Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Forest Of The Soul - Restless In Flight

Forest Of The Soul
Restless In Flight
Man Made Music/Bindrune Recordings

Ohio River Valley (U.S.) based outfit Forest Of The Soul isn’t what you would call a well known act, despite having been around for seven years (On and off), and recording two releases (2004’s self-titled full-length effort and 2008’s ‘Faun Song’ E.P.) within that time. But while Forest Of The Soul is a bit of an unknown, the pair that make up the band’s line-up do have a bit of a history within the metal scene, with classical/jazz guitarist Aaron Carey the creative and musical mastermind behind the acoustic/darker toned folk outfit Nechochwen and vocalist/guitarist/bassist/drummer Andrew Della Cagna having been a session member for an endless list of bands, in addition to serving as a full member of acts such as Moonthrone, Wilderkin and Dofka. Outside individual projects, the pair has played side by side in Harvist and Angelrust – sharing the role of guitarist in Dethroned (Although not at the same time).
Given the pair’s vast musical history together and my vague familiarity of their past musical projects (Barring Forest Of The Soul as both releases are quite obscure and hard to find), I really didn’t know what to expect from their latest release ‘Restless In Flight’, apart from the assumption that it would be primarily an acoustic effort, with some progressive/folk influences.
On the opening title track ‘Restless In Flight’, the pair showcase their strong song writing abilities with a mid-paced acoustic rock song that reveals itself to have many layers and some interesting twists throughout, and matched perfectly with some great vocals from Cagna (Which at times reminds me of ex-Killswitch Engage/Seemless/Times Of Grace vocalist Jesse Leach’s clean efforts), and some stunning guitar playing from Carey.
The two part ‘Alone/Desert Rose’ is a definite stand out with Cagna putting in a powerful and emotive performance alongside Carey, who provides a suitably dramatic and atmospheric slower paced musical backdrop, while the rock based ‘Without You’, the beautifully crafted ‘The Line’ (Which brings to mind Opeth with some of the vocal melodies), the jam session sounding ‘Daily Bread’ and the percussive heavy ‘Evenfall’ are further highlights dotted throughout the album.
Outside of the vocal tracks, Carey gets to shine on instrumental tracks such as ‘Auburn Hill’, the mellow ‘Forgotten Day’, the country-tinged ‘My Betrothed’ and the lively ‘Summer Glades’, before the duo pair up for the darker and more folk based ‘Forest Of The Soul’ to finish up the album.
Unfortunately, the album does falter at certain points, particularly when the pair opts for a style and direction that goes against the style found on most of the album. Examples of those odd departures can be found in the Irish jig/tune ‘Green Heroes’ (Which features a guest appearance from guitarist Mark Denmon), the electric ‘Mother Tongue’ (Featuring lead guitarist Pandel Collaros) and the country based ‘Sweet And Lowdown’ (The latter two originally appeared on the ‘Faun Song’ E.P.). While all three tracks are good songs, their inclusion doesn’t quite sit well with the mood and feel of the remainder of the album, which only gives the tail end of the album an inconsistency that mars an otherwise finely crafted effort.
Barring a few wayward sounding tracks, ‘Restless In Flight’ is a fantastic acoustic based album that follows in the footsteps of Anathema, Opeth and Green Carnation’s acoustic efforts (Although it doesn’t necessary sound like any one of them exclusively).
Forest Of The Soul’s latest album is characterised by its stunning display of musicianship and quality song writing, and comes highly recommended.

For more information on Forest Of The Soul, check out - http://www.myspace.com/forestofthesoul

© Justin Donnelly

Monday, June 27, 2011

Nazareth - Big Dogz (Deluxe Edition)

Big Dogz (Deluxe Edition)
Edel Records/Riot! Entertainment/Warner Music Australia

Having made a comeback after ten years away from the studio in 2008 with ‘The Newz’, classic hard rock outfit Nazareth are back with their surprisingly quick follow up ‘Big Dogz’ - which is the Scottish band’s twenty-second studio release, and first for German based label Edel Records.
Given the overwhelming positive praise for ‘The Newz’ from the press and fans, it’s not all that surprising to see that there’s a bit of interest in Nazareth’s latest effort. And sure enough, the band lives up to most of those expectations with their latest release.
The opening track ‘Big Dog’s Gonna Howl’ gets the album off to a strangely slow start, with Jimmy Murrison delivering a deliberately measured heavy blues based riff that is backed up with plenty of power from bassist/backing vocalist Pete Agnew and drummer Lee Agnew. Although lead vocalist Dan McCafferty puts in a solid performance with his distinctive raspy voice over the hard rocking tune, ‘Big Dog’s Gonna Howl’ does come across as a little too slow and stripped back to really have the impact it should as an opener - which is a little disappointing (Especially given that the song does have plenty of potential).
Despite sticking to the same slow tempo of the opener, ‘Claimed’ is classic Nazareth with McCafferty’s performance bringing to mind AC/DC’s Brian Johnson if he had a wider range and was able to project a bit more melody into his singing style.
It isn’t until ‘No Mean Monster’ (A song that imagines what it would be like if Fred, the monster depicted on the band’s ‘No Mean City’ album from 1979, were to come to life) that Nazareth really up the ante in terms of pace and heaviness, which helps steer the band back towards more familiar territory for the band, while the political dig of ‘Lifeboat’ is an infectious rocker that is one of the album’s hard rocking stand outs.
Another personal favourite is the slow burning semi-acoustic based ‘When Jesus Comes To Save The World Again’ with its thought provoking lyrical stance and the band’s use of dynamics (The gentle start, heavy middle section and mellow tail end), while the up-tempo feel-good rocker ‘Radio’ and the ‘The Toast’ are further great hard rocking efforts that stand out.
McCafferty shines on the reflective ‘Time And Tide’ and the heartfelt ‘Butterfly’, even if the cracks in his voice on the latter do reveal a little too much rawness in his vocals at times (Which understandably enough may turn some off the song), while the bad boy boogie of ‘Watch Your Back’ and ‘Sleeptalker’ (Which is easily the closest the band get to their classic old school rock sound) finish the album with plenty hard rocking energy.
As an added bonus to the deluxe edition of the album, ‘Big Dogz’ comes with an additional disc entitled ‘Live & Unplugged’, which as the title suggests, features five acoustic favourites recorded live in 2000 in acoustic form (With keyboardist Ronnie Leahy also part of the line-up at the time).
While there isn’t any real surprises to be found in the track listing (‘Big Boy’, ‘Simple Solution’, a cover of Tomorrow’s ‘My White Bicycle’, Boudleaux Bryant’s ‘Love Hurts’ and ‘Open Up Woman’), the performance on all of the tracks is nothing short of great, and makes for an excellent addition to the official album.
Despite a couple of tracks that don’t quite stand up to some of the other stronger sounding tracks, ‘Big Dogz’ is another great album from Nazareth, and proves that old dogs needn’t have to learn new tricks in order to remain relevant in today’s classic hard rock scene.

For more information on Nazareth, check out - http://www.nazarethdirect.co.uk/

© Justin Donnelly

The Soulless - Isolated

The Soulless
Earache Records/Riot! Entertainment/Warner Music Australia

Ignominious Incarceration is hardly the sort of band name that sticks in the mind, let alone roll off the tongue with any real ease, and that’s something that this Bath (Somerset, U.K.) outfit realised after four years using the moniker. And as a consequence, the band decided to change their moniker to The Soulless in 2010, in the hope that the change would better represent where the band currently stand, both personally and musically.
With two former releases (2008’s independently released ‘Deeds Of Days Long Gone’ E.P. and 2009’s full-length effort ‘Of Winter Born’, which was released through Earache Records) garnishing the band some high praise, it wouldn’t have been out of the question to expect that the band would capitalise on their early success with an even stronger release, albeit under a different name.
Unfortunately, the swapping of names isn’t the only thing that’s changed over the last couple of years, with ‘Isolated’ seeing the band move away from the melodic death metal sound of their earlier releases to make way for a modern metalcore sound.
The opening track ‘Unaltered’ (Which is also the first to be given the promotional video clip treatment) immediately lets the listener know exactly what the band have in store for the next half an hour, with the song filled with an array of flowing technical riffing (Courtesy of guitarists Steve Brown and Kristan Dawson), a crushingly heavy rhythm section (Delivered from bassist Chris Ball and drummer Daniel Wilding) and a vocal presence from Andy Wardle that more than matches the band in terms of aggression. But while the band delivers plenty of venom and heaviness, the song lacks the necessary structure to stand out from what countless others have, and continue, to deliver within the overpopulated metalcore scene.
‘Earthbound’ does manage to impress a little more with its shift in gears tempo wise and its catchy choruses, as too does the touches of melodic death metal within the faster riffing on ‘Unite Us’, but overall ‘Isolated’ is a fairly generic metalcore album that fails to really make an impression, or offer anything that really stands out as anything remotely unique.
Given the potential shown on Ignominious Incarceration’s first couple of releases, I was really hoping that the band would deliver that something special on their third effort. But sadly, The Soulless has decided to go for a sound that’s as easy to digest as their new name, and inevitably come up with something really bland and forgettable.
Compared to their Ignominious Incarceration days, ‘Isolated’ really does live up to the band’s current moniker, with the album distinctly lacking any real soul and personality. Yes, the band may enjoy some overdue commercial success with their new name and sound, but in terms of longevity, The Soulless’ days are seriously numbered.

