Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Dead - Hardnaked... But Dead!

Hardnaked... But Dead!
F.D.A. Rekotz

German death metal/grindcore act Dead has been around for more than twenty years, and within that time have released a colossal amount of split E.P. releases, E.P.’s and no less than five full-length albums, all of which have earned the band a cult underground following within the extreme scene.
Not surprisingly, with many of the band’s releases distributed through obscure labels, and the perverted mindset that permeates the entire band’s work (Most of the band’s material is lyrically based on something of a sexual or perverted nature), Dead aren’t exactly the sort of band that appeals to all death metal/grindcore followers. And reinforcing that notion is the band’s latest full-length release ‘Hardnaked... But Dead!’, which is the follow-up to 2009’s ‘For Lovers Of The New Bizarre’.
The trio (Who comprise of vocalist/guitarist Dany ‘Dead’ Straßenköter, Vocalist/bassist Uwe ‘Volker Dead’ Walker and vocalist/drummer Christoph ‘Ali Dead’ Allert) start the album off with a rather short and somewhat confusing sample that goes under the title of ‘Cock A Hoop’, before getting down to the serious stuff with ‘The Fineribber’. Although a little rusty on the production side of things, ‘The Fineribber’ is a solid slab of straightforward old school death metal with its pummelling riffs and guttural growls, and bolstered by some great solo work and huge gang vocals (Which are needless to say, just as guttural as the lead vocals).
The follow-up track ‘Liquor Store Goddess’ might be a little slower in its pacing, and a little rough around the edges in terms of the band’s performance (It sounds like it was given a couple of run throughs in the rehearsal room before being recorded live), but is otherwise a solid slab of death metal without the unnecessary extras.
Dead throw a curveball with the thrash-like riffing in the less than serious ‘Tits’ and the thrash/death metal hybrid heard in ‘Wall Of Flush’, but they soon come unstuck by trying a little too hard to come up with some laughs on the annoying voiceover/sample heavy and downright repetitive ‘A Beer’.
‘Short But Slim’ does fare a little stronger, with the samples used far more sparingly, and the band actually providing some worthy riffs to the extreme number, but unfortunately, as good as some of the ideas are in ‘Possessed Soldiers Of Luv’ and the slower and doom-like ‘Perfumes Of Doom’ (A song which I believe is based lyrically on farts), both are just a little too long, and overstay their welcome.
Finishing up the album is the title track ‘Hardnaked... But Dead!’, which combines some elements of doom metal with some death metal, but with enough space to allow some great shred work to really stand out (Or least give the impression that there’s no need to rush the solos). It’s hardly the album’s highlight, but it’s one of the better forward thinking efforts outside the whole porngrind style the band provides here.
Dead aren’t the greatest of song writers, and it shows more often than not throughout ‘Hardnaked... But Dead!’. And as long as you’re aware of that beforehand, you may get something out of this album. Otherwise, this is a fairly average album, and one that will seriously only please their cult fan base.

For more information on Dead, check out – http://www.myspace.com/deadofficial

© Justin Donnelly

Monday, January 30, 2012

The Tangent - COMM

The Tangent
Inside Out Music/Century Media Records/E.M.I. Music Australia

Despite the high acclaim The Tangent receive with every new release from within the progressive rock scene and the fact that the band have throughout the years boasted some big names within their line-up (Most notably various members of The Flower Kings and Beardfish), I’ve never been their biggest fan. The band’s former releases have had their moments, but I’ve yet to find an album from the band that has retained a consistency from start to finish. So when it was announced that vocalist/guitarist/keyboardist Andy Tillison had assembled a new line-up of The Tangent and recorded a new album, I can’t so that I was expecting anything radically new. But to my complete surprise, it appears that with their seventh release ‘COMM’, Tillison and The Tangent (Who at the time comprised of Concrete Lake guitarist/vocalist Luke Machin, bassist/vocalist Jonathan Barrett, saxophonist/flutist Theo Travis and drummer Nick Rickwood) have actually put together a rather enjoyable release this time around.
As expected, The Tangent begins the album with a lengthy number - the twenty minute epic ‘The Wiki Man’. Broken into six suites, ‘The Wiki Man’ boasts several shifts in musical soundscapes and tempos, with some of the band’s jazz influences taking centre stage in place of their predominantly ‘70’s influenced progressive rock staple sound. Song wise, ‘The Wiki Man’ is well constructed, and surprisingly enough doesn’t seem anywhere near as long as it’s running time suggests (Which is something of a rarity for past epics from The Tangent), while the guitar work from Machin adds another dimension to The Tangent’s rather keyboard dominated sound. Lyrically, Tillison has always been interesting, and ‘The Wiki Man’ is no exception, with the song laying down a theme (Communication and technology of the modern world) which is carried on throughout the whole album in one form or another. But in terms of vocals, Tillison’s voice has always been the sticking point in the past. But in part with a stronger emphasis on quality song structure, on ‘The Wiki Man’, his vocals here don’t seem to irritate as much as they have done in the past - which is a pleasant surprise to say the least.
After an epic opener, the next three songs are relatively short in comparison, with ‘The Mind’s Eye’ sounding a little more guitar orientated and rock like in its delivery, and decidedly more complex and progressive based than the original version that appeared on the band’s live C.D./D.V.D. set ‘Going Off On Two’ from earlier in the year.
Elsewhere, Barrett takes on the lead vocals for the slower paced/latter day Pink Floyd-like ballad ‘Shoot Them Down’ (Which features some great guitar work from Machin), while the Jethro Tull meets E.L.P. ‘Tech Support Guy’ is a great light-hearted shorter song that one of the album’s real gems.
Finishing up the album is ‘Titanic Calls Carpathia’, which not unlike the opener, is a sixteen minute epic that is as every bit as strong as the opener both musically and lyrically, and just as eclectic with touches of rock, jazz and the orchestral drifting in and out throughout.
As I mentioned earlier, The Tangent haven’t really grabbed me in the past quite like other progressive groups. But with ‘COMM’, the band have really outdone themselves on every level, and have crafted what is easily the strongest album they’ve produced to date, and their first to actually sound like an album from The Tangent, rather than a carbon copy of their peers.

For more information on The Tangent, check out - http://www.thetangent.org/

© Justin Donnelly

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Cockfight Shootout - Asleep In Exile

Cockfight Shootout
Asleep In Exile
Impedance Records

If there were any justice in the music world, Melbourne (Warrnambool based) rock outfit Cockfight Shootout would be a whole lot bigger than what they are at this point in their career. But nothing is ever certain or assured when it comes to music, and despite having been around for more than a decade, line-up changes, unfortunate luck with labels and periods of forced hiatus has generally stalled Cockfight Shootout’s opportunity to be bigger than they should rightfully be.
But after a couple of E.P. releases (2002’s ‘Something You Don’t Need’ and 2004’s ‘Breed Until Broken’) and an endless list of gigs under their belts over their ten years together (Supporting the likes of Veruca Salt, Mondo Generator, Nashville Pussy, Monster Magnet, MC5, The Hellacopters, The Icarus Line and The Bronx), the four piece act (Who comprise of vocalist/guitarist Keelan Gallogly, guitarist Paul Clifford, bassist Wayne ‘Slattz’ Slattery and drummer Al Barber) have finally delivered their long awaited full-length debut effort ‘Asleep In Exile’.
If you needed a short few words to describe what Cockfight Shootout’s sound is, it would be a mix of Foo Fighters, Nirvana and grunge rock in general, with shades of stoner rock to shake things up. The description itself doesn’t sound all that enticing, but don’t let my mere words turn you off. Because while Cockfight Shootout is far from anything original, the songs the band have penned for ‘Asleep In Exile’ are worthy of cranking out at high volume and enjoyed purely for what they are.
The album gets off to a flying start with the band turning everything up to eleven for the opening track ‘Grey’. Big on guitar riffs, and just a hint of feedback fuzz to give the song a little rawness, ‘Grey’ is an urgent rocker that demonstrates the band’s ability to rock out, and maintain a sense of melody in harmony that is every bit as infectious as the bands that inspired them in the first place (Being Nirvana and early Foo Fighters).
‘Don’t Stray’ shows a slowing down on the speed, but showcases a greater use of dynamics in song structure with its quiet verses and big catchy noisy choruses, while ‘Named And Shamed’ and ‘Keep You Waiting’ are quite possibly the greatest songs that Nirvana never wrote or recorded around their ‘In Utero’ (1993) phase.
The quirky guitar riffs and shifts in tempo within ‘Alright Parasite’ is a cool deviation, and keeps things interesting around the middle of the album, while the slight pop edge that creeps into ‘You’re Dead Let’s Disco’, the title track ‘Asleep In Exile’ and ‘Paper Tiger’ is definitely a welcome one, and adds another dimension to the band’s sound.
Rounding out the remainder of the album are full on rock efforts, with ‘Not Your Enemy’ and ‘Milk And Vinegar’ the real stand outs.
Cockfight Shootout clearly wear their influences on their sleeves, which means that while the band’s music is solid and likeable, it’s hardly what you’d call overly original. But despite sounding similar to their influences, what the band have produced on ‘Asleep In Exile’ is so damn good, and so infectious, that you can’t help overlook the obvious and just rock out to their album purely for the fun of it.
For more information on Cockfight Shootout, check out – http://www.facebook.com/cockfightshootout

