First off, I'll apologize for missing out on the past two months, but at least you got the Top 10 Metal Albums of 2007 article from me, and to be honest, it's not like much happened in December or January.
February hasn't been much of a month for news, but I'll throw some in anyways, and to make up for January... more album reviews than usual. As usual, I haven't got the time (tell UG to employ me full time) to go over all of the 30-odd albums whose release I'm aware of this month, so here's a selection. I'm sure I've missed some good albums, so give me recommendations in the comments, or drop me a message on my UG Profile. Hell, if you have a specific album you want to see featured in this column in the coming months, let me know and I might check it out.
Dismember - Dismember
Release Date: February 18 Label: Regain Genres: Death Metal
Dismember has released enough quality albums to be considered one of the bigger acts in the Swedish death metal scene. Along with Grave, Entombed and a few more they represent the old school style of Swedish death metal, and this album certainly follows the old school. The album itself sounds like it could've been recorded in 1991, which doesn't harm the album at all. It just complements the overall vibe and fits the album like a glove. The album captures all the charms and harms you could expect from old school Swedish death metal, but sadly it doesn't hold up all the way. Their previous effort The God That Never Was came across as much more focused and with stronger material, but Dismember lacks that strength and consistency. The highs are still incredible though, and tend to coincide with when the band allows themselves to drift out into what almost seems to be jam-like sections with duel solos and harmonized leads. However, these sections are few and far between. As a whole, the album simply lacks enough quality material to garner much praise. Better luck next time guys.
Draconian - Turning Season Within
Release Date: February 29 Label: Napalm Genres: Doom/Gothic
Turning Season Within will be one of those albums I'll forget when I compile my Best Of 2008 list. Draconian have again managed to capture their dark, grooving, melancholic brand of doom/gothic, but this time around the album leaves a bit to be desired. After several listens, nothing really stands out, and it comes across as an album that just plays it very safe. There are no songs, nor passages or even the occasional bar, that I can label as bad, but nor are there many sections that warrant a raised eyebrow. It's all very nicely written, sections that fit well together and all that, but nothing seems to happen. In short, it's not very captivating. If you look up workman-like effort in the dictionary, you should find a reference to this album.
Death Angel - Killing Season
Release Date: February 26 Label: Nuclear Blast Genres: Thrash Metal
When February rolled by, this was one of the releases I was looking forward to the most. Death Angel's 2001 reunion raised several eyebrows, but they nearly pissed it all away with the ber-mediocre The Art Of Dying. However, knowing their back catalogue and what they're capable of putting together, I was still curious regarding Killing Season. Bottom line: these guys still know how to thrash and put together songs that open up circle pits. Working with Nick Raskulinecz (Rush, Foo Fighters, Shadows Fall) seems to have been a great decision by them, as the sound and production of the album is very nice indeed. One might assume that the album would be very slick given the producer, but nay, it in fact is exactly as ugly as it has to be, for us to know that they mean business.
Enough with the accolades: Killing Season has several things going for it, such as production, rock-solid performances by the band members and some catchy-ass thrash tunes. But, while they stay true to what we might expect from Death Angel, that also somewhat limits them. No dissing thrash, but albums along the lines of Killing Season has been heard many a time before. Also, the material while strong in the opening barrage doesn't hold up all the way. Killing Season is a fine thrash album and nothing else, but hey, I suppose they weren't aiming for much more. If you want a lengthier discussion regarding the album, I recommend the excellent UG Team review.
Winds Of Plague - Decimate The Weak
Release Date: February 5 Label: Century Media Genres: Melodic Death Metal/Hardcore
Bands such as Winds Of Plague seem to come out of the woodwork these days -- mixing the metalcore sound with whatever they can come across. Part metalcore, part progressive, part power metal, part death metal, Decimate The Weak does stretch over several genres, or at least dips into them at some point over the 37-ish long effort. I can't help but smile, because I do love when bands put genres in a blender and just let loose. There's something somewhat awkward yet pleasing about hearing a fairly standard 'core-breakdown, but with keyboards reminiscent of Rhapsody on top. The strength of Decimate The Weak definitely lies in the blender-approach, as well as the obvious chops the band puts on display. The guitar melodies and the shred-happy contributions from the two axemen is very well done. The production is very, very slick yet I find the keys to sound somewhat cheap, but that's a minor complaint.
The downside to the album is that the lyrical themes, while occasionally (and intentionally?) humorous are pretty cheesy to these ears. Reloaded reeks of the kind of overused hardcore raze-society-rebuild-it-the-right-way-attitude. I'm not opposed to lyrics dealing with social criticism, but I'm incredibly sick and tired of hearing it put that way. Musically, I wish they'd chill on the 'core breakdowns and focus more on mixing in the melodic/symphonic side, which would give them a less generic sound.
