Monday, December 17, 2012

The Best Of 2012

The Best Of 2012

2012 will go down as somewhat of a lost year for me, with my writing taking a backseat for the better half of the year to spend time with my family. But while I’ve been absent on the written word front, it hasn’t meant that I’ve totally tuned out any of the countless album’s released throughout the latter half of the year.

As in life, the music offered up throughout 2012 has been a mix of jubilation, disappointment, and unexpected surprises. Suffice to say that if this year is anything to go by, the business model of music may have changed dramatically over the course of the last twelve months, music seems to be in abundance within the metal scene.

Anyway, that’s enough of my cryptic rambling. Below I humbly offer up my final thoughts on the best, the worst and most surprising releases from 2012.

Top Ten Albums For 2012

1. Killing Joke – MMXII (Spinefarm Records/Universal Music Australia)

I’m a big fan of Killing Joke, but not the kind of fan that believes everything that has emerged from the band is pure genius. But I will go as far as to say that this is without a doubt one of the band’s finest releases in years. Unlike their scattered ‘Absolute Dissent’ from 2008, Killing Joke sound more focussed, driven and inspired than they have done in years, and it certainly shows on their latest release. Not bad for a band that’s been around for more than thirty years.




2. Europe – Bag Of Bones (Hell & Back/earMUSIC/Edel Germany)

Since reforming in 2003, Swedish hard rock outfit Europe just seem to be making stronger and more confident sounding releases. 2009’s ‘Last Look At Eden’ was always going to be a challenge for the band to follow up, but to everyone’s surprise, the band traded in the orchestral elements of the past, threw in a heap of blues influences and come up with a serious classic hard rock album that easily ranked as one of the band’s finest to date.



3. Ginger Wildheart – 555% (Independent Release)

Ginger Wildheart is without a doubt one of the most underrated singer/songwriters in the rock scene today. In fact, I would go far as to say the guy is a living legend. Few would release a triple album in this day and age, let alone cover virtually every genre known within the music realm the album’s thirty tracks. Only someone like Ginger would. It’s an album that takes time to fully absorb (It is a triple album after all!), but well worth the time invested. A must have for Wildheart fans everywhere.
4. Katatonia – Dead End Kings (Peaceville Records)

Is Katatonia capable of making a disappointing album these days? On the strength of their latest album, the answer would be a resounding ‘NO’! Although not straying too far from the sound the band have called their own for the last decade, ‘Dead End Kings’ has just enough differing elements and influences to prove the Swedes aren’t going through the motions and churning out the same old music for those already converted. This is another first class release in a long line of classic efforts from the moody/melancholy/depressive rockers.
5. Rush – Clockwork Angels (Anthem Records)

In recent years, there’s been a heightened awareness of Rush. And with good reason – Rush are legends. The band have weather the ups and downs of their four decade career like true gentlemen, and their music for the most part has been nothing short of perfection. With the years getting longer between releases, every new release from the band is an absolute gift from the Gods. And ‘Clockwork Angels’ is another absolute masterpiece from the band. While the Canadian trio are getting on, their passion for making music hasn’t diminished one bit. If this is Rush’s swansong, then all I can say is that it’s one hell of a way to go out.
6. Borknagar – Urd (Century Media Records/E.M.I. Music Australia)

Borknagar is one of those bands that seem to divide opinions amongst fans as to which album most consider to be their most acclaimed. But I think most fans would agree that ‘Urd’ is without a doubt one of their strongest in years. With bassist/vocalist ICS Vortex back into the fold after a decade away, Borknagar sound reinvigorated and more inspired than they have done in years. Diverse, progressive, cinematic and blackened in equal measure, ‘Urd’ is classic Borknagar at their best.
 7. Napalm Death – Utilitarian (Century Media Records/E.M.I. Music Australia)

U.K. grindcore/punk/death metal pioneers Napalm Death are one of the few acts that seem to buck the trend of slowing down and relying on past glories to maintain their existence in the scene as the years roll on. ‘Utilitarian’ is yet another crushing and unbelievably heavy release from the band, and showcases their determination to continually push their sound forward rather than remain idle. With its brief forays into experimentation, relentless passages of all-out grind, death metal template fused with a distinct punk edge and lashes of melody amongst the entire platter of chaos, ‘Utilitarian’ is every bit as essential to Napalm Death fans as any one of their early classic releases.

8. Converge – All We Love We Leave Behind (Epitaph Records)

Converge are one of the few metallic hardcore outfits that have pushed their sound with every new release. After a string of near perfect albums (Everything the band have released since 2001’s ‘Jane Doe’ has been amazing), I had high expectations of ‘All We Love We Leave Behind’. And sure enough, it lives up to them. The album is raw, aggressive and live sounding, and yet is full of depth and feel. Converge is without a doubt one of the best acts in today’s saturated metallic hardcore genre, and their latest album is solid proof of their continued relevance and importance.
9. Skunk Anansie – Black Traffic (100% Records)

After eight year apart, U.K. alternative punk/metal rockers Skunk Anansie returned in 2010 with ‘Wonderlustre’. And if the truth be told, I was bitterly disappointed with the album. So with their second post-reunion release, I was a little concerned that the band’s best days were behind them. But lo and behold, the band have rediscovered their hard edged sound (And cut down on the slower/ballad direction of the past), and released one of the surprise kiss-ass rock albums of 2012.




10. Paradise Lost – Tragic Idol (Century Media Records/E.M.I. Music Australia)

Paradise Lost’s new album is a bit of a no-brainer for my top ten albums for this year. After a few years spent in the wilderness (In which time the band produced some great albums I might add), the Halifax legends marked an almighty return to form a few years ago with ‘In Requiem’ (2007). Since then, the band has maintained their heavier sound and consistent song writing, right through to their latest effort. There’s no real new territory unearthed by the band on this latest release, but if you enjoyed their last couple of releases, you’ll understand just how enjoyable ‘Tragic Idol’ is.


Top Ten Songs For 2012

O.K., just for the record, this isn’t really a collection of my favourite songs of 2012. Instead, this is rather a collection of acts that didn’t make it into my top ten releases for the year (I’m someone who listens to an album, rather than individual songs). So for this category, I’ve decided to pick my favourite tracks from my favourite runner up albums. Anyway, here it goes...

1. Silversun Pickups – Skin Graph (From 'Neck Of The Woods')

Silversun Pickups’ third full-length album was something new for the band, with the album taking a bit of work from the listener to fully appreciate. And while I was disappointed upon a first listen, the album has won me over with repeated runs. Album opener ‘Skin Graph’ is a clear example of the band’s rather adventurous sound, but a rocking effort nonetheless. If you like this song, you’ll definitely enjoy the album as a whole.





2. Tremonti – So You’re Afraid (From 'All I Was')

Creed/Alter Bridge guitarist Mark Tremonti stepped out on his own this year with ‘All I Was’, and what a great little album it was. ‘So You’re Afraid’ is fairly indicative of what listeners can expect from the album, with Tremonti delivering some harder edged riffs, strong and likeable vocals and plenty of memorable melodies to sweeten up the whole package. Of course, we’re not talking about anything remarkably ground breaking, but it does rock.





3. Pharaoh – The Year Of The Blizzard (From 'Bury The Light')

I’m not really a huge fan of power metal, but I do enjoy some bands that do it well. And one of my favourites is U.S. act Pharaoh. ‘Bury The Light’ is another great effort from the band, and ‘The Year Of The Blizzard’ is a perfect example of the band’s ability to incorporate ‘70’s inspired progressive rock into their familiar modern power metal framework. This is definitely one of my favourite tracks on their latest release.





4. Lostprophets – Bring ‘Em Down (From ‘Weapons’)

O.K., so ‘Weapons’ is a bit patchy in places, but a great song is still a great song right? ‘Bring ‘Em Down’ is the huge opening track on the Welsh alternative/hard rocker’s newest release, and it’s a killer. Everything from the clever build up at the start, the huge shifts in tempo (The transition from hard rock verses to stadium inspired choruses), the mix of electronic elements and the clever use of guitar riffs is well put together, and overall represents Lostprophets at their best.




