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Had I not stumbled across the artwork on this album via the Gallery on this site I would have missed out entirely on the existence of US speed/thrash/traditional heavy-metallers The Horde. In what feels like a very short career the band only managed two releases, with From Empire to Ashes being classed as an EP (albeit more of a mini-album arguably). Their equally well-adorned full-length release came three years after this with the four piece disbanding altogether in 2014.
I think it is fair to say that whilst not terrible, From Empire to Ashes does not live up to the promise of the artwork (check out Alan Lathwell’s work across various albums over the years btw). Whilst it doesn’t reinvent any wheels, there’s enough nods to the likes of Cirith Ungol and The Lord Weird Slough Feg to keep that traditional heavy-metal feel alive through the more the thrashy/speed metal elements of the sound, with the band not afraid to slow the pace right down when required also. It falls down really only on it being just a tad too chaotic at times, not helped by a less than perfect production job that although keeps some cult authenticity to proceedings does just sit on the wrong side of stifling.
The drums feel particularly disadvantaged in the mix, sat just that bit too far back with the vocals also seeming to be a bit muffled in there also. There’s nothing wrong with the actual performance of either, the blackened sneers of Duncan are perfectly appropriate to the direction of the tracks if I am honest. It is just a shame that all the component parts don’t get to shine in equal amounts really. What the mix/production quality does do however is allow the guitars to really drive things forward. They are competently played by both Derek and Tim with solid riffing and effective lead work both being utilised well when appropriate.
Whilst the EP/min-album won’t get masses of rotation here it will still retain a spot in the music library for the odd spin alongside the likes of Hobb’s Angel of Death, Midnight, Venom as well as the aforementioned Lord Weird Slough Feg also. Neat find via Metal Academy number 77.
Was it just a version of Black Sabbath or an actual separate entity altogether? Would it have survived had we still had Ronnie James Dio with us? With the line up consisting of all four members of Sabbath’s Mob Rules album from 1981, it seems a hard sell to think of Heaven & Hell as being anything other than Black Sabbath. Around for only four years in total the band managed only one full-length release under the name Heaven & Hell with the rest of the discography being two live records and various singles.
As you would expect from such an array of established and legendary artists the self-titled album is monstrous and accomplished in equal parts. It is the perfect incarnation of Black Sabbath with a superb vocalist (other than Ozzy) that held mainstream appeal as well as enough familiar gloom to appease the ardent followers of - what was then - the past forty years of one of heavy metal’s most recognised brands.
There was a brooding rumble to Iommi’s riffs that accentuated the vocals of Ronnie perfectly, with Geezer and Vinnie doing their usual superb job of supporting the whole sound with that solid rhythm and percussion section that gave the tracks real depth and weight. The foursome maintained a consistent and solid approach to the songwriting and as such all ten tracks stay in the memory but there are some huge tracks in here that clearly outshine the others. Bible Black, Double The Pain and Follow The Tears all play effortlessly in the brain regardless of how long it has been since the record itself last got a spin.
There is an element of things sounding a tad too familiar at times over the course of the record which does limit the amount of plays it gets over the average year but still, even if considered as nothing more than a fitting tribute to one of Sabbath’s strongest line ups, Heaven & Hell is a fine heavy metal record, rooted in the fabric of the genre I have spent most of my life listening to and as such remains a standout release in the varied history of one the most iconic bands in music history.
Terrific nature-themed atmospheric black metal that celebrates the interconnection between the Sahara desert and the Amazon rainforest in an environmental cycle that acts as the lungs of the planet. Successfully creates a vision of the immensity of the forces involved with vast, sweeping soundscapes to rival the genre's best. The vocals are submerged in the mix as if heard from a great distance or from within the deafening whisper of the planet's natural forces.
A mention must also go to Brandon Zackey who guests on drums and turns in a fine nuanced performance, yet can still pummel the shit out of his kit when the need arises. On the evidence of this, West Maddox, the man behind Ovnev, appears to have the talent to stand alongside the likes of Andy Marshall and Austin Lunn as a champion of naturalistic black metal.
My continued exploration of the symphonic/power metal genre gleans a mixture of both interesting and unfortunately repulsive albums as I traverse the waters. Score to a New Beginning falls somewhere around the interesting mark initially and although it never dips away into the repulsive category highlighted above it doesn’t hold up well over the duration of the record. Whilst there’s no doubt that the formula the band uses more than gets them to the finish line, it falls far short of warranting description of being a “winning” formula.