All in all, Decimate The Weak should be viewed as a fun album, an album you can mosh along to one second and the other air-guitar while your mate pretends the kitchen table is a keyboard. It has its up and downs, but it'll be interesting to see what these guys can conjure up a few years down the road.
MyGrain - Signs Of Existence
Release Date: February 13 Label: Spinefarm Genres: Melodic Death Metal
The Nordic countries seem to churn out more death metal bands than the rest of the world combined. MyGrain's second album sits firmly in the melodic death genre, mixing death growls, screaming and clean-ish singing with keyboards and detuned riffing. The best comparison I can think of would be Gothenburg's Dark Tranquillity, but vocally it's often more guttural than Mikael Stanne. So, is it any good? Well, all the guys and the keyboard gal are competent musicians. The playing leaves nothing to be desired, it's well produced (if a bit predictable) and that's about it.
Song-wise, there're some pretty catchy choruses, like Walk Puppet Walk which would be a certain party hit in my neck of the woods (hey, we like to do gang choruses!). Asphyxiated And Inflammable also features a nice, big chorus, and Final Frontier with its piano interlude is a nice closer. The problem, yet again, is that the album plays it safe. Which in turn means that when you've heard a hundred albums like this, it's pretty damn boring. Competent, but safe.
Sculptured - Embodiment: Collapsing Under The Weight Of God
Release Date: February 19 Label: The End Genres: Progressive, Avant-garde Metal
8 years after releasing what many consider their masterpiece Apollo, Sculptured return with yet another slab of avant-garde metal for your finely tuned ears. Clocking in at almost 40 minutes spread out on 5 tracks, this is obviously no meat-and-potatoes-metal album with the compulsory four-minute hit. Choruses are practically nowhere to be found, so the charm and catchiness, if you can call it that, lies in the complexity of the pieces and the performances of the musicians. Drummer Dave Murray, not of Iron Maiden fame, is quite a time keeper. Tight as a metronome, despite being all over the place. Vocally, it's often growled, but I must say Walling's vocals, while being somewhat of an aquired taste, leave some to be desired.
So, is it any good? Of course it is, but I'd say it fails to reach as high as one might expect (or as other reviewers think it has). I find that it becomes almost too jam-like at times, and then you lose that cool vibe you get when something more structured ventures into a jam-section. It's often too weird all the time, if you get my drift. It could've been better balanced and better produced (it's a bit dry, a bit skin and bones-y sounding), but when you look at it from a larger perspective... it's still damn good. Embodiment is a very difficult record to listen to and appreciate, but with every listen something new emerges that you can find a place for, and thus it grows.
Embodiment is not as great as one could expect, but it's still a quality slab of avant-garde metal that should be a contender for 2008s Top 10.
News And Tidbits From The Past Month
Tim 'Ripper' Owens (ex-Judas Priest, ex-Iced Earth, Beyond Fear) has swapped one control-freak (Jon Schaffer) for another, that person being none other than Swedish virtuoso Yngwie Malmsteen. Tim, who has previously collaborated with Yngwie on a cover of the Ozzy Osbourne classic Mr Crowley, will reportedly sing on the new Yngwie album, but won't write anything (surprising). He also expects to tour in support for the record, but notes that it's essentially a one-off. The album is tentatively due in June 2008.
Pain-members were assaulted in Germany last weekend, when on tour in support of Nightwish. Several members, including famous producer/writer/musician Peter Tagtgren, were beaten up by a gang who assaulted them outside their tour bus. The gig in Leipzig the day after had to be cancelled, as drummer David Wallin suffered several stitches and a concussion. However, the guys picked themselves up quickly and resumed the tour only a few days afterwards. There is no word on arrests for the culprits.
According to drummer Tommy Lee, Motley Crue will embark on a world tour starting July 4, in support of their new album. Around the same time an album based on the book The Dirt is rumored to hit the shelves, and a single will be on radio in early May.
A list of songs supposedly used by American troops in Iraq while interrogating POWs has been revealed. Somewhat unexpectedly, yet maybe not, Deicide is featured on top of this list, with the song F--k Your God, from their 2004 album Scars Of The Crucifix. Deicide drummer Steve Asheim commented: "It's cool. If we're upto military standards of audio abuse, it makes me feel like Decide's doing our part for the troops." Other artists featured on the playlist were Rage Against the Machine, Metallica, Eminem, Prince... and the themesong to Barney the Dinosaur.
Well, that's all for this month. Next month we'll be looking at releases from Meshuggah, the new In Flames EP, and more...