Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Review; Man Must Die - Peace Was Never An Option

Track Listing:

1. Congregation
2. Hiding In Plain Sight
3. Patriot
4. The Hell I Fear
5. Dissolution
6. Absence Makes The Hate Grow Stronger
7. Sectarian
8. The Price You Pay
9. Antisocial Network
10. Abuser Friendly (Feat. Max Cavalera)
11. On The Verge Of Collapse
12. The Day I Died

Glasgow Death Metal group Man Must Die have been a personal favourite of mine since I saw them open for Machine Head at their Glasgow date on the Black Procession tour. They have everything that stands for a modern Death Metal band to have; speed, technicality, sheer heaviness, acid-spewed guttural growls and screams. The difference between this band and other Death Metal bands these days is their song writing. As extreme and mind-blowing as the music on their albums; 2004's '...Start Killing', 2007's 'The Human Condition', and 2009's 'No Tolerance For Imperfection' was, there was an incredibly catchy element lined with memorable hooks. It's been four years since the monstrous 'No Tolerance...' but now 'Peace Was Never An Option' has dropped like an atom bomb to demand the attention of the Metal scene.

An unexpected start rips the door off for the first song 'Hiding In Plain Sight' and it's straight for the jugular. Insanity comes in the bucket loads in what sounds like Slipknot as a Death Metal outfit. The chorus comes in and immediately leaves a mark on the memory. A powerful start that is further strengthened by the gang-shouts of "We've got to stand and fight". It may be considered by some to be clichéd to open an album with such a balls-out call-to-arms, but nobody ever said that clichés don't work! 'Patriot' keeps the momentum going at the freight-train speed with a truly furious socio-political lyrical theme. Alan McFarland's guitar work half way through works as a rock-hard backbone to the breakdown, with vocalist Joe McGlynn's throat-ripping assault leading to a surprisingly tasteful guitar solo. Then just when it seems like things might have gotten diluted, James Burke's drumming kicks the snot out of you as the whole band hits back into what they're best at.

Speaking of the drum work; it's ridiculous as 'The Hell I Fear' begins! Then, so is the guitar work. These are insanely talented guys that work as such a tight unit. It's hard to imagine that such relentless music doesn't just sound like every other faster-than-fast, heavier-than-heavy band out there, but Man Must Die are as unique as they come. The melodicism shown in this song manages to not sound out of place, though it may take a moment or two for you to be sure of that.

Unsettling clean guitars form an instrumental opening by the name of 'Dissolution' that leads into the breakneck pummelling of 'Absence Makes The Hate Grow Stronger' staccato type riffing and tremolo picked sequences build the tension in the music as McGlynn continues his vocal showcase. There's a sea-sickness inducing guitar bend in the breakdown that helps slow the pace momentarily. All the while through all this musical wackiness, bassist Dan Firth keeps the songs rooted firmly into the tracks. 'Sectarian' is business as usual, with some more slick guitar leads that refrain from the ten-notes-a-second shred-fests that most Death Metal bands resort to in every song. Things slow down yet again in the middle of the song and we hear some cleaner guitars haunting the space around the steady drum beats.

'The Price You Pay' comes to life is a stomping masterpiece of the highest order. The strength of the songs in Man Must Die's albums has always been supercharged by brilliant lyrics. 'Peace Was Never An Option' has carried on this tradition. The fact that McGlynn delivers them with such conviction is what brings the feel of the whole album to life. A groovy little bass interlude towards the end of the song shows again that this band is not afraid to play Metal on their own terms. 'Antisocial Network' was of course the first single released by the band some time ago, and is even more of a raging beast in the context of the whole album. Again, lyrical content is a high point; a rant aimed at the over-use and abuse of things like Facebook. A much-needed statement, actually.

'Abuser Friendly' has been a bit of a talking point. Of all things, Man Must Die have managed to get Soulfly, Cavalera Conspiracy and former Sepultura legend Max Cavalera to put his vocal brilliance into the song. It's great to hear and the song itself is brilliant anyway. Catchy-ass chorus cannot be said enough, but the best thing about this track is that it manages not to sound like a showcase for the fact that they got Cavalera to put his vocal smack-down on it, which is a thing that can often cheapen or over exaggerate the quality of a track (or in Slash's case, that first solo album overall!).

