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If you have found this blog, it probably means you were searching for something that isn’t in the public eye. My intention is to promote awareness of artists that you would otherwise likely never know existed. If you like what you hear, support the artist by purchasing their music so that they can continue to create, and enjoy the release in the quality they intended.

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
Axis of Metal.

As I write this response to the latest results of the “Golden Gods” award show, I'm tired having just worked a 12 hour shift but inspired to point out how laughable this list truly is, and I don't mean laughing because it's funny, I'm laughing to prevent myself make a head-shaped hole in the wall. Let's be honest with this, I never really expected a huge amount from a mainstream magazine promoting their 'best of year' and I think anyone would be foolish to think a popularity contest about an inherently unpopular genre of music is going to turn up a decent result, but this is just incredible. Lets ignore the fact that it's arriving almost half way through the following year for a moment and take a closer look at the actual results. The first thing that leaped out at me is the fact not a single metal band won an award. For an awards show celebrating a years worth of great metal, the fact that there is no metal band holding an award just screams 'metal sucks,' which is something of a kick in the teeth to anyone who actually enjoys the genre. Couple this with the fact the largest UK music festival has an electronic dance music band headlining, and the second largest music festival announced it's failure to get anyone interested at all, I think it's safe to say Metal in the mainstream is officially pushing daisies. But enough yabbering, let's look at the worst offenders:


Best Guitarist:
Jinxx and Jake Pitts (Black Veil Brides) WINNER*
Zoltan Bathory and Jason Hook (Five Finger Death Punch)
Willie Adler and Mark Morton (Lamb Of God)
Robb Flynn and Phil Demmel (Machine Head)
Dave Mustaine and Chris Broderick (Megadeth)
Matt Heafy and Corey Beaulieu (Trivium)


Here we have a screamo band who spend more time on their hair than their music, a couple of generic metalcore bands, a band pretending to be Metallica and the one Metal band in the list. I'm not sure the winners know how to actually play anything more than a few power chords which makes their nomination almost as bizarre as the fact they won. Mustaine's personal dickery aside, at least he knows how to write a god-damn solo. At least the other bands can be said to contain 'metal influences,' even if it doesn't form the core of their sound. At this point I'm already wondering if the writers over at Metal Hammer didn't have huge trollface grins on their faces and we haven't even gotten to the worst bits yet.

Who Should Have Actually Won: Tosin Abasi

Jokes about his guitar playing have seen no shortage amongst fans, but the reason they emerged is because they're based on truth. He plays an 8-string guitar but it's not for show, he actually uses all those damn strings; he's playing too many notes not to use both hands half the time, doubling up as a guitarist and a bassist, and he even has a knack for creating melodies. I'm not the biggest “Animals as Leaders” fan but I'm not gonna argue the dude doesn't have some pretty damn major chops.


Album Of The Year:
Anthrax, "Worship Music"
Evanescence, "Evanescence"
Five Finger Death Punch, "American Capitalist"
Foo Fighters, "Wasting Light"
Korn, "The Path Of Totality" WINNER*
Lamb Of God, "Resolution"


I'm not going to confess to having listened to half of these albums, I have better uses of my time, but I can see that nominated are two rock bands, two metalcore bands, a band from what I've heard still play some form of Thrash – if as always their unconventional brand of it – which being the only metal band on the list should have won, but what actually got to take home the prize? A Dubstep album. Not a metal album, not one of the rock albums on the list, a genre that makes a living going 'wub wub wub.' The best metal album of the year is... dubstep. I'm sorry, I still don't quite follow. I think you just admitted you should stop and liquidate any company responsible for even considering nominating this album as you don't think any good metal happened last year, or at the very least rename your publication “Wubvolver” or something.

Who Should Have Won: Mastodon (Leprous)

I've already ranted about Leprous producing my album of 2011 previously, they're unique and brilliant at it, but also far too readily inaccessible for the 13 year old's who still seem to concoct these lists. Taking a more plausible approach, taking a gander towards the questionably-metal and well-known artists, Mastodon succeeded in revitalising their sound and producing an album even most long-time fans were applauding despite being drastically different, which something of a feat in itself. And you know what? Mastodon have garnered enough long-term die hard fans over their career that they would have voted in bulk had they been y'know, actually nominated. And seeing as they were nominated for other categories it certainly wasn't exactly impossible for someone to actually have noticed they released an album last year.


