Welcome to the first part of my two part (so far) special on women of metal who break the stereotype. I have gone away, dug through my own collection as well as dredged the internet in the hopes of finding proof that not only are there women breaking the convention of the nightwish clone, not only doing it well, but can provide a match for any male counterpart.
So its come to my attention that many probably wont read most of these, so I recap with one sentence summaries for where to direct your attention in this special.
Gallhammer – Death/Doom to suicide to.
Lucifugum – Raw Black Metal with a possessed demon fronting them.
Amaran – The best thing short of Beautiful Sin’s second album
Gonin-Ish – If Sigh is like Hamlet, Gonin-Ish is like Ophelia. Crazy.
Vainglory – Heavy/Speed, fronted by a woman with more bawls than most men.
Volnaya Staya – Fun tribute to classic Heavy Metal
Kanthaka – Death metal unlike anything you’ve heard.
Enchained Souls – Operatic/Gothic metal that packs an emotional punch.
Gallhammer – Ill Innocence – 3.5/5
Welcome to the first of the “women who break the nightwish clone stereotype” reviews. A name I’m sure many will be familiar with, but one that seems to be shrouded in doubt. “Will I like it?” “Are they serious?” “Wow, 3 hawt women! Bet it sucks but at least I can fap to that!” And I’m sure other questions will have arisen. In short, this is like many Japanese metal bands, unique, but perhaps worthy of the attention of your ears and not just your eyes.
They play a blend of Death/Doom which is incredibly depressive. In fact, that statement doesn’t do the atmosphere, the emotion they produce a shred of justice. This is beyond suicidally depressing, this is apocalyptic whats-the-point-of-living depressive. They seem to have tried to create a tone so inaccessible, to shake off the image of being a gimmick, a band composed entirely of females, that it renders their sound dubious at times as to whether it can really constitutes the definition of music. The sound is basic and comes in two main forms, a slow, almost drone doom, and more upbeat doom filled death sound. I should make it no secret at this point that the drone-like tone is my personal preference.
This is a band with 3 members who all started their career as vocalists. This means none of them are particularly proficient musicians, but the music doesn’t require them to be. Would it be any better with quicker more complex riffs? The solo here or there? No. In fact, it would undermine the sound they’ve created. Everything about it is simple, bare, minimalistic and raw without detracting from the core of their sound. The fact they’re perhaps less capable musicians technically doesn’t at any point present itself as that slow droning of the bass, the slow monotonous guitar riff, it all serves to create an atmosphere.
Having said that, the vocals are clearly the highlight of this album, working wonders in producing the tone that helps refine the atmosphere. Often growled they provide an apocalyptic and demonic feel, produced with seemingly little effort they only enhance the feeling of desperation and pointlessness inherent within every track, reminding me slightly of that grunge drawl at times. As said earlier however, all three members started out as vocalists. This gives them the unique option of allowing multiple vocals to be present upon a track, and occasionally a clean voice is heard. Sometimes high pitched as in ‘blind my eyes,’ sometimes mid-pitched as in ‘Delirium Daydream,’ sometimes, multiple growls as shown in ‘ripper in the gloom,’ but in every case they allow for a slightly different tone to present itself.
This is not an album for everyone, in fact only those who like death growls and a doom-filled atmosphere is recommended to try this one, and the majority of them I expect would dislike it. It is certainly not without its problems. Whilst the lack of technical ability doesn’t hamper how effective the tracks are, it does present for a monotonous sounding album, with little diversity beyond the pace, resulting in an album that more often than not feels like background music, and working in a similar way as most ambient music. And even considering that, I wish they had slowed down the pace more often. But there will be some who find the unique atmosphere to their liking, and for those few who do enjoy this album, you will find something that perhaps accents your mood at the darkest of times in a way I know no other band capable of.
Highlights: At the onset of the age of despair, Blind my eyes, Delirium Daydream
By T. Bawden
Over the years this has grown into my own personal project, reviewing the artists that I discover and interest me. If you wish to see more of my work, particularly my more metal-orientated material, you can find me as a regular contributor for the online magazine
Lucifugum – ACME Adeptum – 4/5
Once again, I bring you tales of feminine bravery in breaking the mould put forward by the hordes of nightwish clones prevalent. In fact, I don’t think I can think of a better example than the lead vocalist for this black metal band, stabaath. This is a Ukrainian ‘band’ (using the term lightly, as it consists of the vocalist – stabaath - and her husband) who don’t use their music as a gimmick, the atmosphere and tone created is incredibly serious – somehow, you can tell that every word spat at you, growled, every cackle, they mean every word of it. Singing entirely in russian, I couldn’t tell you exactly what that is, yet this doesn’t detract from the end result.
The sound of this album is raw, with low production values and plenty of tremolo riffs making themselves well known in the mix. Utilising dual guitars constantly varying between higher and lower pitches in an erratic fashion, speeding up and slowing down at will, it creates an upbeat cacophony that at no point conflicts with one another. There is also seemingly no bass guitar that I can discern, and this only furthers the unusual tone. High pitched guitar-work, with heavy emphasis on the treble it sounds ‘tinny’ but oddly, it works, rather than sounding like simply bad production, it sounds unusual and unnatural. As though something is out of place, something has gone wrong, and leaves an atmosphere of worry, almost of fear (for lack of a better word) as you have no idea what to expect.
But that only serves as a backdrop for the vocals, which are quite simply superb. Ranging from an almost vomit-like sound, to a witch-like high pitched cackle to a throaty growl that dominates, and even an airy wind-like more subtle tone, the range produced is more than a little impressive, and adds some much needed variety to this band. Even the language works well in their favour, resulting in a hard-edged demonic sound that at times sounds like it might be comprehensible if you had a clue how to speak this ancient dialect. Forget that this is being sung by a woman? She seems to do it with such ease, I at times forgot this was produced by something human, sounding well and truly possessed, more than occasionally does it conjure up images of ‘the exorcist.’ Yet, despite this however, I couldn’t help but find it getting repetitive. The riffs are all fairly similar, the drums vary between blast-beat speed and barely-playing which, whilst succeeding in varying the tempo, isn’t terribly interesting.
This album has created a raw sound that sounds simple without sounding convoluted, or slow and boring. The atmosphere and tone created – particularly through the vocal work – is far better than I usually find. The end result has this as its main focus, playing largely as a whole, with little differentiating between tracks. This is, however, most certainly a prime candidate for displaying just how well a woman can work in extreme metal.
Highlights: Track One, Track Four, Track Six (All the tracks are written in Russian, and hence impossible to list accurately. In fact, they don’t even show up properly)
By T. Bawden
Amaran – Pristene in Bondage – 4/5
I would love to come out with the opening line of ‘the next best thing since beautiful sin came into my possession,’ but unfortunately that would make me a liar. Having said that, whilst this may not be up there with them, it certainly comes damn close, combining a powerful female vocalist who sings cleanly, without sounding like she’s trying to be tarja turunen (nightwish) with softer neo-classical guitar solo’s and aggressive power metal riffs bordering on heavy metal territory, this is the sort of band that comes my way all too infrequently.
The nightwish comparison is inevitable when dealing with any metal band with a cleanly vocalled female heading the band, so lets get it out of the way shall we? Take nightwish, remove the gothic/symphonic element, and put in a couple of competent guitarists heading an assault both quick and speedy, as well as retaining a high level of melody and you get some way to describing the sound produced.
The guitarists have produced some real noteworthy riffs here, ranging from the slow and ballad-like melodic style, to the angra/blind guardian inspired riffs, retaining an aggressive tone, to the all too infrequent solo’s providing a distinct flavour to the tracks, the only concern is that there are times where riffs seem remarkably similar. For example, it appears they have re-used a riff in both the track ‘wraith’ and ‘coming home,’ simply at a lower pitch on the latter. The riff is a decent one, but it begs the question as to whether they’re running out of idea’s already.
Both the bass and drums are audible, if too quiet in the mix for my liking, though this is nothing unusual, - in fact, it’s not uncommon to have difficulty hearing the bass at all - and both work well at producing a background for the guitars and vocals to build upon. Its clear where the focus is coming from, and the vocals do nothing but successfully add to the high performance of the guitar work.
