Monthly Archives: August 2008

Midheaven – The Human Abstract [Review]

Midheaven is the second full album from L.A. Based band The Human Abstract. The band released the album August 19 on Hopeless Records.

The Human Abstract Midheaven

To be quite honest, I had never really heard of this band until a friend suggested I review the album after I asked for suggestion.

I got the album, and feel entirely indifferent about it. The Human Abstract simply try to do too much with this album. The line between too much and not enough is a very fine one, and these guys simply disregarded that there was a line to being with. They decided when writing this that it would be a concept album, and when founding member and guitarist A.J. Minette left, things changed entirely.

Now to get down to business. The vocals on this album are absolutely incredible at times, but utter rubbish at others. The opening track of the album (“A Violent Strike”), being by far the best track in my opinion, most clearly shows the great capabilities of Nathan Ells. Sadly, however, this is the only track where he lets loose on the vocals. “Procession of the Fates” is similar in it’s vocal soundscape, but is quite clear that he pulls the reigns in from what he is capable of.

The guitar work. Oh, where to begin with this. I’ll say this first: never have I heard a more stereotypically erratic and mediocre sound. I could swear that I have heard everything on this album a million times before, and most times in a better way. Sure, they’re fast, who isn’t these days? Oh, sweeps? Everyone can do it, and most people do. If you want to become truly progressive, stop picking bits and pieces from stuff you have heard in rock and metal before, and find influence elsewhere. Now, normally I will not criticize a band for doing something that is not “new and exciting” but I will not hesitate to criticize a progressive band for not being “new and exciting”. The whole idea of being progressive is to push the boundaries, and really have your own unique style, this normally including something entirely new/different. All this album does is smash every different style they have been influenced end-to-end, and in a choppy way at that.

The real strength of this album is it’s ability to appear to a wide range of emotions and people with different tastes. As a person who enjoys a wide range of musical styles, I could appreciate the small things that work well in this album, such as the keyboard parts in “Metanoia”. The soundscape of this album really is impressive, and a bit too much at times. As with many avant-garde, progressive, and mathcore albums the skill of the musicians feels forced all too often. With the mathcore nature of the guitar parts that are used throughout the album this is almost inevitable, with mathcore being the fickle beast that it is.

All in all, I enjoyed the album because of the fronts it was able to deliver on, but it simply is not that good. Mediocre at best.

Track picks: “A Violent Strike” and “This World A Tomb”

Overall Score: 5/10 Devil horns

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All Shall Perish – Awaken The Dreamers [Review]

Awaken The Dreamers is the third studio release from All Shall Perish, a Deathcore band on Nuclear Blast records, hailing from Oakland, CA. The album’s release date was September 16, 2008.

All Shall Perish Awaken The Dreams

I didn’t really know what to expect coming into this album. The two previous All Shall Perish albums, Hate.Malice.Revenge and The Price of Existence, were straight up deathcore albums. I went to their myspace to check out the new tracks a while ago, and these were not ordinary deathcore tracks. They felt like a mix between All Shall Perish, Necrophagist, and Between The Buried and Me. There were some crazy riffs, a few crazy bass and guitar fills, and a whole bunch of other stuff that did not play a large part in their previous efforts. Upon listening to the whole album, only then did I realize that All Shall Perish really are trying to redefine their sound an image, and break down some walls – with force.

The first track on the album is a prefect example of what I am referring to. “When Life Meant More…” is backed to the brim and overflowing with new intensity that sounds very similar to that of Necrophagist or Between the Buried and Me. The technical shredding happens while the heavy parts lie underneath, and the song does not lose touch with what it’s supposed to be – brutal. It’s still got all the staggering rhythms and growling vocals, with little extra kick.

From there, the song becomes increasingly varied, some ranging more towards the old All Shall Perish, and some that stray away from the mold even further. The next song on the album, “Black Gold Reign” moves from the BTBAM and Necrophagist sort of sound to a more As I Lay Dying and In Flames sound. At about 1:50 in, there is even a power metal wail, which REALLY caught me off guard, but seemed very necessary. There is even an airy interlude for a few seconds, which would have never happened on other All Shall Perish albums.

But, enough comparison. This album really delivers in it’s own way. As much as certain parts of the album sound like someone else, it’s never enough to really give it much thought. Combing a huge amount of styles, they bring it all together in a neat little package. Quite little, at that: the album is only 36 minutes long.

