Sunday, 31 May 2015

Article; Concerning the New Wave Of American Metal and Metalcore

Many of us will no doubt remember when the term New Wave Of American Metal first began being used, when it was a big deal. Remember when Killswitch Engage were seemingly the most popular band on the planet, When Shadows Fall sounded vital and fresh, or when Trivium were bound to become the new Metallica? If so; I imagine any people reading this will notice, as I have, the difference between the feel of the Metal scene back in the early 2000's to what it is today.

It goes without saying that the NWOAM signalled it's arrival in the early 90's with bands like Pantera, Machine Head, System Of A Down and even Korn, but what I intend to focus on is the point of explosion, when the ones that these bands inspired started to take flight.
It was around 2002 that the scene got sick and tired of Nu-Metal. It was time for a cultural shift. Some would say it was time for a more traditional Metal sound to take the helm. At this same time, the scene in America had turned into a vast melting pot of different influences and sounds; the Pantera-inspired barbarism of Lamb Of God, Hatebreed's Metallic Hardcore savagery, Mastodon's Progressive Metal meets Sludge Metal Frankenstein, and of course the Swedish Death Metal meets American hardcore sound of Killswitch Engage, who inadvertently set down the template for near a decade's worth of music. Though, breakthrough Nu-Metal and Hard Alternative bands such as Linkin Park, Slipknot and Deftones can be seen as major players in influencing the next wave of bands in the NWOAM and Metalcore scenes.

When it comes to the bands that followed the aforementioned groups, the list is vast, and in some cases may seem obvious. I can only list them as such; Shadows Fall, 36 Crazyfists, Atreyu, Avenged Sevenfold, All That Remains, Bleeding Through, As I Lay Dying, Darkest Hour, DevilDriver, Trivium, Five Finger Death Punch and Unearth all came forward in the following years, bulking up the NWOAM movement.
In the UK, bands such as Bullet For My Valentine, Asking Alexandria, Bring Me The Horizon, Devil Sold His Soul, While She Sleeps, Bury Tomorrow, Bleed From Within, Veil Of Maya, Rise To Remain and Glamour Of The Kill can be counted among the Metalcore movement. Of course, there are many other countries that have contributed bands, such as Parkway Drive from Australia and The Agonist from Canada. Needless to say, the number of bands speak volumes for the genre's popularity over time.

However; there is a discussion point at hand - has the Metalcore genre ran its course artistically, despite it's prominence?

Many may read that question and think "That's stupid, how can a genre be losing relevance if it's still popular?". While that point makes sense on the surface, when we look deeper, there is a case for the downfall of the genre.
Look to the eighties; Glam Metal was one of the most popular musical genres of the day, with bands like Van Halen, Skid Row, Motley Crue and Poison selling out arenas. Then, after several other bands tried their hand at surfing the Glam Metal wave, such as Cinderella, Ratt, Warrant, Dokken, Winger and Vixen, the scene took a drastic downturn as far as fan interest comes. Less tickets and records sold, less originality and less credibility with each coming band spelled an end of Glam's time as the dominant genre. As metal fans, we look at this as fact. It was time for something new, which we accept to be 90s Grunge. At the same time, on the heavier side of metal, Thrash Metal was starting to give way to primitive Death Metal and Black Metal as people sought something more original and heavy. Fast forward to the 2000s, and Grunge gave way to Nu-Metal, then Nu-Metal gave way to the NWOAM and Metalcore.

The pattern is clear; cultural shifts always happen, and the Metal culture is not immune to this pattern at all.

Recently, Metalcore has been fighting with genre's such as Djent for prominence and hype, as well as fast-rising underground Extreme Metal bands, such as Behemoth, Watain, Enslaved, Amon Amarth, Arch Enemy, Bloodbath, Kataklysm and Opeth. There are also increasing numbers of reunited and resurging bands that are taking precedence in the eye of the Metal world; Carcass, At The Gates, Sanctuary, Agnostic Front, Coal Chamber, Judas Priest, Nightwish, Marilyn Manson, Venom and King Diamond among many others who are constantly in the limelight at the moment. With all this, it certainly seems like Metalcore is getting left behind slightly.

