Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Best Of 2013

The Best Of 2013

Much like the last five years, 2013 was one of those years where the real stand out releases stood head and shoulders above those that didn’t. In other words, any sort of middle ground was non-existent for the most part.

But it’s not the middle we’re worried about here (Or those particular releases that completely failed on every level). No, all we’re interested in here is the best of what 2013 had to offer up.

And so here it is - The best of 2013 (Albeit in no particular order, and compiled from my own personal perspective on what’s cool).


Top Ten Albums For 2013

1. Steven Wilson - The Raven That Refused To Sing (And Other Stories) (Kscope/Snapper Music)

After a couple of somewhat self indulgent avant-garde stylised solo releases (Which were great nonetheless), Wilson renewed his focus on his true song writing strengths and released one of his strongest solo releases to date. Balancing progressive elements, subtle shades of jazz and a huge helping of melody, ‘The Raven That Refused To Sing (And Other Stories)’ is a dark and mystifying masterpiece that rivals anything that Wilson produced with Porcupine Tree at their peak (1999 through to 2007).


2. Tom Keifer - The Way Life Goes (Merovee Records)

After close to ten years between studio visits, Cinderella front man Tom Keifer finally emerged with his long awaited debut solo album ‘The Way Life Goes’ this year. And it was well worth the wait. Part country, part rock and part blues rock, ‘The Way Life Goes’ is a diverse and eclectic release, but everything you would expect from one of the ‘80’s truly underrated singer/songwriters.






3. Clutch - Earth Rocker (Weathermaker Music)

After a trio of releases that saw the cult underground Germantown (Maryland, U.S.) outfit bring their blues influences to the fore, Clutch return to true heavy rock splendour on their latest effort ‘Earth Rocker’. And while their last few releases were good, ‘Earth Rocker’ is easily the band’s strongest release since 2004’s incredible ‘Blast Tyrant’. This album is all about the riffs, and having a good time. In other words, it’s everything you’d expect from Clutch, and then some.




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

Norwegian outfit Leprous really are an acquired taste. But for those with an ear in tune with what the band offer within the progressive rock genre, Leprous really are something altogether different – And in a good way. While ‘Coal’ doesn’t quite eclipse the brilliance of their last full-length effort (2011’s ‘Bilateral’), it still manages to stand out as one of this year’s most forward thinking pieces of progressive art by a long shot. Odd, yet catchy, technical and yet decidedly stripped back in so many ways, ‘Coal’ really is something unique.
5. Voivod - Target Earth (Century Media Records/E.M.I. Music Australia)

When founder, guitarist, principal song writer and the driving force Denis ‘Piggy’ D’Amour sadly passed away in 2005, you could be forgiven for thinking that it would signal an end to Voivod. Even the band themselves seemed unsure of what the future held for them. But lo and behold, Daniel ‘Chewy’ Mongrain joined the fold for touring purposes, which eventually led to the release of ‘Target Earth’. Simply put, while Voivod’s new album pays tribute to the band’s past for the most part, it does bode well for the band’s continued existence beyond being a nostalgia act.


6. Alice In Chains – The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here (Capital Records)

O.K., so this is hardly the most groundbreaking release for Alice In Chains, but it is a great album. What the Seattle four piece lack in new ground, they sure make up for in quality songs that stick in the mind well and truly after they’re finished. Jerry Cantrell seems content to remain with the boundaries laid down by the band’s acclaimed past, but as long as he’s churning out killer riffs like the ones heard throughout the new album, and conjuring up haunting melodies that are as catchy as they are darkened in tone, reinvention for the sake of it isn’t necessary here whatsoever.

7. Cronian – Eranthems (Season Of Mist)

One could argue that with Vintersorg (Vocalist, bassist, keyboardist and programmer) and Øystein Garnes Brun (Guitarist, keyboardist and programmer) both active members of Borknagar, Cronian are hardly a project that signifies a huge departure for the duo. In a lot of ways that’s true. But then again, given how much I really enjoy latter era Borknagar, it comes as no surprise to see Cronian’s third effort getting some heavy rotation on the iPod. Cronian has always been cinematic and progressive, and this album is no different. But what really stands out is just how complete ‘Eranthems’ sounds as a body of work compared to their former efforts.
8. Ghost – Infestissumam (Republic Records/Universal Music Australia)

Some people can’t get past the gimmick Ghost has built their reputation on. But if you look past that, and listen to what the band has to offer on ‘Infestissumam’ on a musical level, it’s hard not to enjoy the band for what they are. Ghost writes some truly catchy songs, all of which are filled to the brim with plenty subliminal evil that lurks just below the surface. The fact that their classic/progressive rock sound is a deliberate throwback to a bygone era, and the fact that they manage to make it sound fresh and exciting is enough to win me over.


9. Deep Purple - Now What?! (earMusic/Shock Records Distribution)

With a career spanning some forty-five years, it’s safe to say that Deep Purple really doesn’t have anything more to prove. That was until they released ‘Rapture Of The Deep’ in 2005, which in my humble opinion was by far the strongest album the band had released in a decade. So I had high hopes for ‘Now What?!’, and for the most part, the band absolutely nailed it. In an age where some well know older acts are struggling to deliver in the studio what they can on stage, Deep Purple buck the trend and deliver on both fronts.



10. Queensrÿche - Queensrÿche (Melodisc Ltd./Century Media Records/E.M.I. Music Australia)

Ousted vocalist Geoff Tate may have been the first to claim victory against his former band with the release of ‘Frequency Unknown’ earlier in the year, but it was the newly revamped and rejuvenated Queensrÿche (With former Crimson Glory vocalist Todd La Torre taking on the front man role) that had the last laugh with their rather impressive self titled release. Despite the band keeping things safe for the most part, there’s enough classic Queensrÿche on offer to give fans hope that the band really do have enough to recapture their past glory, and run once again with it.


Top Ten Songs For 2013

I’ll be honest here and say that while the title claims these are by favourite songs of the year, they’re really just a small part of what ultimately is an album that didn’t quite make it into my top ten list for this year. Needless to say, the list is once again in no order. So without further ado, here goes...

1. Alter Bridge – Peace Is Broken (From ‘Fortress’)

Alter Bridge can’t seem to do a thing wrong at the moment. And the proof can be found on ‘Fortress’. While the album is quite diverse, on the heavy end of the spectrum there’s tracks such as ‘Peace Is Broken’ that show the band aren’t afraid to dish out some truly heavy sounding riffs, all the while keeping things catchy on the choruses. If you were a fan of the band’s former efforts, then you’ll definitely find plenty to enjoy on ‘Fortress’.





2. Bad Religion – True North (From ‘True North’)

Is there’s anything more to say about Californian punk legends Bad Religion? Probably not. But I will say that while the band’s future is nearing its end, the band is destined to go out with a bang rather than a whimper. The opening title track of their most recent album is a potent and fast paced rocker that features all the core ingredients of what make Bad Religion so great, and is definitely one of many favourites on the album.





3. Tomahawk – South Paw (From ‘Oddfellows’)

It’s been quite a few years since Tomahawk last emerged with anything new, and given the rather bad taste ‘Anonymous’ left in my mouth, I wasn’t holding out for much. But despite my low expectations, ‘Oddfellows’ took me by complete surprise, and Mike Patton’s performance on the album was a welcome return to form. But if I had to single out the one track that blew me away, I just can’t go past ‘South Paw’. The use of atmospherics, melody, churning guitars and hammering drums is nothing short of pure genius to these ears.
4. Pinkish Black - Kites And Vultures (From ‘Razed To The Ground’)

Although I don’t indulge into the avant-garde/experimental realm all the time (I’m far too conservative I’m afraid), I do from time to time. And this year, Pinkish Black caught my attention. Their latest effort ‘Razed To The Ground’ isn’t the kind of album I listen to every day, but when I’m in the mood for that something truly left of centre, it does the job. One of my favourites has to be ‘Kites And Vultures’.





5. Hey! Hello! – Black Valentine (From ‘Hey! Hello!’)

Self described as ‘noisy pop’, Hey! Hello!’s self-titled debut promised much, and delivered on every level. Comprising of Ginger (The Wildhearts) and New York vocalist Victoria Liedke, the project showcases just how well the two fit together vocally, and Ginger’s incredibly keen sense of melody and lyrical wit. Almost everything on the album is of a gold standard, but the opening cut ‘Black Valentine’ is the track that sets the bar for the rest to follow. Ginger is not only a rock ‘n’ roll legend, but a pop genius on the side too.