5. Feeder – Hey Johnny (From 'Generation Freakshow')

Much like Lostprophets’ latest effort, Feeder’s new effort is frustratingly patchy, and probably not top ten material. But like the Lostprophets, when they get it right, Feeder can really hit the mark. ‘Hey Johnny’ is without a doubt classic Feeder with its catchy choruses, simple guitar solo and infectious vibe throughout. It’s taken Grant Nicholas a long time to pay tribute to original drummer Jon Lee, but this track has been well worth the wait.





6. Municipal Waste – New Dead Masters (From 'The Fatal Feast (Waste In Space)')

After missing the mark with ‘Massive Aggression’, Municipal Waste made sure that their latest effort ‘The Fatal Feast (Waste In Space)’ hit the mark in a major way. ‘New Dead Masters’ is classic Municipal Waste with its fast thrashing riffs, humour lyrics and distinctive vocals from Tony Foresta. If there’s one thing this track makes clear, it’s that few do crossover thrash as good as Municipal Waste these days.





7. Anathema – Untouchable Part 1/Untouchable Part 2 (From 'Weather Systems')

Anathema are undoubtedly peaking right now, with everything the band releasing sounding nothing short of amazing. ‘Weather Systems’ isn’t quite up to the same level as their former effort (2010’s ‘We’re Here Because We’re Here’), but it does come close. The two part opener ‘Untouchable’ is one of the album’s truly beautiful efforts, and one of my definite favourites. Quite simply, this eleven minute epic has everything you could have possibly asked for from Anathema.




8. Chris Cornell – Call Me A Dog (From 'Songbook')

I’ve never been overly excited by live albums, but I do enjoy the odd unplugged effort. And while ‘Songbook’ is a good album, it’s Cornell’s rendition of Temple Of The Dog’s ‘Call Me A Dog’ that really stands out. Cornell’s voice may not be what it once was, but I’ll be damned if he didn’t hit every note here on the night. This version can proudly stand alongside the original as an absolute classic.






9. Steven Wilson - Luminol (From' Get All You Deserve')

What we have here is a new track from Steven Wilson’s upcoming third solo effort which has made its debut on his latest live D.V.D. ‘Get All You Deserve’. ‘Luminol’ is quirky, jazz influenced at times, progressively edged throughout and dark and melodic in equal measure (Especially towards the tail end). I’ll be curious to see how different the studio version is on ‘The Raven That Refused To Sing (And Other Stories)’, but if it’s half as cool as this take, it should be something else.




10. OSI – Wind Won’t Howl (From 'Fire Make Thunder')

As this point, I don’t expect Kevin Moore to radically change direction or sound with his music. And nor should he. He has a unique sound, and it works well for him. Album number four for OSI wasn’t a huge departure from the band’s familiar minimalist/progressive rock sound, but it did reveal a few new ideas to fans. One of those few new influences and ideas to emerge on the album came in the form of ‘Wind Won’t Howl’, which featured some rarely used layered backing vocals from Moore alongside some highly effective piano and guitar work. This is one of the real gems to be found on ‘Fire Make Thunder’ for sure.


Biggest Surprise Of 2012

T&N – Slave To The Empire (Rat Pak Records)

The idea of a band re-recording some of their older hits is hardly a new one. And if history tells us anything, it’s rarely a good idea. So when I heard that three original members of Dokken had plans to re-record some of their best known tracks alongside some originals, I wasn’t overly enthused. After all, I’m one of the few who actually bought a copy of Dokken’s ‘Anthems’. But T&N (Tooth And Nail) have managed to breathe some new life into the old classics. Sure, there’s nothing here that surpasses the originals (Although Jeff Pilson’s take on ‘Into The Fire’ is an interesting twist on the original), but overall the album was an unexpectedly fun listen, and one that I’m sure I’ll return to from time to time.


Best Newcomer Of 2012

Call Me No One – Last Parade (7 Bros. Records/Asylum Records)

In the early days, I was a big fan of Sevendust. But as the years roll on, I’m hearing less and less progress in the band’s sound – so much so that their albums tend to all sound the same these days. So with that mindset, I wasn’t holding out for anything remarkable on Call Me No One’s debut effort. Man, was I wrong. The project formed by vocalist/guitarist Clint Lowery and drummer Morgan Rose is really something quite different from their work in Sevendust, and in all honesty, a damn sight more enjoyable than anything that band has come up with in years. I can only hope it’s not a one off effort.


Biggest Disappointment Of 2012

Stone Temple Pilots - Alive In The Windy City (Eagle Vision/Eagle Rock Entertainment Ltd./Shock Entertainment)

Fans have been waiting for a live D.V.D. from this band for a long time, and now that we have one, all I can say is that it’s a bit late coming, and a wasted opportunity at that. The concert is good, but far from depicting a band in their prime. And the so-called extras are quite thin on the ground. The interviews are painful to watch (Aside from being released a year before this release), and seem tacked on. And bands and labels wonder why people aren’t forking out their hard earned cash on music these days.






Most Anticipated Album Of 2013

Ginger Wildheart

The albums I’m most looking forward to next year are the impending new releases from Ginger Wildheart – namely his heavy sounding double Mutation effort (‘The Frankenstein Effect’ and ‘Error 500’) and his ‘noisy pop’ side-project Hey! Hello! alongside vocalist Victoria Liedke. Hell, if Ginger’s next album was a spoken word effort based on readings of the phone book, I’d be a first day buyer!

© Justin Donnelly

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Subterranean Disposition - Subterranean Disposition

Subterranean Disposition
Subterranean Disposition
Hypnotic Dirge Records

On the surface, Subterranean Disposition would appear to be a new addition to the Australian doom/death metal scene. But if you were to dig a little deeper, it becomes quite obvious that the Melbourne based outfit are anything but newcomers to the scene, and that those involved are anything but novices. Essentially a one man act, Subterranean Disposition is the new musical vehicle for multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Terry Vainoras, who in the past has been involved in acts as diverse as Hellspawn, Damaged, The Eternal and Order Of Chaos over his decade and a half long career.
In 2005, Vainoras partnered up with The Eternal vocalist/guitarist/founder Mark Kelson to form the ambient death/doom metal outfit InSomnius Dei, who duly released their debut effort ‘Illusions Of Silence’ in 2007. The album earned the pair a lot of critical acclaim upon its release, and Vainoras set about putting together some musical ideas for a follow-up. But given how tied up Kelson was with The Eternal, InSomnius Dei was inevitably put onto the backburner, and plans to collaborate on any new music in the future looked unlikely. Undeterred, Vainoras decided to forge ahead alone, renamed his solo venture as Subterranean Disposition and recorded a full-length effort, handling all the vocals and instruments himself.
Recording of Subterranean Disposition’s debut effort was completed as far back as 2010, but after spending the better part of the last year and a half in the vaults, independent Canadian label Hypnotic Dirge Records have finally released Vainoras’ latest musical venture to the masses.
Anyone who’s familiar with Vainoras’ work with InSomnius Dei will already have a fair idea what to expect with Subterranean Disposition. If on the other hand you’re not, then Subterranean Disposition is primarily a death/doom metal, but with a distinctly experimental and melodic edge.
Opening with the sounds of shrieking apes, ‘Between Apes And Angels’ is a slow starting track that relies heavily on atmospherics and droning tempos, which is exactly the sort of thing you would expect from the doom/death metal genre. Vainoras’ deep death growls are quite impressive in the initial part of the song, but it’s his clean Aaron Stainthorpe (My Dying Bride) sounding vocals that really showcase how far he has come as a vocalist. Apart from the differing vocal styles, the track has some well executed atmospherics amongst the potent doom-like riffing, and the odd tempo change in a couple of places helps keep the near ten minute track from slipping into familiar and predictable terrain.
The follow-up track ‘Prolong This Agony’ is a definite favourite on the album with its aggressive approach at the start, and Vainoras’ ability to hold the listener’s attention with the inclusion of ambient passages woven continually throughout the track’s ten minute running length. Heaven The Axe’s Phoebe Pinnock’s guest vocals on the quieter passages within the song cleverly counterbalance the heavier moments, while the death metal tail end of the song adds a progressive edge to proceedings, and showcases Vainoras’ exceptional song writing beyond death/doom metal’s traditional framework.
‘Seven Sisters Of Sleep’ is an interesting foray into the experimental, with elements of industrialised manipulation on the vocals and guitars helping to create a completely different sound from what’s essentially a fairly crushing slab of gothic/doom/melodic death metal. While the mix of sounds and direction sound a little too eclectic to work, Vainoras manages to keep the transitions from one passage to the next sound natural, which more than keeps the listener interested from start to finish.
‘The Most Subtle Of Storms’ takes the experimentation of the former track to a whole new level, with Silvereye saxophonist D’arcy Molan adding a bit of smooth jazz to the song, while Vainoras’ channels a bit of Joe Duplantier (Gojira) and Thomas Gabriel Fischer (Ex-Apollyon Sun/Celtic Frost/Triptykon) on the vocal front. The differing vocal deliveries and addition of saxophone to the sparse doom/progressive tinged metal template is a strange hybrid, but one that works more often than not.
Finishing up the hour long album is ‘Wailing My Keen’, which can be best described as doom metal mixed with hefty shades of post rock. Guitar riffs are used sparingly, but pack enough punch to break up the passages of Tool-like progressive atmospherics. The song also marks the return of Pinnock on guest vocals, whose efforts add a great contrast against Vainoras’ death like growls.
On the whole, I’m really impressed with Subterranean Disposition’s debut effort. Vainoras’ collaboration with Kelson in InSomnius Dei had me praising their efforts, but with Subterranean Disposition, Vainoras has taken the whole ambient death/doom metal to an entirely new level.
Subterranean Disposition isn’t the sort of album that will amaze on first listen. But if you’re willing to give it the time, and you prefer your death/doom to lean more towards the experimental, then this is one album you should really track down.