Comeback Of The Year:
Anthrax
Dream Theater
Evanescence
Ministry
Slipknot WINNER*
Van Halen


Ooh boy what a corker this one is. Ministry disappeared for three years, hardly long enough for anyone to notice – and I hadn't even realised they reformed if I'm honest – and three just replaced members, so of all the options only two can be said to have 'come back' at all (Anthrax and Van Halen)! Taking out Halen for playing Hard Rock leaves us with... Slipknot? Really? A band with so many members half of them could die and you wouldn't notice? That haven't actually done much of anything yet, except tour with a session guy to plod along to the root notes and spend three years finding someone actually willing to don a silly Halloween mask on stage. Are we applauding the fact that he managed to finish his last album before taking a drug overdose? That they finally have an excuse to replace a member with one with talent? Or are we getting ahead of ourselves in assuming that their future release will not be quite as bad as their last one?

Who Should Have Won: Just About Anybody Else

The list of bands that could take this prize is immense, particularly seeing as a band doesn't appear to need to go anywhere to 'come back' and the last few years have hardly seen a shortage of old bands coming back into the fray; perhaps “Accept” would make the best candidate being actually metal, actually having gone away somewhere, having replaced a man previously thought irreplaceable and having been received by fans pretty darn well. Cynic are another that returned last year with “Carbon Based Anatomy” which many fans loved. If we're talking about tragic bassist deaths, Versailles' loss of bassist “Jasmine You” came out of the dark being in perfect health three days earlier and requiring the band to rapidly record his parts for the album due for release in a few months time, whilst trying to find a replacement so they could keep their end of the contract in doing an international tour, which for a Japanese band don't exactly come cheap, and then STILL managed to release a follow-up last year, which seems to me to show a rather greater ability to return from a setback. Atheist made a return too with a solid, if not an instant classic like their earlier material. That's already four better options right there.


Best International Band:
Behemoth
Lacuna Coil
Rammstein
Sepultura
Meshuggah
X Japan WINNER*


If you were expecting me to applaud a Japanese band winning this award, expect to be wrong. X-Japan are a bunch of dicks. Go back to their origins; a speed/thrash band with a penchant for melodies releasing two solid albums in the late 80s/early 90s. Then they went all 'Black Album' on us and started playing hard rock, gradually taking preference for ballads over even their original harder tinge. After their fifth album they then 'disappeared,' except they didn't really, they just became lazy releasing a grand total of ten fucking compilation albums. They started drip feeding DVD's of random clips they'd done for TV shows and performances that someone happened to record (9 DVD's in total), four different box sets; to say they were milking their fans is putting it mildly. And then after ten years of all this shit, we finally get the first single of original material in all that time – apparently what we're basing this award on – and you know what? Once you get past the occasional instrumental which suggest they might ironically fit well in the 'comeback' category, and it's a god damn power ballad!

Who Should Have Won: Meshuggah

Ok, I'll go on record in saying they might have actually got one nomination right. Lord knows I'm not much of a fan, but there can be little disputing the fact that they actually play metal, and the fact that so many bands have started to employ their trademark 'djent' tone; the likes of Periphery, Tesseract, Animals as Leaders, Vildhartja, Monuments, Chimp Spanner and countless others that have emerged in the past year; to say they've been pretty god damn influential on the genre this past year sounds like a ridiculously obvious statement, and you don't get to be influential unless a fair few people actually like the shit you're doing.

That's it, I'm done ranting. If all this has taught you anything let's hope it's that awards shows are full of shit. I'm gonna get some sleep before I get carried away any further.

Ever Forthright – Ever Forthright

Posted by T. Bawden Wednesday, 11 April 2012 0 comments


Ever Forthright – Ever Forthright - 4/5

Somewhere in the depths of the blossoming US underground djent scene, between the lands of Periphery and Animals as Leaders a new contender emerges, and given the presence of former Periphery front man Chris Baretto, comparisons between the two are going to be inevitable. Yes, there are many similarities in their sound, but they are far from clones of one another. Rather, the style of playing the Periphery employ is closer to the rhythm layer presented here; it's the bare bones from which the meat is built upon in the form of saxophones, keyboards, riffs of the 'unbridled technical' nature, all interspersed with Ambient interludes to contrast the periods where they all get a little too excited and their sound strays to the side of Deathcore. Needless to say, things are gonna get a little crazy around here.

