Hammerfall No Sacrifice, No Glory
Released: February 20 Genre: Heavy/traditional/power metal Label: Nuclear Blast
Hammerfall is turning into one of those bands that won't surprise you much with what they do. You know it's gonna be heavy, melodic, filled with catchy choruses and songs that remind you of the hey-day of traditional heavy metal. With this, their seventh studio album, they offer precious few surprises. The lyrics touch upon the usual topics: glory, war, victory, metal warriors and the like. Fortunately, it's done quite well and the album doesn't reek of cheese nearly as much as one could expect. Joacim Cans still can belt out those high notes (just listen to One Of A Kind) and there're quite a few choruses and melodies on this album that have the potential to really stick in your head.
The opening trio of songs are firmly positioned in the traditional/heavy area of the genre, but Legion helps the album pick up speed and gives glimpses of their early works, with a much more power-esque sound. It's a pity the song is dragged down by the horrendous opening minute where someone, aided by immense vocal effects, tries to impersonate a demon or somesuch. However, the actual song is very nice with some great leads by newcomer Pontus Norgren (ex-Poodles). In fact, catchy choruses aside, Norgren's tasty and melodic leadplaying is the highlight of the album. Stefan Elmgren was/is a great player, but Norgren manages to fill his shoes very well.
The album continues in more or less the same fashion delivering as many surprises as a regular pint of milk would. Some heavy songs, some with a bit more power, a cover and a ballad-y number make up the rest of this 50-minute effort.
If you're looking for an album to throw you curveballs and surprise you, then this is not your album. Hammerfall do what they do, and this time around they've done it quite well, delivering metal the way it sounded 25-or-so years ago. The album is good for a spin every now and then, but don't look for this to be anywhere remotely near a respectable top 10 of 2009. Hammerfall are milking every cent out of their sound, and good for them.
God Forbid Earthsblood
Release date: February 17 Genre: Modern metal Label: Century Media
God Forbid is one of those bands that never managed to properly crack the mainstream in the same way their contemporaries in Lamb of God, Killswitch Engage and the like did. I quite enjoyed their previous effort, The Constitution of Treason and have always viewed them as a band capable of putting out a great record, but the pieces just haven't fallen in place for them.
Sadly, Earthsblood is another album for this band that's quite good, but not much more. I can't complain much about the musicality, for the riffing and soloing is indeed very good. It's not the most original thing you'll hear, but the infusion of 7-string guitars have certainly helped them create something resembling their own sound. The album is full of catchy riffs, like in The Empire of the Gun and the brothers certainly have stepped up the plate and delivered on this album. The soloing is much improved, and I'm happy that they have tried to expand on their sound and implemented more acoustic guitars and really tried to branch out.
The praise ends here, however. Byron is a decent growler/screamer, yet I can't help but keep pinning him as the weakest link of the group. God Forbid would be a much better band if they had a better vocalist, that much is clear. Earthsblood differs in many ways from their previous works, and the most obvious example would be the heavy usage of clean vocals. Now, I'm not entirely sure who does most of them, but that person needs to stop doing it as soon as possible. Several of the harmonies are nothing but sheer torture to my ears. Take the second track, The Rain, for example. It starts off very well, with some nice riffs and several good lead sections, then breaks down into a clean section with a vocal harmony that makes me cringe and undoes all the good things they'd accomplished up until that point. It's not so much the actual notes, but more the vocal character of the guy(s) singing that ruins it for me.
Earthsblood, much like God Forbid's career up until this point, is full of a good intentions but also contains a number of poor decisions. I applaud them for trying to branch out and expand their sound, but with this album in the bag it's time for them to realise that they can't pull off an epic album. If I would be the producer for their next album, I'd tell them to write an album no longer than forty minutes, split onto no more than 8-9 tracks and make every track feel like a hammer to the face, because that's what they do best and that's what they should try to do.
Cannibal Corpse Evisceration Plague
Release date: February 3 Genre: Death metal Label: Metal Blade
Cannibal Corpse know what they do best and obviously they don't see any reason to change it. Long story short is that Evisceration Plague brings nothing new to the table, but CC still manage to produce an interesting album. Hell, I'd even call if a fun album, mainly because of the over-the-top lyrics, perhaps best summed up best by a line from the track To Decompose, Morbid Fascination With The Dead. As absurd as it might seem to some, Evisceration Plague is a very, very catchy record. The band manages to keep the music fairly complex and technical, while balancing the grooves and tempos to achieve maximum effect for the sections aimed at smashing your face with the sonic hammer.
Evisceration Plague is a reliable, textbook example of death metal performed by one of the unholy cows of the genre. It's short, to the point and catchy as hell at times. Webster is a monster on the bass and the guitar tandem of O'Brien/Barrett lock in perfectly to deliver a very, very brutal album. Solid and pretty predictable, but entertaining and enjoyable nonetheless.
Release date: February 17 Genre: Technical/progressive death metal Label: Relapse
First off, let it be known that recommending and notifying me of albums works, for this review was requested by boyan89, and I'm very glad he did for I might have missed out on this excellent album otherwise.