For more information on Subterranean Disposition, check out – https://www.facebook.com/SubterraneanDisposition

© Justin Donnelly

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Breed 77 - Under The Skin

Breed 77
Under The Skin
Independent Release

Despite releasing some highly regarded albums over the last eight years, and achieving some success on the charts, Gibraltar/U.K. based outfit Breed 77 is still considered a fairly underground act outside of the U.K. And that’s a real shame, because when it comes to mixing traditional flamenco influences into an alternative metal template, Breed 77 have a sound that’s really quite interesting, and totally unique. But while the band has yet to achieve success on a global level, it isn’t for a lack of trying, with the five piece act (Comprising of lead vocalist Paul Isola, guitarists/backing vocalists Danny Felice and Pedro Caparros López, bassist Stuart Cavilla and drummer/percussionist Andre Joyzi) maintaining a busy tour schedule and continuing to release something new for their fans.
In the lead up to the release of their fifth full-length effort ‘The Evil Inside’ (Which was due towards the tail end of this year, but pushed back to 2013 after signing with Global Music/Demolition Records in August), Breed 77 have put together an exclusive E.P. for diehard fans who signed up for the band’s pledge campaign.
Entitled ‘Under The Skin’, Breed 77’s latest E.P. release brings together a collection of old, new and a couple of covers, all of which are delivered in acoustic form, but with the band’s unique flamenco style giving the songs that truly special twist on the familiar.
The band opens up their latest E.P. in a somewhat energetic manner with ‘Remember That Day’ (Which originally appeared on 2006’s ‘In My Blood (En Mi Sangre)’). Even with the use of acoustic guitars in favour of electrics, the edgy vibe of the song is remarkably maintained through Isola’s powerful vocals, the duel guitar playing and flamenco tones and the subtle percussive undertones.
‘Low’ is an exclusive preview of what fans can expect from ‘The Evil Inside’, and it’s a track that will no doubt impress. With the band’s traditional influences taking a backseat, shades of Alice In Chains can be clearly heard within the slow paced number, while the equally downbeat track ‘The River’ (From 2004’s ‘Cultura’) loses none of its power and emotion in its new format.
If there’s one song on the E.P. that I don’t think quite translates as well as I had hoped in an acoustic remake it would be ‘One More Time’ (From 2009’s ‘Insects’). Although far from a complete disaster (Musically, the band sound great), Isola seems to struggle a little with the lower key notes, and overall sound a little too bare within the song.
‘Missing Me’ is an interesting inclusion here as it only appeared on the earMusic/iTunes re-release of ‘Insects’, but nonetheless a worthy addition to the track listing, while the fantastic ‘La Ultima Hora’ (From ‘Cultura’) is every bit as impressive as its original electric counterpart.
Finishing up the E.P. is a couple of covers, with the first being the band’s rendition of Faith No More’s ‘Last Cup Of Sorrow’ (From 1997’s ‘Album Of The Year’), which is a faithful and rather enjoyable rendition. The second cover is Ozzy Osbourne’s ‘No More Tears’ (From his 1991 album of the same name), which by any terms is an ambitious move, but surprisingly well done.
Although it falls short of generating anywhere near as much excitement as a brand new full-length album of originals, ‘Under The Skin’ is a rewarding release that fans will enjoy immensely, and the perfect way to tide over those who have been waiting patiently since 2009 for something new from the band.

For more information on Breed 77, check out - http://www.breed77.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Monday, October 15, 2012

It Bites - Map Of The Past

It Bites
Map Of The Past
Inside Out Music/Century Media Records/E.M.I. Music Australia

When U.K. based progressive rock/pop rock outfit It Bites marked their return to the music scene with ‘The Tall Ships’ after a nineteen year break, few were expecting too much from the veteran act. After all, the band were hardly what you would call a household name outside their native U.K., and vocalist/guitarist/principal songwriter Francis Dunnery had long parted ways with the group to focus on his successful solo career. But to almost everyone’s surprise, ‘The Tall Ships’ (Released in 2008 on Inside Out Music) proved that It Bites were a band that could once again reinvent themselves (Much like they did so many times before), and that Arena/Frost* vocalist/guitarist John Mitchell was more than capable of filling in the role vacated by Dunnery some twenty-two years ago.
Four years on, and three live releases later (2010’s ‘This Is Japan’, 2010 ‘Deutche Live!’ and 2011’s D.V.D./C.D. package ‘It Happened One Night’), and It Bites (Who now comprise of Mitchell, bassist/backing vocalist Lee Pomeroy, keyboardist/backing vocals John Beck and drummer/backing vocals Bob Dalton) are back with their long awaited second comeback/fifth release ‘Map Of The Past’. And again, It Bites continue to impress in a major way.
The opening track ‘Man In The Photograph’ brings to the fore the theme that runs throughout the album (A personal insight into the emotions conveyed through the eyes of an older generation of Brits as the U.K. enters a new century), and takes the listener on a trip through time with its various war-time radio samples, rich keyboard tones, military drums and Mitchell’s husky/emotive Peter Gabriel-like vocal delivery. The song is not quite what you would expect for an opener to the album, but definitely a worthy choice nonetheless.
‘Wallflower’ brings the band’s sound into the present with plenty of classic sounding Hammond keyboards, dramatic strings and some subtle progressive guitar riffs. Melodies wise, Mitchell tones back the harmonies a bit compared to anything from ‘The Tall Ships’, but keeps things catchy enough to make the song stand out for all the right reasons.
The title track ‘Map Of The Past’ veers a little more towards the band’s more accessible and pop/rock sound, but features enough progressive elements and melody to stay on the path to win listeners over, while the slower paced ballad ‘Clocks’ brings to mind Ray Wilson era Genesis, but with a twist with the addition of fairground sounds in its latter half.
The up-tempo ‘Flag’ is a good song, but definitely not a favourite with the overabundance of keyboards over guitars in the mix (Which inevitably gives the song a bit of an ‘80’s pop/rock sound), but the band do redeem themselves with the hard hitting and dramatic ‘The Big Machine’ and the simple melodic charm of the infectious ‘Cartoon Graveyard’.
The heavily orchestrated and multi-layered vocal leanings of ‘Send No Flowers’ again brings to mind Gabriel era Genesis with a touch of Queen in places (Which strangely enough works quite well), while the lengthy ‘Meadow And The Steam’ is by far the most progressive rock based piece on the album (In other words, Genesis like), and undoubtedly a definite favourite.
Mitchell brings a lot of emotion into the touching piano based ‘The Last Escape’ which could easily have been mistaken as an outtake from some long lost Frost* sessions, while the acoustic based closer ‘Exit Song’ is simply beautiful.
It Bites have never been the easiest of acts to pin down in the musical sense due to their constant evolution of sound and style. But on the strength of the band’s last couple of releases, It Bites seem to have found a sound that works for them, and one they’re obviously keen to build upon.
While I’m not entirely convinced that their latest release eclipses the brilliance of ‘The Tall Ships’, ‘Map Of The Past’ is still an excellent release, and one that no fan should overlook.

