Tag Archives: album

Album Review: Juggernaut of Justice – Anvil

Anvil_-_Juggernaut_of_Justice

Album: JUGGERNAUT OF JUSTICE

Release: 2011

Artist: Anvil

Label: The End Record

Track Listing: 1) Juggernaut of Justice 2) When Hell Breaks Loose 3) New Orleans Voodoo 4) On Fire 5) FuckenEh! 6) Turn it Up 7) This Ride 8) Not Afraid 9) Conspiracy 10) Running 11) Paranormal 12) Swing Thing

Upon hearing the name ‘Anvil’ some will either snigger at images of frontman, Lips, playing his guitar with a dildo before a festival audience in the eighties, or warm to the band that won so many hearts with their 2008 documentary Anvil: The Story of Anvil. The documentary in question was an unprecedented career revamp for a band that had been pretty much invisible for over twenty years. It showed the true dedication of a group that has struggled to be taken seriously, and revealed their die-hard passion and love for the music they create and the dream of being rock stars. However, all that hard work and relentless touring needs quality to back it up, and now more than ever the band need a solid album to prove their worth. With the first album since their award-winning film and the fourteenth record in their career, can Juggernaut of Justice make an impression upon today’s metalheads?

The record opens up strongly with the title track, When Hell Breaks Loose and New Orleans Voodoo all containing powerful riffs, flashy guitar solos and strong vocal performances. Anvil’s old-school thrash riffs sound particularly poignant thanks to the album’s great production, something that a lot of their later self-released records lacked. On Fire and FuckenEh! are respectable metal numbers, the latter a real live anthem (as the title suggests). The album dips significantly during the half-way point with Turn it Up and This Ride sounding like fillers, but Not Afraid, Conspiracy and Running succeed in reviving the tempo and maintaining the same quality as the opening numbers.

Paranormal almost threatens to outstay its welcome at over seven minutes long. It’s a slice of doom metal that sees the band tread back into the realms of unintentional parody with Lips’ vocal lines sounding like something out of a cheesy horror b-movie. Things at this point needed to be uplifted by another thrash gem; unfortunately the band had other ideas. Instrumental album closer Swing Thing feels completely out of place with brass sections playing a surprisingly heavy role. Despite the randomness of the finale, it only adds to the charm of the record which contains all of what’s great about Anvil: full on metal and passionate musicianship held together with an admirable sense of humour.

For fans of the band, Juggernaut of Justice most certainly won’t disappoint. As for newcomers, this album is well worth checking out. It’s the solid effort that the band needed and although nothing on the album particularly stands out as being a classic, it still delivers a level of consistency that makes it an enjoyable listen. With the majority of Anvil’s back catalogue being reissued apart from their sole classic Metal on Metal, this is a good place to start your collection.

It’s hard to say whether Anvil will be seen as a credible force in today’s metal scene, but with the Big Four touring together and revamping thrash metal around the globe, this is the best time for them to step back into the spotlight. Forget everything you previously associated with the band: the dildos, the laughable stage gear and the comedic song titles, and approach Juggernaut of Justice with an open mind. If you do that, chances are you’ll be pleasantly surprised by what is a commendable album.

 

Rating: [7/10]

 

TTT:

1)      Juggernaut of Justice

2)      When Hell Breaks Loose

3)      Not Afraid

 

Reviewed by: Daniel Aston, 01/08/2011

 

Album Review: Dedicated to Chaos – Queensrÿche

DedicatedtoChaos

Album: DEDICATED TO CHAOS

Release: 2011

Artist: Queensrÿche

Label: Loud and Proud/Roadrunner

Track Listing: 1) Get Started 2) Hot Spot Junkie 3) Got It Bad 4) Around the World 5) Higher 6) Retail Therapy 7) At The Edge 8) Broken 9) Hard Times 10) Drive 11) I Believe 12) Luvnu 13) Wot We Do 14) I Take You 15) The Lie 16) Big Noize

Dedicated to Chaos is the latest instalment in a prolific run of releases for Queensrÿche, and unsurprisingly it demonstrates yet another change in musical direction for the band. However, with this release comes their most controversial record to date. Combining elements of electronica, pop, hard rock and hip-hop, this album has the potential to alienate even hard-core fans. Enter Parker Lundgren, a new addition to Queensrÿche. Having previously worked with Geoff Tate during his solo period, some fans already sighted the possibility that Dedicated to Chaos may end up sounding like another Tate solo project. The result is exactly that, with a few essences of the old ‘rÿche sound here and there.

The album kicks open with a duo of hard hitting rock numbers. Get Started and Hot Spot Junkie sound like Q2K and Tribe era tunes with a bit more bite, the latter being one of the band’s heaviest songs to date. There are equally heavy moments elsewhere with Retail Therapy, I Take You and the epic At the Edge. Proof enough that Queensrÿche still rock, here are to be found some of their heaviest riffs. At the Edge is the clear album stand-out, combining ambient atmospherics with bone crunching riffage to dynamic perfection. Just as the record looks set on becoming a hard rock affair, things take a dramatic turn.

