Opeth - Watershed
Release date: June 6 Genres: Progressive Death Metal Label: Roadrunner
Around the time when Opeth signed with Roadrunner, I recall being very amused by the reaction of some fans who feared their rightfully beloved band would pass go and collect an obscene amount of money. Obviously that did not happen -- Ghost Reveries was released mixing their trademark dark & light-approach and all was as it should be. Opeth have always shown small hints of progression between their albums, incorporating a few new colours to their already broad palette. The progression this time is definitely incorporating influences from the '70s prog-rock scene, along with some more technical passages. In all fairness, neither of the new ingredients should alienate any fan of their previous couple of releases. Opeth have set themselves a very high standard and are hands down one of the most reliable bands around, without turning stale for that matter. Watershed somewhat surprisingly opens with the soft and beautiful Coil, only to go headfirst into Heir Apparent, which as far as I can recall features some of kerfeldt's darkest and deepest growling to date. The first proper taste of the new more progressive and technical ingredients are found in The Lotus Eater. It's not often that my jaw drops these days, but the first time I heard the band get to that jam-ish sounding section around the 6-minute mark, I had to hear it again. And again. And again. But as we all know, a funky section does not a great album make. Luckily, there're quite a few good tunes left after the third song.
However, an inherent problem for me with Opeth seems to be that while I can't classify any of their albums as less-than-good, I have a hard time considering any of them better-than-very-good, which would be around 8-8.5/10 for those of you hungry for numbers. Like many of their albums, Watershed is without any really obvious flaw, but it just starts to drag towards the end. I'm not overly crazy about Hessian Peel or Porcelain Heart, but neither of them are bad by any means. They just don't hit the spot, and I can't really point out a valid reason. Maybe it's just too much of the same, as amusing as that may sound since we're dealing with very progressive music. Perhaps I'm not meant to ever hear an Opeth album that pushes all my buttons, but I suppose Watershed isn't a bad fit after all. After all, it's a really good album and will probably make my Top 10 by the end of the year.
Judas Priest - Nostradamus
Release date: June 17 Genres: Traditional Heavy Metal Label: Epic
I suppose most of us were pretty sure that Priest were all but dead and buried a few years ago, until the reunion was announced and they kicked off the recordings for what would eventually be a pretty good and dignified comeback in Angel Of Retribution. Little did we expect that they were lining up for following that with their most experimental and ambitious album yet.
As far as production goes, it's a pretty good production, but that won't cut it for a band like Priest. Gone is the clean, punchy production of Angel Of Retribution, and instead we're getting a sound that's not bad by any stretch, it's just not right. The drums lack a bit of punch, it's a tad messy with all the orchestral pieces, but above all the lead guitars sound atrocious, screeching for vengeance in every solo. Obviously an album is not failed on such thin grounds, but there's more dirt to this album. Judas Priest were never much for penning poetry (a few brilliant lyrics 30-or-so years ago aside), so opting for a conceptual piece where the lyrical side is very important is a very bold move. When writing a regular album, a few lyrical clunkers can be excused, but not so when you're penning an album telling an entire life's story. The band has indicated in interviews, and by creating this album, that Nostradamus was a very interesting chap and that writing a metal opera about him is indeed a commendable and just task. Well, if that's the case, then you'd think Halford could've cooked up something better than I am Nostradamus! for the chorus. Halford never was much of a guy to create vivid stories with his lyrics, so that nigh every song is filled to the brim with predictable and dull rhymes along the lines of "face/race/soul/control" comes as no surprise. Most of the vocal melodies and lyrics come in short stabs of a half dozen or so of syllables at a time, which of course lends itself to stumbling, silly rhymes. Add to that a dodgy vocal delivery by a guy whose prime years are well behind him, and there's not all that much left to enjoy.