For more information on It Bites, check out - http://www.itbites.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Slash (Featuring Myles Kennedy And The Conspirators) - Apocalyptic Love (Deluxe Edition)

Slash (Featuring Myles Kennedy And The Conspirators)
Apocalyptic Love (Deluxe Edition)
Dik Hayd Records/Sony Music Entertainment Australia

Few would dispute that Slash is a great guitarist and song writer. After all, he played a major role in shaping the original Guns N’ Roses’ classic hard rock sound. But being a guitar legend isn’t the be all/end all to making truly inspired music, with Slash’s post Guns N’ Roses career regarded as patchy at best. To put it in simple terms, his work with Slash’s Snakepit (1995’s ‘It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere’ and 2000’s ‘Ain’t Life Grand’) were quite enjoyable and solid efforts, but his efforts with Velvet Revolver (2004’s ‘Contraband’ and 2007’s ‘Libertad’) and his last solo album (2010’s ‘Slash’) were downright forgettable.
It was quite obvious that vocalist/rhythm guitarist Myles Kennedy (Ex-The Mayfield Four/Alter Bridge) was the definite star on Slash’s last effort (Kennedy sang on two of the album’s tracks), and this was further reinforced when Slash took Kennedy out on the road in support of the album (Which was documented on 2010’s ‘Live In Manchester’ album and 2011’s live D.V.D. ‘Live In Stoke 24/7/11’).
Given the strength of Slash’s most recent live band, and Slash’s own past track record, I was really interested to see what magic Slash, Kennedy and his band The Conspirators (Comprising of bassist/backing vocals Todd Kerns and drummer/pianist Brent Fitz) could conjure up in the studio. And in short, ‘Apocalyptic Love’ is without a doubt Slash’s strongest solo effort to date.
The album opens up in classic rock fashion with the driving title track ‘Apocalyptic Love’. The funk edged riffing is classic Slash in sound, while Kennedy’s killer vocals and melodies give the song a dimension that has at times been lacking in Slash’s past efforts.
From here, the objective is simple – Dish out some classic riffs, make the songs rock and catchy enough to sing along to. And sure enough, Slash and his band deliver their promise on every track.
‘One Last Thrill’ is a great fast paced cut with Kennedy giving the track a bit of punk attitude with his snarled vocals, while tracks such as ‘You’re A Lie’, ‘No More Heroes’, ‘We Will Roam’, the slow blues-like groove of ‘Bad Rain’, the energetic ‘Shots Fired’ and speeding/high octane ‘Hard & Fast’ are all first class hard rockers.
But while there’s plenty of hard rock delivered throughout the album, Slash and Kennedy have managed to venture a little outside the predictable hard rock format, with Slash providing some inspiring extended acoustic and electric fretwork on ‘Anastasia’, while on the melancholy ‘Not For Me’ and ‘Far And Away’, the combined talents of Kennedy and Slash really produce some of the album’s truly exceptional and memorable efforts.
On the deluxe edition version of ‘Apocalyptic Love’, the album is bolstered by an additional two tracks and a D.V.D.
The first track ‘Carolina’ is a great tune that has a distinctly ‘70’s vibe with its funky guitar sounds and groove via a talk box, while the second track ‘Crazy Life’ is a anthem-like rocker, and a perfect track to close the album with.
The D.V.D. is a twenty-eight minute making of ‘Apocalyptic Love’, which gives fans an inside perspective on those within the band (All of whom are surprisingly ego free and easy going) and a brief rundown on the making of the album. The D.V.D. is hardly groundbreaking, but a cool bonus.
Slash’s legendary status as a guitarist has never been denied. But in terms of solo output, it’s clear that a great guitarist will never make up for a shortfall in quality song writing. But while Slash has failed to deliver a truly consistent album in the past, his latest effort alongside Kennedy has finally shown what can be done with the right co-conspirator.
Slash isn’t reinventing himself one bit on ‘Apocalyptic Love’, but he has at last made a consistent and truly enjoyable kick ass classic hard rock album. And really, that’s exactly what I was hoping for from Slash.

For more information on Slash, check out - http://www.slashonline.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Monday, October 1, 2012

Silversun Pickups - Neck Of The Woods

Silversun Pickups
Neck Of The Woods
Dangerbird Records/Warner Music Australia

There are plenty of acts on today’s music scene that have taken their lead from the popular alternative rock sound that dominated the better part of the ‘90’s, reworked it and presented their reinvented sound to a whole new generation of listeners. But while a few of these so called new alternative rock outfits have caught my attention, none have completely captivated quite in the way Los Angeles (California, U.S.) outfit Silversun Pickups have.
On the strength of a couple of songs I heard on the radio, I picked up their debut full-length effort ‘Carnavas’ (2006), and was impressed with what the band had to offer throughout. Needless to say, I was keen to hear the band’s sophomore effort, and duly purchased ‘Swoon’ (2009) as soon as it was released. I expected big things from the band with the album, and I wasn’t let down one bit.
It’s been another three year wait since ‘Swoon’ for something new from the band (If you excluded their three track E.P. ‘Seasick’ from 2011 that is). But after what seems to be a deliberate move not to hastily release anything before its ready, the four piece outfit (Comprising of lead vocalist/guitarist Brian Aubert, bassist/backing vocalist Nikki Monninger, keyboardist/sampler/sound manipulator Joe Lester and drummer Chris Guanlao) has returned with their all important third full-length release ‘Neck Of The Woods’.
To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t overly impressed with ‘Neck Of The Woods’ on first listen. The album was good, but the darker vibe of the songs and the lack of immediacy within the choruses was a stark contrast to the appealing aspects of the band’s former releases. But despite my initial impressions of the album, I persevered, and over time, I was eventually convinced of the band’s continually evolving sound and direction from album to album.
‘Skin Graph’ is the opener on the album, and the first to showcase the band’s unwillingness to go for the obvious, and make the audience work a little at digging beneath the song’s tough exterior. After a gentle build-up, the song finally gets underway – and while the verses do seem to have the familiar melodic edge over downplayed guitar riffs, downbeat moods and rhythmic/drumming dynamics, the chorus is somewhat stripped back and harder edged than anything the band have ever presented before. The song is definitely a winner on the heavy front, but the chorus does take a little time to really unfold.
The follow-up track ‘Make Believe’ maintains the minimalist approach the band adopted in their song writing on the opener, but makes up for the absence of rock on its first half with an all-out full-on guitar drenched second half, while the single ‘Bloody Mary (Nerve Endings)’ is almost a bridging track between old and new sounds, with Lester’s swathing keyboards and gorgeous chorus pop melodies.
But while the band have stripped their sound back in a lot of places, it’s never been at the cost of the guitars as the band do turn up the heat on tracks such as the driving ‘Busy Bees’, the distortion drenched/mechanical ‘Mean Spirits’, the sinister ‘Gun-Shy Sunshine’ and the powerful and stunning closer ‘Out Of Breath’.
Elsewhere, ‘Dots And Dashes (Enough Already)’ straddles the fine line between pop and alternative rock with considerable ease, while on the sparse ‘Here We Are (Chancer)’ and ‘The Pit’, the band flirt with programmed drum beats and synthesised sounds to create something completely different from what would normally be expected of the group, and push their sound in avenues previously unexpected.
‘Neck Of The Woods’ is exactly the sort of album you would expect from Silversun Pickups given the progression between their first two albums. It’s far from an instant album (Like ‘Swoon’), and far from a carbon copy of what has worked for the band in the past. What it is however, is a darker and more adventurous new effort, and the kind of album that rewards those who are willing to allow the songs to reveal their subtle intricacies and shrouded melodies with time.