Broken and Hard Times provide a pair of prog-tinted ballads rich in layers of thick orchestration. This allows Tate to display the more soulful side of his voice and it is at this point that the music sounds most reminiscent of his solo material.

Musical diversity is explored in a pop direction with Got It Bad, Higher, Around the World and Wot We Do. Around the World is the most radio-friendly track here. With a strong infectious chorus that reeks of stadium rock and essences of U2 it works rather well. Alternatively, Wot We Do sounds like a remnant of the band’s recent cabaret show and lacks the same power and lasting appeal. Got It Bad is much harder to listen to. The lyrics ‘you got those sunglasses on’ are not only sickly but are also repeated too often than is bearable. Musically the song carries a monotonous structure and along with Drive and I Believe is a low-point in the album.

Fans longing for a return to the Empire sound will warm to tracks such as Luvnu and The Lie which tentatively touch upon the golden formula of the ‘rÿche’s early 90s sound. Why the band have decided to use bizarre spellings in some of the track titles is perplexing, perhaps they were foolishly going for a more ‘down with the kids’ approach. Whatever the reason don’t prejudge the material here without giving it a chance. Album closer Big Noize is prime example of this. Epic in its execution, it acts as a platform for Tate to exercise his vocal range to great effect, being very similar in style to Q2K closer The Right Side of My Mind. A killer track with a flippant name.

The album production shines significantly upon first listen and is glorious when played through a good stereo system or headphones. Kelly Gray has worked wonders in the studio and the ‘true headphones record’ that the band promised proves to be one of the most powerful sounding rock records in recent years.

Musically, Dedicated to Chaos is the most diverse album in Queensrÿche’s catalogue and is all the better for it. If approached without albums such as Empire or Operation: Mindcrime in mind, it stands on its own as a strong and intriguing album full of twists and turns with plenty of replay value.

Those who have only just become accustomed to the sound of their previous record, American Soldier, will have to prepare for yet another surprising musical direction. While Queensrÿche’s bravery for taking a risk with an album like this is commendable, it is by no means a perfect product. Lyrically it is weaker than their previous effort with references to Youtube and the ‘Wi-Fi way’ sounding a little cheesy and dated. It’s not as consistent as its predecessor either and is guilty of some mediocre-at-best filler tracks. However, there is quality amongst chaos on show here. Be sure to listen with an open mind and give it a few spins before casting judgement, this might just grow on you.

 

Rating: [8/10]

 

TTT:

1)      At The Edge

2)      Big Noize

3)      Around The World

 

Reviewed by: Daniel Aston, 01/08/2011

 

Album Review: Jupiter – Atheist

Atheist-Jupiter

Album: JUPITER

Release: 2010

Artist: Atheist

Label: Season of Mist

Track Listing: 1) Second to Sun 2) Fictitious Glide 3) Fraudulent Cloth 4) Live and Live Again 5) Faux King Christ 6) Tortoise the Titan 7) When the Beast 8) Third Person

The last three years have been exiting times for fans of the early nineties tech-death scene with bands such as Cynic, Pestilence and Believer reforming and churning out long-awaited studio albums. The results thus far have been rather disappointing with Pestilence abandoning their jazz infused evolution that produced Spheres (1993) and Cynic producing a mixed bag of an album in Traced in Air (2006). Perhaps Atheist, then, could be the first to revamp their glory days.

Unfortunately, Jupiter fails to match up to the early classics. It’s been seventeen years since the band’s previous release, Elements (1993), and clearly the genius pool has long since dried up. The classic Atheist sound of death metal and jazz fused together hasn’t deteriorated one bit and if anything has become clearer thanks to a good production job. A great deal of the early nineties underground albums suffered from cheap production quality but thankfully with modern technology, things have improved tenfold.

The constant shuffling of rhythm patterns and the juggling of time signatures is spellbinding, but only if executed in a tasteful fashion. Opener Second to None is a promising start with a flurry of complex riffage succeeding in being both well-structured and energetic. Fictitious Glide is a similar story although it’s lacking melodic passages to latch on to and sacrifices quality for raw speed and aggression. Fraudulent Cloth follows relatively the same formula and doesn’t leave a lasting impression. At this point in the album you can pretty much guess where things are going. Each track resembles its predecessor with the same ideas, the same approach and ultimately the same mediocre outcome.

Live and Live Again is a breath of fresh air in some respects. The eerie string opening bursts suitably into a dark and heavy speed-metal riff. The chorus is actually singable and memorable and the bleaker vibe gives way to a guitar solo that doesn’t sound like a carbon copy of the previous shred-fests, albeit a bit short. It’s the only track that truly grasps light and shade and develops an interesting song with a balance that’s musically and technically impressive.

