Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Reviews 10/26/2015

Cannibal Corpse "A Skeletal Domain (Metal Blade) 8/10

As many albums as the Corpse have, it's difficult for them to put out a bad album because they have endless killer riffs and one of the best drummers in Death Metal. And although my interest in this band has waned, they never let me down in terms of constantly creating interesting musick. This album is no exception.

From the start it's very aggressive, but within the familiar Cannibal Corpse style structure. Lots of changes, but without losing that early Death Metal "Thrash" crunch, not to mention the crazy interludes. And they are the kings of the blast beat as far as I'm concerned. Blast beats don't NEED to be faster than this. They don't get any heavier, so why speed it up? STAY HEAVY! The Mazurker Berzerker knows this!

Solos skitter about with perfection like a zombie surfing in the sewer chased by shit sharks. (haha that's a "shaxul classic" right there I think!)Anyway, as you can tell, I'm kinda bored reviewing this. It's not CC's fault, they are shredding all kinds of steak - I just gotta be in the mood for the Corpse these days, and that's usually only when I am at a Corpse show. Go see them, they always rule and these songs will fit perfectly with the rest.

Contrarian "Polemic" (Willowtip) 8/10

Pretty damned heavy. Reminds me of that early Aeternus EP. Very low vocals, good grim, yet thrashing riffs. Also sounds a bit like Amon Amarth with it's thick, melodic tones.

What sets this apart are the rhythms. They seem to prefer a mid tempo odd groove over a blast beat, which is a good thing because blasting has gotten a little excessive over the years. Guitars and bass are constantly doing interesting things. Solos shred of course. It almost sounds too easy here! But then, with so many years of death metal to draw from, this is how a modern death band should sound like.

Only drawback, if one could be pointed out, guitars get a little excessive on the shred fest where it might make more sense to just let the song and riff do the talking. That last Carcass comes to mind. Great music, but a little bit too much in terms of the whole "hey look what I can do!" aspect. But for the most it does work for the benefit of the music.

Iron Maiden "Book of Souls" () 8/10

Being this album has already been talked about to death, I'll do my best to stick with observations less mentioned. But of course, there are elements to this album that inevitably must be addressed. Mainly the length. I don't have a problem with length as a rule, but usually long albums drone and contain shit that probably was more interesting to the band than the audience [example: "Nostradamos" by Judas Priest]. While this is much much better than "Nostradamos" it does go on much longer than it needs. And while much of it does sound unexpectedly inspired, there's just too many cooks n the kitchen. Too many extended epic sections [I call them "plateaus of boredom"].

Things start off on a decidedly dark and gothic note, similar to "Seventh Son" (one of my favorite Maiden albums). The first few songs are quite solid, and Bruce's voice isthe best it has sounded in many years. Even back in the late 80s it was clear his voice was either losing it's range or he was just getting tired of singing that way - this just before heading into his solo career. This album would seem to be his very long and gradual return to form. At least in my eyes, and he seems quite aware of the vocal range he is exrecising here. And it's very cool to hear, despite the fact that he is obviously straining himself in places. For me, he could have toned it down a bit and could have delivered just as good, if not a better performance. But that's me being a dick I suppose.

Anyhow, first few songs are quite solid IMHO. Up until "The Red and the Black." Clearly, Maiden is strivng for the epic on almost this entire album. But there comes a point in this song where they reach a kind of climax and then sort of refuse to end it. It just keeps going, on and on! This is the "plataeu of boredom" I mentioned earlier. And any weight the whole "Whooaah ooowhoahhh!" part has initially, is made into a joke by the end. Still, it is better than many of Maiden's post 80s tunes - but far from a masterpeice. The great parts also seem to draw from "Alexander the Great" and "Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner" quite a bit, but that's splitting hairs I suppose.

Next 2 songs are kinda cool but kinda generic and start giving us more of that plateau of boredom. Title track starts out so great, but just rambles like fuck for like 4 minutes. I don't get why they couldn't see how unnecesarily long it is! Nearly ruins an otherwise great tune!

