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When it comes to an albums success or failure, timing can be everything.
Such is the case with Rammstein's 'Mutter'. With their previous two albums helping to build an ever-growing fan base, it was the German industrial band's 2001 release that really saw them take the world by storm. And much of that success (from a UK perspective anyway), must have been due to the newly launched Kerrang TV.
Kerrang TV, which specializes in rock and metal music videos, was launched in April 2001, long before the days when music videos were merely a click away on the internet. With 'Mutter' bolstering five hit singles, each of which was a massive hit for the band, Rammstein absolutely dominated the charts for the early years of the rock channel.
And so it was, that Rammstein would go on to become megastars of the industrial metal genre. 'Links 2,3,4', 'Ich Will', 'Feuer Frei' and 'Mein Herz Brennt' were all big hits for the band, and then there was 'Sonne'... the song which would go on to become the group's biggest song, dominating the rock charts that year and firmly placing the band at the top of the rock world.
Full of incredibly heavy, crushing riffs, yet atmospheric, emotional and anthemic, everything about this record sounds "big". Even the few, quieter moments sound monumental, and the deep, German vocals adds so much depth to the darker tone of the album. The music itself is fairly simplistic, but therein lies the beauty of what the band have achieved here. "Less is more".
One of the biggest success stories of 2001, Rammstein's 'Mutter' launched the band into the stratosphere and made them one of the biggest rock acts on the planet, making this monstrous album one that belongs in the collection of every rock and metal fan.
Hot off the heels of one of thrash metals most revered albums, 1990's 'Rust in Peace', Megadeth slowly started to inch away from the subgenre that they helped to establish, and adapted a more stripped-down radio-friendly approach to their sound. Whether it was a step to ensure their survival amidst shifting musical trends, the next logical progression in the bands own evolution, or a shameless parallel to Dave Mustaine's former bandmates in Metallica, it was a change that ensured that Megadeth would remain one of the prominent names in heavy metal.
Changes aside, this is still instantly recognisable Megadeth, with Dave Mustaine's familiarly distinctive vocals, Marty Friedman's sleek and exotic guitar solos and the solid rhythm work of bassist David Ellefson and drummer Nick Menza. The compositions may have slowed down a notch in favour of more coherent songwriting and more traditional arrangements, but it still sounds like Megadeth through and through.
The only problem is that the songs themselves are not overly memorable.
Sure, there's some absolute Megadeth classics here, such as 'Skin o' My Teeth', 'Symphony of Destruction', 'Sweating Bullets' and 'Foreclosure of a Dream', and there's some underrated hidden gems such as 'Psychotron' and the title track, but there's also some fairly blatant filler material. Songs like 'High Speed Dirt', 'This Was My Life' and a few others do absolutely nothing for me.
'Countdown to Extinction' is regarded as a classic, and in fairness, despite my opinion of it, I won't argue the case. But for me, it's nothing more than a good album. It's got some Megadeth highlights, but its abundance of lacklustre material makes it tough for me to choose this over some of the bands other releases.
When picking my releases for the featured showcase each month I often come to settle on a particular release for no reason other than I think it is something that others should listen to and experience for themselves. However, this month's choice was chosen for more selfish reasons in all honesty. You see I swing easily on my rating of Charnel Passages and find it can change usually depending on which way the wind is blowing on a particular day. This sounds perhaps a negative assessment on Cruciamentum's debut album (their only full-length in thirteen years), however it is not intended as such. Anyway, more on my struggles with this record later but the point I wanted to emphasise early on in my review is that this is an album that I was genuinely interested to read other MA member's thoughts on by way of comparison to my own and maybe help me understand my battles with it.
There's a heap of reasons why I would be drawn to Cruciamentum. Hell, anyone who has been paying attention to my reviews/posts can see this is right up my street. Enough nods to Bolt Thrower to keep the British Death Metal fan in me tickled pink, coupled with atmospherics applied by what sound like the hands of Morbid Angel themselves and with the addition of lashings of Dead Congregation, Incantation and Grave Miasma to boot, Charnel Passages has my name stamped all over it. It is important to add that I don't see this band as being guilty of worship of anyone else either (including the bands mentioned above); Charnel Passages is enough of a death metal heavyweight in its own right to be able to stand its own ground in an arena of many other similarly influenced bands. To my ears this is not mere regurgitation of old ideas done by someone else 30 years ago, instead the four piece offer the application of influence to their own sound which remains at the core of their offering.
It is very easy to draw out influences on most death metal albums (there's only a few genuinely influential bands out there so they are bound to come up often) but I view Cruciamentum as perhaps one of the most responsible progenitors of death metal, taking time to apply their influences to their music as opposed to just pouring them all over it. For all the Karl Willetts I hear in the vocals I also hear snippets of Portal in the guitars. For all the Morbid Angel I hear in the sonics I also get the churn of Finnish death metal in the rumbling rhythms and riffs on those very same tracks. Also worthy of note, Dani Ben-Haim on drums is a fucking demon - I know this already from his work on Grave Miasma, however the contribution to the pace and atmospheres here is astonishing. Indeed, as a unit the band are tight. The subtle yet noteworthy changes in pace are all executed well and tracks feel like they are being driven forwards by all the instruments as a cohesive force. The mournful wail of the guitars on Dissolution of Mortal Perception is s truly hair-raising moment for me and whilst I can make no attempt to suggest that I haven't heard alike before, it is just done so well.