The vocals aren’t just a Nightwish clone, but instead retain an aggression that puts them somewhere between the stereotype and Magali Luyten (Beautiful Sin, Virus IV). Capable of singing both aggressively and softly with both power and emotion, she complements the two major tones adopted by the guitars wonderfully, and whilst lends a performance perhaps not spectacular, certainly isn’t bad and rather the sound created from her presence lends a unique and distinctive quality. This is only added to with the wholly unexpected growling in ‘katharsis,’ providing a new approach to their sound without sounding too different from the sound already created.
A lot of the appeal for this band comes from the female singer. Whilst the diversity isn’t bad, the guitar riffs done well, none are done spectacularly, and there are a number of bands already doing a similar tone with greater success. But rather than being used as a gimmick, the female vocalist changes the dynamic, it brings a fresh change to an old sound, and they perform consistently – there is no filler to be found here. If you can’t stand clean female vocals in metal, then perhaps this isn’t for you. But if you want a change in your normal power metal listening, you could do a lot worse than to try this out.
Highlights: Inflict, Katharsis, Wraith
By T. Bawden
Gonin-Ish – Gonin Ish – 4/5
I first came upon this band a while ago now, on the blog for the facebook group ‘metal heads,’ where the genre was classified as ‘wtf’ (or words to that effect), and upon listening I couldn’t agree more. Often referred to as the little sister of sigh, this is a Japanese band featuring the sigh drummer, and that same crazy Japanese aspect, but that’s about as far as the comparison can go.
Calling this anything but ‘Extreme progressive metal’ would be inaccurate. At first glance the almost black-vocals, combined with the at times evil sounding keyboards may give rise to the idea that they could be considered melodic black, until you realise the atmosphere takes a back-seat as keyboards are frequently more neo-classical in nature. Power then perhaps? Well perhaps not, as the riffs have a far more thrash-like tone to them more often than not. And like-wise the drumming reminds me more of progressive death. Featuring no strong influences from non-metal genres rules out avant-garde, and when the Japanese sounding clean female vocals come in this only makes matters even more confusing. This is a band that has as many clean melodic passages as quick-paced aggressive sections, presenting a sound that has an odd consistency about it, as it meanders from track to track, and outright refusing all attempts made to be considered any genre but ‘gonin-ish.’
The bass is fairly inaudible at all but the quieter passages, and whilst the drums are clearly heard they do little but serve as an interesting beat and framework to build upon, but the layers presented on top of this are simply phenomenal. More often than not, the framework seems less solid, almost as though they are at the base of a precarious game of jenga where more layers keep getting laid on top, poked and prodded, testing the limits just waiting for it to crash, yet it never does. The guitars and keyboards spend a good portion of time sharing the spotlight, the guitars creating a thrash riff for the keyboards to play a classically influenced sounding melody, or shredding whilst the keyboards add a layer of atmosphere. And on top of all this lies the vocal abilities of Anoji.
Despite her tiny frame, she is capable of growling with surprising vocal range, from the black metal shrieks to the deeper deathly grunt, interspersed with quiet whispers, almost that faux-operatic style popularised by nightwish, and a far more Japanese pop direction, yet all the time with that Japanese accent distinguishing them from many European and American vocalists. The lyrics are impossible to decipher, and intentionally so. The tone and variety is the focus here, and the vocalist has gone out of her way to include Ancient Chinese language in her vocals, so they literally need a translator in order to comprehend.
This sound is quite frankly impossible to describe. They are progressive beyond the boundaries of any other progressive metal artist I have heard, and have created a sound as unique as it is fascinating. Varying plenty between styles, remaining with the same boundaries so as to feel like a single entity, this really is one that you’re just going to have to try for yourself.
Highlights: Kyoumon Kokuin Shintoi, Tsuki To Hangyoujin
Gonin-Ish – Naishikyou-Sekai – 4.5/5
Whilst the same tone largely makes itself known, there are number of notable differences that lead to a slightly different breed on the old style. The drumming and guitars tend to be quicker in pace, the guitars in particular take a more neoclassical virtuoso-like approach, with more melodic solo’s than their previous work. As well as this, the keyboards spend more time adding a layer of atmosphere, and are given more presence in the piano/vocal pieces that present themselves at points within the album, combined with the ‘keytar’ solo’s they play a far more integral role this time around. They have pushed the boundaries of their sound even further, varying more rapidly not only between the melodic sequences and the more aggressive thrash/death/black pieces, but between the keytar and shredded solo’s.
Despite all this, their sound remains largely the same with little variation to the core of what defines them. Many of the tracks are shorter, offset by the quicker pace, with the notable exception of the final track. More reminiscent perhaps of green carnation’s ‘Light of Day, Day of Darkness’ than any other epic progressive piece, slowly varying from a death/doom-like crawl to all out fury, back to melodic poweresque styles, a definite highlight.
Essentially, if you liked their earlier work, then this can be considered an extension of that, though perhaps a little disappointing. I was hoping for something perhaps more unique from their last offering but this is by no means bad.
P.S. Unusually, their FAQ about the band is very interesting, giving good insight to behind the scenes of the band. It can be found here.
Highlights: Nare no hate, Shagan no Tou, Akai Kioku
Vainglory – Vainglory – 3.5/5
Once again, we happen upon a ‘delightful’ female vocalist dominating this heavy/speed band. Released last year, this is a manic fit of heavy metal aggression, with just a few rumblings of tanks and explosions separating you from defiant vocals that make most of their competitors seem like pansies, and quick sweeping guitar solo’s reminiscent of the best the genre has to offer.
Make no mistake, this is all out pin-your-balls-to-the-wall heavy metal, ready to kick you in the teeth with a sadistic enjoyment and then gloat as it shines proudly over your bleeding, unconscious body. The first thing you notice is the guitar work, as upbeat as all speed metal should be, and with a hard hitting aggression that puts some death metal to shame. The drums do nothing to let up on this, standing proud in the mix as it blasts away perfectly complementing the guitars.
And the vocals, I really wasn’t kidding when I said it makes most in the genre seems like little girls (pun intended). Taking a leaf out of the ‘shadowside’ book this is harsh with more than a touch of rasp and a sadistic tone that reminds me of black metal at times, it powers above everything to deliver a knock-out finale in this bands sound, only letting up once for the ballad ‘Undying love.’ But don’t get me wrong, this ballad is far from slow. It may be melodic and emotional, but still has a punch to it, and works as a perfect break from the style on many of the other tracks.
And given all that’s been said so far, it’s a tragedy it couldn’t continue in this manner. Everything gets rather repetitive all too quickly. The guitars for all their aggression fall into the trap of over-using palm muted strings, and it begins to sound like the same ‘chugga-chugga’ riffing that gets tiring all too quickly. The solos are incredibly well done, clearly taking strong notes from the greats of the past, if only too well. They sound stagnant, as though they have already been done, and they fail to create something memorable. The drumming too, whilst perfectly complementing the sound, fails to bring something original to the table and sound monotonous. Even the vocals get tiring. The novelty of her unique and aggressive sound fails to bring something different to the tracks, because of the constant aggression and power behind her voice, there is little variation between the tracks, and I for one had great difficulty distinguishing between many of them.
This album is a decent attempt at a modern take on a classic style, and they do it pretty well. They simply fail to create something unique, or diverse. They play their style very well, but sound all too generic. Particularly as the album progresses, the idea’s seem to dwindle and the tracks become all the more blurred.
Nonetheless, this hyper-aggressive heavy metal band features a refreshing and modern take on a style that has seen very little development in recent years. It’s definitely worth a look from fans of the genre, but don’t go expecting a flash of brilliance. What your getting is a supremely head-bang-able tribute to the classics, delivered by a woman you wouldn’t want to get into a bar fight with.
Highlights: Walking the Dead, Decapitation Attack, Act of God
By T. Bawden
Volnaya Staya – Staya – 3/5
Another Heavy metal band for your enjoyment, this one is a bit special. Not only do they have a female vocalist, but in fact an all female line up. Both guitarists, the bassist, and the drummer are all female. However, I wanted to show how well females could work in a male dominated genre, and I had to carefully consider this.
Everything they’ve done is a throwback to the classics. They haven’t tried to steer their own path, and excluding the Russian vocals, succeed in create a sound reminiscent of the classics, whilst lacking perhaps the individuality each of them had. But then everything comes off as not being particularly good. The riffs are basic, the solo’s are good but nothing special. The bassist is barely audible in the mix, and the drumming, often painfully simplistic, whilst easily heard adds little to the end result.