Another talking point is the final song 'The Day I Died' which is uncharacteristically long for MMD, at eight minutes, thirty-seven seconds. With a harrowing narrative including spoken word sections, this is easily the most unsettling song on the record. Musically sound, it bears all the hallmarks of the band's sound. Among twelve songs seething with the conviction of blood, sweat and tears, this song stands above all the others. Closing an absolutely astonishing album that stumps my already high expectations with ease. Listen to this record. Like, as soon as you fucking can!!

Rating: 9.5/10

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Review; Old Corpse Road - 'Tis Witching Hour...As Spectres We Haunt This Kingdom

Track Listing;
1. 'Tis Witching Hour
2. The Cauld Lad Of Hylton
3. Hag Of The Mist
4. The Buried Moon
5. The Wild Voice Came
6. The Crier Of Claiffe
7. The Secret Of The Rolling Waves
8. Isobel - Queen of Scottish Witches
9. Glassensikes At Witching Hour
10. As Spectres We Haunt This Kingdom

Black Metal, as I've frequently stated, is a massively overcrowded sub-genre of metal. For every band there is playing Black Metal with passion and true identity in their music, there seems to be another five bands simply jumping on the bandwagon. The UK Black Metal scene is one that has sometimes piqued my interest but has also proven to have it's share of identikit bands.

Old Corpse Road are, I'm glad to say, part of the solution rather than the problem. Hailing from Darlington, their style of Black Metal, while not entirely unheard of before, has a genuine spark to it that draws the listener in. 'Tis Witching Hour...' has a soul-compelling narrative from the start, and shows to be more about enthralling compositions than heaviness for heaviness' sake and metal brownie points. The opening track is used to set the tone of Celtic ritual and the reimagining of British folklore. It's a welcome change to the well-trod ground of political preaching, misanthropic bile and anti-religious or satanic sermons that is so synonymous with Black Metal.

There are clean vocals as well as incredibly shrill, raspy shrieks and guttural growls too. A lot going on with the vocals that help prevent the band's sound from becoming samey. The music flows from blast-beat laden and buzz saw guitar onslaughts to gothic atmospheric bridges and doesn't seem baffling as it does so. There are masterful passages of eccentric folk-inspired music too, as the bridge-track 'The Wild Voice Came' demonstrates with a melancholy beauty. As a complete work of art it is cohesive, and more importantly it stands out from the crowd, both of Black Metal and of Metal music in general.

The band does bear the mark of some potential influences, such as Primordial, Burzum and, very slightly, Behemoth, but to draw a direct comparison to any of those bands would be somewhat foolish. Orchestral grandeur is always welcome in such an aesthetic genre as Black Metal, and Old Corpse Road execute it well. It doesn't sound clichéd or overdone, nothing in this album overstays it's welcome. It's well written and brilliantly executed.

Cinematic voices-samples in choice places give the album even more of an epic feel. It's a brilliant cocktail of everything that can make Black Metal great and it's done tremendously well. For those of a Black Metal persuasion, this album is essential listening. For those who like to appreciate well-crafted music, the same applies. I'll be keeping a close eye on this band

Rating: 7.5/10

Monday, 21 October 2013

Review; Avenged Sevenfold - Hail To The King

Track Listing:

1. Shepherd Of Fire
2. Hail To The King
3. Doing Time
4. This Means War
5. Requiem
6. Crimson Day
7. Heretic
8. Coming Home
9. Planets
10. Acid Rain

Ah, another big one for the year. Most anticipated? Probably quite close. Also, as it turns out, controversial to the max! Avenged Sevenfold are without a doubt the marmite band of modern metal. Starting out as a bog-standard metalcore band, they gathered a hardcore fanbase among the emo kids and the Metalcore in-crowd, while getting a lot of flak from the right-wing metal fans. Fast forward to 2005 and they started to show signs of growth as they got signed to Warner Bros. Records and threw off the formulaic shackles of Metalcore. Instead they opted for a more classic metal influenced sound, reminiscent of the band members' own heroes. M. Shadows' voice changed from average singing and typical screams to a much more melodic and accomplished singing voice. All of these factors led to their breakthrough album 'City of Evil' The band started to get major recognition.