© Justin Donnelly

Maax - Unholy Rock & Roll

Unholy Rock & Roll
Abyss Records

Twelve months after releasing their stop-gap E.P. ‘Six Pack Witchcraft’, Indianapolis (U.S.) based black metal rock ‘n’ rollers Maax are back with their long awaited sophomore effort ‘Unholy Rock & Roll’. Much like the progression shown between their debut full-length effort (2009’s ‘Dawnbringer’) and their follow-up E.P., ‘Unholy Rock & Roll’ showcases another step up for the band, with their latest effort filled to the brim with ungodly rock ‘n’ roll anthems, presented in a suitable blackened manner.
The five piece outfit (Who have maintained the line-up of vocalist Tim Green, guitarist Brett Schlagel and Kyle Kreider, bassist Jeremy Starkey and drummer James Brown) get straight down to business in a menacing and speedy manner with ‘Coldest Steel’. It’s immediately clear that production values have improved greatly this time around, with the layers of suffocation heard on their last E.P. being lifted to make way for a more cutting and clearer sound. But despite the better production, there’s still plenty of rawness heard in the guitars and Green’s vocals to please fans of death ‘n’ roll. Song wise, there’s a nice array of riffs within ‘Coldest Steel’ to keep things interesting throughout, and the level of aggression on offer at the start is sure to please listeners to no end.
Shades of Venom with a little more musical ability can be heard in the straight forward attack of the follow-up track ‘Fight With Fire’, while on the title track ‘Unholy Rock & Roll’, the band tone down their satanic edge enough (Even if it’s just a little bit) to allow a bit more of their rock ‘n’ roll tendencies (Which is obvious given the song starts with the sound of a revving motorbike).
Whether it’s deliberate or not is hard to tell, but the riff structure within ‘Do What Thou Wilt’ does remind me of Mötley Crüe’s ‘Too Young To Fall In Love’ in places, while ‘Maax’ brings to mind Motörhead in both construction and lyrical content.
‘Rot ‘N’ Roll’ boasts a lot of lead work which is well done, and is by far one of the album’s catchier efforts, and for that very reason stands out as a favourite, while the blackened thrash-like ‘Overthrone’, ‘Black Thrash Em’ All’ and the mid-paced closer ‘One More Time’ are the best the remainder of the album has to offer.
There are a lot of bands on the death ‘n’ roll scene these days, and while many of them claim to offer up highly energetic death metal with a genuine rock ‘n’ roll drive, few actually deliver. Maax is the exception to the case, with their ‘Unholy Rock & Roll’ album more than living up to its name.

For more information on Maax, check out – http://www.myspace.com/maaxmetal

© Justin Donnelly

Pain Of Salvation - Road Salt Two

Pain Of Salvation
Road Salt Two
Inside Out Music/Century Media Records/E.M.I. Music Australia

Eighteen months after the release of ‘Road Salt One’ (2010), Swedish progressive rock/metal outfit Pain Of Salvation have finally unveiled the highly anticipated second half of their double album project - ‘Road Salt Two’.
As expected, ‘Road Salt Two’ is thematically and musically reminiscent of the style and direction the band presented fans on ‘Road Salt One’, which is a mix of ‘70’s inspired classic rock as performed by a band that primarily plays progressive rock. But like all Pain Of Salvation releases, ‘Road Salt Two’ is an often strange and difficult listen, and one that does take time to fully appreciate.
The four piece act (Comprising of vocalist/guitarist/bassist Daniel Gildenlöw, guitarist/backing vocalist Johan Hallgren, keyboardist Fredrik Hermansson and drummer/backing vocalist Léo Margarit) open up the album with the short orchestrated piece ‘Road Salt Theme’, which fades out to make way for a gritty and heavy guitar riff that introduces the follow-up track ‘Softly She Cries’. Sound wise, this track could have easily slotted onto the band last album without sounding out of place, which immediately makes it one of the album’s strongest and more immediate tracks. Also worthy of a mention is how the short ‘Road Salt Theme’ is incorporated into the latter half of the song. It’s an interesting twist in song writing, and just the kind of thing you would expect from Gildenlöw.
‘Conditioned’ is an up-tempo rocker that is another first favourite with its funky edge, driving riffs and great vocal performance from Gildenlöw, while ‘Healing Now’ takes on a completely different direction with its distinctly acoustic folk foundation. The songs darker edge is emphasised on the vocal/lyrical front, and combined with the intense musicianship (Especially when things speed up towards the end), it’s clear that Pain Of Salvation can turn their hand at any sound and make it their own.
The sweeping orchestral and melancholy ‘To The Shoreline’ is quite dramatic and showcases Gildenlöw’s stunning vocal range, while tracks such as ‘Eleven’, the intense drive of ‘Mortar Grind’ (Which originally appeared on the band’s ‘Linoleum’ E.P. from 2009) and ‘The Deeper Cut’ (By far one of the album’s more progressive efforts) are more centred around big guitar riffs and Gildenlöw’s unpredictable melodies and vocals.
No Pain Of Salvation album is without its quirky moments, and this time listeners are offered the short ‘Break Darling Break’ (Which reminds me of ‘Sleeping Under The Stars’ from ‘Road Salt One’ with its carnival sounding musical backdrop) and ‘Of Salt’ (Which is essentially a continuation of ‘Of Dust’ from their last album). Counter balancing these tracks is the stunningly simplistic pop genius of ‘1979’, and the gentle and emotion laden ‘Through The Distance’.
Towards the end, the band delves once again into straight-forward ‘70’s progressive rock terrain with the epic ‘The Physics Of Gridlock’, before capping the album off with the orchestrated ‘End Credits’.
Pain Of Salvation has never been the kind of band that’s easily pigeonholed into any one particular sound, with every one of their album’s presenting something completely new and unexpected for the most part. But having said that, if you enjoyed ‘Road Salt One’, you’ll definitely understand where the band takes listeners on ‘Road Salt Two’, and enjoy the journey just as much as well.

For more information on Pain Of Salvation, check out – http://www.painofsalvation.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Monday, January 23, 2012

Tony Iommi With T. J. Lammers - Iron Man: My Journey Through Heaven & Hell With Black Sabbath

Tony Iommi With T. J. Lammers
Iron Man: My Journey Through Heaven & Hell With Black Sabbath
Da Capo Press/Perseus Books Group

Black Sabbath’s story has been dissected and discussed many times over the years, by numerous writers and historians, both through articles and novels. But despite everything written, the story behind the rise of the Birmingham (U.K.) based act hasn’t yet been penned from the perspective of those who were actually a part of the group itself in memoir form. That was until recently, when vocalist Ozzy Osbourne released his own take on all things Black Sabbath and solo career wise with his autobiography ‘I Am Ozzy’ (Which was released in 2010, and co-penned by Chris Ayres). While the book was a solid read, it was a little thin in places, and came across disappointing in regards to the Black Sabbath history. So when guitarist Tony Iommi announced his own plans to put his story down in literary form, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the book and submerse myself in the true history behind one of the metal scene’s undisputed founding and most influential groups.
Years in the making, and aided by Dutch music journalist/critic T.J. Lammers, Iommi has finally unveiled his book ‘Iron Man: My Journey Through Heaven & Hell With Black Sabbath’. And the end result? Well while the book is a worthy effort, it left me wanting more – and not in the way I had hoped for.
Naturally enough, Iommi starts the long story with his childhood and his tough upbringing both at home and at school. Not much has been said about Iommi’s childhood years, and the early chapters of the book are really insightful. Of course, the story behind Iommi’s accident that threatened his dream of being a guitarist is given plenty of pages here in the book. But what’s really interesting is the story that goes beyond the accident, in which Iommi explains how much his technique changes (From modifying his guitar strings down to the way he plays the strings themselves) and how he’s had to experiment with prosthetics over the years.
From here, Iommi runs through the history of his earlier groups, and the eventual formation of Earth (Who would later be known as Black Sabbath). Iommi doesn’t get bogged down with too much detail, so the story generally moves quite quickly. But what it may lack in minor details, it makes up in straight-forwardness and humour. Iommi is a really funny storyteller, and there’s plenty of laugh out loud moments in the early chapters (And throughout the remainder of the book for that matter!).
It’s around the story of the band making their self-titled debut (Not before Iommi attempted to find a real job, and joined Jethro Tull for the briefest of periods) that the story really starts to pick up pace, and loses something with its absence of detail. Sure, Iommi packs the chapters of the original line-up with plenty of funny stories and a guide as to the events that took place in chronological order, but there’s a lot of details behind the actual making of the albums (Not to mention the stories behind the songs themselves) that is sadly absent for the diehard fan that wants to really get the full story.
Outside of the story of Black Sabbath and their music, Iommi goes into great detail behind the fame and fortune the band enjoyed as part of the original line-up, and the difficulties in keeping the band together with the influx of drugs that goes with the said success. The stories behind the making of ‘Technical Ecstasy’ (1976) and ‘Never Say Die!’ (1978), and Ozzy’s eventual parting ways with the band provides the book with some fascinating chapters, and coupled with what Iommi was going through on a personal level, it’s understandable why the albums are so different sounding to the band’s early efforts.
Plenty has been documented about the late Ronnie James Dio’s tenure with the band, but Iommi still manages to keep the chapters amusing and informative (The chapter entitled ‘Ignition’ is absolute gold!), as too is Iommi’s take on what eventually led  the end of Dio’s time with the group.
Some of the best stories are unsurprisingly around the time of ‘Born Again’ (1983), when Deep Purple’s Ian Gillan took on the role as front man. Tales of excessive drinking, getting trashed, miniature Stonehenge stage sets and the use of bongos during live performances are just some of the more over the top stories contained within.
It’s around here, a little over the halfway mark that the Black Sabbath story gets a little darker and confusing, and where Iommi’s book gets really interesting. The succession of vocalists that took on the front man role (Glenn Hughes, the late Ray Gillan and Tony Martin) is explained in a forthright manner, and sheds a whole new light on Black Sabbath’s lost years, for those who have always wanted to know the real story behind the continual line-up changes.
Ever present is Iommi’s personal story, where tales of financial troubles (Both personally and band wise), girlfriends, family and drugs flesh out the Black Sabbath story, and help paint a portrait of where Iommi was at in the late ‘80’s, and how he did everything to keep the band afloat against all odds.
Towards the tail end of the book, Iommi touches upon the Tony Martin era of the band without going into too much detail, but does concede that the return of Dio (For 1992’s ‘Dehumanizer’) was a great idea at the time, but counterproductive given that the line-up was short lived, and that the band’s final album ‘Forbidden’ (1995) was nothing short of crap.
As expected, the remainder of the book is filled with Iommi’s more recent happenings, including marriage (To Maria Sjöholm, of DRAIN S.T.H.), surgery on his wrist, collaborations with Glenn Hughes, Gillan and Dio, the untimely death of Dio and the possibility of a Black Sabbath reunion with  all four original members (Which has since been confirmed as going ahead).
Iommi has many stories to tell within ‘Iron Man: My Journey Through Heaven & Hell With Black Sabbath’, and all of them are a riveting read. My only real concern is that while I really enjoyed the book, it was a little light on in terms of details when it came to talking about the music.
Diehard fans will get something out of this book, but not anywhere as much as casual fans will, which means that while it is an enjoyable (Not to mention easy as well) read, just don’t go expecting this to be the definitive word on all things Black Sabbath.