Even the vocals fail to add something particularly good to this, often sounding a little lack-lustre, though considering the usually sharpness heard with the Russian accent, it’s incredibly smooth. And I can hear this, and I can tell this should result in a below average album, yet oddly I find this turning into a guilty pleasure, as I become more addicted to the riffs and the tones they create.
The presence of the all-female line-up seems to have one major advantage in this case – every track recorded gives an aura of ‘fun.’ In particular the title track displays beyond any doubt that they have fun with the recording, indescribably addictive, upbeat, they clearly not only love their classic saxon and priest tones, but love playing in the style they’ve created. This is particularly evident in their main track, “Staya,” displaying their love for their genre in the video made for it like no other. Found here, you find a B-movie horror video filled with seductive leather bound maidens high kicking and headbanging their way through the track, which you just can’t help but smile to.
Paying homage to the slower melodic side of the genre as well as this more upbeat side, they aren’t a one note band. Ordinarily, this would be enough to sustain repeated playing, but more often than not I find myself reaching for those few favourite tracks, the ones that perhaps sound more ‘fun,’ or less like a cover song, and as a whole begins to break apart.
This is an album I should by all rights dislike, shrug off and toss onto the pile of sub-par metal, but something keeps drawing me back to it. They do nothing original, nothing new, but if you’re missing on some old school classic heavy metal, these are still playing the old way, and having a fun whilst their at it. This isn’t just another metal album, this is a slice of your favourite flavour of pie, not quite the same way grandma used to make it but still pretty damn tasty (and I’m not just referring to the drummer there. Rawr).
Highlights: Staya, Russkaja Ruletka, Smotri Mne V Glaza
By T. Bawden
Kanthaka – The World is Changed – 4.5/5
Yes, the joint highest scoring band in this special so far (and nearly the highest), an ‘experimental’ death metal band that has quite literally thrown the rulebook out the window. Sure there’s the growls, the blast beat drumming, and tremolo riffs, but in at least equal measure are more thrash-orientated riffs, shredded solo’s, power solo’s and gratuitous use of both the flute and clarinet to present a folk-esque touch to the sound. Not drawing enough influences outside of metal to be called Avant-Garde, as much as I hate the term ‘Experimental’ it most certainly applies here.
Opening with a soft piano introduction, it doesn’t take long to realise this is not going to be a standard death metal band. Melodic guitars come into play, and produce an atmosphere of tension, anticipation for all out aggression. And it comes, with a sudden halting, a quick scream before a blast of the drums and one of the most addictive riffs of the album, the transition might leave you slightly confused if not the wealth of talent that immediately approaches your ears. This is not to be the last of these sudden transitions.
This album is largely instrumentally based. Whilst the growls add another layer to the sound created, that isn’t the focus. Instead, were presented with a plentiful supply of dark emotion, melodic guitar lines, classically influenced piano sections, guitar riffs and solo’s galore, and multiple transitions between styles. From all out Black metal aggression, created from a melodic and slightly gothic piece, seamlessly turning into a thrash style section before turning back into all out aggression mode, each track brings something slightly different to the table, and the sheer multitude of styles never ceases to impress. It is as though they have taken the best pieces from each different sub-genre and woven them together to form a coherent track.
Its hard to pinpoint what stands out – focus is inevitably diverted to whoever is at the forefront at that particular time. The guitar solos vary immensely from a ‘Kerry King with a sense of melody’ style to the epic works of Petrucci in Dream Theatre, and everywhere in between. The vocals are used infrequently, but when they are, don’t disappoint. A great tone is created, from these high pitched demonic growls, both harsh and perfectly fitting for the atmosphere required but I can see them being quite monotonous if they were used more often. And onto the clarinet, possibly my favourite instrument of the genre mash-ups, often more akin to a sort of solo than a riff, work more effectively than I could have conceived.
This album is immense. If you have a love for the metal genre in all its forms, there should be no question that this is a must have. The atmospheres and tones created are simply outstanding, the constant variation, the staccato changes in aggression, the solo’s, addictive and speedy riffs, there is nothing done wrong here. This debut album has certainly caught my attention, and I simply hope they follow up soon. This is death metal, but not as you know it.
Highlights: Honestly? Every single track could be listed here.
By T. Bawden
Enchained Souls – Silentium Aeturnus – 4/5
So, the final review in this special, and the second full length release of this Gothic Argentinean band that has succeeded in evolving their sound, and producing an album of superior quality to their last. In fact, most of the issues I had with their previous work have been corrected here – If their aim was to make me happy, they’ve done a damn good job.
Now, it must be said that after the impressive Wagner-esque powerful and aggressive intro has finished setting the tone for the track to come, ‘Sicario Sideral,’ possibly one of the strongest tracks on the album, we get a large helping of their softer, emotional and simplistic style of music similar to their last effort, it began to worry me. Would once again the guitars be left in the background? Would the growls vanish? This would not be the case, though perhaps the ‘ballad’ tracks could have been interspersed throughout the album more effectively, creating a break in tone, and allowing for greater variation as the album progresses.
The enchanting voice of Villamayor makes itself present once again, with plenty of variation in pitch, varying between a softer more traditional style of clean female singing, and the more unique operatic (that are actually operatic I might add) vocals though I felt lacking in the emotion prevalent in certain area’s of their debut, are nonetheless done in an intriguing manner. Twinned with this style are more aggressive growls, staying largely within the mid-range with a sort of sinister twist to them. Not overtly harsh compared to many, it works magnificently at rapidly changing the dynamic and tone of the album, for example ‘Eternal Bloody Romance’ is made interesting to listen to each time with a combination of deep growls, high pitched growls and melodic singing, all overlapping each other, giving an argumentative atmosphere, almost like a battle between good and evil.
And the atmosphere, the gothic aspect to their sound isn’t simply tacked on like an afterthought. Utilising acoustic guitars, organs, violins and keyboards, they produce simplistic tones that produce a thick atmosphere with which to work in. From the organs in ‘Requiem II’ to the use of acoustic guitar in ‘Nostalgias,’ this is a band that still has plenty of ideas at their disposal, and the means to effectively use them.
The guitars in particular take focus at times, with upbeat aggressive riffs more prevalent than before, creating an interesting layer beyond the vocals whilst not detracting from the atmosphere. The solos are often quick, melodically ‘shredded’ in style, which I can’t help but be reminded of Romeo (Symphony X) in both style and flaws. Sometimes it feels unnecessary, overly quick when the song calls for something more emotional, (‘Nostalgias’ for example) and it simply feels out of place.
This album has seen this band develop their sound, and improve in every way, on every track. Furthermore, there is little that seems to have been done particularly badly, it all feels like it needs something of a polish. A greater punch in the guitars at times, a fill-in here or there, more emotional solos, greater presence from the keyboards, those small things that truly turn a good album into one of the greats. This is a band that may have been strongly influenced by the nightwish clones I was intending to avoid, but they’ve gone beyond that. They haven’t mimicked a style, they’ve taken it on board and made it their own, and with the addition of fresh idea’s have resulted in this refreshing breath of fresh air in a genre where this is in short supply.
Highlights: Sicario Sideral, Requiem Part I and II, De Misantropia e Hipocresia
By T. Bawden
The Sins of thy Beloved – Lake of Sorrow – 4/5
A review initially intended for my review extravaganza coming at the end of the month, I couldn’t review it as the female vocals were not the focus of this piece. So I present to you early, a Symphonic Gothic/Doom band, which despite both “symphonic” and “Gothic” being present in their genre description, fall well out of the range of pigeon-holing as a nightwish clone.
The sound they have created relies heavily on the atmosphere to sustain it, and despite many of the more prominent layers, are often the most important part of their sound. The drums are largely inaudible, trusting heavily in a far more classical sounding approach – Keyboards strategically used to create gentle melodies over a crunching and deep doom-filled guitar riffs – it is this backing that primarily creates the atmosphere so critical to their sound.
The vocals are layered on top of this, the deep male growls alternating with the soft female ‘faux-operatic’ vocals, both done very well, and mixed in the final sound in such a way that it doesn’t draw focus from the rather basic atmospheric work going on in the background. It adds another layer, creating something memorable, but not being so loud as to overpower the keyboard melodies, and this allows the piece to feel more consistent, and not simply “vocalist and her band.” Everyone has their place, and nothing is left feeling redundant.
