Category Archives: CD reviews

Mushroomhead – Beautiful Stories for Ugly Children [Review]

Beautiful Stories for Ugly Children is the seventh studio album from Ohioan nu metal troop Mushroomhead. Released on the behemoth Megaforce Records on September 28, 2010.

mushroomhead beautiful stories for ugly children

Back when I was a wee lad in middle school, I was what you might call a “fan” of Nu Metal, which included bands like Mushroomhead, Korn, etc. As my tastes grew from Nu Metal, Mushroomhead was one of the few bands I would still put on from time to time. “Solitaire Unraveling” remains one of the coolest songs to come out of the nu metal era. Other songs, such as “Bwomp,” also had their own unique charm (though, may have featured some cliché rap vocals courtesy of J Mann). Come 2010, and Mushroomhead seem to have misplaced their “creative” and “interesting” genes, and have come out with a record that’s almost entirely devoid of life.

There are glimpses of things that made Mushroomhead an interesting band littered about Beautiful Stories for Ugly Children, but seemingly none of these ideas are explored to their full extent. Instead, these great ideas are pushed aside for the increasingly stale chug riffs and monotone shouts from Jeffrey Nothing. The swooning and creepy cadence in Jeffrey Nothing’s voice is all but gone. He certainly hits his notes, has decent power behind his voice, and has varied his vocal style a bit – all good things, but they don’t quite make up for the missing element from his older style.

The second element that’s really missing on Beautiful Stories for Ugly Children are guitar riffs and grooves. Even up through Savior Sorrow there was some solid guitar work from the Mushroomhead camp, at the very least, guitar work that could hold your attention. There’s a solo in “Your Demise” but it feels a bit forced and out of place. Right after that you get “Darker Days” which provides the first real look at a riff on the album – and it’s not a particularly promising one.

All in all, this album feels and sounds like a shell of what the band once was. While I often welcome evolution as a band, it’s hard to approve of it when it removes the most interesting parts of a band’s style. Die hard fans may still like this record, but for anyone with less than an obsessive love for the band should look elsewhere. It would be hard to believe that this album was worked on for the entire four years since Savior Sorrow was released.

Track picks: “Burn Bridges” and “Harvest the Garden”

Overall score: 3/10 guys in masks

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Rhapsody of Fire – The Frozen Tears of Angels [Review]

Rhapsody of Fire are a band who have not missed a beat since releasing their first album back in 1997, and The Frozen Tears of Angels is no different. Released April 30, 2010 via Nuclear Blast, it is the band’s eighth full-length album.

Rhapsody the Frozen Tears of Angels

Rhapsody of Fire have had an incredibly consistent and productive career over the last thirteen years, even still The Frozen Tears of Angels is certainly their best release in a decade. Technically the third installment of the The Dark Secret Saga (which started with Symphony of Enchanted Lands II: The Dark Secret, which still doesn’t make sense to me). This time however, the album is fueled more by riffs than big orchestral parts, something a lot different than their two previous albums. It also once again features the legendary Christopher Lee doing narration, a welcome addition to any epic power metal album.

Where this album shines, however, is in the production and mastering. All of the guitar tones are incredible, and mesh really well with the orchestral parts. Though the orchestral parts are heavily compressed sometimes, it never becomes overwhelmingly so. I strongly prefer the production on this album to Triumph or Agony, as having the 70-piece chorus/orchestra play such a prominent role in the mix took away from the “metal” aspect of the album. Triumph or Agony was sometimes overly cluttered, but on The Frozen Tears of Angels everything has ample space to breathe in the mix (you can even clearly hear the bass lines in most songs).

And the riffs, dear God the riffs. They are wonderful. The guitar work on this album is the best that Rhapsody of Fire has ever featured on an album. They’ve made a transition from the Trans-Siberian Orchestra styled guitars from their early albums to more of a pure speed metal style similar to that of Blind Guardian. This is known almost immediately by the fierce beginning of the song “Sea of Fate” – as well as other instances on the album. There isn’t a single bad guitar part of the album, every riff and solo is good and they all fit really well in the grand scheme of things. Even in the song “Labyrinth of Madness” where it’s just guitar wankery for the entire four minutes, it’s still a wonderful closing note for the album.

