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
One of those albums where everything just feels off… except after repeated listens, I have determined this to be quite intentional, and done in the best way.
You see, Voivod get bored easily, and they had already been down many musical avenues, and pushed the limits of music (and their own abilities) multiple times. On Killing Technology, they showcased the extent of how fast, aggressive, and technical they could play. On the following Dimension Hatross and Nothingface, they were at the forefront of slightly avant-garde Progressive Metal, making albums quite bizarre in musical structure, showcasing complex songwriting ability. And now we have Angel Rat, which at first listen just sounds like them giving up on trying to prove anything anymore. Only faint glimpses of their progressive technicality remain on what is almost a poppy, Post-Punk inspired Alternative Metal album.
I was disappointed at first, as I think anyone would be. But something about the album kept me coming back, and I realized something. Voivod have transcended using technical speed or complex songwriting. They are taking the term “progressive” to a new frontier here, and focusing on creating very complex, ever changing MOODS. If you can imagine a mood having an odd time signature, this is absolutely it. Every song here, despite having relatively simple instrumentation and structure, jumps between some of the most schizophrenic, bipolar moods I’ve ever heard, all without janky start-stop instrumental tricks. The songs flow as smoothly as pop songs, and although the instrumentation can actually be quite intense and complex at times, you wouldn’t really know it without focused listening.
They place the most normal tracks at the beginning. As long as you weren’t listening to the lyrics (which are beyond strange) you could convince yourself that the first 5 tracks were all normal, though they just don’t sound right for some reason… And were those double bass Thrash beats playing under the chorus at the end of Clouds in My House? That’s right, this IS a metal album after all, and don’t forget it!
Track 6, Twin Dummy, is where you could no longer convince yourself this album is normal. The way Snake anxiously yells “The circus left without me!” and then sinisterly muses “And I’m alone with you now…” is unnerving to say the least, especially surrounded with off-kilter lyricism about carousels, dummies, and whatnot. From here on out it becomes more obvious that there is something wrong with this album.
The title track, Angel Rat, capitalizes this best. The opening line “The idiot walks along the canvas…” as Snake then paints a dark and unnerving picture much like the album cover. Gloomy, ominous chords and soft spoken vocals shake through this hideous landscape of darkness and hopelessness… and then a sugary sweet, smooth chorus kicks in about how nice flying away would be. At first this chorus kind of ruined the song for me, but after sitting with it, I totally get it. The figure in the song is an idiot precisely because they still have this innocent, childlike hope of flying away from this horrid picture. Yet they are painted into the canvas just as everything else is. They are stuck there for eternity. The question “rat or angel, does one really know?” is such an interesting comparison. They aren’t comparing good or evil. They’re comparing something significant, powerful, and bright, with a wholly insignificant pest (that cannot fly, mind you). The song is a masterpiece in cryptic writing and mood distortion, and the rest of the album walks the same line.
There are a couple other factors that make this album work so well. For one, I’ve always maintained that Snake’s yells are much better than his singing, and that was a big reason why Voivod’s duo of Prog albums weren’t as great for me. But here, Snake’s vocals are perfect. Not that he’s improved much, no… rather, his shaky, strained voice works wonders for the kind of atmosphere they’re going for here. He’s got an anxious tone to his voice that shines through even during the poppy choruses, and this makes them catchy but never anthemic. Even when he sings smoothly, like in Clouds in My House or Angel Rat, it just doesn’t sound right, and that is precisely why this album succeeds in such simple verse chorus format. The drumming is another fantastic element here. Usually it’s pretty simple, but never boring, and best of all, more than occasionally it just breaks out into full on double bass metal beats. However, the drumming is pushed low in the mix so that it never overpowers the music, and it really serves as another backbone of hidden elements you wouldn’t appreciate unless you listened intently for it. Layered guitar melodies, vocal harmonies and atmospheric soundscape textures work the same, hidden at first listen but uncovered after due attention.
This album is a massive grower and has so much to offer to those willing to delve into the depths of its dark, demented canvas. Voivod have successfully taken progressive music to a new level!
Blows my mind that Ray Alder isn’t considered one of the canon greats of metal vocalists. The music here is technical and complex Prog Metal, but the vocals are total AOR a la Queensryche. Ray’s range is very impressive, he can hit incredibly high registers without getting pitchy or strained, and carry a passionate weight all the while. The way he harmonizes with himself are flawless, and again making comparisons to Queensryche, the choruses on this thing are catchier than the vast majority of Pop music. The lyrics aren’t shallow by a longshot, but pretty clearly revolve around feelings of lost human connection, letting go, and moving on. Or in Pop terms, breakup songs.
Probably an odd way to praise a Prog Metal album by immediately comparing it to Pop music and focusing on the vocals, but whatever. The songwriting is quite similar to the prior Perfect Symmetry, but it’s a bit simpler in structure and with better production. There was an obvious emphasis on melody and catchiness when writing this one. Fates Warning certainly tread the softer side of the genre, but unlike Queensryche, the musicianship is very technical indeed, and simple choruses where the vocals can shine often give way to incredibly intricate verses and instrumental segments. Though most of the album is the simple Rock ensemble of instruments, layering and production effects ensure a depth to the sound that reveals more with each listen.
While every song here is fantastic, I will admit the ending tracks are weaker, except for “We Only Say Goodbye” which is a Pop Prog masterpiece. Probably my favorite song by the band by this point, the lyricism and emotion in Alder’s voice play over simple yet evocative guitar lines that pull every heart string. Such a beautifully passionate song that is sad yet strong. Like much of this album, really. Despite how catchy and melodic it is, “Parallels” is a truly somber package, best enjoyed when you are reeling from loss but still want to sing along to some good music.
As far as I’m concerned, this is Sepultura’s magnum opus. They still had the energy, aggression, and razor-sharp riffs, and here it met with fully competent musicianship and perfect production.
The album opens with what is probably Sepultura’s best song to date, with that unmistakably intense lick that sounds like it’s about to shred the strings right off the guitar. In an interesting move, Sepultura start and finish the album with the two fastest and shortest songs on it. Some of the tracks in between are much longer and quite a few almost delve into Groove Metal territory, hinting at their future. However, there is never a lack of riffs, and the rhythm section especially keeps the energy high and the pace interesting even when things slow down.
Sepultura kind of lost me after this album. Most people love Chaos A.D., but for me they lost their magic when they slowed down. This record and all preceding it are just so angry, so effectively evoking that manic rage. After they slowed down, they stopped conveying their core emotion so well. You can hear the rage in these riffs… that’s what is important. The music has feeling. Here, that feeling finally culminates into the album they’ve been trying to write for years, and it’s a masterpiece.
Master’s Hammer’s debut is a surprisingly melodic package of classic Black Metal material. Somewhat similar to Bathory’s transitioning stages as they add elements of “epic” sound with synthed choirs, but always stay strictly in first wave Black Metal territory. The band really lean into simple melodic leads, and they work the hell out of it. Every track has got some really memorable riffs despite them being quite simple and containing just a few notes. The drumming is actually a few levels above the other instruments, containing a nice variety of groovy Heavy Metal beats and classic Black Metal blast beating.
The band had plenty of time to perfect their craft with multiple demos and EPs, but this is still technically a debut, and a great one at that. Ritual isn’t the most unique album in the scene, but everything about it is executed extremely well, and the album is a fun, epic, evil ride. Not mind-blowing, but there are really no weaknesses to this thing, a classic example of melodic first wave Black Metal.
Savatage’s first attempt at a full on Rock Opera is mostly successful. The sound mostly picks up right from the more operatic parts of Gutter Ballet. They turn up the cheese, usually working well with it as they always have. The highs here are magical; Tonight He Grins Again is one of their finest songs ever, and Believe is a great ballad and closer.
The issue here is the same as many other overlong concept albums. At 16 tracks and almost 70 minutes, there is a lot of filler. The first half particularly struggles to deliver as many of the songs are kind of just fun rockers, which is not Savatage’s niche (The only ballad on this half, A Little Too Far, is their worst ever). The second half leans more into the melodic balladry they’re so good at, picking up a nice melancholic tone that brings it home nicely. The lyrics are good, but the story itself really isn’t all that compelling, as it’s just a rock star who got fame, hit rock bottom, got back to rocking… We’ve heard it a million times.
Overrated, especially compared to their other albums, but still holds many gems.
Iced Earth’s sophomore album is where they aced their style of epic, thrashy Power Metal. The album is a concept about a man fed up with religion who receives power from the devil and leads a sort of crusade against humanity, plunging the world into darkness, before finally losing his mortal soul to the devil after all is done. It’s a well written story with a decent variety of songs that back up each chapter. None of the musicianship or songwriting is mind-blowing, but it’s certainly very strong, and the rhythm section puts down some quite unique (for the time) beats.
I feel I should enjoy this album more than I do, but despite the awesome concept and genre being right up my ally, it just doesn’t strike home. The riffs are very rhythmic and unmemorable, somehow they are missing both the edge of Thrash as well as the melody of Power Metal. That aside it is very great stuff, a strong concept album played in a style unique at the time.
One of those revered albums that I just don’t get. Soundgarden has been on the forefront of both the Grunge and Alt Metal movements, and consistently sprinkle in Stoner Metal influence to give themselves a groovy, but occasionally lethargic sound. Badmotorfinger is really where they get their act together, but despite playing in a still fresh genre, Soundgarden already have real trouble standing out.
The fact is, there isn’t anything in this album that grabs me. The riffs aren’t catchy nor are they sharp, just kind of groovy but without soul. The rhythm section is lethargic most of the time, and the vocals are classic yarl vocals that I personally don’t like at all. They don’t really go all out in any direction, sometimes it’s kind of anxious, sometimes it’s more chill, but it’s never doing anything stronger or better than contemporaries. The lyrics are just kind of there, and there aren’t any anthemic or memorable hooks. No memorable anything really.
It’s fine for what it is. I’m not a big fan of Grunge or Stoner so I’ve got my biases. I don’t dislike it at all, just don’t find anything in it worthy of the acclaim it gets.
Gothic is pretty much where Gothic Metal got it’s name and signature sound, especially the title track. Of course, the majority of this album isn’t actually Gothic Metal – rather straightforward Death Doom is the name of the game here. They add some female vocals and melodic lines every so often, but otherwise this is pretty stripped down and basic.
My favorite part of this album are actually Nick’s vocals. Those are some monstrous howls right there, and the heavy reverb ensure they create a great atmosphere on their own. I appreciate this one a lot more than when I first heard it, but I still see it as an overrated stepping stone simply leading the way to truly great Death Doom and Gothic Metal that other bands would perfect.
One of the first Metalcore bands, and perhaps the first to receive some real success, Integrity take a pretty standard Hardcore Punk approach and add some mean Crossover Thrash riffs and all around Metalcore heaviness. The vocals are transitioning from punk yells to the growls that inhabit metal. Lyrical themes are dark and the mood is a straightforward, angry bundle of energy.
The album is pretty damn simple and consistent, and with 15 tracks they all blend together by the end. Integrity do slow it down a fair bit which adds some variety, but for the most part every song sounds the same. No problem if you want some great Metalcore from the genre’s inception, but it's still a very primitive form of what the genre would become.
Following their mostly pure Groove release of Beg Differ, Prong evolve yet again into a rather different creature. On Prove You Wrong, the Alternative Metal elements are brought to the forefront, and some of it runs parallel to the budding Grunge/Alt Rock movement of the time. However, there’s also a large dose of Industrial Metal and Hardcore Punk, sometimes all in the same song. Prove You Wrong is a mishmash of a lot of genres, most of which were still quite young at the time, and they are pulled off well enough.
As far as the quality of the music, it’s mostly good stuff, though nothing really jumps out as being amazing or anything. There’s a nice variety in sound and style to keep things interesting, but a lack of any great riffs or catchy hooks. Probably more just for hard fans of the genre.
Old took a huge leap on this one. Their debut album was a generic Grindcore album that attempted and mostly failed at being edgy and humorous. This is… an Avant-Garde Industrial Metal album with hints of Grindcore, Progressive Metal, and general insanity…
This album is not only much weirder and more unique, but just generally much better. The playing is solid, songwriting is interesting and varied, and the production is much stronger. A great example of a joke band getting serious and making something both interesting and awesome. This thing is filled with manic energy and mutated dystopian future vibes, all done very well. Not always my cup of tea, but always at least preformed with strong execution.
Kyuss’ debut album is an incredibly generic affair even though it helps set the stage for a new genre of metal. They aren’t really doing anything super unique though, just making the already existent Stoner Rock a bit heavier. Some of the songs have some really fun, groovy riffs and rhythms, namely the first two tracks and the beginning of “The Law.” Unfortunately, “the Law” is a nearly 8-minute track that cannot hold that momentum for even a fraction of it’s runtime.
Therein lies a huge problem here; though it has its moments, every song is overlong and repetitive, and for some reason, usually repeating boring chords as opposed to the riffs that are actually good. The songwriting is very standard, the lyrics suck, and the vocals are annoying. Even if you like “fun” metal, I don’t see this doing too much. Not bad by any means, but not to my taste.
Bullhead is usually considered Melvin’s first truly great album. The Sludge Metal pioneers are relatively peerless in this era, as you could count the number of notable Sludge bands on one hand when this dropped. These circumstances made Melvins kings of the movement by default, and I think that’s why it doesn’t really appeal to me.
