This Month In Metal: August 2010

Black Label Society and obviously Iron Maiden headline this month's edition.

Ultimate Guitar

The Sword - Warp Riders

Released: August 24 Genre: Heavy metal/hard rock Label: Kemado

I have a hard time listening to The Sword without thinking that they must be the bastard child of Kiss, Deep Purple and Black Sabbath. I swear, half the time I think that they're going to break into either Highway Star any minute now. Although that feeling somewhat fades after a handful of listens and Warp Riders develops a charming personality of its own. To say that the album and the band is a nod to the good ol' 70s hard rock/primal metal acts is an understatement, it's more of a full bow.

A seasoned metal listener will probably not be blown away by Warp Riders and its standard-yet-classy rhythms, classic rock soloing or Cronise's vocals (that sounds like a cross between Ozzy and modern Hetfield, at least to these ears), but one might be surprised that an album that is so deeply entrenched in an era long gone can sound so honest and full of life.

While not every song is a hit, the flow and charm of Warp Riders is undeniable. If you end up buying it based on this review yet somehow don't like it, at least you can stare at the gorgeous artwork.

UG Review Rating: 7.5

Black Label Society - Order of the Black

Released: August 10 Genre: Metal/rock Label: Roadrunner

Zakk Wylde is the type of guy that divides a crowd, you either love him or you hate him. I've always had a soft spot for the guy and quite like his style, even though he both turned me onto, and a few years later off pinch harmonics.

It's been a fair few years since I listened to a BLS album for an extended period of time (Mafia, 2005 actually) and at first glance it doesn't seem like much has changed. Nor at the second or third for that matter, and while BLS have their (well, Zakk's) style and sound it's somewhat saddening to see how little has changed. The same-y sound from song-to-song makes me want do either of these two things: sit on my porch with a bottle of JD and a shotgun (that's the good one), or turn it off. Order Of The Black is the type of album where I deem that the glass is half-full, because sometimes the quality song is there and sometimes it is not.

If Zakk is your God, then this is probably the album for you. If he's a cool guitarist/songwriter, then this might be the album for you and if he is someone you couldn't care less for, well...

UG Review Rating: 5.5

Mar de Grises - Streams Inwards

Released: August 30 Genre: Melodic/progressive doom Label: Season of Mist

Chile is not a country known for its steady stream of metal bands, but thanks to fellow writer Duncan Geddes, Mar De Grises have come to my attention. The low-down on their sound would be that it is mostly doom, a touch of progressive and it is all very melancholic. I actually thought they were Finnish at first, since their sound is pretty, if not very similar to that of Swallow The Sun.

The album is short, only 31 minutes and that's definitely not a bad thing. Doom is one of those genres that turn pretty stale after 40-45 minutes but Streams Inwards is interesting and fresh all the way through. That being said, it's not reinventing the wheel, nor the genre so don't expect to be blown away if you're a veteran doom/death fan.

Rating: 7

Iron Maiden - The Final Frontier

Released: August 13 Genre: Heavy metal Label: EMI

There are only a handful bands in the metal world for which time seemingly stops when they release a new album. Iron Maiden are certainly one of those and whenever they release a new album it's a global event for the metal community. Much can be said about the band, but the first thing that comes to my mind is longevity. For most of us, from the day we were introduced to metal, there have been a select few constants and Iron Maiden is one of them.

As a listener who was far from impressed with "A Matter Of Life And Death", I did not expect much. That being said, "The Final Frontier" opens with one of the cooler things they've done in about twenty-or-so years. While "Satellite 15" somewhat outstays its welcome, it's a breath of fresh air compared to what we're used to from Maiden.

My primary complaints about Maiden post-reunion were a) the excess use of clean/acoustic intros to open AND close songs, as well as the constant one-line choruses repeated over and over. A third complaint would also be the production getting worse and worse as their relationship with Kevin Shirley got longer and longer. Hardcore fans might say that Maiden have always had quiet intros as a part of their sound, and that is most certainly true; however the number of quiet intros/outros on "Dance Of Death" and "A Matter Of.." outnumbered those on the first seven albums, by many (including me) regarded as their golden years. While Maiden have improved in the intro/outro and chorus department, they have actually gotten even worse when it comes to the production. "The Final Frontier" sounds far from final, and is on par with what most bands call demos these days. For a band that had the best productions in the 80's, it's quite a dip to now be so far below the average production value of today. As everybody knows, the band is getting quite old and while it really doesn't show much in terms of playing, there are places when it's pretty apparent. Somehow Steve Harris seems to think that Bruce Dickinson, while still a great vocalist, is still 24 years old. Some of the Harris-penned melodies are simply too much for Bruce, such as the nearly song-killing chorus in "Mother Of Mercy" where Dickinson sounds very strained.

Despite its problems, "The Final Frontier" contains some really good material. Guitarist Adrian Smith has fully assumed the position as the chief writer beside Harris and what a blessing that is for the band. From a guitar perspective, "The Final Frontier" is one of their most interesting since their heyday. To borrow a sports term, he is having a career year but despite that there are more variables that need to be in place to produce a good albumespecially if it's 76 minutes long.