Strictly speaking, Metal is not solely to blame. Rock is producing a number of fast-growing dominant bands, such as Halestorm, Alter Bridge, Black Stone Cherry, Blues Pills, Black Star Riders, Shinedown, The Darkness and others. There is still a great demand among fans of heavy music to hear the classic Rock and Hard Rock sounds, so the bands that are performing this style of music well are gaining and gaining in momentum. Arguably to become future arena or festival headlining acts.

Of course, the earlier point of dwindling artistic merit within the Metalcore sub-genre can be seen as a matter of opinion (As can everything else, where music is concerned) but there is a very clear trend within the scene as far as the way that new and rising Metalcore bands are portrayed, both by themselves and by the press, particularly the UK press.

Image is a difficult word in Metal that many people; writers, artists, promoters, journalists and fans alike will dance around in an awkward, bumbling way. Setting the record straight; many Metal bands have cultivated interest through imagery since Metal's inception. Be it America's KISS with their characters, make-up and onstage antics, to Venom's caricature Satanism, Iron Maiden's mascot Eddie featuring on their lavish artwork and stage sets, the smoke-and-haze occultism of bands like Electric Wizard, the macho/camp tongue-in-cheek presentation of Manowar, Slipknot's masks and much-documented insanity during their live shows, the dark destructive misanthropy of modern Black Metal bands such as Gorgoroth, or the faux-religious theatricality of Ghost. All of those bands give explanations for their imagery, as do countless others, but the point still stands that the visual aspect is part of the attraction, part of the overall experience and fabric of a band. Many fans and bands may sneer or shrug at the idea, but it is indisputable.

Now, when Metalcore first came to light most bands took on no readily identifiable imagery, similarly to the way that bands from the NWOBHM days or the Thrash and Death Metal scenes. These were musicians who took to denim and leather, head banging and playing their instruments in a no-nonsense manner, keeping a very transparent connection between themselves and the fans. To coin a cliché; the music did the talking. Fast forward to the present day, and you'll find the newer breed of Metalcore bands are taking on an arguably shallow image that can be likened to both the Emo bands of the early 2000's or the Glam Metal bands.
Obviously, one could say it is not for me, or anybody else to judge a band for this approach, but when you take into account the very formulaic verse-chorus-breakdown structure of the music, alongside which you can often find seemingly obligatory ballads, not to mention the overused lyrical themes, which come across as simply insincere copycatting of bands that came before, it's very easy to tire of these new bands.

Not to mention that it's only every few months that you see a new band coming up, being touted as the 'New hope for Metalcore'. This is hugely infuriating, from my own standpoint. You see the same phrases every time; "The heaviness is heavier, the melodic parts are more melodic", "This band is following in the footsteps of (Insert Metalcore band name here)" and "It's Metalcore with a difference", yet upon closer inspection of the music on offer, you'll hear the same formula nine times out of ten. With this, bands like Black Veil Brides, Escape The Fate, Falling In Reverse, Bleed From Within, We Came As Romans and many others now come across as hollow, with a short half-life.

Remember what it was that took the feet out from under Glam Metal and the others?

I will end this piece by stating an obvious rebuttal. Glam Metal bands didn't die off completely; Motley Crue made it through to now retire on their own terms, Twisted Sister carried on respectably, even Ratt and the like have been party to some shows, playing old classics to those still faithful, even though they do not gain momentum again.
The same applies for Nu-Metal; Coal Chamber recently released a well-received new record, Limp Bizkit still draw crowds at festivals, KoRn still carry on at a steady pace and Slipknot are one of the biggest bands on the planet! (Though how much they really ever counted strictly as Nu-Metal is still a topic of debate to this day, and for the record I stand on the side that says they are not Nu-Metal).