Bullhead is an album that is special by circumstance, because it had no competition and no comparison. It was influential and unique, but those things don’t matter to me when I’m listening to it. The music itself is very basic, monotonous, and droning. These qualities can be fine when done right (or if that is your taste) but I feel this album just doesn’t have enough going on to warrant much entertainment out of that. There aren’t any great riffs, no striking vocal performances, no rhythm grooves, its just a lot of repetitive heavy chords. It’s slow, but it’s certainly not doomy, because there’s no atmosphere and no strong mood aside from kind of anxious.
Unfortunately I have yet to find much enjoyment out of early Sludge, and this album was not the one to change my mind. Onward we go.
Basically a worse and more disgusting version of Primus. They get props in that they sounded totally unique, perhaps even to this day. Even for Avant-Garde metal, this is really weird stuff. Not that this came out of nowhere – the band had been putting together demos and EPs of Avant-Garde Funk Metal for a few years, making them unequivocally pioneers of this style of music.
The thing about this album is that every aspect of it – from the vocals, to the lyrics and humor, to the disjointed, eclectic songwriting and sound – are all acquired tastes. Very strong flavors that you either love or hate. For fans of the bizarre and “out there,” this is quite frankly a treasure trove of unique ideas and execution. For me, it’s just a lot of things that I don’t enjoy meshed together into a long, messy record.
Death continue pushing towards increasingly technical music here, and interestingly retain the more melodic style of riffs and leads found on Spiritual Healing. From the first song “Flattening of emotions,” we get some riffs that sound less like “hell infernal evil” and more like “humanity is suffering.” There’s real depth here, and daresay mood and emotion as well. I do believe Death was responsible for influencing melodeath on this and their previous album, which is why I prefer them to the straight OSDM “Leprosy.”
Schuldiner’s lyrics and vocals reach a more mature point, and his guitar playing is top class. The rest of the band, especially drummer Sean Reinert, really impress in managing to stand out next to Schuldiner here. The instrumental track is pretty weak in comparison to the rest, but the album still manages to be a masterpiece easily run through front to back. So many amazing riffs that are carried by a great depth in both the songwriting and themes.
That opening title track instantly takes you to the very dark yet epic world of Viking Metal, as crafted by underground metal gods Bathory. Strained, raspy vocals are in full choir support, and a slow and steady pace takes you into the martial atmosphere of the now abandoned gods. Riffs take a backseat to sustained power chords and rather melodic solos, as the atmosphere is integral here. Acoustic passages abound, capturing a folky feel throughout. It’s a truly epic monster of a track.
The rest of the album does pretty much that, except not as well. It’s a pretty consistent affair of long tracks, most being pretty slow and simple, all good for an awesome trip into the Viking’s realm. Personally, I still miss the speed and aggression of the pre-Hammerheart days, and the monotonous tempo gets tiring to me. Regardless, a very fine piece of work.
As far as pushing progressive themes like technicality, odd-time signatures, and intensely difficult musicianship, Atheist pretty much took the crown when they dropped Unquestionable Presence. They took elements from Watchtower in general and Death’s most technical moments and shot it all up to 11. Every song is one of those multi-movement marvels where so much is going on and it changes so often that your mind is constantly struggling to grasp it. People say there’s a Jazz influence here – maybe, but I don’t think that was intentional. Atheist never stray into chaotic or improvisation territory, as everything is so exact it’s almost the antithesis to Jazz.
The mind-boggling music of the album does have a weakness though. Personally, I prefer Atheist’s debut, Piece of Time, for one simple reason; it was riff-focused. It still had a ton of extremely technical work, but first and foremost they had awesome and memorable riffs. Unquestionable Presence, for all it’s power and might, fails to grab me with any significant moments. Over 20 listens on and I still couldn’t tell you one song from another. At least this complexity assures the album will always be enjoyable front to back, never in danger of burning itself out.
There really is no other era of Skid Row other than Sebastian Bach-era Skid Row is there? The shit that got put out by the band post-Subhuman Race really bears no resemblance to any of their first three records. The fact is, Bach was the icing on the cake for a bunch of sleazy cock-rockers with a penchant for making hard-hitting and punchy hard-rock and metal. For all of Hill and Sabo's efforts on guitar their riffs, licks and leads hardly surpassed average and it was usually Bach's full frontal attack vocals that drove the band forwards. On their sophomore I would suggest that he (again) more than carries his fair share of the workload, taking some solid enough songs and elevating them that extra mile to make them memorable.
Whilst Slave To The Grind is notably a step down from the quality of the debut album it still retains some of that youthful exuberance albeit it does sometimes direct this into goofy tracks such as the cringey Quicksand Jesus (one of the few tracks that the guitars save Bach) which is poorly written and obviously lacks finesse. Similarly, Get The Fuck Out screams G n' R wannabees with the emphasis on shock overriding any real focus on album composition.
Single fodders such as In A Darkened Room and Wasted Time haven't aged well in all honesty and are only minorly less of a cringe-fest than the aforementioned Quicksand Jesus, however the one consistent element that in the main makes things more palatable is Bach's pipes. Yes, the guitars maintain a nice hi-tempo where appropriate and also can cause those melancholic moments to linger a little while longer with their bluesy tone on the slower numbers and Bolan's bass is a virtual ever present plonk and rumble across the record, it is Bach's performance that stays with you. On tracks like Living on a Chain Gang he utterly delivers, driving the energy forwards across one of the best tracks on the album.
Rob Affuso's drums sound a bit lost in all honesty. There's a flatness to them that makes them sound like they weren't washed in the same energetic detergent that the rest of the instruments were. This isn't to say his performance is bad, it just takes a proper sift into the record to kind of pick them up. For all of my praise of Bach, one thing that occurred to me today was how rushed his vocals can sound on some tracks here. This gives a sense often of wantonness in terms of the delivery, like he knows how good he is and doesn't really care how well the delivery fits in with everything else.
Fifteen year old me would probably have this album rated higher than a three but then again that's the gift/curse of growing old - you hear things through different ears in all honesty. When I set aside the nostalgia and really listen, the album doesn't come alive in quite the same way that it used to.
Murmuüre is an artist I had a sum total of zero knowledge about coming into this, although it seems there is very little to know as this half an hour seems to be the complete recorded output of sole member F (b. Felix Naos). Unfortunately, I've got a really low tolerance for avant-garde or particularly experimental music so this is not at all my sort of thing. A lot of it sounds like tape loops or some sort of electronic jiggerypokery going on instead of "real" black metal and it started to jar on my nerves very quickly - part way through Reincarnate I was beginning to struggle. A large part of the album also uses the same technique with ambient pieces which are marginally more successful than the overtly black metal sections, although that isn't saying much.
I guess this was a case of trying to bring something new to black metal, utilising DJing techniques in a metal environment, and it's metallic collage effect certainly is different. Is that a justification for it's existence? Yes, I would have to say it probably is. Did I get much out of it? Resoundingly no, I did not. I'm sorry, I don't know what more to say, but while I admire the ambition, the result is piss poor as far as I'm concerned. Then again, if black metal is supposed to piss people off and get under their skin, to that end it succeeded with me.
The Jack Of All Black Metal
Rotting Christ’s debut seems to put them in a strange, in-between spot compared to the rest of the early 1990’s Black Metal landscape. They aren’t as tremolo focused or lo-fi as Darkthrone, nor as riff focused as Samael, nor as chaotic or evil as Mayhem, nor as thematic as Satyricon, so where does that leave them? For me, Thy Mighty Contract tries its best to pull a lot of different Metal influences into a cohesive but varied package, but fails to be very exciting at the end of the day. The album is filled with a smorgasbord of different tones and styles, ranging from classic blast beat tremolo, to mid-tempo Heavy Metal style riffing, to attempts at symphonic elements during tracks like “Dive the Deepest Abyss”, but I can’t say that Rotting Christ mastered any of these yet.
Given that they play so many different kinds of riffs throughout the album, it’s slightly unfortunate that I think Rotting Christ is at their weakest when they’re playing straight up Black Metal. The tremolo sections in “Transform All Suffering into Plagues” and “Coronation of the Serpent” are devoid of any sort of drum fills or flourishes, making them way too repetitive and downright uninteresting for the most part. “Exiled Archangels” does a better job with its more interesting melody and interesting layering of the guitars, but I’m still just waiting for these sections to be over and done with as I make my way through the album. Rotting Christ shines a bit brighter with their mid-tempo Black Metal riffage, with tracks like the aforementioned “Exiled Archangels” and “Dive the Deepest Abyss” becoming much better once they transition out of the tremolo and into the chug portions. While the riffing is good it’s not exactly stellar either, coming up short in comparison to its peers and even some of its contemporaries like Bathory’s mid-tempo tracks. The vocals are also pretty middle-of-the-road for me as well, with vocalist Necromayhem showing he has a decently varied range when it comes to his Black Metal shrieks, but he rarely steals the show.
Thy Mighty Contract lacks some overall aggression and presence and attempts to make up for it with an evil, occult atmosphere with some of the synth work, but ends up sounding fairly half-baked overall. Even though I’ve been pretty harsh on this album, I think it comes down to having the knowledge that other Black Metal albums I really enjoy simply execute all the parts of Rotting Christ’s style in better ways than what they showcase on this album. For someone who is looking to figure out their niche or taste in Black Metal I think Thy Mighty Contract would be a great recommendation, since it does a decent job at covering a lot of the aspects that other Black Metal bands specialize in. While their tremolo riffs drag a bit, their mid-tempo riffs aren’t exactly the hardest hitting ones I’ve ever heard, and their attempts at creating an occult atmosphere are hit or miss, there are still some great moments and transitions hidden in a few tracks like “His Sleeping Majesty”, “Exiled Archangels”, and “The Fourth Knight Of Revelation”. While I don’t think it aged as well or in the same ways as some of the other heavy hitting classics, it’s still a varied and inoffensive debut from yet another well known mid-1990’s Black Metal band.
After Mestarin kynsi won pretty much all of the critics 2020 best metal albums award, it was only a matter of time before those of us who caught on to Oranssi Pazuzu late would have to take the deep dive into the bands 2016 album, Värähtelijä. This album was equally as well received, if not more so, by critics at the time and as an outside looking in, I can only imagine why Oranssi Pazuzu were given such a loose second opportunity.
That's not to say that I do not like Värähtelijä, I absolutely do! But I've heard many atmospheric and psychedelic black metal albums in the years since this album was released and can only see it as a stepping stone towards greater things for Oranssi Pazuzu, including Mestarin kynsi!
First and foremost, I see Värähtelijä as an experimental project by comparison to its later sequel being the more refined mending of ideas together. This album contains a similar number of tracks as its follow up, but the tunes feel less impressive. The obvious outlier here is "Vasemman käden hierarkia", which sounds more like an extended jam session rather than a collection of ideas formulated together into something spectacular. At the very least, Ornassi Pazuzu are smart enough to make each of the tracks distinguishable from one another; a problem that many psychedelic albums face. After "Lahja" and the title track leave lots of space for post-rock elements, "Hypnotisoitu viharukous" drastically ramps up the intensity and is further explored on "Havuluu". And ending the album on the relatively laid back "Valveavaruus" gives this record a truly unsettling conclusion to a mostly unsettling project.
And even though the production on this album is very muddy, it does play into its benefit slightly. Psychedelic rock does not need to be riff-centric when it is the wall of sound technique that has been imported from atmospheric black metal that creates the comfortable, yet unsettling environment. I found that the fewer synthetic sounds did not help matters in making this nearly as unsettling as Ornassi Pazuzu may have thought, but these advances were made on later albums, so once again, I feel like this was an experiment for the band to see what would stick and then develop that sound further on subsequent releases.
But in the end, I know why people enjoy this record so much and while it may not be my personal cup of tea, I certainly appreciate its quality. For me, I prefer my atmo-black metal with sweeping melodic phrases and epic hooks and tales of folklore. Bit for an unsettling taste of psychedelic rock meets atmospheric black metal, you can never go wrong with Oranssi Pazuzu, even though I feel Mestarin kynsi is the culmination of this sound.
Since Black Metal has proven to be one of the most forward-thinking and impressive genres even into the 2020’s, I’ve found myself listening to a lot of it as I search for my favorite albums of the year. The scope of the genre is extremely broad and while most associate Black Metal with lo-fi production, tremolo riffs, and blast beats, it wasn’t even close to the only style of Black Metal to come out of the explosion of classic albums between 1992 and 1995. Ceremony of Opposites is incredibly far removed from the likes of Darkthrone or Emperor but still manages to convey the Black Metal feel through a few but important constants in the raspy vocals and small hints of synth-y orchestra in the background. The rest is a battering mix of heavy chug riffs, almost Industrial Metal sounding drums, and rolling bass riffs that sometimes forgets that it’s a Black Metal album altogether, especially on tracks like “Son of Earth”. I consider Black Metal to normally be a more natural sounding genre, mainly because of Atmospheric Black Metal’s tendency to make every album about walking through some snow-covered forest, but also because of how freeform and messy it can be at times. Samael turns that notion on its head entirely and offers up an almost mechanical sounding riff-fest on Ceremony of Opposites and I’m all for it.