After the album’s peak, the second half of the album doesn’t provide anything exciting. Faux King Christ is dynamically boring and is a dramatic drop in quality after Live and Live Again. Tortoise the Titan maintains the drivel before Wake the Beast and Third Person save the album from falling into complete dire straits.

Kelly Shaefer’s vocals lack the power of earlier recordings, reduced now to a snarl rather than a growl. The riffs have also become unimaginative and searching the record for solid memorable riffage is a difficult task. Atheist have always been guilty of releasing short albums and you’d think that after all this time they would give fans more than just under thirty-three minutes of new music. The fact that it’s under thirty-three minutes of relatively monotonous music makes it even worse.

The short running time and the lack of consistency brings Jupiter’s overall score down despite its occasional delights. The technical virtuosity is still jaw-dropping although the creative spark isn’t what it used to be. With a mass of new talent thriving within the tech-death style, Atheist have failed to come back and show anyone how it should be done.

For fans this will be a disappointment and if you want to check out the wonders of ‘jazz-death’ for the first time, this certainly isn’t the place to start.

 

Rating: [4/10]

 

TTT:

1)      Live and Live Again

2)      Second to Sun

3)      Fictitious Glide

 

Reviewed by: Daniel Aston, 18/11/2010

 

Album Review: Twilight Dementia – Dragonforce

Dragonforce-Twilight_Dementia-300x300

Album: TWILIGHT DEMENTIA

Release: 2010

Artist: Dragonforce

Label: Spinefarm

Track Listing: [Disc 1] 1) Heroes of Our Time 2) Operation Ground and Pound 3) Reasons to Live 4) Fury of the Storm 5) Fields of Despair 6) Starfire 7) Soldiers of the Wasteland

[Disc 2] 1) My Spirit Will Go On 2) Where Dragons Go On 3) The Last Journey Home 4) Valley of the Damned 5) Strike of the Ninja 6) Through the Fire and the Flames

As Dragonforce part ways with their vocalist, ZP Theart, a double live album is the perfect device to stall time whilst they search for a new frontman and begin work on their next album. Thankfully that’s not the purpose of this release, we’re reminded more than enough times during the record by Theart that they were recording for an upcoming live CD. So thankfully a lot of consideration has gone into this and it’s not one of those cheap undercooked ‘live’ records designed to merely cash in on loyal fans.

The good news is that the track-listing captures the magic of all four studio albums and all their classic tracks can be found here. The nit-pick is that the individual performances, although tight and polished, don’t stray from the original studio versions. So what’s the point then? Well for a start this is Dragonforce trying to prove themselves in an area where they’ve been criticised over their career.

Previous live recordings and bootlegs across the web have all been rather disappointing and as fast as the band are, they didn’t seem to be that great live at all: guitars out of tune and Theart seeming to struggle with his vocals. However, those who witnessed the ‘force on their recent Ultra Beatdown world tour, including myself, will have seen that they have greatly improved and matured onstage. Thankfully the recordings on show here come from the finalUKleg of that tour.

Production-wise the album is top-notch and has been mixed to perfection. Despite the tracks sounding almost identical to their studio counterparts, the live energy comes through and some of the mid-song comedy banter has been included. Theart does come across as arrogant and irritating, squeezing as many expletives as he can during and between songs. Having said that, his vocal performance throughout is floorless, but it’s easy to see why the band may have decided to give him the boot.

This is going to appeal more to those who witnessed the band on their recent tour and want a slice of that on their ipod. Due to the song selection though, this is a great introduction to Dragonforce for those wanting something in the way of a greatest hits compilation. This is a great release from a band that has had a bad reputation live, but this should set the record straight and silence the doubters who refuse to take the band seriously.

 

Rating: [8/10]

 

TTT:

1)      Heroes of Our Time

2)      Through the Fire and the Flames

3)      Starfire

 

Reviewed by: Daniel Aston, 14/11/2010

 

Album Review: A Thousand Suns – Linkin Park

A-Thousand-Suns-Linkin-Park

Album: A THOUSAND SUNS

Release: 2010

Artist: Linkin Park

Label: Warner Bros.

Track Listing: 1) The Requiem 2) The Radiance 3) Burning in the Skies 4) Empty Spaces 5) When They Come For Me 6) Robot Boy 7) Jornada del Muerto 8) Waiting For The End 9) Blackout 10) Wretches and Kings 11) Wisdom, Justice, and Love 12) Iridescent 13) Fallout 14) The Catalyst 15) The Messenger

Linkin Park is a band struggling to find an identity. The once mammoth nu-metallers have since collaborated with the likes of Jay-Z, alienating the fanbase before making yet another drastic change in musical direction with Minutes to Midnight (2007). The latter album saw the band attempt a more commercial American rock sound, ditching a lot of the rap and hip-hop sampling and even throwing the occasional guitar solo into the mix; albeit to a rather uninspiring outcome. That album turned out to be the kind of record that, given time, will adapt and grow on the listener. However for many fans it was too much of a musical change and was not worth a second spin.