Between then and now, the Orange County band released 'Nightmare', which was dedicated to their deceased drummer Jimmy Sullivan. The album and the following tours (Including opening for System Of A Down on the main stage at Download Festival 2011) increased the band's profile even further. It wasn't long before talk of another record came into play. The band said on several occasions that they wanted to wear their influences such as Black Sabbath, Metallica, Guns 'N' Roses, Pantera and Iron Maiden firmly on their sleeves. The end result is called 'Hail To The King' and as surely as many people will do just that, just as many people would rather pick up torches and pitchforks.

The sound of fire opens the album very ominously alongside a tolling bell, immediately bringing to mind Black Sabbath's first song. Horns blast out right before the album's first riff hits your ears...and it's impossible (Let me repeat; impossible) not to hear it and think "I've heard that that 'Enter Sandman'??". This is not cynicism, I assure you, and it's nothing like how people tried to compare the riff for Slipknot's 'Psychosocial' with Metallica's 'Ride The Lightning'. This is ridiculously similar! Strangely though, when you get past that and the spoken word passage towards the end of the song (another striking similarity to 'Enter Sandman'), and hear M. Shadows' vocals as the verse kicks in, it's rather a good, catchy metal song.

Here starts the theme of the controversial side to this album which is: Is it good for the wrong reasons?

The title song comes next, and a steady riff is given plenty of breathing space under Synyster Gates' melodic guitar widdling. Gruff singing of epic-themed lyrics just bleeds classic metal and is massively catchy and undeniably sing-along. Shadows is giving himself a real vocal workout and it pays off here. Then the old question mark comes up again in the sleaze-metal of 'Doing Time' which smatters of Guns 'N' Roses in the opening cries of the singer's voice, which sounds like he's karaoke singing to Axl Rose's signiature wails. The vocal effects on the verse also remind me unmistakably of 'Concrete Jungle' by Black Label Society. Again, though, it's catchy. You find yourself almost begrudgingly nodding along and singing along too. The guitar solo is a ripper, too.

Then there's 'This Means War'... again; there is a good hook in the chorus, good solos...but everything in the verses; riff, vocals, rhythm and the drum beat all are carbon copies of Metallica's hit 'Sad But True'. How the band could record this song with straight faces is beyond me. Yet again it's not a bad song, but is it good for all the wrong reasons? They're calling this A7X's Black Album, but its unbelievable how literally this tag applies.

There's a great track following the stumble though, in the form of 'Requiem'. A choir brings a sense of grandeur at the right moment. Any band aiming for the throne the way A7X are need the larger-than-life feel to their music. This song brings it with a memorable stomp. 'Crimson Day' is the necessary ballad, but apart from having a clean guitar tone just like (you guessed it) 'Nothing Else Matters', its difficult to fault, and provides good breathing space and variety for the album. 'Heretic' is a decent but slightly forgettable song that recalls 'Countdown To Extinction' era Megadeth.

'Coming Home' is where things sound distinctly Avenged Sevenfold again. A soul-searching belter that stands as a high point on the album and comes to a great climax that will have any self respecting fan of music in general singing along. 'Planets' is a doom-inspired, apocalyptic piece that has the ingredients of a Ronnie James Dio fronted Black Sabbath. Good double bass drum kicks underlay a great and simple chorus, all enveloped in great riffs. Again, the horns make an appearance.

'Acid Rain' is a hit. Pure and simple. It's radio friendly without feeling contrived, and again is massively sing-along. The album closes with the sound of rainfall to contrast with the fire at the beginning, and makes the album feel complete. Closure that leaves you ready to talk and debate about what is already the hot-topic album of Heavy Metal in 2013.

Some will love it, some will despise it, but that is no different from any other band. To be honest, I like it, in spite of the controversy. I wouldn't call it perfect and I wouldn't quite call myself an Avenged Sevenfold fan but nor am I a hater. They have made a solid, accessible Metal record for every generation of Metal fans to take in. They have also made their claim to the throne. There can't be any illusions here; Avenged Sevenfold are the heirs to Metallica's crown and ironically it's an album called 'Hail To The King' that has solidified that fact.

Rating: 8.5/10

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Review; Master - The Witchhunt

Master - The Witchhunt

Track Listing:

1. The American Dream
2. Another Suicide
3. God Of Thunder
4. Manipulated To Exterminate
5. The Parable
6. Plans Of Hate
7. Raise Your Sword
8. Remove The Clowns
9. Waiting To Die
10. Wipe Out The Aggressor
11. The Witchhunt

Deep, buzzing bass paves the way for Master's old-school attack in a style that is true to the earliest of Death Metal. Back in 1983 it was simply a case of mixing an aural cocktail of Motorhead, First-Wave of Black Metal legends; Venom, and early-day Slayer. This could be heard in the albums of Possessed, Death and, of course Master. Originally from Chicago, the somewhat-iconic Master are now based in the Czech Republic of all places. Their music, as this eleventh full length album shows, is still firmly rooted in the American Death Metal sound.