I’ve grown to really enjoy the more complex tremolo progressions or the brutally technical melodies of extreme metal genres over the years, but at the bottom of my heart I’m a simple person; I like a solid, heavy riff. I’m not sure if there’s a riff on this album that I don’t like, with Samael bringing a chunky and poignant production quality that contrasts with the normally thin sounding production of Black Metal at the time. It may not have the heft of Death Metal production, but it almost gets there in the more rhythmic tracks like “To Our Martyrs” and “Flagellation”. Given the more mechanical style of the drums and guitars I’m not sure why the classic Black Metal orchestra synths sound so good and give the tracks a ton of creepy atmosphere, but they pull it off somehow. All of this comes together in short but satisfying tracks that barely reach the 4-minute mark most of the time. Each track revolves around its main riff but certain sections in “’Till We Meet Again”, “Crown”, and closer “Ceremony of Opposites” take interesting detours into a more traditional Black Metal style. “Ceremony of Opposites” especially showcases this with its even slower tempo and ample use of Atmospheric Black Metal style synth, ending the album on a note that feels like it shouldn’t fit the album, but it helps to tie everything together nicely in my opinion.
As much praise as I’m giving this unique take on classic Black Metal, it’s a fairly simple riff-fest at the end of the day. Even though there’s some nuanced and neat additions like the background orchestration and some killer bass grooves hidden beneath the pounding of the kick drum, I doubt this album will be much of a grower for me or most people. I think Ceremony of Opposites caught me at a good point in my listening where I wanted nothing more than to rock out to some gnarly, grooving riffs, but it’s absolutely had enough depth to keep me coming back for more. The riffs of “Black Trip”, “Son of Earth”, “Mask of the Red Death”, “Baphomet’s Throne”, and “Flagellation” show that this less theatrical, stripped down version of Black Metal earns every merit that it gets. It also shows that Black Metal is truly a genre that can be pushed, pulled, or stretched in any direction to create exciting and quality music, depending on what you’re looking for. I can see my opinion of Ceremony of Opposites dropping over time but for now I think it’s a phenomenally fun album that doesn’t miss a single time when it comes to riffs.
There comes a time in every prog snob's lifetime where they have to separate the technicality of the music from the actual quality. For far too long, I have found myself being overly favorable to progressive rock/metal albums for the sole purpose of "yep, this doesn't sound anything like what you hear on the radio!" despite the fact that in the lexicon of progressive music, an album may sound formulaic. With that being said, I can honestly say that I have never heard ANYTHING that sounds remotely close to Lucid Planet in my lifetime. The closest comparison that I can make is if you took the psychedelic's and post-metal of early 2000s Tool and combined it with some Orphaned Land and perhaps some of the modern electronic trends that have been plaguing a lot of alternative metal bands in recent years; most notably Bring Me The Horizon, Architects and Bullet For My Valentine. And even then that still does not even scratch the surface!
Lucid Planet II is an intoxicating album which sees the band mess around the spectrum of psychedelic music with a record that never feels like it is confined to the label of "Metal". How appropriate since Tool feels very much the same way. They use sitar, tabla, strings, digeridoo and various other horns throughout the mix. While certain interlude passages incorporate electronic percussion in addition to acoustic parts. The electric guitars are sparse and do not play a super important role as they would on say an early 2000s Opeth record. It all comes together into a nicely fit package that defies the laws of progressive metal, emphasis on the word "metal".
Because unlike many of Lucid Planet's contemporaries, this is a band that cares about their interludes, if you can even call them that. In comparison to songs like "Organic Hard Drive" and "Face the Sun", "Entrancement" "Offer" and "Digital Ritual" are significantly shorter and contain very little of the metal tones that exist on the albums longer tracks. And I'll be damned if they aren't some of the best interludes I've heard on any album in quite some time! "Entrancement" lives up to its title by starting very ambient and peaceful, but gradually building up intensity through dynamics, but also adding significant percussion and vocals to the mix and growing as a whole and never becoming stale. I also really dig "Digital Ritual": while the first half is very ritualistic, the flip of glitchy percussion and bombastic synths on the second half sounds incredible!
But outside of the interludes, the rest of the album is very solid as well. The opener "Anamnesis" splits the difference between Lateralus era Tool and Katatonia, which carries into "Organic Hard Drive". While "Face the Sun" and "Zenith" end the album on a trance induced high note that is quite stunning in its follow through of all of the ideas put forth up to this point, and flowing one into the next without feeling chopped up and poorly balanced together. Another thing that Lucid Planet are able to pull off incredibly well on this album is seamless transitions. Like with a lot of progressive/technical albums with so many uncommon time signatures, it can become very difficult to make moving between themes sound fluent. This album has plenty of moments that will make you wonder "how the hell did we get from point A to point B and I didn't even notice!" The one that I picked up on was the flawless transition from triplets to sixteenth notes on "On the Way".
Where I will knock a couple of points back from Lucid Planet II is that some of the longer songs do not feel as memorable as even some of Tool's longer songs. But where Lucid Planet makes up for that is in the incredible interludes and simple repetitive motifs that persist throughout songs and in some cases, throughout the entire album.
At the beginning, I mentioned how prog snobs need to get over the fact that their music sounds nothing like radio friendly rock/metal and that the technicality does not automatically make an album a classic. With that being said, Lucid Planet's sophomore album is one in which I feel its unique charm plays into its benefit. Nothing else sounds like this and I highly doubt that anything will ever sound like this. It borrows from all over the spectrum of psychedelia and creates a new entity that is just as intoxicating as the sum of its parts. If any of that descriptor interests you, then let Lucid Planet II take you on a journey unlike any other.
It's 1995 and we have had the technical wizardy of Nocturnus as well as the progressive structuring of Atheist reach the shores of Portugal. Here, death/thrash metallers Disaffected are just dropping album number one after four years of demos (well all in 1992 actually) and the record reeks of both the aforementioned bands to high heaven. Unable to avoid wearing their influences on their sleeves, Disaffected churn out twelve tracks of technical and progressive death metal that include one Acheron cover and an instrumental to boot.
There's a fair old amount of Death in here also but the keyboards of Fatima Jeronimo (yes really) add a much more atmosphere tinged experience to most tracks adding to this sense of the ethereal alongside the fluid and precise guitar playing which lends from Schuldiner heavily in places but feels like a genuine celebration as opposed to wankery worship. Nearly all the tracks have this air of mystery to them and use great builds to achieve the dizzy heights of some fine death metal. Other influences creep in, such as Morbid Angel (just fleetingly, here and there) as well as the more consistent Edge of Sanity references. Throughout all of this though, Disaffected manage to stand out as talented, skilled musicians who can carry off al these parts and not fluff them or make them boring.
As such, it is an album that defies structure in terms of a consistent form across the record. The chaos of Phelebotomized minus the slower, doom elements springs to mind when listening to some of the more avant-garde aspects to the record. Wherever the band's sound takes you as a listener there is absolutely no doubt that the band have some real bite and intensity to their sound, with solid riffing often forming part of some (largely twisted) backbone to songs from which eruptions or off-shoots often form to avoid the feeling of safety ever becoming present. The disorienting bloops and blips in the middle of The Praxis of the non-Being are unexpected in a track that whilst it most definitely does go off-piste is also very riff based at the same time. Instrumental track Allusion is an enticing and beautiful piano piece that I have to say is quite unexpected, but the furious and bestial riffing of Dead Like My Dreams that immediately follows this is even more unexpected. Here, again are the blooping keys (along with some odd tribal drumming) but this time it detracts from the music a little too much in my book.
You are required to focus a lot on Vast otherwise you will miss something and wonder how you went from that swirling technical alchemy to a straight up riff fest. The prog elements tend to arc of the tracks like solar flares. You know they are bright and attention grabbing if not potentially very dangerous but you can always see where they originated from. This is the beauty of Vast, it is a very rewarding album that is not just focused on trying to outwit the listener, more there's a feeling that it is always trying to entertain you.
It isn't perfect, and last sentence before this withstanding, I do get lost sometimes - even at my most focussed. But for an album I found completely at random, I can't recall how often I have felt this rewarded by a release from a completely unknown band.
The concept of blackened doom is still relatively a new to me. Having been off exploring Yith and Mizmor in recent months/years I have been meaning to branch out further into this niche sub-genre. The enchanting melancholy of the doom matches perfectly the enchanting melancholy of black metal (fittingly) and I find it odd that I didn't connect the two as a blended form of metal until recently.
This journey of discovery saw me stumble across Lowered. Hailing from Portland (which increasingly seems to be a geographical reference in most new music I find nowadays) this three-piece play the doom well utilising the kind of sludgy movement and structure to tracks as opposed to outright sounding all that sludgy all the time. What tends to happen is the blackened elements elevate the doom aspects to the sound, shrouding it in further misery and nihilistic mentality.
The album sounds very destructive and violent throughout, with explosions of surging tremolos over blastbeats being tempered by slower more calculated misery to give a real sense of a dual attack of differing yet equally effective means. Vocalist Anna has a very dark and raw style that borders on death metal a lot of the time. The climbing riffs of Nate McLeary (of Ossuarium fame - who also does bass here) add expansion to the sound and the solid yet suitably murky drums of Ian Makau (Black Hole of Calcutta guitarist and sometimes vocalist) are strong in their entrenched mire supporting the rhythm of each song well.
The downside is really that a lot of this sounds the same and only the final song really stands out for me. Call of the Moon is a big looming monster of an album closer that kills off any last vestiges of hope with its devastating riffs and earth-splitting drums. In all honesty, overall I would like a bit more atmosphere and a lot less sludge but I can't deny those doomy tones make for an interesting listen.
Flight of Slepinir have been a big favourite of mine since the release of their 2011 album, Essence of Nine. Eventide is their seventh album in twelve years, so they have proven themselves to be consistent performers for more than a decade. FoS have quite a distinctive sound, predominantly doom metal with a strong black metal influence especially, but not solely, in the vocal department - singer (and drummer) David Csicsely has quite an abrasive-sounding black metal shriek. The band also like to incorporate psychedelic elements into their music which often gives them a more positive vibe than you would expect from a band whose core sound revolves around black and doom metal. Previous album Skadi was, in fact, their most positive sounding release yet, even managing to feel quite laid back at times.
Eventide is quite a different release, and may be their heaviest album yet, focussing more on the doom and especially the black metal elements and pretty much eschewing any psychedelic influence for a much harder-sounding release. In fact, the only real concession to psychedelia is the first half of Harvest, which sounds like it could have been recorded by The Byrds in the Sixties.
The album's six tracks span just under three-quarters of an hour and all weigh in between six and eight minutes, so no track overstays it's welcome, but all are allowed to develop sufficiently. I really love the way they manage to transition so effortlessly and organically between the faster, more aggressive black metal and the slower doom passages. However, no matter which style they are employing at any particular time, most of the riffs are quite melodic and hook-filled - that riff they employ in Thaw is absolutely killer. This isn't at all the same kind of black/doom release you would expect from someone like Yith where they use the black/doom fusion to double down on the negative and hopeless atmosphere they create, but it is generally more about the riffs than creating any kind of atmosphere.
I'm really hoping this is some kind of breakthrough album for FoS because they are just so damn good it seems a shame that so few know or care about them and they definitely deserve to be more widely heard.
Ushering in what would become Megadeth's "golden era", 1990's 'Rust in Peace' was the album where all the pieces fit together perfectly. Dave Mustaine was sober (again... for now...), a new line-up was in place that was superior to any that had come before (and probably after...), and the music was a perfect bookend to the thrash metal scene that was on its last legs (for the time being...).
1988's 'So Far, So Good... So What!', with only a couple of notable songs and pretty rough production, was a bit of a disappointment, and with mainstream success on the horizon, it was time for the band to get their act together. With another new line-up change (their third over four albums), main man Mustaine and bassist David Ellefson were joined by drummer Nick Menza and guitar virtuoso Marty Friedman. And the difference is noticeable immediately.
'Rust in Peace' sees the band really step up the intensity and precision in their playing, with some of their most technical and relentless compositions. The chemistry between Mustaine and Friedman is incredible, with both men given ample time to shine, though it's Friedman's exotic guitar licks and ripping solos that truly raise the game for Megadeth. A much-improved production means that every note is crisp and clear, and with the 80's thrash boom coming to an end, this would at least ensure the subgenre would go out with a bang!
However, transcending the thrash genre and often cited as one of the best metal albums of all time, period, this is where I feel 'Rust...' tends to become slightly mired by hyperbole. Don't get me wrong, 'Holy Wars... The Punishment Due', 'Hanger 18', 'Tornado of Souls' and 'Rust in Peace... Polaris' are all absolute classics. And that's an understatement. These are truly some of metals finest and most endearing pieces, having stood the test of time and still being as impactful today as they were in 1990. But let's be honest with ourselves here... 'Five Magics'... 'Poison Was the Cure', even 'Dawn Patrol', which serves as a breather from the barrage of headbanging mayhem, are all fairly average tracks, and while they're not awful, they're not all that memorable, either.
This doesn't take much away from 'Rust in Peace', though. It's status as a classic metal album is fully warranted, and while I may not rate it as highly as most others, there's no denying that this is Megadeth's best, most beloved and most innovative work.