And here lies the conflict of the album. Some days it is too much like other things I have heard (I listen to a lot of extreme metal in my defence) in the past and I do start to lean towards thinking this is just worship. But then on other days I hear the quality in the musicianship and can dispel such thoughts with ease. What I think is needed is probably a little more of a blackened edge to proceedings as this is were the majority of the Grave Miasma influences come in. The risk here then of course is that we have another Grave Miasma record. At the end of the day though there is nothing wrong with doing death metal well, regardless of which era/sub-genre you pick from. Cruciamentum stay authentic to their influences, doing the reference points real justice.
I was fortunate enough to get on board with VOLA right out of the gate in 2015 with their debut LP Inmazes. That was an album that displayed a new group attempting to blend the technical prowess of Djent and combine it with fairly accessible alternative metal tones and hooks that really fascinated me. Unfortunately this momentum may have been short lived, and even though the follow-up record, Applause Of A Distant Cloud and the new LP Witness are still quite solid albums, it does tend to fall into some very tired trends in modern progressive metal.
The synth work is jittery throughout the album, alternating between being very frontal and tinny on “These Black Claws” and “Head Mounted Sideways”, to being implemented quite well on “24 Light-Years” amongst the open chordal guitar accompaniment. The bass work is not revolutionary, but its presence does make the tracks feel a little more full, especially on the mid album ballad “Freak”, but on other instances, most notably “These Black Claws” once again as well as “Stone Leader Falling Down”, the bass lines seem like an afterthought and are not balanced as well with the down tuned guitars.
The hooks on this record are quite pretty, continuing a trend that VOLA have had since their debut. “Straight Lines”, “24 Light-Years” and especially “Napalm” have simple but very effective melodic motifs and are complimented well by some progressive compositions; not so much with whipping between time signatures but rather less emphasis on the strong beats in a traditional common time.
If anything I can give credit to VOLA for consistency and having a very good idea and rolling with it...and that has worked out for them up to this point. But those of us who have heard this sound before know that it is getting tiresome at this point, and VOLA are going to need to experiment further in order to maintain relevance on subsequent releases.
Jealousy has always been a hard album for me to rate. The dilemma starts with the fact that a lot of X Japan’s most mediocre material is on this album. That’s not to say any of it is bad – most is actually still great, considering this is X we’re talking about – but this album is not consistent.
I will disclose that nostalgia has rendered many of these more mediocre songs incredibly enjoyable for me now, but there’s no denying the weaknesses here. Desperate Angel and Joker are kind of odd rockers, kind of commercial but lacking any real hooks or staying power. There are 3 instrumentals here, the first track being a beautiful example, but the others are rather take or leave. And then there’s Voiceless Screaming, a beautiful acoustic track which is a very fine song, but most will probably find it about 3 minutes too long.
There’s about half an album left now…
Miscast is an all-around solid track with some fantastic riffs and solos. It’s not their most unique song, but it’s just really good for what it is; a hard rocking melodic riff fest. Stab Me in the Back, on the other hand, is some much-needed energy and aggression for the album. Apparently written years earlier, this track is straight up Thrash Metal, up there with Orgasm as their heaviest and fastest material yet. For fans of their earliest work, this song is a highlight.
So what could possibly hold this all together and warrant such high marks?
Bookending Jealousy are not just the best songs on the album, but (for me at least) among the greatest songs ever written, bar none. Silent Jealousy is one of the earliest (and still most well-done) marriages of actual classical string composition and fast, aggressive metal. Silent Jealousy somehow manages to sound like both a ballad and a thrashing speed metal masterpiece. It is quite simply one of the most powerful displays of sorrow there ever has been, as the track laments about Jealousy, yes, but more specifically what seems like unrequited love. Every musician plays along at lightning speed, breaking their back for over 6 minutes straight, yet the entire song carries a tone of melancholic beauty. This is true catharsis, the exorcising of pain through sweat and art, finally turning it into beauty.
The first time I listened to this album way back when, I remember hoping the closer would be some energetic thrasher or something because the album had been so slow. Beautiful, but slow, and lacking the edge of their previous albums. Well, I didn’t get what I wanted, because Say Anything is an 8 minute ballad finishing off with that theme of unrequited love. Even now, I struggle to find the words for this song. X Japan have written many ballads, almost all of them being top class, heart-rending beauty that plays off that Japanese cheese so well. This one is my favorite of them all, and I could never do justice to it trying to explain the eloquence of the actual compositions. What I can say, is that it captures this feeling of “unrequited love” better than any other song, better than any attempted explanation of the phenomenon in any medium I’ve yet found. Elegant, lovely, fragile, vulnerable, painful. The song is a masterpiece on its own, but for anyone who has experienced this feeling, it is a flawless embodiment of one of the most painful experiences a human can go through.
“I believed if time passes,
everything turns into beauty
If the rains stops, tears clean
the scars of memory away
Everything starts wearing fresh colors
Every sound begins playing a heartfelt melody
Jealousy embellishes a page of the epic
Desire is embraced in a dream
But my mind is still in chaos