So here we are three years later with A Thousand Suns. For all the critics out there that consistently (and in many cases unfairly) tread every Linkin Park release into the dirt, this album has to be something special if anyone outside their loyal fanbase is going to take the band seriously.

Nothing short of ambitious, Chesterand co. have crafted together a concept album. The theme deals with nuclear warfare and the human race’s fears that come with war and the fate of the world. The build up leading to the first full ‘song’ is nothing short of atmospheric. The Requiem and The Radiance combine synth pads, ghostly vocals and an excerpt of an interview of J. Robert Oppenheimer. The anticipation for Burning in the Skies couldn’t be greater and when it finally bursts into track 3, well, it doesn’t deliver. It turns out to be a slow and mellow number that is as depressing as it is dull, which is a shame. The album needed nothing less than an emotionally charged opener. Sure, slow and purposeful openers work, but not in this case.

Empty Spaces is mere ambience that lasts under twenty seconds and may as well be joined to its follow-up When They Come For Me. Considerably heavier, it’s a platform for Shinoda to blast out some of his rapping before Bennington adds some clichéd ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ to round things up. It’s clear that with little in the way of a catchy melody, it’s all down to the lyrics to apply a lasting effect on the listener here. I say that because it’s no standalone song, a basic riff with some tribal drumming and some mildly-pissed off rapping fails to conjure up much of a secure song structure despite the track clocking in at over five minutes. With lyrics that include passages such as ‘I will not dance even if the beat’s funky – Opposite of lazy / far from a punk – Ya’ll ought to stop talking start trying to catch up motherfucker’ it’s difficult to become emotionally connected to this.

Robot Boy thankfully begins to give the album some credibility. A dreamy number that succeeds in molding an emotional stream that flows through the ears, it is a mesh of positive and bleak feelings that presents a positive future that applies not just to the song’s message but to the record itself. Another short ambience builder follows with Jornada del Muerto before the record’s second single release Waiting For The End. The single forms into a predictable LP radio tune, a first for the album so far. It’s nothing remarkable, and is predictable in its execution making it a rather dull listen.

Blackout is a much more rewarding experience. Bennington’s screams and the catchy chorus work well in this chest-thumping anthem that injects some life into the proceedings. Wretched and Kings opens with an interview portion of Mario Savio before bursting into a heavy weight song that sounds like theLinkinPark of old. Shinoda raps the verse andBennington sings the chorus, the old formula that was so successful does a decent job here. The Mario Savio interview continues towards the end and rallies the song into a battle cry, energy is created but it never reaches the climax that’s so desperately needed.

Wisdom, Justice, and Love is essentially an excerpt of a Martin Luther King speech with some piano chords layered in the background. However the track comes to its premature conclusion with the gradual robotisation of King’s voice and cycles round the title of the song, emphasising a dark and confirmed prophesy. It’s a nice touch that again could have benefited from being expanded with the song over in well under two minutes. It flows into Iridescent that at first sounds remarkably like Coldplay’s Yellow. The song could easily have been written by Coldplay, a statement that represents the many musical perspectives thatLinkinPark have dipped into and played with. The guitar build up and choral section is a fitting end to a relaxing number that includes some un-sampled percussion from drummer Rob Bourdon, who’s presence on the album up to this point has been rather uncertain amongst the excessive use of drum loops.

Fallout is the last of the short fillers. The lyrics are the main attraction once again here, but due to the heavy use of vocoder they are hard to make out. Upon glancing at the lyrics inside the sleeve notes they turn out to deal with self-blame and the loss of things that are undeserved. Bleak and downbeat, maybe it’s best we didn’t hear them in the first place then.

The Catalyst proves to be one of the record’s obvious high points.Bennington’s vocals are powerful and believable and the build up is justified with a proper climax. It is the album’s first single and it is a well constructed song for a change. It’s a shame there aren’t more numbers like this elsewhere on this album that has managed to churn out a series of unfulfilled ideas leading to a rather disappointing feeling as though something is always missing. Whether it’s a song that fails to reach the climax it’s looking for or an undeveloped filler, the record has that essence of poor execution.

The album closer The Messenger is a suitable conclusion to what has been a mixed bag of a record. It’s kept brief and simple.Bennington’s heartfelt vocals and an acoustic guitar are gradually joined by piano and synth in this slow ballad finale.

So there it is, the latest LinkinParkalbum. By far the furthest the band have ventured from their original sound, A Thousand Suns is an interesting listen should you give it the attention it needs. It must be seen as a solid body of work and as one piece of music rather than a collection of songs; it is after all a concept album. Unfortunately it lacks consistency and at times is too bleak and mellow for its own good.