For more information on Tony Iommi, check out – http://www.iommi.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Rush - Time Machine 2011: Live In Cleveland

Time Machine 2011: Live In Cleveland
Anthem Film & Television Productions Inc./Eagle Vision/Eagle Rock Entertainment

Few acts have embraced D.V.D. technology quite like Canadian progressive/hard rock trio Rush, with no less than three full-length concert D.V.D.’s (Excluding re-releases) emerging from the band in less than a decade. In celebration of their most recent ‘Time Machine’ tour (Which saw the band out on the road from 2010 and the early part of 2011), Rush (Who comprise of vocalist/bassist Geddy Lee, guitarist Alex Lifeson, and drummer Neil Peart) have returned with something new for fans.
Filmed on April 15th 2011 at the Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena, ‘Time Machine 2011: Live In Cleveland’ is conclusive proof that Rush still have what it takes to keep audiences coming back time and time again.
With each and every one of the band’s D.V.D.’s seeming to up the ante in terms of perfectly capturing the essence of a Rush concert, there were a lot of expectations from fans towards this latest release. And not surprisingly, with directors Sam Dunn and Scot McFadyen calling the shots (The same team that presented fans with the phenomenal documentary ‘Rush: Beyond The Lighted Stage’ back in 2010), ‘Time Machine 2011: Live In Cleveland’ is another stunning visual feast from the legendary trio.
So what separates the D.V.D. from the countless others Rush have released in their time? Well, not a real lot in truth. I mean there’s only so much you can do onstage different from tour to tour. But what you can do is present it in a different way. And that’s where both Rush and the directors have excelled over 2008’s ‘Snakes & Arrows Live’. Everything from the lavish stage set-up (Which is an absolute feast for the eyes to say the least), right through to the captured footage of the band in action is unlike anything presented on a Rush D.V.D. The directors have beautifully shot all the members of the band at just the right moments, with plenty of up-close shots (Including plenty of Peart) to emphasise the dominant and key part of any given song (Whether it be a particular riff, a drum fill or a bass run). The editing is has been quite tastefully executed, and compliments the performance from the band perfectly. There are also plenty of visuals on the huge backdrop, and not to mention lights all over the place, and when you combine those with great live shots, awesome sound and plenty of interactive shots of the crowd, flaws are near next to none.
In terms of the set list, Rush have wisely chosen to get their selections a bit of a shuffle, with the first half of the show boasting some classics cuts (‘The Spirit Of Radio’, the under-rated ‘Marathon’, ‘Freewill’ and ‘Subdivisions’), some recent favourites (‘Workin’ Them Angels’, ‘Leave That Thing Alone’ and ‘Faithless’) and some revisited gems (‘Presto’ and ‘Stick It Out’). While Lee’s vocals show a bit of wear and tear in places (Especially on ‘Time Stand Still’, which really stands out on the Roadrunner Records soundtrack of the show), the band still has plenty in the tank – which is evident in their newer track ‘BU2B’ (which is otherwise known as ‘Brought Up To Believe’).
Of course, the real highlight of the show is the band’s performance of their classic 1981 album ‘Moving Pictures’ in its entirety. Of course, classics from the album have been performed countless times in the past, and featured on the band’s more recent D.V.D. efforts. But the magic in seeing the album performed in its entirety from start to finish, which is nothing short of stunning. In terms of highlights, ‘The Camera Eye’ and ‘Vital Signs’ are real stand outs.
Finishing up the D.V.D. is the third part of the concert, which sees the band throw in another new effort in ‘Caravan’ (Which, alongside ‘BU2B’, will appear on their next studio effort ‘Clockwork Angels’), as well as highlights such as ‘O’Malley’s Break’ (Lifeson’s acoustic introductory piece to ‘Closer To The Heart’), Peart’s drum solo (‘Moto Perpetuo’/‘Love For Sale’), ‘La Villa Strangiato’ (Which is given a polka intro) and the reggae introduced ‘Working Man’ (With reggae intro).
In terms of extras, ‘Time Machine 2011: Live In Cleveland’ doesn’t have as much to offer as some of Rush’s more recent offerings, but it does have some great comedy sketches from the trio, which are as hilarious and offbeat as those seen on the ‘Snakes & Arrows Live’ D.V.D. The intro video ‘The ‘Real’ History Of Rush: Episode No. 2 ‘Don’t Be Rash’’) is absolutely hilarious, with Lifeson stealing the show. He’s a great guitarist, but as a comedian, he’s a genius!
Elsewhere, the band reprises their comedy routine on the intermission piece ‘The ‘Real’ History Of Rush: Episode No. 17 ‘...And Rock And Roll Is My Name’’, while Lou Pomanti’s various re-workings ‘The Spirit Of Radio’ and ‘Closer To The Heart’ (Which is featured at the end credits) are a whole lot of fun.
Additionally, there’s eight minutes of outtakes from the band’s comedy sketches (Geddy’s joke about the lead vocalist’s nose is great!), along with a 1974 performance of ‘Need Some Love’ from Laura Second Secondary School (Featuring original drummer John Rutsey) and ‘Anthem’ from Passaic, New Jersey in 1976. Both seem a little out of place here as extras, but are great nonetheless.
Overall, whether you’re a diehard fan or a newcomer, Rush’s ‘Time Machine 2011: Live In Cleveland’ is a worthy addition to anyone’s collection.