The album as a whole, splits me somewhat; I greatly appreciate the classic Death Metal sound as much as any fan, but while the classic albums like Death's 'Scream Bloody Gore' or Autopsy's 'Severed Survival' haven't aged a day and are still massively enjoyable, it feels like a period in the history of the genre that should be left to rest. In this day and age it is the trend to be 'traditional', 'raw' or 'old-school' to show that your band is somehow more credible than any modern band (a thought process that eludes my understanding) but at the end of the day, is innovation and progression not what has kept Heavy Metal alive for so long?

'The Witchhunt' feels outdated before it's time, but while that is a bit of a problem to me as a listener, I wont say that the writing or the songs themselves are poor. There are catchy and perhaps memorable riffs throughout and plenty of atonal guitar solos that are as ugly as an Angel Fish meeting a shotgun. The drumming is sound and the vocals are sick. However, even five songs into the record, I find it hard to forget that aforementioned niggle. This would've been a fantastic album in the early 90's, without a doubt, and to the band's credit, you can feel that they're playing what they enjoy playing and probably don't give a shit for anyone that isn't impressed, nor should they. Instrumentally 'Raise Your Sword' is a barrage of riffs and is tight as fuck. 'The American Dream' was catchy and does latch itself onto my memory. However, it's hard to hear this and lose my shit to it when there are bands like Deicide, Autopsy and Immolation still making Death Metal that sounds fresh, venomous and truly exciting.

It's a shame, really. While this is an enjoyable and listenable album, even after a few full listens it feels like it'll be just a footnote in this year's list of metal releases compared to many other great records that have come out. Again; not a bad album, not by a longshot, but I probably wont spin it that much and it's unlikely to cross my mind as an album of the year. I'll always have a soft spot for Master, but I think I'll hold out for seeing them live at some point as opposed to sitting at the edge of my seat for the next record.

Rating: 5.5/10

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Review; Trivium - Vengeance Falls

Track Listing:

1. Brave This Storm
2. Vengeance Falls
3. Strife
4. No Way To Heal
5. To Believe
6. At The End Of This War
7. Through Blood And Dirt And Bone
8. Villainy Thrives
9. Incineration: The Broken World
10. Wake (The End Is Nigh)

Trivium is one band that I have taken a great interest in since hearing their 2005 album 'Ascendancy'. Back then, Trivium were the band most tipped to hit the big leagues of the metal world. They were playing Ozzfest, Download Festival and supporting an array of bands including Machine Head and Fear Factory. However, the follow-up album 'The Crusade' was widely accepted to be a lesser record by far. It seemed to stunt the band's progress greatly, and even the sublimely intricate 'Shogun', released in 2008, didn't get the band back on quite the same upward trajectory that they deserved. Recent album, the less-thrash-more-metalcore 'In Waves' is commonly accepted to be the closest the band had gotten to the sound of the 'Ascendancy' album, but despite the standout songs 'In Waves', 'Watch The World Burn' and 'Black', something was missing, as far as I was concerned. It's now, with the unexpectedly David Draiman produced sixth album 'Vengeance Falls' that the collective eye of the metal community focuses on the Florida four-piece.

As soon as 'Brave This Storm' hits things into high gear, it's clear that the band have leaned more towards the thrash metal influences they've cited. Memorable riffs and catchy-as hell vocals combine to lay down a gauntlet to the listener. Trivium mean business, but it's more than usual. The title track continues this showcase well, with a chorus that I swear will be stuck in my head for decades. Lyrically it sounds like one motherfucker of a mission statement.

Matt Heafy's vocals have been a major talking point about this record. The vocal harmonies and impressive, improved range in his singing voice are clear and well displayed throughout the whole album, though there are some seriously low notes at the start of 'Wake (The End Is Nigh) that may take many people aback, myself included. There is something in the melodies and changes in notes used at several parts of the record that do make it obvious that the Disturbed frontman's vocal lessons have had a hell of an impact on Heafy's singing. Would I go as far to say that he's copying Draiman? No. He's got his own voice and he's used it now to better effect than ever.