Let's just begin with Baretto himself, because he is such a pivotal element in their sound and not just because he doubles up as the bands saxophonist. His versatility as a vocalist stretches beyond his ability to sing cleanly and rasp, displaying all manner of variations of softly sung ethereal lines and guttural aggression but at times displaying a more conventional rock sensibility, even briefly foraying into the world of rap (for better or for worse). The guitarist proves he's more than just able to fly off into the land of dissonance but creates some genuinely beautiful harmonies, at times begging the question why he doesn't do so more often. The drums don't just manage to keep up with this chaos but even manage to find the occasional snippet of time to play a fill here or there, though understandably he doesn't exactly get much time where he sounds like he's not supposed to be flailing wildly. Even the bass makes it's presence known with perhaps only the keyboards spending too much of their time in the background. That's no snide comment against the production either; when six musicians all are given independent lines, balancing it all so that they can all be heard is no easy feat and one handled here remarkably well.

The usage of the jazz stylings, most notably the saxophone seems like something of an odd instrument to use in this context (never mind how 'Sigh' manage to pull it off in their Black Metal) but it lends a distinctive Jazz Fusion-like experience to certain passages, and most importantly does work surprisingly well. Part of the reason is that they don't go into things haphazardly; there are brushed drum lines, piano melodies and crisp and clean guitar melodies, making it all feel about as far removed from a 'gimmick' as you can get with genuine consideration clearly gone into working it into their composition. In fact my only real complaint is that they didn't utilise this hidden talent more often and give them a genuinely unique spin compared to the rest of the scene. This isn't the only trick up their sleeves either, though is perhaps the most prominent; the album is littered with subtle electronic tones arising from their full time keyboardist, and at the peak of their aggression, the combination of rasps and djent rhythm lends an odd “Between the Buried and Me,” deathcore feel to many of the passages.

It's clear they have a lot of ideas, and at nearly 80 full minutes of full blown technical musicianship that never lets up, well it's a difficult pill to swallow. There's a reason many artists in this vein keep their work short and too the point, and whilst it never feels as though passages are there for mere filler, I can't imagine me really ever becoming comfortable with the dissonant lines to the point that I can recall where they're going. At no point will I be able to remember what track had which passage I particularly liked, and there's little in the way of differences in their sound between tracks making it all sound rather derivative by the albums end. They've certainly proven here they have more versatility in this style of music than anyone else I've heard from the continent but it's their composition that needs the most work. There are gentle jazz lines ruined by the rhythm guitarist playing a djent riff and undermining the gentle atmosphere beneath it; there are piano lines that fail to steadily build into the more aggressive passages, all too jarringly transitioned. There lacks a certain element of fluidity in their tracks and melody in their guitar lines, and whilst they need to learn when to move elements of their sound to the forefront, to call this an impressive debut would be something of an understatement.

Highlights: The Little Albert Experiment, Screen Scenarios, Infinitely Inward



Accept – Stalingrad

Posted by T. Bawden Tuesday, 10 April 2012 0 comments


Accept – Stalingrad – 4.5/5

"So hungry, so cold
But there can be no surrender
For creed and pride, take hold
Blood is the cry, we'll do or die
For Stalingrad"


Once again the metal titans have returned with what is now their fourteenth release under their belt, but only the second of what should aptly be known as “the second coming.” Coming off the heels of their “Blood of the Nations” tour, energy still high from the overwhelming fan response that it was the greatest comeback album of the year (a notion I should point out, I have little argument against), work began on this before the tour finished. They may be ageing rockers now entering what must be at least their 50s and yet they still possess more energy, passion and creativity than the vast plethora of bands still emerging now, and as though they still needed to prove that point, they deliver on this; a concept album about the battle of Stalingrad from the perspective of the German army; one of the bloodiest battles of the Second World War, and indeed all of history, which if you aren't up to snuff on your history, allow me to fill in a few of the blanks.