For more information on Silversun Pickups, check out - http://silversunpickups.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Friday, September 28, 2012

Affector - Harmagedon

Affector
Harmagedon
Inside Out Music/Century Media Records/E.M.I. Music Australia

Affector’s initial formation can be traced back as far as 2005, when former Divinity German guitar player Daniel J. Fries approached Dutch drummer Collin Leijenaar (Ex-Dilemma) while he was on tour with Neal Morse with the idea of putting together a new project. Some six years later, the pair managed to secure Symphony X bassist Mike LePond and Enchant/Thought Chamber/Spock’s Beard vocalist Ted Leonard into the line-up, and Affector was officially off the ground. Twelve months later, and with some help from noted keyboardist Neal Morse (Ex-Spock’s Beard/Transatlantic), Italian fusion player Alex Argento, Derek Sherinian (Ex-Dream Theater/Planet X/Black Country Communion) and Jordan Rudess (Dream Theater), Affector have finally unveiled their debut full-length effort ‘Harmagedon’.
For progressive rock/metal fans, Affector is nothing short of a supergroup, and with that tag, many will have a fair amount of expectation from this debut effort. And thankfully, the band delivers exactly what’s expected from them given line-up involved in such a project. The album starts off with the short symphonic instrumental piece ‘Overture Pt. 1 – Introduction’ (Which is performed by Polish orchestra Sinfonietta Consonus), which then quickly moves into ‘Overture Pt. 2 – Prologue’, which combines the orchestra with the band themselves. The duality of the two tracks work quite well (One symphonic, the other more a progressive metal sounding), and the lead guitar work from Fries is exceptional on the latter.
It isn’t until ‘Salvation’ that we finally get a real idea of what Affector sound like outside purely instrumental tracks, and essentially they sound like the stronger elements of Symphony X, Dream Theater and a hint of Enchant all rolled up into a huge progressive rock/metal sound. It’s been a long time since Leonard has fronted a band, and his return here is a welcome one. His melodies are first class, and even though the music behind him is a little more aggressive to what we ever heard on the Enchant front, he manages to make a mark. On the guitar front, Fries absolutely shreds with blinding technicality without going too over the top, while the waves of keyboards dotted throughout the track are well placed and executed.
Clocking in at a lengthy fourteen minutes, ‘The Rapture’ is obviously the big epic at the halfway mark of the album, and as expected, one of the album’s real highlights. The fast pacing, combined with distinctive riffs and melodic leads, orchestral fills (Again, supplied by Sinfonietta Consonus) and rich keyboard underpinning throughout help create a truly epic track that’s near impossible to fault, and a definite highlight on the album.
The mellow and slower paced ‘Cry Song’ is something that wouldn’t have sounded too out of place on an Enchant release, but different enough to stand apart, while ‘Falling Away & The Rise Of The Beast’ is another up-tempo melodic piece of progressive rock that boasts some great melodies from Leonard and some stand out keyboard solos from both Morse and Sherinian.
The title track ‘Harmagedon’ is again another thirteen minute epic slotted in the latter half of the album, and by far one of the album’s heaviest tracks, and a personal favourite. Fries absolutely shreds throughout this track, and proves that while he is a virtual unknown up until this point, his place amongst the other big names in the line-up has been well earned. Finishing up the album is ‘New Jerusalem’, which is a rather melodic track in the vein of Enchant, but with a little more guitar thrown into the mix to beef things up.
Supergroups for the most part seem to let down more than they impress. But if truth be told, Affector is the exception. While the conceptual story within the lyrics leans a little too much towards the religious side of things (Which is not surprising given the album is based on the Biblical apocalypse), the music more than manages to impress enough to overlook the story contained within.
The line-up within Affector will ensure there’s no shortage of fans that’ll quickly pick this up without a second thought. And so they should. ‘Harmagedon’ is a worthy effort.

For more information on Affector, check out - http://www.affector.net/

© Justin Donnelly

Pantera - Vulgar Display Of Power - 20th Anniversary Edition

Pantera
Vulgar Display Of Power - 20th Anniversary Edition
Rhino Entertainment Company/Warner Music Australia

Following on from the overwhelming success of the remastered/expanded twentieth anniversary re-release of ‘Cowboys From Hell’ a couple of years ago, Pantera (Alongside their label Rhino Entertainment Company) have again decided to take a step back in time and give another one of their album’s a much needed makeover in deluxe form. Not surprisingly, 2012 marks the twentieth anniversary of the group’s sixth full-length effort ‘Vulgar Display Of Power’, which makes it the perfect release to be given a complete revamp.
Originally released in 1992 (On Atco Records/Atlantic Records), ‘Vulgar Display Of Power’ saw Pantera build upon the power groove based metallic sound that was evident on their former release, but with a greater level of aggression, venom and confidence that was previously only hinted at (Especially on the vocal front, where Phil Anselmo all but abandoned his high/clean voice). Given the general lack of heaviness and rawness from most metal releases at the time, fans firmly embraced the band’s newest release, which in turn saw the release quickly become one of Pantera’s biggest selling albums – propelling them into elite status.
Anyone who’s heard or followed Pantera over the years will no doubt be familiar with ‘Vulgar Display Of Power’, or at the very least the numerous singles lifted from the album throughout 1992 – 1993 (‘Mouth For War’, ‘Hollow’, ‘This Love’, ‘Fucking Hostile’ and ‘Walk’). So for the benefit of this review, I’ll bypass putting my personal thoughts down on the album itself (It’s a good album, but not one of my all time favourite Pantera releases), and instead focus on the extras included on this reissue
One of the most talked about extras on this reissued version of ‘Vulgar Display Of Power’ is without a doubt ‘Piss’. The previous unreleased track was recorded during the album sessions, and according to bassist Rex Brown, was cut from the album primarily because the album didn’t seem to need it. And it was a good decision too, as ‘Piss’ isn’t really one of Pantera’s stronger efforts. Although far from terrible, Anselmo’s lyrics are a little overbearing in the macho stakes, while the overall riff structures, tempos and performance within the song come across as somewhat mundane and repetitive. As a bonus track, its inclusion here is justified. But had it made it onto ‘Vulgar Display Of Power’, ‘Piss’ would have easily stood out as the album’s weakest effort. Personally, I prefer ‘Use My Third Arm’ (Which featured on the band’s follow-up effort ‘Far Beyond Driven’ from 1994), where the band recycled the riff into a completely new and far superior tune.
Apart from the bonus audio track, this re-release also comes with a bonus D.V.D. While the inclusion of the three promotional video clips (‘Mouth For War’, ‘This Love’ and ‘Walk’) the band made for the album is a bit of overkill (Who needs them if they have 1999’s ‘3 Vulgar Videos From Hell’ D.V.D.?), the six track/twenty-nine minute ‘Live In Italy’ set is a real highlight. Shot for MTV at the Monsters Of Rock festival (Which took place in Reggio Emilia on 12th September 1992), this complete live set from the band is well shot, sounds great and boasts a rock solid performance from the band. Although the footage has been doing the rounds for years on the net, finally getting a copy of this show on D.V.D. is a real treat for diehard fans.
Sound wise, Howie Weinberg’s remastering does sound a little sharper and louder than the original album, which is what you would expect given the album is twenty years old, while the liner notes (Courtesy of Revolver Magazine’s senior editor Jon Wiederhorn) and the lyrics for ‘Piss’ are seamlessly blended into the old package without looking too out of place.
Overall, the deluxe re-release of ‘Vulgar Display Of Power’ has been well done. It would have been cool to see a little more on the D.V.D., and the overall packaging is a bit of a step down to what was presented on ‘Cowboys From Hell’, but still a decent enough re-release worthy of Pantera diehard’s attention.