6. Sevendust – Got A Feeling (From ‘Black Out The Sun’)

Sevendust seem to be on the right track with ‘Cold Day Memory’ (2010), but they truly hit the mark on ‘Black Out The Sun’. But surprisingly enough, the track that really blew me away was ‘Got A Feeling’, which is features guitarist Clint Lowery on lead vocals. Although somewhat ballad like, it has enough dark acoustic country influences, and a touch of southern rock in places to really make it sound different. I can only hope that Lowery’s Call Me No One project from last year wasn’t just a one off.




7. Boysetsfire – Phone Call (4am) (From ‘While A Nation Sleeps…’)

O.K., so ‘While A Nation Sleeps…’ is far from Boysetsfire at their best, but it does boast some great tracks. And while my favourite happens to be a re-recording of a track that’s been doing the rounds since 2006, this song still rocks big time. I believe that if the band can keep it together, and record a new album, they might yet produce something that rivals their classic ‘The Misery Index: Notes From The Plague Years’ from 2006.





8. Bring Me The Horizon – Hospital For Souls (From ‘Sempiternal’)

In the past, Sheffield (U.K.) outfit Bring Me The Horizon have done little for me. So I wasn’t expecting much from ‘Sempiternal’ when it came across my desk. But was I wrong. This album actually shows a more experimental and progressive side to the band’s cliché metal/deathcore sound of the past. And one of the best examples of this daring new territory the band have ventured into can be found in ‘Hospital For Souls’. A powerful message over a stirring soundtrack, which is something I would have considered impossible for the band some five years ago.


9. Amorphis – Hopeless Days (From ‘Circle’)

As much as I’ve enjoyed Amorphis, I’ve always found the band a little hit and miss over the course of a full-length album. That was until ‘Circle’. The band finally seem to have found the perfect balance of aggression and melody, all the while pushing their sound a little outside their comfort zone enough to please long-time fans. The best example of those distinguishing features (Aggression, melody and progression) is found on the album’s first single ‘Hopeless Days’.




10. The Eternal - In Severance (From ‘When The Circle Of Light Begins To Fade’)

The Eternal have always been a band that’s impossible to pin down. While they do have a sound, each and every one of their albums has their own unique direction, which makes them elusive and enticing at the same time. In celebration of their tenth anniversary, the band has released an album that seems to pick a bit from everything that encompasses their sound on the one album – with stunning results. Although it’s damn near impossible to pick any one stand out cut, ‘In Severance’ is a definite personal favourite.



The Best D.V.D. Of 2013

Karnivool – Live At The Forum (Sony Music Entertainment)

I had high expectations of Karnivool’s third album ‘Asymmetry’, and was very disappointed with what the band eventually offered up. Despite some strong moments, the album is a further departure from the style of their first two records, and it's a sound that’s ill-fitting to me. But while the album itself was a letdown, the accompanying D.V.D. released with the deluxe edition is something else. Recorded while touring in support of their ‘Sound Awake’ release from 2009, the show captures Karnivool in impeccable form, and boasts a thirteen track set list that cover much of the band’s strongest material from their last couple of albums. The D.V.D. is hardly the kind of thing the band would release as a standalone product (Although if I’m not mistaken, they were seriously considering it), but as a deluxe edition bonus, it’s certainly a cut above most.

The Best Book Of 2013

James Greene, Jr. – This Music Leaves Stains – The Complete Story Of The Misfits (Scarecrow Press Inc./The Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, Inc.)

As a lifelong fan of the Misfits, I have always wanted someone to put their story in book form. Understandably, the story is damn near impossible to tell, especially given that much of the band’s history is shrouded in mystery, and the various members that have passed through the legendary New Jersey outfit remain tight lipped about anything regarding the band’s true inner mechanics. But outside of former Samhain/Danzig bassist Eerie Von's photography tome ‘Misery Obscura - The Photography Of Eerie Von (1981-2009)’ (Which was released way back in 2010), no one has dared attempted to fill in the empty void. Until now that is. While Greene, Jr.’s book doesn’t unearth much in the way of new information, it does lift the lid on the band’s rather complex history, and help bring together the definitive history of the cult outfit for those who haven’t yet managed to piece it all together. Yes, the book does have its flaws, and it is on the short side, but Greene, Jr. has managed to produce what most would have thought was impossible. This book, alongside Von’s own effort, is an absolute must have/read for all Misfits/Samhain/Danzig fans.

Biggest Surprise Of 2013

Soilwork - The Living Infinite (Nuclear Blast Records/Riot! Entertainment)

Given how much I praised ‘The Panic Broadcast’ (2010), and knowing full well what the Swedes track record of late is like (A good album, followed by a lacklustre one, and then a good one, etc...), I wasn’t holding out for a classic Soilwork release in ‘The Living Infinite’. And then when news filtered through that it was a double album (A feat that’s claimed more casualties than victories), followed by the confirmation that lead guitarist/song writer Peter Wichers had left the group for a second time. So I really was expecting a disappointment from the band. But against all odds, with ‘The Living Infinite’, Soilwork have not only managed to survive a major line-up change, but release a double album of new material that actually keeps the listener engaged throughout both discs.

Best Newcomer Of 2013

Hell Or Highwater

Alright, so technically Hell Or Highwater have been around a few years. But given that I was only introduced to the Californian outfit earlier in the year, I’ll take the liberty of calling them newcomers. And I really dig their stuff. I’m probably one of the few Atreyu fans who thought 2007’s ‘Lead Sails Paper Anchor’ was their best album, and I was really bummed out to find that the band split up after such a great album. But all was not lost, with drummer/vocalist Brandon Saller resurfacing in Hell Or Highwater, who independently released their ‘Begin Again’ album in 2011 (Which was re-released by Pavement Entertainment, Inc. in expanded form earlier this year). Their debut is a great hard rock record, and their recently released E.P. ‘The Other Side’ (Released through US Records) is a rock solid follow up. This is one highly recommended outfit for fans of latter era Atreyu.

Biggest Disappointment Of 2013

Spock's Beard - Brief Nocturnes And Dreamless Sleep (Inside Out Music/Century Media Records/E.M.I. Music Australia)

I could mention a ton of albums in this space, but none disappointed me more than Spock’s Beard’s effort from this year. I had so hoped that given how perfect ‘X’ was (2010), the band would be able to do it a second time in a row with the release of their new album. Unfortunately, they couldn’t. Understandably, a lot of that comes down to the change of vocalist (Nick D’Virgilio was replaced by Enchant vocalist Ted Leonard). Leonard is a great vocalist, but on ‘Brief Nocturnes And Dreamless Sleep’, he sounds like he’s a square trying to fit into a round hole. That’s not to say the album is a complete disaster, because there are some noteworthy tracks (Especially the opener ‘Hiding Out’, which was penned by Leonard). But as a whole, Spock’s Beard has played it relatively safe on this album, and it shows. It took D’Virgilio and Spock’s Beard four albums to find their own sound after the departure of Neal Morse. I can only hope that it doesn’t take as long for this new line-up to emerge with their own ‘X’.

Most Anticipated Album Of 2013

It’s probably a long shot, but if the reunited Saigon Kick could get into the studio and record something, I’d be a first day buyer! 1997 is the last time the band genuinely recorded something new (I refuse to include 1999’s ‘Bastards’ because it’s essentially a Jason Bieler solo album under the Saigon Kick banner, and because it’s a complete piece of shit!). Come guys! You’ve reunited. It’s high time to take things to the next level and give the true diehard fans what they really want!