For more information on The Soulless, check out - http://www.thesoullessband.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Friday, June 24, 2011

Annex Theory - Beneath The Skin

Annex Theory
Beneath The Skin
Pivotal Rockordings

Winnipeg (Manitoba, Canada) based Annex Theory are a relatively new act to the metal scene, with ‘Beneath The Skin’ their debut E.P. offering after having first come together back in 2008. And despite only containing four tracks, ‘Beneath The Skin’ is one of the most promising debuts I’ve heard in a long time.
Fronted by former Quo Vadis/Damascus front man Trevor Birnie, and joined by guitarists Sam Jacobs and Wade Forshaw, bassist Jordan Fehr, keyboardist Matt Rutowicz and drummer Adam Jefkins, Annex Theory take elements of melodic death metal, progressive metal and metalcore, and blend them all together to create a sound that injects life into what has since become quite a tired and predictable genre.
The opening title track ‘Beneath The Skin’ begins in an aggressive and yet melodic death metal direction, with plenty of technical finesse woven into the tight knit guitar riffing and the swathes of atmospheric keyboards the flourish over the whole piece. But outside the band’s musical prowess, it’s the varied vocal approach of Birnie that impresses, with a mix of the aggressive and melodic that really showcases the many shades that make up the band’s overall sound, which inevitably puts a new spin on what progressive metalcore can sound like.
The follow up track ‘Event Horizon’ takes the sound of the opener and pushes it out even further, with the technical ability of the guitarists and Rutowicz’s keyboards given a little more space to shine with longer passages, while touches of Periphery/Tesseract ‘djent’ styled riffing can be heard within ‘Orbit’, without overshadowing the band’s core sound that was delivered on the first two tracks. Interestingly enough, touches of Faith No More’s Mike Patton can be heard briefly around the middle section on the vocal front, which definitely makes the song a real stand out on the E.P.
Finishing things up is ‘Horizons’, which is by far the E.P.’s heaviest and most technically and challenging effort. But while there’s plenty of heaviness within the song, Birnie’s dual clean/aggressive vocals do ensure that’s there’s still some sense of the melodic.
On the strength of the four tracks offered up, Annex Theory have certainly impressed in a major way. Where the band goes from here is unknown, but if they can manage to produce the same results over the course of a full-length effort, there’s no doubt that they’ll get plenty of attention for their abilities as musicians, as well as for their ability to seamlessly blend a multitude of styles and genres into their song writing.
‘Beneath The Skin’ comes highly recommended, and Annex Theory is definitely a band to keep an eye out for in the future.

For more information on Annex Theory, check out - http://www.myspace.com/annextheory

© Justin Donnelly

Hammerfall - Infected

Nuclear Blast Records/Riot! Entertainment/Warner Music Australia

In their formative years, Gothenburg (Sweden) based act Hammerfall made a name for themselves as one of the bigger names within the European power metal scene.
But in the last couple of years, the band decided to broaden their sound, incorporating a bit more of a hard rock and traditional metal sound into their repertoire (Especially on albums such as 2005’s ‘Chapter V: Unbent, Unbowed, Unbroken’, 2006’s ‘Threshold’ and 2009’s ‘No Sacrifice, No Victory’), which had many fans claiming the band had all but forsaken the sound that had made them so appealing in the first place.
Now returning with their eighth full-length effort ‘Infected’, it would seem that Hammerfall (Who comprise of vocalist Joacim Cans, guitarists Oscar Dronjak and Pontus Norgren, bassist Fredrik Larsson and drummer Anders Johansson) aren’t about to cave in to the demands of fans, but instead strive to maintain their course of exploring territory beyond the confines of traditional power metal.
When the band unveiled the cover artwork to their latest release, the darker vibe and the notable absence of their beloved mascot Hector caused plenty of controversy amongst fans (Who has graced the cover of all of Hammerfall’s releases in the past). While some fans were disappointed with the change of imagery, I saw the cover as a positive and a possibly hint of another change of direction for the band. And it was for that reason that I held out the hope that this may just be the Hammerfall album to lift the band out of the realm of predictability and disappointment that’s plagued their last few releases. Unfortunately, ‘Infected’ isn’t the album I was hoping for.
The opening track ‘Patient Zero’ is something a little different for the band, with the cinematic effects at the start getting the track off to a horror movie start. The zombie infected theme carries through with the lyrical content of the song itself, which initially gets the album off to a darker start than usual. Song-wise, ‘Patient Zero’ is a good track, with some heavy duty riffing and thundering drums giving off a huge and steady groove, while Cans’ melodies are strong enough to keep things on an even keel.
But for all the build up the opener creates, the band quickly reverts to the safe and comfortable with the incredibly cheesy and cliché ‘B.Y.H.’ (Which is otherwise known as ‘Bang Your Head’) and the first single/promotional video clip ‘One More Time’. Hammerfall have never been known for writing the most sophisticated tunes of all time, but even so, there really doesn’t seem to be a hell of a lot of thought put into these efforts, both lyrically or musically.
Things do pick up with ‘The Outlaw’, ‘Immortalized’, the fast paced ‘Dia De Los Muertos’ and ‘666 - The Enemy Within’, all of which recall the somewhat anthem-like style and direction Hammerfall are well known for, while the obligatory ballad ‘Send Me A Sign’ (Which is a cover of Hungarian metal act Pokolgép’s ‘Hol Van A Szó’, and which is the second single from the album) is another solid track, with Cans’ putting in a great performance.
The remainder of the album however is a real letdown. Despite the band’s attempts to create something a little darker and heavier, the chorus within ‘I Refuse’ fails to generate anything to get excited about, while ‘Let’s Get It On’ is another cheesy anthem that slots alongside ‘B.Y.H.’ and ‘One More Time’ under the cringe-worthy bracket.
The closing track ‘Redemption’ does finish up the album on a high note, with the seven minute symphonic epic revealing enough twists and turns to keep the song from getting stale.
After a couple of less than stellar albums that came across as transitional more than downright failures, I was hoping that Hammerfall would finally take the lead and deliver an album that would not only be consistent in terms of its direction, but also in its song writing. Unfortunately, ‘Infected’ is neither. Instead, it’s another patchy effort that only highlights the band’s indecisiveness about what they want to do, and reveals their shortcomings as song writers.
Overall, ‘Infected’ is confused, and intimately another release in what has become a string of disappointing albums from the Swedes.

For more information on Hammerfall, check out - http://www.hammerfall.net/

© Justin Donnelly

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Coffins - Ancient Torture

Ancient Torture
Deepsend Records

If you’re a diehard follower of cult underground Tokyo (Japan) based doom/death metal act Coffins, you’ll no doubt have a serious amount of vinyl from these guys within your collection. What I mean by that is that aside their three official full-length releases (2005’s ‘Mortuary In Darkness’, 2006’s ‘The Other Side Of Blasphemy’ and 2008’s ‘Buried Death’), Coffins rival Agoraphobic Nosebleed in terms of the number of split E.P.’s and singles they’ve released within their eleven years together. If you’re a fan of the band and you’re looking to complete your collection by getting a hold of the band’s other older releases, then you’ll have to be prepared to search high and low for some of their more sought after and hard to find releases, and some serious dollars to convince the owner to part ways with his piece of plastic.
But Coffins fans needn’t worry that half of the band’s extensive back catalogue remains tucked away in other people’s collections any more, as Deepsend Records have put together a rather impressive and lavish looking package in the form of ‘Ancient Torture’.
As the title implies, ‘Ancient Torture’ brings together for the first time all of Coffins’ various split releases, compilation and vinyl only tracks over two discs (With the exception of 2005’s ‘Sacrifice To Evil Spirit’ compilation effort), which effectively does away with the need of scouring the world for another piece to add to the ever building collection of plastic that is Coffins’ vast catalogue of music.
Comprising of twenty-one tracks, and organised in reverse chronological order, the first disc starts out with ‘Eat Your Shit’, which originally appeared on their split release with Lobotomized in 2009. Stylistically, this track gives you a clear idea of what makes up Coffins’ sound, with its primitive production values, thick guitar and bass sounds, delivered in a slow dooming/death metal sound and direction that brings to mind a mix of Asphyx, Hellhammer, Autopsy and Cathedral.
In terms of highlights, it’s hard to pull apart ‘Ancient Torture’ as every track is pretty much a winner, both because of its appearance here on C.D. and also because Coffins rarely deliver anything you could truly regard as a filler (In other words, if you like one track, you’re sure to like them all). But if I were to mention a couple of titles that really stand out for me, they would have to be the somewhat catchy and loose ‘Offalgrinder’ (From 2008’s split with Skullhog), ‘The Cracks Of Doom’, the band’s cover of Cathedral’s ‘Ebony Tears’ (Both From 2008’s split with XXX Maniak), the infectious groove of ‘Decapitated Crawl’, their take on Pungent Stench’s ‘Bonesawer’ (Both from 2007’s split with The Arm And Sword Of A Bastard God), the harrowing and mournful ‘Torture’ (From 2007’s split with Mala Suerte) and the band’s cover of Venom’s ‘Warhead’ (Which dates way back to 2005).
While the packaging is a little lacking in terms of liner notes, the music contained within (Not to mention the great artwork and overall layout by Mark and Mike Riddick) make ‘Ancient Torture’ is an absolute must for fans of Coffins.