This is especially true of the violin work. Saving the best for last, the use of violin here is quite simply phenomenal. The ‘riffs’ where he takes over the job of the vocals well and truly steal the show, being not only atmospheric, addictive and unusual, but the most versatile, adding to the atmosphere significantly whilst drawing attention. The real travesty is that the violinist was but a guest musician, when he so readily becomes the centrepiece for this atmospheric display.
So, apparently a short review this time. Their sound is fairly basic, unusual but nothing particularly bizarre. The atmosphere created maintains a steady line between doom filled aggression and gothic depressive tone, allowing the growls to tip it to one side, or the clean vocals tip it back again. I expect a number of people are still anxious about the prospect of a gothic metal band that receives high reviews – if this album doesn’t do it for you, gothic metal is probably a genre you should steer well clear of.
Highlights: My Love, The Kiss, Lake of Sorrow
Pulley - Esteem Driven Engine - 4/5
BIG CARL'S BIG TOP 5 BIG MID-NINTIES AMERICAN PUNK #4
Slam-dunking in at number 4 is Pulley's (relatively) unsung classic. An album that came to light to me watching the (now defunct) P-Rock music channel. The track that ate my ears was the opener of this little gem, Cashed In. A song clearly about fat-cat record executives being money hungry and blah blah blah - what's important is that this song is urgently executed, which a great riff and some brilliant trademark Punk vocal harmonies.
The song continues with a couple more good (not as good as Cashed In), solid tracks, the most notable being Eyes Open Wide, featuring another simply magical Punk harmony and a charming guitar solo.
Up next, then, is Wok Inn. Starting with some nice drumming and some interesting bass work, bursting into an extremely energetic riff and verse. Filled with hooks, this is another cracker to quell the fear that this album is a one-hit-wonder.
Four Walls is one of those tracks that a lot of these bands felt like they had to have - a boring track about boredom. Moving on...
One Shot is a song about catchy, radio-friendly punk songs played in the style of a, er, catchy, radio-friendly punk song. Good to jump around to, complete with the mandatory reference to Mtv and not caring about what's cool anymore. Barf, the next track, follows on in typically speedy fashion. There are some wierd soundbites as well, that I can't really make out. By now, you'll know what Pulley are all about on this album - speed, melody and great riffs.
Lifer, apart from being the namesake of this blog (and it's originator, the great Facebook group), is one of my favourite songs. The line "it's getting lonely in this parking lot of life" is anthemic, and lyrically in general this track is a real corker.
No Defense is a very by-the-numbers Punk song, and is very convincing. I believe somebody else sings this song as well (I can't find confirmation of this on the internet, and I can't be arsed to dig the CD out), which keeps the album interesting and even more loveable.
This album, in my opinion, is the pinnacle of what the scene was about. Very melodic, but remaining furiously fast, a listen to this for any fan of American Punk is a must.
NOFX - Punk in Drublic - 4/5
BIG CARL'S BIG TOP 5 BIG MID-NINTIES AMERICAN PUNK #5
Ok, so slam-dunking in at number 5 we have this legendary album. Yeah, it's obvious, but there's a reason - it's bloody good.
The album starts as it means to go on, with some fast beats and swirling split-chord harmonics, coupled with Fat Mike's bad-but-loveable vocals. Catchy as hell is the opener Linoleum, a great way to begin, leading into Leave It Alone, one of NOFX's flagship songs. A joy to listen to every time. Dig, The Cause and Don't Call Me White all have memorable chorus' and riffs, and really lay down that sunny Californian feel. This music is just made for skateboarding, summer breaks and getting wasted with your equally adolescent mates.
Perfect Government has a strong political vibe (duh), with shouts of "how did the cat get so fat?" and "How can they sleep at night?" entertaining the thought that maybe, just maybe, these guys aren't a bunch of dorks with guitars, but that they actually have some social awareness. The Brews follows as a fist-in-the-air, hug-as-many-pissed-guys-as
The rest of the album follows suit, lots of catchy riffs and songs you'll generally fall in love with. Even a couple of forays into Ska towards the end of the album keep it fresh, and show that NOFX really aren't as stupid as Fat Mike sounds.
Ok, so a pretty short review, but I'm guessing everyone who would have any interest in NOFX or Cali-punk in general would've heard this. If not, then you must either seek medical help, or listen to this album. If you don't like it, you have a heart of stone and I have no time for you.
Rage - The Missing Link - 5/5
I wanted to post an epic review like Tom and Collin. I "hymmmmmed". I "hawwwwwed". I cannot. So in lieu;
If you don't own this album, you's a sucka!!!!!!!!
4. The Pit And The Pendulum
5. From The Underworld
6. Certain Days
7. Who Dares
8. Wake Me When I'm Dead
9. Lost In The Ice
10. Her Diary's Black Pages
11. The Missing Link
12. Raw Caress
What can I say? 'Cept I hope Thomas posts this travesty!!!
EDIT: This ONE time. ONCE! Next time it sits on the sidelines. As a side-note, whilst not my favourite Rage album, this is definately a great place to start. And yes, its highly recommended that you do start. - Tom
Stormhammer - Fireball - 2/5
If I really could sum up this review very shortly, I would do so by saying that the song titles are about as imaginative as the songs themselves. This is probably about as generic as it gets. Truthfully, it would be difficult for me to give a review that compares this music to the other bandwagon jumpers of the European power metal trend seeing as that I’m not completely keen on it however; I hoped that this would give me a less comparative view on this album.
Admittedly, the first track Seven Gates is quite catchy and it does tempt you to sing along due to the chorus. It must be stated though that the rest of the album was not at all memorable. There are parts of songs that may be impressive instrumentally and choruses that may be interestingly catchy but they fail to contribute to the album as a whole. One thing that I realized on my first listen was that I could not figure out when a song has ended or started. I hoped that this would change after more listens but I still could not discern song separation with the exception of the change to ballads. Regardless of whether it’s a good thing or not, I want to emphasize that all the songs do follow a common structure that most would easily consider repetitive.
There’s not much to be said about the production value. It’s nothing special but as a whole it doesn’t do anything to affect the listening experience in any positive or negative manner. It’s strange to note that the instruments are balanced and there are some parts of songs that make you notice the technical potential for the artists but it really seemed like there was no attempt to create something different. No instrument stands out and along with vocal layering, are used to an acceptable point. The vocalist is nothing special. In general, when he does not use his high pitched voice, he goes into another raspy voice that really sounds quite dull.
If you’re into completely generic power metal, then by all means, get this album. All the mediocrity almost gives the impression that there was very little effort put into this album considering how much room there is for improvement.
Violent Delight – Transmission – 3.5/5
So for the 100th review I wanted to do something a bit unusual, to have as a landmark, though I was a bit late, so this is now the 101st review. Damnit. At any rate, what makes this album special? It’s an album by a band that I’ve known for a number of years, and used to frequently see play at my local youth club as a young teenager. Despite knowing them very well, this review presents me with a challenge, as any band that has as many memories for them as this does for me requires one to be careful of bias.
This is a punk-rock band, hailing from my hometown (if you hadn’t already gathered) that whilst at first seem to offer nothing particularly original in the main body of their sound, they do it fairly well, and offer something I’ve yet to really find in another band. The guitar work is competent, if not breaking any moulds, consisting largely of simplistic riffs and chords, what it lacks in technicality it makes up for in its ability to get stuck in your head, and varying frequently enough to separate it from their peers. Add a sprinkling of solo’s here and there, and you have the makings of an above average track.
The production is sufficient to hear both the bass and drums clearly, which is not only a nice addition, but fairly surprising given that they were working under Warner Bros at the time, but despite this the vocals are where this band really shines. With that same unique twist that made the sex pistols so memorable, his unconventional singing style creates something fairly unique, with enough variety going from the cleaner melodies, rap/rock vocals and full blown hardcore growls, it keeps each track individual, whilst allowing for the lyrics to make themselves known. And with a band with as much to say as this, this is key.
