Heaven & Hell The Devil You Know
Released: April 28 Genre: Heavy/Doom Metal Label: Rhino
I'll go out on a limb and say that just about everyone who's into metal likes Black Sabbath to some extent. And to me, this is Black Sabbath under a different moniker. I've always had a soft spot for Iommi, being a lefty and an SG player myself, so naturally I'm quite happy about getting to hear a new album full of his classic riffs. The opening track Atom & Evil is a doom-filled 5-minute affair that not so much gets the ball rolling, but puts it in motion and the opening trio of songs help the album get off to a promising start. Especially the single and third track, entitled Bible Black, is like much the rest of the album reminiscent of the Heaven & Hell album. In fact it could be said that they've barely missed a beat in the past 25-or-so-years, based on the opening of this album. The similarities between 80's Sabbath with Dio and this album are pretty obvious, and that is both the album's main strength and weakness.
The entire band delivers solid performances that can stand up to anything they've put out, in terms of musicianship and execution. Dio is almost frighteningly good considering he was born around the Third Crusade, and Butler delivers the tasty, classy basslines we've come to take for granted from him. However, songwriting is always paramount and how does The Devil You Know line up to that? Well, as previously stated, the opening trio is excellent and while it doesn't end there, the album gets decidedly weaker as it goes. Eating the Cannibals is a pretty good rocker ruined by mediocre-to-bad lyrics, and by the time the closing duo of songs roll by, I find that the album struggles to keep my attention. Like I said, the album's main strength is also its weakness. The album sounds exactly as I expected, and while there's definitely something to be said for reliability and sticking to your guns, I tend to prefer and favor bands and albums that push the envelope. Tony Iommi most certainly has done his fair share of envelope-pushing in the days, virtually inventing heavy metal, but The Devil You Know sounds like 1982 to me and that's really the problem it sounds just like they did back in the day. The bottom line is that it's a fine album, but I don't see much of a reason to listen to it when I have Heaven & Hell and The Mob Rules in my collection.
Chimaira The Infection
Released: April 27 Genre: Metalcore Label: Nuclear Blast
I'm a fan of variation. I like music that progresses, that doesn't rest on stale standards and that tries to expand the definition of 'metal'. Thus, I've had a hard time trying to enjoy Chimaira's new effort.
I can't say that I've listened to Resurrection in a long time, but I do recall enjoying it a bit. The Infection is, well, a pretty unvaried effort. The album sports a modern, slick yet aggressive production as per expected, tight chugging guitars and bass-drumming that follows the rhythmic structure set by said guitars. Mark Hunter's vocal endeavours are somewhat expanded this time around, by adding a death growl to the mix, but I would recommend to abstain from further implementing it in future releases, because it's not very well done. Now, my primary source of criticism tempos. The first three songs basically start with breakdowns (if you ignore the opening calm, quiet minute at the start of the album), but they never seem to pick up in speed or vary that beat much, bar adding straight double-bass here and there. The Infection is a mid-tempo based effort, lacking any real punches, and it more or less just jabs along over the course of it's 50-ish minute existence, throwing in breakdowns from nowhere and killing any flow it has managed to build up. The album isn't without merit there're quite a few good sections and riffs that could've been pieces of a much bigger and better puzzle. The keyboard player also has taken on a bigger role, adding a softer and gentler touch to Chimaira's sound. But then again, what is a metal album worth when the best and only worthwile sections are the soft and gentle ones?