It is with a heavy heart that I must confess to not enjoying the opening track on Kvitravn. I have heard a lot of Wardruna in my time and the dark ambience of their equally gloomy folk music is what really appeals to me, this ethereal beauty of their music is mesmerising to me. Hearing their latest opus commence with an upbeat, positive sounding number, Synkverv is disappointing and unexpected.
Thankfully this is the only track that sets a foot wrong and the rest of the album is absolutely pristine in terms of quality and outright touching and emotive song writing. Highlights such as the title track with its haunting strings and shadowy female vocals, Skugge with its tribal tendencies and the superbly sultry Grá all land in the first four tracks of the record, setting a high standard which is well maintained through to the end of the album.
This feels like a real coming of age record, which is ironic because for my money Wardruna have rarely put a foot wrong. This album just has this sense of majesty to it, with the traditional and minimalist instrumentation gelling perfectly with the atmospherics to create a truly consuming experience that is beyond just mere listening to music. I am fortunate enough to live near some woods and get to walk through them most days and listening to Kvitravn during these morning ambles through nature is one of life's absolute pleasures.
Equally though I can still feel that connection to nature and indeed the history being expressed here just by sitting in my lounge or office and putting this album on. One of the few real listening experiences I have heard this year so far and it has come from a non-metal release.
A Bio-Mechanical World
Progressive Metal used to be my genre growing up, but I feel as if I have to go elsewhere nowadays to get the same sorts of twists and turns that used to excite me. Thirty-ish years into the genre’s supposed inception the label itself is becoming a bit disingenuous, leading listeners into a likely trap that promises something new, complex, impressive, or intricate. More often than not I find myself looking to Technical Death and Thrash or the more avant-garde side of Black Metal to provide most of the cutting-edge additions for Metal over something that’s literally named for supposedly progressing the genre. While a good portion of Progressive Metal feels sadly shackled to its predecessors, there’s always going to be a group or two who refuse to remain stagnant and quietly release fresh and exciting content for people lucky enough to stumble upon it. In 2020 that group for me was Lucid Planet, who were a quick and nonchalant recommendation from a coworker that I didn’t exactly rush around to get to at the time. When I finally did it was clear that Lucid Planet II was one of the most unique and impressive albums of 2020, as shown by its top 20 placing on my list, but returning to it with some hindsight shows that this album still has a ton of life left in it.
I’ll only reference Tool once since it’s important, but want to get it out of the way early. Lucid Planet’s 2015 debut, self-titled album showed that they were a band that was heavily influenced by said aforementioned band to a point where it was an obvious crutch for them. Unlike other clones, though, these Australians showed some serious promise since they chose to focus on some of the Tool’s stranger and more atmospheric tendencies more than anything else, allowing them to fully transition into their own with Lucid Planet II. Within the span of one album, they’ve managed to carve out a fantastic spot for themselves by doubling, if not tripling down on the aspects of their music that made them unique in the first place rather than taking the easy path down the weathered road, worn down by the travels of many other Progressive Metal bands. These aspects range anywhere from psychedelia, tribal, or electronica and meld together into a product that is absolutely dripping with character, atmosphere, and expression. I’m a massive fan of consistent theming when it comes to albums and Lucid Planet II delivers a wildly organic but somehow unnatural sounding meshing of concepts using mechanical sounding electronics fused with loose and psychedelic atmospheres. Through tracks like “Organic Hard Drive” and “Digital Ritual” Lucid Planet have really created their own alien landscape filled with slightly familiar qualities warped in a way that makes the listener feel uneasy but still awestruck by what’s around them, like walking aimlessly through a strange sort of forest on another planet.
This consistent natural versus mechanical atmosphere and feel of Lucid Planet II is what drives it forward and what makes the rest of the Progressive Metal riffing and solos have a ton more punch than they otherwise would. This album spends a lot of time on the low end, taking ample amounts of time to build up to each new section and riff introduction. While the album does have some great riffs and metal sections, most of the magic lies in the extended sections between them, combining tribal percussion with sputtering, warbling synths coupled with a clear sense of progression through the songwriting that makes it feel like each section that might sometimes be a bit too drawn out for its own good was worthwhile to sit through. Most of “Anamensis”, “Face the Sun”, and “Zenith” are comprised of these softer, more stripped down sections that explore all of these different tribal and electronic influences rather than hard-hitting riffs, even though they definitely pop up here and there. If anything, the biggest issue I have with Lucid Planet II isn’t necessarily about the atmospheric sections being too long, it’s the climaxes not sticking around for long enough. The buildups and transitions throughout Lucid Planet II are incredible, but it feels like the payoff for all the buildup doesn’t stick around for long enough for it to really make an impact sometimes. “Face the Sun” and the closer “Zenith” are especially guilty of this, even though I can understand the choice for “Zenith” to act as a climactic closer to the album. “Face the Sun” has about two minutes of total payoff over the course of a 12-minute track, plus an extra five minutes of electronic musings from “Digital Ritual” beforehand, and even though I love “Face the Sun’s” surprise Arabic turn I just wish there was more of it.
Even though Lucid Planet may not completely capitalize on their big moments, the smooth as silk transitions and progressions to get to those moments are entrancing. I believe that one of the most important aspects to having compelling atmospheric sections is never losing the groove of the concept you’re trying to convey, and Lucid Planet II showcases how to intricately progress an album through a plethora of styles without ever losing its footing. There’s a natural and freeform flow between everything that Lucid Planet writes that’s established in the first two songs, with “Anamensis” being a fantastic intro that sets the stage for what’s to come and “Entrancement” instantly turning the album on its head with its repetitive tribal chanting and percussion. Most of the tracks offer their own distinct twist though since Lucid Planet II barely repeats itself throughout its hour runtime, even with the more psychedelic and electronic breaks in “Digital Ritual” having a very different vibe than something like “Organic Hard Drive” or “Face the Sun”. The album doesn’t necessarily have a linear progression but it seems to start out more organic and grounded sounding with more tribal influences, but eventually shifts away towards a more spacey or heavenly feel starting at “Digital Ritual” and culminating with “Zenith”. The use of some harmonizing female vocals during certain sections help to add some spice as well, especially since Lucid Planet’s lead vocalist tends to sing to enhance the atmosphere rather than show off his pipes. To my ears there’s even a nod to a Ne Obliviscaris style violin in “Face the Sun”, which is something that I didn’t even pick up on until going to write this.
What’s left for Lucid Planet II is the actual Progressive Metal sections and while I don’t think they would hold up so well on their own, Lucid Planet’s songwriting and use of all their other strange elements highlights the riffs and bass grooves in a stellar way. The beginning of “On the Way” is probably the most traditional Progressive Metal example with its driving layered riffing and seamless transition into the atmospheric second half. The bass also has that satisfyingly poignant and plucky tone that is heavily inspired by that band that I refuse to name more than twice in this review. It’s tough because I think this is where Lucid Planet II falters the most since the big Progressive Metal moments are pretty fleeting given the length of the album, even though there are a ton of other small sections and riffs that are memorable. I still believe that this works in their favor, though, because the selling point of this album is it’s unnerving and alien aura. It’s an album with a lot of weird, earthy, and sometimes squishy sounds and influences that are wrangled up into an organic and cohesive project that has only gotten better with time for me personally. In a time where it feels like it’s difficult for Progressive Metal to progress, Lucid Planet has created an incredibly overlooked experience that is uniquely captivating and sleek through and through, even though it may not be for everyone due to how atmospherically focused it is.
Wanna hear what electro-dubstep mutating electro-rap rock from a nu metal sounds like? Look no further to the second full-length remix album from one of the biggest bands of the world! Here you would find remixes of almost every song in the album Living Things, including the greatest hits of the album like "Lost in the Echo" (now with KillSonik), "Powerless" (now with Enferno), and "Until It Breaks" (now with Datsik), and...
ACK, I just turned the first paragraph of this review that's harsh for the greater good into an advertisement! Let's just get the criticism in here; it's all just bleeding 8-bit dancehall 'n' bass that wails a lot, harmful to those with hearing epilepsy. The only great moments of the album are the one new song "A Light That Never Comes (with famous DJ Steve Aoki) and the remix by Linkin Park's album producer in the non-metal era Rick Rubin. But what's really a disaster is, they never remixed "In My Remains". One of my favorite songs of Living Things DOESN'T HAVE A F***ING REMIX!!! For all you metalheads intolerant to music that's strictly EDM, you might wanna avoid a lot of this at all costs....
Favorites (only songs I truly like): "A Light That Never Comes" (both the original and the remix)
The Uroboros (or as it is typically referred to in the English language as "Ouroboros") is the image of a snake swallowing its own tail as a symbol of the infinite; an object with no discernable start or end point. I think that from a completely compositional standpoint, Dir en Grey's classic 2008 album has a significant problem where it tries to swallow more than it can physically chew. This band who began as an alternative rock/metal band with elements of nu-metal decided to go off the rails with this album and create something that has influences from so many different places: thrash metal, visual kei, death metal, industrial music, and compositions that borrow a lot from progressive and avant-garde music. That alone might make one question whether or not this belongs under the alternative metal tag at all!
While there may be some elements that resemble funk and post-hardcore, this album feels nothing like any of those genre representations. They feel more like temporary passing elements on what I can only assume the band perceives as a conceptual musical journey. And it all felt so jarring to me! What it reminded me of the most was last years album I Let It In And It Took Everything by English based Loathe, even if to a lesser extent. With that album, it tried to split the difference between pummeling metalcore and Deftones-esque shoegaze. And the strangest part of all is that I enjoyed that shoegaze/alternative metal sound more than the hardcore stuff! I think Uroboros falls into a lot of the same jurisdictions for me. Songs like "Toguro" and "Bugaboo" are wonderful displays of how progressive music can be made "accessible". The later of those being quite significant since it has a riff that is almost a blatant flip of Dirt era Alice In Chains!
But the rest of it? I could care less! The album starts off on terrible footing with the extended "Vinushka", an extended wank fest with no direction. That carried into "Red Soil" and "Doukoku To Sarinu" before collecting themselves and actually creating a decent hook/groove for "Toguro". "Gaika, Chinmoku Ga Nemurukoro" is a straight up death metal song before "Dozing Green" and "Inconvenient Ideal" brings back some of that visual kei and gothic trends. If that sounds like a lot to digest...it's because it is. And while most of it is produced well, the significantly heavier stuff does have a big problem of highlighting the percussion bass drum rather than the fundamental bass parts.
I would assume that if you appreciate progressive/avant-garde music as much as I do, this constant genre swapping might not bother you as much as many others. But for those approaching this as another Dir En Grey album are going to be alarmed by the balancing act. But that still isn't going to keep me from pointing out all of the inconsistencies in both the songwriting as well as production throughout. This will certainly serve as a "find the songs you like" album for most, but the good stuff is of such top quality that it still sees Uroboros sinking further between the teeth.
At that point in 2012, Linkin Park had quite a problem in their hands. After the showering fanfare in the first half of the 2000s caused by their first two albums of nu metal/rap rock, they tangled themselves up in a plethora of different sounds in Minutes to Midnight, including a few U2-inspired ballads and a laughable political rap, with very little trace of their actual heavier style. A Thousand Suns shows the band joining the rock opera concept album club that includes Green Day's 21st Century Breakdown and My Chemical Romance's Danger Days, and just like that club, they reached for the mainstream stars while falling from rock grace. Then here we are at Living Things, a return to good ol' rap rock with a better balance of rapping and screaming. However, the electronic elements are still there to divide the band's fanbase. Well I didn't mind the electronic elements in their previous album, but let's find out how they turn out in this one...
I gotta admit, there's a decent amount to admire with the better sense for the band to abandon the heavily electronic direction A Thousand Suns would've taken them. It's good that they know to have balance, and they left the rock opera concept album club to continue working on individual themes they last had in Meteora. That was a great move on their part and I respect them for that.
"Lost in the Echo" is the ultimate album opener for a rap rock album. Mike Shinoda performs an incredible rapping verse while the later Chester Bennington performs an aggressive yet melodic chorus, a much better combo than, say, Equilibrium's Renegades. It's not too catchy or as heavy as Hybrid Theory, but definitely more powerful than Minutes to Midnight. "In My Remains" is another memorable track with a mid-tempo beat. "Burn It Down" sounds similar to the previous track and probably should've had a slightly later position in the track listing, but that doesn't matter. That song has Shinoda's best rapping in the album. 3 tracks in, and while not exactly groundbreaking, they're nostalgic highlights that is a step up from anything they have done in their non-metal era. What could go wrong in this album?
After that interesting opening quarter of the album, "Lies Greed Misery" is the worst ever attempt to recreate their earlier nu metal sound. I say it's too heavily electronic for that resurrection attempt! "I’ll Be Gone" lacks anything worth standing out. "Castle of Glass" is OK, but could've been far better. "Victimized" is the closest sounding to the band's nu metal roots and a hint at their heavier next album, but it's constructed as just a lazy sh*t show. The angsty lyrics are just too redundant, and while you can head-bang to the screaming chorus, I would hit my head on the wall to make myself forget that bullsh*t. "Roads Untraveled" is quite a mystery of how Bennington would sing solo in all vocal positions. This wouldn't be bad if he didn't sound so emotionless and sleepy. And if the excellent rapping of Shinoda was around, the song would be leveled up much higher, like a salesman getting demoted to secretary. That's how poorly the album is suffering. However, "Skin to Bone" is a gem that makes up for those forgettable songs with one of the catchiest choruses here, though containing the trite line "ashes to ashes, dust to dust."
