Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Review; Black Sabbath - 13

Track Listing:

1. End Of Beginning
2. God Is Dead?
3. Loner
4. Zeitgeist
5. Age Of Reason
6. Live Forever
7. Damaged Soul
8. Dear Father
9. Methademic (Bonus)
10. Peace Of Mind (Bonus)
11. Pariah (Bonus)

Black Sabbath need no real introduction, they're the forefathers of Heavy Metal, after all. Their announcement that they would be reforming to record a new album and to do tours and festivals sent the metal world ablaze with anticipation for what would be the band's first album with singer and general legend Ozzy Osbourne since 1978's 'Never Say Die' album. Since then, news that guitarist Tony Iommi had been diagnosed with Lymphoma and the dispute with drummer Bill Ward threw two massive question marks over the planned album and tour. However, here in June 2013 it all seems like ancient history - Sabbath have released '13'   (with Rage Against The Machine drummer Brad Wilk filling in for Bill Ward) and already we feel the overwhelming sense of euphoria at the return of our world's most legendary band.

The album opens with 'End Of Beginning' and a riff that is very reminiscent of the soong 'Black Sabbath'. It's great to hear that Tony is still capable of composing riffs that can move mountains, cancer or no. Ozzy's vocals are on good form and Geezer Butler's bass guitar flourishes are as skillful and well placed as ever. As the first single 'God Is Dead' comes in with an eerie guitar line and a riff that will last through the ages it further confirms that Sabbath are back and they're here to show all the bands that have come since them just how it's done. Butler's lyrical input is still as ingenious as ever, with lines like "I watch the rain as it turns red, Give me more wine I don't need bread" show he still knows a good hook is as important as those riffs.

'Loner' is another great show of the guitar-and-bass duo of Iommi and Butler that has made Sabbath's music so identifiable throughout their career. Ozzy still sings with his unmistakable tone and use of melody. We also hear plenty of those Osbourne brand cries of "Alright now!". A small point, but one that feels like it adds to the authenticity of a Sabbath album.

The band's choice of drummer was going to be faced with scrutiny no matter what, with many claiming tat it's not Black Sabbath without Bill Ward (a silly claim) but throughout the record Brad Wilk proves the naysayers wrong. He doesn't completely imitate Ward, but seemingly he realises that he'd need to utilise a jazz-like style on the opening track, whilst not being afraid to pound away at the skins at the album's more energetic points. The easing percussion heard in the acoustic led and beautiful 'Zeitgeist' is a particularly nice touch. As is the well structured, bluesy guitar solo that Tony leads the song out with.

'Age Of Reason' brings back the stomp rock tempos that the band have proven so proficient at over their years in music. Again, Tony doesn't let up on the quality of riffs. Lyrical content still proves poetic and soulful and all in all the band show they've never lost the knack for good tunes that gave the world 'Iron Man', 'Symptom Of The Universe' and 'Paranoid'. The riff heard four minutes into the song nearly made me die, it's classic Sabbath material!

'Live Forever' sounds the trumpet for the Doom Metal template they unwittingly set out the blueprint for before changing up to a rock 'n' roll tempo. The big thing that Black Sabbath were always going to have to deliver was great guitar riffs and solos, and Tony Iommi refuses to pull any punches as the album progresses. Lyrics are again, memorable. "Well I don't wanna live forever, But I don't wanna die" is almost a declaration of the rocker lifestyle.

'Damaged Soul' brings back the knack for great storytelling within songs that Sabbath demonstrated on classic cuts like 'N.I.B'. It's evil, it's apocalyptic, and it may be unlikely to scare people the way it might have back in the 1970's but it's still good fun. Geezer's bass proficiency cannot be overstated, and this track ahows why. His thunderous tone keeps the song heavy through Tony's old school guitar ditties, and no note from either of them goes to waste.

'Dear Father'. More riffs. In fact this whole review could probably be summed up by saying "RIFFS, OZZY, GEEZER BUTLER, OH MY FUCKING GOD!!!". The song has a chilling narrative that seems to translate about either an abusive father figure or a seeking of forgiveness in the eyes of a preacher, but however you interpret the lyrics, the song is great. Again the band take songs into double time for a climactic feeling before churning the earth's crust with crushing riffs.

