Destryer 666 Defiance
Released: June 22 Genre: Black/Death/Thrash metal Label: Season of Mist
Defiance is one of the most anticipated underground albums of the year, for the best of reasons. The groups (excellent) last album was released seven years ago and we've only been treated to EPs since (the last one six years ago), so obviously the interest in what they'll accomplish this time around is quite big. Style-wise, little has changed. The core of their sound is thrash, but with many black and death elements present. Vocalist KK Warslut employs a fairly standard black metal bark (think Abbath from Immortal) and most of the lyrics deal with war, death and destruction. It might sound incredibly clich but the band manages to pull it off while sounding sincere. Musically, it sounds like this could be a bit of a schizophrene effort given the mix of styles, but nothing could be farther from the truth. Defiance is a wonderfully coherent effort with some absolute killer songs. Often bands in this (these?!) genre has a problem making interesting mid-tempo songs, but Destryer 666 pull that off without breaking a sweat. Blood For Blood has a pretty simple formula but is carried by KK Warslut's vocals and the melodies provided by the lead guitar. The production is fairly contemporary, but still dirty enough to avoid sounding too polished and raising questions about whether these warriors have taken up desk jobs.
At 41 minutes, Defiance is a short but sweet lesson in blackened thrash/death metal. The band takes simple elements and turn them into great songs from start to finish. It's not an envelope pusher, but it still manages to keep you interested until A Sermon To The Dead has faded out. And then you'll probably push 'play' again.
Anaal Nathrakh In The Constellation of the Black Widow
Released: June 29 Genre: Black metal Label: Candlelight
In The Constellation of the Black Widow clocks in a 35-or-so minutes, which by today's (dreadful) standard seems pretty short, but I suppose that's what happens when guitar, bass, drums and production is handled by one guy, that bloke being Mick Kenney. Musically Black Widow is a fairly simple black metal record implementing precious little from other genres and mostly sticking to the standards, while doing an excellent job of it. The production is on the other hand a modern one and it helps to keep the clarity and separation of the instruments. Instrumentally there're a bunch of very, very good songs on this album, such as Oil Upon the Sores of Lepers, Blood Eagles Carved Upon The Backs of Lepers and the title track. The main strength of the album is that the level of writing is consistently high and maintained throughout the entire piece.
As one might have figured out by the titles dropped above, the lyrical themes are, ahem, pretty grim. Or so I assume as I have litte-to-no knowledge of what VITRIOL is screaming about. There's a mix of clean, growled and screamed vocals on Black Widow, but the screamed style is the one that is used most of the time. And here is the watershed of the album that'll divide people. When I say screamed vocals, I don't mean Randy Blythe-screams. I mean a guy-getting-his-eyes-carved-out-screams, something along the lines of WAAAAH, AAAH, AAAAAAH!. I am still on the fence whether I like this or not, but I am leaning towards 'liking' because it is so unusual. While perhaps a difficult album to take in due to the extreme vocals, In The Constellation of the Black Widow is one of the more interesting releases this year because of said fact. Musically it is very solid and if nothing else, it stands out amongst its peers.
Dream Theater Black Clouds & Silver Linings
Released: June 23 Genre: Progressive metal Label: Roadrunner
By now, I suppose most of us are quite familiar with Dream Theater, their style and what their music is like. The short description could be that they're heavy, melodic, progressive and play technically challenging music. Black Clouds... is certainly no exception to the above statement and I must say it comes pretty close to finding the perfect balance amongst the elements. Whereas the predecessor, Systematic Chaos leaned more towards the dark side of things, Black Clouds... incorporates more progressive rock elements, which certainly pleases this listener more than the pseudo-brutal excursions we've witnessed on recent releases. That we're getting more progressive rock doesn't mean that the metal-element is toned down much it's still there and present in abundance, it's just that the balance is much better this time around.