Late in 1942, the battle hardened German war machine marched forth into the frozen abyss of the USSR with the intention of conquering and gaining an all-important industrial foothold deep in Russian territory, but the enemy was gravely underestimated. Supply lines becoming ever thinner and causing shortages in food, the temperature rapidly plummeting to sub-zero temperatures, morale amongst the German troops was weakened before they even reached their destination. When they arrived they soon discovered the barbarism of the Russian Army; famously conscripting any man capable of wielding a weapon into service, half given weapons and the rest given the ammunition for it (told to pick whatever you needed from your fallen comrades) and many shot by their own officers for not charging into the machine guns fast enough, none expected to survive. Holding firm fervent in their belief of eventual German victory, they advanced and were constantly beaten back by the fearless and resourceful Russians; reinforcements magnified on both sides to five fold what they once were and air raids from both sides reducing the entire city to smouldering rubble.

To call this a dark time, even for war time Europe, seems like something of an understatement; neither side expected to survive (and indeed, an estimated 1.5 million, plus 99.8% of the cities population perished), and this sense of darkness comes across in the music. There's no question they live up to their Traditional Heavy Metal legacy but there's far more to the music than the insatiable old school aggression that they made known to begin with. There's a tear-jerking emotional undercurrent of the tragedy that they faced; of the enduring bravery and unwavering determination in their objective; of strength in the face of adversity, and the fact they've managed to channel all of this energy into their composition whilst losing nothing of what defines their sound is a feat few artists are capable of.

No longer perhaps feeling the pressure to prove themselves, this second line-up now sound all the more comfortable to vary the pace and increase the versatility in their tracks; no longer does Tornillo permanently try to emulate his predecessor (though there is certainly an undeniable similarity in their styles) but delivers on powerful lines of his own right that should see no fan crying for Udo's return, which just a few years ago would have been unthinkable, and the instrumentation never feels in a permanent rush to fry your face and prove they're still capable. There's a new element at play in their composition; a twisted, militant precision to the guitar lines, the bombastic drumming powering ahead like the drums of war, and through it all the solo's have never felt more poignant; the chorus' lines never failing to make their mark. Equal to the best they've ever done; it seems oddly fitting that they would release this just a few days before Easter as now there can be no doubt, from the ashes these metal gods have risen up once again to rule the world.

Highlights: Hellfire, Shadow Soldiers, Galley



Hemina – Synthetic

Posted by T. Bawden Monday, 2 April 2012 0 comments


Hemina – Synthetic – 3.5/5

With or without my help, it would seem that this debut album from Hemina is already making quite a splash with no shortage of reviews singing it's praises. Indeed, from the album teaser alone I was convinced I ought to have pre-ordered the release in preparation, but this epic progressive metal concept album from the land down under for all it's ambition doesn't quite stack up, all the small complaints I have mounting up steadily into a pile of reasons against it to the point they can no longer be ignored. Certainly fans of artists such as Dream Theater, Mechanical Poet and Ayreon might find something amidst the layers of atmospheric synth work and their strong focus on ambience, and I suspect much of how much you enjoy this release will depend on the listeners ability to feel the atmosphere they create, but to my ears it just reeks of everything it could have been.

The first issue doesn't take long to present itself with a lengthy and meandering album intro that lasts until the mid-point of the second track – a full seven minutes! – which whilst not monotonous does nothing to set the scene. The atmosphere is wholly vague and so just feels superfluous and lengthy for the sole cause of being lengthy, and this isn't an isolated incident. Indeed it is the main issue I find myself confronted with here, passages simply going on for longer than required. Often slower passages are lacking in specificity for the story the scene is meant to set (or at times impossible to comprehend and so come across as little more than a bit weird) or even during their greatest work, seems to be used for far longer than is really needed leaving you waiting for the next passage to arrive. “For All the Wrong Reasons,” for example, starts off with a simple but effective melody accompanied by the vocals, but for almost the full five minutes fails to provide any variation; any climactic points or emotional peaks, and the problem is only exacerbated when we consider the lengthier tracks or the fact certain passages are repeated at later points in the album.

The instrumentation is often fairly lacklustre but not through any incapability, the guitars and keyboards in particular proving their worth many times over, if not consistently, far too often relying on the most basic and simplistic of monotonous riffs and drab synth chords. The simplest of lines can remain effective, but it's the passages where nobody seems to be doing anything of particular note that everything crumbles. The drumming often feels uninspired but is no slouch, and the vocalist just feels as though he's straining in hitting the most powerful and higher pitched notes, lending a lacklustre performance when he's needed most. If he spent more time on the deeper notes his whole performance would have been elevated, his gorgeous baritone too often forgotten for a more conventional soprano effort. His diction also lends something to be desired, often annunciating the lyrics in a manner that makes them difficult to comprehend which whilst ordinarily is not a major issue, when involving a story being told, suddenly their importance becomes magnified.