"Until It Breaks" has more beautiful glory in the chorus and ending, though the rapping verses are great as well. "Tinfoil" is the experimental prelude to the final track. "Powerless" is a breathtaking ballad that stands out greatly. The most emotional non-metal album ending I've heard since the end of HIM's final album Tears on Tape.
All in all, Living Things is difficult to enjoy at its fullest, and many of their influences that they had in the first two records were replaced with something less heavy and more modern. They tried returning to their earlier form of Hybrid Theory, but they failed miserably to regain the passion in their music and lyrics. Their calmer mature moments and their earlier heavier glory outshine each other in a war where half of each army is slain. Still there are some songs that sound so emotional, including that last track that they should've used Chester's funeral. It's nice for the band to kick up a little more life, but it's not until their next studio album that marks a heavier comeback....
Favorites (the only songs I somewhat or truly enjoy): "Lost in the Echo", "In My Remains", "Burn It Down", "Skin to Bone", "Until It Breaks", "Powerless"
Once more unto the breach as I take on my second Oranssi Pazuzu full-length. The first foray into their discography saw a shiny gatefold vinyl copy of Mestarin Kynsi arrive in the post such was my level of enjoyment from it. On the basis of that experience I approached this record thinking I knew what to expect having digested the aforementioned release over many sittings. Although probably near impossible to predict let alone map, an Oranssi Pazuzu record does come with some discernible traits. Chaotic yet progressive structures, scathing black metal assaults and dense atmospherics, drenched in waves of psychedelic hysteria and near cosmic lengths of reach. All of these are present virtually on track one on Värähtelijä.
There's nothing pretty about anything OP have done (I suspect - yet to experience all of their discography). Their 2016 album is absolutely terrifying yet immensely impressive at the same time. Throughout its seven tracks there is an ominous sense of being lulled into a false sense of security by the calmer, more organised passages that crackle with the tension that comes with knowing that an imminent disruption to this equilibrium is due. Things never feel settled on this record and that makes for a unique listening experience. As such, it is an album that bristles with tautness bordering on sheer panic. Sometimes the follow through of that threat never comes within the track that it starts to build in, instead you find yourself peering at the counter to see if a particular track has gone away or if the same one has taken some unearthly shift and you are yet to be hit with the next disorientating impact.
You can almost be forgiven for thinking that at times, two different tracks are playing. Like when you are streaming music and accidentally start an album on YouTube through the same audio source. This is the real clever bit as since the album overall has minimal direct black metal links, the ethos of the harsh and scathing nature of the genre is substituted by the band deploying the psychedelic sounds as direct contrast to rhythms or tempos to develop this sense of opposing forces or interests. The wavering sounds of a keening organ-like effect throughout the title track is a mesmerising example of this. What starts off as playing like some dark soundtrack to some Scandanavian detective drama soon takes on a real otherworldly slant. Likewise, the stabbing strings of Hypnotisoitu viharukous invoke this same sense of distraction from core elements of the track to offer unique contrast.
When in full on riff mode, the band are slapping Opeth-esque licks on the table like playing cards in a hi-stakes game of poker. Although they play their cards close to their chests for the most part of each track, I would suggest that the crippling combinations that (somehow) form such inspiring structures are down to one or two cards up their sleeves also.
Two records into the discography and I am completely sold on Oranssi Pazuzu. Their brand of psychadelic black metal with progressive influences is perhaps a genre all by itself, but wherever your genre boundaries land on this one it is still one of the best records to come out of Finland in the last decade, indeed maybe even out of Europe as a whole.
Now, I love Dreamscape, and over the years have come to consider them one of my favourite bands. Being cursed with a collectors OCD of having to own everything an artist puts out, their first album was a tough one to track down on disc, and when I finally did... I kind of wish I hadn't.
Considering that the good songs on this album would be re-recorded for the bands 'Revoiced' record, most of what we get here just feel like leftovers. And of the supposed "good ones", they just seem lifeless without later vocalist Roland Stoll. Perhaps it's just reflective of that mid-90's lull for metal bands, and in particular, other than a few notable big bands, progressive metal was still mostly an unknown subgenre that was relegated to the underground scene. Either way, 'Trance-Like State' just isn't an interesting release.
The musicianship is brilliant, as you'd expect from a band playing this style of music, and the production is alright, though nothing quite jumps out at you. There's a few good songs, such as 'Spirits', 'Face Your Fears' and 'Decisions', but in all honesty, there's not really anything here that makes me want to come back to this album.
With a staggering duration of 65 minutes, and a singer that sounds like he's taking it all way too seriously, 'Trance-Like State' just fails to deliver. Dreamscape are an awesome band however, and if you're new to them then you're better off starting with 'Revoiced' and discarding their first two albums.
Unless you're a collector like me! Damn OCD!
Like many 21st Century metalheads, my metal interest wouldn't have started without Linkin Park, specifically their diamond-selling debut Hybrid Theory and its sequel Meteora. The anger-angst combo stemming from Mike Shinoda's rapping and the late Chester Bennington is what got me hooked. Of course, I've already moved to heavier things, and while their first albums aren't exactly my favorites, they've planted the seed for my interest in bands that I've called favorites, starting with the power metal of DragonForce, then moving on to the modern metal of Trivium and Lamb of God, and currently in the post-/progressive metal of Meshuggah, Isis, and Rosetta. Those two Linkin Park albums really opened my ears to eventually where I am today. However, Minutes to Midnight really let me down in over half of its songs. Most of their nu metal was discarded for cr*ppy U2-ish pop-radio rock. Upon listening to their 4th album A Thousand Suns, I find a few better moments, but they still don't reach greatness...
To put it simply, the album provides 15 tracks of electro-alt-pop-rap-rock. And if you thought there would be a lot from 15 tracks, well... 6 of these tracks are interludes, the same amount as in Reanimation. Two 5ths of the album are interludes!! This leaves only 9 real songs! 9 songs wouldn't be that bad for an album by DragonForce or Isis, two bands that make longer songs, but this is Linkin Park, g****mn it! Most of the interludes are skippable anyway, like who would want robotic versions of famous speeches?
"The Requiem" is pretty good for the opening interlude, sounding like an actual mini-song. Shinoda sings in a pitched-up vocoder a line from a certain near-closing epic that we'll get to soon. "The Radiance" is a pointless interlude, unless you wanna hear a speech by J. Robert Oppenheimer. The real opening song "Burning in the Skies" is a catchy track for the radio that could've easily been a B-side in Minutes to Midnight and/or the "What I've Done" single. This track is actually slightly better executed than that single without ever reaching Killers-level catchiness. Nice one! "Empty Spaces" is a very short pointless interlude with war sound effects. Having curiously waited for a song with Shinoda's rapping anger, "When They Come for Me" is another highlight, completely returning to his true form that was faked in his rap songs in Minutes to Midnight. There's also a bombastic Indian-like percussion as the main beat, and while the song sounds to p*ssed off to be a single, the rap rock/nu metal fans might be most pleased since 10 years before the album's release.
"Robot Boy" continues the catchy radio appeal, but it sounds so bland, structured and sounding like a repetitive boy band. Another interlude "Jornada Del Muerto" (Day of the Dead) does not make anything better. "Waiting for the End" sounds much more optimistic, and I agree with most of the world that this one of the best non-metal tracks and of the album, highlighted by Shinoda doing rapping, but in a great melodic reggae-ish singing kind of way. "Blackout" is the weirdest of the bunch. The instrumentation is almost completely electronic, and Chester's vocals range from rapping to singing to screaming. That's right, the godly screaming of their first two albums! Those vocal styles all sound catchy though. If they added heavy guitars and had Shinoda doing the rapping verses, that would be their old heavier style. The second of the two rapping songs "Wretches and Kings" starts with an unnecessary excerpt Mario Savio's famous "bodies upon the gears" speech, then the song kicks off with a heavy beat and Shinoda's well-done rapping. Bennington sings the chorus more aggressive, and he seems to have adopted an African-like accent that some find annoying or hilarious, but I don't mind that chorus staying in my head for a while. Again, much better than the rap songs in Minutes to Midnight!
"Wisdom, Justice, and Love" is an interlude that I would let slide, because the speech by Martin Luther King Jr. is very historical, but why did the band ruin it with robotic vocal effects?! "Iridescent" is another song that's highly electronic, only this time with more emotional vocals and piano, and I mean some of the best vocals here! And it fits well with the third Transformers movie end credits that it ended up in, an uplifting song compared to "What I've Done" and "New Divide". The 6th and last interlude is a prelude to an almost 6-minute epic, but is it epic though? Sadly, "The Catalyst" is disappointing with barely any climax, just constantly looping an electronic beat. Though that beat and the vocals going strong and fast are good for a hotel stay in your head. And it's a far better closer than the unoriginal acoustic "The Messenger" that's not worth existing.
Despite many flaws and needless interludes, A Thousand Suns contains electronic tones, emotional vocals, and Shinoda's triumphant rapping that pointed the band towards higher hopes of keeping their mainstream streak going. There may be enjoyable memorable moments, but they were still far away from the revolution of Hybrid Theory....
Favorites (the only songs I somewhat or truly enjoy): "Burning in the Skies", "When They Come for Me", "Waiting for the End", "Wretches and Kings", "Iridescent"
The levels of hope and positivity in many power metal bands' sound can be the difference between me turning off a record or sitting through the entire length. Many bands fail to live up to the "power" promised by the genre tag and as is already documented by myself here I fail to get along with most of what I hear within the boundaries of such music. It was with the same amount of trepidation that I approached Apex having heard very little of the band to understand whether or not I was going to be coming away from the venture with that bitter taste on my tongue again.
What is clear from the off is that there's an energy to UtA that more or less from the first track left me in no doubt that I was going to enjoy this album. This wicked blend of devilish lead work coupled with solid riffing and equally assured percussion remedied any fears that I had coming into my opening few sessions of listening to it. When you add into the mix the fact that the vocalist is capable of applying her voice to control perfectly the pace of both individual tracks and the album as a whole then you know you are onto a winner. Brittney has a real knack for leaping up a couple of notches on the intensity and key of her voice to drive a track further along its usually epic trajectory, keeping the vocals firmly in the driving seat alongside two clearly very talented and hungry sounding guitarists. Above everything I hear on the record it is her vocals that I take away as the main memory of the album. What is even more impressive is that there's none of that shrieking and piercing bollocks that goes on with most of her female and (more so) male contemporaries which just shows the confidence she has in her own ability and how that fits in perfectly with the rest of the band also.
On the flip side of the otherwise perfect vocals of Brittney, there's the really annoying attempts of growls from Grant which are at times laughable. Coming off as more of a hiss than any real growl of substance, they just add a comedy element where I expect they had been intended to add some real menace and threat. They are the one thing that kept this album from full marks in all honesty and I am genuinely so annoyed with them it is untrue.
Getting back to the positive vibes though, what UtA do over the ten tracks that make up Apex is balance the catchiness with the detail that the more learned power metal fan would enjoy. For all the memorability of The Matriarch there's heaps of fantastical lyrical content and storytelling to encourage you to get under the skin of those big feisty riffs and track the storyline of the album further. This leads me to that fucking superb artwork of course which is "The Immortal" - the main character of the album asleep on one of his 1,000 year slumbers. If ever an album had artwork that matched the quality of the contents inside it is Apex. In researching this review I read an interview with the headline of "Unleash the Archers: Escapism Without Regrets" which I think is a perfect summary of just how entertaining this band are beyond just the sheer capability of the artists involved, they have clearly poured themselves into this record and the thought and effort in song writing, composition and arrangement shines across this record.
I leave this record each time feeling thoroughly entertained. Feeling like I have rediscovered my mojo for the enchanted legends and the fantastical landscapes in which they take place. An immensely uplifting record and one that is going on the vinyl purchase list.
Linkin Park has caused adoration and hatred from music fans worldwide. I used to be a Linkin Park super-fan myself when I was like 13, a year before my "real" metal interest. I built my collection with more than just the singles that everyone knows; I collected album tracks and B-sides. They never p*ssed me off...until recently.
When Minutes to Midnight was announced, the band said it would mark their departure from most of their nu metal sound, causing uncertainty from fans. I still appreciate the decent brilliance of both the Hybrid Theory and Meteora albums, but other fans think the latter is straight-up copied. Even the early announcements of their third album are total sh*t-starters when the late Chester Bennington mentioned "a mix of punk, classic rock, and hip-hop standards". That's one way to think of this album, I suppose...