For more information on Pantera, check out - http://www.pantera.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Corvus Stone - Ice King

Corvus Stone
Ice King
Melodic Revolution Records

Corvus Stone are relative newcomers to the European progressive rock scene, with the formation of the Finnish/Swedish collaboration having only been together for less than a year. While the band themselves are a bit of an unknown entity, the members involved in this new project are anything but unknowns, with all of those involved having been involved in a variety of projects throughout the years. Although having released various bits and pieces of music over the last couple of months, ‘Ice King’ marks the first official release from Corvus Stone, and a true indication of what can be expected from the band’s upcoming self titled release (Which by all accounts, is due before the end of the year).
Prior to giving ‘Ice King’ a listen, I took the time to reacquaint myself with Corvus Stone’s earlier known recordings. And while the band had managed to throw together some interesting ideas in the studio, there was nothing that had emerged from the band that made me really sit up and take notice. So to be perfectly honest, I really wasn’t expecting too much from Corvus Stone’s latest effort. But I’m pleased to report that while my initial expectations for ‘Ice King’ were quite low, Corvus Stone had much a grander plan, and exceeded everything I thought possible from the band.
In the past, Corvus Stone (Who comprise of Colin Tench Project/BunChakeze/The Road To Avalon guitarist Colin Tench, ex-Lyijykomppania/Progeland/Saturn Twilight bassist Petri Lemmy Lindström and Psychedelic Eye keyboardist Pasi Koivu) have produced some great ideas and sounds, but nothing that came close to sounding like a complete song worthy of inclusion on an album. But with the assistance of The Road To Avalon/Minstrel's Ghost vocalist Blake Carpenter, and former Raven/Micah drummer George Robert Wolff, Corvus Stone have really found their sound.
‘Ice King’ is somewhat of a strange track to pin down in the sound sense. There’s an unmistakable feel of classic ‘70’s progressive rock within the song, but there’s also a touch of world music within the subtle acoustic guitar work and percussion that drifts in and out throughout the song. The build up of heavy guitar work provides a memorable high point around the latter half of the track; while Tench’s ever present echoed guitar sounds are executed with absolute finesse.
But while the individual performances are noteworthy, it’s the song as a whole that really wins me over. Despite the cold lyric themes, the haunting vocals of Carpenter and the minimal musical composition, it all comes together perfectly for the band.
It’s hard to make a true evaluation of what Corvus Stone will deliver over a full length effort based on one song, and even harder given their rather patchy mix of demos and instrumentals. But if ‘Ice King’ is any indication of what the band has in store, then it really does have the potential to be something special. Here’s hoping ‘Ice King’ isn’t a mere one-off.

For more information on Corvus Stone, check out - http://www.facebook.com/corvusstone

© Justin Donnelly

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Black Trillium - The Locked Woods E.P.

Black Trillium
The Locked Woods E.P.
Independent Release

Doom metal is the kind of genre of music that I can only take in small doses. And even then, if it’s not done exceedingly well, it more often than not comes across as overly long, endlessly repetitive and downright tiresome. But every now and then, I’ll come across a doom metal release that will take me by complete surprise and remind me that while everything under the sun within the genre has been done countless times, when it’s done well, it can be totally captivating. One such release is Sydney (New South Wales, Australia) based outfit Black Trillium, and their debut E.P. effort ‘The Locked Woods E.P.’.
Formed in early 2011, the two piece outfit (Comprising of ex-EnviroCore/Ministerium multi-instrumentalists Simon Skipper and Zach Carlson) spent the better part of the year recording their collaborative effort, with ‘The Locked Woods E.P.’ finally seeing the light of day midway through 2012. And after teasing listeners with various snippets of their work in progress over the last year, I can say that the end results live up to expectations.
The opening title track ‘The Locked Woods’ kicks off with a brief acoustic passage before the pair launches into full-on electric mode with an assortment of twisted riffs and a variety of grooving tempos changes. Matching the musical soundscape is the intensely brutal vocals, which add a blackened edge to proceedings. But then the band takes the listener on a completely different course around the three minute mark, with clean vocals and acoustic passages fleshing out the death/doom metal sound that initially determined the direction of the song. The contrast and clashing of vocal/musical approaches is extremely well done, and in some ways brings to mind a mix of Opeth, My Dying Bride and early Paradise Lost. Oh, and the riff right at the tail end of the track is nothing short of magnificent.
The follow-on and faster paced track ‘My Decline’ (The first single and the shortest track on the E.P.) is perhaps one of the E.P.’s more accessible and straight forward sounding tunes with its memorable guitar riffs/lead breaks and heavily harmonised vocals, but still manages to pack a hell of a punch at just the right time (The intense death metal-like section around the two thirds mark is particularly brutal).
‘The Perfumed Garden’ slows down the pace to showcase the darker and heavier aspects of the band’s doom metal sound while incorporating a mix of clean and growled vocals when the shift in speed takes place, while the closer ‘Rage Fuels My Masterpiece’ lives up to its name with a sound that’s rooted more into a grooving death metal vein, but with enough variation shown throughout in terms of tempo changes and vocal approaches to keep things interesting throughout.
With a great production, quality song writing and diversity offered throughout every track, it’s hard to find a single fault on Black Trillium’s debut offering.
Although described as doom metal, Black Trillium’s sound is far more diverse and widespread than a simple genre tag. Black Trillium is a mix of an assortment of influences, and the end results are truly impressive.
I for one can only hope that this collaboration is more than a one-off experiment, and that there’s more to come from the band in the future.

For more information on Black Trillium, check out - http://www.facebook.com/blacktrilliumband/

© Justin Donnelly

Monday, September 10, 2012

Europe - Bag Of Bones

Europe
Bag Of Bones
Hell & Back/earMUSIC/Edel Germany

Since reuniting in 2003, Swedish hard rock outfit Europe have gone from strength to strength with each one of their three comeback releases garnishing more critical acclaim than its predecessor - enjoying a success well and truly beyond what many would have expected from the group given that most considered the band as nothing more than a hair band riding on the coattails of late ‘80’s hair band scene. Following on from their stunning ‘Last Look At Eden’ release from 2009, Europe (Who comprise of vocalist Joey Tempest, guitarist John Norum, bassist John Levén, keyboardist Mic Michaeli and drummer Ian Haugland) are back once again with their latest effort ‘Bag Of Bones’. And much like the three albums released since their return to the scene; their latest sees the band making an effort to push their sound into new territory, without losing any of their signature melodic rock sound.
The group open up their latest release with ‘Riches To Rags’, which unveils a rich ‘70’s hard rock sound at its core, but with a distinctly modern edge. Kevin Shirley’s production (He produced, mixed and engineered the album) has given the band an earthy and heavy sound, which sounds like a natural fit for Europe’s current direction, while the song is an absolute rocker, with the performances from Tempest and Norum really standing out.
The album’s semi-autobiographical first single ‘Not Supposed To Sing The Blues’ is as the title would suggest, a smouldering slower paced blues/rock effort that proves beyond any doubt that the band are in their prime both as musicians and songwriters. The subtle Led Zeppelin keyboards and percussion (Courtesy of Anton Fig) are also a welcome addition, adding to the authentic classic ‘70’s hard rock sound the band was aiming for.
Much like the orchestral elements that featured on their last album, ‘Bag Of Bones’ showcases a greater blues influence on a number of the album’s tracks. ‘My Woman My Friend’, which is preceded by the Michaeli penned/performed short orchestral instrumental piece ‘Requiem’, is a good example of the band’s foray into blues influenced rock with its soulful piano intro, heavy blues rock middle section (Norum definitely adds plenty of weight on the guitar front here) and overall melodic sensibilities throughout. Elsewhere, the energetic punchy slow paced rocker ‘Doghouse’ and the classic title track ‘Bag Of Bones’ (Which features a Black Country Communion guitarist Joe Bonamassa on slide guitar, and by far one of the catchiest choruses on the album) are further examples of Europe’s foray into blues infused hard rock.
Norum’s Led Zeppelin influence on the acoustic rocker ‘Drink And A Smile’ is undeniable, but works nonetheless, while on tracks such as ‘Firebox’ (One of the few tracks to feature a touch of orchestration this time around), ‘Demon Head’ and ‘Mercy You Mercy Me’, Europe crank up the volume and rock out in classic hard rock fashion.
Finishing up the album is ‘Bring It All Home’, which is the only real ballad on the album. While ballads rarely work as closers, Tempest’s emotive vocals, Michaeli’s piano work and Norum’s blues tinged tones work perfectly with the lyrical prose, and provide the album to a perfect close.
Comparing Europe’s latest effort with ‘Last Look At Eden’ is near impossible given the album’s opposing directions and influences. But if there’s one thing that can be said about ‘Bag Of Bones’ after living with ‘Last Look At Eden’ for the last three years – Europe has definitely hit a creative streak, and is sounding better than ever.