© Justin Donnelly

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Pinkish Black - Razed To The Ground

Pinkish Black
Razed To The Ground
Century Media Records/E.M.I. Music Australia

On paper, the signing up of Denton (Texas, U.S.) based outfit Pinkish Black to Century Media Records’ roster simply doesn’t make sense. Just why would a label that specialises in all things metal sign up a duo that doesn’t even have a guitarist within their ranks? Has Century Media Records lost the plot and put their credibility on the line for the sake of simply branching out into territory previous uncharted genre wise?
While Pinkish Black (Comprising of keyboardist/vocalist Daron Beck and drummer Jon Teague) may not boast a guitarist, and their music isn’t strictly metal, their sound sits comfortably amongst some of Century Media Records’ more left of centre/avant-garde outfits. Clearly Century Media Records aren’t afraid to take a gamble on a near unknown outfit, because while Pinkish Black is somewhat of an oddity, there’s something truly captivating and dark within their latest release ‘Razed To The Ground’ (The follow-up to 2012’s self titled effort through Handmade Birds), and that’s sure to captivate those who are drawn to the more experimental side of atmospheric metal.
The duo opens up the album with ‘She Left Him Red’, which after a slow build-up is a track that’s awash with densely layered keyboards that create a truly heavy and gritty bass sound, and a drumming attack that’s relentless throughout that gives the song a real urgent drive. Despite the lack of guitars, the duo manage to deliver a haunting metallic sound that’s quite hypnotic and bizarre, and yet progressive and thought provoking in an almost avant-garde black metal sense. It’s a captivating way to open up the album, and one that immediately won me over.
The follow-up track ‘Ashtray Eyes’ tones down the frenzied rush of the opener to make way for a more relaxed pace, albeit in a droning doom/shoegazing depressive manner. Beck’s heartfelt and melancholic vocals really adds an air of morbidity to the atmospherics created on the musical side of things while the lead keyboards add a touch of ‘70’s mystique to proceedings, which brings to mind fellow keyboard rockers Zombi in part.
‘Kites And Vultures’ is most likely to appeal to those who prefer the heavier side of things with the duo cranking up the speed and aggression to deliver one truly menacing and venomous effort to counterbalance the laid back vibe of the former track, while the title track ‘Razed To The Ground’ is a more rock based grooving kind of tune that again reminds me more of Zombi – but with a truly thicker and grittier sound, and vocals that play a supporting role in giving the song a catchiness rather than lead outright.
‘Bad Dreamer’ sees a return to the melancholy and downbeat sound and tempo of ‘Ashtray Eyes’, but with a stronger piano presence and an almost gothic influence brought to the forefront, while the combination of tribal drumming and churning keyboards on the upbeat ‘Rise’ is another favourite on the latter half of the album.
Finishing up the album is ‘Loss Of Feeling Of Loss’, which is undoubtedly the most retro progressive sounding and psychedelic sounding track on the album, and is a breathtaking way to finish off the album (Barring of course the somewhat strange tinkering piano/windblown effects based hidden track).
Pinkish Black’s ‘Razed To The Ground’ isn’t remotely related to anything metal, and yet it’s so appealing and relatable to those who prefer the heavier side of music. With ‘Razed To The Ground’, Pinkish Black have delivered an album that’s dark, interesting and heavy, and all in one that showcases Pinkish Black’s truly unique sound.
This album is a winner for the band, Century Media Records and to those who have an interest in the unusual and left of centre releases rather than the mainstream. Your efforts will be rewarded.

For more information on Pinkish Black, check out - https://www.facebook.com/pinkishblackband

© Justin Donnelly

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Dead Letter Circus - The Catalyst Fire

Dead Letter Circus
The Catalyst Fire
We Are United Pty. Ltd./Warner Music Australia

When Brisbane (Queensland, Australia) based progressive/alternative rock outfit Dead Letter Circus finally released their debut full-length effort ‘This Is The Warning’ in 2010, it earned unanimous acclaim from all corners of the globe. Over the next two years, the band seized the opportunity to take their music as far as they could, with much of this time spent touring both here in Australia and abroad. With three years having passed since the release of ‘This Is The Warning’, the newly revamped five piece outfit (Who comprise of vocalist Kim Benzie, new guitarist Clint Vincent (Ex-Melodyssey), new guitarist Tom Skerlj, session guitarist Luke Palmer, bassist Stewart Hill and drummer/backing vocalist Luke Williams) returned to the studio with producer Forrester Savell (Who also produced the band’s debut effort), to emerge with their highly anticipated second full-length ‘The Catalyst Fire’. And much like their debut, their latest effort is another winner.
Obviously keen to maintain the momentum built up with ‘This Is The Warning’, ‘The Catalyst Fire’ doesn’t break a whole lot of new ground for the group in the sound sense. But while the album may lack in true experimentation and departure from the expected sound Dead Letter Circus have been offering up since the release of their first E.P., they more than make up for in refining their song writing to damn near perfection.
The album is opened up with ‘The Cure’, which immediately reveals some of the subtle changes the band have made to their sound in the last three years, while maintaining their trademark sound. The song’s notably dense sound is opened up a fraction more to allow Vincent and Skerlj to showcase their strengths on the guitar/keyboard front with considerable success (Especially given that former guitarist Rob Maric was largely responsible for helping give the band their unique sound), while the overall darker vibe within the song works hand in hand with the darker themes depicted on the lyrical front.
The electronic elements coupled with the heavier guitars works a treat on the faster paced ‘Alone Awake’, and when incorporating Benzie’s mesmerising falsetto vocals into the mix, the song easily stands out as a favourite.
Although a solid enough tune, ‘Burning Man’ doesn’t quite hit its mark with much of the song coming across as a leftover/rewritten idea from ‘This Is The Warning’ and a chorus that comes across as fairly predictable and underwhelming.
But despite the shortcomings of the former track, it’s on the faster paced songs such as ‘Lodestar’ (The first single lifted from the album), ‘Say Your Prayers’, ‘The Veil’, ‘Stand Apart’ where the band truly manage to fire on all cylinders, and duly amaze listeners with the results.
Elsewhere, there are some slow-burning efforts such as ‘Lost Without Leaders’, ‘I Am’ and the closer ‘Kachina’ to give the album the right amount of variation in tempo and character to make almost every track on the album to stand out on its own.
Overall, while ‘The Catalyst Fire’ isn’t a huge departure from where Dead Letter Circus left things three years ago, it does seem to come across as an album that’s filled with songs that have a clearer message and purpose, and delivered with a newfound sense of previously untouched maturity. And at this early stage of their career, that’s enough to attract my attention, and keep it.

For more information on Dead Letter Circus, check out - http://www.deadlettercircus.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Grave - Morbid Ascent

Grave
Morbid Ascent
Century Media Records/E.M.I. Music Australia

It’s almost twelve months to the day since Swedish (Stockholm based) death metal act Grave last gave us a full-length release in the form of 2012’s rather impressive ‘Endless Procession Of Souls’. In what can be best described as a release to tide fans over until the band release their official follow-up, Grave (Who comprises of vocalist/guitarist/producer/mixer Ola Lindgren, guitarist Mika Lagrén, bassist/backing vocalist Tobias Cristiansson and drummer Ronnie Bergerståhl) has decided to announce their return with the five track stop-gap E.P. ‘Morbid Ascent’.
Grave begin ‘Morbid Ascent’ with ‘Venial Sin’, which is one of the two new tracks featured on the E.P. In typical Grave fashion, ‘Venial Sin’ is delivered in truly brutal death metal fashion with Lindgren in fine form on the vocal front, and the rest of the band pulverising listeners into submission with the song’s infectious groove. As a song, ‘Venial Sin’ is every bit as solid as anything Grave have released in recent years, and the guest guitar solo contribution from Eric Cutler (Who is otherwise the front man for Californian death metal outfit Autopsy) certainly doesn’t hurt one bit at all.
The next track is the title track ‘Morbid Ascent’, which is the other new track on offer from the band, and is hands down the best track on the E.P. Although sounding every bit as brutal as the opener, what makes this track stand out so much is the doom-like passages that break up the speedier moments within the track towards its second half, and the overall epic/evil vibe that the slower passages help evoke towards the songs conclusion. In short, this track showcases Grave at their best.
The band’s cover of Satyricon’s ‘Possessed’ (Which originally appeared on 2002’s ‘Volcano’) is well done, and undoubtedly far heavier than the original, which means that while it’s a Satyricon song, Grave have well and truly done their best to make it their own.
Towards the tail end of the E.P., the band have included a ‘Risen From The Tomb’ remix of ‘Epos’ from their last album, which is around a minute and a half shorter than the original, and a little cleaner on the production side of things. Although the differences are noticeable, this remixed effort doesn’t add that much to the E.P., and is perhaps the one track on offer here that could be passed over after its initial run through.
Finishing up the E.P. is ‘Reality Of Life’, which is a re-recording of the same track that appeared on the band’s ‘Sexual Mutilation’ demo from 1989 (Which was re-released on ‘Necropsy - The Complete Demo Recordings 1986 – 1991’ compilation in 2011 through Century Media Records). Despite the song’s age, it stands up exceedingly well in its modern reworked form, and shows that while Grave haven’t changed much throughout the years, their song writing has always been of a high standard.
With a bit of the new, the old and a couple of surprises thrown in, ‘Morbid Ascent’ is a diverse and worthy offering to fans from the long running death metal outfit, and one that will no doubt tide fans over until Grave emerge with their next soul destroying full-length effort.