"Death or Glory" and "Tears of a Clown" are both very solid. "Tears" in particular struck me a bit, as I am from San Francisco and grew up watching Robin Williams. I thought it was a very cool gesture by the band to write this great song. But "Shadows of the Valley" is just kinda blah with it's "Wasted Years" intro and then right back into what sounds like an extended boring peice from a previous song on the same album. And finally, "Empire of the Clouds" contains some very good music. But it did not need to be 18 fucking minutes long! (or whatever absurd length it is!) Everyone seems to think it's a goddamned masterpeice - well that's cool. I think so too, it's just too goddamned long!

As far as production - no complaints there really. I think it sounds very good and clear. Nicko's drums sound very real and he pulls some nice moves. he sounds like a real drummer, and his playing is a highlight for me. Steve's bass has never been more quiet on a Maiden album far as I remember, and other than his silly little ditty at the beginning and end of that one song, he seems strangely absent most of the time. Or maybe I just didn't turn the volume up enough.

Overall, there is an EXCELLENT album here. Best one in years! In fact, I'd say this is the album I was hoping for right after "Seventh Son." But it's just buried by too much excess jamming and extended "epic" sections which all really start to sound the same. More memorable solos woulda been nice as well. I cant think of one stand out. Overall, songwise there's just too many notes! If they just cut a few it'd be perfect!

Magic Circle "Journey Blind" (20 Buck Spin) 5/10

The singer sounds like Paul Stanley. Kinda neat for a doomish band! Thing about Doom bands, they gotta have great riffs or its just a bunch of hot air. And unfortunately, these guys can't write very many killer riffs. I mean, they have most of the ingredients of a classic heavy old school Doom band. But for me, they seem to try too hard to fit within a genre and not enough on the quality of the music. It's "label ready" if you will. To put it another way - there are plenty of old bands from the 80s who sound "authentic 80s" but just aren't that good (and that's why you never heard of em!). So basically, these guys think "sounding 80s" is enough to get them the same respect an authentic killer 80s doom band should. The TRUE shall not be deceived by this falsery!

While this does have some nice sections, I find myself more entertained by the Paul Stanley vocals than the music. I also saw this band live and found them boring. Too bad, because they are reaching here for something classic. I just don't buy it. These types of bands lower the bar in an area that needs more creativity. Try Visogoth!

Satan "Atom by Atom" (Listenable) 10/10

Wow. Where to start? This kicks so much ass on so many levels I am stunned. Having seen them on that excellent recent tour they did, I certainly knew the magic was still there. But to be able to conjure that up with a new set of songs with such consistency is just the stuff metalheads dream of.

I won't go too into it, as I assume most of you already know who Satan is - now I am no expert, but I have been listening to them and their various incarnations for quite a few years. And this only reinforces the fact that Satan are indeed one of the great kings of metal. With particular regard to the precious moment in time where NWOBHM turns into Thrash, back in the early 80s. Satan was right there, and young fans that would form bands such as Exodus and Death Angel were paying attention. And here they are, to give another lesson in ass woopin! They have not lost a thing! In fact, I dare say this is possibly their best shit!

Immediately the signature "wild west" riffs come in all guns blazing. We are not just bringing back the 80s here, we ARE the fucking 80s. We are SATAN! And you can just hear all the wannabe bands cringing at the utter conviction of this. Whether it's the intricate signature riffing, the shredding solos, the soaring melodies, or Brian Ross' flat out owning of the mic - heavy metal does not get any better or more true in it's presentation. No bullshit, no pretense, no "trying to prove this or that" just simply an all out asskicker. Only band that has risen from the grave so triumphantly in recent history would be Pagan Altar (RIP). There's no point going into more detail (especially because I'm only on my 3rd listen!) But I would suggest putting that new Iron Maiden down and spending your time on this instead. You shall be rewarded greatly.

The Body/Kreig (At a Loss) 0/10

This must be what death metal sounded like to my grandparents.

Vastum "Hole Below" (20 Buck Spin) 6/10

This is quite crushing in an early 90s Swedish Death Metal sort of way. It's a bit on the slow side, opting more for a mid tempo sort of aggression. Vocals are quite low and creepy, not unlike the first Grave album. Singer's got this talking thing he does as well, which is fairly scary sounding but kinda like - just not sure I get what he is trying to get across. Because it doesn't exactly take things to the next level.