Ive always stated I rarely notice lyrics, unless they force me to listen. This is a band that I couldn’t help but be intrigued as to what they had to say. Comprised with roughly half light-hearted, joke-filled songs, and more serious emotional songs, both succeed in being incredibly honest, even if they weren’t incredibly subtle. Often bands get bogged down in using imagery in their lyrics, this isn’t an example of that. Many of their more light-hearted songs emerged in their early years, and due to the topics presented, I wish they had stuck this way. Whilst I’m not against emotional love songs – especially when presented in punk more reminiscent of the origins of emo – the topic has been overdone. The songs about cheating girlfriends, trans-sexuals, watching your parents have sex and rapping wizards, this displays the bands original idea’s at their best.
This is a band that never took themselves too seriously. They set out to have fun, rather than tackle serious issues, and they succeeded. If your after great musicianship, look elsewhere, as whilst it doesn’t hamper the songs it certainly doesn’t differentiate them far from the better artists in the genre. If you’re after something to sit back with a beer to chuckle along to, perhaps this is worth a try.
Highlights: I Wish I was a Girl, Parental Guidance, Jump
• In the early years, they would be regularly spotted in a pub called ‘the fighting cocks,’ which happens to be the oldest pub in the UK. (They also overcharge on every drink served, but that’s besides the point).
• This album was the result of winning first prize in a ‘battle of the bands’ competition, of which there were 5 bands in the final. Two indie-emo bands, A ska band and a prog/metalcore band featuring the ex-guitarist from sikth (who left before they got signed).
• All the artwork was drawn by a band member. (I forget which).
• From my admittedly brief encounters with them, they were never stingy in offering cigarettes.
• Possibly one of the main bands responsible for the youth club employing bouncers to search the young teenagers as they came in for alcohol.
• The sex sounds heard in ‘Secret Smile’ came from the lead vocalist’s girlfriend at the time, who is heard again in the bonus track. I heard she was unaware of herself being recorded until the album was released, but cannot confirm this.
By T. Bawden
M8L8TH – By Wing of Black - 4.5/5
Great, another band whose title I cannot pronounce. More to the point, M8L8TH is a group of Russian National-Socialist black metal artists, but that descriptor really does not do the band justice. To understand where this sound, we need to reminisce upon the first wave of black metal. Consider Venom, whose main call to fame was their over-done images of Satanism and evil, and of course the terrible production values that would go on to inspire countless bedroom black metal acts to purposely make crappy sounding recordings. Luckily, these Ruskies went for the image instead of the kvlt production. Add in a little Mercyful Fate, with King Diamond soaring above faintly melodic passages of mystical music. Put these together, and M8L8TH, with its combination of shock due to their political standings and brilliant vocal and guitar parts, represents what black metal might sound like today, if those Norwegians hadn’t come to define the sound. Oh, did I mention this is also just a great listen?
At last, the music breakdown arrives. First off, this does not sound like any black metal I have heard before, but it is definitely within the genre. The guitars are not over-distorted for the sake of atmosphere, they are relatively clean, making the melodic passages and riffs that much more enjoyable, and the guitarist keeps the tremolos under control. The vocals; high pitched wailing that is not choked or broken, but is not musical in the sense of singing. It is perfect for this music, and different from almost anything I have heard before. The vocals are one of the few times when I have heard something that actually sounds insane, like a hateful lunatic undergoing shock treatment. The drumming is good in that it matches the movement and passion of the music. We are shown blasting and rhythmic help, but it does not attempt to become the highlight of the piece, which is overall for the betterment of all. Their audio clips are the usual rain and wind sounds we’ve come to expect, nothing special but helpful to the mood, and a powerful voice speaking in some foreign language, reminiscent of those surviving clips of Hitler speaking, along with a few interesting choral clips.
After we have gone in depth into the music, it bears mentioning several topics about which this band holds incredible importance. First off, their origin; Russia has never been the kindest metal scene. Relatively few bands make it out of there, and they have hosted only one notable scene that comes to mind, being Blazebirth Hall. Now this sounds nothing like that scene, which took a far more traditional approach to its black metal, with poor production quality, a harsh, shrieking style of vocals, and hyper-speed drumming. It is some great stuff, but simply not in M8L8TH’s league. Also their political views; I am not sure if they are dead serious about it. Other then some imagery, I do not see any overt lyrics that show their leaning, but their logo and pictures paint a good idea. I suppose it does not really matter, but I would suggest staying away from buying their material, because one never knows with this kind of characters.
My only real problem with this is half the record is demo tracks. I expect so much more original studio quality from a band like this, not rehashings.
Prototype - Continuum - 4/5
If there's one thing for sure as far as Metal bands go, a name goes a long way. Generally, your name sums up your style, i.e. Rhapsody of Fire - a glorious Power Metal name for a glorious Power Metal band. Prototype, then, were decidedly brave. Are they so prototypical that they deserve to be named as such? If not, they're going to look silly, and will probably have to change their name to Generic. Fortunately, this is not the case.
Upon a quick scan-listen, I was questioning if this was even Metal at all. The vocals are very Post-Hardcore, and will be a stumbling block for a lot of Metalheads. Lovers of the more extreme strains of Metal - I wouldn't bother with this. Prog/Power/general melodic Metal appreciators, read on...
The first track starts us off with some nice drum work and some split-chord harmonics before pounding in with a fast, furious palm-muted riff with the vocals kicking in with melodic stylings. You'll know now wether you like it or not, that's for sure. The song continues with pacey riffs and a questionable Screamo moment (don't worry, it's not as bad as all that) before introducing a first protagonistic guitar section, complete with solo. So far, so good.
The next track steps it up a bit, with yet more chuggy riffs and Post-Hardcore vocal harmonies. It soon gets quite catchy, but remains Progressive with some nice drumming and guitar work. It's around now (after a more in-depth listen) all doubt of wether this is Metal was quelled, in my eyes.
Track number three is a nice melodic number, sticking with the P-H harmonies and surging into some (again) progressive musicianship. This is a ballad, and if the vocals were going to get to me, it would be now. Instead, they serve Prototype very well, keeping the music fresh and more accessible. The band's moniker is very fitting, as I haven't come across anything quite like this before. Alright, it's certainly not Avant-Garde (it's not nearly bizarre enough), but it's certainly an untapped sound - a very palatable one at that.
The rest of the album follows suit, remaining heavy and yet melodic, experimental yet familiar to decent effect. The difficulties I had was the lack of predominant guitar riffs - you could listen to this album a number of times and not remember one riff. The vocals however, are very sing-along and keep the general style honest. Overall, a very good album, but definitely not one for everyone - if you want brutal, don't bother.
Ambeon – Fate of a Dreamer - 5/5
So, I must apologise if at any point I sound like a fanboy with this one, but when confronted by something as spectacular as this, its hard not to. In the space of two days it’s probably been played a dozen times, and has yet to get repetitive at any point. Regulars of the blog will note just how infrequently I give something a 5, and usually I twitch wondering whether it really is ‘perfect’ as the mark requires. This there was no question, from beginning to end, it is a work of absolute genius, a masterpiece so poorly known its criminal (though the cd has been out of print for a number of years now, and can happily fetch £100, making this less surprising than usual, but nonetheless tragic).
The first thing you should notice is the name of the band, Ambeon literally is a combination of ‘Ambient’ and ‘Ayreon.’ Yes, this is a side project of the artist responsible for the likes of ‘Human Equation’ and ‘Into the Electric Castle’ but this surpasses them both. Beautiful in its simplicity, yet at no point does it feel too barren, utilising acoustic guitars, electric guitars, drums, violins, keyboards, flutes and synth effects. All of these are done sparsely throughout the album so as to not overload the listen, the intention being to create an atmosphere rather than a complex intricate composition to draw focus from the vocals.
And the vocals, they are impeccable. The vocalist was 14 at the time this was recorded (the little girl on the front cover? Thats who you're listening to), but without doing the research there would have been no chance of me guessing that. In fact, I decided to double check and triple check my sources, matching the release date to her birth date as I couldn’t see how it was possible. Easily the match for Sharon den Adel of ‘Within Temptation’ fame, often singing in a similar manner as her earlier works, not overly operatic but gentle and delicate, and in our case retaining a sense of innocence rarely found in the best of vocalists. She also succeeds here in retaining a strong sense of emotion, from the almost cynical, to the sorrowful, the meaningful, and even a weird sort of aggressive tone in “Cold Metal,” she truly is a prodigy and goes a long way in making the album just as superb as it is.