The album does not pass as though it is only 36 minutes long, however. There are so many different things that happen throughout the album that it feels like it should exceed 50 minutes. The songs fit so perfectly together, and seem very lengthy at times toward the end of the album when the more airy drawn-out sections become more prevalent, and Story/Orem get into solo mode. All in all, this album is filled with very tastefully technical musicianship, something that really is under-appreciated in many cases. The sweeps, the weeping solos, the shredding, the chugging, it’s all used tastefully in almost all cases. On the opening track, there is a very significant amount of shredding, but is is lower in volume than the rhythm guitar, which is almost unheard of.

The vocals are also very well done on this album. They’re a good as ever and about the same as always; a couple instances where Hermida switches it up a bit when he adds in the power wail (and sometimes goes other directions with it) adds a small amount more dynamic than before. Also, Hermida’s enunciation is completely flawless. There are too many instances where a vocalist will forego enunciation for a lower or faster growl, but Hermida is completely uncompromising. The same goes for the bass and the drums – nothing new or overly exciting, aside from the fact that the production quality has been improved on these for this album (this is not to say they are not impressing, they just haven’t changed from the last two All Shall Perish Albums).

I thought long and hard about what I wanted to give this album for a score, and I really still rest undecided about it. Part of me wants to give this album a 9.5/10, but something seems wrong about that, but I can’t quite put my finger on it.

Track picks: “When Life Meant More” and “Awaken The Dreamers”

Overall score: 9.5/10 devil horns
Since I can’t think of any good reason not to give it this score other than the length of the album, I’ll go with my gut feeling. I strongly considered a ten, but with it’s “Colors” by BTBAM nature, it simply does not live up to that, which is a ten in my book.

Into Eternity – The Incurable Tragedy [Review]

The Incurable Tragedy is the fifth studio release from Canadian Progressive/Power/Melodic death metal band Into Eternity. The release dates are: August 20 in Europe and September 2 in the US/Canada.

Into Eternity the Incurable Tragedy

At 38 minutes and 52 seconds, being 12 songs long, one could not call this a long album by any stretch of the imagination (granted, it still beats punk and grindcore albums in length). The thing is, this album doesn’t need to feel longer. It has so much going on within it, 39 minutes is plenty.

First off, I want to discuss that this is another one of those “theme albums” that you have heard so much about. I must admit, I have a soft spot for theme albums, but I am always quite skeptical. Most theme albums turn out to be boing, cheesy, cliche, etc. There are but few theme albums that turn out great [Leviathan by Mastodon is a shining example of this, themed after Moby Dick]. Into Eternity’s newest album really is none of these. It is tough to think of a metal album as a theme album if it’s theme is death, disease, etc. as this album’s theme is supposed to be. Quoting an interview with blabbermouth.net, “The incurable Tragedy was inspired by the deaths of [Tim] Roth’s two best friends, brothers who succumbed to cancer within two months of one another.” While I am not trying to take away anything from the fact that this indeed is a theme album, it would really not be too far-fetched to say that this deals with pretty normal subject matter for the genre they are in.

The second thing to address, and easily the most noticeable, is the incredible musicianship on this album. As always, Into Eternity delivers on all fronts as far as performance goes. All those long years (about 11 years now) of constant touring has really paid off in this department for the band. Each performance only gets better. Roth’s guitar work is above and beyond, and the vocals, as always, are enormous. Arguably the best vocals in the business are found in Into Eternity’s music (check out Stu Block’s wail, and tell me it doesn’t blow you away – you won’t, unless you’re lying of course). The new addition to the overwhelming musicianship are the interludes found on this album that were in very short supply on previous efforts, these interludes being the “Incurable Tragedy” series. THese are very ballad-like songs that follow the same general melody, then the weepy guitar chimes in, followed by the big vocals. These interludes are the emotion that this album needs to keep the “theme” in tact. Overall, the instrumentation is over the top and out of control in most cases. They tug on the reigns here and there just a little to keep the whole thing from just plain running away from them.

The biggest weakness of this album is quite easily it’s lack of originality. As I have discussed in previous reviews, this can be a double-edged sword. It helps some bands while it hurts others [sellout v. classic, losing fame v. evolving/improving]. In this case, it hurts the album a little bit, because the sound that Into Eternity has always had is not very cohesive, and changed pace quite often, with the pieces of each song jutting out. Trying to put together anything with this band is like having only square blocks to put into only round holes. Because they have so many influences, and play in so many styles, it gets to be a little much at times, and the dramatic and fast switch of styles and sound certainly adds to the fact. I happen to enjoy what it is they do, but it is a point in which deserves heavy criticism and notice. It is very much a love/hate point of discussion.