For more information on Coffins, check out - http://www.coffins.jp/

© Justin Donnelly

Hotel Wrecking City Traders & Gary Arce - Hotel Wrecking City Traders & Gary Arce

Hotel Wrecking City Traders & Gary Arce
Hotel Wrecking City Traders & Gary Arce
Bro Fidelity Records

Melbourne (Victoria, Australia) based experimental psychedelic rock outfit Hotel Wrecking City Traders aren’t exactly the most prolific of recording artists, but when the duo (Comprising of guitarist Toby ‘Wrecker’ Matthews, and brother/drummer Ben ‘Wrecker’ Matthews) do release something, you know it’s always going to be something interesting, daring and different.
Twelve months on from their ‘Somer/Wantok’ E.P. effort, Hotel Wrecking City Traders are back with something new, and this time it’s a collaborative effort with one of the founding figures of U.S. desert rock movement Gary Arce (Who’s most notable acts include Yawning Man, Ten East and The Sort Of Quartet).
Hotel Wrecking City Traders and Arce came together initially in 2009, when the band played support to Ten East’s tour of Australia the same year. Sure enough, one idea led to another, with ‘Hotel Wrecking City Traders & Gary Arce’ the results of the two parties’ joint musical venture.
On paper, it sounds intriguing, in the sense that the pair come from opposing musical backgrounds. But despite their differences, ‘Hotel Wrecking City Traders & Gary Arce’ works, with the two tracks allowing both artists to explore their own ideas and sounds, all the while working with each other to create something altogether different from what you would otherwise expect individually.
The opening track (Or Side A for those who have bought the limited edition vinyl) ‘Coventina’s Cascade’ starts off with a slow and steady build up of Ben’s thundering drums and Toby’s fuzz out guitar tones, with Arce (Who also provides some bass to both tracks) overlaying some drifting and atmospheric/calm guitar work over the top of. Initially starting out with some reserve, the track builds in intensity and breaks down, with the Matthews brothers standing out more in the denser moments of the song, and Arce’s subtle guitar work rising to the surface through the sparser and gentler passages. The overall effect is a track that ebbs and flows with gradual builds of intense instrumentation followed by passages of open space, which has a hypnotising flow on effect on the listener.
The second track ‘Traverse Of The Oxen’ (Or Side B) doesn’t stray too far from the sound and direction of the opener, with the song starting out in a gentle manner, before the brothers once again start ramping up their heavily grooved sound. The build and breakdowns are notably more gradual than those demonstrated on the opener, and the bass seems to take on a greater role filling out the overall sound here as well. But while both tracks share a similar structure, ‘Traverse Of The Oxen’ does seem to be more in line with a working together of both differing musical elements and ideas at the start and towards the tail end, but more of what you would expect from Hotel Wrecking City Traders on their own in the heavier middle section, where Arce’s spaced out guitar notes nearly disappear under the noise the Matthews’ create.
‘Hotel Wrecking City Traders & Gary Arce’, like all of the band’s releases from the past, is something a little different, and something that doesn’t always make sense the first time around. But given time and finding the right headspace to let it all sink in, this really is another crowning achievement for both Hotel Wrecking City Traders and Arce.

For more information on Hotel Wrecking City Traders & Gary Arce, check out - http://www.hotelwreckingcitytraders.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Icon In Me - Head Break Solution

Icon In Me
Head Break Solution
Goomba Music

When I first came across Russian/Danish/Swedish – Moscow (Russia) based outfit Icon In Me back in 2009, I can’t say that I was all that impressed.
Despite boasting a line-up of fairly well known musicians, their debut effort ‘Human Museum’ (Released through Massacre Records) just failed to jump out at me with any real excitement in the song writing department.
It’s been two long years since then, and the four piece act (Comprising of ex-Transport League/Angel Blake/Mnemic/B-Thong vocalist Tony JJ Jelencovich, ex-Hostile Breed guitarist Dmitry Frans, ex-Reign The Absolute/Bezumnie Usiliya guitarist Artyom Sherbakov, ex-Hostile Breed bassist Konstantin and Amaranthe/The Arcane Order/The Cleansing/Mercenary drummer Morten Løwe Sørensen) are back with their sophomore effort ‘Head Break Solution’.
Self described as a modern metal act with some thrash, death and hardcore influences; you can say that on paper, Icon In Me is somewhat of a hard act to pin down style wise. And sure enough, ‘Head Break Solution’ is a fairly varied, and somewhat mixed effort.
After a brief guitar/drum sound effects scene setting introductory piece (‘Suicide World’), Icon In Me get straight down to business with ‘Wasted Ways’. Fast paced and thrash based, ‘Wasted Ways’ is a solid enough track, with plenty of crushing riffs and some great solo work, but is ultimately a little let down with some of the cleaner vocal lines from Jelencovich, which sound a little too out of place against his more aggressive efforts.
The fast paced follow up track ‘Face It’ is certainly a worthy effort that sees the cleaner vocals work well with the growls, and brings to mind a bit of The Haunted’s latter day efforts, while the first single (And first promotional video clip) ‘The Quest’ fuses together middle eastern samples within modern metal framework (I’m thinking Soilwork both musically and vocally) with great results.
‘Un-Slaved’ (The second promotional video clip to be filmed from the album) is another stand out cut with its mix of the melodic and the aggressive, and the guest guitar solo contribution from The Haunted’s Anders Björler, while the shredding ‘Lost For Nothing’, the thrashing ‘Nuclear Drama’ and the blackened melodic death feel of ‘Through The Sites’ are further high moments on the album.
Unfortunately, not everything on the album is as memorable as the tracks mentioned above. Towards the latter half of the album, ‘Flood Kills’, the slower paced/keyboard heavy ‘Tired And Broken’ (Which originally appeared as a b-side to the single ‘The Quest’), ‘Aspects Of The Unknown’ and ‘Solid Child’ seem to exist purely to fill the album out, and therefore struggle to stand out as anything all that remarkable.
Overall, Icon In Me is an interesting act, with ‘Head Break Solution’ coming across as a truly diverse album. But in terms of song writing, the band does have some work to do to really make their albums sound consistent from start to finish. ‘Head Break Solution’ definitely has its fair share of killer cuts, but just too many filler efforts to really make it a killer release as a whole.

For more information on Icon In Me, check out - http://www.iconinme.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Nociceptor - Among Insects

Among Insects
Pivotal Rockordings

With Canadian melodic death metal act Threat Signal currently on hiatus (Following the release of their second album ‘Vigilance’ in 2009), guitarist Travis Montgomery has decided to focus on his own project Nociceptor, who after signing with Pivotal Rockordings, have just released their new E.P. ‘Among Insects’.
Despite having been around for the better part of six years, and independently releasing a full length album in 2008 (‘Sum Of All Scars’), the Dallas (Texas, U.S.) based outfit (Who also comprise of vocalist J.D. Schmidt, bassist Scott Allen and drummer Michael Eskandari) are still a relatively an unknown act within the metal scene. But given the strength of the material featured on ‘Among Insects’, that situation is sure to change in no time at all.
Sounding like a cross between Tesseract, Periphery and Meshuggah, it’s safe to say that Nociceptor can be well and truly pigeonholed as another new piece of the growing underground ‘djent’ movement. But while some may see that as a negative, Nociceptor do have enough originally within the eight tracks they offer up on ‘Among Insects’ to stand out amongst the crowd.
Despite its unimaginative title, the two and a half minute ‘Intro’ serves as a fitting introduction to proceedings, with the gentle build of guitars against some sound effects easing the listener into the E.P. with its melodic start, and eventual build into heavier riff structures towards its tail end.
The hard hitting second track ‘The Fell’ virtually follows on from the opener in a particularly bruising fashion, with the band locking into a grooving riff pattern that’s fairly indicative of the ‘djent’ sound. It isn’t until around the two thirds mark that the vocals deviate from the short and sharp barks, allowing a brief passage of melodic clean vocals to take over. It’s not exactly the sort of change that blows the mind with originality, but it does help break up the monotony within the track, and it’s done exceedingly well.
‘Botfly’, which is preceded by the rather short guitar heavy interlude ‘Emergence’, is a definite stand out cut with the band demonstrating their technical ability with tempo changes and complex groove-like riff structures, and the constant shift between melodic and growled vocals throughout, while the added aggression within ‘Pornoholocaust’ (Which has been reprised from ‘Sum Of All Scars’ and re-recorded here) adds a different feel to the E.P.’s overall sound.
‘Mollusk’ (Another track lifted from ‘Sum Of All Scars’) is solid, if a little unremarkable, while ‘Cuntagion’ is noteworthy for its guitar solo and the effects utilised here and there on the vocals.
The closer ‘Angus McGillicutty’ is another highlight on the album with the use of varying vocals, the vast contrast between heavy passages balanced against brief atmospheric pockets, the shredding solo work and the extended melodic riff structure that eventually eases the song toward its eventual fade out.
Nociceptor isn’t going to win any awards for originality within the growing ‘djent’ movement, but they will turn some heads with the strength of the material they offer up on their latest E.P. And that alone is enough to earn ‘Among Insects’ and the band some well deserved praise.