And there is a story to be told here involving Angels losing their wings and being forced to live out their lives on Earth, at least to the best I can decipher. Too many of the details get lost and short of reading the lyrics, something the music doesn't compel me enough to warrant doing, is likely to stay that way. You can have the greatest concept ever devised but without drawing the listener in through the music will fail to make any impact whatsoever. But beyond all this, without a doubt the absolute worst issue I have with this album – and certainly the one I find most frustrating – are the moments when everything manages to come together; the melodies are powerful and the drums find themselves able to vary, even the vocalist's apparent shortcomings are less noticeable due to the work going on around him and then the guitars manage to carve out epic solo's and instrumental pieces that can bring a tear to your eye. There are moments of absolute genius littered all over this release and with that comes the promise of perfection. Hemina's debut feels like a brilliant forty minute album stretched out to twice that length.

Highlight: For All Wrong Reasons, With What I See, Even in Heaven




Electro Quarterstaff – Aykroyd – 3.5/5

There seems to be few modern debates that emerge quite as frequently as that of Progressive Sludge; the “Mastodon vs Baroness” argument that splits educated metal fans right down the middle, both with very different way's of going about their music and so naturally appeals to different fans. It's an argument that doesn't look to be getting any simpler either as the still-instrumental Electro Quarterstaff emerge with their second album, five years since their last, with a sound that seems to take Baroness' penchant for 'noodling' guitar lines and meandering song structures, Mastodon's more technical musicianship, and then throwing Gorguts influences into the mix for what I can only assume is for 'shits and giggles.'

It is, at least on the surface, immensely technical and certainly not the easiest of releases to get into, but it's something of a fa├žade; the music isn't really 'technical' by the strictest definition. There's little that feels overtly dissonant or syncopated, is all played at a constant tempo – and that goes for the entire album, not just a single track – and maintains a 4/4 beat structure throughout. Instead the technicality arises from the manner the instruments harmonise with one another; with three guitarists and a bassist (a welcome new addition to their line-up) all playing their own thing, intersecting at times but more often than not playing a 'riff salad,' delivering a constantly shifting barrage of notes throughout their unconventional song structures – the last bastion of 'technicality' that the band employ – just waiting to be dissected, and don't go expecting the drumming to make anything easier to follow first time around. None of the musicians on their own would likely garner much attention for their guitar playing but when everything is combined it becomes impressive how they never seem to get lost or stumble over each other's lines; that one section moves into something else so rapidly and inexplicably without leaving a man behind. I get the strong impression they could slice a song into a dozen or more chunks and rearrange them and nobody would be any the wiser.

It is, at least in theory, an interesting idea; the individual lines constantly creating something new to discover upon each listen but the problem is that it all sounds so damn similar. One track will end and the next begin and you won't notice. The guitarists never change their tone or tempo, the drumming never seems to follow any sort of regular pattern – except of course the beat pattern – and there's nothing to ground things with only a few distinguishable moments amongst the madness which allow you to figure out what track you're on. The distinctively slow opening track or that slightly folkier bit in “Waltz...,” spring to mind, but often when the track gets under way again you'll find yourself hopelessly lost amidst the sound they've created. It's a tricky album to find yourself invested in and even more difficult still is, when you've successfully done this, finding enough memorable material within its depths. As such it is an incredibly difficult album to recommend. The brief moments that have you nodding your head in appreciation are outnumbered by the passages of unbridled chaos but suggest there is still hope for them yet, they just need to stop trying to prove they can play riffs and start thinking about proving they can incorporate the variety of influences they claim to hold and create a coherent composition.

Highlights: Waltz of the Swedish Meatballs, Descent By Annihilation Operator

For the truly daring, try playing both the above songs simultaneously!



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Guide

Guide to the Ratings
0/5 - This caused me physical pain
1/5 - This is really bloody awful
2/5 - This was below average
3/5 - This was above average
4/5 - This was pretty darn good.
5/5 - I cannot fault this epitome of perfection.

I cant guarantee all reviewers adhere to these guidelines, but work as a general guide.

Author's credit is given on all posts.