Friday, December 30, 2011

The Best Of 2011

2011 has certainly been a busy year in terms of releases. And just like every year, the music released throughout the year brought on its mix of unexpected surprises, stunning gems, sad misfires and absolute barkers. As per usual, I’d like to point out that this is by no means a definitive list of what the best albums/songs of 2011 were. Instead, it’s a list of releases that got me excited, and reaffirmed my belief that even though the music industry is only a former shadow of its once glorious self, there’s no shortage of great music on offer.

Top 10 Albums Of 2011

1.    Black Country Communion – 2 (J&R Adventures/Fontana Distribution)

Supergroups are a strange beast, with some living up to their hype, and some completely failing to match listener’s expectations with their efforts. And Black Country Communion is no exception. While their debut was a solid release, it hardly blew me away. But with ‘2’, the band pulled out all the stops, cast aside their reservations and delivered an absolute killer album. If this album is a true indication of what the band can do, I hope there’s more to come in the future.




2.    Floating Me - Floating Me (Independent Release/Cross Section/Inertia Pty. Ltd.)

A group of well-known musicians that promised great things given those involved, and duly delivered well and truly beyond my initial expectations. Forward thinking, diverse and at times completely different from what you would expect, Floating Me’s debut is not for those who are looking for an easily digestible metal album, but more for those who aren’t afraid to embrace the strange and the experimental beyond the finite metal genre.




3.    Anthrax – Worship Music (Nuclear Blast Records)

I’ve always been a big fan of Anthrax, but even I’d had enough of the soap opera that was continually dogging the band ever since Bush left in 2005. So with Anthrax returning with a new album and Belladonna back on board after having tried completing the same release with former front man Dan Nelson – I was less than enthusiastic about the prospects of a return to glory for the New Yorkers. Needless to say, I was wrong in a big way. Not what I would call an all-out Anthrax classic, but definitely a worthy release from a band that most fans had almost given up on.

4.    Anathema – Falling Deeper (Kscope Music/Snapper Music)

New orchestral arrangements of past classics? It’s hardly a new twist, and far from an entirely captivating way to keep fans coming back for more – Right? Under normal circumstances – yes. But this is Anathema, and given the band’s more recent track record, this is something worthy. Serene, haunting and absolutely captivating, ‘Falling Deeper’ may be a selection of old songs given a makeover, but the end results sound completely new in a familiar kind of way. Fans of the band’s last couple of releases (2008’s ‘Hindsight’ and 2010’s ‘We’re Here Because We’re Here’) have to check this out.

5.    In Flames - Sounds Of A Playground Fading (Century Media Records/E.M.I. Music Australia)

For some, In Flames were never really the same once they released ‘Clayman’ in 2000. In a lot of ways I agree with that, because their sound did change a lot with their follow-up to ‘Reroute To Remain’ (2002). As the years progressed, In Flames’ releases have been greeted with a mixed response, with those preferring the band’s old sound, and those who enjoyed In Flames’ latter day sound. But after years of trial and error, In Flames finally found the perfect mix of both eras. Guitarist Jesper Strömblad may have been absent, but you certainly wouldn’t know it.

6.    Truth Corroded - Worship The Bled (Truth Inc. Records/M.G.M. Distribution)

Adelaide (South Australia) based thrash/metalcore outfit Truth Corroded have always impressed with their ability to go from strength to strength with every new release, and their fourth album ‘Worship The Bled’ is no exception. Brutal, catchy and absolutely kicking from start to finish. This is one hell of a release, and Truth Corroded deserves all the success they get from such an album.






7.    Leprous – Bilateral (Inside Out Music/Century Media Records/E.M.I. Music Australia)

Exploratory, adventurous and really hard to pin down, ‘Bilateral’ is one of those albums that you either love or loathe. And I definitely loved it. I love all facets of progressive rock, but if there’s one album within the genre worthy of singling out as something really special, it’s the Norwegian’s latest effort.







8.    Dream Theater – A Dramatic Turn Of Events (Roadrunner Records/Warner Music Australia)

Somewhere deep down inside, I knew that Dream Theater would always be able to produce what was needed following drummer Mike Portnoy’s less than amicable split with the band. After all, everyone within the band is a song writer in their own right, and Dream Theater has a well and truly established sound. But there’s something about the consistency and well-rounded nature of the band’s latest effort that has been missing on some of their more recent releases. It’s still far from a perfect release, but if the band continues to move forward in this direction, I’m definitely looking forward to the band’s future outfit.

9.    The Haunted – Unseen (Century Media Records/E.M.I. Music Australia)

I’m definitely in the minority here, but I actually like the albums The Haunted have made beyond the self-titled debut back in 1998. Unlike some of the band’s former efforts, ‘Unseen’ really does show what Peter Dolving is capable of as a vocalist, from both the extreme parameters right through to the more melodic stuff. Most old-school fans of The Haunted were disappointed with this album, but personally, I don’t think the band would be half as interesting as they are now if they simply dished out their self-titled album time and time again.



10.    Steven Wilson – Grace For Drowning (Kscope Music/Snapper Music)

Broader in scope, more progressive and definitely more experimental that anything Wilson produced on his first solo release (2009’s ‘Insurgentes’), ‘Grace For Drowning’ is far from a casual or easy listen, but worth the time and patience it demands of the listener. Sonically the album is an absolute feast for audiophiles, all the while an absolute masterpiece for those who relish Wilson’s penchant for the most unexpected hook in an otherwise impenetrable wall of sound.




Top 10 Favourite Songs Of 2011

I’ve never written a list of top ten tracks before, so I’m not sure if this list really qualified as the best of what I’ve heard this year in terms of single tracks. So with that in mind, I’ve chosen songs from albums that didn’t quite make it into my top ten albums of the year so that I could cover a little more (And different) ground.

1.    Tesla – 2nd Street (From ‘Twisted Wires & The Acoustic Sessions…’)

Tesla with acoustic guitars is a match made in classic rock heaven, and this brand new track from their latest recording is an absolute stunner. Tesla has rarely failed to deliver in their twenty-five years, and this is clear proof of that.







2.    Symphony X – Children Of A Faceless God (From ‘Iconoclast’)

I’ve always been a captivated by Russel Allen’s ability to create an incredibly stirring hook in Symphony X’s work, and this is without a doubt one of my favourites from this album. This is pure genius as far as I’m concerned.









3.    Devin Townsend – Blackberry (From ‘Ghost’)

Devin Townsend can pretty much cover any sort of genre he wants, and still makes it sound different. So to hear him delving a little more into the country side of things really doesn’t come as any surprise. The fact that the song is so good can really only be seen as a bonus.









4.    Evile – The Cult (From ‘Five Serpent’s Teeth’)

The only reason Evile’s album didn’t make my top ten list of 2011 is because I’m still waiting for my copy to arrive by mail through Amazon. But if the album is anything to go by this absolutely thrashing scorcher, I just know I’ll be spinning the disc for some years to come.