Despite a multitude of sounds and instrumentation being active on the record the mix for the large part is surprisingly good. The keys and strings do feel like they are jostling for space at times but they don’t lose one another at the expense of building atmosphere and drama. The same cannot be said unfortunately for the vocals which find themselves bobbing along in the tide and on more than one occasion ending up under the waves of clashing cymbals, stabs of keys and riffs from guitars. They aren’t helped by the fact that although they often sound powerful enough they struggle to add an edge to things when needing to sound more aggressive and just generally more metal than rock.
The tracks themselves do suffer from a very formulaic structure of verse, chorus, keyboard solo, guitar solo and then rinse and repeat. Not that you can fault the musicianship here, more the songwriting capabilities are questionable at best. That having been said, there’s some genuine stick your chest out moments as you listen; where the epic structures come to life and you are cast into the theatre and drama of scenarios like the artwork. The balance of the symphonia works well enough at times to give me hope for the record but overall the sense of being underwhelmed is difficult to fight off.
Well considering that my first Converge review didn't go so well, might as well give them another try right?
And here's the thing: when I started listening to Converge around the turn of the 2010s, I was still a relative noob in the Metalcore genre, and Mathcore specifically. I was listening to Trivium, Killswitch Engage, Protest the Hero (even though they are more Progressive Metal) and the like. I was still learning about the genre and how the best artists within this subgenre were able to craft these tunes with fluidity and beauty. Now Converge failed to deliver, at least in my opinion, through their first few albums, culminating with Jane Doe, an album revered by almost all who hear it.
So if I may be the lone voice yelling contrary into the void, so be it. Converge's All We Love We Leave Behind is significantly better listening experience than You Fail Me and Jane Doe, and is, in my opinion, Converge's best record.
For starters, the song structures found within this record are delivered with elegance. This album has a lot of tracks that are short (less than two minutes) and provide the listener with a hectic experience, but not one that feels overwhelming or overly brash. And not only that, but songs have legitimate forms and dynamic peaks and valleys. Now these occur primarily on the longer songs, such as the two most popular songs on the record "Sadness Comes Home" and the title track, but they also make their presence felt on "Coral Blue" and "Glacial Pace".
The riffing on this record sounds more pronounced and full than on any previous Converge album. Some of my personal favoutie cuts are the main verse (fast) riff on "Sadness Comes Home", and the punishing outro of "Glacial Pace". "Coral Blue" and "Veins and Veils" also have some tight grooves as well. And these ideas are developed as well, a technique seldom used in math rock/mathcore today. Sure "Sadness Comes Home" has a very quick turnaround from its intro riff into the verses, however that main riff returns as an outro. And even if it is one of the albums easiest songs to digest, it does set the table for what else is to come.
The production on this record deserves special credit. I have always been a stickler for this kind of stuff, but just because an album is supposed to be loud, aggressive, and atonal, it does not give the producers an excuse to make the songs sound like liquid ass. Bands such as Daughters have proven this in recent years and Converge helped set that band up for their success. The guitars are powerful, but not overpowering to make the bass sound like an afterthought. There are a few moments scattered throughout the album in which a rhythm guitar is surprisingly absent, leaving just a lead guitar and bass to push forward. And when those rhythm guitars do return, they hit with a greater impact knowing that their is that fundament bass line to flush out the mix. The percussion work on this album is very great. Since the album does alternate between hectic, hardcore tunes, and slower, melodic post-metal/sludge(?) ideas, Ben Koller fluidity between the contrasting styles is effective and shows enough restraint, not just in the performance, but also in the mix, not being pushed into the front ahead of the lead guitars, or Jacob Bannon. To be completely honest, the vocal performance is probably has the albums weakest moments. The quality and precision in Jacob's voice is dramatically improved from previous records, but it can feel pushed back in the overall mix a fair number of times.
When the band followed this record in 2017 with The Dusk In Us, a few people were surprised by the slower, more atmospheric change in sound and direction. But if you look at this album and my favourite song "Coral Blue", you would have already seen that change coming. Overall, All We Love We Leave Behind is a banger of a metalcore record from top to bottom. It redefines the frantic sound that Converge were known for at the time, while also laying the groundwork for where this group could go next. I never understood the mass critical acclaim for Converge...until I listened to this. Great stuff, but you probably knew that already.