For more information on Grave, check out - http://www.grave.se/

© Justin Donnelly

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Winery Dogs - The Winery Dogs

The Winery Dogs
The Winery Dogs
Loud & Proud Records

Since parting ways with Dream Theater in 2010, drummer Mike Portnoy has racked up an impressive list of projects, most of which have been interesting, but ultimately unsatisfying given his past achievements (Most notably Adrenaline Mob). But with his involvement in The Winery Dogs, Portnoy has finally managed to produce something that will have fans sitting up and taking notice – and in a good way.
Coming together in 2012, The Winery Dogs, who consists of Portnoy (Who aside from playing drums provides backing vocalist), lead vocalist/guitarist Richie Kotzen (Ex-Poison/Mr. Big) and bassist/backing vocalist Billy Sheehan (Ex-Talas/Niacin/David Lee Roth/Mr. Big/Steve Vai), were quick to draw the attention to themselves given the line-up. And rightfully so too, as all three of those involved in the group have quite an impressive list of achievements to their respective names. But while it all sounded quite interesting on paper, there was always a question mark over whether the combination would result in an album that lived up to expectations. In short, yes – for the most part.
The Winery Dogs’ self titled debut sounds exactly as you would imagine it does. If you’re familiar with Kotzen’s solo work, and you can imagine the bass sound delivered from Sheehan, and Portnoy laying his distinctive drums over the top, then you know exactly what’s delivered on this thirteen track album. This trio delivers a classic hard rock sound, with a side serving of soul for good measure.
The trio open up the album with the energetic and funk edged ‘Elevate’, which gives you a good feel for what the band offer up on a larger scale throughout the whole album. Kotzen oozes soul on the vocal front, while his guitar playing sounds effortless in its complexity and fluency. But what really stands out are the pockets of improvisation that the band allow for everyone to have their moment to shine. Sheehan, whose bass dominates throughout given its presence on the mix, gives listeners a fast paced run that is sure to remind most of his unique sound, while Portnoy gives the song exactly what it needs, but with enough technicality and flash to have budding drummers scratching their heads.
Things take a turn towards the funkier with the follow-up track ‘Desire’, while on ‘We Are One’ and ‘Criminal’, the trio lock into an unbreakable groove with a slightly darker and heavier edge - which showcases a different side to the band’s wide encompassing sound repertoire.
‘I’m No Angel’ is the first ballad-like track on the album, but avoids the cliché of plodding blandness with Kotzen playing up a storm throughout (The same could be said for ‘You Saved Me’ and ‘Damaged’ as well), while tracks such as ‘The Other Side’, ‘Six Feet Deeper’ and ‘Not Hopeless’, the band balance things out perfectly by rocking out with plenty of enthusiasm and their penchant for locking into irresistible grooves.
‘One More Time’ is an interesting track with its subtle southern rock edge on the riff front and Kotzen’s echoed vocals, while on the lengthy/moodier blues based ‘The Dying’, the band really do step outside their comfort zone to experiment more, with great results.
Finishing up the album is ‘Regret’, which is essentially a soulful/blues number that’s indicative of Kotzen’s own solo material, and that’s not a bad thing at all.
I’m always wary of supergroups and even more sceptical of any project these days with Portnoy given his output over the last couple of years. But if there’s one group that lives up to their pre-release hype more than any other I can remember in recent years, its The Winery Dogs. The band’s debut is a solid collection of classic rock, but with enough soul, technical finesse and class to keep the fans of those involved, satisfied.

For more information on The Winery Dogs, check out - https://www.facebook.com/TheWineryDogs

© Justin Donnelly

Monday, October 21, 2013

Broken Hope - Omen Of Disease

Broken Hope
Omen Of Disease
Century Media Records/E.M.I. Music Australia

It’s fair to say that while Chicago (Illinois, U.S.) based outfit Broken Hope were never hailed as the most innovative or ground-breaking death metal band on the scene during the ‘90’s, they did manage to produce a few solid releases during their time together. But despite the underground following the band attracted during their thirteen years together (Their debut effort ‘Swamped In Gore’ was released in 1991, and their final release ‘Grotesque Blessings’ emerged in 1999), they eventually parted ways in 2001, with almost all of their achievements overlooked with the passing of time.
But after a lengthy eleven years of hibernation, rhythm guitarist/lyricist/group founder Jeremy Wagner (Who has spent the last ten years getting his groove metal outfit Lupara off the ground) decided to once again resurrect Broken Hope, with Gorgasm front man Damian ‘Tom’ Leski taking on the vocalist role after the passing away of Joe Ptacek (Who committed suicide in 2010) and ex-Dirge Within lead guitarist Chuck Wepfer, bassist Shaun Glass (Who was also a member of Dirge Within, and played with Broken Hope for a few years in the mid ‘90’s) and drummer Mike Miczek rounding out the newly resurrected Broken Hope.
So what’s to be expected from a new Broken Hope after fourteen years between releases? Well, if I were to be perfectly honest, I think it’s fair to say the answer is pretty much more of the same. On the band’s latest and sixth full-length release ‘Omen Of Disease’, Broken Hope isn’t so much breaking any new ground, but re-establishing their place within the death metal scene with a release that essentially picks up where they last left things back in 1999 – albeit with a slight change in sound.
After a suitably ominous industrialised instrumental opener track in ‘Septic Premonitions (Intro)’, the band get straight down to business with ‘Womb Of Horrors’. In terms of the music, ‘Womb Of Horrors’ is everything you would expect from Broken Hope in terms of pummelling blasts, strong tight-knit groove based riffs and shredding solos. The only thing that’s really taken a leap forward is the production (James Murphy handled the mixing and mastering), which is easily one of the cleanest and dynamic sounds Broken Hope have achieved to date on an album. The other notable change within the group is obviously the vocals. Some may find Leski’s indecipherable guttural growls a little overbearing and different sounding from Ptacek. But as far as I’m concerned, he more than passes the test in filling in the void left by Ptacek, as well as adding an intensity that more than matches the band on the musical front with his lower range growls and gargled roars.
The fast paced ‘Ghastly’ and the mid-paced ‘Give Me The Bottom Half’ are definite favourites with their subtle touches of melody shining through the intense death metal framework, while tracks such as ‘Rendered Into Lard’ (Which features a cool tongue-in-cheek spoken word skit at the end, and features a guest vocal performance from The Black Dahlia Murder’s Trevor Strnad), ‘Predacious Poltergeist’, ‘Choked Out And Castrated’ and ‘Carnage Genesis’ prove that the band still have what it takes to deliver solid old-school death metal.
Towards the tail end of the album, the band gives fans a taste of the past in revamped form with a re-recording of their ‘Incinerated’ classic (Which originally appeared on their debut effort ‘Swamped In Gore’), which is suitably brutal and different in a good way, before closing out the album with live recordings of ‘Grindbox’ (From 1995’s ‘Repulsive Conception’) and ‘He Was Raped’ (From 1997’s ‘Loathing’), both of which were recorded live in San Francisco while out on tour in 2012.
While the band may have lacked some of the recognition they deserved in the ‘90’s, there’s no doubt that ‘Omen Of Disease’ will right the wrongs of the past. Sure, Broken Hope’s latest effort isn’t the kind of album that’s going to launch the band to the top where the death metal elite reside, but it will at least give them a second chance at marking their mark on the scene.