For more information on Nociceptor, check out - http://www.myspace.com/nociceptor

© Justin Donnelly

Wormrot - Dirge

Earache Records/Riot! Entertainment/Warner Music Australia

Singapore based grindcore outfit Wormrot caused quite a stir in the underground scene with the release of their debut full-length album ‘Abuse’ in 2009 through independent Singapore based label Scrotum Jus Records.
Although the band weren’t really doing anything that hadn’t already been done before, the sheer energy and force with which the band pushed their music and sound certainly wasn’t lost on listeners, who helped spread the band’s reputation far and wide throughout the underground scene.
The rise of Wormrot within the grindcore scene wasn’t lost on Earache Records either, with the label signing up the band, and duly re-releasing their debut album in 2010 to a worldwide audience.
With two years having passed since the release of ‘Abuse’, Wormrot (Who comprise of vocalist Arif (Who also sings for Flesh Disgorged), guitarist Rasyid and ex-Analdicktion drummer Fit) are back with their long awaited sophomore effort ‘Dirge’. And as hard as it is to believe, it would seem that Wormrot really have outdone themselves once again.
Clocking in at a mere eighteen and a half minutes, and packing a whopping twenty-five tracks, it’s clear that Wormrot haven’t changed much from their original grindcore template of the past – just merely refined things.
The opening track ‘No One Gives A Shit’ is somewhat of a misleading start to proceedings with its long drawn out (And dare I say melodic) guitar riffs, but it soon picks up at the tail end with Arif screaming out the title of the song.
From here on in, it’s total audio violence from one track to the next, with the trio blast from one song to the next.
Upon an initial listen, it was hard to pick out any real stand outs within the track listing, let alone recognising where one track finished and the next started. But after repeated listens, the subtle shifts in tempo and changes in direction in the tracks started to reveal themselves, and along with it, the realisation that as an album, ‘Dirge’ really does offer up a lot of variety (The newly adopted dual vocal approach from the band really helps to shake things up more from what was heard last time around), and flows exceedingly well from start to finish.
From the not so serious (‘All Go No Emo’, ‘Spot A Pathetic’ and ‘Butt Krieg Is Showing’) to songs that have something serious to convey (‘Evolved Into Nothing’, ‘Waste Of Time’ and ‘Erased Existence’), and from the fast paced power-violence pieces (‘Compulsive Disposition’, ‘Public Display Of Infection’, ‘Ferocious Bombardment’ and ‘Destruct The Bastards’) right through to material that steps a little more into regions uncharted for the band (‘Plunged Into Illusions’, ‘Overpowered Violence’, ‘Deceased Occupation’ and ‘A Dead Issue’), Wormrot have covered all the bases, and with a passion that’s rarely heard in grindcore today.
But aside from the above mentioned tracks, the definite stand out cuts on the album can be found in ‘You Suffer But Why Is It My Problem’ (Wormrot’s salute to Napalm Death’s classic ‘You Suffer’), the awesome riffs within ‘Semiconcious Godsize Dumbass’, the five second blast of ‘Fucking Fierce So What’ (A sequel to the band’s ‘So Fierce For Fuck?!’), the strangely catchy ‘Principle Of The Puppet Warfare’ and the lengthy instrumental closer ‘The Final Insult’.
As an added bonus, the limited edition version of ‘Dirge’ also comes with a bonus D.V.D. Comprising of two components, with the first being is the seventeen minute making of the album documentary called ‘A Dirge In Progress’.
Although it sounds enticing, there’s little excitement from the band in the studio, and apart from the brief ‘Recording finished with Fit’s fart of relief’ footage at the end, it’s hardly the kind of documentary you would watch a second time around.
The second segment, ‘Abusing The World 2009 – 2010’, is a little better value for money, with the thirty-one minutes showcasing various performances from the band in the Czech Republic, Poland, Malaysia, France and the U.S. The footage and sound is a little on the raw/bootleg side of things, but still well worthy of checking out to see what the band can deliver in front of a live audience.
Despite its short running length and a D.V.D. that’s a bit hit and miss in terms of entertainment value, overall ‘Dirge’ is one hell of a grindcore release, and one that’s guaranteed to put any listener in a killing mood.

For more information on Wormrot, check out - http://myspace.com/wormrotgrind

© Justin Donnelly

The Yard Apes - Devils Road

The Yard Apes
Devils Road
Impedance Records

Founded in 2009, and hailing from Ballarat (Victoria, Australia), The Yard Apes have been playing their brand of garage rock/rockabilly in front of anyone who’s been willing to have them up on the stage - earning themselves a bit of a name wherever they go. Now with the release of their debut full-length album ‘Devils Road’ hitting the shelves, it’s not hard to see why the three piece act (Comprising of vocalist/guitarist Brett Dunbar, bassist Greg Dunbar and drummer Adrian Jones) have been getting the attention they have.
The trio get things off to a somewhat relaxed start with the opening track ‘Goin’ South’, with the guitars giving off a warm and plucky tone, while the rock solid rhythm section locking into a cool blues/rock groove. Brett provides enough of a twang in his vocals to give that little something extra to the overall sound of the song, while the fuzzed up solo adds a great touch as well.
‘Misery’ remains true to its laid back pace and blues template, but the band do liven things up a touch with the traditional blues based ‘Chain Gang Blues’ (One of the many songs that showcase the band’s sense of humour on the lyrical front), which initially starts off nice and slow before really picking up in speed and volume towards its inevitable car crashing climax.
The title track ‘Devil’s Road’ is where the band really comes into their element, with plenty of speed and attitude coming through the band’s delivery of the tune (Veering close to psychobilly rock in some ways), while the dirty garage rock side of the band is brought out through ‘Man Overboard’ and ‘Beg’.
But as good as the album is up to this point, it’s the last three tracks where the band really shake off the shackles that seem to hold them back a little on some of the former tracks.
The infectious primitive drive of ‘Monkey Brains’ is a full on riot, while ‘Yard Ape Stomp’ and the closer ‘Down By The Lake’ are downright stomping efforts that retain the grit and rawness that true garage rock/old school rockabilly should have.
‘Devils Road’ may be little restrained and measured in places, but otherwise for the most part, this is a great little debut for The Yard Apes, and one that comes highly recommended to fans of good quality garage rock/rockabilly tunes at their best.

For more information on The Yard Apes, check out - http://www.myspace.com/theyardapes

© Justin Donnelly

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Sepultura - Kairos

Nuclear Blast Records/Riot! Entertainment/Warner Music Australia

Although Sepultura’s first couple of releases following the departure of Max Cavalera (1998’s ‘Against’ and 2001’s ‘Nation’) were strong efforts in their own right, it wasn’t until 2003’s ‘Roorback’ that the band finally managed to redefine their sound and direction into something that could stand on the strength of its own inspired creation, and allow the band to step aside from the long shadow of the band’s critically acclaimed earlier efforts. Building on the promise of their former release, ‘Dante XXI’ (2006) saw the band deliver an album that was as experimental as it was inspired, and unquestionably justified the continued existence of Derrick Green fronted line-up. Given the strength of ‘Dante XXI’, and the parting of ways with drummer Igor Cavalera from the line-up, it wasn’t all that surprising to discover that despite some really strong moments, ‘A-Lex’ (2009) wasn’t quite the killer follow-up release fans were expecting from the band.
Two years on, and Sepultura (Comprising of vocalist/additional guitarist Green, guitarist Andreas Kisser, bassist Paulo Jr. and drummer/percussionist Jean Dolabella) are back with their twelfth full-length album ‘Kairos’, which is also their first release for Nuclear Blast Records since moving on from S.P.V.
After tackling heavy conceptual themes on both ‘Dante XXI’ and ‘A-Lex’, Sepultura have decided to take a step back and reverted to a back-to-basics approach of writing individual songs. While there is a general theme within ‘Kairos’ (Kairos is an ancient Greek work for passages of time which is not chronological, and where something important happens within that frame of time), the stripped back approach the band have adopted on their latest effort has worked in their favour - giving the album a feel and vibe that earns its place as one of the stronger efforts from the Green fronted era of band’s output.
Sepultura’s bare bones approach to song writing on ‘Kairos’ is more than evident in the album’s opening track ‘Spectrum’. Kisser’s riffing may be simplistic, but there’s a rhythm and relentless groove to it that works exceedingly well, and sits perfectly with Green’s primal bellowing vocal presence and the combined rhythm backbone of Paulo Jr. and Dolabella.
The title track ‘Kairos’ sees things turned up a notch with plenty of aggression being added on the guitar front and the breakdown in the middle where Dolabella really gets to take centre stage with a brief middle eastern sounding interlude, while the appropriately titled ‘Relentless’ brings forth a touch of thrash to the band’s groove metal based sound, and Green pushing his vocals into regions rarely ventured into with considerable success.
Green adds a real menacing touch with his spoken work efforts in the biting and tribal/percussive driven ‘Dialog’, while his hardcore bark on the frantic paced ‘Mask’ is another real stand out.
Other outstanding efforts worthy of a special  mention include the driving ‘Born Strong’, the speeding/death metal-like ‘No One Will Stand’ (Which boasts a brief but shredding solo from Kisser), the groove based ‘Point Of No Return’ and the industrialised experimentation of ‘Structure Violence (Azzes)’.
While ‘Kairos’ has its positives, the album does have its negatives as well. The four short interludes (‘2011’, ‘1433’, ‘5772’ and ‘4648’) don’t really serve much of a purpose, other than to provide a bit of a breather between tracks, and therefore seems counterproductive. Elsewhere, both ‘Seethe’ and ‘Embrace The Storm’, while strong efforts, seem to pale against the strength of the other tracks on the album. And lastly, there’s the cover of Ministry’s ‘Just One Fix’ (From 1992’s ‘Psalm 69: The Way To Succeed And The Way To Suck Eggs’) and The Prodigy’s ‘Firestarter’ (From 1997’s ‘The Fat Of The Land’). Again, while they’re both interesting and well done, they really don’t add anything to the album given the strength of the band’s own material.
The post-Max Cavalera era Sepultura has weathered much throughout the years, with some of their albums reflecting the turmoil and struggle to find an identity of their own. But despite missing the mark at times, it’s clear that Sepultura have once again been inspired to greatness, and delivered it with a vengeance on ‘Kairos’.

