Mastodon Crack the Skye
Released: March 24 Genre: Progressive Metal Label: Reprise
Mastodon have undergone quite a transformation since their early days, yet they somehow manage to retain a feeling of cohesion. Crack The Skye showcases another change and twist to their sound, but despite everything, it hardly feels surprising nor does it seem out of place. After all, they're a pretty progressive band and fans will surely be familiar with their abilities to mix genres and elements to their liking.
The biggest change from their previous works is found in the vocal department. The screamed/growled vocals are almost completely purged and what's left are various types of clean voices. The vocal style has been a bit of a watershed for listeners to this band; it has driven some potential fans away and generally been the major source of criticism. However in the case of Crack The Skye it's almost mindboggling to think that this is the same band that put out songs like Battle At Sea. It would almost be an exercise in futility to compare this to their early output, and even if it chronologically follows Blood Mountain, it most certainly has more of a musical bond with Leviathan, vocals aside. And in my book that's a good thing, because Leviathan is one of five-or-so albums ever recorded with a legitimate case for being a perfect 10, while Blood Mountain never hit home with me and still to this day mostly serves as a beer coaster.
Crack The Skye is quite a focused effort, both musically and in terms of length, clocking in at around 50 minutes split onto seven tracks, though I must say it doesn't feel like a fifty-minute-listen. There are no songs along the lines of Blood And Thunder or The Wolf Is Loose. Almost the entire album is played at a droning, doom-esque tempo and throughout the listen the prevailing theme and vibe is most definitely dark and depressing. There is also very little to be found in terms of flash and flair on Crack The Skye. Sure, Brann Dailor still drops some amazing grooves, but you get a feeling that this is a band which has decided to play and seem like one unit. It is however worth to note the one section in The Last Baron, around the 6:00 mark, where you have the whole band squaring off in a short instrumental section that has a touch of Dream Theater-done-Mastodon-style to it.
Criticism? Not much. I can most certainly understand if people don't like this album, or if fans of their early work, or Blood Mountain for that matter, don't appreciate it. It's vastly different from the aforementioned album and it's a difficult listen. It's not something to put on if you want to raise the spirits during your keg-party. But for the ones who give it time, give it repeated chances and get to hear it grow with every listen, those people have a potential #1 for 2009.
Queensryche American Soldier
Released: March 31 Genre: Hard Rock/Metal Label: Atco
Oh, how the mighty have fallen. It's almost a bit painful to think of how low Queensryche have sunk after delivering one of the best albums of all time in Operation: Mindcrime. Chris DeGarmo has been in and out of the band, Mike Stone quit recently and left is Michael Wilton handling guitarduties by himself, in an effort to make American Soldier sound more like classic Queensryche. If he's pleased with his delivery, I do not know, but I do know that this sounds nothing like classic Queensryche.
It's quite common for bands to somewhat slow down their music as they get older, and while retaining the speed of their younger days isn't a given recipe for success, it sure would have helped this bloated, mid-tempo affair. A steady rockbeat dominates the majority of the album and you can rest assured that when a band reminds me of Creed, it's not a good thing.
There's not much to be found in terms of substance in American Soldier. Geoff Tate puts on a good performance, as per expected, but musical and vocal hooks are hard to find. After four-five listens I can't hum back a single song but I can recite one of the spoken interludes to a T. I'm sure Geoff Tate thought depicting the various fates and stories of American soldiers through the years would make for a good theme, but it doesn't quite pan out that way. American Soldier is, bluntly put, one of the dullest albums I've come across in a long, long time. It's time to hang it up boys.
Pestilence Resurrection Macabre
Released: March 10 Genre: Death Metal Label: Mascot
A couple of the classic, original death metal bands have reunited within the past couple of years. Cynic managed to do so and achieve great success with their new album, Atheist are months from putting out their new album and this month we have the new album from Pestilence. While being somewhat of an underground phenomenon, they recorded a string of critically acclaimed albums such as Spheres and Testimony Of The Ancients before disbanding in 1994. Patrick Mameli leads the outfit on vocals and lead guitar, with Tony Choy on bass and the new guy in the line-up is Peter Wildoer on drums.
Back in the day, Pestilence were quite the trailblazers, incorporating jazz and fusion to craft their unmistakable sound. These days, not so much. There're most certainly some great riffs and leads on Resurrection Macabre, but sometimes that's not enough to save an album. Vocally and lyrically it's quite one-dimensional, depicting various tales of flesh and gore in a low, grunted voice. The most obvious case of repetition comes perhaps not surprisingly in the chorus. It had not been much of an issue, if the same type of repetition had not been present in well over half choruses on the album. The recipe is quite simple: craft a song title consisting of two words, repeat them two-to-four times in every chorus with a pause consisting of one bar in between every word. After about half the album I started to crack up over the choruses, and I'm afraid that Resurrection Macabre is not the album we've been hoping they'd put out.
