Welcome to this month's column. Before we proceed, let me just notify you all that no, I am not ignoring Textures' "Silhouettes" album. The release was just post-poned until May 5th, so it'll feature in next month's column. As usual, if you have any albums you in particular want me to check out for the column, let me know by dropping a comment or sending me a message in my profile. Now, let's get this thing rolling.
Testament - The Formation Of Damnation
Release Date: April 29 Label: Nuclear Blast Genres: Thrash metal
After 9 long years the wait for a new Testament album is over. Had they disbanded following 1999's modern thrash classic "The Gathering," they'd surely been up for the Best Swan Song award. But luckily for us, they kept going despite Chuck Billy's cancer and whatnot. The album has been called a mix of new and old (now that's something we haven't heard before), and more specifically, "The Legacy" and "The Gathering." The comparison is perfectly viable, though I can swear I can hear some "The Ritual"-esque stuff in the mid-tempo tunes. Andy Sneap handled the production this time around, and of course the sound he has delivered is heavy-as-expletive. Testament this time around is somehat of an all star line-up with Alex Skolnick returning on lead guitar, Chuck Billy on vocals, Eric Peterson on guitar, Greg Christian on bass and the mighty Paul Bostaph on drums.
So, is it any good? Hell yeah. The opening three songs will all pummel you to bits. They hit the gates running and don't slow down until after the titletrack, which just so happens to be one of the best thrash songs released in, say, the past decade or so. Chuck utilizes his death growls to great effect on that track, and the riffing is quite ferocious. Future Testament classic for sure. Perhaps it's because of the strong opening, but the album after this doesn't seem as convincing. I suppose it's another case of a band blowing their load early on to hook the listener. The songs that follow aren't bad by any means, they're all ranging from good to very good, but they don't hit you like the opening trio does.
Testament does not quite top "The Gathering" with this, but it's still the best album by a classic American thrash band since they released "The Gathering."
Children Of Bodom - Blooddrunk
Release Date: April 15 Label: Spinefarm Genres: Melodic Power/Death Metal
"Blooddrunk" storms out of the gates with opener "Hellhounds On My Trail," and it doesn't slow down much from then until the 37 minutes of metal has passed. The Finnish group has put together an album that sounds pretty much as one could expect. Heavy riffing, Laiho soloing as soon as he gets a chance, heavy use of keyboards and all the other ingredients that have put Children Of Bodom on the map.
Lyrically, much of it deals with Laiho's alcohol problems and mental issues. Of course I respect his problems, but putting your personal life on display doesn't undo or justify a poor lyric. Children Of Bodom were never, and will never be a band for those of us with a penchant for deep, thoughtful lyrics. But hey, that's perfectly fine but they will lose points when judged along the same scale as everyone else. Each to his own, but nay, lyrically this does not float. "Well, that's fine" you say, since metal was never really, really about the lyrics. It's all about the riff and the solo, right? Well, Bodom certainly do better in that department. There's plenty of aggressive riffing for you all to bang your heads to, but I do miss a few catchy riffs. You know, the ones that you can go humming all day, that are since inception forever linked to that specific. Lead-wise, I have to say I've always found Laiho to be an incredibly overrated leadplayer, and he does little to improve in my eyes on "Blooddrunk." Competent, but he never gets me hooked. In short: both the riffing and the soloing isn't catchy enough. Add to that a somewhat muddy production, or at least one whose clarity could've been drastically improved.
In short, "Blooddrunk" isn't necessarily lacking in any major ways, but it certainly doesn't accomplish much either. It's a competent album by a competent band, but rarely does it excel and reach those highs that would warrant a score in the upper echelons.
Arsis - We Are The Nightmare
Release Date: April 15 Label: Nuclear Blast Genres: Technical Death Metal
Fans of widdling unite, for this album has it in abundance. Guitarists James Malone and Ryan Knight certainly have their lead guitar chops down, employing nigh all tricks in the book. Luckily for us, they do so without making it all seem like an Yngwie Malmsteen album. Y'know, the ones where the vocals seem tagged on as if to fulfill a contract or please record executives. Shred-heavy as it may be, "We Are The Nightmare" is a pleasant listen with a formula that manages to balance technical music and songs with a direction and purpose. The album's 9 tracks are split onto 37 minutes, and no song goes beyond five-and-a-half minutes.
Despite being nestled somewhere between thrash and technical death, with a touch of shred sprinkled on top, Arsis never come off as a band that go over the top with brutality, nor with any of their other elements for that matter. "We Are The Nightmare" is a good, solid release by a promising band that can go places. But, as for now we'll have to settle with one of the more pleasing releases of 2008.
Origin - Antithesis
Release Date: April 1 Label: Relapse Genres: Death Metal
If you ever want to be pummeled to bits by music -- buy this album. Ridiculously brutal, fast and heavy, "Antithesis" is not for the faint of heart. These guys certainly are no slouches on their instruments -- the playing is not only mindblowingly brutal, but very technically demanding. Sadly, that's not one of the album's finer qualities.