There is not much more to it than that. riffs are fairly good, but all start sounding the same. It's not enough to rely on a "heavy sound" (I feel like I said this in another review here - am I going senile?) I feel like the band is almost making a concious effort to be simple and kinda generic to appeal to that punk/crossover Boltthrower crowd, which I never quite understood. On the other hand, I cannot deny that it does sound like some lost early 90s underground Swedish Death Metal band. Difference is, those bands didn't really have much of a history to draw from so they were, you could say, more authentic. Whereas this is a sort of echo of that.

In short, this is a whole lotta heavy and scary faces without much else going on. Surely a pleasure to listen to live, but when you really put it under a microscope, there really isn't a whole lot to it. It seems the goal here is to create a scary feeling. Not sure the point really. Still, nice to hear this kind of stuff coming out of the Bay Area still. Just seems a bit uninspired and same-y musically, which is disappointing considering the talent within the band.

Vhol "Deeper than Sky" (Profound Lore) 8/10

New release featuring John Cobbett (Hammers of Misfortune/Ludicra) and Aesop Dekker (Agalloch/Ludicra). It's fairly unique with its combination of harcore/Black/thrash riffs, melodic guitars, and roller coaster progressive sections. The Hammers elements are quite recognizable here. Must be a signature Cobbett thing. The tunes also go into more straight forward territory, seamlessly moving in and out of the "Thrashier" sections and into more 70s prog territory. In fact, this shift of dynamics seems to be the signature sound of this band, which is cool but gets a bit excessive at points. It doesn't seem comfortable at any speed for very long, so it constantly shifts. But it does conjure up that epic Cobbett feel, which is recognizable if you've heard his other projects.

Vocal wise - I guess this is the Yob guy. Not sure what to make of it. I suppose it's perfect since he can flow from a sort of punk shout and right into melodic vocal territory, as the songs require at given points. The more layered vocal sections (again) conjure up Hammers for me, and give it that soft/psychadelic adventure feel. Not sure what that means but that's the best way I can put it.

Drums are quite good, but if you've heard any of Aesop's other bands you could have predicted that. Very solid, always giving a straight forward feel, even when things get hectic which shows the control he has over rhythm. Never loses the groove even when blasting, and it's a huge benefit to the overall sound.

The album is pretty dense, and I might say it's the best thing I've heard from Cobbett in a long time, if ever. It doesn't really leave much room for flaw though. And by that I mean it seems to try too hard at points, where it could benefit from just laying back a little. Like a nervous supermodel starving herself to look "perfect." It tries to be too many things at once, and ultimately gets a bit lost in its own pretense at points. Again this is the formula of Hammers for the most part, and why I couldn't get totally into em. But this is for sure for fans of more progressive metal. Opeth or Sigh for example. It's just as comfortable rocking out with piano leading things as it is with guitar riffs taking the lead. All the while, maintaining a fair amount of aggression throughout.

Overall, pretty impressive and original. For me it's just a bit too much. But if you like said comparisons, you probably wanna pick this up. It will be interesting to hear the next recording by this band.

ZEX "Fight for Yourself" (Magic Bullet Records) 7/10

I guess this is a Canadian band and originally recorded this in 2014. It's been re-issued obviously to, I suppose give it wider exposure.

This is some great classic sounding hard rock/metal. Singer reminds me of Geddy Lee a little. She does manage to conjure a bit of an 80s punk/early goth/new wave kinda vibe as well. Early April Wine comes to mind at points. Same stripped down/catchy approach (although this has a more 3 peice kinda sound).

They list a lot of 70s influences in their bio, and I can surely hear it. Makes em a little more original sounding. What I really like about this is the combination of influences. It's got just a touch of punk which only compliments the classic stripped down metal approach. Songs are very straight forward and to the point. It is pretty hard hitting drum wise, but much more in the pop/punk NWOBHM style and doesn't really venture into anything close to thrash.

This was a really interesting surprise. Not exactly "heavy" metal, but if you like old traditional metal and 70s hard rock you will dig this.