Starting the album is the minute-and-a-half intro "Wake". It builds up slow and steady through promising ambience and a background campfire, but then it soars into alt-rock riffing over dense drumming. A well-done intro that sounds like the prelude to a certain brilliant single... However, this is what get instead as the first real song, "Given Up". It has an edgy punk-ish riff that's pretty cool, along with the unique clapping and key-jingling, both from Brad Delson, but they both don't sound right together as if he's trying to multitask poorly. And as if that wasn't poorly produced enough, Chester's vocals aren't the heavy type I like, more like a whining teenager after having his iPod taken away. All just 3 minutes of misery, except for the interesting moment of Chester's 17-second scream of "MISERYYYYYYY!!!!!!" After that roaring start comes the first ever ballad of the album and by the band, "Leave Out All the Rest". It's all right, but weaker than the previous track. The song shows a bit of the band's U2 influences. Chester sings nice clean vocals over average lyrics. "Bleed It Out" is much worse. Trying to create a "live" soundscape sounds a bit sloppy. Mike Shinoda raps as decently as in the previous albums, but the lyrics are more vulgar and nonsensical. Chester sounds more worn out in his edgy moments, as if that 17-second scream a couple tracks back strained his voice.
Once again following a hard song is another ballad, "Shadow of the Day", with more of their U2 influences. In fact, people have accused this song of being a rip-off of U2's song "With or Without You", and I kinda agree. They slowly build up into a pop rock climax, but it turns out to just be a boring anticlimax. Then the song ends, but not without an ambient prelude to one of Linkin Park's greatest non-metal songs ever... "What I've Done" is heard by practically everyone, especially those who have watched the first Transformers movie up to the end credits. It may sound like plain ol' pop rock, but it's done much better than any other song like that. I have nothing else to say about that beautiful piece. However, "Hands Held High" is something to rudely laugh at. It is the latter of the two rap songs here. Starting with organ and a marching beat like a cheesy march into an 18th/19th Century war, Mike's rapping is once again decent, but the lyrics are inspiring yet too cheesy to take seriously. The ending choir is so LOL-inducing!
After the lightest track of the album comes its heaviest one, "No More Sorrow". A sinister atmospheric intro allows the instruments to build up one by one, leading to a riff as well-done as my favorite type of steak. The lyrics basically graffiti-paint "F*** Bush" on the walls that don't help the poor vocals. However, making up for it is the chorus and instrumentation that is the best of the album. "Valentine’s Day" is where Chester's vocals sound the best, his vulnerable emotion singing nice lyrics that flow over light clean guitar. Then a buildup commences to a rock climax towards the end that might sound a bit cheesy but mostly well-done. "In Between" is another track with Mike taking the lead on the vocals, for the first time trying a clean singing style. However, he sounds so bored, like I am throughout that song. "In Pieces" really stands out, sounding dark and haunting with good vocals by Chester, and Brad's cool rare guitar solo. The final epic "The Little Things Give You Away" was the longest and slowest song by the band at the time with Chester vocals to highlight though sounding a bit annoying. The lyrics are the best here, a nice tribute to victims of Hurricane Katrina. The build-up is a bit bland though, sounding too drawn-out before the solo. However, that solo is worth the wait, and so is the good final part where Shinoda sings the lyrics much better than a couple tracks earlier, with Chester's background wails. What an epic!
Sadly, Minutes to Midnight shows how f***ed up the band had become. They reduced most of their earlier nu metal sound so they wouldn't get slammed for making another similar album in a row, and yet the end result is a pleasant yet sh*tty album. And they were the guys who made Hybrid Theory....
Favorites (the only songs I somewhat or truly enjoy): "Wake", "What I've Done", "No More Sorrow", "Valentine's Day", "In Pieces", "The Little Things Give You Away"
I'm no fan of rap. I'm too metal for rap! Yet I'm so familiar with Linkin Park for almost a decade now. They made waves of success with their coin-flipping hybrid rap/metal sound of the late Chester Bennington singing/screaming and Mike Shinoda rapping, and Shinoda can be quite the MC, far better than most other rappers. Shinoda's rapping skills were shining the most in the remix album Reanimation. They have a middle finger reserved for those who say that rock and hip-hop shouldn't co-exist.
Linkin Park still didn't feel like they had fulfilled their hip-hop/rock fusion vision, but they took things ONE STEP CLOSER with a new project dawning, Collision Course! However, it wasn't Linkin Park's idea to fuse songs by rap legend Jay-Z into their own, nor did Jay-Z come up with the idea by himself. MTV wanted to create the "Ultimate Mash-Up", so they gave Jay-Z the opportunity to do with a mashup album with a group of artist, and it's obviously who he chose... He and Linkin Park recorded their tracks via email exchange for their studio take, then they got together for a live performance of the whole album. The live set is redundant, so let's focus on the studio version...
The 21-minute EP starts with Bennington yelling, "I ordered a Frappuccino, where's my f***ing Frappuccino?!", beginning the "Dirt off Your Shoulder/Lying from You" fusion. The original Jay-Z beat is slowed down with Shinoda rapping his verse. Then Linkin Park's rock/metal music plays as Jay-Z emphasizes the guitar crunch and drums with his verses and chorus. After that, the original "Lying From You" song comes back second verse onwards, busting out those lyrics and music until the end, when the "Dirt Off Your Shoulder" beat returns briefly as Jay-Z shouts "B***H!", laughs with the rest, saying "You're wasting your talent, Randy!" So that first mashup turned out slightly better than the original "Lying From You" song, sounding less annoying and a little more complete, despite the rapping overdose. However, some mashups don't work as well, such as the "Big Pimpin'/Papercut" mashup. It just sounds too odd when the original Jay-Z melody plays throughout with Shinoda rapping over it with none of Linkin Park's rock sound around. You just can't have your cheese and spend it!
"Jigga What/Faint" makes more sense, returning to actually taking both sides of both the music and lyrics. The Jay-Z track blends perfectly with the Linkin Park rock/metal, as the rapping sounds great with the actual drumming and guitar. Jay-Z feels comfortable with this incredible rock crunch/rap beat mix, and so do I. You already heard the "Numb/Encore" mix nearly as many times as the original "Numb" song, being the EP's sole single. That's probably the best mashup here. "Numb" makes everything better!
"This is fun", Shinoda says, which is mostly true, but not so much in "Izzo/In the End". I mean, it is pretty fly, and Shinoda can almost turn you into the Kool-Aid guy, smiling greatly and going "OH YEAH!!", but again they could've used the "In the End" music besides the "Izzo" beat. Another missed opportunity... The ambitious last combination, "Points of Authority/99 Problems/One Step Closer" is a great way to end the EP. However, I still feel a little picky in some places, like when Shinoda awkwardly raps the line, "rap mags try and use my black a**", that he knows is unlike his style. But the nu metal magic of the two LP songs makes up for all that, especially the SHUT UP!! bridge.
This mashup album Collision Course is quite an experiment where the two artists bond well with their collaboration, especially since Shinoda and co. were hip-hop fans from the start. I think MTV mashups work the best when a rock/metal band is involved. A couple mashups might not work well, but the rest of the EP has good entertainment....
Favorites: "Jigga What/Faint", "Numb/Encore", "Points of Authority/99 Problems/One Step Closer"
OK, I've got to level with you guys. I was never much of a fan of overtly experimental and avant-garde music, I have always preferred my metal to be more orthodox than experimental. However, that has changed a little in the past two or three years and that is in no small part down to Metal Academy and it's knowledgeable members with their fantastic recommendatons and particularly via the monthly releases that have opened my ears and mind to some of the less accessible metal out there. I still have my limitations, but I am trying!
Anyway, this preamble is a set up for my review of Furia's 2016 release, Księżyc milczy luty, and I feel is relevant as this album is a case in point. Three years ago I would probably not have touched this album with a barge pole, it's post-metal inspired take on black metal not really sitting inside my usual comfort zone at that time. However, exposure to bands such as Isis, Cult of Luna, Deathspell Omega, Negură Bunget and Neptunian Maximalism have made me more amenable to experimentation and challenging listens within metal music so I went into it hopefully, but a little apprehensively.
Well it is an album that is certainly experimental if approached from the perspective of a black metal album - not a lot of black metal sounds like this in my experience (I'm sure there is plenty that does, but it hasn't crossed my path before). In fact, I would say that the majority of the album isn't really black metal at all. This is an album that has far more in common with the aforementioned Isis and Cult of Luna than it does Darkthrone or Immortal. I'm guessing this is what is referred to nowadays as post-black metal, as in metal that is more interested in painting aural canvasses with varying shades and textures of sound, than in writing riffs and blastbeats. To this end I've got to admit that it has been singularly successful.
It's 43 minutes comprises six tracks, all in the six to eight minute range, but this is kind of irrelevant as they each sound like the parts of a greater whole and are more like movements in a musical suite. A large part of the album is about the build-up, about which Furia never seem to be hurried, allowing their builds to swell gently, yet implacably, like a deep-ocean formed tsunami, before the release as the tidal wave of pummelling black metal breaks over the awaiting listener. I really love these anticipatory build-ups and for me they are generally speaking the best parts of the album. The reason I say this is that the more conventional black metal sections, I find, are not actually that impressive - thay are perfectly fine enough sure, but they are a little bit anticlimactic after such tremendous build-up work. That said, the pay-off at the end of the penultimate track Zabieraj łapska is my favourite bit of the album, it's frantic riffing providing the release after the anticipation of the throbbing bass and drum build-up.
So this isn't at all an album for the impatient (or the trve kvltists out there), but what it is is superbly written, well-performed and atmospheric metal for those who enjoy albums that ebb and flow like a force of nature and open the mind's eye to sweeping mental vistas.
So by another recommendation, I've checked out this month's feature release, the second Lucid Planet album, and while there are a few other progressive metal albums that have the potential of being the best, Lucid Planet II is still an absolute belter. Why just read? Give it a listen during the reading!
An underrated band from Australia, Lucid Planet play a style of heavy-psych-prog-metal that brings Tool into the minds of their listeners. Before this album, Lucid Planet made a more psychedelic rock debut, and while I haven't listened to that debut, I'm never really a fan of just psychedelia, so I'm not gonna try that one. If the psychedelia is elementally part of a progressive metal sound though, I can't say no to that. The band made an astounding mind-blowing evolution, though a few things seem a bit lumpy.
"Anamnesis", the long 12-minute opening epic, begins with a minute of supernatural-ish ambient music, then the rhythm and vocals kick in. I love the vocals by Luke Turner that have a d*mn lot of melodic expression, in beautiful contrast with the deep riffing from the guitar and bass. You can already hear the versatile genre fusion, heavy-psych-prog-metal with bits of electronic trance, to be enjoyed whether or not you love progressive metal. The name "Anamnesis" can have a few different conceptual meanings of medical history, religion, philosophy, and past recollection. The band has the confidence to move the latter meaning forward as the album goes on. "Entrancement" begins with a more natural ambient intro, using chanting and traditional instrumentation, as if it's an effective shaman mantra to summon a beast of primordial malevolence. As Luke plays the beast, guest vocalist Jade Alice plays the beauty, as the two voices combine for eerie entrancement. Not a lot of complex technicality at all, but still kinda great. Next track "Organic Hard Drive" I really love as it takes a hard trip that slows down before an electronic groove halfway through. It really works!
After a few minute calm-down from the previous track, "Offer" offers a less edgy rush in a new stripped-down offering of peace. Once again, Luke Turner's vocals are great-sounding. The calm dubstep elements work well with the heavy-ish rock/metal sound, probably better than Blindspott. While staying stripped, it still has a climatic powerful crescendo before a beautiful segue into the next track. The very strange yet beautiful "On the Way" shows the vocals by Jade Alice having more harmonic impact before slowing building up to almost a black/folk metal sound that almost makes the song suitable for the North clan, something Lucid Planet had never dared to go before. This aural effect adds to an epic journey with changing textures and sounds. This could very well be suitable for long mountain treks like in the Lord of the Rings movies, and I can feel the tiring side effects even when I'm just sitting down and writing this review, thanks to the strong feeling of movement.
"Digital Ritual" is the modern polar opposite of "Entrancement", sounding much closer to dubstep than before but in glorious light. Symphonic elements build a strange contrast to the surrounding electronic sounds. Then it nicely leads into "Face the Sun" with a modernized Egyptian-like melody you just gotta hear to believe, resuming the old-new contrast of the previous track. At that point, you've already climbed down that Hobbit-like mountain and you're riding a camel in a desert. Then we're leading into the 10-minute grand finale "Zenith", and this Z track is more epic than the A track, know what I mean? This is the right way to close the album, with everything coming together in a glorious revolution. With this conclusion, all these journeys and trips may be over, but there's more to resolve. For now, this is the highest zenith!
Well I hope you've enjoyed this story and album you have transcended through, and while it's not entirely perfect, I would suggest passing it on to many more listeners who would enjoy it. It's up to us where and what the journey would bring....
Favorites: "Anamnesis", "Organic Hard Drive", "On the Way", "Zenith"
Music is such an amazing part of the world in that it can play so many different roles & satisfy so many urges depending on your mood & environment. Sometimes you just want something to throw on in the background in order to fill the space & create an atmosphere while at others you want to fully immerse yourself in the ambition & artistry of the composer by sitting in a dark room with headphones on or attending a live performance. There are times when you want to hear something familiar that doesn’t challenge you too much while the next day you may want to be opened up to something completely foreign. Well trust me when I say that Melbourne-based progressive metal outfit Lucid Planet’s 2020 sophomore effort (simply entitled “Lucid Planet II”) offers so much compositional complexity & musical ambition that you’ll be doing yourself a disservice by not giving it your full focus.