For more information on Broken Hope, check out - https://www.facebook.com/brokenhopeofficial

© Justin Donnelly

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Arrayan Path - IV: Stigmata

Arrayan Path
IV: Stigmata
Pitch Black Records

When it comes to the Cyprian power metal scene, there’s no doubt that Arrayan Path are the longest serving band on the scene, and the undisputed kings of the growing scene in Greece. With three successful full-length releases to their name, the five piece outfit (Comprising of Astronomikon/Diphtheria/Prodigal Earth vocalist Nicholas Leptos, guitarist Socrates Leptos, Prodigal Earth bassist Paris Lambrou – although producer/mixer/masterer Vagelis Maranis played bass and backing vocals on the album this time around, keyboardist George Kallis and drummer Stefan Dittrich) has returned with a new full-length effort in ‘IV: Stigmata’.
Unlike the band’s last couple of albums (2010’s ‘Terra Incognita’ and 2011’s ‘Ira Imperium’), ‘IV: Stigmata’ signals a new direction for the power metal outfit, both on a musical and lyrical standpoint, with the album’s thematically based stories found in the old Testament of The Bible (As opposed to the mythological Egyptian/Mediterranean overtones of their former releases), which ties in perfectly with the band’s newfound darker and heavier sound.
The band start the album off in a thrash-like manner with ‘Clepsydra’ (Which is an ancient Greek term for the first recorded time measurer - the ‘water clock’), which is a sound that suits the band. Nicholas Leptos’ infectious melodies still stand out like they did before, although his efforts sound far more confident and in synch with the music than ever before, while Nicholas Leptos’ lead guitar work is nothing short of impressive – proving that his guitar playing has again taken another leap forward.
‘The Bible Bleeds’ is every bit as heavy as the opener, but is given a bit of extra depth sonically with a greater presence from Kallis’ keyboards and a guest guitar solo from former guitarist Alexis Kleidaras (He last played with Arrayan Path on ‘Ira Imperium’), while on ‘Midnight And The First-Born Massacre’, Arrayan Path has found the perfect balance of dramatics and heaviness to create one of the album’s defining moments. Nicholas Leptos is a great vocalist, but on this track he really excels at creating chorus structures that go beyond anything else we’ve heard from him in the past – both in terms of range and the way the choruses are arranged. If there’s a track to showcase what Arrayan Path are capable of, it’s this track.
In comparison to the former track, ‘Judas Iscariot’ is a fairly straight forward track that reveals a bit more of a rock sound infiltrating the band’s trademark power metal sound, but the second half of the song sees the band incorporate some Middle Eastern influences on the keyboard front to spice things up, which blends seamlessly with a guest solo performance from Kikis Apostolou (Who helped founder the cult underground Cyprus outfit Armageddon).
The slower paced title track ‘Stigmata’ is a good track, but seems to be lacking a little diversity to lift itself out of what is a bit of a plodding pattern after more than six minutes in running time. The addition of choir-like effects around the middle mark is a welcome addition, but not enough to keep the listener engaged enough for its lengthy duration.
The follow-up track ‘Cursed Canaan’ is another energetic and galloping track that seems to pick the album up around the middle, but sadly lacks a chorus to really take it up to the next level.
But where the former track failed, ‘Pharaoh’s Wish’ succeeds. Nicholas Leptos puts in a varied and powerhouse performance here that gives the song an identity of its own, and with Nicholas Leptos’ tight knit riffing and Apostolou’s stand out solos, the song is another firm favourite.
‘Harbingers Of Death’ maintains the high standard with Nicholas Leptos giving the song a darker edge with his deeper vocal delivery alongside guest lead vocalist Jimmy Mavrommatis (Who is the vocalist for Armageddon), while ‘Disguising Your Soul’ sees the return of the choir effects, but in such a way that works exceeding well as it perfectly complements the moody and dramatic vibe created by Nicholas Leptos’ vocals and Kallis’ heavy keyboard contributions.
Unfortunately, the band’s attempts to create a lengthy epic with ‘The Storyteller’ doesn’t work. Once again, the plodding nature of the tempo and the somewhat bland performance from Nicholas Leptos doesn’t really spark any real changes within the song, and makes the track feel a lot longer than it actually is.
The album does finish off on a high note however, with the band ripping through a re-recorded version of ‘Mystic Moon’, which originally debuted on their ‘Return To Troy’ demo back in 1999. The guest appearance from original drummer Chris Ioannides (Winter’s Verge/Armageddon) is a welcome addition, while the Middle Eastern influences and updated crushing guitar groove to the track is executed perfectly.
It’s a shame that the Arrayan Path’s latest album’s grand finale was delivered with a re-recording and not a new track. But despite a few tracks that fail to generate any real excitement, there’s enough killer tracks throughout ‘IV: Stigmata’ to satisfy any fans of the band’s past work.
All up, ‘IV: Stigmata’ easily ranks as a first class power metal release, and more importantly, one of Arrayan Path’s strongest efforts to date.

For more information on Arrayan Path, check out - https://www.facebook.com/arrayanpath

© Justin Donnelly

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Turisas - Turisas2013

Turisas
Turisas2013
Century Media Records/E.M.I. Music Australia

With two releases under their belt (2004’s ‘Battle Metal’ and 2007’s ‘The Varangian Way’), Finnish based outfit Turisas established themselves as a force to be reckoned within the folk/symphonic metal scene. Both albums were highly acclaimed, and the band’s self coined ‘Battle Metal’ sound was considered a true contender alongside the likes of fellow Finnish acts Moonsorrow and Finntroll.
But with the release of their third album ‘Stand Up And Fight’ in 2011, it was clear that the band were already thinking beyond the confines of their former sound, with the album showcasing a stripped back and more accessible sound. While the album wasn’t considered a classic along the same lines as their former efforts, it was still considered a reasonably strong album.
In the two years since their last release, Turisas have undergone a complete transformation on the line-up front, with vocalist Mathias D.G. ‘Warlord’ Nygård, guitarist Jussi Wickström and electric/acoustic violinist Olli Vänskä the only members remaining from the band’s line up since their last release. Joining the trio within the last couple years is bassist Jesper Anastasiadis, keyboardist Robert Engstrand and drummer Jaakko Jakku, all of who make their debut on the band’s latest album ‘Turisas2013’.
With such a major shakeup within their ranks, and the direction the band were taking their music on their last album, there was never any question that Turisas were going to deliver an album that was going to once again see the band pushing their sound into a completely new direction. But I seriously doubt that few would have expected the band to push their sound as much as they have on ‘Turisas2013’.
The opening track ‘For Your Own Good’ is a perfect example of just how much the band has changed in the last couple of years. The dramatic aspects of the band’s past are still evident within the song’s opening refrain, albeit driven by keyboards and guitars rather than orchestration. After a dramatic opening, the band eventually settles into a far more hard rock rather than symphonic sound, which is either going to have fans throwing their arms up in disgust, or intrigue as to how the band ended up in such a place direction wise (I fall into the latter bracket). Nygård primarily sticks to his clean vocals for the bulk of the song, and provides the song with some strong melodies, while Engstrand’s contribution on the keyboards prove to be the song’s real driving force, giving the song it’s hard rocking sound. Overall, while it took some getting used to, ‘For Your Own Good’ is a good song, even if it sounds as far from old Turisas as you could possibly get.
‘Ten More Miles’ is one of the few tracks on the album that sounds a little more aligned with the classic Turisas sound, with the guitars sounding more upfront, and the huge choir-like gang vocals ringing out loud and clear through the choruses. But that’s not to say that the song doesn’t have some new elements. There’s some strange slide work going on in the background from Wickström that’s hard to ignore once noticed, while the absence of orchestration throughout gives the song an openness that will have many older fans criticising the song’s lack of bombast and epic scope.
Not unlike the former track, ‘Piece By Piece’ has links to the band’s past with its flirtation with orchestral elements and huge gang/choral vocals, and perhaps fares a little better with its heavier and more aggressive sounds, but in complete contrast, there’s the follow up effort ‘Into The Free’, which might have some interesting lines thrown out on the vocal front, but is otherwise standard power metal fare – albeit delivered in Turisas fashion.
The most experimental track on the album has to go to ‘Run Bhang-Eater, Run!’, which features pockets of jazz, traditional Arabic influences and the sounds of simulated sex over a typical Turisas symphonic score. Although the song does have some moments, it has to be said there isn’t anywhere near enough to salvage what is a fairly directionless song from ultimately coming across as filler.
‘Greek Fire’ is noteworthy for its intense aggression, Nygård’s lower end clean vocals and electric violin solo, as to does ‘The Days Passed’, which comes across like Turisas is trying their hardest to combine classic ‘80’s hard rock with their own ‘Battle Metal’ sound, but it’s tracks like the less than serious ‘No Good Story Ever Starts With Drinking Tea’ that brings the album down a notch with its less than fulfilling intense blast of predictability.
Thankfully, Turisas finish off the album with the far stronger sounding ‘We Ride Together’ – even if the guitars have a faint western (As in Cowboys and Indians) feel at the beginning, and the orchestration sounds a little thin and synthesised at times. The song is typical Turisas, and really the only track on the album that could have finished the album with any justice.
Although it took me a while to fully understand ‘Turisas2013’, I have to admit that I don’t mind the album. I can appreciate what the band was aiming for, and understand why the album may fall short of what most fans were hoping and expecting of the band.
That’s not to say that ‘Turisas2013’ is in any way a complete success. For the most part, the album is a confusing mix of different styles and sounds, with the band sounding like they were clearly unsure of just where they wanted to take their music. And that’s a shame, because ‘Stand Up And Fight’ felt like a precursor to what was promised to be the next evolutionary step for the band.
In the end, ‘Turisas2013’ has some solid songs, but some real filler efforts as well. I think it’s an enjoyable album, but not one that I think is likely to have many other diehard fans singing its praises.