5.    Sepultura – Mask (From ‘Kairos’)

Sepultura have certainly endured some hard times over the years since the departure of Max Cavalera. But unlike most, I actually like the albums with Derrick Green out front – especially their latest effort ‘Kairos’. The album is full of great tunes, but it’s ‘Mask’ that really stands out. The mix of spoken words and growls, and the clever use of textures on the musical front is well done, and shows that the band aren’t afraid to keep pushing the boundaries beyond the tried and true formula of the old Sepultura sound.




6.    Decapitated – 404 (From ‘Carnival Is Forever’)

Decapitated remerged with a new take on their technical death metal sound on ‘Carnival Is Forever’, and it wasn’t embraced by all. Personally, I loved the album, and in particular tracks like ‘404’ where the band really push their sound into previously unexplored areas. Technically proficient, but experimental and abstract in terms of background atmospherics and use of effects. In other words it’s progressive, but still brutal.





7.    The Eternal – Departure (From ‘Under A New Sun’)

Befitting its name, ‘Departure’ shows a different side to The Eternal, with the band bringing to the fore their Pink Floyd influences – particularly within the guitar solo. It’s not likely to be played live all that often, or remembered by fans as one of the album’s more stand out tracks. But to these ears, it’s a definite favourite.







8.    Dredg – The Ornament (From ‘Chuckles And Mr. Squeezy’)

O.K., I’ll admit this is far from metal, but a good song will always be a good song. And although Dredg’s latest effort sees the band straying too far from their core sound in the musical sense for most, they still know how to write some great songs. This is by far one of the album’s more chilled out and emotive efforts, and one of the album’s stronger tracks. The fact that it’s my five year old’s favourite song for 2011 also works in its favour.





9.    Alice Cooper – I Am Made Of You (From ‘Welcome 2 My Nightmare’)

Alice Cooper has never been afraid to try something new on his albums, and his latest release is well and truly one of the most diversified efforts to date. But unfortunately, not all of it worked. One track that did was the opener ‘I Am Made Of You’. Musically tied in with the classic ‘Steven’ with its haunting atmospherics, and featuring some truly classic rock inspired lead guitar work, this song is a strange way to start off the album, but perfect in a lot of ways.




10.    Blackfield – Far Away (From ‘Welcome To My DNA’)

Depressing pop with real emotional depth - that pretty much sums up this track. It’s a bitter and sad song that could only come from the combined efforts of Porcupine Tree/No-Man mastermind Steven Wilson and Israeli artist Aviv Geffen, but with a distinctly pop feel underpinning it all. Beautifully tragic, and yet oh so catchy.






Biggest Surprise Of 2011

Nick D’Virgilio vacating the vocal/drum position in Spock’s Beard, and then discovering that Ted Leonard (Enchant/Thought Chamber) was taking his place. I’m sad to see D’Virgilio go, but Leonard is certainly an interesting choice. Time will tell if SB MKIII’s recording plans will match the brilliance of last’s year’s ‘X’.






Biggest Disappointment Of 2011

Most will no doubt take a stab at Metallica’s misguided match up with Lou Reed on the woeful ‘Lulu’. But I think that’s a little too obvious. Personally, I can’t help but shake my head at Megadeth, who I think really put the bare minimum into their latest release ‘Th1rt3en’. Megadeth have rarely let me down in the past (I say rarely – not never), but this album is simply by the numbers to my ears.








Best Newcomer Of 2011

I would have said Floating Me, but I didn’t want to repeat myself. So I’ll go with Tasmanian act Deligma, who made their debut on the scene with ‘Forever Faded’. I’m keen hear where the band will take their progressive/nu-metal/modern metal sound next.










Most Anticipated Album For 2012


The upcoming Black Sabbath album. I’m not getting my hopes up (Especially given the lacklustre studio efforts on 1998’s ‘Reunion’ live album), but I’m looking forward to seeing what they can come up with alongside producer Rick Rubin.






© Justin Donnelly

Brand New Sin - United State

Brand New Sin
United State
Goomba Music

New York (Syracuse) based outfit Brand New Sin should be, by rights a lot bigger than what they actually are. After all, they’ve released some fairly solid and likeable albums, and toured relentlessly for the better part of the last nine years with practically every big named band under the sun.
But given the band’s history with record labels, and their constant line-up changes, it’s not all that hard to understand why Brand New Sin just can’t seem to build on any small amount of success they’ve earned without having to start all over again after another issue arises. But despite the struggles the band have endured over the years, they still persist at what they do best – and that’s making honest hard rocking Southern-tinged rock.
Following on from the success of their independently released ‘Distilled’ album from 2009, Brand New Sin underwent another line-up change after long-time guitarist Kenny Dunham decided to part ways following the album’s release. Not wanting to rush into making a mistake, the band (Comprising of vocalist/guitarist Kris Wiechmann, bassist Chuck Kahl and drummer Kevin Dean) eventually settled on ex-Born Again Rebels guitarist Tommy Matkowski to fill in the vacated position.
Having spent the last year getting themselves familiar with each other, Brand New Sin finally returned to the studio to start recording a new album. The results of their latest venture has brought forth their fifth full-length effort ‘United State’ – which is also their first for their new label Goomba Music.
Although they have revamped their line-up, and found a new label for their new album, ‘United State’ is very much business as usual for Brand New Sin. And while that may sound like a negative, for Brand New Sin, it’s an absolute positive!
The band gets things off to a rocking start with the all guns blazing opener ‘The Lord Came Down’, which is a raw and huge sounding track that boasts some great lead work from the guitarists, and an impressive rocking performance from Wiechmann – who sounds more confident in the front man role. Although strong, the opener is shown up with the follow up track ‘Know Yourself’, which is definitely one of the many stand out tracks on the album, while the infectious ‘All My Wheels’ and the southern boogie rock of ‘Bed Of Nails’ are tracks that prove that the band can write catchy songs, without losing any of their trademark riff rock sound.
Elsewhere, the band delve into acoustic territory on the blues-tinged ‘Rotten As Hell’, the straight-forward blue collar sounding ‘Elbow Grease’ and ‘Travel Well (The Les Daniels Song)’, while on the all-out rocking front, the The Cult-like ‘Infamous’ reminds me of ‘Wildflower’. ‘Goddess Of War’ and the band’s cover of AC/DC’s ‘What Do You Do For Money Honey’ well and truly rock.
As an added bonus, the C.D. version of the album also comes with the acoustic rocker ‘Glory Days’ (Why is such a great track not a part of the official album?), and acoustic version of ‘Sad Wings’ (Which originally appeared on their self-titled debut from 2002) and a rather rough and ready cover of Black Sabbath’s classic ‘The Wizard’.
Although ‘United State’ is far from a classic album, it is a huge step up from the band’s last full-length release. Wiechmann sounds stronger and more confident out front, and the band sounds as strong as ever, despite the change of members.
Overall, ‘United State’ is a rocking and fun album, and one that Brand New Sin fans will no doubt see as another hard rocking and great effort from the band.

For more information on Brand New Sin, check out - http://www.brandnewsin.org/

© Justin Donnelly

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Tesla - Twisted Wires & The Acoustic Sessions...