So in the end, where does that fact leave Metalcore and the NWOAM scene that had a large hand in spawning it? Simply; we are at the point in the genre's lifeline where the value of the bands involved is being truly determined. Avenged Sevenfold are not arena headliners who have scaled such heights as headlining Download Festival, among others. (Arguably, they've shed the Metalcore tag, but they came from that scene, so they are accountable in this topic of conversation). Killswitch Engage still pack venues with recently returned singer Jesse Leach. Lamb Of God stand high in the echelons of Metal, Five Finger Death Punch are hot on the heels of Avenged Sevenfold, Trivium remain greatly respected and prominent.
On the other side, Bullet For My Valentine's future is debatably uncertain, Bring Me The Horizon have shown signs that they will pursue other territories that could be likened to bands like Linkin Park (Listen to 'Sempiternal' or their recent-ish single for evidence to the possibility), and even Atreyu have reformed to release a new record.
What this shows is that the bands of value and commendable credibility, regardless of individual opinion, are maintaining their fan base and surviving these tumultuous times. That itself is something that deserves recognition and respect. Even some of the smaller bands like Glamour Of The Kill may well have careers of some description, even if it is to play small clubs and the like. As long as we stop hearing claims that they will take over the Metal world and change the landscape, then we're fine.

And those bands that have fallen may well return someday, the same way that the likes of Coal Chamber, Carcass, System Of A Down, Sanctuary, At The Gates, King Diamond and other bands have done. It may well happen at a time when the Metal world cries out for the good ol' days. Maybe a band will come out someday to revive this struggling animal into better health. If that happens, I'll be the first one to hand out commendations. Until then, I say the ball is in everybody's court to choose whether or not to look for something a little fresher to focus upon.

Saturday, 30 May 2015

Album Review; Arcturus - Arcturian

Track Listing:

1. The Arcturian Sign
2. Crashland
3. Angst
4. Warp
5. Game Over
6. Demon
7. Pale
8. The Journey
9. Archer
10. Bane

Somewhat to my detriment, this is my first experience of the band Arcturus. After seeing the line-up, which includes former Dimmu Borgir member ICS Vortex and Mayhem drumming supremo Hellhammer alongside ex-Ulver pianist and ex-Mortem guitarist Sverd, this musical project became a huge curiosity for me. Not least out of a love for ICS Vortex's wonderful singing style and melodic sensibilities.

'The Arcturian Sign' opens with all sorts of electronic sounds that took me aback to say the least, but when Hellhammer's drumming entered the mix, followed by orchestral keyboards and the understated but effective guitar riffs, I could tell that this record was going to travel far through the progressive hyperspace of metal's universe. Lyrically, it seems to draw a parallel between artistic inspiration and existential spirituality. All in all, an interesting and hard-hitting first impression.

Next, in comes 'Crashland', which easily stands as one of the most beautiful songs I have heard thus far this year. Vortex uses his voice to fabulous effect throughout this sublime and beautiful slice of hope that sweeps epically through a vast soundscape that bands such as Kamelot and Nightwish would murder for. 'Angst' then goes into a darker direction, with more Black Metal extremity sifting through the cracks, all the while maintaining those luscious atmospherics and orchestrations. 'Warp' is space-age Progressive Metal that takes some more unexpected twists and turns on this already impressive journey.

It seems by this point that every song on this record has it's own flavour and approach, showing this group of musicians to be nothing if not eccentrically eclectic in their musical imaginations. 'Game Over' is an impressive song, which sails and shreds its way through what seems to be a lyrical ode to drug-related suicide. It's as bare-bones as Arcturus seem to get, and is also chillingly affecting. 'Demon' on the other hand is an almost predominantly electronic affair which may leave purists reeling, but Arcturus clearly care not for rules. If you haven't figured this out by now, then you've not really been paying attention.