Dream Theater's biggest problem is a pleasant one their back catalogue is filled with excellent albums and life-changing music. That in turn has set the bar quite high and as most people can figure out, it's hard to set a new personal best every time you step up to the plate. I would argue that Dream Theater haven't lived up to their potential and delivered on all levels since 1999's Scenes From A Memory. Certainly all their albums since Scenes... have been at the very least good and had some killer moments and songs, but like I said they've set the standard high for themselves and you want to see them maintain that high level. Anyways, on to the matter at hand - Black Clouds & Silver Linings. I was, to be honest, not expecting much. I have learned over the years that low (or no) expectations are the best ones, and it helps with the reviewing as well. Black Clouds... opens up, as so many other albums by this band, with a long epic of around 15 minutes, containing just about everything you could expect to hear. Second, we have the single A Rite of Passage, and third a little breather in Wither, surely destined to be the second single. The opening track A Nightmare To Remember starts of a bit sluggishly, but when the softer, more gentle prog-rock section kicks in around the 4-minute mark, everything is redeemed. Even Mike Portnoy's pseudo-growls towards the 10-minute mark aren't as bothersome as one could think (though I wish he wouldn't attempt them because he frankly doesn't do them very well). Mike even managed to sneak in a section with blast beats towards the end, which is pleasing in that the band isn't afraid to incorporate new elements, but in the end they don't help nor hurt much. A Rite of Passage on the other hand is probably the best DT single I can remember since a little song by the name of Pull Me Under and in turn sports one of their best choruses ever. One of the most discussed parts of DT lore in recent years is Mike Portnoy's AA Saga about his recovery from alcohol abuse. Four songs have, prior this album, been released and they had really set themselves up to bat it out of the park with the fifth one. Sadly, I have to say that The Shattered Fortress is a disappointing ending to an otherwise fine series of songs. Primarily, you have Mike Portnoy's grim vocals taking up too much space, and secondarily you have way too many repeated themes. In the older songs you always got a little repeated melody or section and that was cool, because it was just a little, little piece of the song at hand. But now the whole thing comes off rather as an overture with all the different sections taking centre stage rather than The Shattered Fortress being a song of its own. I counted the repeated sections awhile ago and I believe I landed on thirteen or somesuch. That's thirteen unique sections, not counting how many times they're repeated in The Shattered Fortress. Fortunately, the best is yet to come and Dream Theater manage to close things out nicely with The Best of Times, which is Mike Portnoy's heartfelt tribute to his father. Musically it's quite Rush-esque and even though the lyrics might be a bit too much for some people, it's an upbeat song that celebrates rather than mourns, which is definitely pleasing. Finally, The Count of Tuscany closes things out and again they manage to balance the elements beautifully. Look out for the Trial of Tears/Lines in the Sand-esque section the precedes the closing five minutes and helps the song set itself up for the climax. In fact, the entire song musically wouldn't have sounded much out of place on Falling Into Infinity. The only dud is that lyrically I don't find it to be very accomplished, but I'd rather take solid music and mediocre lyrics than the other way around.
This fairly long review closes with the following statement: Dream Theater have delivered one of their best albums in many, many years. I would rank this as their best album since Scenes From A Memory, and most people would agree that that's a pretty darn good grade.
Killswitch Engage Killswitch Engage
Released: June 30 Genre: Metalcore Label: Roadrunner
Killswitch Engage's fifth studio album is something as amusing as their second self-titled effort, which in itself has to be some kind of record. When I reviewed the band's previous effort, As Daylight Dies, I recall making comments about how they'd taken their sound as far as they possibly could and would probably need to shake things up for the next album. Around the time the band began working on the new album, I recall reading interviews saying that they'd step out of their comfort zone and that plenty of blast beating was present in the early creations. Now, pardon my French, but what the hell happened to that? From a purely stylistic point of view, this is The End of Heartache/As Daylight Dies with some new curtains. In other words very little has changed and KsE remain true to the sound they made it big with. Does this sadden me? Yes, it does, because I'm afraid I was right in my assumption that they couldn't keep the ball rolling with the same sound. The problem is somewhat troublesome, because it both difficult and easy to point out. At the core, we have the same basic KsE sound we've always been treated to. At the surface, the songs themselves are simply not as strong as they'd need to be to keep another album with the same old formula going. There are no songs of the quality of Rose of Sharyn to be found on this album. Despite having a lot of good individual elements (riffs, melodies and the like) it's frankly put a bland and lacking effort. So much for stepping out of the comfort zone.
Artillery When Death Comes
Released: June 15 Genre: Thrash metal Label: Metalmind Productions
Artillery made a name for themselves in the early 90's, being one of the bands that helped to contribute to the technical branch of the thrash genre. When Death Comes is their fifth album in their career that has spread over 25-or-so years, but it's also their first since 1999. Artillery's main contribution and really only worthwhile album until this year was 1990's blistering By Inheritance, which should be compulsory listening for any thrash fan. I was not expecting much from When Death Comes, since everything they've released before and after By Inheritance was as forgettable as it possibly gets. But lo and behold, they've managed to churn out a scorching thrash album with their new singer Soren Adamsen. When Death Comes is retro-thrash done the right way by a band that actually was there back in the day. A good chunk of the album is played at very high speed but there're also some mid-tempo numbers that help to keep the flow going and keep things dynamic. The production is contemporary and fits the bill top to bottom. Soren Adamsen is a bit of a find I must say. At times his voice character sounds eerily similar to Tim 'Ripper' Owens, but while he has good pipes he doesn't quite possess the same insane range of the Ripper. When Death Comes is a team effort and no-one really stands out more than any other member...well, except for the bass player who's always forgotten somewhere in the mix, but we're used to that by now. Musically, When Death Comes isn't revolutionising but there're enough heavy riffs, catchy hooks and melodies on there to satisfy this reviewer. Many of the riffs and melodies have that middle-eastern sounding touch which was one of the key components on By Inheritance. When Death Comes is a very, very good thrash album despite being released well past the genre's heyday. All the parts are in the right places and I guess they'd been stockpiling riffs during their 10-year hiatus, because there're more on this album than I care to count.
News and tidbits from the past month:
And in other news...on June 15th a Judas Priest fan had listened to Nostradamus for 365 days straight, and Oz Fox of Stryper married Annie Lobrt, founder of the Hookers For Jesus foundation.