Judas Priest are at their best when they churn out up-tempo rockers (a few songs in the vein of "Beyond The Realms Of Death" aside) that are around 3-6 minutes in length, and do we see many of these here? Nay. A handful of tracks can be called up-tempo, the rest are either plodding about in a steady mid-tempo, achieving little to nothing. Sure, there're decent highlights scattered along the way - the title track is a decent rocker, if you ignore the keyboard intro and the patchy chorus, "Prophecy" has a nice, good groove to it and "Revelations" from the half-way mark is reminiscent of Priest in their best moments. But that's more or less it as far as highlights go. What "Nostradamus" is full off on the other hand is over-the-top, poorly executed melodrama. Judas Priest and their "Nostradamus" album can be described as old men trying to put on a pair of new leather pants that don't fit, but nor do they have the dignity to not wear them. There's absolutely nothing wrong with playing epic, symphonic metal and writing concept albums -- Blind Guardian, Ayreon most recently, Dream Theater and many more have managed to pull off just that. But, as it turns out, Judas Priest anno 2008 can not. The fault with this album is not the intent, it's the execution. I applaud Priest for having the guts to attempt it, but in the end they couldn't deliver an interesting product.
Unleashed - Hammer Battalion
Release date: June 10 Genres: Death Metal Label: SPV
It's quite pleasing to see that the old bands from the Stockholm death metal scene are still going strong, and Hammer Battallion is further testament to that. Lyrics about Vikings, battles and times prior to the Christian arrival in the Nordic countries are the topics. While they may sound stale, there's a certain pleasure to hearing them being carried out this well. The somewhat clever chorus to the title track (Hammer Battallion... Unleashed!) is certain to become a favourite at the local metal pub and when seen as a whole the album does pull off the themes, for they must be seen as being a bit tongue in cheek. Musically, it's as old school as they come, blast beats aside. And, like most bands from this scene, they're still putting out solid albums while retaining their integrity and dignity. A few tracks could've been trimmed from this 44-minute effort, but it's still a very enjoyable listen.
Daylight Dies - Lost To The Living
Release date: June 24 Genres: Melodic Doom/Death Metal Label: Candlelight
There're bands who when you listen to them just stand out as very solid, very talented and on the verge of something. That something of course being one of those albums that you remember for years and years, considering it a classic in the genre. And Daylight Dies is one of those bands. I can't say enough about the potential these guys have. Lost To The Living is a damn fine album, containing all the right elements. The musicianship is top notch, the sections flow freely and naturally, the mix of dark/light is adequate and the performances are great. Yet, this does not come to fruition more than in, say, half the songs. Opener Cathedral is indeed very beautiful, as is the second track Descending. Both tracks, like most of the album has that romantic yet depressed vibe, filled with melancholy and sadness. And in here lies perhaps part of the problem, for these undertones and themes are well used within the genre, as well as outside it. The other problem is that after awhile, the tunes ends up sounding too much alike. Which brings on to the fact that the album is a bit on the lengthy side at around 55 minutes. Scratch 20-ish minutes and you've got a great album, but as things are, it's just good. But one day, these guys will churn out a classic. Mark my words.
As for the review of Scar Symmetry's new album, the UG review on here will have to do. Terribly sorry and all that.
News And Tidbits From The Past Month
Between The Buried And Me will film their concert in Nashville on August 2nd for a DVD. The band will play two sets, one being Colors in its entirety, and the second set consisting of other songs requested by their fans.
Amon Amarth have finished recording their new album, which is due in late 2008 via Metal Blade.
A certain band you may or may have not heard of has set Death Magnetic as the title for their upcoming album, rumoured to be released mid-September.
Re-united prog/tech metallers Cynic have recently finished mixing their upcoming album, due late 2008.
Unearth have begun work on their new album, tentatively due in October 2008. Guitarist Buz McGrath describes it as a mind-blowing journey consisting of epic mosh and shred.
Iced Earth's new album The Crucible Of Man will be released in early September.
Experimental jazz/metal band Ephel Duath will enter the studio in July to finish their new studio album, Through My Dog's Eyes, due Q4 2008.
Trivium has set Shogun as the title for their upcoming album.
And to wrap things up, I'll just say that summer is a bad time of year for longhaired, bearded ragers. Bring on winter. It's decidedly more metal, anyway.