For more information on Turisas, check out - http://www.turisas.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Black Star Riders - All Hell Breaks Loose

Black Star Riders
All Hell Breaks Loose
Nuclear Blast Records

Although various incarnations of the classic hard rock outfit Thin Lizzy have been touring the globe for years, none of the members involved in the band have dared to record anything new studio material wise out of respect for front man Philip Lynott, who sadly passed away in early 1986.
And rightfully so too, as Lynott was Thin Lizzy, and replacing him would be a damn near impossible task given how synonymous his presence was within the group during their heyday (1971 through to 1983). So when the current version of Thin Lizzy decided to take things to take things to the next logical phase and put together some new material, it only made sense to give the band a new identity. And so in 2012, it was announced that Thin Lizzy were to become Black Star Riders, and along with the assistance of legendary producer Kevin Shirley, announced plans to record a full-length album.
And so here we are a year later, and Black Star Riders (Who have now settled on a solid line-up consisting of The Almighty vocalist/guitarist Ricky Warwick, Thin Lizzy lead guitarist Scott Gorham, ex-Alice Cooper/Brother Cane lead guitarist Damon Johnson, ex-Blue Murder bassist Marco Mendoza and ex-Y&T/Alice Cooper/Suicidal Tendencies/Megadeth drummer Jimmy DeGrasso) have finally unveiled their debut effort ‘All Hell Breaks Loose’.
For diehard Thin Lizzy fans, it has to be said that Black Star Riders’ debut isn’t so much a continuation of where Thin Lizzy left things all those years ago, but more an album that stands on its own. Sure, there are some clear Thin Lizzy influences dotted throughout the album, but it has to be said that Black Star Riders are anything but a tribute act.
The band opens up the album with the title track ‘All Hell Breaks Loose’, which is the perfect track to set up the mood and overall vibe of the album. With its mid paced groove, slightly darker edge and punchy sound, ‘All Hell Breaks Loose’ is a rock solid rocker that boasts some great riffs, a powerhouse performance from Warwick and some blazing solos from Gorham. Any lingering doubts about the band’s legitimacy are well and truly settled with this one track.
The follow up track ‘Bound For Glory’, which was the first single lifted from the album, is obviously one of the few tracks on the album that features an obvious Thin Lizzy sound with its twin lead guitar injection. But while the comparisons to the legendary act and this new outfit are obvious on the musical front, Warwick still manages to give the song a sound of its own for the most part.
To some extent, ‘Kingdom Of The Lost’ and ‘Kissin’ The Ground’ maintains some of the Thin Lizzy sound of old with the use of tin whistles and the unmistakable Celtic themes on the lyrical front on the former and Warwick’s vocal phrases on the latter, but it’s hard rockers such as ‘Bloodshot’, ‘Hey Judas’ and the full-tilt charge of ‘Valley Of The Stones’ where the band make their stand with material that allows the classic Thin Lizzy sound to influence, but never dominate and give the listener the impression that Black Star Riders are simply rehashing past glories.
The easy going ‘Someday Salvation’ is perhaps as close as Warwick gets to his own solo output, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but gives the song a feel that doesn’t quite fit on the album.
But where the band really gets to shine is where they step outside of their comfort zone and break into something quite unexpected. ‘Hoodoo Voodoo’ is a cool mix of The Almighty (I’m thinking 1996’s ‘Just Add Life’) and funky influences, while the militaristic march of ‘Before The War’ and the compelling storytelling from Warwick within the moody/guitar driven classic ‘Blues Ain’t So Bad’ are the album’s real stand outs.
In the end, while there’s a Thin Lizzy connection within the group, Black Star Riders isn’t a poor imitation of the classic hard rock group. On the strength of ‘All Hell Breaks Loose’, it’s clear that Black Star Riders are way more than that.
Filled with quality song writing, impressive performances and a top notch production that gives the overall product the kick it so richly deserved, the band of classic rock journeymen have delivered a first class album, which I can only hope will only be the first of many.

For more information on Black Star Riders, check out - http://www.blackstarriders.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Iwrestledabearonce - Late For Nothing

Iwrestledabearonce
Late For Nothing
Century Media Records/E.M.I. Music Australia

There’s no real middle ground when it comes to Los Angeles (California, U.S.) based outfit Iwrestledabearonce. The band’s eclectic blend of almost everything under the sun in the musical sense has earned them a devoted following of those who believe they are truly unique, and the rest who simply can’t understand what all the fuss is about. Personally, after having reviewed their last couple of full-length efforts (2009’s ‘It’s All Happening’ and 2011’s ‘Ruining It For Everybody’), I tend to align myself with the latter crowd. Now returning with their third album ‘Late For Nothing’, I was curious to see where the band would head direction wise following the departure of lead vocalist Krysta Cameron (Who took maternity leave) in 2012. And after giving the album a good listen through, it would appear that the change of guard hasn’t had too much of an effect on the rather experimental outfit, with the album sounding like business as usual for the oddball crew – albeit with a couple of new surprises in store for diehard fans.
The opening track ‘Thunder Chunky’ is the first song on the album to showcase some of the more subtle changes that have occurred within the band’s sound in the last couple of years. Despite the band (Who comprise of guitarists/programmers Steven Bradley and John Ganey, bassist Mike ‘Rickshaw’ Martin and drummer Mikey Montgomery) sounding more or less the same initially, it soon becomes apparent that over the course of the entire track, there’s a lot more structure and melody to be found in the band’s song writing this time around. That’s not to say the track is completely devoid of its quirky moments, but ‘Thunder Chunky’ does seem to flow more than anything the band has attempted before in the past, and it works quite well.
But if there’s one aspect of the band’s sound that will have most intrigued, its how Courtney LaPlante (Who’s been in the band since midway through 2012) fills the void left behind by Krysta Cameron. And in all honesty, there’s not a huge amount of difference. She’s a capable vocalist for the most part, and her role of injecting melody into the band’s experimental style of music works just like it did in the past. I can’t say that I’m a huge fan of her vocals (She sounds a bit bored and monotone-like for me), but then again I didn’t think Cameron was anything special either. So for me, LaPlante’s performance here meets my expectations.
The rather straight forward and simplified approach to song writing within the band becomes more apparent in the follow-up track ‘Letters To Stallone’, where the band keep the experimental/chaotic passages some distance away from the clean vocalised choruses, while on ‘Snake Charmer’, the band tone down the accessibility aspect of things to make way for something a little more challenging and unpredictable.
Much like the band’s former releases, there’s a clear distinction between the tracks that work, and those that don’t. And a track that slots neatly into the latter category is ‘Boat Paddle’. LaPlante sounds far too bland and lifeless on this track, and it’s one of the better examples of where her vocals actually take away from anything impressive the band might otherwise be doing in the background. The same issue can be said for ‘Mind The Gap’ and ‘The Map’. But it’s not all LaPlante’s fault, as the band as a whole seem to fail to provide anything we haven’t already heard before on the generic sounding ‘That’s A Horse Of A Different Color’ and ‘It Don’t Make Me No Nevermind’.
But it’s not all bad news, as the album does offer up a few highlights amongst lacklustre efforts.
While hardly the album’s strongest track, ‘Firebees’ boasts some well performed vocal melodies from LaPlante and cool keyboards that tie in perfectly with the song title, while Steve Vai’s guest guitar contributions to ‘Carnage Asada’ gives the song a lift beyond the same old sound we would otherwise get from the band.
Other noteworthy tracks include ‘I’d Buy That For A Dollar’ and ‘Inside Job’, which are some of the better examples of what LaPlante can achieve on the vocal front when she puts something into her delivery.
I can’t say that I’ve ever really been a huge fan of Iwrestledabearonce based on their past efforts, and I’m not one now after giving ‘Late For Nothing’ a good run through. But I will go as far as to say that on their latest effort, it’s clear that the band have matured a little in terms of their song writing. Unfortunately, its other areas where the band need to work on in order to take their sound to the next level.
In the end, fans will find plenty to enjoy from the band on ‘Late For Nothing’. Those who couldn’t find anything of merit in the band’s music in the past won’t find this new album changing their opinions one bit.