For more information on Rush, check out – http://www.rush.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Astrofaes - Dying Emotions Domain

Dying Emotions Domain
Negative Existence

The Ukraine doesn’t exactly boast the biggest metal scene, but they have one nonetheless. And while their scene hasn’t produced any acts that have gone on to become household names, there’s plenty that have made an impression within the underground scene. One band that’s enjoyed considerable critical acclaim from the cult underground scene is Kharkiv based act black metal Astrofaes, who have over their thirteen years in existence, produced no less than seven full-length albums, an E.P. and a live D.V.D.
While the band busy themselves with a new Astrofaes release (Alongside immersing themselves in their various side projects), U.S. label Negative Existence have managed to fill the void of inactivity with the long overdue re-release of the band’s second full-length effort ‘Dying Emotions Domain’.
Originally released on cassette through Oriana Productions way back in 1998, and later released on C.D. through the French label Chanteloup Creations in 2001 (Which was just prior to the label closing their doors), ‘Dying Emotions Domain’ has long been out of print, and highly sought after by black metal collectors the world over. But with this re-release from Negative Existence, Astrofaes’ hard to find second album has been resurrected for all to rediscover.
Sound wise, Astrofaes (Who at the time comprised of vocalist Dalver, guitarist Thurios, bassist Khorus, guest keyboardist Saturious and drummer Khaoth) are primarily labelled as a black metal band. But the truth is that while there’s no mistaking the band’s lo-fi, bleak black metal stance, there’s no mistaking the progressive elements within the band’s song writing as well, with the band showcasing on several levels their willingness to experiment and push their take on the black metal sound.
After a brief keyboard/sound effects based introductory piece (‘The Black Woods Theory’), the band get the album underway in a fast and aggressive manner with ‘Fiery Mysticism’. Despite running for a little over nine minutes, the song itself keeps the listener engaged throughout, with the band incorporating plenty of diverse riffs and tempo changes to keep things varied, while the use of keyboards and eerie soundscapes in the quitter moments allow the band to utilise atmospherics to emphasise their progressive sides to great effect.
Following in a similar direction to that of ‘Fiery Mysticism’ are tracks such as ‘At Nightfall’ and the title track ‘Dying Emotions Domain’, while the band’s cover of Celtic Frost’s ‘Necromantical Screams’ (From 1985’s ‘To Mega Therion’) is a little more straight forward black metal, but fits well with the other material.
Two tracks that definitely stand apart from the pack are ‘Path To Burning Space’ and ‘Ad Infinitum (Dark II)’. On the former, the band head along an unconventional path with the saxophone (Provided by V. Stavropolskiy) giving the song a bit of a Viking feel, while the latter features a very upfront keyboard mix on the introduction - something altogether different and unusual sounding.
Despite claims made about the album’s recent remaster, the sound on this C.D. re-release sounds like it was lifted straight from a cassette that was in excellent condition. But despite this, the lavish packaging and the quality of the songs throughout really do make ‘Dying Emotions Domain’ worthy of hunting down.

For more information on Astrofaes, check out - http://www.astrofaes.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Sort By Title - Independent Process

Sort By Title
Independent Process
Independent Release

‘Independent Process’ is the debut E.P. effort from new outfit Sort By Title, who have been coined as ‘Sweden’s answer to Suicide Silence’. Given my general dislike for Suicide Silence, and the whole metalcore genre in general, I wasn’t expecting to be blown away by Sort By Title’s first offering. But having said that, I was willing to give the young four piece act a chance, and let their music do the talking before passing judgement.
All I can say is that even after giving the E.P. several listens, I’m not entirely amazed by Sort By Title’s offering, but I’m not completely disappointed either. Instead, ‘Independent Process’ is the kind of effort that is O.K., but not the sort of release you’d consider an essential purchase.
The opening track ‘Into The Depths’ is one of the E.P.’s stronger tracks, with the band (Comprising of vocalist Adam Hennings, guitarist Christoffer ‘Ciffe’ Tönnäng, bassist Robin ‘Rimbo’ Lindberg and drummer Marcus ‘Mackan’ Gustafsson) delivering a thumping and groove based mid-paced metallic number that seems to be rooted in the tried and true metalcore mould, but with a touch of European melodic death metal thrown in to make things just that more interesting. It works for the most part, and the occasional vocal line from Martina Sandström (Of pop punk/rock outfit Timeless) certainly helps to break up the monotony of the track’s fairly straight forward aggression. Overall, this song isn’t all that bad.
The follow-up track ‘Betrayed By The Sun’ is a solid song, with the use of atmospheric breaks within the songs aggressive metalcore sound allowing the song to breathe (Not to mention keep the listener a little more interested), while ‘Revelation Sign’ (The first song to be given the promotional video treatment) is one of the songs that best illustrated the band’s ability to take the metalcore sound and add a distinctly melodic death metal feel over the top to create something different.
On ‘Insanity’, the keyboards are given a bit more of a push, and when combined with the level of aggression the band put into the song, comes across as something like a mix of Mnemic or Chimaira in places. It’s another solid effort, but seems to lack a little something to really make it jump out at you in the way it should. And while it may have seemed like a good idea at the time, the brief breakdown in the middle (Which sounds like industrialised keyboards and some brief spoken words from Sandström) just isn’t anywhere near as effective as I had hoped.
Finishing up the E.P. is ‘Stuck On A Curb’, which is by far the most straight-forward sounding metalcore number, and as such is quite different from the rest of the E.P. Featuring guest vocal contributions from Fred Hunger (Who is the front man of hardcore outfit I Am Hunger), ‘Stuck On A Curb’ is a good tune, but just seems out of place on the E.P. in some ways, and provides a confused close to the E.P.
‘Independent Process’ isn’t the most mind-blowing effort I’ve ever come across, but it’s far from the worst. In the end, Sort By Title are an interesting outfit, but one that haven’t quite found their true calling in terms of sound and song writing.
It’ll be interesting to see where the band go from here, but in the meantime, the band do have a bit of work to do before they can look forward to a real future in the music scene.

For more information on Sort By Title, check out – http://www.myspace.com/sortbytitle

© Justin Donnelly

We Are Killing Ourselves - The Road Of Awareness

We Are Killing Ourselves
The Road Of Awareness
Rastilho Records

Four years after the release of their debut full-length effort ‘Deconstructive Essence’ (Which was released through Recital Records), Portuguese based outfit We Are Killing Ourselves (A.K.A. W.A.K.O.) are back with their long awaited sophomore effort ‘The Road Of Awareness’. And it doesn’t fail to deliver one bit.
Although the five piece act (Who currently comprise of vocalist Nuno Rodrigues, guitarists João Pedro and André Sobral, bassist André Landeck and drummer Bruno Guilherme) showed a lot of promise on their debut, it was always going to be their follow-up that determined whether or not the band were truly capable of taking on challenges of stepping up their game. And sure enough, the band has done just that, as evident in the opening track from their latest effort ‘The Shape Of Perfection’.
Opting for a somewhat slower paced opener, after a lengthy intro ‘The Shape Of Perfection’ proves itself to be a huge sounding track that showcases the band’s ability to produce huge grooves in the vein of Lamb Of God, but with a progressive edge in the guitar riffing that brings to mind a cross between Meshuggah and Gojira. It’s an interesting mix of sounds and influences, but one that works in giving off a menacing and aggressive feel throughout, all the while retaining a strong sense of groove that’s both catchy and infectious.
The follow-up track ‘Ship Of Fools’ is on a little more familiar ground for the band with its added metallic edge on the guitar front and the odd interjection of Djent effects dotted throughout, while ‘Dissonant Dark Dance’ sees the band experimenting more on moody atmospherics within the song, which gives the overall effect of broadening their sound well beyond their former groove/melodic death metal foundation.
From here, the album rarely falls below the standard established with the first three tracks, with songs such as ‘Drifting Beyond Reality’ (One of my personal favourites on the album with its powerful choruses and crushing and intricate riffing), the speedy and technically inclined ‘The Shadows Collapse Within’, ‘Intersected To A Closer Premonition’ (Which brings to mind early Machine Head) and the lengthy closer ‘Coronation Of Existence’ (Where Rodrigues actually provides some clean vocals that really work well, and the guitars shine with some great melodic leads) highlighted as the album’s stand out cuts.
While some of the songs are a little on the longer side (Which inevitably means the album is a little too long as a whole), overall ‘The Road Of Awareness’ is a really impressive second effort from We Are Killing Ourselves, and one that fans of the groove metal genre should check out.

For more information on We Are Killing Ourselves, check out - http://www.myspace.com/wakoplanet