It's unreal how any band could manage to make such a disparate set of sounds and feelings meld together into a cohesive entity, but Arcturus have managed with this album, and they have done so with no shortage of aplomb. I can really say nothing much more except that in order to believe this album, you simply HAVE to experience it. It's a knock-out exhibit for the case in favour of musical originality, an achievement of sheer alchemical nature, and if it doesn't end up on the albums-of-the-year lists for 2015, I'll be shocked and stunned.

Rating: 9.5/10

Album Review; Coal Chamber - Rivals

Track Listing:

1. I.O.U. Nothing
2. Bad Blood Between Us
3. Light In The Shadows
4. Suffer In Silence
5. The Bridges You Burn
6. Orion
7. Another Nail In The Coffin
8. Rivals
9. Wait
10. Dumpster Dive
11. Over My Head
12. Fade Away (Karma Never Forgets)
13. Empty Handed

Nu-Metal has threatened to make a return of sorts over the last few years. Between KoRn getting back on track, Linkin Park releasing a heavier album (ahem!), bands like King 810, Escape The Fate and In This Moment putting Nu-Metal influences into their music, then you have tours and releases that have all hinted at the 2000's sub-genre rising again. However, it's never truly materialised. One could speculate at many reasons for this, including the obvious reason that a genre like Nu-Metal could never hit those lofty heights twice, or the fact that Limp Bizkit are irritating people more now than back in the day.

All that being said; Coal Chamber's reunion shows between 2011 and 2013 took everybody by surprise. Considering the sheer implosion that famously destroyed the band back in 2003, and the subsequent success of Dez Fafara's post-Coal Chamber band Devildriver, one would never have imagined any chance (or need) for Coal Chamber to reunite. Let alone release new music. Lo and behold, that's exactly what has happened.

The minute you press play, you're probably preparing to be transported back to the year 1997. Well, you'd be half right. The bullish rock riff of 'I.O.U. Nothing' has all the in-your-face, simplistic aggression of the Nu-Metal of yore, but lyrically, many moments on the album such as 'Bad Blood Between Us' spit a kind of venom that sounds like a sincere casting off of demons. Be they the demons that led to the original split-up of the band or a fuck-you aimed at those who doubt Coal Chamber's return, among other possibilities, it's up to the listener to decide. There are also tracks aimed at the corrupt ('Light In The Shadows'), past relationships ('The Bridges You Burn') and bitter betrayals ('Rivals'). Dez Fafara's voice has always been an effective conduit for rage, and on this record he proves this point once again.

One song that proves Coal Chamber are not here to simply relive old glories is 'Suffer In Silence', which is a creep-show of the highest and best order. Given an industrial difference with the help of guest co-vocalist, Ministry main man Al Jourgensen, it shows that this industrial element suits Coal Chamber down to the ground. It would be interesting to see if they choose to indulge in this new territory at some point in the future.

Musically, the album does occasionally flurry off into impressive areas, but the one big problem that holds this album back is the repetition in the tempos, beats and overall sound. Granted; Nu-Metal has never been known to be particularly varied or adventurous in its sonic capabilities, but 'Rivals', while effective as a turn-your-brain-off attack of heavy music, does serve to remind you why this genre faded out in the end. The album flows fine, but without any significant peaks or troughs. Instead of a rollercoaster ride, it is more like taking a boat out on a lake; steady, linear and with all possible directions in clear sight, without a need for much urgency. Some may feel that it outstays its welcome a bit; there is maybe one or two tracks too many. 'Dumpster Dive' seems particularly pointless, as it only stalls the aforementioned steady pace of the record, and doesn't really serve to lead into the following track.

Those criticisms aside, this is effective for what it is. There are moments of joyous vitriol on this record that are going to effectively induce mosh pits and a whole lot of jumping around at the band's shows. For some, that may well be enough, especially after a drink. Though there will obviously be the people out there looking for something more challenging, but this album clearly carries the purpose of simply enjoying yourself as you raise middle fingers and get shit off your chest.