Whether it is an improvement upon its predecessor Minutes to Midnight is debatable, it’s a completely different affair. Then again, looking at it,LinkinPark have been one of the most intriguing bands to emerge from the 90s metal scene. Ever changing their musical direction has however alienated many fans, and unfortunately in their exploration they have failed to fully grasp their newfound territories. Yet still they go forward in a music scene where other bands from their time have crumbled into nothingness, so it’s a respectable effort from a band clinging onto survival.

A Thousand Suns in the end felt like a journey and the more times you embark on it the more you are likely to get from it. It is yet another original musical venture in the band’s back catalogue and who knows what they’ll attempt next.

 

Rating: [6/10]

 

TTT:

1)      Robot Boy

2)      The Catalyst

3)      Blackout

 

Reviewed by: Daniel Aston, 13/11/2010

 

Album Review: Insurgentes – Steven Wilson

Steven_Wilson_Insurgentes

Album: INSURGENTES

Release: 2009

Artist: Steven Wilson

Label: Kscope

Track Listing: 1) Harmony Korine 2) Abandoner 3) Salvaging 4) Veneno Para Las Hadas 5) No Twilight Within the Courts of the Sun 6) Significant Other 7) Only Child 8) Twilight Coda 9) Get All You Deserve 10) Insurgentes

Steven Wilson has been involved in numerous bands over the years, most notably Porcupine Tree, so it was inevitable that one day he would gather all his experiences and direct them toward a solo effort. The highly anticipated Insurgentes rides on the back of a wave of excellent releases. The most notable of these were the last four Porcupine Tree albums. Lightbulb Sun was the last of the softer ‘prog rock’ ‘Tree albums with In Absentia and Deadwing incorporating metal influences thanks to Wilson’s recent work with Opeth. The mood shifted dramatically with Fear of a Blank Planet which is an incredibly dark and atmospheric concept album depicting the demise of our younger generation from society. The vibes from that record have been taken and amplified to a new level with Insurgentes, it’s very dark, very atmospheric and very bleak.

With the help of various guest musicians and fuelled by his angst for the modern world (in particular the shape of today’s music industry),Wilsoncreates a stunning debut.

Harmony Korine is about as uplifting as it gets. A somewhat catchy opener that is the first step of the listener’s journey into the deep, dark cave that is this album. Abandoner uses sampling and various sound effects to create a rather chilling piece of music. The use of dynamics is absolutely excellent as tension, sadness and anger erupt fantastically. This pares well with Salvaging, the beautiful string orchestration becomes violated by a wave of noise that is designed to disturb. The tempo drops with Veneno Para Las Hadas, the reverberated guitar chords echo delicately and the mood becomes ever more sombre. So immediately it becomes apparent where the emotional mind-set of this album is going.

No Twilight Within the Courts of the Sun provides some needed daylight. This energetic song showcases lead guitar work that otherwise doesn’t have the opportunity to exist elsewhere amongst the other song landscapes. Essences of Porcupine Tree fused with a bluesy chug come off well in the longest track at nearly nine minutes. More multi-layered vocals drift across the template along with more haunting piano soloing and keyboard layering.

Significant Other is a nod in the Pink Floyd area of inspiration that Wilson executes so well. As a song it sounds like a mixture of Dark Side of the Moon fragments, fractured twinkling of guitar chords with the wailing of improvised vocal parts are iconic transpositions. Only Child takes the tempo up slightly. It could do with an injection of something though, the dull plod never amounting to much of a breakthrough that seemed inevitable. Instead it leads through to Twilight Coda which is a return to the shadows, a brief instrumental that amongst darkness is rather soothing.

The closing two tracks are as strong as the opening pair. Get All You Deserve is one of the angriest tracks here, tension slowly mounting over the course of six minutes that this time explodes gloriously. Finally the title track rounds off the whole record, a 17 string bass koto meanders away, the music drifting quietly, slowly, into the void.

Insurgentes is to be treated as one continuous flow of music. Yes there was a single released in Harmony Korine, but it’s just a piece of the whole thing.Wilson’s vocals have a sense of honesty; for here he’s quite simply, as he always does, telling you how things are and what he has to say about it.

If you liked Fear of a Blank Planet then you’ll love this. However, if you’re a more optimistic individual, you may find it a bit too bleak. It’s worth noting that the 5.1 surround sound mix is highly recommended, the roars of the overhead aeroplane in Abandoner being felt in its full force is a particular highlight.

This album really shines. It is has an extremely powerful emotional vibe that is communicated to perfection. Take a look at the album art and you can get a sense of the ghostly presence that this record has. The heavy metal riffage has been replaced with furious synthesized monstrosities that unite among a crowd of various musical styles, all incorporated into one excellent album. This is how it’s done.