Tesla
Twisted Wires & The Acoustic Sessions...
Tesla Electric Company Recordings

This year marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of ‘Mechanical Resonance’, the critically acclaimed debut full-length effort from Sacramento (California) based hard rock outfit act Tesla. And in celebration of this monumental milestone, the five piece act has put together something special for fans in the form of ‘Twisted Wires & The Acoustic Sessions...’.
As the title suggests, ‘Twisted Wires & The Acoustic Sessions...’ is primarily an acoustic based affair, and unlike their classic live effort from ‘Five Man Acoustical Jam’ from 1990 (The album that’s regarded as the catalyst for the huge unplugged movement throughout the ‘90’s), the track listing is a mixture of past classics and more recent favourites, along with a couple of new tracks for diehard fans.
What will really interest fans is the fact that half of the album’s dozen tracks are taken from recording sessions dating back as far as 2005 - which is otherwise the last known recording from the original line-up of the band (Who at the time comprised of vocalist Jeff Keith, guitarist/vocalist/pianist Frank Hannon, guitarist Tommy Skeoch, bassist/pianist Brian Wheat and drummer Troy Luccketta). Fans have been well aware of these recordings, and have anxiously been waiting for the band to release them for some time. And sure enough, they’ve been well worth the wait.
What’s really interesting about the recordings with Skeoch is the band’s choice of songs to cover. Obviously keen to avoid the obvious, the band decided to re-record songs that weren’t originally covered on ‘Five Man Acoustical Jam’, with lesser known cuts ‘Hang Tough’ and ‘Edison’s Medicine’ representing the past reworked classics. Despite my familiarity with the pair of songs, these re-recordings sound great, and have in turn given the songs an entirely new lease of life.
The final three from the Skeoch sessions include a surprising take on the under-rated gem ‘Shine Away’ (From 1994’s ‘Bust A Nut’), which in a lot of ways works better than the original, as well as a solid run through of the at-the-time newer track ‘Into The Now’ and a damn near perfect acoustic cover of Climax Blues Band’s ‘I Love You’ (Which the band later covered on their ‘A Peace Of Time’ E.P. from 2007), which could have easily be mistaken for a Tesla original.
In terms of new recordings, Tesla (With Dave Rude replacing Skeoch), revisit a selection of past classics (‘What You Give’, ‘A Lot To Lose’ and ‘Song And Emotion’), as well as throw in a couple of fan favourites (The band’s choice of reworking ‘Changes’ is positively inspired, and a definite stand out, as too is the laid back vibe on ‘Caught In A Dream’).
Of course, ‘Twisted Wires & The Acoustic Sessions...’ isn’t a complete trip down memory lane, with the band offering up two new tracks in the form of ‘2nd Street’ and ‘Better Off Without You’. As you would expect, both tracks are fairly stripped back efforts (The latter does feature some electric guitars), and fit seamlessly with the band’s older classics. Despite both having that vintage Tesla charm, I’d have to favour ‘2nd Street’ with its huge sing along chorus and Beatles influenced melodic lead guitar work.
‘Twisted Wires & The Acoustic Sessions...’ certainly isn’t an official follow-up to 2008’s ‘Forever More’, but more a studio companion piece to ‘Five Man Acoustical Jam’. Some fans may find this release somewhat redundant, but if the new songs on this album are any indication of what to expect from the band on their next release, then it’s clear that when the band’s new album does arrive, it’ll be more than worth the wait.
‘Twisted Wires & The Acoustic Sessions...’ is definitely a worthy addition to any self-respecting Tesla fans collection.

For more information on Tesla, check out - http://www.teslatheband.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Dark Forest - Dawn Of Infinity

Dark Forest
Dawn Of Infinity
Cruz Del Sur Music

Dudley (U.K.) based outfit Dark Forest have been around for some years, with no less than three E.P.’s and one full-length (2009’s self-titled effort through Eyes Like Snow Records) emerging from the band over the nine years they’ve been together to date. You can be forgiven if you’ve never heard of the band until now, given that almost everything they have released has been on fairly small independent labels. But after several years building up a name for themselves, Dark Forest (Who since 2009, have consisted of vocalist Will Lowry-Scott, guitarists Jim Lees and Christian Horton (Who was briefly a guitarist in N.W.O.B.H.M. act Cloven Hoof, and also dabbles in the acoustic folk outfit Grene Knyght), ex-Excalibur bassist Paul Thompson and drummer Adam Sidaway) have secured the services of the well and truly established Cruz Del Sur Music, who have duly released the band’s sophomore effort ‘Dawn Of Infinity’.
In a lot of ways, the pairing up of Dark Forest and Cruz Del Sur Music makes perfect sense. After all, Cruz Del Sur Music specialises in classic heavy/power metal music (Acts such as Argus, Slough Feg, Twisted Tower Dire, Pharaoh and Atlantean Kodex are just some of the label’s more recent acquisitions), and then there’s Dark Forest – who excel at reviving the classic N.W.O.B.H.M. (New Wave Of British Heavy Metal), without sounding like they’re trying too hard to sound retro, or cloning early Iron Maiden and Angel Witch to the point of sheer plagiarism.
The opening track ‘Hourglass’ is an energetic anthem that immediately showcases the great voice Lowry-Scott brings to the band since joining a couple of years ago (He was introduced to listeners via 2009’s three track ‘Defender’ E.P. through Iron Kodex Records), and his ability to craft some memorable melodies around the band’s classic traditional heavy metal/guitar driven song structures.
Elsewhere, ‘The Green Knight’ and ‘Under The Greenwood Tree’ are further firm favourites with their infectious melodies and subtle folk influences from the guitarists, while ‘Seize The Day’, ‘Through A Glass Darkly’ and ‘Black Delta’ are absolute thumping anthems that boast the classic metal riffing that you would expect from a N.W.O.B.H.M. act, but with just a touch of power metal to add a little more power to their sound – without making the band’s sound too generic or too modernised.
Although ‘Dawn Of Infinity’ does have a couple of songs that don’t quite work as well, Dark Forest have managed to produce a very impressive album overall.
If you enjoy classic N.W.O.B.H.M. that doesn’t bow to modern day influences, then don’t look past Dark Forest’s latest effort. This album really does rock, and is a thoroughly enjoyable trip down memory lane into metal’s golden era.