After about 14 minutes, or the first three tracks, it all ends up sounding somewhat same-y. There's only so much blasting at 210-or-so bpm can do for you, and I am not kidding -- this drummer loves his blast beats. The overwhelming feeling that each track sounds and reminds you of the one that preceded it carries on for about 30 minutes -- until the title track which rounds out the album. Around this point I wasn't expecting much, but boy do they deliver a brutal, technical nine-and-a-half minute death metal journey. The little break that comes in around the 7-minute mark that then leads into an outro solo with mad arpeggios is not something you just shrug off.
Despite coming off as a somewhat grey and not very memorable effort, "Antithesis" delivers a mighty punch right at the end that certainly helps the overall impression a lot, and leaves me interested in seeing what they can accomplish on their next album.
Warrel Dane - Praises To The War Machine
Release Date: April 29 Label: Century Media Genres: Metal/Hard Rock
Warrel Dane, better known for his work with prog/thrash masters Nevermore, teamed up with ex-Soilwork guitarist and now producer Peter Wichers to deliver this solo album. While Nevermore could be said to be much more geared towards implementing a technical aspect to their playing and songwriting, this album is all about the song and nothing else. Wichers together with Wicklund helped Dane craft an album that delivers catchy, hard-hitting metal tunes tailored to Dane's vocal style and range. An obvious difference from his Nevermore material is that on "Praises..." Warrel is often found singing in a slightly lower register, making him sound very relaxed and perhaps not as crazy as he occasionally does with Nevermore. A decent comparison which comes to mind is how Roy Z penned songs tailored to Bruce Dickinson's vocal style in the mid-to-late-'90s. Dane is also often applauded for his truly thoughtprovoking and thoughtful lyrics, and I dare say that this album features his finest work ever. The topics, while fairly stock, are full of clever metaphors, beautiful phrases and not-what-you-might-expect. The musical side of the album is hardly something that will make you go off, but when coupled with the lyrics and Dane's vocal performances, it washes away some of the stain from the predictable music.
The bottomline is that this album excels in playing to its strengths -- those being Dane's vocals, his sense of melody and his lyrics. The instrumental side is intentionally played down, but it hardly matters when you deliver tunes of this quality. This album is one of the few that can proudly wear Reviewer Pete's "Void Of Fillers Or Unnecessary Additions"-badge.
Belphegor - Bondage Goat Zombie
Release Date: April 11 Label: Nuclear Blast Genres: Black Metal, Blackened Death Metal
When this release landed on my messy desk, I was not expecting much. The title did little to spark my interest, and prior to actually getting around to listening it, I'd unconciously made up my mind regarding the album. So, upon listening to it, I had to change my mind, because this is damn good. Black metal purists might find this to be blasphemously un-true, for the album is very well produced and also very catchy. On the other side of the spectrum, if the stereotypical blak metal image and lyrics get on your tits, then you can just skip this. In places, it feels like you're listening to the black metal equivalent of Manowar, but if you can lay those thoughts aside and accept that there can be such a thing as "fun" in black metal, then this is for you.
The title track, which is also the opener is immensely catchy, as are most of the songs on this 34-minute release. It's short, but very sweet, for a filler is nowhere to be seen. All songs have a certain quality to them, and they're all very enjoyable. Belphegor combine sections driven by blast beats, with slower, crushing sections. Perhaps the song with the most "fun" is "Sexdictator Lucifer," complete with the title grunted over a woman's moan. The band seems to have an obsession with the erotic and sexual pleasures of the Fallen Angel, but it all comes off as so laughable and entertaining that it's not bothersome. Belphegor have crafted a good, solid and entertaining blackened death metal album and they deserve praise for it.
Deicide - Till Death Do Us Part
Release Date: April 30 Label: Earache Genres: Death Metal
Deicide have more or less become an institution, the front-runners for anti-Christian death metal and Glen Benton the posterboy for the aforementioned movements within the genre of metal. On this, their 9th studio effort, the sound is cemented and the formula well known. Brutal, fierce riffs accompanied by machine-gun drumming, a certain level of technical proficiency and Glen Benton giving us his view on Christianity. Some may call this "pleasing the fans" or sticking to your guns -- I call it pulling a Motorhead, and that's not to be read in a flattering way. Deicide have taken their formula as far as it can be taken, and there's nothing more they can do with it. They have become predictable to the point of being sedating, while churning out by-the-book Satanic death metal. 2006's "The Stench Of Redemption" did come off as somewhat fresh, because of all the melody and soloing, but did leave a somewhat sour aftertaste due to sounding a lot like the retarded little brother of Vital Remains' "Dechristianize," which also features Benton on vocals.