Sadly, the song and the regular version of the album close to the familiar sounds of rain, thunder and a church bell tolling. This gives it a real feeling of finality - The band end where they began. However, sad though it may be, and the end of an era though it may be, this album is one hell of a swansong that nobody expected!! Even without the ridiculously good bonus tracks, this is an essential album that no metal fan can be without in 2013, so if you haven't already done so, buy this record and bask in the glory of Black Sabbath. After all, without them, none of us would fuckin' be here. All hail Black Sabbath!!!!!

Rating: 10/10

Friday, 7 June 2013

Review; Children Of Bodom - Halo Of Blood

Track Listing:

1. Waste Of Skin
2. Halo Of Blood
3. Scream For Silence
4. Transference
5. Bodom Blue Moon (The Second Coming)
6. The Days Are Numbered
7. Dead Mans Hand On You
8. Damaged Beyond Repair
9. All Twisted
10. One Bottle And A Knee Deep

It must be admitted that I approached this album wearily. Despite the fact that Children Of Bodom are a well established extreme metal band, and have some truly great albums and song to their name, their more recent albums have been rather bland sounding to me. As such, I wasn't exactly bursting with excitement when this record was announced. The albums 'Blooddrunk' and 'Relentless Reckless Forever' had their moments, but were nothing compared to the likes of 'Follow The Reaper' and 'Hate Crew Deathroll'. At best here, I was hoping for an album that reminded me of 'Are You Dead Yet?'.

The album comes in with a strong riff and some S-Class soloing from Alexi Laiho and Roope Latvala. The thing that strikes the ears and perks my interests up from the start is that the band sound hungry again. There is an urgency to the performances on show by everyone that suggest the band have tried to sharpen their teeth for this album. The title-track comes charging in with an unearthly Black Metal riff that seems like something from the love-it-or-hate-it 'Hatebreeder' album. The song itself is solid, and one can't help but feel that recording in their native Finland had influenced Laiho and Co. to write this song.

'Scream For Silence' has beginnings that remind us Children Of Bodom don't just play at stupidly fast speeds all the time, and shows off their strong song writing capabilities. It's also a rare display of lead guitar work that doesn't feel like showing off, which the band have been prone to do over their career. No note here seems unnecessary. Alexi Laiho is also on good vocal form, with his somewhat thin, yet powerfully projected screams bearing great melodies. The previously released single 'Transference' takes me back to the band's best moments; it's a ridiculously catchy song built on awesome riffs and great keyboard embellishments. A high point for sure, and a great, memorable guitar solo that'll have shredders round the world dropping their jaws. 'Bodom Blue Moon (The Second Coming)' and the great 'The Days Are Numbered' continues this momentum and there's a feeling that Children of Bodom have started to find the song writing quality that has been amiss from their last two, somewhat forgettable albums.

Equally refreshing is the fact that where a lot of Bodom's recent songs have sounded like music tutorials by guys with massive egos, the songs on this album are actually fun and rewarding to listen to. An element much forgotten on metal albums by the technically-minded musician. A good example is the ballad-like 'Dead Man's Hand On You'. Yes, it does bring things down from the high-speed assault of the first six tracks, but its a decent quality song in its own right.

Without a doubt the best riff on the album comes in the song 'Damaged Beyond Repair' which has a fast-picked chugging riff that will get any metal crowd banging their heads with conviction. The whole band is on consistent form, and the mix through the whole album is great, with no one thing hogging the spotlight. With so many parts to the collective, this is a testament to the production skills of Peter TÃĪgtgren. The songs themselves show everything melding together well as a singular unit, with no hints that any one band member is vying for attention.

The penultimate song 'All Twisted' has its moments, including a good keyboard/guitar trade-off solo and an interesting staccato riff before the last chorus, but is definitely a weaker point that doesn't have the same staying power as other songs on the album. 'One Bottle and A Knee Deep' starts off slow, but picks up as it continues, with a gratifying show of double-bass drumming at the chorus that kicks a whole lot of ass.

