Isis Wavering Radiant
Released: May 5 Genre: Post-Metal Label: Ipecac / Conspiracy Records
Immediately upon listening to Wavering Radiant, I found myself waiting for that dark, booming wall of sound that was one of the first things that got me interested in Isis when I first heard Panopticon. But the waiting for that specific moment turned out to be rather futile, as Wavering Radiant is, by Isis standards, somewhat laid-back. The sludge has taken a step back and has been replaced by more of an atmospheric vibe, most notably when the samplings and textures provided by the keyboards step in. Is it a bad thing? I'd have to say no. Wavering Radiant is a very, very good album and while a tad different, it's still Isis and nothing else.
Isis excel in making 8-10 minutes of seemingly simple music feel like only 4 or 5 minutes, and Wavering Radiant may be their best effort in that aspect. Every song feels like a journey of its own, yet the album delivers that feeling of cohesion and unity that nigh all great albums share.
An effect of the previous statement is that picking out the best moments is a tough task. All songs benefit not only from themselves, but also from what comes before and after. Every single of the 7 tracks at hand are good in their own right, but combined and experienced front to back, they're just so much better.
Wavering Radiant is a musical journey and an exercise in deceptively progressive music. While that is true, it's probably not for everyone, but for those who give it time and attention, there's a potential top 10 album of 2009 to be found.
Alestorm Black Sails At Midnight
Released: May 27 Genre: Heavy/Power Metal Label: Napalm
Black Sails at Midnight has one of the more amusing water markings I've come across in promotional copies. You know a band has a good sense of humour when they end the water marking with ...and remember, piracy is a crime!. That's of course funny because a lot of Alestorm's lyricism is about pirates, plundering, that famous ol' spiced and other things related to life at sea a couple of hundred years ago.
Musically, Black Sails... brings nothing new to the table, for genre nor band. It's that tried and trusted formula of double bass drumming, bombastic keys, melodic guitars and a vocalist screaming y'arr! every now and then. The album and the music is to be taken with a pinch of salt and as a whole is quite enjoyable. The songs are well-crafted with good hooks, big choruses and Christopher Bowes' unmistakable raspy voice. Fans of Captain Morgan's Revenge will feel right at home with Black Sails at Midnight spinning in the stereo, and that is both the strength and weakness of the album.
Dani Evans and Lasse Lammert deliver some great moments on guitar, but even that is not enough to help an album which frankly starts to feel somewhat dull about half-way through. Maybe it's just me, but after five or six songs about the aforementioned lyrical topics, I'm starting to feel like listening to something else. Black Sails at Midnight is an alright album, but the weaknesses which seemed charming on the previous album stand out more and more as negatives on this release.
Vomitory Carnage Euphoria
Released: May 12 Genre: Death Metal Label: Metal Blade
In a recent interview in the local town paper, Vomitory acknowledged the fact that they don't really want to change a single thing about their sound and want to be that type of band from which you'll know exactly what you get. A part of me wants to be gentle about this, since they're more or less the town heroes when it comes to metal, but another part of me wants to rip on them because I like evolution and musical growth.
Carnage Euphoria delivers just about everything one has come to expect from Vomitory. Blast beats, lyrics about gore and the like, brutal riffing and dark, deep growled vocals. The only real curveball is the production, which is much more akin to the mid and early 90's death metal productions than the group's recent effort Terrorize Brutalize Sodmize which had a modern, punchy sound. I definitely preferred the sound of Terrorize Brutalize Sodomize, but for what it is, Carnage Euphoria has an OK sound that fits the bill. The opening barrage of songs are definitely catchy death metal tunes with some interesting hooks and qualities. Erik Rundqvist isn't the most exciting growler of all time, but when he vomits out The carnage rages on! in the track with the same name, I'm ready to surrender everything and start a one-man moshpit in my little room. The second track Serpents features a nice melodic break in the middle with harmonies that seem somewhat atypical for a band like Vomitory. But, as previously stated, you know what you're getting with these guys. The remaining 30-or-so minutes is by-the-book death metal, and somehow that does very little for me, even if there're some pretty good songs on there. Carnage Euphoria is a decent death metal album which does little to excite the listener, but I'll still attend the release party tomorrow here in town.
Released: May 29 Genre: Melodic Death/Folk Metal Label: Nuclear Blast
Amorphis is one of those bands that attempt to set a certain vibe, and then manage to execute it while sounding sincere and honest. There are bands that try to implement soft passages only to sound uncomfortable doing so, and vice versa. Amorphis' sound flows like a river with seamless shifts in mood and intensity, which makes Skyforger such a pleasing listen. The songs are all around 4-6 minutes long, which lends itself well to a pop-formula with intros, verses and choruses coming at expected times. The core of Amorphis' sound is basically a regular hard rock/metal formula, with a rhythm guitar accompanying a lead guitar, but that'd be dumbing things down a tad too much. Joutsen's vocal melodies, as well as Kallio's keys play a huge rule in adding splashes to the canvas to help round things out and give them detail.
There're several songs on Skyforger that will no doubt manage to stick in your head, like Silver Bride, Skyforger and Majestic Beast. Skyforger is filled with quality songwriting that manages to push the right buttons at the right time. Occasionally I kept thinking to myself that things have been a bit too cute and sweet for awhile now and then at the exact right time they drop the sonic anvil in my crotch. A perfect example of such a moment is when the title track goes off, around the 4:30 mark after the bridge, when a choir sings I am and Juotsen replies with the forger of the earth in a deep growl.
Skyforger will no doubt be high on the lists that aim to pick out the ten best albums of 2009, and it deserves it. The album peaks at the right time, and holds a high standard all the way, from the opening piano melody to the closing acoustic outro. Amorphis are firing at all cylinders and the sky is the limit for them.
Gnostic Engineering the Rule
Released: May 25 Genre: Technical Death Metal Label: Season Of Mist
One would think a man like Steve Flynn would be content with his gig in Atheist, but more power to him and his jazzy tech-death drumming for gracing us with another release showcasing just that.
Gnostic is a band playing the technical death metal of the early 90's, and in effect sounds much like Cynic, late Death and Atheist. The latter being not much of a surprise due to Flynn's unmistakable drumming, but he's not the only one pulling double duties. Bassplayer Jonathan Thompson and guitarist Chris Baker also play in the current incarnation of Atheist, and in effect we more or less have an album that sounds a whole lot like Atheist. Guitarist Sonny Carson is the only guy of the instrument wielders without an Atheist affiliation, and it shows. Even vocalist Kevin Freeman sounds a lot like Kelly Schaefer.
One can of course argue to the end of time whether this is a good or bad thing. Atheist is a very, very special band and one of the founding fathers of jazzy tech-death, but somehow I have a hard time getting past that when we have a new Atheist album coming our way in only a few months. But, completely on its own, Engineering the Rule is a fine album. The album is brutal at times, but there're plenty of calmer passages amidst all the chaotic time signatures and technical riffing, so it's not an album that can be accused of being one-dimensional, unless you call being progressive one-dimensional. Kevin Freeman is a great vocalist and delivers aggression and mixed growls/screams with ease and precision. Engineering the Rule is a short-but-sweet showcase of old school progressive death metal, but the similarities to Atheist are at times disturbing to the point of distracting, as you no doubt have noticed. It's a fine album, but a big part of me would've wished for something a bit different.