Rating: 7/10

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Album Review; Tribulation - The Children Of The Night

Tribulation - The Children of the Night

Track Listing:

1. Strange Gateways Beckon
2. Melancholia
3. In The Dreams Of The Dead
4. Winds
5. Själaflykt
6. The Motherhood Of God
7. Strains Of Horror
8. Holy Libations
9. Cauda Pavonis
10. Music From The Other

I face a problem when I approach Tribulation's new release, and that problem may take some explaining. You see, everywhere you look (at least, if you're only paying attention to the press) you will see waves upon waves of Occult Rock bands, Psychedelic Doom Metal Bands, Sludge Doom Metal bands, Death Doom Metal bands, Blackened Doom Metal bands, Doom Rock bands...etc. It's unescapable at the moment, and the bizarre thing for me is that there are a handful of these bands that stand out from this ridiculous, 70s-dressed crowd. For all the talk of the uncertainty in metal's future, everybody is constantly looking backwards.
Now, Tribulation stood originally as a sort of Death Metal band, and have what appears to be a respectably received back-catalogue of two albums. 2013's 'The Formulas of Death' saw the band make a slight sideways step out of the extreme territories that they inhabited, in lieu of scattered classic rock, progressive and blues influences. The album was, as stated, well received, though no doubt some fans turned tail instantly. However much people demonise those who they perceive as 'closed-minded' when it comes to a band's musical evolution, the issue has started to become rather apparent.

New record 'The Children Of The Night' has been instantly hit with utmost critical acclaim, and fair play to Tribulation for it. As it happens, it is a very well written record, the music flows very well, even if the vocals sometimes stick out from the much lighter music like a sore thumb. Take any track from the record; 'Winds' for example; musically, it comes from that same stomping ground of Blue Oyster Cult, Black Sabbath, there are elements of The Doors in some of the melodies, but all transfused with the Dissection-like Swedish Extreme Metal aesthetic. The band cites post-Blaze Bailey Iron Maiden as a big influence, and the unafraid attitude that the compositional figureheads have taken in structuring these songs clearly shows through every track.

However, the issues come through between the cracks. Listen to that production quality and tell me they aren't trying to hark back to the 70s. Y'know; like Electric Wizard, Blood Ceremony, Saturnalia Temple, Jess And The Ancient Ones...and all the other occult based, doom laden bands coming out of the woodwork. A bizarrely well timed move on behalf of Tribulation, is it not? Let us be honest, this could easily whiff of contrivance; this band has slowed everything right down. Search for a blastbeat all you want, you wont find it. You would have before, on 'The Horror'.

However, look for ethereally subtle clean guitars and you'll overflow with them, look for reverb-doused drums and 70s-type guitar riffs, they are in every song. Again, look to every band citing the occult as a spiritual guide for their recorded and live so-called 'rituals' and you will find the same ingredients. The thing that you might not find in a lot of the other bands is originality and staying power. Do Tribulation differ on this album? Only time will tell, but I would be lying if I said this album was not well crafted and enjoyable. What I will remain unsure of is how honest it truly is, so this may stand as something of a 'guilty pleasure' for me. (And I do despise that phrase).

I will close this half-review, half state-of-the-union-address by simply urging people to remain open to all walks of metal. Mikael Akerfeldt and many others may have you believe that the likes of Death Metal, Black Metal or other Extreme Metal subgenres are all but out of ideas and quality, but if you take your own time to look around, instead of waiting for the press to drop bands on your laps, you will find a vast wealth of new bands with an axe to grind. By all means, stay open to this vast tsunami of Occult/Doom Metal/Rock that's not yet subsided. My own personal taste puts me off slightly, but I still maintain open ears in case there is a band to my liking that gets through the net of modern-day cheese. Tribulation may just be that band, I'll let you know after seeing them at Hellfest. For now, myself and 'The Children Of The Night' will maintain an uneasy friendship.

Rating: 7.5/10