Yes, "The Final Frontier" is a very long record and at times it certainly feels like it. Considering it's almost twice the length of the albums they used to put out in their creative prime, it's not exactly unlikely that it'd also be a bore-fest of Star Trekian proportions. Could a good 15-20 minutes have been trimmed to make the album a rock-solid release? Absolutely. To my ears, the album works very well for the first 45-50 minutes, with only "The Alchemist" and "El Dorado" being slightly lesser than the other tracks, but are still good, solid tunes. Perhaps it's the awesome combo of "Isle Of Avalon" and "Starblind" (the middle section is simply sublime) preceding the final trio, but those final songs do nothing for me. I would include "The Talisman" as one of the good/great songs if it weren't for those first 2 minutes killing all momentum they'd built up at that point. While the final songs have their moments, they are definitely a step down from the rest of the albumplus the fact that the main guitar melody in "When The Wild Wind Blows" (first occurring around 0:46) reminds me way too much of Nik Kershaw's 80s hit "The Riddle".

Despite everything, the album is undeniably solid and at this point in their career it's a huge achievement. It seemed as if they had tarnished their legacy (har-har) with "A Matter Of Life And Death" but they have most certainly redeemed themselves with this solid release.

Ps. Greatest metal band of all time.

UG Review Rating: 7

News and tidbits from the past month:

  • Adam Nergal Darski of Behemoth has been diagnosed with a life-threatening form of leukemia and needs a bone-marrow transplant.

  • Trivium will enter the studio in October along with producer Colin Richardson, aiming for a Q1 2011 release via Roadrunner.

  • Insomnium have signed a worldwide deal with Century Media.

  • Legendary German thrashers Sodom will unleash their new album In War And Pieces on the world on November 22 2010 via Steamhammer/SPV.

  • Atheist recently parted ways with bass-player Tony Choy.

  • Protest The Hero recently entered the studio and expect to release their new album in Q1 2011 via Vagrant.