But then the rest of the instruments too are vital in the end sound created, from the melodic and psychedelic dream-like guitar solo’s in “Surreal,” (Both electric and acoustic) to the soft groove in “Sweet Little Brother,” the flutes in “High,” I could go on spouting songs, but not only do they succeed in achieving a beautiful emotion-laden track every time, but each one sounds distinct from the last whilst retaining the core sound that identifies them.
I wouldn’t just recommend this album to fans of ambient music, or symphonic fans, this is one I can’t really fathom someone not liking. And for those who only read the first and last paragraphs, I can’t put it any simpler than ‘Everyone needs this in their collection.’
Highlights: High, Surreal, Sweet Little Brother
By T. Bawden
Pin Up-Went Down – 2K Unlimited – 4/5
If ever an album was created with the sole purpose to confuse, baffle, bemuse, and test the very limits as to what an open minded individual can accept, then this is the most successful album at doing so that at least I’ve ever heard. I would describe the core sound, prevalent in many of the tracks, the weirdest combination of pop and death metal, despite the operatic vocals, jazz interludes, gothic atmospheres, progressive stylings, funky riffs, electronic synth intro’s, the occasional folky sounding section, and more. In fact, one track consists entirely of beat-boxing to death metal growls, a highly unusual concept which somehow works. So this hopefully gives you some idea precisely how open-minded you need to be to enjoy this.
All of the instrument parts are written by one of the men responsible for the creation of carnival in coal (A band I was impressed with in the past), as well as taking over the male vocals, though the female vocals seem to have been given a larger presence at most spots. Not that this is in any way a bad thing. Indeed, she quickly proves her versatility and talent many times over, from the pop song “pussy worship,” akin to the sort of thing you’d expect the likes of Gwen Stefani to come up with, taking a satirical approach to sex, to the likes of “Nearly Dead Bat Make Up” where she takes a squeaky high pitch approach, before going into her more pop-vocals, the deeper swaggering sounds in “Get Ready to Sweep,” or even the operatic vocals sprinkled in a couple of the songs. But if her versatility is impressive, even more astounding is that in each case she pulls it off wonderfully in each and every case. Whilst perhaps not top flight in any one, she can easily surpass the majority. And all of these vocals are matched by the combination of male heavy/power vocals, and the more deathly growls. It is this incredibly diversity that leads to a lot of the interest.
Though let’s not knock the instrumental work. Whilst there is nothing particularly flashy, no grandiose solo’s, the tone and atmosphere created, especially the transitions between the funkier sections and the deeper and more aggressive passages work seamlessly at creating a beautiful backing atmosphere to build and layer upon. Even the gratuitous use of electronic work, which I must confess I’m not usually a fan of, seems to have been performed tastefully and well. This is by all rights, an album which should be an abomination, a hideous clash of too many genres in too short a space of time, resulting in an ugly monster of an album, rearing its ugly head and sounding frustratingly confusing as it transitions from death metal to pop, to a jazz breakdown with electronic, etc, etc, but its not. In fact, its often fairly slow paced, addictive, catchy, and filled with atmospheric sounds most bands would strive for. At no point does it feel rushed, does a track go on too long, or does it feel like they’ve tried to cram too many genres in its short (42mins) length. It comes off almost as natural as if you were listening to straight up thrash or power, with mainly that nagging feeling in the back of your mind that hearing death metal growls to a track filled with funky riffs and pop vocals is more than a little unusual.
This album is highly inaccessible. If you prefer to stick to a small niche of music, then remove a point from the rating. If you excel and revel in the bizarre, add a point.
Highlights: Nearly Dead Bat Make-Up, Get Ready to Sweep, Only Some Shitty Chemical Stuff.
By T. Bawden
Creepmime – Shadows – 4/5
And old school death metal band poorly known when this debut album was released, and hence completely unknown 15 years on, originating from Holland was not at all to their benefit. Whilst there is certainly better, there’s a lot worse that is still remembered, and fans of the genre may find something of value here.
The guitars are often simplistic, more old school and Swedish in influence than the more frantic and upbeat nature of their American counterparts, which allows for an almost doom-like emotional aggression to come through, especially in the acoustic intro for “A serenade for the tragic” and the solo in “Chinese whispers,” which works perfectly at capturing the mood of the song. The drumming is again not quick paced, but does more than build a framework; it adds another level to draw you in. Even the bassist can be heard on the majority of tracks, not just acting as another guitar following the same riff. On the best of the tracks, everything comes through crisp and clear, and the date it was recorded leaves nothing to be desired.
The vocals straddle a fine line between what can and cannot be understood. On roughly half the tracks, I could make out what was said and half where I couldn’t. Combining a whisper, and a deathly growl, only where he growls slowly can he be made out. Usually I readily accept the odds I wont know what is said, but once you hear some of the lyrics, you realise this isn’t just another bunch of death imagery, its well thought out, and has a reason. Each track has an idea behind it, for example the track “Soon Ripe, Soon Rotten” has written in the booklet:
“We never listen and so we’ll never learn. Society, the apple of our eyes, is rotten to the core and is ripe for disposal in a universal garbage bag.”
Death imagery still plays a large part in their lyrics, but rather than using death imagery for the sake of it, there is an underlying emotion inherent within each song, using the lyrics in a more metaphorical sense, and it’s when they can be heard and comprehended that it has some kind of power. Otherwise, they’re rather more generic in their nature, and largely mediocre.
This album started off slow, the first four tracks being relatively repetitive and I was expecting to be quite bored by the end of the album, but this was not the case. Towards the end of the album the pace tended to vary more, the emotion playing a more prominent role, the solo’s given more chance to shine, the drums and bass working together to give a harder hitting background, and more high pitched death-like riffs coming through at times, and all these aspects transformed them from another generic death metal band to someone capable of producing something creative, of standing on their own. Its simply a shame they couldn’t do this more often.
This is more one for the Death metal fans. Like I said at the beginning, there are better places to start exploring the genre, but certainly fans of swedeath and melodeath ought to be able to find something of value in this release that seems to have been left forgotten in the depths of time.
Highlights: A Serenade for the Tragic, Chinese Whispers, My Soul Flayed Bare
By T. Bawden
Gardenian – Soulburner – 4/5
A melodeath band I stumbled upon, and ended up ordering a CD intrigued as to how melodic death metal would sound with female vocals. If id been more thorough with my research however, I’d have seen that she only really presents herself in one track. Furthermore, the lead guitarist would go on to form Engel, both would have been points to give me cause for concern, but I’m glad I did. What I found myself with is a rare gem of a melodeath band that is capable of straddling to either side of their genre, and produces an album with a unique and diverse tone.
The main reason for this is without a question in my mind down to the vocals. Whilst only one member was part of the permanent line-up, there were another two guest vocalists, a woman id previously unheard of, and Eric Hawk of Artch fame. Whilst the former has a small role, providing backing in one track, Eric Hawk plays a very prominent role, working either alone or in tandem with the lead vocalist. The inclusion of clean vocals in melodeath is by no means unheard of today, but in 1999 when this was released it was somewhat unusual. It is these vocals, similar in tone to a deeper version of Bruce Dickinson that creates an odd power metal feel, working in tandem with the growls which lend more of an Amon Amarth feel to it, or a highly melodic swedeath.
The guitars surprisingly do incredibly well at maintaining aggressive riffs that work with both sets of vocals. They never reach a high level of aggression, but manage to be both melodic and aggressive simultaneously, combining the best of the At the Gates clones and the Children of Bodom clones for one in the middle. Furthermore, there are plenty of upbeat solo’s, slower melodic passages and even an incredibly well done acoustic intro. Whilst the drumming does little of note, they work well at keeping the structure and providing the framework as they so often do. They’re at times perhaps a little quiet, but largely do little but enhance the sound created.
The album opens with “As a true King” which is at least in my mind, the worst track on the album, It reeks of generic and mediocre Gothenburg melodeath, and whilst isn’t bad, is the sort of thing you could quickly see yourself falling asleep to. The second track, “power tool” features the female vocals, and whilst she does well, it still largely feels generic, as though they were tacked on as an afterthought. In fact, I’d recommend skipping both these tracks right off the bat, and heading straight for track three, featuring a strong riff, and a perfect example of power vocals and growls working in tandem. I could go on describing the songs from here, but ill leave you to discover them. Beyond this point there are no low points – only high points – left.
