Amon Amarth - Twilight Of The Thunder God
Release date: September 17 Label: Nuclear Blast Genre: Melodic death metal
Due to a string of quite succesful albums, Amon Amarth have built quite a name for themselves. The outfit's brand of honest-to-Oden death metal with a touch of melody has certainly struck a chord with crowds and metal fans in general. Thus Twilight of the Thunder God certainly deserves to be referred to as an anticipated release, especially given the success (both commercially and musically) for their previous effort, With Oden On Our Side.
Well, the lowdown is that if the previous two or three releases were your cup of mead, then this certainly should fit like a glove. Amon Amarth don't really progress in any way - it's the same tried and tested sound of pummelling double bass, scorching riffs, minor melodies, vivid lyrical imagery of the age of Vikings and Johan Hegg's signature bark. Obviously there's nothing inherently wrong with sticking to your guns when your sound stands out like Amon Amarth's, but I can definitely see the point of those who criticise the album for showing no growth. In fact, I'll also agree with those who say that lyrically it's a bit dumbed down compared to With Oden.. and especially Fate of Norns. While that's most definitely true, there're still some tunes to kick your rear-end to Miklagrd and back. The opener and title track is one of the finer death metal tunes you'll hear this year with a chorus that's certainly going to be a fan favorite. Free Will Sacrifice, Tattered Banners And Bloody Flags and The Hero also put forward a strong case for the band.
Amon Amarth don't really get much wrong with Twilight of the Thunder God. It's a damn fine release with some killer tunes, as well as a few that don't stand out much but nothing that'll make you hurl of disgust (unless the Viking-theme isn't your thing, I suppose). Twilight... is, again, a fine slab of metal but the boys will have to step things up on the next album, or I'll start throwing the word stagnate around.
Iced Earth - The Crucible Of Man
Release date: September 9 Label: SPV Genre: Heavy Metal
Hello Matt Barlow, good bye Tim Owens. Jon Schaffer certainly likes to keep that door revolving and with another somewhat new line-up, the second part of the Something Wicked saga is upon us. Is it any good?
No. My main problem with Framing Armageddon (ie the predecessor to this album) was that it was a) too padded b) too long c) too much mid-tempo. Thus, I'm hardly Jon Schaffer's favourite reviewer and I'm hardly surprised to see him committing the same errors. While on my soap-box, I'll simply say that Jon Schaffer has lost it. Do I hear recognisable riffs that'll have you humming them long after the song has ended? No. Big choruses, catchy choruses used to be a part of Iced Earth's sound. Are they here? Nay. Varied use of tempo's? Nope.
There's been a huge hooplah about Matt Barlow's return to Iced Earth, and he does a great job. Matt has not lost a thing of what made him a great metal vocalist, and he sounds as good as ever. I find that people tend to go on about how well he delivers emotion (songs such as Melancholy, A Question of Heaven etc) and that somewhat overshadows how well he succeeds in delivering a more evil tone. Sadly, that delivery is rare on The Crucible of Man. The problem is that while most of the songs are well-written, well-played and nicely recorded, they fail to stick. This time around, the songs simply are not good enough. Jon Schaffer wanted to deliver a huge, epic saga but he has failed big time. The Crucible of Man is a sub-par release from a band, or perhaps I should say a man capable of much greater things. Back to the drawing board, Jon.
Lord Belial - The Black Curse
Release date: September 23 Label: Regain Genre: Black metal
I didn't have very high expectations for this album, but then again I'm a bit of sceptic. The Black Curse turned out to be a very, very pleasant surprise. The band mixes melody and brutality without ever coming off as cheap or attempting to cash in on their sound. Both dissonance and harmony finds its way into their brand of (modern) black metal and despite that, it does not sound schizophrenic or forced. If anything, it's the other way around. Blast-beats, tempo changes, acoustic interludes, some very tasty melodic soloing and an evil shriek courtesy of Thomas Backelin makes this a very enjoyable listen.