For more information on Dark Forest, check out - http://www.myspace.com/darkforestrealm

© Justin Donnelly

Hemoptysis - Misanthropic Slaughter

Hemoptysis
Misanthropic Slaughter
Independent Release

With thrash metal having well and truly made a comeback over the last ten years, it really hasn’t come as any surprise to see a whole new generation of metal fans trying their hand at taking the classic thrash metal sound of old and giving it a new twist and calling it their own. While some have managed to recreate the classic sounds of the past quite well (Evile, Bonded By Blood and Warbringer are just three names that spring to mind), there are some that just simply don’t come close to measuring up, or make the mistake of modernising their sound so much that it’s hard to recognise it as thrash. In other words, finding a thrash metal act that actually lives up to the thrash standard laid down by the acts of thrash’s heyday is a real challenge.
But one name that should definitely be included in the short list of acts that have managed to capture the essence and fell of classic thrash is Hemoptysis. Founded back in 2007, Hemoptysis have to date managed to release an E.P. (2008’s ‘Who Needs A Shepherd?’), which earned the Tempe (Arizona, U.S.) based act some considerable praise at the time. But after a lengthy three years away, the four piece act (Comprising of vocalist/lead/rhythm guitarist Masaki Murashita, ex-Excessive Bleeding lead guitarist Ryan Miller, bassist Sunao ‘Ren’ Arai and drummer Travis Thune) are back with their debut full-length effort ‘Misanthropic Slaughter’. And it’s a killer!
The album opens up with the title track ‘Misanthropic Slaughter’, and within its first minute, there’s no denying the band is here to thrash. Unlike a lot of so-called thrash acts, Hemoptysis’ sound is far from one dimensional, with the diversity of riffs from Murashita and Miller both varied and catchy, and the song itself memorable and classic in style. Vocally, Murashita adds plenty of aggression to the mix with a style that brings to mind Kreator front man Mille Petrozza, while the songs solos are well thought out and executed.
As good as the opener is, it’s the follow-up tracks ‘Hopeless’ and ‘M.O.D.’ that really showcase the band’s strength in their song writing, with the former a mid-paced monster that features some glean clean lead work, and the latter that features a darker/melodic death metal tone in places, and virtually annihilates everything in its path.
From here, the band maintains the bar set by the album’s opening three tracks, with the groove based ‘And The World Dies’ (A track that’s been re-recorded from their first E.P.), the savage battering of ‘The Cycle’, the classic sounding ‘Shadow Of Death’ (Which is another re-recorded effort from their debut E.P., and the first song to be given the promotional video clip treatment) and the superb dual-tempo epic closer ‘End Of Sorrow’ just some of the many highlights dotted throughout the album.
Although the band haven’t quite mastered their overall sound on ‘Misanthropic Slaughter’ (Some of the songs seem to veer off the traditional thrash path to take on a more groove orientated direction, or include some death metal influences at times), it’s hard to ignore the high quality of songs and performance that are present on Hemoptysis’ debut effort.
There’s a whole host of newcomers on today’s thrash scene, but few rarely qualify as the real deal. Hemoptysis is definitely the exception, and by far one of the most promising unsigned acts in the as thrash scene today. To sum all this up - ‘Misanthropic Slaughter’ is one hell of an album.

For more information on Hemoptysis, check out - http://www.hemoptysismetal.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Allele - Next To Parallel

Allele
Next To Parallel
Goomba Music

Despite taking a few years to get off the ground, when Jacksonville (Florida, U.S.) based act Allele finally secured a solid line-up, they soon hit the road and started building up quite a following after supporting the likes of Saliva, Nonpoint, Staind, Sevendust, Earshot, Trapt and Godhead. Not surprisingly, the band were soon offered a record deal, and within ten months, their debut effort ‘Point Of Origin’ was released (In late 2005) through independent label Corporate Punishment Records. Bolstered by an overwhelmingly positive response from both the press and fans alike, and sales figures to match, it would have appeared that Allele’s future looked bright.
But within a year, things started falling apart, with lead guitarist Kelly Hayes (Ex-Cold) leaving the group in early 2006. Despite the group’s determination to forge ahead as a four piece, vocalist Wally Wood (Ex-Troubled Mind) soon made the decision to part ways. Although the band recruited a new vocalist (Andy Toole), and embarked on a month long tour with 10 Years and Evans Blue, by 2009, Allele was over with.
But in a strange twist, Allele would once again reform when Wood got in touch with the rest of the band. One thing led to another, and after a lengthy six year break, Allele (Comprising of Wood, Hayes, new rhythm guitarist Mason Romaine (Replacing Lane Maverick), bassist Tim Tobin and drummer Giancarlo Autenzio) have finally returned with their long awaited sophomore effort ‘Next To Parallel’ - which is also their first for their new label home Goomba Music.
Although I hardly categorised ‘Point Of Origin’ as the kind of album that changed the face of modern music, I could honestly say that I really enjoyed their debut, and appreciated it for what it really was (Hard rock/alternative/nu-metal with a strong melodic structural underpinning). So after a six year wait, I was really looking forward to see where Allele was heading musically with ‘Next To Parallel’.
The opening track ‘Let It Go’ (Which is also the first single/promotional video clip) is quick to announce the subtle changes within the band’s sound since their last release, and it’s really quite subtle. There’s a maturity in their sound, and a greater element of thought gone into the guitar structures evident. Whereas the band’s debut was heavier, simplistic and catchy, ‘Let It Go’ sounds a little more subdued, a little dark and delivered from a band that seems a little more sure of what they’re doing this time around.
‘Closure’, much like the opener is a solid number that doesn’t rely on aggression, but more makes its presence felt with guitar riffs that are measured and calculated, and a chorus that really gets you hooked after a few listens. That’s not to say that Allele rely solely on the keeping things mellow and measured, as tracks such as ‘Drone’, ‘Something Cured’, ‘Answers’, ‘Feed The Wolves’ and the closer ‘To Arms’ (Which is definitely a personal favourite, and one of the truly different sounding songs from Allele) boasting a little more aggression from Wood in the vocal department, as well as a little more attack from the remainder of the band.
But the album does have some fundamental flaws in its design. One is the overall tone of the album. With a general vibe of maturity and comfort that can be gathered from listening to the album, you can’t help but feel that at times, it’s also hard to differentiate each song as an individual song unto itself. The other real problem is that at thirteen tracks long, it does overstay its welcome over its fifty minutes.
Although having some issues, ‘Next To Parallel’ is a solid follow up to ‘Point Of Origin’, even if it was a little long in the making, and a little safe in terms of sound and direction.
Hopefully the album is a success and allows Allele to branch out a little more on their next effort. Not to mention I hope that if there is another album, it won’t be a long six year wait.

For more information on Allele, check out - http://www.alleleonline.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Funeral For A Friend - Welcome Home Armageddon

Funeral For A Friend
Welcome Home Armageddon
Roadrunner Records/Warner Music Australia