© Justin Donnelly

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Single Bullet Theory - IV

Single Bullet Theory
Goomba Music

Long running Philadelphia (Pennsylvania, U.S.) act Single Bullet Theory has weathered everything imaginable in their eleven year existence, including numerous line-up changes, changes in musical paths, different labels and even a stint of inactivity (The band disbanded in 2008, only to be reactivated later the same year). But despite this, vocalist/guitarist Matt Difablo (Ex-Pissing Razors) has kept the band afloat, and managed to release no less than three albums with his group over their decade long existence.
Four years after the release of their last full-length effort ‘On Broken Wings’ (Released through Crash Music), Difablo has assembled an entirely new line-up of Single Bullet Theory (Who aside from Difablo, also comprise of ex-Insatanity/Polterchrist guitarist/vocalist Dan Loughry, guitarist John Ruszin III, bassist Jeff Kalber and ex-Dark Avenger/Vougan drummer Acácio Carvalho), and released a new full-length effort under the simple moniker of ‘IV’.
Both fans and press alike have always had a bit of a love/hate relationship with Single Bullet Theory, which hasn’t always worked in the band’s favour. But after a lengthy four years, I was keen to see if the time away had allowed the band to solidify their song writing to a point where they might be able to convince those who hadn’t otherwise seen eye to eye with the band’s musical path. But as the old saying goes, a leopard can’t change its spots. And as expected, ‘IV’ is another scattered effort that seems to encompass a lot of ground, and yet doesn’t seem really conquer much overall in the end.
The opening track ‘Echoes Of The Past’ is something a little unexpected from the band, with the heavier thrash-like direction of the song itself something you wouldn’t have expected from the band’s past in a million years. But while the heavier direction is a welcome one, the mix of the melodic, the growled and higher end vocals simply don’t sound in perfect harmony, which only leaves the listener cringing at the end result. Production wise, there are also problems, with some of the timing sounding a little out, and the overall mix sounding poor at best. In the end, while there are some good ideas within the track, yet the execution and sound really let the song down.
Sound problems of the former still persist through the follow-up track ‘What Have I’ (And the rest of the album for that matter), but the vocals from Difablo seem to cater more towards what the track actually needs rather than doing something different for the sake of doing something different, while ‘The Wake Of Betrayal’ manages to capitalise on the strengths of the former, but ultimately comes undone by overstaying its welcome by at least three minutes.
Talking of overstaying your welcome, the lengthy ten minute ‘Auctioneer Of Souls’ is another case of some really great ideas pushed to the point of excess, and suffering because of it. Boasting some twenty guitar solos (Including contributions from ex-Nevermore/Sanctuary guitarist Jeff Loomis, King Diamond axeman Pete Blakk, producer/ex-Obituary/Testament/Death shredder James Murphy, Tim Roth of Into Eternity, Rob Zombie/Scum Of The Earth guitarist Mike Riggs, Seven Witches’ Jack Frost and Strapping Young Lad/Zimmers Hole/Tenet legend Jed Simon), the song will certainly appeal to those who love endless guitar solos, but will bore those quickly who want a little more variation from a six string shred-fest from start to finish.
Unfortunately, the remainder of the album doesn’t fare much better, with only the power metal based ‘Leviathan Smiles’, the gothic rock vibe of ‘Letting Go’, and the two bus tracks at the tail end (The cover of Death’s ‘Spirit Crusher’ and the groovier thrash like ‘The Hurt That Never Ends’) standing out as worthy tracks.
I can appreciate, and even applaud any band that’s willing to think outside the box in terms of style, direction and song writing to create an album that’s anything but predictable. But only wholeheartedly if they can pull it off. Single Bullet Theory just doesn’t manage to pull it off.
‘IV’ does have its moments, but for me, it just doesn’t have enough consistent themes and ideas, or enough flow to make the album enjoyable as a whole.
With a real producer and mixer, and a solidified line-up to really formulate a sound that sounds cohesive, Single Bullet Theory could really produce something worthy with their next full-length release. But until then, the love/hate relationship amongst most will not only persist, but reinforce the reason why it exists in the first place.

For more information on Single Bullet Theory, check out - http://www.myspace.com/singlebullettheory

© Justin Donnelly

Voyager - The Meaning Of I

The Meaning Of I
Riot! Entertainment/Warner Music Distribution

Over the course of three full-length efforts, long running Perth (Western Australia) based outfit Voyager have forged a unique sound for themselves, which in term has earned considerable praise and success both nationally and internationally. Two years after the release of ‘I Am The ReVolution’, the five piece act (Comprising of vocalist/keyboardist/founder Daniel ‘Nephil’ Estrin, guitarists Simone Dow and Scott Kay, bassist/vocalist Alex Canion and drummer Mark Boeijen) has returned with their fourth and latest effort ‘The Meaning Of I’. And as expected, it’s another magnificent melodic metal album that sounds unlike anyone else within the Australian metal scene.
Having firmly established their sound over their last couple of releases, I really didn’t expect Voyager to present any real monumental shifts in sound and style with ‘The Meaning Of I’. And sure enough, there are no surprises here that give you the impression that this album is something completely different from what you would otherwise expect from Voyager. But having said that, the song writing here is so strong that you could forgive the band for finding it hard to improve upon perfection.
The opening track ‘Momentary Relapse Of Pain’ sees the band getting the album off to a heavier start, with the guitar riffing taking on higher prominence within the mix, while the underpinning progressive sounding keyboards provide plenty of constant support. But Voyager’s music has always been about strong song writing above anything else, and in that respect, the biggest factor on ‘Momentary Relapse Of Pain’ is the strong use of melodic chorus hooks and Estrin’s soaring vocals. All up, this song is a perfect introduction to Voyager’s latest effort.
Veering a little more towards the catchier side of their song writing, ‘Stare Into The Night’ and ‘Broken’ are infectious tunes that are near impossible to forget after a couple of spins, while tracks such as ‘Seize The Day’, the title track ‘The Meaning Of I’ and the heavier and driving closer ‘Are You Shaded?’ lean more towards the metallic and aggressive side of things (Especially with the occasional death growl to liven things up here and there), without losing any of the melodic charm of the band’s core song writing and overall sound.
But while most of ‘The Meaning Of I’ is fairly typical of what we’ve come to expect from Voyager these days, the album does have a couple of interesting new twists to offer listeners.
Former Tesseract vocalist Daniel Tompkins helps out briefly on the progressively edged ‘The Pensive Disarray’ (Which features some outstanding and emotive guitar work), while Royal Hunt front man D.C. Cooper adds his distinctive pipes to the powerful ‘Fire Of The Times’.
Elsewhere, the band pays tribute to the late Type O Negative/Carnivore vocalist Pete Steele on the truly awesome ‘Iron Dream (In Memoriam: Peter Steele)’ and the short ‘It’s Time To Know’, where the band manage to pull off the Type O Negative sound to perfection.
Over the band’s lengthy career, Voyager have notably improved and strengthened with each and every new album. And as expected, ‘The Meaning Of I’ is no different. While the steps forward in terms of song writing and shifts in sound aren’t quite as noticeable as they were between their other albums, it’s really an issue, because as I mentioned earlier, it’s damn near impossible to improve upon perfection. ‘The Meaning Of I’ is the exception to that rule. Simply put, this is Voyager’s best effort yet.

For more information on Voyager, check out - http://www.voyager-australia.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Monday, January 16, 2012

Duff McKagan - It’s So Easy (And Other Lies): The Autobiography

Duff McKagan
It’s So Easy (And Other Lies): The Autobiography
Orion Books/Hachette Media

When it comes to the Guns N’ Roses story, there isn’t that much to be said that hasn’t already been said. After all, tell-all biographies telling the rise and fall (And rise once again) of the legendary L.A. based act has already been covered in all its vivid and gory detail by authors such as Stephen Davis (2008’s ‘Watch You Bleed: The Saga Of Guns N’ Roses’) and Mick Wall (2007’s ‘W. Axl Rose: The Unauthorised Biography’), and not to mention from countless other writers throughout the years.
That’s not taking into account the fact that both former guitarist Slash and former drummer Steve Adler have themselves penned autobiographies telling their side of the story for readers in recent years (2007’s ‘Slash’ and 2010’s ‘My Appetite For Destruction: Sex, And Drugs, And Guns N’ Roses’ respectively). So when former bassist Duff McKagan announced his plans to lay down his side of the story in autobiographical form, I can’t say that I was desperate to rush out to the stores and buy it on its day of release. But as it so happens, having just finished my current read at the time, I found myself purchasing a copy of McKagan’s self-penned ‘It’s So Easy (And Other Lies): The Autobiography’, purely because there simply wasn’t anything else that really grabbed my attention. And despite my initial scepticism, I’m pleased to report that I’m damned glad I did.
Autobiographies seem to be all the rage these days, and more often than not, they’re simply an extended biography that fleshes out the human side of the subject, rather than keep the story balanced with the musical side of things of those involved. McKagan’s story is definitely one of the more balanced tomes I’ve read in years.
McKagan strangely enough begins his story in August 2010, where him and his wife are holding a backyard birthday party for his daughter Grace, who’s turning thirteen. It’s a short prologue into the autobiography, but it’s an entertaining one that shows that despite overcoming the many addictions that plagued a large part of his life, and being a member of one of the biggest (And notoriously dangerous) bands from the late ‘90’s, one of his biggest challenges today is not only being a father, but one that doesn’t in any way, shape or form, want to embarrass his daughter by being seen in the backyard, and who instead is happy to retreat inside the house to enjoy the party from a distance. It’s a funny story, but more importantly a genuinely touching one as well, and one that most parents with children of the same age can definitely relate to. McKagan might be a rock legend, but he’s also a loving parent who will sacrifice himself rather than embarrass his kids in front of their friends.
The prologue obviously serves as a precursor to the real story, and gives the book its premise where McKagan gets to thinking about his past, but only as far as the day when his demons (Not to mention his mortal frame) finally caught up with him, and he recounts the story behind his near-fatal pancreatic explosion in 1994. There’s nothing glamorous here within the first chapter, and McKagan tells it as it was, without pulling any punches.
From here, McKagan takes the reader back to the start of the story (Making a minor detour to the time when he almost died as a small kid, and leaving Seattle for the big time of L.A.), detailing his time growing up, his first musical influences, his family and the bands that helped shape and pave his way into musical stardom.
While the story is a fairly standard one of a musician fighting to make ends meet, all the while awaiting the opportunity to really make it in a real band destined for glory, McKagan’s recount of his life story really does have something to say more than most, and that’s a human story. Throughout every page, you can’t help but feel that while McKagan did go on to find fame and fortune in Guns N’ Roses, it’s only secondary to the real story of how he actually got there in the first place.
The book, while an easy read, is far too lengthy to detail here in all its magnificent glory. But the story McKagan’s takes the reader on details the rise and eventual fall of Guns N’ Roses (Where he himself takes on same of the blame due to a lack of open communication alongside his fellow band members), his failed first marriage (Where again he looks at himself, and not with kind regard) and the toll that drugs and alcohol took on him both mentally and physically (There’s an incredible picture in the middle of the book entitled ‘Bloated And Hopeless’ that really proves how bad things were at the time), and the denial that that he lived in for years (Especially throughout the early ‘90’s touring behind ‘Use Your Illusion I’ and ‘II’) before things finally came to a head in 1994.
For the most part, ‘It’s So Easy (And Other Lies): The Autobiography’ is pretty much everything what you would expect from a McKagan autobiography. But around the last third of the book, McKagan does something a lot of people don’t do in circumstances like these (Meaning rock stars writing autobiographies), and that’s detail what happened after hitting rock bottom. It’s here that McKagan really tells his story, and about his slow and gradual process of coming back into the real world through sobriety, and how he once again found the balls to again play music – and more importantly tour without fear of falling into the depths of addiction.
Although it isn’t generally my kind of thing, I couldn’t help but get swept up in the latter half of the book, and McKagan’s growing optimistic outlook on life after reconnecting with the simple things in life, and dedicating himself totally towards martial arts and cycling.
McKagan’s book is filled with a story that has all the essential ingredients to make it an addictive and easy read, and that’s tragedy, sorrow, remorse and an uplifting end where the protagonist (Being McKagan himself) finally defies the odds stacked against him to rise once again, stronger, wiser than ever before, and sober for the first time ever.
In the end, I don’t really feel like I’ve done justice to ‘It’s So Easy (And Other Lies): The Autobiography’. But if you’re after a great read on Guns N’ Roses from an insider’s perspective, and one that has a whole lot of human heart, some funny stories and leaves you feeling satisfied after completion, then look no further than this book.