For more information on Sepultura, check out - http://www.sepultura.com.br/

© Justin Donnelly

Uriah Heep - Official Bootleg Volume III - Live In Kawasaki Japan 2010

Uriah Heep
Official Bootleg Volume III - Live In Kawasaki Japan 2010
Edel Records/Riot! Entertainment/Warner Music Australia

Following on from two previous official bootleg recordings (2010’s ‘Official Bootleg - Live At Sweden Rock Festival 2009’ and 2010’s ‘Official Bootleg Volume II - Live In Budapest Hungary 2010’), legendary progressive/hard rock outfit Uriah Heep have produced their long awaited third instalment of officially sanctioned live recordings with ‘Official Bootleg Volume III - Live In Kawasaki Japan 2010’.
Given my disappointment in the band’s first couple of live bootlegged efforts, I was really hoping for something a little more befitting of the band’s legacy, and something more indicative of the band’s actual live performances (The first bootleg was trimmed down to a single C.D., which meant that some of the show was cut in order to fit to disc, while the second bootleg, despite featuring the band’s full performance over two discs, saw the sound quite muddy and flat). And true to the short message penned by guitarist/vocalist Mick Box on the back of the case, Uriah Heep deliver a stunning double disc set that is far more polished in sound on ‘Official Bootleg Volume III - Live In Kawasaki Japan 2010’ - making it a real must have for devoted fans of the veteran act.
While live albums aren’t exactly a rarity for Uriah Heep (No less than six live albums have been released since their last studio effort ‘Wake The Sleeper’ in 2008), it has to be said that with ‘Official Bootleg Volume III - Live In Kawasaki Japan 2010’, Uriah Heep have definitely put something special together. Aside from playing a selection of their hits and new tunes, this live recording (Taken from the band’s live show at Club Zitta in Kawasaki on 24th October 2010) also sees the band performing their classic 1972 album ‘Demons And Wizards’ in its entirety.
The band (Who aside from Box consist of vocalist Bernie Shaw, bassist/vocalist Trevor Bolder, keyboardist/vocalist Phil Lanzon and drummer/vocalist Russell Gilbrook) get the show off to a hard rocking start with two new tracks in ‘Wake The Sleeper’ and ‘Overload’, both of which show that there’s still plenty of fuel in the band’s tanks.
Shaw puts in a fantastic performance on the prog-rock classic ‘Bird Of Prey’ and the band’s hit single ‘Stealin’’, but it’s on the more recent ‘Love In Silence’ (One of my favourites from 1995’s ‘Sea Of Light’) that really stands out.
The remainder of the first disc sees the band playing their ‘Demons And Wizards’ album in chronological order, with the semi-acoustic based ‘The Wizard’, the grooving ‘Easy Livin’’, ‘All My Life’ (Both of which features some great slide guitar work from ex-Whitesnake/The Moody Marsden Band/Company Of Snakes legend Micky Moody) and the epic finale ‘Paradise/The Spell’ standing out as the real highlights on offer here.
On the second disc, Shaw once again puts in a spellbinding performance on the piano ballad ‘Rain’, before the band get back to rockier sounds with the metallic blast of ‘Free ‘n’ Easy’, the grinding organ sound of ‘Gypsy’ and a lively and spirited take on ‘Look At Yourself’.
Returning to the recent past, the band belt out a guitar heavier version of the blues based ‘Angels Walk With You’ and ‘Shadow’ from their last album (The latter appearing live on C.D. for the first time), before finishing things up with live staples/favourites ‘July Morning’ and ‘Lady In Black’.
After some less than stellar live recordings in recent times, it’s great to finally hear a release that does Uriah Heep justice, and to prove that while the band can still produce some great music in the studio (‘Wake The Sleeper’), they really do excel live onstage.
For Uriah Heep fans, ‘Official Bootleg Volume III - Live In Kawasaki Japan 2010’ really is a definitive live statement from the band, and a must have.

For more information on Uriah Heep, check out - http://www.uriah-heep.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Monday, June 20, 2011

Ancestors - Invisible White

Invisible White
Tee Pee Records/Impedance Records

It’s been a long time between releases for Los Angeles (U.S.) based psychedelic/progressive rock outfit Ancestors, with the sophomore release ‘Of Sound Mind’ now turning a little over two years old.
Part of the reason behind the slow progress on the recording front for the band was down to loss of keyboardist/vocalist Chico Foley, who decided to part ways with the band last year. With Foley gone, Ancestors (Comprising of vocalist/guitarist Justin Maranga, bassist/vocalist Nick Long, organist/vocalist Jason Watkins and drummer Brandon Pierce) took their time finding a suitable replacement, and after a lengthy search, finally settled upon Matt Barks.
With Ancestors back to a solidified line-up, writing was once again underway. But given the lapse of time between releases, the five piece act decided to put together a new E.P. rather than make fans wait for a new full-length album, which brings us to their latest effort ‘Invisible White’.
With any change of members, you can always account for some change in direction, and that’s very much the case with Ancestors latest release. The metallic and heavy elements of the band’s last release have given way for a far more laid back and gentle sound on ‘Invisible White’, and it’s clearly evident in the E.P.’s opening title track ‘Invisible White’. The use of keyboards is certainly far more apparent, with the guitars taking on more of a supporting role throughout the slower track. The vocals reflect the mood of the track, and seem to drift along in time to the free flowing and gradual build up of the song (The acoustic start eventually makes way for the keyboard dominated second half), while the use of violin (Provided by Amanda Salazar) provides a nice touch around the middle section.
The second track ‘Dust’ maintains the spacey/retro feel of the opener with its semi-acoustic and hypnotic harmonised vocalised first half, with some truly captivating and yet simple piano work towards its tail end, while the lengthy fourteen minute closer ‘Epilogue’ is a sprawling progressive rock work out of mid-’70’s vintage (I’m thinking Pink Floyd’s ‘Meddle’ in particular), complete with some shining work on the guitar riff front and some impressive keyboard work.
‘Invisible White’ is something quite unexpected from Ancestors given the sound presented on their first couple of albums, but in a good way. There’s a real sense of flow and magic within the three tracks on offer here, so much so that the E.P. seems to feel like it’s far shorter than its actual thirty minutes in length.
Ancestors have once again managed to impress with their latest effort, as well as surprise for that matter. If this is a sign of things to come, I can’t wait to hear what the band will come up with on their next full-length release.

For more information on Ancestors, check out - http://www.ancestorsmusic.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Katana - Heads Will Roll

Heads Will Roll
Listenable Records

Old school heavy metal with a dominant N.W.O.B.H.M. (New Wave Of British Heavy Metal) influence has undergone a big resurgence over the last decade, with acts such as Stormwitch, Enforcer, Steelwing, Striker and Skullfist just some of the acts making a name for themselves within the scene.
Another new name emerging from the underground is Gothenburg (Sweden) based outfit Katana, who despite having been around the scene since 2006 (Marked by the release of their debut E.P. ‘Heart Of Tokyo’ the same year), have just unleashed their debut effort ‘Heads Will Roll’.
As you would expect, there’s a fair bit of Iron Maiden/Judas Priest/Accept worship in the band’s sound, with plenty of the harmonised dual guitar work that made the above mentioned acts so great in the first place. And sure enough, there’s plenty of that classic sound on the album’s opening track ‘Livin’ Without Fear’. Fast paced, full of Iron Maiden’s trademark gallop, chock full of clean lead work (Courtesy of guitarists Patrik Essén and Tobias Karlsson) and a front man (Johan Bernspång) who’s vocals bring to mind a cross between Bruce Dickinson (Iron Maiden) and Kai Hansen (Gamma Ray/ex-Helloween), ‘Livin’ Without Fear’ is certainly one of the genuine highlights on the album, and the sort of track that well and truly makes clear Katana’s firm grasp of the classic ‘80’s metal sound.
Not to be outdone, the follow-up track ‘Blade Of Katana’ is every bit as impressive as the opener with its faster pacing, strong riffs, catchy choruses and brief lead guitar solos, while on the personal favourite ‘Phoenix On Fire’, the band (Who also comprise of bassist Susanna Salminen and drummer Anders Persson) show that they can also handle slower and more groove based material with relative ease, which in turn showcases a greater Dio/Accept influence within their sound and song writing.
Although boasting a strong and catchy chorus, Bernspång’s attempts to hit some low notes at the start of ‘Neverending World’ don’t really hit the mark and only highlight his strong accent in a way that doesn’t work in the band’s favour, while ‘Across The Stars’, despite sounding quite adventurous and different from the remainder of the album, doesn’t sound like it’s a natural fit for the band with its varying tempo changes and modernised and heavily harmonised choruses.
But while the album does have a few tracks that don’t quite stand against the stronger efforts (The lengthy Iron Maiden-like closer ‘Quest For Hades’ is another that just doesn’t work due to its somewhat blatant influences and its over the top cheesy elements), the band do what they do best when they simply don’t over-think things and just deliver classic metal – which is more than evident in tracks such as ‘Heart Of Tokyo’, ‘Asia In Sight’ and ‘Rebel Ride’.
‘Heads Will Roll’ isn’t quite the all out classic that its made out to be, but it is a solid first effort for Katana, and the kind of release that genuinely honours and salutes the golden era of classic metal in style.