Welsh (Bridgend based) post-hardcore act Funeral For A Friend’s first couple of E.P. releases (2002’s ‘Between Order And Model’ and 2003’s ‘Four Ways To Scream Your Name’) earned the band a huge amount of buzz in the underground, and helped build the hype surrounding the band and ‘The Next Big Thing’ tag that was often attached to their name. So it was no big surprise to see their debut full-length effort ‘Casually Dressed & Deep In Conversation’ (2003) soon turning out to be a huge success from the moment it was released. Predictably enough, the band’s follow-up release ‘Hours’ (2005) was another critically acclaimed effort from the group. But by 2007, Funeral For A Friend decided a change of musical direction was called for, with their third album ‘Tales Don’t Tell Themselves’ showcasing a far more melodic side to the band’s song writing, and most of the hardcore elements of the band’s past laid to rest. While the album was still considered a success, many of the band’s early fans were disappointed with the band’s shift in sound towards the more accessible and radio friendly.
While the band did manage to regain some of the ground (And fans) they lost with their follow-up effort ‘Memory And Humanity’ (2008), their label Atlantic Records’ decision to release the compilation ‘Your History Is Mine: 2002 – 2009’ a year later left many wondering if the band’s time was coming to an end. The truth of the matter is that despite the countless line-up changes, the split from Atlantic Records and drifting off the beaten musical path for the better part of the last couple of album’s has not spelt the end for Funeral For A Friend. And the proof lies solely within their latest album ‘Welcome Home Armageddon’.
With a new line-up in place (Lead vocalist Matthew Davies-Kreye, guitarist/backing vocalist Kris Coombs-Roberts and drummer/aggressive vocalist Ryan Richards have welcomed guitarist/backing vocalist Gavin Burrough (Who previously played bass, and who was once a member of Hondo Maclean, Ghostlines and The Future) and ex-Hondo Maclean/Hurricane-Joe/Ghostlines bassist Richard Boucher into the fold), Funeral For A Friend have once again reinvented themselves and their sound, and delivered an album that’s as much rooted in the past and it in heading towards the future.
After a very short (And somewhat unnecessary) instrumental introductory piece (‘This Side Of Brightness’), Funeral For A Friend gets straight down to business with ‘Old Hymns’. It’s on this track that the band really fine tune their sound to incorporate the hardcore sound of their past (Metallic riffs and relentless double kick drumming throughout) with the melodic feel of their more recent past. The band sound re-energised and inspired, and the fusion of sounds gives the song a strength that hasn’t been heard in the band’s song writing in some time.
The mix of old and new isn’t isolated to one track either, with songs such as ‘Aftertaste’, the heavy and lengthy ‘Spinning Over The Island’, ‘Man Alive’ and ‘Damned If You Do, Dead If You Don’t’ all combining the best elements of both eras of the band’s past in truly inspiring form.
Richards takes on the lead role on the aggressive ‘Front Row Seats To The End Of The World’ (The album’s first single/promotional video clip) and the brutal ‘Broken Foundation’ (Which features some fantastic solo work), while ‘Owls (Are Watching)’ and the title track ‘Welcome Home Armageddon’ are the favourites amongst the album’s more melodic and rocking efforts.
As little as four years ago, Funeral For A Friend was losing fans in their droves, and many were claiming the band was all but washed up. But with ‘Welcome Home Armageddon’, Funeral For A friend have managed to produce one of their finest efforts in years, and proven everyone wrong.
The band’s earlier releases may have been hailed as their best, but I’ll be damned if ‘Welcome Home Armageddon’ isn’t up there with their early classic efforts.

For more information on Funeral For A Friend, check out - http://www.funeralforafriend.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Human Sculpture - Our World / Torn Down

Human Sculpture
Our World / Torn Down
Independent Release

The mixing of melodic death metal with thrash metal is nothing new these days. One only needs to look at the number of bands within today’s extreme metal scene and see that there is countless numbers of acts out there vying for the same crowd as the rest. Another new contender to throw amongst the large number of acts that already exist within the genre is Finnish (Järvenpää based) act Human Sculpture.
Formed less than a year ago, the five piece act (Comprising of vocalist Ville Mansikkaviita, guitarists Mikko Pylkkö and Jussi Salolainen, bassist Samu Pasanen and drummer Jaakko Jaakkola) have wasted no time in putting together their debut E.P. release ‘Our World / Torn Down’.
While the thought of reviewing another melodic death/thrash metal act didn’t exactly have me chomping at the bit with anticipation, I must admit that after giving ‘Our World / Torn Down’ a few spins, it’s clear that Human Sculpture are anything but the same old band punching out the same old sound, like many in the same realm.
The most immediate thing about Human Sculpture’s debut effort is the sheer power and brutality when the band delivers their brand of melodic death/thrash metal. The opening track ‘Deconstruction’ reminds me of the tight knit/technical precision musicianship of Decapitated and Meshuggah, with the sharpness of the riffing and fluency of the drumming sounding as tight as the bands mentioned, but with enough rawness in the sound to give the songs an organic edge over the overly processed vibe that can sometimes work against the most technical and brutal of acts these days.
Vocalist Mansikkaviita doesn’t have the broadest of range, with much of his delivery sticking primarily to guttural growls and some higher growls. But what he lacks in range, he does make up for in terms of keeping his vocals varied.
On the song writing front, the band keep things interesting by varying the tempo enough to ensure the songs don’t become repetitive, with the mid-paced and groove based second song ‘The Wait’ one of the more obvious examples of where the band shift gears throughout with considerable success.
Finishing up the E.P. is ‘A Heart’, which is by far the E.P.’s heaviest effort, as well as its most progressive and technically challenged in terms of arrangement, with the band fluidly transitioning between huge grooving passages and blast beat moments via huge breakdowns.
Production wise, it’s hard to find a fault on ‘Our World/Torn Down’, with Jarno Hänninen (Who recorded, mixed and mastered the three tracks at D-Studio) giving the band a sound that’s every bit as huge and dynamic sounding as you would expect of a signed act.
The only minor issue is that as good as Human Sculpture’s three song offerings are - there is a sense of familiarity in sound and direction on all three, which means that over the course of a full-length effort, the band could run the risk of having an album that sounds like it’s running a whole lot longer than it is.
Apart from my minor quibble over the song writing, I thoroughly enjoyed Human Sculpture’s brutal take on the melodic death/thrash metal sound, and I'm keen to see what the band will produce in the near future.

For more information on Human Sculpture, check out - http://www.myspace.com/humansculptureband

© Justin Donnelly

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Alice Cooper - Welcome 2 My Nightmare