 

Rating: [10/10]

 

TTT:

1)      Harmony Korine

2)      Abandoner

3)      Get All You Deserve

 

Reviewed by: Daniel Aston, 24/01/2010

 

Album Review: Gabriel – Believer

Believer_-_Gabriel

Album: GABRIEL

Release: 2009

Artist: Believer

Label: Metal Blade

Track Listing: 1) Medwton 2) A Moment in Prime 3) Stoned 4) Redshift 5) History of Decline 6) The Need For Conflict 7) Focused Lethality 8) Shut Out the Sun 9) The Brave 10) Nonsense Mediated Decay

One of the lesser-known prog-tech groups from the later eighties/early nineties reform at a time when reunions in the genre are all the range. The Christian thrash metal outfit return after a long sixteen years out with one of the most addictive albums of the year that will interest fans of thrash and progressive metal. In a year where the likes of Megadeth, Dream Theater and Slayer release top selling albums, Believer would naturally have to produce a corker of a record if they wanted to even be noticed by anybody. I guess they would truly have to knuckle down and believe in themselves (sorry).

The atmospheric Medtwon sets things alight in style. A combination of fast riffage, peculiar synthesizers and anti-war lyrics is well executed. The guitars are heavy, each chord a mighty weighted chug that combines with some Rage Against the Machine-style vocals. A complex drumming pattern opens up A Moment in Prime which provides some variation concerning textures and time patterns. During the track brief switches from soft to heavy and time alternations led by the drums show off Believer’s technical and progressive tendencies which finally provide room for a soft violin outro. It’s this unusual combination that makes this band beg for your attention.

A honky-tonk piano is smashed aside during the opening bars of Stoned as yet another fierce thrash riff is unleashed amongst a wave of insane drumming, Believer clearly mean business. Redshift is most developed track so far in the vein of progressive metal with extremes of light and dark experimented with perfectly, the synthesizers and pronounced bass almost giving a taste of Porcupine Tree.

The next four tracks don’t disappoint, more riffs are churned out and the thrash ferocity levels remain constant. The flow of riffs keeps coming yet as enjoyable as they are, none are immediately catchy. Shut Out the Sun includes some melodic vocals although the standard is another matter – that’s not really the point of all this though.

Howard Jones (Killswitch Engage) is one of a handful of guest musicians to make an appearance on this record. His voice is much welcomed in The Brave, the contrast between Bachman works well, although Bachman’s shouting becomes rather outclassed.

Nonsense Mediated Decay is a lengthy instrumental. Nearing the nine minute mark, the frantic riffs and strange atmospherics unite and collide with sci-fi orientated voice-overs. This experimental break came at the right time; the thrash driven album takes another turn to the progressive side, strengthening the overall sound. As expected, the track is rather unusual to say the least and at times threatens to be a little too on the far-out side. Sudden tune changes are pulled off well although the finale of the track is a little anti-climatic, a shame because this had the potential to be mind-blowing.

Thankfully, the awe-inspiring album art (one of the best covers all year) isn’t the only good thing about this record. Gabriel is a solid monument that contains a healthy mix of musical styles. Venturing from technical thrash to prog metal with the help of synthesized layering can be a hefty task for many. Here Believer does a fine job of it. The power on show is exceptional and the differentiation makes this record thoroughly enjoyable. Does it stand out amongst the big boys? The answer is yes it does, but whether or not it will get the gratification it deserves is sadly an unlikely eventuation.

 

Rating: [8/10]

 

TTT:

1)      Redshift

2)      Medwton

3)      The Brave

 

Reviewed by: Daniel Aston, 17/01/2010

 

Album Review: Black Clouds & Silver Linings – Dream Theater

Dream_Theater_-_Black_Clouds_&_Silver_Linings

Album: BLACK CLOUDS & SILVER LININGS

Release: 2009

Artist: Dream Theater

Label: Roadrunner

Track Listing: 1) A Nightmare to Remember 2) A Rite of Passage 3) Wither 4) The Shattered Fortress 5) The Best of Times 6) The Count ofTuscany

Two years after releasing one of their greatest albums to date in Systematic Chaos (2007), Dream Theater attempt to build upon their recent run of impressive releases. Returning to a more gothic tone that hasn’t been fully exploited anywhere else other than on Train of Thought (2003), Black Clouds & Silver Linings is a much darker album than its predecessor.

The beginnings of A Nightmare to Remember reveal that LaBrie has returned to his snarly vocals that worked brilliantly on The Dark Eternal Night. There, he sounded remarkably like James Hetfield whereas here they’re not quite that extreme. Upon returning to his regular clean vocals later on it immediately feels more fitting – less forced. They return during a brilliant mellow section that manages to be uplifting, dramatic and catchy.