I’d never heard of Lucid Planet before one of our most highly regarded & valued Metal Academy members Xephyr nominated it for The Infinite feature release status a week or so back which is unusual for a band from my homeland & particularly for one of this quality. There hasn’t been a huge amount of buzz in the metal scene around the release of “Lucid Planet II” as far as I’m aware so I had absolutely no idea of what to expect going into it other than the general connections to Tool that seem to be a commonly used reference point. But having now sat through the entire 68 minute duration of the album in full a few times I can honestly say that I’ve been left dumbfounded as to why this artist is not a household name in the world of progressive music in general. Perhaps I’m just still too stuck in my extreme metal bubble to notice but I don’t think that’s the case & it’s left me a little saddened that a record like this one can slip through the cracks as easily as it could have if it hadn’t been brought to my attention by the wonder that is the Metal Academy website (see what I did there? I saw an opening & I took it.) This is a very real reflection of the impatient & unappreciative music market we now have in the age of internet streaming in my opinion although it's hard to deny that the internet has made up for it by drawing me to this release in the end anyway.
While looking at the album cover before pressing play for the first time, I was intrigued as to what image & identity it was trying to portray because it combines a number of disparate elements that shouldn’t really work together but somehow do. You’ve got the eye of “Lateralus”-era Tool, a band name that’s very much aligned with an ethno-ambient aesthetic & a highly complex & psychedelic image of a tunnel into a world that’s simultaneously both organic & alien. It seemed very strange for a metal release at first but after sitting through the album a couple of times it all seemed to come together beautifully & now I look at the same image in amazement at just how perfectly it has sums up the musical experience the album has in store for you.
You see, although “Lucid Planet II” is generally referred to as a progressive metal record, metal is only a piece of a much larger puzzle. Sure, it forms the basis for Lucid Planet to build their expansive array of ideas around but you certainly don’t have to be a metal fan to enjoy this record. In fact, I’d suggest that ANY fan of high quality, cerebral music & art in general should find interest in it, regardless of taste or demographic. It offers a superbly devised concept that’s been stunningly executed with the result seeing the listener taken on a journey through numerous fascinating & exotic landscapes without ever feeling unfocused or self-indulgent. It’s really fucking impressive that a relatively unknown band from Melbourne have been able to pull this off actually & I’ve been well impressed to say the least.
As I suggested earlier, the basis of the Lucid Planet sound is built around the rhythmically complex riffage of Tool & you won’t struggle to hear their trademark alternative metal crunch at numerous times across the tracklisting. But unlike most Tool copy-cats, it’s worth noting that Lucid Planet also have a good understanding of the art of tension & release & this sees them being able to build atmospheres slowly over time before reaching well-timed crescendos of significant weight. But at the same time, almost all of the eight tracks on “Lucid Planet II” incorporate a diverse palate of influences. The sounds of the natural world clearly hold a strong place in the hearts of the band because there’s a noticeably organic feel to most of this material with the tribal ambience of artists like Dead Can Dance & Steve Roach popping up time & time again, particularly on “Entrancement” which is made up almost entirely of this sound. The production style is super crisp & bright which may not highlight the heavier aspects of Lucid Planet’s sound but it certainly accentuates the psychedelic elements at play & often reminds me of artists from the electronic music scene. Just check out the second half of “Organic Hard Drive” for example where Lucid Planet don’t even try to hide their passion for psychedelic psytrance artists like Atmos & Andromeda. But the amazing thing about this is that they’ve managed to match their influences in terms of quality while also integrating the influence into their sound so beautifully that it not only sounds entirely natural (despite having likely never been attempted before) but becomes a highlight of the piece in general. “Digital Ritual” is another example of this as it wouldn’t sound out of place on an album from psybient artists like Carbon Based Lifeforms or Shpongle but also sounds quite natural when presented in the context of a tracklisting that includes melodic prog rock tunes like “Offer” which sounds more like Porcupine Tree than it does Tool but still manages to take a brief dalliance with the sort of dub that Leftfield liked to experiment with on their classic “Leftism” album. It’s astounding that Lucid Planet have been able to achieve this really, particularly given that they’re a band from my country that I’ve never even heard of & one that’s only on their second album. The ambition & musicianship here is nothing short of astonishing.
The vocal skills of front man Luke Turner probably aren’t anything truly special when viewed in isolation if I’m being honest & that could be viewed as a weakness but I think that would be a harsh assessment. Not everyone can possess a truly captivating voice as that requires a level of x-factor that really doesn’t have all that much to do with the ability to sing in key. But even though Luke may not reside in the elite tier of prog vocalists, Lucid Planet have managed to accentuate & enhance his contribution through some incredibly precise doubling & harmonizing in the studio & this proves to be somewhat of a master stroke. In fact, when combined with the addition of the gorgeous backup vocals of Jade Alice it becomes very easy to forget those initial feelings of skepticism & by the end of my second listen I was already finding Luke’s vocals to be a lot more endearing.
Overall, I simply can’t fault “Lucid Planet II”. It’s a complete musical experience that’s unlike anything I’ve ever heard before. The tracklisting is very consistent & it’s only the fact that the couple of the more ambient works (see “Entrancement” & “Digital Ritual”) probably don’t tick my boxes quite as much as the more substantial & heavier tracks that stops me from awarding full marks but trust me when I say that it was definitely something I considered & I don’t say that lightly. Epic pieces like “Anamnesis”, “On The Way” & “Zenith” represent perfect examples of heavy progressive music in my opinion & I challenge any member of our The Infinite clan to find a way not to love this album after giving it the repeat listens required in order to fully understand its unique charms.
For fans of Tool, Karnivool & Soen.
For the last decade, since the release of Kentucky in 2012, Austin Lunn, in his guise as one-man project Panopticon, has been one of, if not THE most consistent performer in black metal, with six full-length albums and a number of eps and splits of absolutely stunning quality. He is also the only exponent of note in the niche sub-sub-genre of bluegrass and americana-influenced atmospheric black metal, probably because he is just so damn good at it that, even in these bandwagon-jumping times, nobody dares compete head to head with him for fear of being exposed as massively inferior talents.
His latest full-length, ...and Again Into the Light, has well and truly got it's claws in to me and is easily my most played album of recent weeks. As the man himself points out, this is Panopticon's darkest and heaviest release so far, even withstanding the gorgeous melancholy of the folk-centred passages. Austin explains in an interview on Bandcamp "This album is intensely personal, dealing with many different subjects but all related to loss and trauma" and continues, "The album is full of atonement, apologies, and growth. Like many things in life, the process is ugly, but the hope is to arrive at better versions of ourselves in the end." This accounts for the sadness that permeates the folk sections, but also for the brutality of some of the heavier parts as the ugliness of the process he describes is leant a voice by his powerful riffing and savage vocals (although the latter are somewhat buried in the mix).
The album begins with the gentle sadness of the title track, the violin that is prevalent throughout the album only serving to increase the wistful melancholy of the track's atmosphere as Panopticon ease us unsuspectingly into second track Dead Loons which, after a pensive first three minutes, suddenly transforms into an almost funeral doom-like dirge before really letting loose and exploding into a pummelling, pounding runaway train of a black metal riff and features some of Austin's most flamboyant soloing, although true to the man's humility, it is buried a little in the mix almost so as not to detract too much from the song's effect.
Rope Burn Exit and A Snowless Winter are amazing wall-of-sound epics that blast and heave and threaten to blow you away with sheer aggressive force like some almighty sonic hurricane. Then comes Moth Eaten Soul which is probably Panopticon's single heaviest track to date, drawing on death metal influences to increase the aural savagery that the music visits upon your now battered eardrums. This is an almighty beast of a track that opens up a new direction for the band as he explores a heavier and more brutal side of his musical persona. This savagery is followed by the album's gentlest couple of minutes as we take a short breather with As Golden Laughter Echoes which leads into the album's most heartfelt track, The Embers at Dawn, featuring clean vocals from Erik Moggridge, fresh from his collaboration with Bell Witch, and harsh vocals from Waldgeflüster's Winterherz. The build-up is gorgeous and the release as the wave breaks is almost orgasmic in intensity. The album closer Know Hope is an epic that begins as savagely and aggressively as other tracks here, but eventually resolves itself to embrace the hope of the title and to end the album on a positive note.
This is an album from an artist who is absolutely at the top of his game and who has an uncompromising view of what he wishes to convey in his music, having the confidence to embrace new modes of expression as well as honing his more usual methods to an absolute cutting edge. If I hear a better album released this year then I will consider myself very fortunate indeed.
Remix albums were once a mainstream artist/band's way of keep their listeners hooked between studio albums, but it can be very rare for metal. A nu/rap metal band who already made a remix album is Limp Bizkit with their album New Old Songs. Elsewhere, a different rivalling band of that style would redefine their sound for credibility in the remixes. They were really hitting their charts with their hip-hop-infused metal sound, but they wanted more respect earned for their hip-hop side...
Linkin Park's Reanimation is a remix album project of 20 tracks; all 12 songs from the Hybrid Theory album, 2 B-sides, a medley, and 5 new interludes. While they still had their fists of alt-metal fury, a number of rappers and DJs were hired to give the sound an edge of dark electronic hip-hop. While I'm not very pleased as a fan of their rock theatrics, I find a few parts of the album more d*mn interesting, once again adding balance to the rap rock torture they're trying to distinguish from. Yes there are many rappers taking over for the remixes, but there are also a few rock/metal singer as well including Korn's Jonathan Davis. I say any non-drastic change is welcome!
The "Opening" hints at a closing remixed epic that we'll talk about when we get there. "Pts.OF.Athrty" (Points of Authority) has been given a more NERD-ish side thanks to Jay Gordon of Orgy. Astounding! "In the End" was remade into "Enth E Nd" by rappers/DJs Kutmasta Kurt and Motion Man, taking it much closer to hip-hop than the original song. Let's stop talking about it there. "[Chali]" is just a pointless voicemail message interlude. I certainly recognize Mike Shinoda as a professional MC, though not a lot of the rap community can, and his MC skills are proven his "Forgotten" remake, "Frgt/10" with rappers Alchemist and Chali 2na, the latter from Jurassic 5. If the original verses and chorus weren't included, I wouldn't the original song there, that's how different the remix is. "P5hng Me A*wy" (Pushing Me Away) adds more beats and scratching, but is redeemed by the bridge sung by Stephen Richards of Taproot. Good highlight, but doesn't do the original song justice. The annoying "Plc.4 Mie Hæd" (A Place for My Head) with Amp Live and Zion is not worth talking about here, let's move on...
"X-Ecutioner Style" is a two-minute medley exclusive to this album, with rappers Sean C, Roc Raida and Black Thought. Besides those new rapping verses, I recognize a few vocal parts from "One Step Closer" (the SHUT UP!! bridge) and "Cure for the Itch" ("Now wasn't that fun? Let's try something else"). Up next, "H! Vltg3" (High Voltage) thumps through hip hop beats and piano notes inspired by a free Dre songs, with vocals performed by Evidence, Pharoahe Monch, and DJ Babu. Sweet highlight, but both the Hybrid Theory B-side and the remix still don't beat the original from the Hybrid Theory EP. Then there's another pointless interlude, "[Riff Raff]", which I thought there was going to be actual riffing but there isn't any. After that, "Wth You" (With You), featuring Aceyalone, adds way more beats and scratching than the original. "Ntr\Mssion" is not as bad as most of the previous interludes, again giving a small hint to the upcoming closing epic.
"Ppr:Kut" (Papercut) adds more twists with a group of rappers that include Cheapshot, Jubacca, Rasco and Planet Asia. The "Runaway" remake "Rnw@y" actually adds more truth to the original, keeping the skyrocketing hooks and primitive melodies of the original to please listeners of the original song. Even the rapping bridge with Backyard Bangers and Phoenix Orion is worth headbanging to. Nice job! "My Dsmbr" is also better than the original "My December", with the otherwise weird hip-hop beats by Mickey P. making it sound more real than just a ballad. Former Sneaker Pimps vocalist Kelli Ali does background vocals in the chorus. Beautiful! "[Stef]" is another a pointless voicemail message interlude. "By_Myslf" (By Myself), produced by Josh Abraham, adds heavier industrial power in the guitars performed by Deftones' Stephen Carpenter, with blazing drum machine insanity. However, the vocals are f***ed up, especially the screams sounding more screechy. "Kyur4 th Ich" is almost the same as the original "Cure for the Itch", other than strange new vocals, so that's kinda lame. The two nearly 6-minute closing remixed epics are by far the best of the entire album, starting with their smash hit "One Step Closer" remade into "1Stp Klosr", with production by The Humble Brothers guest vocals by the aforementioned Korn lead vocalist Jonathan Davis. A great escape from the rappers and MCs from earlier! Further distancing from most of the hip-hop sh*t is what you've all been waiting for, "Krwlng", an epic dramatic revisit of "Crawling", with Staind singer Aaron Lewis, where the beat and brief rapping have earned a greater edge for a crossover with less emphasis on hip-hop. Well done, guys...
So, some of these remixes are well-made, others are kinda ridiculous or just flat-out boring, and some of the instrumentation is unrecognizable from the original. However, Reanimation has taken Linkin Park closer to the rock hall of fame with bands like Radiohead and Flaming Lips, and is the right direction for their next album Meteora....