Alice Cooper
Welcome 2 My Nightmare
Nightmare Inc./Sony Music Entertainment

When Alice Cooper first mentioned the idea of putting to together an official sequel to his classic ‘Welcome To My Nightmare’ album from 1975, I wasn’t exactly over enthused with the move. The idea of a producing a follow up to such an iconic classic after so many years was always going to be a challenge, with the worst case scenario being that his new album would diminish and tarnish the reputation and status of the original.
But as further news filtered out about ‘Welcome 2 My Nightmare’, things did seem a little more promising. Bob Ezrin, who produced many of Cooper’s classic releases in the past (Including ‘Welcome To My Nightmare’ original sequel ‘Goes To Hell’ in 1976, and who last worked with Cooper on 1983’s rather confused and fascinating ‘DaDa’) was brought in to oversee the project, and the vast array of guest artists scheduled to appear on the album was admittedly looking rather impressive. But despite the big names and the promise of a return to the nightmarish conceptual storyline that Cooper began some thirty-six years earlier, I didn’t really hold my hopes up for anything that would rival the original in terms of classic status. In fact, if I were honest, I was expecting a real disappointment.
Perhaps it had a lot to do with my lowered expectations, but I must admit that ‘Welcome 2 My Nightmare’ is actually a much stronger and more inspired release than I thought it would ever be.
‘Welcome 2 My Nightmare’ opens up in an unexpected manner, with the slower paced ‘I Am Made Of You’ initially starting out with a piano part lifted from ‘Steven’ and Cooper manipulating his voice to give it an effect similar to auto-tune via vocoder. The song itself has a definite classic Cooper/‘Welcome To My Nightmare’ feel, and the guitar contributions from Tommy Henriksen really stand out.
The follow-up track ‘Caffeine’ (The album’s second single) is a hard rocker that mines similar ground Cooper presented listeners on his last few albums (The classic 70’s hard rock sound that was evident on 2003’s ‘The Eyes Of Alice Cooper’ and 2005’s ‘Dirty Diamonds’), but is somewhat of a letdown as it essentially sounds a little too reminiscent of ‘Can’t Sleep, Clowns Will Eat Me’ (The bonus track from 2000’s ‘Brutal Planet’).
The brief segue ‘The Nightmare Returns’, while a nice tribute to the original ‘Welcome To My Nightmare’, seems a little lost at this point of the album (As an opener, it would have worked), but Cooper does get things back on track with the totally rocking ‘A Runaway Train’, which depicts Cooper travelling to Hell on a train. Musically, the song is given a classic workout with the original Alice Cooper group (Guitarist Michael Bruce, bassist Dennis Dunaway and drummer Neal Smith) helping to deliver the rocking soundtrack, while country star Vince Gill tops it all off with a killer solo.
Cooper continues to produce some real magic with his Tom Waits inspired ‘Last Man On Earth’ (This new album’s take on ‘Some Folks’), which flows through to the classic rock ‘The Congregation’. It’s these two tracks where Cooper’s humour and wit really shines, and the conceptual aspect of the storyline really flows well.
Unfortunately, ‘I’ll Bite Your Face Off’ (A nod to The Rolling Stones, and featuring the original Cooper group and backing vocals from Rob Zombie) and ‘Ghouls Gone Wild’ are throwaway numbers with their uninspired choruses, while the pseudo disco effort ‘Disco Bloodbath Boogie Fever’ (Featuring a solo from John 5) just sounds annoying and out of place, and perhaps would have been better served up as a bonus track/b-side.
Cooper has rarely let down with his ballads, and ‘Something To Remember Me By’ is a classic Cooper/Wagner tune that could have easily found a place on either ‘Welcome To My Nightmare’ or ‘Goes To Hell’. In stark contrast, the dark, humourless and menacing ‘When Hell Comes Home’ is another album highlight, with Ezrin providing the sinister piano work and the original Cooper band the haunting/classic backdrop.
The much talked about collaboration between singer/songwriter Kesha (A.K.A. Ke$ha) and Cooper on ‘What Baby Wants’ is actually not as bad as it sounds on paper, even if it is a little too pop based for the most part (I say that because while Steve Hunter is playing guitar, it’s not too over the top).
Finishing up the album is the fantastic ‘I Gotta Get Outta Here’, which not unlike most Cooper albums, is a bombastic and overblown finale with a cool twist.
The official closer is ‘The Underture’ which is an orchestral overture that runs through instrumental takes on tracks from both ‘Welcome To My Nightmare’ and ‘Welcome 2 My Nightmare’, while interesting, is hardly an essential piece to the album’s overall musical concept.
Although preparing myself for a huge letdown, I actually found a lot more to enjoy on ‘Welcome 2 My Nightmare’ than I thought I originally would.
The album does have some filler efforts, and the story doesn’t flow quite in the same way as some other concept efforts from Cooper (‘Goes To Hell’, 1978’s ‘From The Inside’ and 1994’s ‘The Last Temptation’ are better examples of Cooper’s more accomplished conceptual efforts), but as an album, ‘Welcome 2 My Nightmare’ is a strong effort, and proof that Cooper still has what it takes to entertain.

For more information on Alice Cooper, check out - http://www.alicecooper.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Dead Horse - Boil(ing)

Dead Horse
Boil(ing)
Abyss Records

Houston (Texas, U.S.) based death/thrash/crossover act Dead Horse weren’t exactly a huge success while they were active, but in the fifteen years since the band parted ways, the group’s legacy has endured throughout the years to the point where the band is now more popular and revered than they ever were when they were active.
Over the last few years, three members of Dead Horse (Guitarists Greg Martin and Scott Sevall and drummer/backing vocalist Ronnie Guyote) teamed up with D.R.I. vocalist Kurt Brecht in Pasadena Napalm Division, who duly released their debut self-titled E.P. (Not surprisingly, through Abyss Records) last year to fairly positive reviews.
Perhaps in part to playing together once again, or simply because enough water had passed under the bridge over the years – either way, Dead Horse have once again been reactivated, with plans to release something new to diehard fans sometime in the not too distant future.
In celebration of reformation, Dead Horse (Who now comprise of ex-Force Fed vocalist/bassist Allen ‘Alpo’ Price, Martin, Sevall and Guyote) have decided to re-release their long out of print and final release ‘Boil(ing)’ (Originally released in 1996 through Beermoment Music/Sound Virus Records), which is also the only release to ever emerge from the line-up of the band that exists today.
In terms of its place within the Dead Horse discography, ‘Boil(ing)’ still stands as one of the band’s more experimental and more obscure releases, with Price’s approach on the vocal front (Price replaced Mike Haaga in 1994) and the more thought out song writing style sounding vastly different from the sound many would be familiar with on their first two full-length releases (1989’s ‘Horsecore: An Unrelated Story That’s Time Consuming’ and 1991’s ‘Peaceful Death And Pretty Flowers’).
But despite the change in direction and sound, ‘Boil(ing)’ does have its moments, most notably on the thrash-like opener ‘One Nation’, the slower and more technically inclined ‘Reach Around’, the menacing and serious ‘My Apology’ and the short and brutal blast of ‘My Dog The Prophet’ (One of two tracks the band re-recorded from their independently released ‘Feed Me’ demo/E.P. from 1994).
Those who only have a passing interest in the Houston act, or want to hear what the fuss is all about are advised to probably seek out the band’s full-length efforts before seeking out ‘Boil(ing)’. But for diehard Dead Horse fans, this re-release is well and truly overdue, even if it’s only limited to one thousand copies exclusively on vinyl. Personally, I hope that Dead Horse’s resurrection doesn’t begin and end on this decidedly less than stellar release.