Because of this style, it is really tough to create a very cohesive album with your less-than-cohesive songs. Think of it in the way that grindcore is. Grindcore is typically all songs built section by section, with no real chorus or repeated sections, just stacking riffs and breakdowns end to end until it is a series of stuff that the band thinks sounds good. In a less extreme way, that is what Into Eternity’s sound is like. Because of this, the first couple of listens are sort of tough until you get used to what is going on, but then it quickly grows on you. The first instance in which I heard Into Eternity, I simply had no words to describe what I had just experience, none good nor bad – I was utterly speechless and confounded, sonically and aurally assaulted. THe more I listened, though, the more I love it.

All in all, the album is great at what it is good at, and awful at what it is not good at – typical over-the-top album style.

Track picks: “Diagnosis Terminal” and “Prelude to Woe”

Overall Score: 5/10 devil horns

I suggest you give it a listen just to experience the pure sonic power and diversity that this album brings to the table. Overall, it’s nothing spectacular, but does provide moments of excellence. It’s worth a listen for the absolutely bonkers melodic vocals, but little else.

Twilight of the Thunder God – Amon Amarth [Review]

Twilight of the Thunder God is the seventh studio album by Swedish Melodic Death Metal giants Amon Amarth (I like to categorize them as the ever-popular Viking Metal genre). The set release date is September 30 here in North America, but is released in Sweden/Finland first on September 17.

Amon Amarth Twilight of the Thunder God

First off, I want to tell you that when I saw the album artwork, it kicked my ass. Then, when I got around to listening to the album it kicked my ass even harder.

The first track on the album, the title track, sets the pace wonderfully. It’s the same Amon Amarth riff we’ve heard a thousand times now, but it gets better every time. The drums are in full form, lots of pounding, driving rhythms – perfect for headbanging and hair-flailing. My neck still sort of hurts from rocking out too this song too hard. The thing is, the album does not get any worse from here on out. Most albums around these days (or what seems like it anyway) usually start off strong, then the tracks get a little weaker toward then end [e.g. All That Remains’ The Fall of Ideals – I loved the album, but the second half was lacking in comparison to the opening six tracks]. This album brutalizes you from start to finish. When it’s not brutalizing you, it’s making you feel like you want to wage war with something, or conquer some far off land – inspiring you for the next moment when it kicks in your face some more.

So, when hearing this album, the thought ‘Wow, this is just like every other Amon Amarth album!’ might very well pop into your head. Well, no one can fault you for that. They really haven’t changed their game for a long time, but why the hell would they need to? When you are this awesome, there is no point in changing. Instead, they took the Motörhead, AC/DC, etc. approach and just got really ridiculously good at what they do, and I think them for that. Each album of their last few releases has been better every time.

As far as the album production goes, it falls right in line with With Oden on Our Side, having a very unique, deep sound without being too muddy (slightly deeper this time around, though, and lsightly less booming/bass heavy). It is a little “distant” sounding, but I am almost positive it was meant that way. It gives a great feel to the album. Nothing is mixed to take command over anything, it’s not overly bass-heavy, or light and fluffy. The drums sound especially good on this album. By now, I think it would be fair to say that they really own their own sound, one in which provides great timbre to set the mood for the lyrics along with the pounding music that lies under the vocals. It is always an amazing feat to have as much going on in the same general tone range without having anything become buried.

After a few listens through, the only thing I can find about this album that is not near-perfect would be the fact that is does not stray too far at all from the Amon Amarth “thing”. Not a problem, but not a strength. People will argue either way, and I am pulling for an “Objection your honor, irrelevant” plea. No one would dare criticize the aforementioned bands for not changing their model, why point the finger at Amon Amarth? No one really praises the aforementioned bands for not changing, other than the “stayed true to their roots” ideal, which is neither here nor there.

An interesting fact about this album is that it is the first to feature guest musicians. The tracks “Twilight of the Thunder God”, “Guardians of Asgaard” and “Live For the Kill” all feature guest musicians. Before doing a small amount of research, I found out about the first two, since they are not very obvious. When I heard “Live For the Kill” however, I really assumed it was Apocalyptica, since they pretty much are the guest musicians for most metal tracks featuring cellos. It is a damn good thing, too. Those boys in Apocalyptica know their way around a cello, and in quite stellar metal fashion as well.