But just having the right mixture of elements is of course not enough to deliver a good album - you need good songs as well. And boy does The Black Curse deliver in that department. Picking out two or three songs to represent the album is a difficult task. It's a far easier task to pick out the songs that are less than spectacular, such as Sworn. It's perhaps blasphemy to throw around such terms when discussing an album of this genre, but several of the songs are what I'd refer to as hits. Big choruses (see Soul Gate and Trumpets of Doom), catchy riffs (opener Pazuzu, Ascension of Lilith) and overall solid and purposeful song writing makes this album a must have and I'd be surprised if this doesn't end up in my top 5 when the year is to be summarised.
Metallica - Death Magnetic
Release date: September 12 Label: Vertigo Genre: Thrash metal
Much talked about, much discussed... and here we go again. As it turned out, those predicting a St Anger II were not answered, but nor were those hoping for Master of Puppets II. Death Magnetic is, as far as I'm concerned the natural continuation and the missing link between Metallica and present day. The heavy, fast riffs made a return, as well as Hammett's leads along with more progressive song structures and thankfully, a fine return to form for Hetfield when it comes to lyrics. Death Magnetic is of course, like most albums, not without its flaws. One of the more publicly discussed problems is the horrendous mixing and mastering. As far as the music goes, the album does not hold Hammett and Ulrich's best work by any stretch. A couple of the beats sound a bit ham-fisted and it's safe to say that Ulrich is well past his prime. Hammett's leads leave a lot to be desired and at times it's more or less mindless self-indulgence without aim or purpose. A few of the songs don't accomplish much, if anything (I'm looking at you, The Unforgiven III) and make the album a bit longer than it had to be.
But Metallica were never really about individual prowess or flash. Their strength lay in their ability to pen good songs as a group, and Death Magnetic shows a return to that. The opening three or four songs are all solid-to-great thrashers that shows Metallica can still hang with the best of them. And, when it all boils down, that's what it's all about. Death Magnetic is, as previously stated not without its flaws, but there're plenty of things to be happy about. As it turns out, it's a solid metal album. For a (much) longer discussion on the album, see my UG Team review linked below.
The Haunted - Versus
Release date: September 17 Label: Century Media Genres: Modern Thrash Metal
Returning to their roots is a phrase often carelessly thrown around by bands, but in the case of Versus, it's actually quite appropriate. While The Haunted don't return to their jurassic era, it's definitely a step or two back in time. Their previous effort, The Dead Eye was a bit experimental in places, whereas the majority of Versus is a bit more in the vein of One Kill Wonder or rEVOLVEr. In other words, straightforward and in-your-face aggressive metal.
There're no obvious mistakes in the execution of their vision - production, lyrics and music come together well in a good, slab of metal. There're quite a few songs that'll gel well with their live repertoire, such as Moronic Colossus, Pieces and Faultline. The outfit also avoid the most common trap these days -- outstaying their welcome. Add three or four songs in the same vein and this would have been a lesser listen. Clocking in a 39 minutes, it's just about right given the genre and style of these guys.
All is not gold though -- while it's a very solid effort without any obvious flaws, it would've benefitted from having a new 99 or All Against All in there, a real hit if you prefer it bluntly. It's just 39 minutes long, so it's far from a chore to listen to Versus. It's just that while there're no clunkers, fillers or tracks that stand out as poor, there're also not enough songs that stand out as in-your-face-kick-ass-metal. Worthwhile listening from one of the better bands around, but nothing that'll make critics or fans stand on their heads.
Psycroptic - Ob(Servant)
Release date: September 26 Label: Nuclear Blast Genres: Technical Death Metal
Psycroptic shot to fame within the underground following 2003's acclaimed Scepter of the Ancients. A somewhat lacklustre effort followed, but I can gladly say that Psycroptic are back on track again with Ob(Servant). Brutal breakdowns, blast-beats, crazy passages and an ability to pen coherent songs while keeping things interesting from a technical perspective helps Ob(Servant) to keep the listener, in other words me, interested for the full 50 minutes. The ball is dropped with the opening track, which also happens to be the title track of the album, and from then it just keeps rolling in various tempos (always a plus) with Jason Peppiatt truly coming into his own as the vocalist for this group. The rest of the band puts down impeccable performances, and this being U-G I'll have to say that guitarist Joe Haley has officially blown my mind with his ability to pen catchy, complex and brutal riffs.