For more information on Dead Horse, check out - http://www.horsecore.net/

© Justin Donnelly

Enormicon - Storm Of Swords

Enormicon
Storm Of Swords
Independent Release

Formed a mere few years ago, Dallas/Denton (Texas, U.S.) based outfit Enormicon don’t have a lot of history behind them, nor a lot of recorded material to their name, with ‘Storm Of Swords’ their first offering to the music buying public.
Although unwilling to clearly define any one particular genre they’re comfortable enough to be associated with (Especially on their bio, which reads more like a fantasy novel), it doesn’t take a whole lot of thinking to know exactly where the band slot into the grand scheme of things when the opening track of their debut E.P. ‘Slaghammer’ comes blasting out of the speakers. In a nutshell, the trio (Comprising of vocalist/guitarist Clayton ‘The Abomination’ Davis, bassist Joe ‘Humongor’ Rosenthal and drummer Dave ‘Merciless Overlord Of Rhythm’ Slaughter) sound like a hybrid mix of latter day High On Fire, Clutch and Mastodon, which means that the sound is a heavy concoction of stoner/doom metal and psychedelic stoner rock. Although far from anything new or original (The title and the chorus itself reminds me a bit of High On Fire’s ‘Frost Hammer’ from 2010’s ‘Snakes For The Divine’), ‘Slaghammer’ is a thoroughly enjoyable track of heavy proportions, and a great start to the band’s E.P.
Unlike the bludgeoning direction of the opener, the follow-up track ‘Pray For Death’ sees the band further broadening the atmospheric and dynamics within the musical soundscape to give the song a touch of the epic, while the lengthy centrepiece of the album ‘The Gargantuan’ showcases a bit more technical finesse within the band in terms of constant time changes and precision riffing (Without making their sound too clean or clinical) in amongst the strong grooving influence that is ever-present within the band’s overall song structures.
The fast paced ‘Dark Forces’ and the mid-paced ‘Fury Shall Know The Warmth Of Your Blood’ are welcome changes of pace and style after the slow and brooding vibe of the former, and serves to give the E.P. a much needed shake up in diversity, while the closer ‘Brotherhood Of The Plague’ is a definite stand out with Davis putting in a vocal performance that appears to be a little more thought out and different sounding than anything else on offer throughout the E.P.
As a debut, ‘Storm Of Swords’ is definitely a great introduction to the masses of what Enormicon have to offer. And while the music is often a little too reminiscent of the band’s collective influences, it does at least show some real promise of things to come for the band if they continue to make some more music in the future.

For more information on Enormicon, check out - http://www.enormiconmetal.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Hatchet Dawn - Rebirth

Hatchet Dawn
Rebirth
Independent Release/Green Media/M.G.M. Distribution

When Melbourne (Victoria, Australia) based act Hatchet Dawn released their debut E.P. ‘Faith In Chaos’ in 2009, it represented the band’s sound well and truly before the band underwent a huge revamp in terms of line-up, and prior to undergoing a transformation in direction and sound. Having spent the last couple of years touring (2009 saw the band supporting Marilyn Manson on his Australian tour) and recording, Hatchet Dawn (Who now comprise of The Symbiosist/Dialysis vocalist Bert Cuzens, The Symbiosist guitarist Das Schmidt, group founder/guitarist Dave ‘Howsie Noise’ Howells, bassist Billie-Jade and drummer D Man) have finally returned with their debut full-length effort ‘Rebirth’.
‘Rebirth’ is a very appropriate title for Hatchet Dawn’s latest release, and it’s not all that hard for anyone familiar with their debut E.P. to understand. ‘Rebirth’ is very much a brand new start, both visually and sonically. To put it into simpler terms, this is nothing like the Hatchet Dawn of two years ago.
After a brief instrumental/sound-effects filled introductory piece (‘Toxic Oracle’), Hatchet Dawn quickly gets things underway with the slow building and moody ‘Planet Of Terror’. Some of the aggression found in Hatchet Dawn’s sound of old still remains in terms of harsh guitar sounds and at certain moments where Cuzens puts in a guttural death growl, but for the most part, Hatchet Dawn have expanded their sound by adding a lot more space on the musical scale (The guitars now share the space with the bass), and allowed the melodies within the choruses to really take the song to a completely different direction. This new sound will no doubt take some fans by surprise, but after giving the song a few listens, it’s near impossible to deny the progression the band has made over their past efforts.
The faster paced ‘Dark Symmetry’ (The first single/promotional video clip from the album) is perhaps as close to the band’s old sound as the album gets (Barring the melodic chorus), and perhaps for that very reason is why it stands as one of the album’s weaker tracks.
Faring much better is the huge and powerful sounding ‘Juggernaut’, the driving and more groove orientated ‘Red Osiris’ and ‘Untold’ (Which is preceded by the short ‘Necromatra’). All three tracks are real standout cuts, and perfectly showcase just how much the band’s song writing has come over the last few years.
The extra emphasis on melody from Cuzens on ‘Mother Destruction’ and ‘River Snake’ brings to mind Maynard James Keenan (Tool/A Perfect Circle/Puscifer) in places, while the title track ‘Rebirth’ is without a doubt the album’s darkest, heaviest and epic sounding track, earning itself another distinction as a genuine highlight on the album.
Despite some really strong efforts, ‘Rebirth’ is a little letdown by some tracks that simply don’t live up to the bar set by the stronger cuts. Sometimes it’s the shortcomings of the choruses, while other times the fault lies with a lack of a solid riff. But either way you look at it, it’s fair to say that over the thirteen tracks on the album, there are some notable filler efforts alongside the sure-fire winners.
But regardless of its flaws, ‘Rebirth’ is a huge step up from where Hatchet Dawn last left listeners on ‘Faith In Chaos’, and that says something about the band’s current line-up, and their newfound musical direction.

For more information on Hatchet Dawn, check out - http://www.hatchetdawn.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Monday, October 24, 2011

Excommunicated - Skeleton Key

Excommunicated
Skeleton Key
Underworld Records

After fifteen years in existence, and four full-length releases to their name, Baton Rouge (Louisiana, U.S.) based black/death metal outfit Catholicon decided to call it a day in 2009. Rather than simply fade into obscurity, vocalist Chad Kelly quickly put together a new line-up together, and with ex-Despondency guitarist/bassist Jonathan Joubert and ex-Suture guitarist/bassist Jason McIntyre, Excommunicated came into existence in 2010 (Kelly also foundered Underworld Records).
Twelve months after first coming together, Excommunicated, along with the help of session drummer David Kinkade (Borknagar), finally wrapped up their recording sessions, and have duly released their debut full-length effort ‘Skeleton Key’.
Not unlike Kelly’s work with Catholicon, Excommunicated is a conceptual project, with the lyrical content of ‘Skeleton Key’ based on the corruption and dark history of the Catholic Church in medieval times. Musically, the band doesn’t stray too far from where Catholicon left off either. But while Catholicon and Excommunicated are firmly rooted in the black/death metal genre, it’s clear that Kelly has definitely pushed his latest musical endeavour to incorporate a greater measure of diversity from song to song than anything he’s presented within his former group.
Excommunicated begin the album in a rather subtle manner, with the two minute instrumental piece ‘The Abandonment Of Hope’ featuring some great melodic lead work over a gentle backdrop. While the track itself is impressive, it does fade out a little too quick, which does take away from the impact it really should have had.
Next up is ‘The Incorruptibles’, which is more along the lines of what you would expect from the group. Bordering on black metal in the riff department, Kelly’s dual vocal approach (Guttural growls and high end rasping shrieks) adds a distinct death metal influence to the song, while Kinkade’s relentless and varied drumming work throughout adds a bit of a grindcore feel in places. Overall, ‘The Incorruptibles’ is definitely one of the album’s true highlights, and definitely one of the more eclectic offerings from the band.
‘Cry To Heaven’ is another strange hybrid track that’s clearly influenced in part by a strong folk metal vibe in its construction, but given a twist with Kelly’s vocals that gives the song a melodic death metal vibe within the choruses (Bringing to mind Amon Amarth), while tracks such as ‘Minutes Of The Corpse Trials’, ‘When Death Claims Its Most Righteous Dead’ and the technically executed ‘The Vatican Orgies’ are straight out blasts of sheer death metal brutality.
On the guest appearance side of things, ex-Wolfen Society/Nocturnus/Acheron guitarist Vincent Crowley adds a special vocal performance on the slower and menacing ‘The Birth Of Tragedy’, while King Diamond guitarist Andy LaRocque adds a distinctive guitar solo to the otherwise sinister and thrash like ‘Keys To The Kingdom Of God’.
Finishing up the album is ‘The Sum Of All Life’s Pain’, which like ‘The Abandonment Of Hope’ is a haunting and darker doom-like atmospheric piece, and one that sums the album up on a high note.
While the album does have some serious flaws (The fade out on some of the songs does seem a little hasty, and the song writing on the more straight forward death metal numbers seems a little unremarkable), ‘Skeleton Key’ is a solid and diverse sounding debut effort from Excommunicated, and the kind of album that will appeal to those who don’t mind their black/death metal a little more on the unconventional side of things.