  • 64 comments sorted by best / new / date

      While I kinda feel that a 5.5 is a bit harsh, you did hit the nail on the head with your description of the new BLS album. It's not gonna reinvent the wheel, and it's definitely not gonna bring the naysayers on board. However, if you like Zakk's style, you'll enjoy the new record. Speaking of not reinventing the wheel, your review for Warp Riders is pretty spot on. I'd say the most interesting thing about the band is that they can take such a throwback style of music and add a concept(story/theme/what have you) that feels like it should be at odds with the style. Somehow, two things I would figure would clash don't even feel slightly forced. Summary: A very enjoyable listen. Obligatory "WTF?! YOU FORGOT ABOUT PORTNOY LEAVING DT!!!!111"(Hehe, I read your blog, I'm just messing with you )
      Reviewer Pete
      TheEducatedFool wrote: As a Maiden fanboy, I agree about the weaker points of the new album being the production, some unnecessary intros, and the occasional vocal part that is a little out of reach for Bruce. However, I think it should be noted that if Satellite 15...The Final Frontier is in fact the first song you hear on The Final Frontier, the production will sound like a demo because it actually is Adrian Smith's home demo.
      Yes, well, everything after that sounds like a demo too. A good demo, but a demo nevertheless.
      Reviewer Pete
      overkill127 wrote: I really like your honesty in the Maiden review. Maiden's my favorite band, so after listening to the Final Frontier for the first time, I stupidly instantly decided that it was the best album of the year. But after reading your review, I can see how it had so much squandered potential. Thank you for saving me from the pitfall of fanboy idiocy
      Now that's a good birthday present! Glad to hear it
      I think the problem with Maiden's production as of late is that Kevin Shirley isn't forceful enough in his role as producer, and the "live" feeling that Steve is pushing for in their recordings is attainable enough through playing live in the studio. Certainly once they've got the songs on tape they can at least do a better job of mixing and mastering and still have the energy and feel without it sounding quite so rough. As for the songs themselves, which I didn't comment on before, I don't think they spent enough time working on this album. There are certainly some great moments, like the aforementioned Isle of Avalon and Starblind - though I would include The Man Who Would Be King as well- but the first half is definitely less than stellar. I don't want to write much more, just that I also agree about The Talisman needing to be trimmed down a bit. I don't mind the first part of the intro, but the 3/4 section just sounds clumsy.
      Nice reviews Pete, especially your review for The Sword which is pretty much spot on. While some of their songs are kinda meh, the clean vocals are kinda refreshing for me. :p
      IRONDEATH123 wrote: Final Frontier is amazing. I don't understand these people that keep bitching about Maiden not being in their heyday... their post reunion live shows have far surpassed their Live After Death era, and they continue to kick every ****ing metal bands ass to the ground as far as steady material. Oh and BLS deserves a 7.
      Couldn't agree more, The Final Frontier deserves at least an 8-9, the album as a whole has a different feel, I repeat- DIFFERENT in sound which should surprise listeners like me in a good way. The production wasn't the best but at the same time not the worst I've heard either...
      Reviewer Pete
      Snowman388 wrote: does this guy like music at all? he's such a douche.
      Obviously I hate music in all forms, that goes without saying.
      Maidens production does seem to be getting worse! But i wouldn't want them having the stale metal production the majority of bands have today. At least Maiden are still relevant, and the younger fans want to hear all the newer songs live. And yes, they are the greatest metal band of all time, no question! You really can't say that about most of bands from that era.
      Trivium will enter the studio in October along with producer Colin Richardson, aiming for a Q1 2011 release via Roadrunner.
      Oh yeah..!
      I really like your honesty in the Maiden review. Maiden's my favorite band, so after listening to the Final Frontier for the first time, I stupidly instantly decided that it was the best album of the year. But after reading your review, I can see how it had so much squandered potential. Thank you for saving me from the pitfall of fanboy idiocy
      Reviewer Pete
      FearOfTheDuck And yes, they are the greatest metal band of all time, no question! You really can't say that about most of bands from that era.
      No, that'd be...weird.
      stoked about Trivium Nergal's situation kinda killed the excitement though, but ill know he'll pull through, he's Nergal!!!
      no disturbed review, because you can just read any review on any previous album and substitute some names. its THAT repetitive, although i did enjoy "indestructible". i havent listened to the new maiden yet, but after the review, im pretty hesitant to do so. im psyched about the new Trivium. lets see how the new drummer affects them, if at all. kinda excited about protest the hero also. bloodmeat kinda disappointed me also. kezia was such a good album, it seemed really hard to follow up. chalk it up to a sophomore slump. :
      About time Protest the Hero got into the studio. To this day I remember they went on after Forever the Sickest Kids and it was kind of apparent the two bands had some sort of resentment towards each other, Rody picked up a pick left on the stage by FTSK and goes in a really dramatic voice "This is FOREVER THE SICKEST PICK". Hilarious, then they broke out into Turn Soonest to the Sea and everyone went crazy
      You rated Disturbed way too high a few weeks ago, and Maiden is way too low! It was a great album, and at least 8 (preferably 8,5)/10 would be a more correct review in my opinion.
      overkill127 wrote: I really like your honesty in the Maiden review. Maiden's my favorite band, so after listening to the Final Frontier for the first time, I stupidly instantly decided that it was the best album of the year. But after reading your review, I can see how it had so much squandered potential. Thank you for saving me from the pitfall of fanboy idiocy
      See pete, ya saving lives.
      Good review. You'r pretty fair and unbiased (except for your Nightmare - A7x Review...). I definatly need to listen to The Sword! Good picks.
      THIS IS SUCH A CONFUSING MONTH. D: Like, Protest the Hero, YAY. Trivium, maybe yay.. Nergal, fudge x.X Sodom, yay.. uh.. FUCK, Atheist can't be splitting apart NOW D: They promised an album... Mars De Greasy burger looks interesting..
      Uhm... Streams Inwards is NOT that short... It's actually 47 minutes in length. Just sayin'. And while I do agree it doesn't reinvent the genre or anything, it is more than just a slab of doom/death. It's rather experimental too, just as their other two records are. -shrug- Regardless, I personally find that album to be one of the absolute best of this year so far.
      cRACk mONKEyTTU
      The review of The Final Frontier is done pretty well. I'd have to agree about the annoying choruses, and declining production values (though Final Frontier is much better than AMOLAD). If Iron Maiden spent a little more time developing the album, and Bruce sang lower on most of the higher lyrics, both FF and AMOLAD would have been MUCH better. Both albums have A LOT of potential but ended up lettin me down. I can stand to wait a little longer if it will be that much better. Look at Tool, 5 years between albums and every single one is amazing (Lateralus is the greatest album and song ever made).
      Amuro Jay
      Yay for Insomnium! About damn time. Maybe now they can do more stateside shows. Also. Psyched for PTH.
      Mar de Grises (Sea of Grays? Doomy!) sounds like my kind of thing, I've gotten myself absolutely addicted to Swallow the Sun lately. I'm constantly flip-flopping on how much I like The Sword... such a consciously retro vibe is a bit of a turn-off to me but some songs are cool... might as well give them an honest shot. And you are 100% correct about BLS, at this point I just do not care about Zakk Wylde. Very excited for Protest the Hero and Trivium, I feel that it's time for them to really prove themselves. Atheist should be awesome too. I just hope Behemoth doesn't die...
      Im going t step out of my fanboy persona and agree with the 7 on the new Iron Maiden, other than that I just want to say Pete you do a great job of staying pretty unbias of your reviews and giving decent info on bands and albums
      iron maiden=timeless sad 2 hear about nergal tho....BE WITHOUT FEAR!!! you'll get better soon
      I haven't found a copy of the actual album yet, but everything I've heard from the new Mar de Grises album is extremely solid. The progressive element to their sound definitely separates them from most others in that genre.
      Eh, Iron Maiden honestly just bore me now. New Protest the Hero should be good though. Hey Pete, when Tool release their new album, will it be covered on This Month In Metal or no?