All in all, Twilight of the Thunder God is not much different than anything Amon Amarth has ever done, sans working with guest musicians, but it is simply better. Like an artisan honing their craft, they will only get better with time and practice.

Track picks: “Tattered Banners and Bloody Flags” and “Live for the Kill”

Overall score: 10/10 devil Horns

DragonForce – Ultra Beatdown [Review]

The infamous power metal sextet, DragonForce are back with their fourth studio album Ultra Beatdown. Released in Japan on August 20, 2008 and on August 26, 2008 globally.

Dragonforce Ultra Beatdown

First off, I want to say, Ultra Beatdown sounds an awfully like the three DragonForce albums before it. Hear me out, though. Regardless, there’s still a lot to say about this album.

While managing to keep their signature sound, the guys have found their way back to the glory days of their first album [Valley of the Damned]; one that was not an obvious attempt to showcase their musical prowess (well, not AS obvious – it’s still pretty obvious). I will say this, though. They actually seem to care more about the music as a whole than they do about the train of though ‘Man, that solo wasn’t awesome enough, let’s scrap this track’ or something similar. For Inhuman Rampage a lot of things sounded forced, and as though they traded some of the musicality of the album for faster, bigger, and more extreme solos (something I do not agree with). Whether or not this is true is unknown to me, but I am glad that that sound does not come through on Ultra Beatdown.

Also, I am glad they chose the title they did for this album. Most people scoff at it, but that’s fine. That’s what it’s about. DragonForce really is just a parody of power metal bands from back in the day – they sing of epic conquests, wail unconditionally, and have more blistering guitar work than you can shake a stick it. Not to mention the outrageous tempos that they always play at. If you disagree with the fact that they don’t take themselves seriously, just go see them live. It’s a great show, and you can tell that it’s all a big joke for them (a routine they’re quite good at by now). I’m not saying this to subtract from their legitimacy, but only to point out their motives. That is the reason I can enjoy DragonForce.

All in all, I really didn’t hear anything too special about the album, and it’s “typical DragonForce” – big, fast, ludicrous. There really is nothing to say about this album that hasn’t already been said about DragonForce already. That being said, it is overall the best album they have released yet. I wanted to go on some sort of epic conquest upon the end of my first listen through, much in the way you would after listening to a Rhapsody (now Rhapsody of Fire) album.

Track picks: “Reasons to Live” and “The Last Journey Home” [consequently, the two tracks that break the DragonForce mold of old the most]

Overall score: 8.5/10 devil horns

Slipknot – All Hope Is Gone [Review]

All Hope Is Gone is the fifth studio from Des Moines, Iowa band Slipknot. Release date is August 26, 2008 in North America.

Slipknot All Hope Is Gone

“It’s going to rip your face off,” Slipknot vocalist Corey Taylor tells Billboard.com with confidence. “I don’t think the world will be ready for this album.”

With confidence, I must say, he’s right. This is by far their most brutal album to date, and easily their most metal. They’re beginning to differentiate themselves from the rest of the dying “Nu Metal” breed.

One thing that seems to turn most metalheads off of Slipknot is their lack of: blast beats, blistering guitar work, and constant/extended double bass drum machine gun riffs. Well, guess what, guys, they’re here. Slipknot show off their technical skill and mettle with this album far more than ever before (excluding the masterpiece Mate.Feed.Kill.Repeat with the original lineup). Overall, the music has not changed in overall sound, it’s as brutal as ever, but they’ve added more “musical” elements. When I heard the first guitar solo on this album I was shocked to say the least. Slipknot with some fancy-pants guitar work? Hell, I never thought I would hear it, but it works, and works well.

There are people that would say that Joey Jordison is the best percussionist around. While this is obviously not true [see: Thomas Haake, Morgan Ågren, Neil Peart, etc.] he at least puts up a fantastic showing compared to previous efforts. More pounding on the kick drums, more polyrhythms, and some brutal breakdowns. He’s got a ways to go until he can show us he really is of the best, but still incredibly talented none-the-less. A fresh take with the new cymbal usage (not only Jordison, but the Fehn and Crahan as well) certainly does not help with the new and improved percussion section.