For more information on Katana, check out - http://www.myspace.com/bladeofkatana

© Justin Donnelly

Seether - Holding Onto Strings Better Left To Fray

Holding Onto Strings Better Left To Fray
Wind-Up Records/E.M.I. Music Australia

In what is undoubtedly the longest gap between releases, South African based post-grunge/alternative act Seether have returned from their lengthy four year absence from the studio with their fifth studio album ‘Holding Onto Strings Better Left To Fray’ – their long awaited follow-up to 2007’s ‘Finding Beauty In Negative Spaces’.
As has been the case in the past, there’s been a lot of talk from the band (Comprising of vocalist/rhythm guitarist Shaun Morgan, lead guitarist Troy McLawhorn (Who parted ways with the group prior to the album’s release), bassist/backing vocalist Dale Stewart and drummer John Humphrey) about how much their sound and direction has altered from where they last left things off. While there’s an element of truth in some of their statements, there’s also a sense of familiarity about their sound from album to album that can’t be overlooked as anything but a progression. But with Seether’s latest effort, it would appear that things have changed a bit from four years ago.
The opening track ‘Fur Cue’ gets the album off to a heavy start, with Brendan O’Brien’s production giving the band an aggression that wasn’t quite so evident on their last couple of releases. Despite some clunky lyrical lines, ‘Fur Cue’ provides a rock solid start to proceedings, and the kind of track that will please fans who prefer the band’s earlier and heavier sound.
‘No Resolution’, while a little scattered, is another catchy effort that carries through the heaviness of the opener, while the album’s first single/promotional video clip ‘Country Song’ is a noteworthy and successful mix of both country and alternative metal, and by far one of the album’s catchier and more instantly gratifying tracks.
Other songs that veer towards the heavier side of Seether’s earlier days can be found in ‘Master Of Disaster’, the moody ‘Fade Out’, the guitar overdrive of ‘Down’ and the slower paced ‘Desire For Need’.
But while Seether’s latest release has plenty of heavier anthems that cater to older fans, the band doesn’t completely forsake the sound of their more recent releases, with ‘Here And Now’ and the driving ‘Tonight’ standing out as potential future singles from the album with the emphasis placed more on providing catchy choruses rather than heavy handed guitar sounds, while ‘Pass Slowly’ and the piano led ‘Forsaken’ fill out the obligatory ballad component of the album.
While the changes heard on ‘Holding Onto Strings Better Left To Fray’ compared to the band’s former releases isn’t too radical or different (A meatier production, Morgan’s greater use of clean vocals over growls and some extra bells and whistles in the background of some of the songs), Seether’s latest album is at least a far more consistent and enjoyable effort as a whole.
Seether fans will no doubt enjoy ‘Holding Onto Strings Better Left To Fray’ for what it is, and may even find this album the band’s best since ‘Disclaimer’ (2002). Others however may find the album just a little too much of the same thing, released under a different name.

For more information on Seether, check out - http://www.seether.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Dead City Ruins - Midnight Killer

Dead City Ruins
Midnight Killer
Impedance Records

After two years based in London (U.K.), and two E.P. releases under their belts (2007's ‘Lost In London’ and 2010's self titled effort), hard rock outfit Dead City Ruins decided to call it a day. But after relocating back to Melbourne (Victoria, Australia) in 2010, both vocalist Haggis Jake and bassist/backing vocalist Mick decided not to give up on the band, and consequently recruited new members into the fold (Guitarist Tommy and drummer Drewsy), and started hitting the road taking their bluesy based brand of old school rock and roll out to masses.
Twelve months on and a revamped and reinvigorated Dead City Ruins are back with their debut full-length album ‘Midnight Killer’.
Mixing influences from acts such as Buckcherry, AC/DC, Guns ‘N Roses and The Poor Boys, Dead City Ruins are an energetic rocking outfit that deliver hard rock in the classic vein, which is more than evident in the album’s opening track ‘Where You Gonna Run’. The guitars certainly deliver plenty of heavy riffing that is essential to any huge sounding rocker, but it’s the water tight rhythm section that keeps the song from falling apart that really impresses as well. While vocalist Jake may not have the grit of most hard rock vocalists, he does manage to get the best out of his vocal range, and add his own flavour to the band with his higher range.
‘Damn My Eyes’ is a definite favourite with its catchy riffing, driving rhythms and catchy as hell chorus, while the thick and rumbling bottom end on ‘My Lai Massacre’ adds an extra bit of heaviness to the band’s sound that isn’t otherwise found on some of the other tracks on the album.
The title track ‘Midnight Killer’ is another killer catchy effort with its sparse verses and big choruses, while the slower and more groove-like ‘Blues’ provides a bit of a breather from the more harder rocking efforts on the album, as well as showcasing the exceptional work of Tommy on the lead guitar.
Despite some cool slide work on the guitar front, ‘Go To War’ doesn’t stack up well as some of the band’s other offerings, as Jake seems to struggle a little out front, but the band do manage to finish out the tail end of the album with all guns blazing on the thumping ‘Highway Girl’ and the metallic punch of the infectious ‘Fallen’.
Dead City Ruins’ debut is hardly a masterpiece, nor anything revolutionary given Australia’s tradition for producing classic heavy rock ‘n’ roll. But despite this, the band have produced a solid and thoroughly enjoyable release in ‘Midnight Killer’, with enough songs to fill out a live set to get punters rocking hard, and walk away after having enjoyed every last minute of the show.

For more information on Dead City Ruins, check out - http://www.deadcityruins.com.au/

© Justin Donnelly

Various Artists - Afterparty Massacre (Death Metal Soundtrack)

Various Artists
Afterparty Massacre (Death Metal Soundtrack)
Ibex Moon Records

Film soundtracks rarely cater to metal fans, and even when they do, it’s usually a case of a couple of mildly interesting tracks in amongst a whole host of songs that otherwise have little or nothing to do with the film itself (Which means they’re really nothing more than a just another compilation effort). But in the case of horror/gore film ‘Afterparty Massacre’ (Directed by Incantation drummer Kyle Severn and Horrormerch founder Kristoff Bates), the soundtrack not only has everything to do with the film, but it’s also exclusively aimed at those who love their metal in the death/grindcore vein.
After a short sound sample from the film itself (‘Stairway To Hell’), the soundtrack gets underway with the title track ‘Afterparty Massacre’ - the first offering from the reactivated Denial Fiend in more than four years. New vocalist Blaine ‘Fart’ Cook (Toe Tag/ex-The Accüsed) adds a bit more of a punk edge to the band’s sound up front, but their core death/thrash sound (Provided by ex-Massacre guitarist Sam Williams, Obituary/Massacre/Six Feet Under/Death bassist Terry Butler and D.R.I. drummer Rob Rampy) remains intact in all its aggressive/groovy glory.
Not surprisingly, Incantation also has something new to offer up, with both a studio version and a live version of the album’s first single ‘Absolved In Blood’. While it’s nothing too different from what you would otherwise expect from the veteran death metal act, it is a solid track, and one that fans will certainly find worthy.
Ibex Moon Records act Estuary offer up a new cut of bludgeoning death metal with ‘Impulse Imprint’ (Which is good, if a little lifeless), while Gravehill take on AC/DC’s classic ‘If You Want Blood’ in what is a rather loose thrashing/death ‘n’ roll way that’s typical of what you would expect from the band.
Goreaphobia impress with their brutal sounding ‘Organ Donor’, as too do Cardiac Arrest with their two new offerings (‘Decomposed In No Man’s Land’ and ‘Rotting Creator’) and the contributions from Funerus (‘Reduced To Sludge’) and Lifeless (‘Death To The Bone’). But personally, the real highlights on the album come from Soulless, who offer up the thrashing/melodic death gem ‘Bleed You Dry’, Fatalist, and their cover of Death’s classic ‘Beyond The Unholy Grave’ and Feral, who dish out pure death metal filth with ‘Necrofilthiac’.
Unlike a lot of soundtrack efforts, ‘Afterparty Massacre’ gives listeners a collection of tunes that are not only exclusive to this release, but an album that retains its core objective from start to finish - and that’s to bludgeon the listener from start to finish with uncompromising death metal/grindcore tunes.
How ‘Afterparty Massacre’ fares as a film remains to be (Eagerly) seen. But in terms of its soundtrack, there’s no question that it’s absolutely bloody gory fun.