For more information on Excommunicated, check out - http://www.myspace.com/excommunication

© Justin Donnelly

The Horde - Thy Blackened Reign

The Horde
Thy Blackened Reign
StormSpell Records

Hailing from Iowa City (Iowa, U.S.), The Horde are a speed/thrash act that emerged onto the scene with a vengeance with the release of their debut E.P. ‘From Empire To Ashes’ in 2008 (Through Scenester Credentials Records). Now two years on, and after a revamp of line-up, The Horde (Comprising of vocalist/bassist Duncan, guitarists Derek Joseph Ahrens (5th Dawn/Ageless) and Tim Matthews and ex-Lividity/Cygnus Loop drummer James Whitehurst) are back with their debut full-length effort ‘Thy Blackened Reign’ on the retro metal specialist label StormSpell Records.
Picking up exactly where their E.P. last left things, ‘Thy Blackened Reign’ sees The Horde maintaining their mix of N.W.O.B.H.M. (New Wave Of British Heavy Metal), speed/thrash metal and primitive black/death metal (In the vein of Venom and Bathory) in the sound sense, while retaining a distinctly Viking/ Norse mythology/war theme on the lyrical front.
The description mentioned above does lend its weight to a fair amount of expectation, especially given the rise of speed/thrash metal over the last five years. And while ‘Thy Blackened Reign’ is far from an absolute classic, The Horde has managed to produce one mighty fine album indeed.
The opening riff of ‘Death Foretold’ gives you the impression that The Horde is primarily a thrash act first and foremost. But it isn’t until you’ve really given the remainder of the track a good listen that you fully understand the many levels of influences that make up the band’s sound. Traces of melodic death metal, old-school metal (Which is more than evident in the raw and unpolished production values, and the Iron Maiden like dual guitar work and gallop) and thrash (Especially within the shredding lead work) all have their places within the song, and all come together to give The Horde a sound that’s hard to pin down, yet so appealing.
The title track ‘Thy Blackened Reign’ reveals a bit of a thrash/punk vibe with its faster passages and rather simplistic choruses yelled out in primitive form, while the darker feel of ‘Hell Beast Of The Pale Frost’, the hammering ‘Supertusk’ and the slower paced/doom like ‘War God’ are monumental slabs of old-school metal.
Elsewhere, tracks such as ‘Vengeance For A King’ (Which is preceded by the short instrumental piece ‘A Kingdom Cries’) and the closer ‘With Death (Comes The Horde)’ (One of the rare exceptions where the band explore atmospherics, moods and tempos within a single track to create something of an epic) are some of the stronger highlights to be found on the album.
Pinning down any one particular sound or genre to a band’s album can sometimes be a real drawback, especially if the songs on the album seem to drift from one genre to the next. But in The Horde’s case, it works in their favour. Their collective influences work in a way that doesn’t make much sense, but sounds great nonetheless.
In terms of the production, ‘Thy Blackened Reign’ could have benefitted from a bit more time, and Duncan’s vocals could do with a little more help or back-up (The choruses do lack in some places). But despite these few problems, ‘Thy Blackened Reign’ is a great album for what it is, and should be sought out by any self-respecting old school thrash metal-head.

For more information on The Horde, check out - http://www.myspace.com/hordemetal

© Justin Donnelly

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Atriarch - Forever The End

Atriarch
Forever The End
Seventh Rule Recordings

The groundswell of praise for Portland (Oregon, U.S.) outfit Atriarch has been slow and steady over the last couple of years, with many hailing the band as one of the best up and coming acts within the blackened/doom metal scene in some years. And with the four piece act (Comprising of ex-El Cerdo/Tree vocalist Lenny Smith, guitarist Brooks Blackhawk, ex-Graves At Sea bassist Nick Phit and ex-Get Hustle drummer Maxamillion Avalon) having signed to Seventh Rule Recordings for their debut full-length offering ‘Forever The End’, we can finally determine whether Atriarch can live up to the hype.
Comprising of four tracks, and running for a little over thirty-six minutes, it’s clear that ‘Forever The End’ is not the kind of album for those with short attention spans. Atriarch isn’t in any rush to get their point across, and it’s well and truly clear from the running length of the four songs presented here.
Musically, the blackened/doom metal tag given to the group’s sound gives the listener some idea of what to expect from the band’s compositions. But if you dig a little deeper, you can also find traces of some old school gothic influences dotted throughout the album as well (We’re talking Bauhaus and Christian Death rather than anything new here) through some of the atmospheric touches on guitar tones and the album’s overall dour and morbid vibe.
In terms of the songs themselves, ‘Plague’ opens up proceedings and sets the tone of the album with its slow tempo, smothering and suffocating mix of rumbling bass and drums, haunting guitar work and a rasping vocal performance from Smith that is part screaming and part agonised mourning moan. Although it’s hardly the most complimentary description of Atriarch’s sound, there’s a dark and foreboding feel to the band’s song writing and sound that definitely works here in a way that ensures that despite the simplistic nature of the song’s construction, it never overstays its welcome, or loses its cold and distant mood for a single moment.
From here, the formula doesn’t stray too far from what Atriarch laid down on the opener, with ‘Shadows’ sounding every bit as bleak and devoid of any real light, but stands apart with some cleaner vocals, a little extra rawness on the instrumental side of things and the hint of melody and gothic edge to the guitar riffs (And vocals too to some extent), while the epic fourteen minute ‘Fracture’ is the album’s obvious centrepiece, with the slow building introduction and its eventual move into a crushing doom metal direction proving to be one of the album’s definite highlights.
Finishing up the album is ‘Downfall’, which is not only the shortest track on the album, but also one of the more traditional doom/black metal based efforts as well. Although a little faster than what the rest of the album has to offer, the change of direction and vibe doesn’t take away from what was offered up previously, and instead showcases another side to the band’s overall sound.
‘Forever The End’ is not an easy listen, and one that will most likely appeal to those who enjoy doom metal in its purest form. But if you happen to be a doom metal fan, and prefer the darker and ‘devoid of light’ side of the genre, then you’ll find that Atriarch certainly delivers that in spades.

For more information on Atriarch, check out - http://www.myspace.com/atriarchmetal

© Justin Donnelly