This is more than just an album for the melodeath fans, this is one for the lovers of US Power Metal with a yearning for something perhaps a bit more aggressive, this is one for those who thought the genre had seen its last creative days, and this is proof they were wrong.
Highlights: Deserted, Tell the World I’m Sorry, Black Days
By T. Bawden
Baroness – Red Album – 4.5/5
Progressive Sludge is hardly a genre that is flooding with bands, so forgive the mastodon comparisons. Firstly, it should be said I wasn’t a fan of mastodon, I found it interesting but ultimately flawed. The combination of genre’s seemed to heavily contradict one another. On one hand, you have progressive metal; largely filled with time signatures, quick soloing, technical drumming and power metal vocals. Then we have sludge; a slow, aggressive, deep and distorted pounding sound. The very notion of a quick yet slow, heavily distorted yet clean and clear, simple yet filled with complex drums and time signatures, aggressive and abrasive clean vocals, it all seems like opposite ends of a musical genre. So imagine my surprise when somehow they manage to not only succeed in creating a sound accomplishing these criteria, but creating an impressive album as a result.
Part of Mastodon’s downfall, particularly in their last offering, was their tendency to try and sound overly complicated. This isn’t progressive in the technical wankery sense, along the veins of symphony X or Dream Theatre. Instead they take it back to the era of rush or King Crimson, where progressive meant the album continually, slowly, and gradually changes from one thing to another. The guitars are still fairly distorted, but by utilising simplistic riffs, maintain that sludge feel, more akin to the likes of Fu Manchu than perhaps the original Eyehategod doom-filled festival. The vocals succeed in sounding aggressive, utilising Heavy/power vocals with more than a touch of rasp, the drumming has a number of fills whilst maintaining the basic groundwork which to build upon. Before hearing this, id have told you the idea of progressive sludge couldn’t work. In fact, I’m still not entirely sure how it does, but somehow they’ve come out with a wholly original sound as addictive as it is fascinating.
As the album progresses, I felt it became continually worse. The opening track had a great soft intro before turning into a rampant change in sludge riffs and sounds, even flowing into the next couple of tracks seamlessly it is a piece that despite its length, is absolutely flawless. A trippy intro, an interesting drum beat, beautiful twin guitar harmonies, hard hitting riffs, catchy and easily heard vocals, there is nothing I don’t like, and if this continued for the albums length id be bouncing around claiming to have found the album of the year.
Now don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t ever really hit a bad point, the nice acoustic “cockroach en fleur,” The simplistic yet well composed “Wanderlust,” both do nothing to bring down the incredibly high score, but when you hit track seven, it seems to reach a low point. The musicianship is still there, the tones and sound they’ve created still present, but something seems lacking. Consisting of far shorter, instrumentally heavy tracks, I felt more could have been done. Especially after hearing the astounding start the album had. Then there is the bonus track, with 11 minutes with nothing happening before a “bonus track” kicks in, which has a blues feel but seems rather unenthused. I never understood the desire for a band to do this, but then having something rather pointless at the end of it seems like a waste.
If you asked me what progressive sludge would sound like, id have told you to not waste your time. This band has proven me wrong. An album that deserves far more mention than I’ve ever seen it given, this is a shining example of innovation in the making.
Highlights: Rays on Pinion, The birthing, Wanderlust
By T. Bawden
Grand Magus – Iron Will – 4.5/5
So, we move onto a band that’s hardly poorly known. So imagine my surprise when I discover that they have an album out and nobody has mentioned it. Did nobody know? Or nobody care? Was it something abominable best forgotten? Answer: a resounding no. In fact, it’s probably my favourite album I’ve heard from them. Yes, even better than monument.
Grand Magus always seems to have a nack for evolving their sound, sounding slightly different on each release and slapping something fresh on the metal table. But make no mistake when I tell you this album sounds like pure metal, incarnated into a cd you can put on your stereo. With a roar of guitar thunder and a thick and fast drum beat, this intro perfectly backs up my statement. If there’s a better song to bang your head to, I’ve either forgotten it or never heard it. This song with its combination of thick and slick guitar riffs, sweeping, powerful vocals (including a chorus that is simply impossible to stop yourself screaming along to) and a guitar solo reeking of the good ol’ days, this is metal at its absolute core, exemplifying everything that should be loved and cherished about the genre.
The guitars are in no way technical, even the solo’s are fairly slow-paced compared to a lot of metal bands, but what they miss out there, they back up in simply being hard hitting. Every riff hits like a strike of thunder, impacting often with the drums to great effect, resulting in a sound both addictive and instantly loveable and distinct. This is the bread and butter of the music, as the vocals and the solo’s are the works of genius. Both filled with emotion, aggression, and with more than a subtle hint of that favourite of topics, Viking Warriors. Just read the track names. “Silver into Steel,” “Iron Will,” and “Like the oar hits the Water” for example.
And it’s consistent throughout. In this album of epic proportions, there is no filler, nothing out of place, no point where a track seems to run on too long, no bad solo. This is a band that has been working on their art, and have come damn close to perfection. Its main drawbacks being lack of originality (the sound is nothing unheard of, simply done exceptionally well) and the fact that upon repeated listens, some of the tracks sound similar, with the exception of the vocals. The lyrics aren’t always what I’d hope them to be, but certainly at no point bad, and there is a distinctive slump in the consistency towards the end of the album. The vocals in particular seem to have less power, and aggression behind them. If this was replaced by more of a doom feel, this would create a different tone as the album progresses. However, in the grand scheme of things, even the worst track on this album is far better than the vast majority of bands.
This is a Heavy/Doom band leaning more on the heavy side, This isn’t quite a masterpiece, but certainly not far off. I honestly can’t believe nobody has mentioned this band yet (shame on you all). Strongly recommended for anyone who likes their metal epic and heavy, with a hint of a 70s rock groove, clear as day Viking imagery and chorus’ lines to die for.
Highlights: Like the oar strikes the water, Silver into Steel, The Shadow Knows.
By T. Bawden
Cold – 13 ways to bleed on stage – 4/5
So a post-grunge band that may have become well known in the states – I honestly have no idea. I know they weren’t big over here, and know that if anyone deserved it, these should have been at the top of pile. Unlike the majority of bands hitting the big time, this isn’t a band that accepts mediocrity. Each track is different yet consistently good, resulting in an album without filler. There’s a very good chance if you don’t like one track, you won’t like the album.
Perhaps quite shocking is the fact that this album is directed by Fred Durst, the same man who quite notably formed the abomination known as Linkin Park, but of late his other work has impressed me. Not only his work with this band, but his acting work in “population 436.” Granted, the film wasn’t particularly good but his ability to act far surpassed anything I could have expected. Don’t underestimate his talents, just because they weren’t apparent in his own band.
The actual musicianship of the individual members is not the focus here. It’s the emotion they manage to create – A constant depressive grinding post-grunge tone, overwhelming in its simplicity, yet completely unique and at no point does it feel monotonous. The guitars are largely chord based, with basic riffs, the bass is used to emphasise certain notes, rather than as a simple case of following the guitar, and the drumming provides a basic beat, but is otherwise of little note.
The vocals however, are something else. Not quite grunge in the sense of Cobain’s drunken gargle, not hard hitting as in rock, and not melodic like pop, rather a weird mix of all three. Sometimes hard edged in their tone, sometimes lazy in the sense of half-finishing his snarled words, perfectly unique, and without a doubt key in the production of their unique sound. This is unbridled and raw emotion, the guitars are used to emphasise aggression, apocalyptic themes (‘End of the world’) and suicidal depression (‘Bleed’)
I have no idea if they got well known. Perhaps they became well-known and mistaken for another band trying to milk the last of a dying genre. Perhaps they never even got well known. Either way, this is a band that seems to have been underestimated.
Highlights: End of the World, Anti-Love Song, Bleed
Cold – Year of the Spider – 4/5
Building on previous work, this is much of the same with a few key differences. Firstly, everything has a more commercial sound, a greater mainstream appeal. Sweeping guitar intros, the level of clarity in the vocals have increased, and the chorus’ all seem to be made for those who like them catchy. The emotion once again makes itself known for all, but I for one miss the vocal diversity, at no point reaching that lazy drawl giving the impression of insignificance, that its not worth it, or on the other end of the spectrum the hard rock/punk influenced angry yelling.