Pestilence were a band that pushed the envelope, but Resurrection Macabre is an album that sounds like 100 other death metal albums out there. It's not a bad album, it's just nothing special at all. The progressive element is virtually extinct and left is a band that only plays your standard fare of death metal but with hilarious choruses added to the mix.
Blackguard Profugus Mortis
Released: March 25 Genre: Power/black/death metal Label: Nuclear Blast
Blackguard were known as Profugus Mortis when I reviewed their last EP in the November edition of This Month In Metal, and has since changed their name to their current moniker as well as signed to Nuclear Blast. As all self-absorbed individuals, I like to quote myself, and so I shall. In my review of their EP I wrote that I am very much looking forward to seeing what they have in store for us in Blackguard. Well, in hindsight it seems rather daft, as this album is the EP in its entirety re-recorded and with two new tracks. It's obviously the way things go when you get signed and get to release your first album, but perhaps I was expecting a song or two to be cut from the EP and then four-or-so brand new tunes for our ears. But, as I try to judge this album on its own merit, I'll try to look past these complaints of mine.
Blackguard play what would be best described as blackened death metal with some very power-esque keyboards on top. The vocals come in either growled or screamed form, the music is played at breakneck speed and while being full of riffing, it's also very melodic. It sounds like a recipe for disaster, but it works out splendidly. The music retains a somewhat light-hearted attitude due to the style of the keyboardist, and it lends the songs a dimension beyond what you can accomplish with a more traditional rock/metal line-up. Often the guitars happily chug away while the keyboard outlines the melody and while being a true and tested formula, Blackguard manage to execute it perfectly.
The album is unsurprisingly not very long, coming home at around 40 minutes, and it's the perfect length for an album such as Profugus Mortis, which successfully avoids outstaying its welcome. There's a certain vibe of youthful enthusiasm to the music and while the black and death elements are obvious, it still comes off as a 'fun' album. The two new tracks don't do much either way for the album it's still a very solid release, just like the EP but with a slightly better production. Hell, just listen to Scarlet To Snow and you'll understand what this album is all about.
Release date: March 10 Genre: Post-Punk/Black Metal Label: Code666
I suppose one of the more somber situations in life is when you know that you're doing something you love for the last time. Surely it must have felt that way for this french outfit when they recorded this, their last album together. I was introduced to the band by fellow UG Team-mate duncang, whose enthusiasm over the band's new and final release started boiling over during our MSN conversations. So I gave it a listen and I'm sure glad I did.
The mood of the album is certainly dark and oh-so-fitting to this being their swan song. The genres listed above, while a tad confusing, make a lot more sense when you actually listen to the album. It's not so much putting it all in a blender and getting a half-breed, but more either or. Some songs have a distinct post-punk vibe to them, and some are black metal. At times they spill over into one another in certain songs, but usually things are kept pretty separate, without sounding like a schizophrenic record.
All lyrics are in French, to add to the interesting mix. I'm usually not all that interested in albums whose lyrics I don't understand, but for this I'll make an exception. At times we have a female singer, and at times we have a traditional male black metal bark and it is again pulled off mightily well. Don't for a second think we have some sort of Nightwish copy, because Amesoeurs is an album much more aimed at subtlety and layers, rather than big choruses and catchy songs. That's not to say this isn't pretty catchy a lot of the guitar work and vocal melodies are very catchy and all in all it's quite a pleasant listen.
It won't so much provoke your mind into thinking in abstract new ways, nor can I see anyone enrolling in French class because of it, but it's an excellent way to spend an hour, listening to one of the better swan song's out there.
News and tidbits from the past month:
Vomitory will release their new album Carnage Euphoria on May 11 via Metal Blade.
Neaera's new album Omnicide Creation Unleashed will be released on May 25 via Metal Blade.
Former Gorgoroth members Gaahl and King ov Hell have launched their new band, God Seed.
Heathen have announced their new album The Evolution Of Chaos which will be released later in the year via Mascot.
Guitarist Curtis Ward has recently quit Bring Me The Horizon.
Shadows Fall have confirmed the formation of their own label, on which they'll release their as-of-yet-unannounced album this fall.
Alestorm's new album Black Sails At Midnight will be released via Napalm in late May and June.
Tim 'Ripper' Owens will release his first solo album Play My Game via Steamhammer/SPV in May.
Dream Theater's new album Black Clouds & Silver Linings will be released on June 23 via Roadrunner.
Cult of Luna's new DVD Fire Was Born has been pushed back to late April, from it's original March 23rd release date.
The Red Chord will enter the studio in April/May to record their new album.
Epica are currently recording their new album, tentatively due at the end of the year via Nuclear Blast.
Blind Guardian have finished writing 8 songs for their new album and plan to begin production in September or October.
Atheist have signed a record deal with Season of Mist.
And finally, Varg Vikesnes (ex-Burzum) will be released from prison after serving a prison sentence for murdering Oystein Aarseth of Mayhem and setting fire to three churches in the early 1990's.