The songwriting hasn’t changed at all really from Vol. 3: (The Subliminal Verses). The lyrics have become slightly more mature, but not a whole lot. It is still dealing with very similar issues as in previous albums, but are now phrased in a more global, aware, mature manner. Aside from the new additions to their repertoire (the aforementioned guitar solos and drum work) the album sounds an awfully lot like Iowa with glimpses of things they used in their self titled release.

From song to song the mood swings quite dramatically. Ranging from brutal and angry to optimistic, it is far more open than anything Slipknot has done. Some examples of some outside-the-box thinking compared to the Slipknot of old would be the chorus to both “Wherein Lies Continue” and “Psychosocial”, both having very optimistic, positive sounds and messages, even while being imbedded in some of the most brutal stuff that Slipknot has ever produced.

The album is not very cohesive, but it works. For most albums, when it is not very cohesive it becomes a listening challenge. With All Hope Is Gone there is enough interest from song to song to keep you listening, and the jump from song to song can be fairly abrupt (building a lot of tension), which works with the feeling of the album. Towards the end of the album, you get the soft, ballad-like tune “Snuff” which is this album’s equivalent of “Vermillion Pt. 2” in my opinion. Following that track is “All Hope Is Gone”, which is a straight-up, balls-to-the-wall metal song. It pounds your face in beginning to end, and is a great final track for the album.

All in all, I really enjoyed the album, being a big fan of Slipknot before and felt that they would do well with more solos and machine-gun drumming. Admittedly, the album is not spectacular. It’s good, but not great. Any Slipknot fan of old should really dig it, and they will most likely gain a few new fans from it.

Track picks:
“All Hope Is Gone”
“Gematria (The Killing Name)”
“Sulfur”

Overall score = 7.5/10 devil horns

[EDIT]:

Throwdown – Venom & Tears [Review]

Venom & Tears is the fifth full-length release from California metal band Throwdown. The album was released August 7, 2007.

Throwndown Venom and Tears

Funny story about the album artwork, when they released the CD, all the booklets had two small holes punched where you see the bite marks on the girl’s neck. In fact, every other page in the booklet has a picture with bite marks, each of which lines up with the holes. Sure, it’s gimmicky, but it’s fresh, and I for one happen to like it.

Now, onto the actual album. I am very hesitant to say this, but when people say this album sounds like something from Pantera, they’re right. It’s take straight out of Dimebag, Phil, and the gang’s playbook. Obviously, it’ not as good as most of the Pantera stuff that people know, but it is better than their old, lesser known stuff.

The album begins with the first single from the album, “Holy Roller” wish starts of with a fast, brutal thrash guitar part, something straight out of the 80’s, then you hear the first glimpse of the “Pantera sound” from the guys. The vocals are spot on for a Phil Anselmo vocal track. sans the incredible wailing that Phil could once do (sadly, he is now incapable of such awesomeness). The problem I have with the track, though, is the TERRIBLE mastering that was done to it. Directly from the CD it has avery muddy, bass-heavy sound.The one song that seemed to be the exception of poor mixing, however, was “I, Suicide”. It was still very bass-heavy, but not muddy. The highs from the symbols were very crisp, unlike all the other songs, as was the vocals. It was quite refreshing, pairing that with the fun use of stereo on the track. During the chorus, the lyrics are “I, suicide” and each word is on a different channel (and track, for added effect). VERY cool.

Anyway, the mixing seemed to be a pretty consistent problem throughout the album, although it was at it’s worst during “Holy Roller”. The latter half of the album has considerably better mastering, but it is still quite bad compared to anything reasonable. The other qualities of the sound are pretty good, though. The guitar and vocals especially. The timbres work very well together, and sound very brutal and brash – just right for a thrash metal album.

The songwriting on this album is quite, shall I say, formulaic? There are no songs that really deviate from they typical thrash metal song style: raw riffage, pounding rhythms, growling verses, powerful choruses, and some solos here and there when appropriate. This is not a problem, however. True thrash metal albums these days a few and far between.

To be honest, I really didn’t want to like this album. It sounded like crap from the beginning, and just pissed me off. Then a thought occurred ‘Wow, this album really did it’s job.’ It’s fast, it’s angry, it’s brutal, it’s balls to the wall, it’s in your face, it’s [insert metal cliché here], etc. I was once told something that is very much in effect for this album: “The closer something comes to perfection, the more glaringly obvious it’s imperfections become.” I can’t remember where I heard it, but it’s true. There are so many things that this album does right, it’s really obvious where it went wrong.

Track picks: “Holy Roller” and “Godspeed”

Overall score: 8/10 devil horns