For more information on ‘Afterparty Massacre (Death Metal Soundtrack)’, check out - http://www.afterpartymassacre.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Shroud Of Despondency - Objective:Isolation

Shroud Of Despondency
Independent Release

Despite minimal promotion, ‘Dark Meditations In Monastic Seclusion’, the third full-length release for Milwaukee (Wisconsin, U.S.) based black metal outfit Shroud Of Despondency received overwhelming praise and critical acclaim from both the press and fans when it was released earlier this year. In light of the album’s success, Shroud Of Despondency founder/guitarist Rory Heikkila has decided to officially release the band’s second full-length album ‘Objective:Isolation’, which was recorded back in 2009, and when the band was quite literally a one man outfit (Which means that Heikkila took on all the vocals, guitars, bass and drum programming duties himself).
Unlike ‘Dark Meditations In Monastic Seclusion’, ‘Objective:Isolation’ is quite a different sounding release for Shroud Of Despondency, and one that may take some listeners familiar with their latest release by surprise.
The opening track ‘An Opposing Shore’ immediately gets straight down to business, with the relentless blast beat of drums and fast paced riffing offering up a bludgeoning take on modern day black metal. But while the song may begin with a savage sound, it does eventually taper the aggression in places to make way for some progressive sounding melodic guitar leads and some atmospheric keyboard sounds from around the halfway mark to allow the song to breathe in places it otherwise wouldn’t be able to with its relentless assault from start to finish.
The follow up track ‘This Transcends Belief’ maintains the same frantic pace of the opener, but with a little more melody shown on the tight knit technically inclined riffing and a bit more variation on the vocal front (The black metal rasping vocals dominate, but are punctuated here and there by some guttural growls). But while the song itself is quite strong, the rather lengthy spoken word piece at the end does sound a little tacked on and unnecessary, and stalls the momentum of the album.
‘Incongruous’ is another track that veers a little more to the melodic side of death metal, and in some ways is more akin to the direction Heikkila took with his song writing on ‘Dark Meditations In Monastic Seclusion’. But again, while the track has plenty of strong elements, it does have a few ideas that don’t work as well, such as the persistent bell effect that features in the first half of the song, and the long winded spoken work piece at the tail end (The quote are read from Nietzsche’s ‘Beyond Good And Evil’).
‘A Life Well Lived’, much like the former track, highlights some of the more melodic and technical influences in Heikkila’s take on the black metal sound, but the semi-acoustic tail end perhaps lingers a little too long to make a genuine stand out.
The blackened venom within ‘Struggling With The Current’ is definitely felt with a vengeance, and counterbalanced perfectly with the atmospheric piano/guitar solo interlude around the middle and its melodic tail end, while the constant progressive twists and turns of sharpened riffing within ‘Wound’, ‘My Carrion’ and the epic ‘Silence After The Downfall’ (The only track that utilises a spoken word sample in a way that doesn’t take away from the song) certainly finish the album on an exceptionally high note, and provide the album with a string of stronger and more thought provoking cuts.
Despite its primitive production, programmed drums and wavering consistency evident within the song writing, ‘Objective:Isolation’ is still an interesting piece of work. And while it’s a completely different beast to ‘Dark Meditations In Monastic Seclusion’, fans of Shroud Of Despondency’s more recent work will still find plenty to enjoy on this uncovered earlier effort.

For more information on Shroud Of Despondency, check out - http://www.myspace.com/shroudofdespondency

© Justin Donnelly

Monday, June 13, 2011

Blackfield - Welcome To My DNA

Welcome To My DNA
Blackfield/Kscope/Snapper Music

If there’s one album I couldn’t wait to get my hands on this year, it would have to be Blackfield’s long awaited third studio release ‘Welcome To My DNA’. Having already recorded two absolute masterpieces (2004’s self-titled effort, and 2007’s ‘Blackfield II’), I was really looking forward to seeing what the combined talents of Porcupine Tree/No-Man mastermind Steven Wilson and Israeli pop artist Aviv Geffen would produce on a brand new full-length release. And after living with the album for some time, I can finally say that while ‘Welcome To My DNA’ is another fine piece of work from the band, it doesn’t exceed the best the pair have produced on their former efforts.
On the surface, ‘Welcome To My DNA’ doesn’t stray too far from the sound and direction that’s become Blackfield’s musical template. There’s still that distinct Porcupine Tree influence throughout the album (Which obviously stems from Wilson’s vocals and song writing), and the pair’s penchant for writing short, melodic pop/rock numbers are still very much what Blackfield deliver a third time around. But underneath the façade, ‘Welcome To My DNA’ does boast some new elements and influences. And in truth, some of those new twists to the formula work in the album’s favour, while others not quite as well as I had wished.
The most significant and differing factor on ‘Welcome To My DNA’ is Geffen’s involvement in the making of the album. Whereas, previously the song writing was split down the middle, this time around Geffen has taken on almost all of the song writing (Wilson was apparently busy working on his second solo release, and therefore handed the writing responsibilities over to Geffen), giving the album a different feel and vibe to what you would otherwise expect. The other notable change is the overall melancholy and bitter anger that dominates most of the album. While melancholy themes have always been a part of Blackfield’s sound, ‘Welcome To My DNA’ is definitely the pair’s most downbeat feeling work to date.
The opening track ‘Glass House’ is a stunning opening track that brings to mind shades of Porcupine Tree’s ‘Even Less’ (From 1999’s ‘Stupid Dream’) with its strong and memorable melodies, slower and gentle tempo and Wilson’s slide guitar work. But aside from the obvious, it’s the lush orchestral touches that really stand out – taking the song to a whole new level of greatness.
‘Go To Hell’ is a strange follow-up, and one of the few tracks on the album that misses the mark a little. While the song is catchy enough, and Geffen’s vocal efforts stand out as his strongest yet, the song’s simplistic and repetitive lyrical content (‘Fuck you all / Fuck you / I don’t care / Go to hell’) comes across as a little too straightforward, giving the song an overall feeling like it was a good song writing idea that was utilized without being completely explored.
‘Rising Of The Tide’ is classic Blackfield, with Wilson and Geffen sharing lead vocals to what is a song full of heartbreak and fragile beauty, while the semi-acoustic/orchestral ‘Waving’ (The album’s first single/promotional video clip, and the only song on the album to be written by Wilson) is an infectious tune that highlights Wilson’s masterful use of dynamics in both the musical and vocal aspects of his song writing.
Around the middle of the album, Blackfield produce some absolute stunners with the sombre and touching ‘Far Away’, the dramatic and rather biting ‘Dissolving With The Night’ and the middle eastern and more progressive based ‘Blood’ representing some of the album’s stronger and more memorable efforts.
Despite Geffen’s best efforts to project a sadness of those missed, the lyrics within ‘On The Plane’ don’t entirely work, and once again gives another track that allows the album to slip a little in the high quality expected of the duo. But despite this, Geffen well and truly redeems himself with the pop gem that is ‘Oxygen’, the subtle progressive beauty of ‘Zigota’ (Which is a reworking of the same track that appeared on Geffen’s 2002 album ‘Memento Mori’) and the tranquil acoustic closer ‘DNA’.
On its own, ‘Welcome To My DNA’ is a great album, and comes highly recommended. But personally, I can’t help but feel that Blackfield’s latest release doesn’t quite reach the heights of their former releases. Geffen has undoubtedly really stepped up in terms of his vocals and song writing on this new album, but is letdown in part with the lack of input from Wilson in some areas.
Overall, ‘Welcome To My DNA’, while not Blackfield’s most consistent work to date, is still very much a must have for fans.

For more information on Blackfield, check out - http://www.blackfield.org/

© Justin Donnelly

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Atomic Bitchwax - The Local Fuzz

The Atomic Bitchwax
The Local Fuzz
Tee Pee Records/Impedance Records

One can never know what to expect from a new album from New Jersey outfit The Atomic Bitchwax. But there’s always one thing you can be certain of, it’ll be a quality classic stoner/hard rock album. Two years on from their impressive fourth album ‘T4B’, the trio (Comprising of ex-Godspeed/Black NASA bassist/vocalist Chris Kosnik, ex-Core guitarist/vocalist Finn Ryan and ex-Raging Slab/current Monster Magnet/Riotgod drummer Bob Pantella) are back with their new album ‘The Local Fuzz’.
The first thing you notice about The Atomic Bitchwax’s latest release is that it’s their first studio album not to be titled numerically. And while it does seem a little confusing at first, it all makes sense once you give the album a spin. Unlike the band’s former efforts, ‘The Local Fuzz’ sees the band taking an entirely new approach to their song writing, with the album comprising solely of one forty-two minute instrumental piece.
Supposedly boasting a collection of fifty riffs performed back to back (I say supposedly because I kind of lost count after the first twenty-five!), and recorded as one long track, ‘The Local Fuzz’ is nothing short of one ambitious project from The Atomic Bitchwax. But while it could have well sounded like a complete disaster in the hands of others, it comes across as a completely natural fit for the likes of The Atomic Bitchwax.
Making any attempts to break down ‘The Local Fuzz’ into words is not an easy task, as the whole album (Song?) seamlessly moves from one small jam to another with a natural flow. But if there were some interesting moments worthy of taking note of, it would be the thumping fast paced and chopped up groove at the start, the classic heavy riffing around the four and a half minute mark, the percussion/bass driven progressive feel around the nine minute mark, the mellow Pink Floyd passages around the twenty-four minute mark, the jazz-like atmospherics towards the thirty minute mark, the Jimi Hendrix influenced flash of guitar tones at the thirty four minute mark and the climatic rush of speed near the tail end.
If you’re familiar with the instrumental piece ‘Super Computer’ from ‘T4B’, then you’ll already be somewhat familiar with what the band has to offer on ‘The Local Fuzz’.
If on the other hand you’re unfamiliar with The Atomic Bitchwax, then imagine a combination of fuzzed out rock guitars with traces of psychedelic rock, hard rock, stoner rock and even a touch of the blues with an emphasis on memorable riffs and impressive solos.
Fans of The Atomic Bitchwax and those who worship ‘The Guitar Riff’ should immediately track this album down without any fear of disappointment.