Despite this knock to the vocal work, the guitars take over a more prominent part, playing more recognisable and varied riffs. The drumming is louder in the mix, and once again seems to be slightly more interesting and creative. The chorus’ as previously mentioned, are far more catchy – none more so than that of “The Day Seattle Died” – and the variation in the tracks seems greater, featuring two more aggressive tracks, which is the closest we see to the old punk vocals, coming in the form of Suffocate and Remedy, the ballad track (this time in the form of ‘Wasted Years’), and the rest adhering much more to the happy medium between the two sides.
Featuring a number of other instruments at times, notably violins and cello’s to add to the atmosphere, as well as a great variety in the guitars, from acoustic to heavily distorted, deep, heavy and chord based to the lighter, higher pitched riffs. This is an album that succeeds in matching their debut. The departure of the vocal range is replaced by a greater diversity in the other instruments. The preference of album should be different for each person, depending which they prefer. Personally, I miss the vocals too much. In either case, this is an album still worth grabbing if you’re a fan of post-grunge.
P.S. I started writing a review for their latest album, “A different kind of pain” but quickly realised I could sum it up in two words. Don’t bother.
Cold – Cold – 2.5/5
So completely unknown to me until I did the research for this review, they actually had a self-titled album before all the others. As expected, the snarling post-grunge sound is more prevalent than ever, with the vocalist’s distinctive tone making things harder than ever to understand, constantly giving that lazy depressive feel. It is too much though. The tone is good, the emotion behind it superb, but any strength the lyrics may have possessed disappears, and given the comparatively basic guitar work compared to some music, this results in a sound that can often fade into the background.
The bass has taken a very prominent role, providing a deep bass line, giving an almost sludge feel to the music. Whilst not a bad thing, this deep and heavily distorted prevalent sound, combined with the drunken grunge vocals leads to a monotonous tone. The guitars often find themselves doing little, and far more I felt could have been done with them. Only the three ‘ballad’ tracks adding variety to the album, in particular “Strip her down” has a harrowing tone, but isn’t enough.
This album gives a strong indication of the band that is to come, but for a debut finds itself lacking. Despite the presence of nothing specifically bad, nothing draws me in. Nothing makes me particularly enthused, and no track seems a cut above the rest. More for those who love to complete their collection than the rest.
Highlights: Go Away, The Switch, Strip Her Down
By T. Bawden
Greenmachine – D.A.M.N. – 3.5/5
Welcome to yet another criminally unknown band. Upon my last check, their myspace page had under 1500 hits. Playing an aggressive form of sludge/hardcore straight of out of Japan, they literally shocked me – you constantly have this nagging knowledge that yes, this is a 3-piece Japanese band playing a brand of music dirty enough for the filthiest New York backstreet, the roughest LA neighbourhood, or that alley round the back of central London used more often as a place for drunk people to pee, not the clean technologically advanced society we tend to think of when Japan enters our minds.
But alas, excluding a short introduction, a deep and dirty bass riff and loud drumming kick off the album with a bang (and a growl might I add), and with a strong presence of doom and despair (as all sludge should) it at no point lets up. Now, I must mention here differentiating between tracks is mighty difficult. The copy of the CD sent to me from Dead Mans Records only has two tracks on it, the original 6 on the album, and some bonus tracks.
The drumming is better than most. Despite a slow and deep riff, requiring little of a drummer in the way of speed and creativity, he nonetheless successfully manages to break up his beats in such a way as to constantly make things different. The bassist which takes most of the guitar spotlight, whilst not at all common works perfectly for that deep distorted dirty sound, laced with a deep southern groove, beautiful in its simplicity and ability to have nodding your head in appreciation. There is no technical wankery to be found, the riffs succeed in being creative without resorting to sounding like a barrage of random notes in order to prove they can play their instrument, the guitarist occasionally adding little pieces over the top to create something new, the odd solo here or there, too quiet in the mix to truly be appreciated, but the vocalist, this is where the album falls down for me.
The vocalist employs hardcore vocals, and the tone achieved I wouldn’t have thought of coming from a Japanese guy. Even when listening to the likes of the growls in Sigh and Unexpect, or even in Gonin-Ish, they all have a tinge, a slant differentiating themselves from others. This guy doesn’t have that, and it works against him because if it was relatively unique in its sound it may well compensate for the monotony in the voice. Combine this with the fact that every track has a similar tempo, and we start to end up with a repetitive sounding album. Luckily, the album only clocks at 23 minutes (38mins with the bonus tracks).
This is an album that succeeds in being both laden with doom, whilst retaining that deep heavy sound, and sounding aggressive in the hardcore fashion. Too often with sludge bands do I find they are lacking in one of these areas. The drumming and bass work is top notch and is really what this albums all about. The atmosphere is so thick you feel like you need a machete to cut through it, it’s downright dirty and mean - an example of how sludge used to be done, how it should be done. There is certainly better, but there’s a lot worse around too.
Greenmachine – Earth Beater – 4/5
Welcome to the next album by this trio that clocks at a depressing 27mins, we find ourselves with an album largely the same as before, with some of the same problems, and some improvements.
The biggest change is without a doubt the guitar. The bass is still given his presence, but the electric guitar has been turned up in the mix, allowing for a tandem-style riffing emerging between the vocals, which unfortunately are still fairly monotonous.
Whereas in the previous album, we were presented with a constant barrage of same-tempo songs, there is a saving grace here. The track “Hempty God, Returns the Sky” is a bassy instrumental track, slow, emotional, and perfectly fitting for a depressing doomy yet quiet track to break up the monotony. Even the song after this doesn’t go back into full swing, but rather utilise a slow and steady build up, proving for the first time they are capable of a different sound, only returning for “earth beater” to full blown sludgecore heaven, and when it does, it sounds fresh and new, which just proves that the mid-section has done its job wonderfully.
Whilst on one hand I was slightly annoyed when I discovered just how short the album was, the truth is if it was any longer it wouldn’t work. The range of sounds they produce isn’t that diverse. The riffs are once again top-notch, the drumming possibly a little less creative in their implementation, but that’s a minor qualm – they’re still better than they truly needed to be to carry the sound – and the mid-point acting to refresh your musical palette between the 10 minute lessons in how to play sludge. Any longer and I fear it would quickly descend into boredom, and given the choice of 25mins of dirty bliss, and an hour long marathon of monotony, there should be no question which would win.
Highlights: Barbarian of Dope, Gravity
Greenmachine – The Archives of Rotten Blues – 4.5/5
Finally, we hit their most recent work, and the only one I could find online. I was impressed with it enough that I sought their other works on am
Building on the improvements made toazon, finding them and deciding it was worth the week or so of skipped lunches that would be required to afford them.
their last album, the format may be much the same, but the level of musicianship, every riff, every note struck vocally, the drumming crashing around the sound in a fit of aggression, the energy of the whole piece surpasses everything previously done to create a monolith of a sound. In fact, the vocals are the biggest surprise of this album. Comparing to their last couple of efforts, it’s still fairly monotonous but the level of production adds a level of aggression not present before. He sounds angry, pissed off and half spitting at you as he screams in your face incomprehensibly. The guitars are given once again more presence between the vocals, and the solos are simple and effective. The level of composition on the songs too has improved. Gone are the 2-minute songs with a damned good riff, but without the staying power for something longer, these are less punk-ish in their short length, and more fleshed out, with more than enough content to survive multiple listens.
The first three tracks showcase their more traditional style, all out sludgecore fury, creating a sound that is simply impossible to not bang your head to. Then we get a very doom-inspired 10-minute epic, slower than seems natural, dragging its feet as it proceeds slowly onwards, varying just enough to stave off sounding too repetitive, certainly one that you appreciate in subsequent listens, before heading back to the ballsy southern rock groove riffs that dominate much of the sound.
The acoustic intro to “Path Bloody Path,” the slower tempo on “Fire Never Ends,” the track 8 which is split into 5 second long segments creating this odd dissonance in the track, short gaps in the sound creating something unpredictable, all factors which result in an album that at no point becomes monotonous throughout its length. This is a band that has consistently improved and have ended up with an album to be placed up there, worthy of the likes of the masters of the genre.
Highlights: Punisher, Into the Big Sleep, Burning Door
By T. Bawden