Gamma Ray - To The Metal
Released: January 29 Genre: Power metal Label: earMUSIC/Edel
Gamma Ray isn't one of the bands you expect massive curveballs from. They've got their formula, their style and to a certain extent you know exactly what you're gonna get. The album will be comprised of a few up-tempo classic speed/power anthems, a ballad or two and a couple of mid-tempo steady rockers.
Unsurprisingly, To The Metal fits that template to a T. Nine times of out of ten, that's a horrible thing but I have to say that this time around, it's actually pretty enjoyable. What can generally be said about Gamma Ray is that they're at their best when they play fast and the facepalms usually come out when they attempt ballads or mid-tempo rockers, but those moments are few and far between on To The Metal.
To The Metal is a solid metal album. That's about it really. It's far from being Kai Hansen & Co's best effort, but for what it's worth it's a safe and fairly entertaining album that'll work well live and won't lose them many fans.
In Mourning - Monolith
Released: January 25 Genre: Progressive/melodic death metal Label: Pulverised
In Mourning's debut Shrouded Divine made quite a splash back in 2008, and as with all successful debuts, there is a fair amount of anticipation involved with the sophomore effort.
The sound and style of their debut, and to an even greater extent their demos, plus them being from Sweden made it natural for journalists and fans to draw comparisons to their countrymen in Opeth. Those comparisons are however not as valid in 2010 as they were in 2008. In Mourning stand on their own legs now, and they are starting to develop their own sound within the progressive/melodic death genre.
With that being said, the core of their sound remains intact from the previous album and they've only performed minor touch-ups here and there. But the importance of these cannot be overstated, for the areas where they have improved greatly is composition, writing and arrangements. Shrouded Divine had a fair few sections whose segues were quirky, to put it gently, but there're no bumps in the road on Monolith.
2010 is off to a hot start (much hotter than 2009...) and Monolith leads the charge. Check it out, because given the proper treatment from label, promotion and management, they'll be a band to watch in the future.
Ihsahn - After
Released: January 25 Genre: Progressive metal Label: Candlelight
It seems like angL was released just a few months ago, and yet here we are with a brand new album from this very prolific musician. Then again, there's not a whole lot to do in Scandinavia at this time of year, besides skiing and writing music.
If you are new to Ihsahn's post-Emperor solo output, then After will come off as very weird and very different from what you're used to hear from him. Even if you're not new to his own musical endeavors, then it might seem a bit schizophrenic. Mixing 8-string guitars and a saxophone within a metal context can do that to you, and that's exactly what Ihsahn throws our way. It is heavy, it is progressive and it is diverse. Just because you put eight strings on your guitar doesn't mean that you'll sound like Meshuggah, and to be honest if someone hadn't told me I probably wouldn't have picked up that there's a low-blurrrr string resonating at times on this album.
What truly shines through on After is Ihsahn's growth as a musician. That's not meant to knock his legendary exploits in Emperor, but when it comes to Ihsahn as a solo artist, this is probably the first time I would describe him as sounding relaxed and at peace. On previous albums it was like the shoe looked right, but it wasn't very comfortable, and thus the outcome was a bit so-and-so. After on the other hand gives us a bit of the past, a bit of the present and a taste of what'll come after After. And I personally can't wait.
Heathen - The Evolution of Chaos
Released: January 26 Genre: Progressive thrash metal Label: Mascot
Almost 20 years after their second album was released, Heathen (finally!) released their third album, The Evolution of Chaos. Unfortunately for them, things didn't quite work out back in the day and thus they ended up taking a lengthy hiatus before returning to the scene in the early 00's. However, their progressive take on thrash metal is back with them, and The Evolution of Chaos is a very ambitious album.
Evolution... is more or less a riff-athon. The historical comparison would be ...And Justice For All, but a more contemporary and logical one would be Exodus' The Atrocity Exhibition. That the two are similar in style comes as no real surprise, as Lee Altus plays guitar on both albums. Given that it's been a while since Heathen released anything, I guess it's only fair that The Evolution of Chaos has more riffs than most bands can conjure up over the course of several albums.
However, the pitfalls of albums of this style and nature are well known. At times, it does feel like they're riffing and soloing away for the sake of it. An example of such would be the 11-minute cut No Stone Unturned, where a good 4-5 minutes seemingly has nothing to do with the rest of the song. Then there's the fact that the album is over an hour long and after around 45-50 minutes it does feel like a bit of a drag. There's a damn good reason why people call Heathen's demo from a few years back one of the best thrash releases in recent years. Their style and musicality is great, but they need to be able to restrain themselves and trim the fat.
Hell, cut 20 minutes from this 65-minute effort and you'd have your thrash album of the year, because that's how good it is, filler aside.
News and tidbits from the past month:
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