There is a lot on this album to show that the band have the potential to write another timeless album yet, and while the test of time is yet to be stood, 'Halo Of Blood' is a great Children Of Bodom album, and reminds us all why the band have gained such an esteemed reputation thus far. Is it as good as 'Hate Crew Deathroll'? No, it's not, to be honest. It might not be held up as an essential metal release, but 'Halo Of Blood' is a must-hear album for 2013, and is definitely deserving of your time. You wont be sorry, either.

Rating: 7/10

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Review; Alice In Chains - The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here

Track Listing:

1. Hollow
2. Pretty Done
3. Stone
4. Voices
5. The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here
6. Lab Monkey
7. Low Ceiling
8. Breath On A Window
9. Scalpel
10. Phantom Limb
11. Hung On A Hook
12. Choke

Alice In Chains' comeback after Layne Staley's death has been well documented so let's just suffice to say that the album 'Black Gives Way To Blue' was a surprising and successful return, with guitarist and vocalist Jerry Cantrell taking the helm of the band, backed up by newcomer William DuVall, also on guitar and vocals. Along with bassist Mike Inez and drummer Sean Kinney, the line-up is as strong as it ever has been. As is the material they're putting out.

Opening with the early-released song Hollow, which we all know to be the kind of song we've come to expect and love from Alice In Chains. With the album as a whole it also makes a solid opening salvo. The album then proceeds into the drone-laden 'Pretty Done'. Welcome returns are made by the A.I.C. trademark vocal harmonies that, as always, are dead-on. It's during songs like this that Alice In Chains show that, for a hard rock band that was lumped in with the grunge movement, they have decent metal credentials. The influence of both bands like AC/DC and Metallica, equally, can be heard by intuitive ears. The dual-guitar approach is hardly new to music, but Alice In Chains have their own uniquely recognisable sound with it, as every great band should.

The album's instant-hit 'Stone' kicks the door down with a slick bass line before the guitar accompanies it brilliantly. The whole tune sounds like it could've been written back in the days of the 'Dirt' album. Sean Kinney keeps the song flowing brilliantly behind the Godzilla-proportioned groove. Cantrell's voice is on fine form on this sludgy and heavy-as-hell cut. This will end up a live staple for the band from here on out, mark my words.

I imagine the band took a clear look across their entire career for inspiration when writing for this album; Voices, a low-key, country influenced song reeks of the band's 'Jar Of Flies' EP, bringing to mind the song 'No Excuses'. The title track has a creeping quality to it that is reminiscent of the first album 'Facelift'. It's beautifully unsettling verse riff is classic Alice In Chains. Cantrell and DuVall's vocals haunt the song. The band have lost none of their unique sense of melody, that has always been one of their calling cards throughout their career.

At this point in their career, the band wouldn't be expected to have any curveballs to throw, nor any progression to make in their sound. So, it is all Alice In Chains as we know them. 'Lab Monkey' is the song that most reminds me of the previously mentioned 'Black Gives Way To Blue' record, in a good way. While 'Low Ceiling' is a slow-burner, and ironically, it feels like a lower point on the album when compared to the first five song. Luckily, though; 'Breath On A Window' pulls the reins tight again with Cantrell's much-utilized string-bends making for a solid riff for the band to work off of.

The acoustic feel-good country vibe on 'Scalpel' makes for another peak point on the record, with Cantrell showing his Oklahoma roots in good fashion. It's the kind of song that would make a good soundtrack to having a bourbon while chilling at the campsite of a summer festival in the evening. 'Phantom Limb' has a strangely fast-tempo riff for Alice In Chains, but it's a catchy one that will stick with you. 'Hung On A Hook' brings things back down again, with yet another droning, introspective verse, before soaring into choruses that show just how well DuVall and Cantrell's voices work in the Alice In Chains format. It's definitely a decent homage to the band's heyday, but there is an air of predictability to the songs on show that may alienate some listeners.

The big worry was that the post-Layne return of Alice In Chains was going to be short lived, or purely nostalgic in nature. The two solid albums they've released now are surely enough to prove that these worries are redundant now. The Devil Puts Dinosaurs Here has been as worth the wait as any previous Alice In Chains album ever was. Those who call themselves long-term fans of the band will be suitably satisfied with the end results. As the album comes to a close, I find it relieving to know that the legacy of this unforgettable band remains untarnished.

Rating: 8/10