For more information on Duff McKagan, check out - http://www.duff-loaded.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Mhorgl - Heresiarch

Sovereign Records/Green Media Distribution

Perth (Western Australia) based blackened death metal act Mhorgl aren’t the most well-known extreme metal act on the scene, despite having already released two previous full-length efforts to their name (Namely 2007’s ‘The Sacrificial Flame’ and 2010’s ‘Antinomian’, both of which were independently released). But if their third and latest release ‘Heresiarch’ is anything to go by, Mhorgl is surely destined to make a name for themselves in no time as one of the country’s best kept secrets within the underground extreme metal scene.
Having impressed me with the growth and progression the band made between their first and second full-length efforts (Their debut sounding very raw, akin to Darkthrone and Aura Noir, and their sophomore effort sounding far more polished, modern and focussed), I was keen to see where Mhorgl would take their next step musically. And after giving the album several spins, it’s clear to see (And hear) that the four piece act (Comprising of vocalist Sam Moretta, ex-Tyrant/Infected guitarist Robert Thorpe, ex-Tyrant/Infected/The Furor guitarist/bassist James Campbell and ex-Pathogen/The Furor/Impiety drummer Louis Rando) have once again broadened their blasphemous sound further into the melodic side of black metal, without losing any of the intensity and extremity of their former releases.
The opening track ‘Inheriting The Mantle Of Power’ immediately grabs the listener by the throat from the moment it starts, and doesn’t let go of its powerful grip for a single moment throughout its near five minute duration. The band serves up an uncompromising blast of modern influenced black metal, with speed and technical proficiency that showcases the depth of experience from all those involved. While the track is a long one, there are enough twists and changes in riff structures and tempos to keep things interesting, even if the vocals can be a little one-dimensional after a while.
While the opening track is undoubtedly a highlight in its own right, it’s tracks like the progressive tinged ‘Ophidian Legacy’, the blackened thrash ‘n’ roll of ‘Black Wolf Militia’ and ‘Ravenous Wargod’ (Which is a personal favourite of this writers), and the slower and calculated groove within ‘Fallen’ where the band show some push towards the more uncharted territory in the song writing sense, which really allows ‘Heresiarch’ to stand out from the band’s former releases.
Of course, that’s not to say that the band has completely forsaken the sound they produced on ‘Antinomian’, with the epic ‘Impiety Storm’, ‘Terror Manifesto’ and ‘Purity’ pulverising the listener into completely submission – much in the same way of the opening track.
In terms of negatives, ‘Heresiarch’ has few, but some nonetheless. The four acoustic instrumental pieces (‘The Seed Of Rebellion’, ‘Hostis Humani Generis’, ‘Soliloquy’ and ‘The Hubris Of The Departed’) don’t mesh well with some of the more extreme material, and in fact make the album seem much longer that what it actually is. The only other point is that over the course of the entire album, Moretta’s vocals can become a little monotonous.
Minor quibbles aside, Mhorgl has really put together a strong album with ‘Heresiarch’, and one that builds upon the strength shown on ‘Antinomian’, and taken those steps further into the unknown with great results.
If you’re looking for something a little more on the obscure side of things within the Australian metal scene, then look no further than Mhorgl’s latest effort.

For more information on Mhorgl, check out - http://www.mhorgl.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Friday, January 13, 2012

Anathema - Falling Deeper

Falling Deeper
Kscope Music

When Liverpool (U.K.) act Anathema announced plans to record acoustic reinterpretations of older tracks back in 2008, I can’t say that I was all that enthused. After all, the whole unplugged concept had been done so many times before, and I really couldn’t see the point of Anathema heading down a path that had well and truly been travelled down so many times before. But to my complete surprise, not only the resulting album ‘Hindsight’ completely amazed me, but it showed that the band could actually do something new with the whole unplugged format, and in the process present fans with something entirely new and different.
It’s been three years since then, and after releasing their absolutely stunning 2010 effort ‘We’re Here Because We’re Here’ (Which took the honour of best album of the year from yours truly), the five piece act (Comprising of vocalist/guitarist Vincent Cavanagh, guitarist/vocalist/keyboardist Danny Cavanagh, vocalist Lee Douglas, bassist Jamie Cavanagh and drummer John Douglas) have returned with a rather quick follow-up release in ‘Falling Deeper’. And as expected, it’s something a little unexpected, and every bit as brilliant as you would expect it to be. In a lot of ways, ‘Falling Deeper’ is a sequel to ‘Hindsight’, but completely different. What I mean is that while ‘Hindsight’ was filled with acoustic reinterpretations of older songs, this latest effort sees the band revising some of their past efforts, and reinterpreting them in orchestral form with The London Session Orchestra.
Again, I was sceptical of whether the band could not only do justice to their older material, but also whether they could do something that hadn’t been done before. But after listening to the album, I can only say that I should never have doubted the band for one moment.
‘Crestfallen’ (The title track from the band’s debut E.P. in 1992) provides an interesting start to the album, with this version cut down quite significantly from the original by some seven minutes. Having said that, the piano intro is still present, and the instrumentation that follows still retains the same melodies of the original, only heavily orchestrated to tie in with the band’s more recent sound heard on ‘We’re Here Because We’re Here’ (Including the vocals, which weave in and out in an almost dream-like manner), as opposed to the doom/death metal sound of old. Some may find this reworked effort a little too different, but newcomers will enjoy this track to no end.
‘Sleep In Sanity’ (From the band’s debut full-length effort ‘Serenades’ from 1993), much like the opener, is radically reworked to tie in with their current musical direction, all the while retaining the core elements of the original. But despite this, the song sounds entirely fresh and different, and could otherwise be mistaken for something entirely new if you weren’t paying close attention.
‘Kingdom’ (From their 1995 E.P. ‘Pentecost III’) is quite stirring, with the strings generally rising to prominence around the middle fading gently away around the tail end, while the instrumentals ‘They Die’ (From ‘Crestfallen’), ‘J’ai Fait Une Promesse’ (Which translates to ‘I Made A Promise’, and comes from ‘Serenades’) and ‘We, The Gods’ (From ‘Pentecost III’) take on more atmospheric and ambient tones, which ties in perfectly with the band’s last album.
One of the real highlights on the album is ‘Everwake’ (From ‘Crestfallen’), which features a beautiful guest vocal performance from Anneke Van Giersbergen (Ex-The Gathering), while ‘Alone’ (Lifted from 1995’s ‘The Silent Enigma’) is stretched well beyond its original running length to really emphasise the band’s use of acoustic guitars. Finishing up the album is ‘Sunset Of Age’ (Again, from ‘The Silent Enigma’), which is where the band have undoubtedly saved the best for last. Quite simply, this song is an absolute masterpiece here in its revised form, and showcases just how the band and the orchestra can really work together to make something quite special.
It would seem that at this point in their career, Anathema simply can’t set a foot wrong. Each and every one of the band’s releases has seen the band take chances and push the sound towards completely new directions, which has meant that the band have always had something new to offer every time (Which is not something that can be said for a lot of bands).
After the magnificence of ‘We’re Here Because We’re Here’, I was curious to see where the band would go next, and whether they could actually do anything that rivalled the album. ‘Falling Deeper’ puts paid to any doubt, because while it’s certainly different and unexpected, it’s also another magnificent masterpiece.