For more information on Europe, check out – http://www.europetheband.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Angelus Apatrida - The Call

Angelus Apatrida
The Call
Century Media Records/E.M.I. Music Australia

Two years after the release of their Century Media Records effort ‘Clockwork’, Spanish (Albacete based) outfit Angelus Apatrida are back with their fourth full-length effort ‘The Call’. Although ‘Clockwork’ was far from a thrash metal classic, it was a thoroughly enjoyable album that had many sitting up and taking notice. So it comes as no surprise to find there are a lot of people out there (Including myself I might add) expecting big things from ‘The Call’. And sure enough, Angelus Apatrida have well and truly met the challenge they set for themselves, with ‘The Call’ easily the strongest release the modern/retro-thrasher have released to date.
After a short build up, Angelus Apatrida (Who comprise of lead vocalist/guitarist Guillermo Izquierdo ‘Polako’, guitarist/backing vocalist David G. Álvarez, bassist José J. Izquierdo and drummer/backing vocalist Víctor Valera) quickly settle into the groove of the opening track ‘You Are Next’, before launching into full speed attack mode with the introduction of Izquierdo’s raspy/screamed vocals. Musically, Angelus Apatrida haven’t strayed too far from where they last left listeners, with the song drawing upon influences from Exodus and Megadeth. But it’s the chorus structures, the intricate lead work/trading dual guitars and the overall production (Which was once again handled by Daniel Cardoso) where the band have really sharpened things, and the results are stellar.
The follow on track ‘At The Gates Of Hell’ sees the band slowing things down a bit to make way for a little more melody within a strong grooving riff pattern, while tracks such as ‘Violent Dawn’, the Megadeth sounding ‘Killer Instinct’ (Which recently made an appearance on the band’s split E.P. release with 3 Inches Of Blood) and ‘The Hope Is Gone’ are tracks where the band aim right for the throat in terms of venomous aggression and manic speed.
Although the faster thrash efforts are worthy enough tracks, it’s the slower and more melodic efforts that stand out as the album’s real gems. Prime stand out cuts worthy of singling out include the infectious anthem based ‘It’s Rising!’, the multi-tempo duality of ‘Blood On The Snow’ (Which boasts a fantastic atmospheric instrumental introduction that brings to mind something that U.K. act Evile could have easily come up with), ‘Still Corrupt’ (Which features a very Jeff Waters (Annihilator) like solo – Ala ‘Fun Palace’) and the impressive seven minute power/thrash metal epic ‘Reborn’.
Although still falling a little short of ‘classic’ status, ‘The Call’ is an album that showcases the growth and improvement Angelus Apatrida have made in their song writing, and the kind of album that fans of quality thrash should check out.

For more information on Angelus Apatrida, check out - http://www.angelusapatrida.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Coldworker - The Doomsayer’s Call

Coldworker
The Doomsayer’s Call
Listenable Records

When Swedish (Örebro based) death metal act Coldworker released their debut full-length effort ‘The Contaminated Void’ in 2006, the album was met with a largely positive response, with many hailing the band’s hybrid mix of old school grindcore and modern day death metal sounds. Not surprisingly, the band was one to keep an eye on in the future. With the release of their second full-length effort ‘Rotting Paradise’ two years later, Coldworker more than managed to deliver on their initial promise, with almost all hailing the album as a huge leap above and beyond what they presented on their debut. Four years on, and Coldworker (Who comprise of vocalist Joel Fornbrant, ex- The Project Hate MCMXCIX guitarist Anders Bertilsson, guitarist Daniel Schröder, bassist Oskar Pålsson and ex-Necrony/Nasum drummer Anders Jakobson) are back with their long awaited third full-length effort ‘The Doomsayer’s Call’ – their first release for Listenable Records after parting ways with Relapse Records.
Given the progression Coldworker had shown between the release of ‘The Contaminated Void’ and ‘Rotting Paradise’, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to imagine ‘The Doomsayer’s Call’ taking another large step forward. Unfortunately, the band’s evolutionary path is a short one this time around, with much of their latest album maintaining familiar traits to those heard on ‘Rotting Paradise’. But while the lack of progression is a bit of a disappointment, there’s still a whole lot to enjoy within ‘The Doomsayer’s Call’.
Coldworker open up their latest release in a decidedly groovy and slower paced fashion with ‘A New Era’, which interestingly enough reveals a slight thrash-like influence. Dan Swanö’s mix helps give everyone within the band enough space to stand out, while the overall recorded sound (Handled by Johan Berglund) is clear and detailed enough to sound sharper and heavy in the right measure.
After holding back on the opener, Coldworker unleash a full on assault with ‘The Reprobate’ (Which features a guest vocal performance from Ex-Dying Fetus/Misery Index vocalist Jason Netherton), ‘The Glass Envelope’ and ‘Flesh World’. But while all three tracks contain the familiar Coldworker extreme sound, there’s enough variation within the songs in terms of tempo changes and brief passages of groove and melody to keep things interesting throughout.
In terms of really pushing things to the extreme, tracks such as ‘Murderous’, ‘Pessimist’, ‘Vacuum Fields’ and ‘Violent Society’ are sure to keep fans of the band’s grindcore-influenced brand of modern death metal pleased to no end, while those looking for a slight departure from the band’s familiar trademark aggressive sound will revel in the hint of punk within ‘Monochrome Existence’ and the groovier and more rhythmic based ‘The Walls Of Eryx’.
While I’m reluctant to say that ‘The Doomsayer’s Call’ made an impression on me quite the same way that ‘Rotting Paradise’ did when it was released, I will admit that as a whole, this new release still manages to impress enough to maintain Coldworker’s place amongst today’s death metal elite.

For more information on Coldworker, check out – http://www.coldworker.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Major Tom And The Atoms - Shake It Til You Break It

Major Tom And The Atoms
Shake It Til You Break It
Independent Release/Remedy Music

Despite the success of their two full-length releases and their reputation as one of the underground indie-rock scene’s best live outfits, Melbourne (Victoria, Australia) outfit Little Red officially announced their split earlier in the year. There’s no doubt that the news was disappointing, but as the saying goes, when one door closes – another is bound to open. And from out of the ashes of Little Red, we can now celebrate the formation of Major Tom And The Atoms.
Fronted by former Little Red baritone crooner ‘Major’ Tom Hartney, Major Tom And The Atoms (Who also comprise of guitarist/backing vocalist Simon Tait, bassist/backing vocalist Simon Lawrie, saxophonist/Theremin/backing vocalist Sean Vagg, pianist/backing vocalist Ben Huisman and drummer/backing vocalist Adam Swoboda) have been performing together for the last year, and have within that time been praised by fans and critics alike for their lively and infectious shows.
With a growing following and acclaim for their presence on stage, the six piece act soon made a move towards the recording studio, and with the assistance of producer/mixer Tony Buchen (Who’s worked with the likes of Tim Finn, Phrase, Wim, John Butler Trio, Andy Bull, Gin Wigmore, Blue King Brown, Dereb The Ambassador, Washington and Old Man River), the band have released their debut E.P. ‘Shake It Til You Break It’.
The opening track ‘The House That Love Built’ (The first single released from the E.P.) is a rocking effort that oozes plenty of saxophone based rhythm and blues mixed with a touch of old-school funk that is sure to get any audience moving in no time at all. Hartney’s familiar deep vocals add plenty of soul to the tune, while the remainder of the group prove how tight knit they’ve become after a little more than a year together.
‘Rolling Stone’ is another firm favourite with its big band/piano based framework, while ‘Last Dance Of The Lizard King’ sees the band channelling the spirit of Jim Morrison and The Doors – albeit filtered through the band’s own hybrid mix of blues, soul and indie-rock.
A real stand out is the rather straight forward blues like and rocking ‘Merri Creek (Dead & Gone)’, which boasts some great piano and lead guitar work and soulful backing vocals, while ‘Mockingbird’ brings to mind The Strangeloves’ ‘I Want Candy’ in terms of its riffs and tempo, but rocking and enjoyable enough to overlook the obvious comparisons.
‘Shake It Til You Break It’ is a great little E.P., and a worthy indication of what Major Tom And The Atoms has to offer. Sure, this release doesn’t capture the band quite in the same way as their live performances, but it’s enough to get the idea.
Little Red may be done and dusted, but at least we have Major Tom And The Atoms to help fill the void.