The biggest thing about this record is the hooks. They're unreal. Some people may say that they're shamelessly hooky, but as far as I'm concerned; this is a band that now needs to reach that next level, and if they've set out to do that, they've done so remarkably well, but with a sense of originality and credibility. This feels like an evolution of Trivium's catalogue of music. This is not a shift in their sound. They haven't leapt away from their established sound. They haven't sold out. They're showing potential to headline much larger venues in future, and they're doing it on their own terms. (Unlike a certain other 2000's metal band has done recently! Don't worry, the A7X review is on it's way).

People said this about 'In Waves', as I previously mentioned, but I believe that due to the concise nature of tracks like 'Strife', 'No Way To Heal', and 'Villainy Thrives' that this record is the one that sees Trivium back on track, creatively. In a similar fashion to this year's Killswitch Engage album 'Disarm The Descent', 'Vengeance Falls' finds Trivium putting the mainstream metal scene to rights after all this time. Hopefully this will shift the scene away from the boring, trendy, dime-a-dozen bands like Bullet For My Valentine, Asking Alexandria and Black Veil Brides. Trivium are putting the hard work and the hunger back into metal. They're reminding us what makes good metal songs, impressive guitar solos and ultimately what makes for the kind of band that I reckon deserves to be headlining festivals in the not-too-distant future.


Friday, 11 October 2013

Review; Soulfly - Savages

Track Listing:

1. Bloodshed
2. Cannibal Holocaust
3. Fallen
4. Ayatollah Of Rock 'N' Rolla
5. Master Of Savagery
6. Spiral
7. This Is Violence
8. K.C.S.
9. El Comegente
10. Soulfliktion

Soulfly is no longer 'The band that Max Cavalera started after he left Sepultura'. Just wanted to clear that up right away. A band nine studio albums in and as consistently great as Soulfly deserve the same respect as any metal band of this age, if not more. This record marks the first Soulfly effort with Max's son Zyon Cavalera on full-time drumming duties, and it's a role he steps up to admirably. When it comes to the material itself, we know what is to be expected to a point; which is groove driven thrash/death metal with some South American tinges and tints here and there. This is delivered by the truckload, and there is also room for a few well-executed melodic guitar leads, those found in the sixth song 'Spiral' are personal favourites.

The vocal talents of Max Cavalera had never really waned over his career, but last year's 'Enslaved' saw him really dive back into more old-school death metal territory. On 'Savages' there are generous helpings of both death and thrash metal sensibilities. It's relieving to hear that he is still on good form. The venom is still there, and the conviction seethes from each song. While the riffs are never really the focal point on a Soulfly album, rather the band's whole sound seems to blend and storm together like an aural whirlwind, there are some very catchy riffs that would easily send a baying crowd into a trance of headbanging and stomping.

There are a few guest vocalists on this record, which is almost a given on a Soulfly album by this point! Most notably, Neil Fallon of Clutch delivers well on 'Ayatollah Of Rock 'N' Rolla' having written some of the lyrics himself, then later in the album, usual-guitarist Mitch Harris of Napalm Death fame belts out some rasping cries on 'K.C.S.', a song that also has some of the most infectious jungle beats I've heard on a Soulfly record.

Terry Date, who did the production for previous albums '3', 'Prophecy' and 'Dark Ages' as well as historic albums such as Pantera's 'Cowboys From Hell' and Deftones' 'Around The Fur', puts the band's sound across in a perfect fashion, and the impact of the percussion is massive throughout the fifty eight minute running time. It's clearly benefitted the band to go back to a tried-and-tested producer, and I personally wouldn't be disappointed if Date took on the next record too.

There's a great breakaway into tribal territory during penultimate track 'El Comegente', a track which also has some asshole-ripping death metal vocals as well as Max's trademark bark. It acts almost as an interlude before the album closer 'Soulfliktion' comes out swinging, with the main man delivering a brilliant chant-ready chorus in what is perhaps the album's best song altogether. Save the best for last and all that, eh?

Soulfly may not demand the same attention from the metal community and press that Sepultura did in the 90's, they may not be an all-conquering band, but if you choose to listen to this album, you may come to care less about all that and simply enjoy Soulfly for what it is; a great metal band featuring one of modern metal's most hardened road-dogs.