For more information on Anathema, check out - http://www.anathema.ws/

© Justin Donnelly

Nile - Worship The Animal - 1994: The Lost Recordings

Worship The Animal - 1994: The Lost Recordings
Goomba Music

Within the death metal scene, Greenville (South Carolina, U.S.) based outfit Nile have earned their place as one of the scene’s leaders, with all of their six full-length albums to date all garnishing critical acclaim from both fans and critics alike through the ability to combine technicality and brutality that pushes the extremity of the death metal mould, and their innovative use of Egyptian/middle-eastern sounds and influences throughout their song writing.
For most, Nile’s history begins with the release of their debut full-length album ‘Amongst The Catacombs Of Nephren-Ka’, which emerged in 1998 through Relapse Records. But for diehard fans, the real beginnings of Nile started some four years prior, when the three piece act (Comprising at the time of guitarist/keyboardist/vocalist Karl Sanders, vocalist/bassist Chief Spires and drummer/vocalist Pete Hammoura) had been honing their sound and style for the better part of a year together, and finally decided the time was right to release their self-titled cassette demo in 1994.
Fast forward some twenty-seven years later, and Goomba Music has decided to re-release Nile’s demo on C.D. for the very first time for diehard fans – this time under the name ‘Worship The Animal - 1994: The Lost Recordings’.
The keyword when describing this five track E.P. is diehard, because unless you’re an absolute diehard fan of the band, there’s really not likely going to be much on offer here that makes you want to come back time and time again. The real problem with ‘Worship The Animal - 1994: The Lost Recordings’ isn’t so much that it’s a bad batch of songs, or that it has a poor production (On the contrary, it actually sounds better than some bands official releases!), or that the band can’t play their instruments (That’s certainly not the case here). The problem is that the Nile sound presented here on their demo back in 1994 has very little with what the band presented some four years later. In other words, this is Nile, but certainly not as the Nile you’ve come accustomed to over the years.
The opening track ‘Le Chant Du Cygre’ gives you a clear indication of where the band’s sound was at in 1994, and surprisingly enough, it has more in common with thrash than it does with death metal. That’s not to say that it doesn’t have its death metal elements, but for the most part, it’s brutal thrash. Another striking characteristic of difference is Spires’ vocals. Unlike his deep death growl of later releases, his singing here is predominantly of the clean/growled kind, which only emphasis the thrash-like direction.
The title track ‘Worship The Animal’ shows the band incorporating some clean vocalised chanting in the background, and bit more aggression and death-like growls from Spires, but this groove metal based track still has more in common with Pantera or Meshuggah than Nile circa 1998.
‘Nepenthe’ is probably as close song writing wise as the band get to the direction they would take in their future (Especially in terms of the sluggish riffing and the blast of the drums), but the song itself is far from one of the demos strongest or memorable efforts.
Much like the opener, ‘Surrounded By Fright’ is more thrash than death metal, and is really only notable for the emphasis of melody from Spires on the vocal front, while the closer ‘Mecca’, while cut from the same cloth as the former track, it does feature some effects on the vocals to give the song a bit more of a demonic sound, and some solo work from Sanders that hints at the middle-eastern influences that would later become a huge part of the band’s sound.
Overall, ‘Worship The Animal - 1994: The Lost Recordings’ is primarily for diehard fans who want everything Nile has ever recorded in order to complete the collection. Outside of those fans, this E.P. doesn’t have much replay value past a couple of spins purely for curiosity’s sake.

For more information on Nile, check out - http://www.nile-catacombs.net/

© Justin Donnelly

Saligia - Sic Transit Glöria Mundi

Sic Transit Glöria Mundi

Anyone who’s familiar with the northern U.K. based label Barghest will no doubt be familiar with what Norwegian (Trondheim based) act Saligia offers up on their debut full-length effort ‘Sic Transit Glöria Mundi’. But for those who aren’t aware, Barghest (Who have only been operating since 2010) specialise in releasing uncompromising black metal art to music listeners. And while their list of releases have been limited and selective, you can always be assured of some quality black metal, and the kind that’s generally rooted in the cult lo-fi aesthetics and approaches to sound. Not surprisingly, Saligia’s debut is exactly the kind of album that Barghest prides themselves in specialising in.
Sound wise, Saligia (Who comprise of ex-Fordervet vocalist/guitarist/bassist Ghastly (A.K.A. Ahzari) and Dødsengel/Nephilim drummer Malach Adonai) produce a sound that’s not too dissimilar to a mix of Darkthrone, Attila Csihar (Especially in terms of Ghastly’s vocals) and Mayhem, which means that musically, ‘Sic Transit Glöria Mundi’ (Which is Latin for ‘Thus Passes The Glory Of The World’) is a fairly brutal and simplistic affair for the most part.
The opening track ‘Casus Gloria’ sets the scene for the album, with Ghastly providing plenty of buzzsaw sounding riffs on the guitar front, while Adonai blusters throughout with a relentless barrage on the kit alongside the guitars. Structure wise, there are some well-timed tempo changes to keep the lengthy track interesting, and Ghastly produces an equal amount of harrowing clean sung howls alongside some growling efforts. There’s nothing remotely innovative about the band’s song writing, and even less exploration in their delivery of primitive black metal. But overall, ‘Casus Gloria’ is a strong song, and does give the album a solid start.
‘Sar Ha-Olam’ builds upon the opener with many of the same strong characteristics, but with a little more extremity in the tempo changes (The slower bits are a little slower, and the faster bits a little more hammering and heavier) and the riffs soundimg a little more memorable, while the raw and unforgiving ‘Womb Caverns’ is nothing short of a full scale attack on the sense from start to finish.
As good as ‘Orb Of Flesh’ and ‘Shed Old Skin’ are, the general lack of variation on the riff structures tend to give the songs a bit of a repetitive feel at times, which is only made all too evident on the tracks lengthy running times.
Things do improve with the aggressive urgency of ‘Blood Staineth’ (Which boasts some of Ghastly’s most tortured vocals on the album), while the closing effort ‘Upon The Altar’ finishes the album on a high note with its midpaced and somewhat catchy melancholy melodic mood.
‘Sic Transit Glöria Mundi’ isn’t anything you haven’t heard a million times before from the Norwegian death metal scene, but it’s done exceedingly well. And that will no doubt be more than enough to earn the pair high praise from within the extreme underground black metal scene.

For more information on Saligia, check out - http://www.saligia.info/

© Justin Donnelly

Doogie White - As Yet Untitled

Doogie White
As Yet Untitled
Metal Mind Productions

Over his twenty-five year career, Scottish born Doogie White has earned a reputation as one of the classic hard rock/metal scene’s finest vocalists, with a resume boasting works alongside big names such as Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow (1995’s ‘Stranger In Us All’), Praying Mantis (2003’s ‘The Journey Goes On’), Tank (2010’s ‘War Machine’), Yngwie J. Malmsteen’s Rising Force (2002’s ‘Attack!!’ and 2005’s ‘Unleash The Fury’), Empire (2007’s ‘Chasing Shadows’), Cornerstone, Michael Schenker, and countless other acts. But surprisingly enough, it’s taken the Scotsman a long time to turn his attention solely on his own project. But while White’s debut solo effort ‘As Yet Untitled’ has been a long time coming, it’s been worth waiting for.
As you would expect, White has assembled an impressive list of friends as his backing band for his debut effort, with guitars handled by Pontus Norgren (Hammerfall, and who doubles on production duties), Marcus Jidell (Royal Hunt/Evergrey), Phil Hilborne and Mick Tucker (Tank), bass from the legendary Neil Murray (Whitesnake), Greg Smith (Ted Nugent) and Paul Logue (Eden’s Curse), keyboards courtesy of Derek Sherinian (Black Country Communion) and Tony Carey (Ex-Rainbow) and drums from Patrick Johansson (Yngwie J. Malmsteen) and Thomas Broman (Glenn Hughes).
If the title wasn’t a dead giveaway, the opening track ‘Come Taste The Band’ has a strong Deep Purple feel and sound with its extended keyboard introduction, and White putting in a convincing David Coverdale impersonation throughout the hard rocking classic. The guest vocals from Patti Russo (Of Meat Loaf/Cher fame) is an absolute stroke of genius, as her vocals add some real contrast to White’s efforts, while the band’s performance is nothing short of storming.
On ‘Time Machine’, White channels Saxon’s Bif Byford out front, while the band provide a soundtrack that sounds like a cross between AC/DC and Rainbow, while the strong and groove based ‘Dreams Lie Down And Die’ is easily the album’s heaviest track, and sounds reminiscent of Jørn Lande’s solo efforts.
Both ‘Lonely’ and ‘Land Of The Deceiver’ liven things up the middle of the album with their faster paces and metallic slant (Especially within the heavy guitar riffs and thundering drums), while tracks such as the bluesier ‘Secret Jesus’, the slower Led Zeppelin tinged ‘Sea Of Emotion’ and the classy ‘Times Like These’ show the many sides to White’s approach to the classic rock sound.
While the album does have a couple of tracks that don’t quite live up to the high standard of the bulk of the album (Namely the AC/DC based cock rocker ‘Catz Got Yer Tongue’ and the basic riff rocker ‘Living On The Cheap’), White has managed to surrounded himself with an elite team of musicians, written some truly great songs and released a long overdue solo album that’s every bit as impressive as expected.