After the expected soloing from various band members, some rather unappealing ‘roars’ from Portnoy come into light. Unfortunately this doesn’t disappear here as it will come up again in various places of the album and they don’t sound too good. Perhaps they thought they would give the sound a bit of needed angst, or maybe they did intend it to be a bit of a joke; either way it kinda dents the seriousness of the music. However, the whole sound can relate to this with Rudess delivering some ‘haunted house’ style keyboard runs and Petrucci’s guitar mimicking the epic horror sounds. This opener clocks in at over sixteen minutes.

You can’t really describe anything by Dream Theater as being ‘commercial’, but A Rite of Passage feels like a single and it was to become the first off this record. It’s still lengthy at over eight minutes with the band attempting to recreate the magic of Pull Me Under albeit a tad heavier in places. A fine ballad follows, Wither bringing a temporary break to the tech-gothic theme in returning to the Dream Theater of old, think Another Day from Images and Words (1992) and you’ll have an idea of the musicality on show.

The second half contains three long journeys: The Shattered Fortress and The Best of Times are both around thirteen minutes and The Count of Tuscany stretches over nineteen. So if you like long and interesting tracks, this album is definitely for you. The band shows their Rush influences as well, in some cases a bit too much with the ending number containing YYZ moments that are a bit too inspired. The Count of Tuscany develops into the band’s latest epic venture that matches the genius of A Change of Seasons and Octavarium. A dreamy mid-section is an enjoyable slice of space rock, Rudess and Petrucci executing a much needed break from the technical madness.

Overall Black Clouds & Silver Linings is a good album. Dream Theater’s choice to go gothic has its ups and downs but the lengthy tunes are solid structures to be admired upon by all who care to listen. The compositions are technically amazing as always, however this time around there is less in the way of memorable tunes. The collector’s edition contains a disc of instrumental takes of the whole album which is very enjoyable, worth it for the lack of irritating roaring. The third disc however is yet another batch of rather uninspiring cover versions ranging from Rainbow to King Crimson (this doesn’t affect the album’s overall score).

 

Rating: [6/10]

 

TTT:

1)      A Nightmare to Remember

2)      The Count ofTuscany

3)      Wither

 

Reviewed by: Daniel Aston, 16/01/2010

 

Album Review: American Soldier – Queensrÿche

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Album: AMERICAN SOLDIER

Release: 2009

Artist: Queensrÿche

Label: Rhino

Track Listing: 1) Sliver 2) Unafraid 3) Hundred Mile Stare 4) At 30,000 feet 5) A Dead Man’s Words 6) The Killer 7) Middle of Hell 8) If I Were King 9) Man Down! 10) Remember Me 11) Home Again 12) The Voice

After the return to form with Operation: Mindcrime II (2006), Queensrÿche challenge themselves with yet another elaborate concept album in American Soldier. The concept doesn’t follow a scripted story instead describing the stories of those who have served under the US Army from WW2 to the present day wars in the middle-east. In some ways this was the make-or-break album of their later career. A string of poorly received albums was broken with the sequel to their original conceptual masterpiece and this album would prove if they could continue to get back on track.

The ‘Hey’ and ‘What’s Up’ shouts of Sliver alarmed me at first, had Queensrÿche gone hip-hop? Thankfully not, the opener is a brief yet powerful rock track that immediately is musically and lyrically superior to anything on Operation: Mindcrime II. The production has also notably improved; the lack of reverb on the previous release has been corrected giving the music space to breath. Tate’s vocals are remarkably powerful with the gradual rise in pitch during the end of the second verse being truly electrifying.

Unafraid includes a basic chorus and riff, but the job of this track is to allow space for the soldiers who were there to speak out. Throughout the album the soldiers themselves are heard providing their personal experiences and feelings towards serving in war, a touch that is one of the key aspects that makes this album so special. Queensrÿche take no shortcuts in aiming to provide a record that best represents the bravery of the armed forces whilst paying tribute to them.

Hundred Mile Stare is powerful mid-paced rock number with At 30,000 Feet following the same style. A Dead Man’s Words picks up the pace, an eerie eastern riff circles below the layers of atmospherics before an Alice in Chains-style chorus kicks in. The track progresses smoothly through classy riffs, dramatic overdubs and a chilling saxophone solo – a clear standout. The Killer is another solid tune that describes a Viet Nam veteran’s return home who has to deal with accusations of being a ‘baby killer’, just one of the strong emotional themes presented through the music on American Soldier.

Middle of Hell maintains the inspired notions of the first half, the saxophone returning and soloing along side Wilton, thus providing a Pink Floyd feel amongst the layers of chiming guitars and echoing vocal harmonies. A soldier’s account of witnessing the loss his fallen comrade opens If I Were King. The track however develops into being rather upbeat, this style continues with Man Down! and helps the album become an enjoyable listen as opposed to a miserable and depressing venture such as Pink Floyd’s The Final Cut which musically has been a great influence on Queensrÿche’s sound through the years.