For more information on Iwrestledabearonce, check out - http://www.iwrestledabearonce.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Newsted - Heavy Metal Music

Newsted
Heavy Metal Music
Chophouse Records

After marking his return to the scene as a solo artist earlier in the year with the release of his debut four track E.P. ‘Metal’, Jason Newsted (Ex-Metallica, Voivod, IR8/Sexoturica, Papa Wheelie, Rock Star Supernova and Echobrain) is back with his highly anticipated full-length debut ‘Heavy Metal Music’.
Those familiar with ‘Metal’ will be familiar with what Newsted and his troupe offer up over the course of their full-length album. And in a nutshell, it’s the style of music that ties in perfectly with the name of the album itself – Simplistic heavy music that’s notably stripped back to its bare essentials.
Newsted (Who aside from lead vocalist/bassist/producer Newsted consists of guitarist/backing vocalist Jessie Farnsworth, Staind guitarist Mike Mushok and drummer Jesus Mendez Jr.) gets the album off to a bruising start with ‘Heroic Dose’, which is a huge grooving monster of a track that is up-beat, metallic and surprisingly infectious. As I mentioned on my review of ‘Metal’, Newsted has developed a voice that sounds like a cross between Chuck Billy (Testament) and Lemmy Kilmister (Motörhead), but with a distinctly raspy melodic edge that works perfectly with the song’s ‘back to basics’ framework. ‘Heroic Dose’ won’t win any awards for its ground breaking or genre defying construction, but it will suck listeners in with its hypnotic groove.
The fast paced ‘Soldierhead’ is a track that most will be familiar with as it originally appeared on the ‘Metal’ E.P., and while its inclusion here seems a little unnecessary, there’s no denying that the thrashing effort was one of the E.P.’s stronger cuts, and obviously Newsted wanted to make sure that his full-length album represented the best of what the band has to offer up song writing wise.
As solid as the slower paced rock effort ‘…As The Crow Flies’ is it’s probably one of the album’s blander tracks, with the song sounding a little too repetitive over its six minute running time. In a lot of ways, the ‘Load’ (1996) era Metallica sounding follow up track ‘Ampossible’ suffers the same problems as the former. While both tracks do feature some great lead guitar work, and strong hooks to give the listener something to grab onto, the overly simplistic groove does have a tendency to become a little repetitive over time, and therefore drift over the course of the whole album.
Although the band stumbled a little with the last couple of tracks, they get things back on track with the fast paced ‘Long Time Dead’, while the heavy Queens Of The Stone Age/Kyuss stoner groove evident within ‘Above All’ is fleshed out perfectly with a chorus that really stands out as a firm favourite on the album.
Like ‘Soldierhead’, ‘King Of The Underdogs’ is reprised from the E.P. to help fill the album out. As a follow up, Newsted moves into Black Sabbath inspired territory, with ‘Nocturnus’ showcasing a far darker and doom filled direction. The song offers up a different side to what you would otherwise expect from Newsted, and with its strong lyrics and catch phrases within the choruses, it’s another album favourite.
The sci-fi themed ‘Twisted Tail Of The Comet’, which is dedicated to the late Denis ‘Piggy’ D’Amour of Voivod, obviously has its similarities to classic Voivod (I’m thinking 1989’s ‘Nothingface’), which is never a bad thing as far as I’m concerned, while the up-tempo riff heavy rocker ‘Kindevillusion’ keeps the metal flowing around the tail end of the album.
The final track Newsted offer up listeners is ‘Futureality’, which isn’t too far removed from the Black Sabbath sounding vein of ‘Nocturnus’. But as good as ‘Futureality’ is, doesn’t quite have the same impact as ‘Nocturnus’, which means the album disappointingly finishes up on a bit of a weak track.
Overall, ‘Heavy Metal Music’ lives up to its name. Sure, it’s not what you would call a complicated or technically inclined album, but it does at least rock on a primitive level. That’s what Newsted was aiming for, and for the most part, he’s achieved that objective quite well.

For more information on Newsted, check out - http://newstedheavymetal.com/

© Justin Donnelly

The Safety Fire - Mouth Of Swords

The Safety Fire
Mouth Of Swords
Inside Out Music/Century Media Records/E.M.I. Music Australia

One of the rising stars in recent years from the U.K. progressive metal scene is London based outfit The Safety Fire. Having stirred up a lot of interest in the underground scene with the release of their debut E.P. ‘Sections’ in 2009, and earning high praise with their debut full-length effort ‘Grind The Ocean’ in 2012, the band has returned with their highly anticipated second full-length effort ‘Mouth Of Swords’. And once again, The Safety Fire have put together another unique release that will no doubt end up at the top of many critics top ten releases for 2013.
The Safety Fire (Who consist of vocalist Sean McWeeney, guitarist/producer Derya ‘Dez’ Nagle, guitarist Joaquin Ardiles, bassist Lori Peri and drummer Calvin Smith) begin their latest release with the title track ‘Mouth Of Swords’, which will immediately bewilder and fascinate most upon first listen. The band’s penchant for throwing out angular guitar sounds and complex time changes in the vein of The Mars Volta, Coheed And Cambria and Between The Buried And Me is still very much a large part of the band’s song writing on their new material. But what really stands out with this new track is how much more in synch McWeeney’s melodies fit in with the busy musical landscape delivered from the rest of the band. Whereas the vocals and the music sounded jarring more often than not on ‘Grind The Ocean’, on ‘Mouth Of Swords’, the two gel a lot more, without sacrificing the complexity of the music the band have made a name for themselves upon.
The follow-up track ‘Glass Crush’, which is the first single lifted from the album, is perhaps one of the fastest and intense songs on the album, and is perhaps one of the better examples of what McWeeney is capable of on the vocal front with his seamless shift between clean vocals and screams with considerable ease. Aside from the vocals, the continual shift between groove and intensely fast passages is well executed, while the use of gang vocals around the latter half of the track is simply infectious.
On ‘Yellowism’, The Safety Fire show restraint and tone down the complexities of their song writing to make way for a groove in the vein of Mastodon mixed with Gojira, while on ‘Beware The Leopard (Jagwar)’, the band take a step back further to make way for what is easily one of the album’s more accessible tracks, albeit outside of the heavy choruses where Between The Buried And Me vocalist Tommy Giles Rogers, Jr. contributes his distinctive roars alongside McWeeney’s cleaner efforts.
‘Red Hatchet’ is perhaps the only track on the album that could have been lifted from ‘Grind The Ocean’, but does at least sound a little more cohesive and melodic than anything from the album itself, while ‘Wise Hands’ is almost the complete opposite, with the band showcasing their softer (Almost jazz-like) side, and McWeeney positively shining with the full of his full range on the vocal front.
The Gojira influences the band has taken on are unmistakable on the guitar riffs and drumming on the intense ‘The Ghosts That Wait For Spring’. But while the music is nothing short of totally crushing, there’s the ever present melodies provided by McWeeney to keep things from straying too far from alienation for the audience.
Not unlike ‘Wise Hands’, ‘I Am Time, The Destroyer’ begins in a soothing and dream-like manner before veering off in the complete opposite direction with the advent of searing riffs and monstrous grooves, only to return to where it started at the beginning, while the lengthy ‘Old Souls’ finishes off the album with a sound and direction that encompasses much of what the album has to offer as a whole condensed into the one track.
When I first came across ‘Grind The Ocean’, I really couldn’t get my head around what the band were trying to achieve. But despite my initial impressions, I stuck with the album, and slowly but surely it all started to make sense. So with that knowledge, I gave ‘Mouth Of Swords’ plenty of time to sink in before making up my mind on whether the band had actually improved in a short eighteen months between releases. I can conclude that while ‘Mouth Of Swords’ took its time growing on me, it’s pretty clear that The Safety Fire have once again produced another truly impressive album.

For more information on The Safety Fire, check out - http://www.thesafetyfire.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Friday, September 27, 2013

Tantric - 37 Channels

Tantric
37 Channels
Pavement Entertaniment, Inc.