Candlemass Death Magic Doom
Released: April 3 Genre: Doom Metal Label: Nuclear Blast
I suppose quite a few of us thought Candlemass were, excuse the pun, doomed when it was announced that Messiah Marcolin was out of the band for good. But in stepped Rob Lowe and what a pleasant surprise 2007's excellent The King of the Grey Islands turned out to be. Naturally, expectations rise with an album like that in the bag, but does Edling & Co deliver? The album opens with a pretty up-tempo song, which certainly feels a bit unusual given this being Candlemass and everything. There's no question that Rob Lowe, once again, sings his rear end off and delivers on the high level one can expect from the man. What was originally the title track before they changed the name of the album comes next and features that slow and crushingly heavy groove we've to come to know and love, which reeks of early Candlemass on all fronts. The song itself is almost a carbon copy of Black Sabbath (the song), in that it starts out slow and heavy, which an eery melody in the verses, to then speed up during the bridge. I wouldn't call it much of a rip-off, rather a tribute and tip of the hat to the band who invented the sound and style. Soundwise, it's pretty uneventful either way. The production is, bluntly put, very good. There's not a whole lot that can go wrong when your sound is so simple and you combine it with today's recording technology. In terms of individual performances, we've already discussed Rob Lowe, but Lars Johansson deserves a mention for his tasty, melodic leads. There's no overplaying or shred just for the sake of it, he just plays what the song demands and requires. Candlemass won't change their sound 20+ years after establishing it, and that's just the way it is. King of the Grey Islands was full of killer songs, front to back, but for whatever reason, I don't find Death Magic Doom to possess the same kind of mesmerising song-writing. The opening 20-or-so minutes are very good, but there's a slight drop around the time House of Thousand Voices and Dead Angel roll by. I suppose one could call all parts of an album critical, be it opening, middle or back, but it's hard to get an album to stick when all the killers are delivered one-by-one early on, and after that it's a bit hit and miss. Death Magic Doom isn't bad by any means, but there's a significant drop in quality around the three-quarter mark. Luckily, My Funeral Dreams is a very good song to end an album with, despite that the melody for My funeral dreams is more or less identical to the one for The Hammer Of Doom. Death Magic Doom is a pretty good album, and can serve as a good introduction for new fans, but they have made much better albums.
Trigger the Bloodshed The Great Depression
Released: April 6 Genre: Death Metal Label: Metal Blade
If you look up no-nonsense in a thesaurus, then you get synonyms such as 'direct' and 'efficient'. Those two words sum up my feelings regarding this album quite well, and if I didn't know that the head honcho here at UG demands more than two words in my reviews, I'd just leave it at that. The somewhat more elaborated version is that The Great Depression is brutal, face-to-the-mace death metal played at breakneck speed with deep growls, blast beats and intense riffing. For many years, the definition of death metal has been pushed further and further away from the original style, by incorporating other genres, techniques and influences. Trigger the Bloodshed utilise very little of this and instead opt for the Slayer-approach: 30 minutes of full-on brutality with no speed limits. And I must say that it works quite well in this case. The Great Depression is a very simple album that aspect, despite it being a very demanding album from a technical perspective. The songs range from three to four and a half minutes, the album itself is thirtyfour minutes long and the album contains eleven tracks. A case can easily be made that ten of those songs are very similar in style, containing the elements listed in the opening paragraph. However, the albums gives us a breather at the halfway mark, in the shape of 70 seconds of ambient noise, aptly entitled Interlude. Without that little break, the album would more or less be one, long chain of brutality with no breathers or dynamics. One shouldn't be fooled and believe that this is a top 5 album at the end of the year. In the end, it's just a very, very brutal album, but it's also a very good one at that. It's short, simple and to the point and in this day of bloated releases, that goes quite a long way. It's an album for those times when you feel like getting run over by a train, but would like to avoid the part about dying.
Released: April 20 Genre: Progressive Metal Label: Listenable
With some bands and albums, you get a certain uneasy feeling. You simply do not know where they're gonna go. Will they throw in a quiet section? Breakdown? Aliens? Rick Astley!? Lazarus is one of those albums, completely ignoring every conceivable rule regarding song structure and arrangements. Upon the first listen, one could best describe it as controlled chaos, because the songs seem to go where they please, seemingly without control or restraint. And therein lies the charm.
The band seems to move along as some kind of four-headed schizophrene behemoth, yet it's all done in beautiful time, with complex movement and they don't miss a step along the way. The number of bands you could suggest as possible influences is quite staggering, but never do you come across a passage that makes you think oh, they ripped off that band here, how cheap. The music is beautifully complex, with time signatures shifting and changing seamlessly and without much effort to boot. Musically, it lies closer to modern progressive metal along the lines of Meshuggah and other modern American metal bands who have flirted with progressive tendencies, while not so much the classic prog-metal bands like Dream Theater and Fates Warning.
I will have to say that I am somewhat on the fence as to my opinion of this album. It's one of those pieces that requires a full listen and your complete attention in order for you to pick up on the small details. My head absolutely loves this album, because it's so wonderfully detailed and precise in its execution, but while it messes with my head, it doesn't hit me in the heart. But I hope further listening will amend that. Either way, it's a very good album and dedicated listeners will be rewarded.
News and tidbits from the past month:
Please understand that this is just a handful of the news and press releases from the month of April. Were I to include all of them, then I'd be busy until next year!