Ob(Servant) is the band's first release on Nuclear Blast, and hopefully this'll help them reach a larger audience. While full of killer tunes, the album also boasts an excellent production. It's clean, articulate and slick, yet aggressive and well balanced. My only criticism would be that the bass-drum gets a bit thin and ticky sounding when we reach the really high tempos, but that's obviously a minor complaint in the grand scheme of things. As far as technical death metal goes so far this year, you can't do much better. Solid as Ayers Rock and in places just as heavy, Ob(Servant) should keep you happy until they hit a town near you.
Trivium - Shogun
Release date: September 30 Label: Roadrunner Genre: Modern/Melodic Metal
A seemingly inherent problem in today's music business is that the compact disc gives bands more time to fill out, thus making bands record more music than they have to. Trivium in their past have been no exception, and while being one of the most promising bands out there, they've managed to make their record at least 15 minutes too long. One should note that I consider Trivium a very good band with an insane amount of potential, and stubborn as I am, I believe that one day they'll pen a truly great album. But, as things stand, that day has yet to come. Shogun displays further growth for the Florida-outfit, incorporating 7-strings on almost all songs, going back to adding screaming again and raising their own technical bar by quite a few notches. Matt Heafy has turned into quite an accomplished singer with a pleasant tone and voice characteristic, and Corey Beulieu is coming into his own as one of the more interesting lead guitarists out there. I'm not overly crazy about Travis Smith behind the drums, but Paolo Gregoletto is as solid as ever and even gets to drop a few bass solos during the course of Shogun.
I'd argue that their previous effort was a bit more riff-driven than Ascendancy and this album, which I quite enjoyed. As far as I'm concerned, Trivium are at their best when they play a more aggressive style of metal, and they do go a bit too far into melodic territory for my tastes on Shogun. The melodies don't always catch on and perhaps a more stripped down approach is the way to go for this band. Sound-wise the album is very, very well produced with a nice warm tone and the vocal overdubs sit nicely with the main lines in the mix. As far as songs go, well, it's a bit padded. If I'd been at the helm, I would've trimmed the fat a bit and turned this into a 45-ish minute effort. The one-two punch of Like Callisto.. and the title track is a bit of a drag and doesn't help the album end very well. As often is the case these days, the band blows their load early with Kirisute Gomen, Down From The Sky and Into the Mouth of Hell We March who are all good-to-great metal songs with a lot of character and gusto.
Shogun is a nice metal album with quite a few interesting twists and turns, several good songs and a good sound but Trivium need to learn to trim the fat before they can ascend into the higher echelons of the metal pantheon. Good, not great but full of potential.
News And Tidbits From The Past Month
Trigger the Bloodshed will enter the studio in October.
Poison the Well will enter the studio in November. A May 2009 release is scheduled.
Bass-player Noah Martin of Arsis has quit the group, citing a need to finish college. A replacement has yet to be announced.
Near-defunct death metallers Quo Vadis have announced Patrice Hamelin of Martyr as their new drummer.
Behemoth will release a new EP, "Ezkaton", on November 11th. Guitarist Peter Wichers has re-joined Soilwork.
Kreator will release their new album Hordes of Chaos in mid-January.
Scar Symmetry have parted ways with their vocalist Christian lvestam, citing different outlooks on musical production and touring as the reasons for the split.
Amorphis will enter the studio in November to start the work on the follow-up to 2007's Silent Waters.
The wife of former Iron Maiden and Wolfsbane vocalist Blaze Bayley has passed away. Debbie suffered a stroke some months ago and passed away a few days ago. Please give her and Blaze a prayer or two in these hard times.
That's all for this month, see you in rOc(k)tober.