Despite being a long time follower of Louisville (Kentucky, U.S.) based outfit Tantric, I never quite know what to expect from the band whenever a new album emerges. A lot of that stems from the fact that the band have in recent years gone through some major line-up changes, which has meant that each and every one of their four releases to date have a different sound, which has worked in the band’s favour, and other times for the worse.
So after a lengthy gap of four years since the release of ‘Mind Control’, sole original member Hugo Ferreira (Who is the band’s lead vocalist, and who also plays guitar and bass throughout the album) has once again put together a new album under the Tantric banner in ‘37 Channels’. And as expected, the album represents another evolutionary leap both sound and direction wise in the band’s history of continual change.
Tantric’s fifth album begins with guitar heavy ‘Again’, which is familiar territory for them, and the kind of track that could have easily slotted on the band’s last full-length release (Which is without a doubt one of the band’s heaviest releases to date). But while the song has its interesting moments on the guitar front, the chorus structures let the song down. Sure, Ferreira’s weathered vocals sound in good form, but the choruses don’t really stand out quite as much as they should, which in the end gives the song a forgettable feel, right from the start.
With the opening cut on the album leaving me feeling a bit disappointed, I wasn’t holding out much hope for the rest of the album impressing much. But to my surprise, the follow-up track ‘Blue Room’ is an absolute winner. With a strong drum groove locked down by guest drummer Greg Upchurch (Eleven/Puddle Of Mudd/3 Doors Down), and fusing together Tantric’s trademark mix of acoustic and electric guitars throughout, ‘Blue Room’ is classic Tantric, and quite possibly one of the strongest and memorable tunes Ferreira has offered up in years.
Proving the former track was anything but a one off, the country-tinged/harder edged blues rocker ‘Mosquita’ (The first single lifted from the album) hits hard with plenty of attitude, and features an anthem-like chorus that’s sure to become a fan favourite in no time at all. Guest vocalist Shooter Jennings helps give the song a slightly different sound from what you would otherwise expect from Tantric, and I have to say that it works incredibly well.
‘Loss For Words’ is a surprisingly stripped back song that features some equally gritty vocals from Ferreira that gives the song a very raw sound, while story telling ‘Broken’ and the piano based ballad ‘Fault’ (Which features a guest appearance from Hinder’s Austin Winkler on lead vocals) showcase the softer side of Tantric’s sound on the new album, all the while showcasing the many sides of Ferreira as an artist.
But while the experimental side of the above mentioned tracks works, not everything works. ‘My Turn’, which sees Ferreira duet with Leif Garrett, is fairly unremarkable on the vocal front (The pseudo rapping from Garrett just doesn’t work for me), and the use of programmed percussion to give the song a modern edge just gives the song a truly hollow sound overall. And as for ‘Girl In White’, I can see what Ferreira was aiming for, because in amongst the dirge of the heavy guitars and drumming, there’s an interesting song. But much like the album opener, the choruses don’t stand out as much as hoped, and the heavy handed guitar sound overshadows the songs better attributes.
But ‘37 Channels’ does have its truly inspired moments. ‘Gravity’ is typical Tantric with its easy going acoustic rock sound and sing along chorus, while tracks such as ‘Where Do We Go From Here?’ and ‘Bullet’ (Which again features Winkler on co-lead vocals) are solid rockers that give the album some quality moments. But in terms of personal favourites, both ‘Rise’ and ‘You Got What You Wanted’ are the album’s real stand out cuts. Not surprisingly, both tracks are very reminiscent of the sound the band presented listeners with way back on their self-titled debut back in 2001.
While Tantric has always been the kind of band to change from album to album, there’s no denying that ‘37 Channels’ is Tantric’s most diverse and experimental release to date. Yes, there are still plenty of the traditional Tantric sounding songs on the album, but there are also some creative offerings that sound unlike anything Ferreira has dared venture before under the Tantric banner. And as mentioned earlier, sometimes that’s a good thing, and other times just too far removed from what fans want to hear from the band.
In the end, ‘37 Channels’ took some time to grow on me. And while I don’t feel everything on the album works, the album has enough great songs to win over even the most pessimistic of fans. Myself included.

For more information on Tantric, check out - https://www.facebook.com/Tantric

© Justin Donnelly

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Watain - The Wild Hunt

Watain
The Wild Hunt
His Master’s Noise/Century Media Records/E.M.I. Music Australia

Watain is a name that most fans within the black metal scene are familiar with. Over the course of their fifteen year career to date, the Swedish (Uppsala/Stockholm based) outfit has cultivated quite a following with their uncompromising take on black metal, which has seen the band rise from out of the underground and into the wider mainstream consciousness – which has inadvertently placed the band in a position where they now stand as one of the scene’s true contenders for breaking through to mass success in a major way.
Three years after the release of their highly acclaimed ‘Lawless Darkness’ (Which was released through the Season Of Mist label, and earned the band a Swedish Grammy for ‘Best Hard Rock Act’ in 2011), the three piece outfit (Comprising of vocalist/bassist/guitarist Erik Danielsson, guitarist Pelle Forsberg and drummer Håkan Jonsson) are back with their all-important fifth full-length effort ‘The Wild Hunt’ (Which is also their first release since signed up to Century Media Records).
Unlike Cradle Of Filth and Dimmu Borgir, Watain has managed to rise up within the black metal scene without selling out their ideal and sound, or upsetting the purists and loyal fans that have supported them since they first emerged on the scene. But with the release of ‘The Wild Hunt’, it would appear that all that is set to change. Watain have drawn a line in the sand with their new release, and there’s no doubt that the evolution of the band’s sound and direction on their latest release is sure to divide fans.
The trio begin the album with ‘Night Vision’, which is a surprisingly smooth flowing instrumental piece that starts out in a gentle acoustic manner, before eventually morphing into something far more electrified. But even though the song does get heavier, the band shows restraint and keep the song melodic and even paced enough to hint at the changes the band have made on their latest release.
The follow-up track ‘De Profundis’ is exactly what you would expect from Watain, with the band’s thrash like blackened metal sounding every bit as scathing and venomous as ever. The song is classic blasphemous Watain, with the production sounding more like a step back from the polished sound heard on ‘Lawless Darkness’, but polished enough to allow the dynamics of the band’s music really stand out.
After the unrelenting savagery of the former track, ‘Black Flames March’ sees the band slow things down to touch to deliver an anthem that is in no way diminished in its intensity, but merely in tempo. The solid groove allows the band to hone in on their crushing riffs, while the open and dynamic production sound gives the song a suitably evil vibe throughout, while the two tracks that follow – The album’s first single ‘All That May Bleed’ and ‘The Child Must Die’ – sees the band deliver exactly what is expected of them based on their former releases. But that’s not to say that the songs are in any way a rehash of what the band have done before, as the songs reveal a newfound sense of maturity within the song writing, and a greater use of dynamics over sheer volume and speed.
It’s around the middle of the album where the band delivers ‘They Rode On’. Up until this point, ‘The Wild Hunt’ has delivered pretty much what you would expect from the band. But if there’s one track that’s sure to set the cat amongst the pigeons, it’s this track.
Sounding reminiscent of Metallica’s ‘Nothing Else Matters’, ‘They Rode On’ is a daring venture into ballad territory for the band – complete with clean vocals from Danielsson (With help from guest vocalist Anna Norberg in places), acoustic guitars and some impressive and extensive melodic lead work from Forsberg. This track alone is a significant departure from the usual Watain sound, and is the sole reason why some black metal purist will be up in arms. But after the initial shock dies down, it has to be said that the song works quite well with its sombre and mournful approach.
In stark contrast to the former track, ‘Sleepless Evil’ is a bleak and fairly traditional sounding Watain track, and one that’s sure to please old-school fans.
The title track ‘The Wild Hunt’ is another foray into more experimental territory with its doomier sound and use of clean vocals in places, which brings to the surface some of the Bathory influences. This track sounds huge and epic, and while something a little unexpected, is worthy of a special mention.
My personal favourite on the album is ‘Outlaw’, where the band fuses together tribal rhythms with pure black metal, which makes for a truly interesting sound. The tribal influences may only play a minor part in the song itself (The song is fairly straight forward black metal for the most part), but the brief moments where the two differing sounds meld together, is done exceedingly well.
Towards the tail end of the album, the band have pieced together an impressive instrumental piece entitled ‘Ignem Veni Mittere’ that is both haunting and epic sounding, before finishing up the album with the intense mid-paced blast of the truly grim sounding epic ‘Holocaust Dawn’.
Up until now, Watain have maintained a loyal following within the underground scene with their devotion to maintaining a true blackened metal sound. But with ‘The Wild Hunt’, Watain have made a conscious decision to shake things up and broaden their sound more than ever before. And while the changes evident on ‘The Wild Hunt’ will no doubt draw more towards the band’s cause, it will also bring forth its fair share of casualties.
I’m all for progression, and for the most part, ‘The Wild Hunt’ is I think a right step forward for the band at this stage of their career. ‘The Wild Hunt’ may not stand as the strongest release to date from the band, but it does show some promising possibilities of things to come in the future from Watain, should they continue to explore this newfound broader realm beyond the preconceived confines of ‘true’ black metal.

For more information on Watain, check out - http://www.templeofwatain.com/

© Justin Donnelly