Sound — 9
Metal Allegiance is a band formed as a result of live performances by David Ellefson, Mike Portnoy, Mark Menghi and Alex Skolnick. After forming and writing material, they met up in the studio with an army of guest vocalists and musicians to record an album that embodies the spirit of metal, as they interpret it. The album contains 10 tracks with a runtime of just over an hour. There are so many guest musicians on this album that it would be difficult to name them all, but more information can be found at the band's site, www.metalallegiance.com.
"Gift of Pain" opens the album with Randy Blythe's (Lamb of God) scream building through the intro of the track, and builds into a fast-paced riff-fest. Gary Holt (Exodus and Slayer) provides the some of the guitar soloing on this one, and it is definitely some intense guitar work. "Let Darkness Fall" features Troy Sanders (Mastodon), and actually does a good job of sounding like Mastodon if it was interpreted through different musicians (which is essentially what happened here, I guess). This track has one of the groovier and jazzier solo sections, with both a slow legato solo and a Spanish classical guitar lead - both played over a bass and drums backline. The song gets really intense after that, and really firms itself up as my favorite track from the album. "Dying Song" features Phil Anselmo (Pantera) on vocals and is a powerful song in its own right... You have Phil singing fairly clean over some mid-tempo riffing that gives the track a really swampy groove, but with a lead line that sings along with Phil for most of the track. "Can't Kill the Devil" features Skolnick's bandmate from Testament, Chuck Billy, on vocals - honestly, this is possibly the best I've ever heard from Chuck on his vocals - the song really has a vibe that is reminiscent of early Metallica. The solo goes along with my comparison to early Metallica - it is a good sound. "Scars" got me pretty quick with the bass and drum intro, Mark Osegueda (Death Angel) and Cristina Scabbia (Lacuna Coil) sing co-lead vocals on this track. It has a cool vibe as the music changes up for each vocalist and gives "Scars" a really unique sound on the album.
"Destination: Nowhere" features Matt Heafy (Trivium) and the song fits the vocalist very well - fast-paced and intense, the track has some of the heaviest drumming on the album. The solo is fast-paced, as well, fitting the song well. "Wait Until Tomorrow" opens up with a creepy arpeggio and rumbling bass, and features dUg Pinnick (King's X) on the clean vocals and Jamey Jasta (Hatebreed) on the screamed vocals. It is an interesting couple of voices, but they work well for the track. "Triangulum (I. Creation, II. Evolution, III. Destruction)" definitely has the longest song title on the track, and is also a completely instrumental track broken down into 3 movements. The track actually reminds me a little bit of King Crimson, but if King Crimson had a slightly more conventional ear and was metal. "Pledge of Allegiance" is another track to feature Mark Osegueda (Death Angel), and this one sounds a lot like earlier thrash metal - think mid '80s thrash - but with better overall mixing and production. This is a maniacally fast track, and reminds me of the old speed wars of thrash in the early days. "We Rock" is the closing track on the album, and seemed to include as many guests as the whole rest of the album combined. Guesting on this track are Mark Osegueda, Chris Jericho (pro wrestler, and singer for Fozzy), Tim "Ripper" Owens (Judas Priest, Iced Earth), Alissa White-Gluz (The Agonist, Arch Enemy), Chuck Billy, and Steve "Zetro" Souza (Exodus). This track is essentially just a celebratory musical romp, which is worthwhile for the energy more than the actual performance.
Lyrics — 9
It's hard to write about vocals on an album where almost every track was performed by a different vocalist, but I can tell you my favorite in terms of vocals may very well be "Dying Song" by Phil Anselmo, and then Troy Sanders on "Let Darkness Fall" after that. I also really appreciated what was done with vocals on "Scars" with Cristina Scabbia and Mark Osegueda, as they each really seemed to bring their personal style to bear on the songs. Alissa White-Gluz's vocals were a relatively minor contribution, but they really were the high point of "We Rock." Chuck Billy was phenomenal in his contributions - in all honesty, sounding better than I think I've ever heard him before. As a sample of the lyrics from the album, I'll actually borrow from one of Chuck Billy's contributions with some of the lyrics from "Can't Kill the Devil": "A prison cell is now my home/ trapped inside a concrete hole/ No more freedom left to roam/ Endless time that haunts my soul/ Take a struggle day by day/ Victimized by endless shame/ All that's left in to hope and pray/ There's nothing left for you to say/ You can't kill the devil/ Once evil is alive/ You can't kill the devil/ 'Cause evil never dies." The album doesn't have the best lyrics ever, but they're definitely solid in the world of metal lyrics.
Overall Impression — 8
Mike Portnoy has been involved in a lot of projects since the whole fiasco with Dream Theater and Avenged Sevenfold, and honestly they've all been great. I think that I really appreciate what he's done since then more than his work with either of those bands. Of course, Alex Skolnick is like a guitar wizard and David Ellefson may very well be one of the greatest metal bassists alive in terms of pure musicality. As a group they're phenomenal, and it really seems like they got the best out of everyone they collaborated with on this album. The production was done just right - with each song seeming to be produced based on the individual song instead of the producer approaching it with a blanket philosophy in terms of compression, etc. The end result is pretty great. My favorite songs are "Triangulum," "Let Darkness Fall," and "Dying Song." I would definitely recommend this as a full album purchase for fans of good ol' heavy metal music.