For more information on Doogie White, check out - http://www.doogiewhite.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Dream Theater - A Dramatic Turn Of Events (Limited Edition)

Dream Theater
A Dramatic Turn Of Events (Limited Edition)
Roadrunner Records/Warner Music Australia

For twenty years, Long Island (New York, U.S.) based outfit Dream Theater not only stood as one of the scenes biggest progressive metal acts, but also one of the scenes strongest. But in September 2010, all that changed when it was revealed that co-founder/drummer Mike Portnoy had decided to leave the band. The news sent many fans into a spin, questioning what had transpired behind the scenes to prompt Portnoy’s dramatic decision, and whether or not Dream Theater could possibly continue in the same capacity without Portnoy in their ranks.
Without taking so much as moment to reflect on what had transpired, the remaining members of the band (Vocalist James LaBrie, guitarist/backing vocalist John Petrucci, bassist John Myung and keyboardist Jordan Rudess) announced plans to hold auditions for the vacated drum stool. Soon enough, Dream Theater had welcomed Mike Mangini (Ex-Extreme/Steve Vai/Mullmuzzler/Annihilator/James LaBrie) into the fold, and announced their plans to enter the studio. Within a year of Portnoy’s resignation, Dream Theater has returned with their eleventh studio effort, appropriately enough entitled ‘A Dramatic Turn Of Events’.
Given how instrumental Portnoy was in every aspect of Dream Theater’s past (As a song writer, a performer and a decision maker in general), it was always going to be interesting to see how the remainder of the band would fare on their own, and how Mangini would stand against the incredibly big shoes Portnoy had left. It’s not so much a question of whether Dream Theater could still make a great album or not, but just how different it would sound without Portnoy’s involvement.
For the most part, ‘A Dramatic Turn Of Events’ is still very much a product of the Dream Theater fans have come to know and respect. The album still boasts a mixture of short punchy numbers and long epic numbers, and the band still find the right balance of melody and technical showmanship. In fact, you could be mistaken that this is still the same line-up that recorded 2009’s ‘Black Clouds & Silver Linings’. But if you dig a little deeper, you’ll find that if anything, ‘A Dramatic Turn Of Events’ is perhaps a little more cohesive sounding overall (In terms of the album’s overall flow and the general feel of the tracks from one to the next), and the songs are really strong individually. But most important of all, is that ‘A Dramatic Turn Of Events’ actually sounds like a band effort (Which hasn’t always been the case in Dream Theater’s albums from the recent past).
The opening track and first single ‘On The Backs Of Angels’ is introduced via a long slow build up, but eventually emerges as a hard hitting progressive number with plenty of twisted riffs and keyboard riffs. Myung’s bass is a little more present than it has been in the past (Which is a good thing), while Mangini proves himself to be more than up to the challenge with some impressive percussion work throughout the epic track. In a lot of ways, this track structurally reminds me of the band’s classic ‘Pull Me Under’ (From 1992’s ‘Images And Words’), with the balance of melody and heaviness working in perfect unison. And in my eyes, that’s a great thing.
‘Build Me Up, Break Me Down’ is something a little different sounding from what you would normally expect from the band with its use of programmed drums, the effects used on LaBrie’s vocals in places and the fairly straightforward approach of simple riffs and minimal amount of progressive elements. But while I can appreciate the band’s push towards something a little different, its LaBrie’s weakened attempts at screams during the choruses that really let the song down. Thankfully, it’s one of the only real weak moments on the album.
The lengthy ‘Lost Not Forgotten’ is introduced by a lengthy progressive intro, before settling in for a heavy and strong groove like pacing. The guitars and keyboards certainly set the tone of the song throughout, and alongside LaBrie’s powerful vocal presence and melodies, the song stands out as not only one of the heaviest, but certainly as one of the album’s more memorable efforts.
‘This Is The Life’ is one of the album’s first ballad efforts, and what an effort it is with LaBrie providing some stunning and memorable vocal lines. Elsewhere, LaBrie shines in the piano/strings driven ‘Far From Heaven’ and the acoustic based closer ‘Beneath The Surface’ are further examples of where the band have somewhat returned to their past by entrusting LaBrie to convey the emotion and tenderness within the song, rather than relegating him to the sidelines. Sure, three ballads on a nine track album might sound like an overkill, but here, equation actually works because all three songs sound very different, add contrast to the heavier and faster songs elsewhere, and LaBrie hasn’t sounded this inspired in years (At least in terms of working within Dream Theater. His solo stuff is something different altogether).
The three remaining tracks on the album (‘Bridges In The Sky’, the technical and diversified ‘Outcry’ and the classic ‘Breaking All Illusions’) are the three big epics on the album, and prove beyond any doubt that Dream Theater still have enough song writers within the band (Including Myung, who’s contributions to this album really stand out more so than everything he’s contributed in the last ten years) to pull off something exceptional.
In the end, while I always knew Dream Theater would be able to continue without Portnoy, I didn’t expect that their first release without his presence to be as strong as ‘A Dramatic Turn Of Events’. Everybody involved sounds like they’ve contributed to this album, and that hasn’t always been the case on some of the band’s last few efforts.
As mentioned earlier, the special edition of ‘A Dramatic Turn Of Events’ also comes with a bonus D.V.D. entitled ‘The Spirit Carries On’, which is an hour long documentary showcasing the band’s extensive search for a new drummer following the departure of Portnoy. Presented much like a reality T.V. show, the D.V.D. allows the viewer to see those selected for the audition process (Virgil Donati, Thomas Lang, Marco Minnemann, Aquiles Priester, Derek Roddy, Pete Wildoer and Mangini) jam with the band on classic Dream Theater songs and try out some new ideas through jamming. But what really separates this D.V.D. from other reality T.V. efforts is the human quality to the whole proceedings, both from the band (Who throughout have nothing but the highest respect for Portnoy and his contribution to the band) and those involved trying out from the position (All of whom are so humble, and are grateful just for the privilege to simply jam with the band). Filmed jam footage spliced with candid interviews from the band and the various drummers make the D.V.D. a compelling watch from start to finish, and show that while Dream Theater might be the biggest progressive band in the world, finding a new drummer wasn’t something they took lightly or without some idea of what they were looking for, and that they weren’t looking for just another Portnoy clone. Simply put, this D.V.D. is something all Dream Theater fans have to see (Or own) to truly appreciate what the band had to go through in order to find the right drummer for the job.
Overall, Dream Theater suffered a monumental loss with the Portnoy from their ranks. But as expected, they’ve managed to find the inner strength to move on, rediscover themselves, take control and record one of the best albums in years.

For more information on Dream Theater, check out - http://www.dreamtheater.net/

© Justin Donnelly

Entrench - Inevitable Decay

Inevitable Decay
Abyss Records

Entrench has been around in one form or another for the better part of the last six years, and have in that time released no less than five demos. But after numerous line-up changes and constant refinement of their sound, the four piece act (Comprising of vocalist/guitarist Fredrik Pellbrink, guitarist Hannes Lindkvist, bassist Joel E. Sundin and drummer Joel Gustafsson) have finally unleashed their debut full-length effort ‘Inevitable Decay’.
Given the rather amateur cover artwork that adorns ‘Inevitable Decay’, I really had no idea what to expect from Entrench. But within the opening couple of minutes of the opening track ‘As Dawn Breaks’, there was absolutely no question what sound Entrench were aiming for – and that’s old school thrash. The sound of ‘As Dawn Breaks’ is best described as a cross between old school Kreator and Sodom, and perhaps even a touch of early Destruction and Metallica in places. This song is as every bit as authentic as stuff you would expect from a thrash band who recorded their debut around the mid ‘80’s, except that Entrench are a relatively new and young act on the scene, and they hail from Sweden (Västerås), rather than Germany.
The band maintain the high standard set down by the opener throughout the duration of the album, with the mid-paced groove/flat out aggressive drive of ‘Debt Of Sorrow’, the riffing extravaganza of ‘Portrait Of A Phobia’, the rather short, but memorable instrumental piece ‘Crossing The River’ and the length epic-like closer ‘Where Only Ruins Remain’ the definitive stand out cuts from the remainder of the album.
I guess there’s not a real lot to say about ‘Inevitable Decay’. Entrench don’t really add much to the old school thrash sound in the way of progressive elements or structuring their songs in a way that presents the thrash sound in a completely new frame. But what the band lack in change and innovation, they more than make up for in terms of writing catchy riff structures, and including vocals that have just the amount of rasp and bite to complement their old school approach to the classic thrash sound.
If there’s one small negative about ‘Inevitable Decay’, it’s probably the production. Much like early thrash classics, the production here is a little on the tinny side of things, and the bass is virtually unnoticeable for the most part.
But when you weigh it all up, Entrench manage to get a whole lot more right than wrong on ‘Inevitable Decay’, and that’s enough to get a positive review from this scribe.
There’s a whole host of acts attempting to jump on the thrash revival bandwagon these days, but when you sort out the acts into those who do it well, and cast aside the rest as mere imitators, Entrench easily slot into the former group.

For more information on Entrench, check out - http://www.myspace.com/entrench

© Justin Donnelly