For more information on Major Tom And The Atoms, check out - http://www.majortomandtheatoms.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Friday, August 24, 2012

Headspace - I Am Anonymous

Headspace
I Am Anonymous
Inside Out Music/Century Media Records/E.M.I. Music Australia

When Threshold vocalist Damian Wilson and keyboardist Adam Wakeman (Ozzy Osbourne/Black Sabbath keyboardist, and son of Yes’ Rick Wakeman) announced a joint venture under the name of Headspace, the news had many within the progressive rock scene eager to hear what the pair would come up with. And sure enough, with the release of their debut E.P. ‘I Am’ in 2007, the London (U.K.) based outfit lived up to expectations with the four tracks offered up. Timing issues and commitments to their various other projects slowed down Headspace’s progress towards the completion of a full-length effort for some years. But after a five year wait, the band (Who also comprise of guitarist Pete Rinaldi, Rick Wakeman/It Bites bassist Lee Pomeroy and drummer Richard Brook) have finally returned with ‘I Am Anonymous’.
Unlike a lot of progressive rock outfits, Headspace focus more on putting feeling and emotion into their music rather than relying solely on their technical prowess and wizardry, and that’s immediately evident with the album’s opening track ‘Stalled Armageddon’. ‘Stalled Armageddon’ has plenty of metallic passages that bring to mind Tool and Dream Theater in places, but it’s Wakeman’s masterful keyboard presence and Wilson’s passionate and emotive vocals that help give Headspace a sound that steers away from sounding like more of the same.
The follow-up track ‘Fall Of America’ is undoubtedly one of the album’s heavier and aggressive offerings, with Wilson alternating between anger driven passages, near on whispered passages and multi-layered harmony lines, while the diversity of sounds offered from the band on this track bring to mind Sieges Even in places.
The slow piano based ‘Soldier’ is a real stand out track that allows Wilson to showcase his delicate and emotion laden vocals while telling a story (This track kind of outlays the theme running throughout the album), while the straight forward drive of ‘Die With A Bullet’ is another stand out with its simplified structures and mix of musical aggression and vocal melody.
The church organ/choral introduction on the first three minutes of ‘In Hell’s Name’ is incredibly well done, while the subtle sitar effects (Which are most likely played through the keyboard) and the percussive dominated/jazz-like experimentation in the latter half of the song work well at show the band’s willingness to experiment within the confines of the tried and true progressive rock sound.
Despite the terrible title (Which in all honesty is – until you understand what the song is about), ‘Daddy Fucking Loves You’ is a great track that really does take the listener all over the place throughout its epic fifteen minute running time. Passages of particular note are the fragile/gentle acoustic start, the riff/keyboard heavy middle section and Rinaldi’s shredding towards the tail end.
Finishing up the album is the melodic, tense and darker edged ‘Invasion’ and the diverse progressive rock finale ‘The Big Day’.
Unlike a lot of progressive rock acts in today’s scene, Headspace has a sound that stands out from most. ‘I Am Anonymous’ does take time to fully understand and appreciate, but is well worth the time invested. This album is highly recommended for fans of Threshold, Dream Theater and quality progressive rock in general.

For more information on Headspace, check out - http://www.headspaceonline.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Meshuggah - Koloss (Deluxe Edition)

Meshuggah
Koloss (Deluxe Edition)
Nuclear Blast Records

I really have to be in the mood to listen to Swedish (Umeå based) outfit Meshuggah at the best of times. When I’m in the right frame of mind, their brand of technical post-thrash metal (Which has since been coined ‘Djent’) can totally blow me away - keeping me enthralled. But when I’m not in the mood, their repetitive grooves and off-kilter timed riff structures and monotone growled vocals can really rub me the wrong way. Although some of the band’s earlier albums have garnished the highest praise from diehard fans, it was 2002’s ‘Nothing’ and 2005’s ‘Catch Thirtythree’ where I believe the band really hit their creative peak (Despite the simplistic nature of the former, and the programmed drums on the latter), with both of the album’s seeing the band remain true to their original sound, but with an added sense of experimentation necessary to keep them from sounding stale and overly repetitive.
Following on from their impressive ‘ObZen’ release from 2008 (Excluding 2010’s live effort ‘Alive’), Meshuggah (Who comprise of vocalist/guitarist Jens Kidman, guitarist/backing vocalist/keyboardist Fredrik Thordendal, guitarist/backing vocalist Mårten Hagström, bassist Dick Lövgren and drummer/spoken word vocalist Tomas Haake) are back with their highly anticipated seventh full-length effort ‘Koloss’.
Given the band’s lengthy existence and vast body of work to date, nobody would be expecting Meshuggah to stray too far from what they’ve always done in the past on ‘Koloss’. And sure enough, the Swede’s latest effort remains true to the familiar template of old. The only real question is whether or not the songs themselves are strong enough to make the album stand out as a whole.
In answer to that question, ‘Koloss’ is a worthy follow-up to ‘ObZen’, and one of the band’s more consistent and enjoyable efforts.
The album opens up with ‘I Am Colossus’ (The first single from the album), which is a track that relies heavily on the band’s trademark strong stop/start groove patterns delivered in a slower brooding pace. The production is notably more organic sounding than some of the band’s former albums (Which is something the band was clearly aiming for with this album), which undoubtedly allows the song to sound a little more open and spacious than anything from ‘ObZen’.
The faster paced ‘The Demon’s Name Is Surveillance’ rivals the speed and intensity of ‘Bleed’ (From ‘ObZen’), and takes the aggression another notch up through Haake’s relentless drum work, while on ‘Do Not Look Down’, the band have managed to turn out a track that’s surprisingly stripped back and infectious, without losing any of their trademark sound.
The slow and calculated groove of ‘Behind The Sun’, ‘Break Those Bones Whose Sinews Gave It Motion’ and ‘Marrow’ boast the kind of sound and direction Meshuggah have been mastering for the better part of the last twenty years, and they’re the kind of songs that will either have you sucked in with their ongoing repetitive groove, or switching off midway through in sheer boredom.
‘The Hurt That Finds You First’ is another fast paced effort that easily stands out amongst the album’s ten tracks, with the catchy guitar riffs and Haake’s onslaught on the drums bringing to mind the band’s pseudo-thrash sound on ‘Chaosphere’ (1998).
‘Swarm’ is quite a dynamic track that combines the band’s strong groove delivered with plenty of menacing aggression and passages of pure experimentation (Especially throughout the solos), while the keyboards within ‘Demiurge’ add a haunting atmosphere to the track that overall gives the song a completely new angle. Finishing up the album is the instrumental piece ‘The Last Vigil’, which closes the album on a somewhat ambient note.
The deluxe edition of ‘Koloss’ comes with a bonus D.V.D., which comprises of a twenty-five minute ‘Konstrukting The Koloss’ and a twenty-six minute documentary of ‘Meshuggah In India’.
The documentary (Put together by At The Gates/The Haunted guitarist Anders Björler and Nocturnal Rites drummer Owe Lingvall) is a fascinating insight into the making of ‘Koloss’, as well as revealing a side to the individual members of Meshuggah that has otherwise been rarely seen before. Much like The Haunted’s ‘Road Kill’ film, the documentary is quite stark and sparse, which only emphasises the story being told that much more.
As ‘Meshuggah In India’ (Which was again put together by Björler for his At The Gates Films production company), the documentary follows the band’s short stopover in India in December 2010 while in support of ‘ObZen’. Again, Björler’s approach is stripped back and minimalistic, but incredibly well done. Although various bits of live footage of the band performing can been seen throughout the film (Including ‘Rational Gaze’, ‘Mind’s Mirrors’, Sum’, ‘Electric Red’, ‘Bleed’), there are sadly no complete live tracks. Despite this, the D.V.D. is a worthy addition to the deluxe package.
Meshuggah haven’t reinvented themselves one bit on this album, but if you liked the direction the band were heading on ‘ObZen’, then you’ll definitely enjoy this latest effort. Overall, ‘Koloss’ is another solid Meshuggah album.

For more information on Meshuggah, check out - http://www.meshuggah.net/

© Justin Donnelly