Deicide are an institution within the realm of metal, and for a good reason. Roughly the first half of their discography are genre-defining, brutal death metal, but since then they have become too predictable. They put out by-the-book death metal and that's OK, but as far as scores and grades in this column goes, the album and the sound is distinctively average.
In Flames - A Sense Of Purpose
Release Date: April 1 Label: Nuclear Blast Genres: Melodic Metal, Melodic Death Metal
Since breaking into the mainstream in the early '00s, In Flames has become one of the most loved and hated bands of the metal community. "A Sense Of Purpose" is probably their most controversial album to date, and will only fuel the fire between internet warriors debating the band's greatness, or lack of. Stylistically it sits quite nicely next to "Come Clarity" and their other post-"Clayman" albums. Musically it is very solid, filled with good melodies, riffs and I have to say Bjorn Gelotte, who I suspect is responsible for most of the leads, has outdone himself this time around. The leadbreak in "The Mirror's Truth" bring a smile to my face everytime I hear it, and from the start of this album it's just textbook melodic guitar soloing, front to back. Sadly, where the musicianship ends, the vocals take over and that's where the positive feedback of this review ends as well. Anders Fridan has undergone the third major change in terms of his vocalstyle, from growled to screamed, to now incorporate more singing and clean vocals. Anders was never a very good growler or screamer, but the had a certain charm, which sadly is not present in his clean singing. At times, it makes me cringe at how poorly sung this album is. Lyrically it's not much to write home about either: "I feel like shit, but at least I feel something" is just one of many lines that is questionable at best.
I sure the guys are very proud of the album, and that's OK. It's well played and extremely well produced, but when one of the most crucial parts in the machine doesn't deliver, you end with a bad product and a taste you'd rather forget. Had it not been for the enjoyable musicianship from the guys not involved with the vocals, this would've been a turd, but now it's "just" a sub-par release.
Let the flaming begin, but at least give me credit for not putting together a joke involving the title of the album.
News And Tidbits From The Past Month
Singer and guitarist Tom Gabriel Fischer has left Celtic Frost. Fischer later states, in a somewhat cryptic fashion, that "It was not my departure from Celtic Frost which caused the group's inexorable demise. It was the group's inexorable demise which caused my departure." Fischer has stated that he will continue to write music in the vein of Celtic Frost, and also continue to perform material from the previous aforementioned group.
Sweden's very own metal crusaders Hammerfall have recruited Pontus Norgren (more known for his work with glamrock band The Poodles) to replace guitarist Stefan Elmgren who left the band in early April to pursue a career in aviation.
Swedish death metallers Vomitory have begun writing material for the follow-up to 2007's "Terrorize Brutalize Sodomize," tentatively due in May 2009 via Metal Blade Records. Seeing as yours truly happens to live in the same part of the woods as Vomitory, he's already looking forward to the release party.
Mille Petrozza of the German thrashers Kreator have set a tentative January 2009 date for their upcoming album. Petrozza commented: "The new songs are made for a live situation and they all kill! No compromise but sheer thrash metal brutality! So be prepared -- January 2009 will see the release of the next album, followed by an extensive world tour!"
AC/DC have finished recording a new album, due in late 2008. Singer Brian Johnson rather unsurprisingly said that the new album is "Absolutely excellent."
Mayhem guitarist and songwriter Blasphemer has left the group, stating that he does not "see any future for me in the band anymore, at least not a future I'd like to participate in over the coming years." Blasphemer will however fulfill his touring commitments with the group before leaving them completely.
Sweden's Burst have entered the studio to record the follow-up to 2005's Origo. A fall release for "Lazarus Bird," vie Relapse, is expected.
Dream Theater have recorded a cover of the Iron Maiden classic "To Tame A Land" from the 1983 album "Piece Of Mind," for Kerrang Magazine. No word is out on what the recording will be used for, but bear in mind that on May 16 it is 25 years since the release of "Piece Of Mind." Yours truly is betting on a Kerrang Re-Pieced Mind (or something like that) cover album, like they did with Metallica's "Master Of Puppets."
Now, onto some less serious matters. Glen Benton, vocalist and bassist for death metal legends Deicide, claims to have seen a Sasquatch or Bigfoot in a Florida state forest, according to Terrorizer Magazine. "I see this big fuckin' thing lurched down on the side of the road... It's this big grey thing... it fuckin' clears the road in one fuckin' leap, 'ROOOOAHHR!' then into the woods." Glen describes following the creature into the woods in his jeep: "This thing's snapping down trees left and right. All around was a smell like the inside of a dumpster... This thing looked like a primate of some sort. Fuckin' huge eyes, but like part-orangutan and part-chimp." After calling Florida Wildlife, the area was checked and tracks are said to have been found. Glen's experience was documented as an official sighting.
Well, that wraps things up for this month's column. Now I need some rest...