For more information on The Atomic Bitchwax, check out - http://www.theatomicbitchwax.com/

© Justin Donnelly

The Crevices Below - Below The Crevices

The Crevices Below
Below The Crevices
Nordvis Produktion

The Crevices Below is a newly formed project from vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Dis Pater, who is otherwise known as the creative force behind the ambient black metal outfit Midnight Odyssey.
With The Crevices Below’s debut effort ‘Below The Crevices’, the Brisbane (Queensland, Australia) based musician has once again created a bleak and atmospheric black metal album that isn’t all that far removed from the sounds he created within Midnight Odyssey, but different enough to allow the two projects to stand apart from one another.
The opening title track ‘Below The Crevices’ lays down the musical template of what The Crevices Below has to offer the listener, with the song starting out with haunting vocal effects (Which ties in with the conceptual theme of the album of a king who rules an underground kingdom, whose descent into the depth of paranoia only heighten the shadows that surround his domain) and keyboards, before eventually transforming into a fast black metal number. Although traditional in its black metal sound, the dominance of keyboards throughout does give the song an overall melodic feel, while the twist on the guitar riffs is enough to embellish upon the standard black metal sound of most.
‘The Tombs Of Subterranea’ takes the guitar tones and approach of the opener and broadens the template even further, with the song taking on a sound that brings to mind Killing Joke mixed with a bit of old era Katatonia, but with a distinct gothic edge with the use of keyboards, ever present and upfront bass lines and diverse vocal approaches (Both clean and growled efforts).
‘A Grand Cavernous Awakening’ is a definite stand out cut with its progressive influences, multiple shift in tempos and its strong melodic gothic rock moments (Which again, bring to mind mid-period Katatonia), while the instrumentation on ‘Whispers Of Sorrow’ mixes the ambient with the haunting and the sombre, which could have easily emerged from The Cure (Think 1989’s ‘Disintegration’).
The gradually increased tension of heavy guitars and depressive vocals within ‘Trapped In Suicidal Depths’ make for an uncomfortable and haunting listen, while ‘Carrying The Cries Of The Lost’ finishes up the album with an exercise in sound extremities with its purely acoustic start soon making way for an all out assault of intense black metal attack for its remaining seven minutes.
Although having produced a couple of efforts in the past, Pater has undoubtedly produced his strongest and most memorable work to date on ‘Below The Crevices’. The Crevices Below delivers a dark and sombre sound that is every bit as haunting as it is crushing, and definitely should be checked by those who are interested in the more atmospheric, gothic and depressing side to all things black metal related.

For more information on The Crevices Below, check out - http://www.myspace.com/thecrevicesbelow

© Justin Donnelly

In Flames - Sounds Of A Playground Fading

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

There’s always been a strong interest in each and every new album release from In Flames, but with the release of their latest effort ‘Sounds Of A Playground Fading’, there’s probably even more interest in the band than ever before. Most of that renewed interest in the Gothenburg (Sweden) based outfit’s latest effort is largely based on the fact that it’s the first album in the band’s career not to feature founding guitarist Jesper Strömblad, who parted ways with the band in early 2010 due to personal reasons. With Strömblad out, and In Flames remaining as a four piece act (Comprising of vocalist Anders Fridén, guitarist Björn Gelotte, bassist Peter Iwers and drummer Daniel Svensson), many fans questioned the direction the band would head in with ‘Sounds Of A Playground Fading’, and just how much Strömblad’s absence would play a part in the event of any significant changes in sound.
While the departure of Strömblad from In Flames is a disappointment, you could say that his lack of involvement on ‘Sounds Of A Playground Fading’ hasn’t hurt the band one bit, with the album sounding very much exactly what you would expect from the band at this stage of their ongoing push for something new and different with every new release. In a lot of ways, In Flames’ new album is a natural follow-up to 2008’s ‘A Sense Of Purpose’, in a sense that ‘Sounds Of A Playground Fading’ is a varied sounding release with its mix of the melodic, the aggressive and the unexpected.
The opening title track ‘Sounds Of A Playground Fading’ is a good example of the changes the band have made over the last few years, with the biggest changes coming from Fridén’s own contributions. Although Fridén’s clean vocals have been a strong component of the latter day In Flames sound, it’s hard to mistake the greater use of clean vocals this time around, and how comfortably they sit within the stronger and melodically constructed choruses. Fans needn’t fear that the aggression and drive has disappeared from In Flames, because it hasn’t. But while some of the band’s past efforts sounded a little lacking in terms of hooks, it would seem that on ‘Sounds Of A Playground Fading’, the band has thought long and hard about writing strong melodies that definitely stand out.
‘Deliver Us’ is by far the most straightforward and melodic song on the album, and not surprisingly chosen as the first single released from the album, while ‘All For Me’ follows along similar lines, but with a thicker and heavier groove heard on the guitar front.
The fast pacing ‘The Puzzle’, ‘Enter Tragedy’ and the strong rhythmic structures within ‘Darker Times’ are definite favourites with their heavier sounds and Gelotte’s impressive sole responsibility of providing the lead work (Especially on the latter pair), while mid-paced efforts such as ‘Fear Is The Weakness’, ‘Where The Dead Ships Dwell’, ‘Ropes’ and the strings enhanced ‘A New Dawn’ are typical latter day In Flames efforts, but with an emphasis on choruses that really stand out.
In terms of experimentation, ‘Sounds Of A Playground Fading’ is no different to In Flames’ albums of the past. The slow and dark sounding ‘The Attic’ really stands apart from anything else on the album with its sombre mood and delivery, while the spoken word piece ‘Jester’s Door’ is a short piece that breaks up the album nicely around the latter half. And then of course there’s the closing track ‘Liberation’, which is perhaps the closest In Flames has come to writing a hard rock song with Fridén sticking to his clean vocals and the guitars stripped back.
In a lot of ways, ‘Sounds Of A Playground Fading’ is a natural progression for In Flames since ‘A Sense Of Purpose’, with the focus on stronger melodies and variation from one song to the next representing the only real major changes to the formula.
‘Sounds Of A Playground Fading’ is a fine effort from In Flames, and one that will keep most fans of the band’s latter day releases pleased, regardless of the fact that Strömblad is no longer a member of the band.

For more information on In Flames, check out - http://www.inflames.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Pharaoh - 10 Years

10 Years
Cruz Del Sur Music

Originally planned for release more than a year ago, Philadelphia (Pennsylvania, U.S.) power metal outfit Pharaoh have finally been given the green light from Cruz Del Sur Music to release their fan friendly E.P. ‘10 Years’, which draws together a collection of both previously released and new tracks that may have otherwise been hard to get a hold of for fans.
The first two songs on offer are the title track ‘Ten Years’ and ‘When We Fly’, both of which are previously unreleased offerings that were laid down during the recording sessions for their last full-length album ‘Be Gone’ (2008). Given the high standard of Pharaoh’s past work, both the new tracks are as every bit classic sounding as you would expect. ‘Ten Years’ is definitely a favourite with its mix of traditional heavy metal and power metal influences on the musical front, with Dawnbringer/Fool’s Game guitarist Matt Johnsen impressing to no end with his diverse array of riffs and memorable lead breaks, while ex-Control Denied vocalist Tim Aymar provides enough bite and melody in his approach to give the song a slightly different vibe to what you would otherwise expect from the band. ‘When We Fly’ is fairly traditional Pharaoh fare, and the kind of song that could have easily slotted on ‘Be Gone’ without sounding out of place.
Next up are ‘Reflection And The Inevitable Future’ and ‘Nothing I Can Say’, both of which were originally released on a seven inch single that accompanied the vinyl release of ‘Be Gone’. Again, both tracks could have easily slotted on the band’s last full-length release without sounding out of place. But in terms of a stand out, ‘Nothing I Can Say’ is a definite favourite with Aymar’s towering performance a stunning showcase of what he can deliver both in the higher and lower registers of his vocal range.
Finishing up the E.P. are a couple of covers, which are New Model Army’s ‘White Light’ (Originally from 1993’s ‘The Love Of Hopeless Causes’) and Slayer’s ‘Tormentor’ (From 1983’s ‘Show No Mercy’). While the band’s choice to cover Slayer is understandable (Not to mention worthy given their take on the thrash classic is well done), their decision to take on a New Model Army tune is something a little unexpected and different to what you would normally expect. But having said that, the choice was a sound one, with ‘White Light’ turning out to be one of the E.P. absolute unexpected gems, and one of the few moments where the band take the opportunity to take their music outside their familiar comfort zone.
‘Ten Years’ may not be the follow-up to ‘Be Gone’ that fans have been anxiously waiting for (That is scheduled to arrive around the end of the year according to the band), this little E.P. is a great little stop-gap release, and one that fans will find slots perfectly amongst the band’s past releases. In other words, this is one highly recommended release.

For more information on Pharaoh, check out - http://www.solarflight.net/

© Justin Donnelly