Favorites: "Pts.OF.Athrty", "P5hng Me A*wy", "H! Vltg3", "Rnw@y", "My Dsmbr", "1Stp Klosr", "Krwlng"
Vampires Have Feelings Too
I’ve slowly been figuring out that the explosion of the Black Metal genre in the early to mid-1990’s isn’t to be underestimated. Within two or three years this raw and evil offshoot of Thrash Metal went from having only a handful of notable bands pushing the genre forward to everyone plus their long lost, distant relatives pulling new sub-genres out of thin air. Whether it was Symphonic, Atmospheric, or Melodic Black Metal, the short span between 1993 and 1995 had an insurmountable number of influential albums being released all over the world. Amidst all these groundbreaking albums that I actually enjoy, Mütiilation hit me with an album that made me scratch my head a bit. Vampires of Black Imperial Blood is influential in a more traditional sense, with the album itself not exactly breaking entirely new ground in the same way as something like Bathory’s Hammerheart, but still having a massive impact and influence on later artists that would refine what this album started. If I'm being honest though, I can't say that I'm a massive fan of what would spawn from this, whether you want to call it Depressive Black Metal or not, and that makes it really difficult to like what Mütiilation did on their debut.
Vampires of Black Imperial Blood is a raw and grating experience, but not in the same way as other lo-fi Black Metal albums. I can be a big fan of classic lo-fi or even modern lo-fi production if it's handled well, but Mütiilation's approach of having zero bottom end on anything mixed with some instantly notable inconsistencies between the tracks just doesn't do it for me. The bass drum for all the blast beats is barely audible and while there are more than a few cool guitar riffs and melodies, the moments where they're able to shine through in any meaningful way are few and far between. The album is split into two distinct production styles, the first being "Eternal Empire", "Under Ardailles Night", "Magical Shadows Of A Tragic Past", and "Black Imperial Blood" having a very foggy and muddled guitar tone that pushes the percussion even farther into the background. "Ravens Of My Funeral", "Transylvania", "Tears Of A Melancholic Vampire", and "Born Under the Master's Spell" are a bit more standard in their lo-fi production as the tremolo riffs are clearer and more audible but still have that grindy and cold quality to them. Throwing these two production styles into one albums definitely makes for a jarring experience and even though the apparent devil-may-care attitude towards the overall quality of the music could be endearing for some, it never gripped me in a meaningful way.
However, I admittedly understand why this album is cited as being so influential. As Black Metal was being refined from its lo-fi beginnings by multitudes of bands, Mütiilation decided to double down on the essence of what separated Black Metal from Thrash Metal in the first place. This album undoubtedly has a lot of passion to it, even though raw passion can be a double-edged sword in cases like this. There are plenty of great riffs in tracks like "Black Imperial Blood" and "Under Ardailles Night" that rival some of the other classic Black Metal albums of the time, but there's so many uninteresting blast beat sections stuffed in-between these moments that just don't keep me captivated whatsoever. The raw and cold energy of this release just bounces off of me, which is strange since I'm normally a pretty big fan of Atmospheric Black Metal for those exact reasons. It's hard to say why, since I agree that there's a ton of dark and grim emotion packed into this release, but I suppose it's not conveyed in a way that's captivating to me.
The veterans of Accept have had a winning streak lately (at time of writing), with a wonderfully received comeback in 2010's Blood of the Nations, and a seemingly unstoppable string of solid albums since then. Of course, the reason Nations and others made such a splash is precisely because of the band's legacy, and it's Restless and Wild, along with Balls to the Wall, that really made that legacy.
Certainly, this album shows a band having a blast, loud and clear, and good at what they do. Accept's sound here is often comparable to AC/DC in their cut-loose style of heavy rocking, but with a dollop more aggression here. "Fast as a Shark" even strays into solid proto-thrash territory, though most of the rest of the album doesn't quite go for that same level of vitriol. Still, it's ballsy, wild stuff from start to finish.
And really, how well that works for you is just a matter of taste and what you might be looking for at any given time. As you peruse the menu of late 70s/early 80s metal, are you after something fantastical (Ranbow), darker (Black Sabbath), maybe something with more of a punk edge (Motörhead)? If you fancy something a bit more straightforward and hard rocking, while still managing to take things a few notches heavier than German contemporaries Scorpions, this should do the ticket. Personally, I like my early metal a bit heavier, and while Restless and Wild does have some good numbers, it feels a bit too standard for its age, for me.
Choice cuts: Fast as a Shark, Princess of the Dawn
Any claim that this is 'the best heavy metal record of all time' might seem a bit far-fetched, but any accusations that Metallica 'sold out' on this mainstream pop album are truly mistaken. A bunch of whiny, underground thrash metal fans can't get over the fact that their heroes 'went mainstream' (trying to actually earn any money is a big heavy metal no-no), but realistically, with the rising grunge scene placing heavy metal in the early 90's on its deathbed, 'Metallica', commonly referred to as 'The Black Album' made sure the genre went down swinging.
Regardless of people's opinions about the direction the band was taking here, I don't think there is any denying that what we have on offer are great heavy metal songs. So they aren’t as complex and progressive as previous albums, and the lyrics don't seem as dark, deep or super-serious as on 'Master of Puppets' or 'Ride the Lightning'. But what Metallica's self-titled record has in abundance that previous releases were missing is "anthems". Straight-to-the-point, bang-your-head kick-ass metal anthems. All souped-up with Bob Rock's beefy production, these songs introduced fans to a whole new Metallica.
A few filler tracks got thrown into this record, but then, when you look at the songs they're being mixed amongst, it's pretty easy not to really notice, or care. ‘Enter Sandman’, ‘Sad But True’, ‘Nothing Else Matters’, ‘The Unforgiven’ and 'Wherever I May Roam' all justify why this album sold millions upon millions of copies.
It's the album that split the fans, which for me, means it distinguishes the true music fans from the whiny elitists, but either way, this is a great record that capped off Metallica's rise to the top and firmly placed them on the throne of heavy metal.
Once upon a time (cheesy opening, I know), 3 high school friends dreamt of starting a famous band. When they graduated, they began their plan to achieve that dream. They hired 3 more members and started a band called Xero, recording a bedroom-produced demo. However, with a name change lack of a record deal, two members left for other projects. Original vocalist Mark Wakefield's replacement, Chester Bennington (RIP) helped revived the band with new chemistry, and their path to fame was only beginning...
So yeah, I'm reviewing the EP Linkin Park released as Hybrid Theory. It's actually part of my own big project involving their discography, so you're gonna see a lot of Linkin Park reviews from me soon. I would've also included the Xero EP, but it's not in the site because that's a demo. The Hybrid Theory EP is a real release though, so let's review!
"Carousel" is a very good way to open both the EP and the band's discography. When Chester's vocals arrive, they really rock along with the instrumentation. A good song for me to like! "Technique" is a very short interlude with not a lot to say, other than having a couple mini-sections. My least favorite part here... Next up, "Step Up" is filled with Mike's rapping, which I actually like in both the verses and chorus, along with the cool guitars and drums. Mike's potential shines there more than any other rapper!
While "And One" is the second song in the EP with Chester's vocals, it is actually the second ever song Linkin Park made with his vocals, first being the then-unknown demo track "Could Have Been". My favorite song in the EP! I love the vocals from both Mike and Chester, the latter especially in the chorus, along with heavy instrumentation.
"High Voltage" is one of my favorite songs with Mike rapping. I'm not lying at all when I say his rapping is perfect, better than any other rapper or rap metal band by far! The vocoder in the chorus ruins its epic vibe, but I don't care. "Part of Me" is the weakest actual song. Chester doesn't sound so great in this song, no matter how hard he tries. At least I can appreciate Mike's anger. After 6 minutes of static, the "Ambient" hidden track shows turntablist Joe Hahn doing a good job solo, but it lacks any redemption value.
The Hybrid Theory EP is very good for a short rap metal release. Sure they would sound much different in the albums to come, but I like the strength of its sound more than I thought I would. My review streak is just starting, but in the meantime, enjoy this EP and the albums that beyond fulfilled a high-school trio of friends' big dream....
Favorites: "Carousel", "And One", "High Voltage"
"WAR!!! DESTROYER!!!" That's what's been going in the first Linkin Park album without producer Rick Rubin and with their earlier metal sound since 2003's Meteora. These ultra-famous rap rockers from California decided to go rogue in a Star Destroyer-like spaceship to shoot missiles at ex-record labels and political rule-makers, equivalent to their rediscovery of savage loud guitars. The Hunting Party can be considered the Rogue One of their global-selling 2000 debut Hybrid Theory. While the electronic synths of their non-metal albums in between are still around, they've regained their earlier pummeling aggression. As the sound attacks, the lyrics defend, working as the band's sword and shield for the fight. Apparently, they were going to make another electronic album like Living Things, but when they decided to go to this furious metal direction, they ditched the electronics, which was the right decision for metalheads like myself.
So what's with all this rage then? Rap metal can be cool (for metalheads who like rap), but this isn't 1999 anymore. As evolution goes on, do you wish to stop and apologize for making a few critics mad? NO!! It's your sound, and while they won't accept it, just go with it so you can please the rest! Fortunately, Linkin Park had done just that. They even had a little more freedom since they self-produced the album. It's not really the highest point, but heaps of copies have been sold, and there are very few lousy songs.
"No control! No surprise!!" Distorted screaming starts the album opener "Keys to the Kingdom". Then the guitars blast off, and what follows is nu metal verses sung/rapped by Mike Shinoda and hardcore choruses screamed by the later Chester Bennington. Back to the basics and then some! "All for Nothing" continues the heavy guitars, but the drums swing slowly for Shinoda's verses of disobedience. As defiant as those verses are, the chorus is sung by Helmet's Page Hamilton (with Bennington's backing shouts) who also does a neat guitar solo. "Guilty All the Same" was pretty much the last ever song I've heard from Linkin Park in my brother's alt-rock/metal footsteps before fading out into my "real" metal interest, and I still love it to this day because of how metal it is! There's a minute-and-a-half intro of dramatic guitar buildup, and in the second half of that intro is a power metal-ish melody similar to Avenged Sevenfold, before Bennington's verses roll in where he really unleashes his rage. There's a rapping bridge, but this is the 3rd track in a row to have rapping, and it could get a bit boring for the heavier metalheads to hear Shinoda rapping in so many songs. How did they prevent that problem? Enter hip-hop legend Rakim who shines with his attack on the industry ("The media, the game, to me you're all the same, you're guilty!"). "The Summoning" is a one-minute static-infused interlude to build tension, waiting for the grenade to explode after the pin is pulled out.
"War" is surprisingly closer sounding to Bad Religion, but the stunning punk attack moves on smoothly. For a two-minute song, guitarist Brad Delson has quite some time to pull a fierce solo with Chester playing rhythm guitar to follow his lead (pun somewhat intended). "Wastelands" continues Shinoda's rapping with "Every phrase a razor blade", to paraphrase one of his verses, as the start-stop guitar is sharpened by electronic ambience. Bennington's choruses timelessly deliver declarations of d*mn discontent. The sonar synth effect from "Numb" returns in "Until It's Gone", opening the song together with a heavy guitar rush as a moody electronic rock piece. The bridge builds up until the bass is dropped and the guitars come back for the final chorus. The cliché-ish lyrics make the track sound a bit like a middle school fight song. "Rebellion" stomps in with a gnarly guitar intro, which along with the background synths, once again give the song a European power metal vibe for a medieval sword war. Assisting the band in the quest is a guest, System of a Down's Daron Malikian performing part of the aforesaid guitar riffing. The song's lyrics speak of anger and urgency, with nothing specific to fight against and just rebelling for the h*ll of it. "Mark the Graves" starts with U2-like atmosphere before they load up the punk pins and needles on the guitars and drums. It's equally naughty and nice, with the lyrics bringing up a scenario of a losing your girlfriend in the wreckage of a bombed city. Those lyrics allow space for deep touching contemplation, and really mark the album's territory.
While the lyrics have been unironic, in "Drawbar" the instrumentation can be considered the opposite. Here we have one more guest, Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello, and instead of continuing Linkin Park's rock return, he does not play a single riff or chord, he just provides guitar ambience over a shuffle of piano, synths, and drums in an off-kilter mix. A lame missed opportunity! "Final Masquerade" marks the return of actual guitars, synths, and vocals, through the verses and chorus that carry a mid-tempo hard rock ballad sound. This is basically lyrics of another love affair sung in an epic arena singalong. "A Line in the Sand" is, at 6 and a half minutes long, the longest Linkin Park song, slightly longer than the closing epic of Minutes to Midnight. When I first heard Shinoda's verses, I initially thought it was Page Hamilton again. Anyway, the metal madness continues one more time as the band hop back into their Star Destroyer and bomb the graves of the presidents who did their roles in the World Wars. The intro verse is reprised in the outro, "We laughed at the suns, we laughed at the guns, we laughed at it all," but he just sounds tired. A good rest is needed after that heavy run...
So there you have it, The Hunting Party, the heaviest album by Linkin Park since their nu metal era! Most of the songs are pretty great, but I think some of those could've been done better. The Linkin Park blood still remains within me years after my "real" metal interest took over. Sadly, their metal is gone, and so is Chester Bennington. RIP.....
Favorites: "Keys to the Kingdom", "Guilty All the Same", "War", "Rebellion", "Final Masquerade", "A Line in the Sand"