometimes appears who's usually Tolkien-filled speech sounds not English.
There's a very medieval feel to the album. The music almost feels like that of a modern version of a group of traveling minstrels. Just with a cheap midi keyboard. Its not so much about the riffs as how each song comes out. There are only a handful of songs that feel straightforward in that regard. Songs are constructed in a very interesting way. The first song, for instance, has some interesting choices in it. Before the first chorus, the band holds off entering it for slightly longer than you would expect, before going into a long solo occupying most of the middle of the song. Then, when you think the song is over, we get a prog rock-ish outro, for over a minute. This doesn't account for their flourishs and constant switching between standard power metal and the more prog rock-ish aspects.
I think despite their audacity to tackle such a landmark novel, it works. There's a tendency to link happy things to fantasy. I'm guilty of this myself, as I tend to find films like Willow to be a quite happy thing to watch. We tend to lose sight that these high fantasy stories about about desperate fights against seemingly neverending hordes of evil beings bent on raping and pillaging.
Despite how it might seem at first listen, a very worthwhile album.
2018 was a rough year for Machine Head. Catharsis was a really bad album that managed to unite people on both sides of political spectrum in just how shitty of an activist Rob Flynn is. Lyrics that sounded like they were written by a Tumblr user, but were instead written by a 50 year old man, all performed over an alternative/nu metal soundscape that was the farthest thing from pleasing to the metal ear, or conforming to the Machine Head sound. Now I stood up for that album four year ago, claiming that there were some serviceable songs that maintained the Machine Head identity, while still pushing the boundaries of what this band could sound like (i.e. "Heavy is the Crown" and "Kaleidoscope"), while other experiments just spectacularly failed.
And so, it should come as zero surprise that following a release cycle that almost ended this band, the new Machine Head album, ØF KINGDOM AND CRØWN is a return to form (somewhat) for the band. It's groove centric, melodies are limited but respectable, dueling guitar solos make a triumphant return, and the overall intensity matches that of The Blackening and Unto the Locust.
One thing that Machine Head maintained from those previous recording sessions were extended runtimes. This is not all too unfamiliar in Machine Head's discography, but this album can be a slog at times. The opening track "SLAUGHTER THE MARTYR" is ten and a half minutes, but could have easily been suppressed to seven and said the same amount. When the album is at its best, Machine Head is calling back to an older sound, while still allowing for some alternative metal ideas to slip in; primarily in the vocal leads. "MY HANDS ARE EMPTY" and "UNHALLØWED" both do this with slower grooves and more somber delivery.
Perhaps that's because the previous songs are both closer to deathcore of all things! Machine Head have been no stranger to breakdowns in their music, but here they feel out of place and extremely unnecessary. Whether it be the dissonant chuggs of "CHØKE ØN THE ASHES ØF YØUR HATE", which also return on the closer "ARRØWS IN WØRDS FRØM THE SKY", or the unnatural tempo shift on "BECØME THE FIRESTØRM". Then there are the lyrics, which thank god are infinitely improved from Catharsis. There is some genuine reflection here that has allowed Rob Flynn to choose his words carefully in order to make an impact and possibly change people. But then "KILL THY ENEMIES" comes on and I hear Flynn speak about white privilege, fascists and cultists and I just tune out. What's more infuriating is that the narrator honestly believes that they are the good guy here when they unironically speak: "I'm asking you to heed the call, kill thy enemies". Whose side are you on: those who say naughty words, or those who carry the blood of their enemies on their hands joyously?
To say this album is an improvement from Catharsis is like saying 2022 has been a better year than 2020. Machine Head would have had to included the sounds of killing puppies and a dramatic reading of Mein Kampf to make an album worse than Catharsis. But that does not mean ØF KINGDOM AND CRØWN is a great album. It sounds more like Machine Head and the experimentation is not alienating to fans, but a lack of fat trimming, less than their best melodies and grooves and questionable lyricism makes it more lukewarm than anything else. The emperor may have a fig leaf, but he is still naked.