Two ballads follow, Remember Me and Home Again. Both prove to be very powerful, the latter including a performance from Tate’s young daughter. Themes of the soldier-child relationship are explored, ‘when I come back are they gonna think that I’m some kind of monster?’ is projected during Remember Me where Home Again describes the future reuniting of the family with the struggles of holding it together during the stressful time apart. The Voice rounds things off nicely with another moderately paced and upbeat rock number, although the record may have been better ending on a more solemn note.

Queensrÿche choose to go the slow and thoughtful route of song-writing for the most part of this album, some more heavy tunes in the vein of Sliver would have made this even better, but maybe that’s not what this record’s all about. Discussing a delicate matter on such a large scale was ambitious, yet it has been achieved in great style, something not done this well since Roger Waters’ Amused to Death in 1992. With an hour’s worth of brilliant atmospheric and inspiring music, Queensrÿche deliver their best album in over twenty years.

 

Rating: [9/10]

 

TTT:

1)      Sliver

2)      A Dead Man’s Words

3)      Unafraid

 

Reviewed by: Daniel Aston, 14/01/2010

 

Album Review: Chickenfoot – Chickenfoot

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Album: CHICKENFOOT

Release: 2009

Artist: Chickenfoot

Label: Roadrunner

Track Listing: 1) Avenida Revolucion 2) Soap on a Rope 3) Sexy Little Thing 4) Oh Yeah 5) Runnin’ Out 6) Get it Up 7) Down the Drain 8) My Kinda Girl 9) Learning to Fall 10) Turnin’ Left 11) Future in the Past

Some of the world’s greatest musicians, Sammy Hagar (Van Halen, Montrose), Michael Anthony (Van Halen), Chad Smith (Red Hot Chilli Peppers) and Joe Satriani, join forces for the latest rock supergroup: Chickenfoot. Despite Hagar’s statement “We’re not a supergroup, we like hanging out together and the music is a bonus. We just happen to be in other groups.”, the vast majority of us see them that way, so naturally a lot was expected from their eponymous debut. Perhaps the spotlights were all on Satriani in particular, with this being his first appearance in a proper band rather than a solo artist. How would he fit in, and, how would the egos cope with one another in such a confined space?

Avenida Revolucion begins with a flash of technical randomness from Satriani before dropping into a lengthy mid-paced chug. It’s a wonder why they chose to open with this, a pretty linear, albeit decent track. ‘Crossing the borderline, into the fire’ are the words that ring out, some sort of tension is built up as we anticipate a breakthrough. It comes with the second track, Soap on a Rope, a much funkier, energetic song that perhaps should have been switched with Avenida Revolucion. Musically, it possesses the characteristics of a Rage Against the Machine number – minus the rapping. Satriani pulls off a shredfest during his solo spot that’s not without construction and thought, basically it’s not all: how many notes can I play within the next few bars? The sequence of tracks 2-4 is the peak of the record. Sexy Little Thing and the first single Oh Yeah both excellent and enjoyable bluesy anthems. The riffs contained are simple yet effective. Unsurprisingly, these would become the three singles released.

Runnin’ Out and Get it Up are predictable tunes, plenty of cheesy lines from Hagar keep the mood light and Satriani’s solos are good but a little on the short side. The latter contains similar musical notions to the albums opener with some added Arabian spice. Before the album risks dropping into mediocrity, it is saved by Down the Drain. An instant highlight, the dark, heavy and sludge-like riff brings a welcomed essence of variety. The track clocks in at over six minutes and it would have been nice to have seen more in the way of improvisation from the band. Plenty of space for solo spots goes to waste in the rather linear blues monster. My Kinda Girl takes things back to catchy upbeat rock. Learning to Fall is the eventual ballad, the backing vocals during the chorus really elevate the mood before Satriani enters for a solo. Initial fears were that it would only last a few bars, fortunately it somewhat survives after the bridge, although forced into the background as Hagar continues to sing over the top.

Turnin’ Left contains some great funky riffage that would have best rounded off the album as opposed to Future in the Past. ‘Saving the best ‘till last’ doesn’t refer to the actual track that feels akin once again to the beginning of the record.

If anything should be said about this album it is that it’s energetic, upbeat and overall very enjoyable. Thanks to the production every member can be heard and every member, as expected, puts on a fine performance. It’s clear that the guys are having a good time doing what they’re doing and that rubs off on the listener, so this record will only make you feel good. With near an hour of catchy tunes, it makes a great listen. Some issues with track numbering and the length of solo spots is all I can pick at here, other than that this is very good indeed.

 

Rating: [8/10]

TTT:

1)      Soap on a Rope

2)      Down the Drain

3)      Oh Yeah

 

Reviewed by: Daniel Aston, 12/01/2010