Obscura's line-up is somewhat of an All Star Team of technical death metal players. Guitarist/vocalist Steffen Kummerer aside, you have drummer Hannes Grossmann (ex-Necrophagist), fretless bassist Jeroen Paul Thesseling (ex-Pestilence) and then finally guitarist Christian Muenzner (ex-Necrophagist). I'm of the opinion that hearing Thesseling's playing is worth the cost of the CD alone, because he is really that good. Of course, the other musicians are no slouches on their respective instruments and the whole unit is really firing on all cylinders on this album. The technical death metal tag might scare some people away, but this is one of those albums that is so much more than just growling, blasting and over-the-top lyrics. The Cynic-influence on the vocal side of the album is obvious on songs like Choir of Spirits and Infinite Rotation, but the way it's done makes sure that they never come off as copy-cats. It just adds a softer touch to some sections and helps keep the album interesting.
Obscura gets nigh everything right with this album technicality is present in abundance, yet it still retains a certain amount of catchiness, the drums burst into the required groove when it's called for, the vocals range from guttural to screamed to Masvidal-esque clean vocals and despite being incredibly progressive the album comes off as very, very purposeful and coherent. You never know what type of ball the song will throw at you, but rest assured that it'll come. The guitarists most certainly shred at times, but the majority of the album contains a more melodic approach which helps keep things at an even keel and even if massive sweeped arpeggios are present, they never get old or come off as showboating without purpose.
I'm certain this'll be ranked as one of the top albums at the end of the year, and I doubt we'll hear a better technical death metal metal album. Cosmogenesis is compulsory listening for any metal head with an interest in death metal.
Lamb of God - Wrath
Released: February 24 Genre: Modern/thrash/groove metal Label: Roadrunner
Lamb of God hooked me several years ago with As the Palaces Burn, so perhaps it's not surprising that I never was that a big fan of Sacrament. I was quite fond of Ashes... and I suppose that Sacrament was a logical progression from that sound, but in the end I found it to be too sing-song-y for a band like Lamb of God.
Now, enter Wrath. I had several complains about Sacrament, such as overall length, songs lacking direction, hooks and the multi-layered vocals which I felt, and still feel, held back the snarly and more sinister side of Randy Blythe. As things turn out, nigh all of my complaints have been amended and Wrath has helped 2009 get off to a very good start.
It'd be pushing it to say that they've gone back to the sound on Palaces.., but certainly the attitude and overall vibe is closer to their early releases. The cruise control is thrown out of the window and aided by a much rawer and more fitting production and Lamb of God anno 2009 certainly don't sound like a band a few albums into their major label career. In fact, Wrath would be what I could hear a band early in their career put out.
Picking out my favorite moments on Wrath would render this review somewhat bloated, but songs like In Your Words, Grace, Set To Fail and Dead Seeds will keep me happy for months to come. In terms of instrumental prowess, the rhythm section is top notch as always, with Campbell and Adler locking in as tight as ever. Morton and Willie Adler deliver many riffs to die for, but what pleases me the most about the guitarplaying is to hear the infusion of the acoustic guitar and Morton's continued improvement as a leadplayer. The acoustic element certainly adds a lot of flavour and renders the sound much more dynamic than before. Finally, Randy Blythe seems to have grown another pair (his third? fourth?) of balls for this album and he has never sounded this good. His screams are sharper, more precise and for lacking of a better word, more evil than before. Not only has the screaming improved, but the new types of voices he tries out on In Your Words work out very well and certainly don't hurt the final product at all.
However, before this review starts turning Wrath into a sacrament, I'll try to bring it down to earth. As previously stated, Wrath gets a lot of things right, but not everything. Sure, well over half the album is worthwhile and recommended listening, with some ridiculously good songs but also some songs that I'm somewhat indifferent to. It's a good album, in fact a damn good album, but it's not the bee's knees.
News and tidbits from the past month:
Alex Auburn has left Cryptopsy and reports he might start his own band when he has taken time away from music.
Ektomorf will release their new album"What Doesn't Kill Me" on March 20th.
Danish death metal Urkraft have called it quits.
Municipal Waste have begun recording a new album tentatively due in August.
Jesper Strmblad of In Flames recently checked into rehab to gain control of his alcohol addiction and is forced to sit out a number of upcoming tours.
Susperia have signed a worldwide deal with Candlelight Records.
Mike Stone has quit Queensryche to focus on other musical projects.
Nautic funeral doom band Ahab have entered the studio and are recording an album tentatively due late spring/early summer.
All Shall Perish have parted ways with guitarist Chris Storey and announced that Jason Richardson will fill his place in the band.
Obituary are in the studio recording a new album tentatively due in the summer via Candlelight.
German progressive metal band Vanden Plas are recording a new album and are aiming for a release in the fall.
Amorphis' new album Skyforger will be released on May 29 via Nuclear Blast.
Dark Funeral's new album will be produced by Peter Tgtgren of Hypocrisy/PAIN.
Heaven And Hell will release The Devil You Know on April 28th via Rhino.
Paradise Lost are recording a new album at Fascination Street Studio in rebro, Sweden and are aiming for a late 2009 release.
Devildriver have finished recording their new album Pray For Villains due in the summer via Roadrunner.
Tim 'Ripper' Owens will release his solo debut Play My Game in May via SPV/Steamhammer.
Daath's new album The Concealers will be released on April 20th in Europe and April 21st in America.
Faith No More have announced a full-blown reunion.
And finally, guitarist Miika Tenkula of long-defunct Finnish metal band Sentenced was found dead in his home on February 19th. He was 34 years old.