Track picks: “Reign of Terror” and “Crystal Moonlight”

Overall score: 9 out of 10 wizard staffs

The Tony Danza Tapdance Extravaganza – Danza III: A Series of Unfortunate Events [review]

Danza III: A Series of Unfortunate Events is the third full-length release from Tennessee-based The Tony Danza Tapdance Extravaganza, and was released on Black Market Activities on July 6, 2010.
TDTDE Danza III

It’s hard to imagine a band that goes by the name of The Tony Danza Tapdance Extravaganza would make ordinary music. Luckily, TDTDE push the envelope. Straight out of the heart of Tennessee, the band has created a unique signature sound using grindcore grooves, deathcore breakdowns, face grinding guitar riffs and hokey song topics—all of which are in full force on Danza III: A Series of Unfortunate Events.

If you’ve heard any Danza songs from their last album, Danza II: Electric Boogaloo, you will experience a similarly visceral assault with Danza III. In addition to the chaotic writing on the album, the production and soundscape really brings the beast to life. Every single bass drum hit done by Mike Bradley feels like a kick to the chest, every snare shot sounds like a rifle, it’s tough to keep your heart rate low. Combine that with the shrill, angular guitar parts played by Josh Travis and the raucous bellows of Jessie Freeland, and you’ve captured the essence of rage and adrenaline in audio form.

The lyrics on the album are based on unfortunate events (whether political, social, personal or otherwise) and the musical mood of the album appropriately corresponds. TDTDE do not plead their case with Danza III, there is no pussy-footing about. Instead, they impose their will with such vehemence and force even the most iron-willed of people have no choice but to succumb. From song to song, the listener experiences an aural bludgeoning until finally, when the album has come to a close, the listener feels like they have truly been victim of some sort of unfortunate event. The Tony Danza Tapdance Extravaganza have truly transcended any box they could have been placed in, and created what will surely be one of the most chaotic and interesting listening experiences of 2010.

Track picks: “12.21.12” and “A Trail of Tears” (though truthfully, every track on this album is single-worthy)

Overall score: 10 out of 10 devil horns

If you’re looking to be a responsible music consumer and purchase the album, check it out at the Black Market Activities webstore or on iTunes.

Whitechapel – A New Era of Corruption [Review]

A New Era of Correuption is the latest release from Tennessean deathcore troop Whitechapel that was released on Metal Blade June 8, 2010.

Whitechapel A New Era of Corruption

I would be lying if I told you that this album featured anything that is completely new for Whitechapel. That being said, this album is still drastically different from the band’s two previous efforts. From the very beginning of the album, the feel and textures of the sound are much different than the all-too-familiar sound of The Somatic Defilement and This Is Exile. A New Era of Corruption finally sounds like the band is making use of the fact they have three guitarists, rather than having three people playing the same riff simultaneously in nearly every song. There are a lot of solid guitar harmonies throughout the album, something that wasn’t used much outside of breakdowns on This Is Exile.

The next huge step Whitechapel took for this album was switching up some of the songwriting and breakdowns they used. While not overly boring, This Is Exile didn’t have a lot of variation amongst songs, but A New Era of Corruption seems pretty fresh from song to song. In addition to the songs being a bit more varied, there are also a multitude of texture and mood changes – something else not found in previous efforts. No song demonstrates this better than “Reprogrammed to Hate,” a song that isn’t simply slams and guttural vocals.

I should make it very clear that I’m not stating that A New Era of Corruption is vastly different than This Is Exile, because it’s not. There are a few tweaks made to the Whitechapel formula, such as multiple guest vocals from The Acacia Strain’s Vincent Bennett, but all of the things found on This Is Exile and The Somatic Defilement are still ever-present.

The only real complaint I have about this album is that it seems to be separated between a couple really killer songs and some other filler material. The album can be somewhat boring on the songs that seem to be the more obvious examples in which the three Whitechapel guitarists get into minor second “chug chug” mode the most. The first few tracks on the album are easily the most boring, but the album comes alive at track four with “Reprogrammed to Hate” when we finally see what these guys can do.

If you liked Whitechapel before; or just want some heavy-as-hell beatdowns with some interesting guitar harmonies, tempo changes, and solos here and there; this might be an album for you. An album that showed glimpses of maturity and progression in the band’s sound, but one that shows they’ve still got a bit more refining and growing as a band to go.

Track Picks:

“End of Flesh” and “A Prayer of Mockery”

Score:

6/10 devil horns

Razormaze – Miseries [Review]

Now, I don’t want to make it a habit to review EPs of bands all the time, but I’ve made an exception due to a special request. So, let’s talk about Boston-based Razormaze‘s new (free!) EP Miseries. The EP was released unto the word on April 27th through the band’s Bandcamp page.

Miseries by Razormaze

So, I’ve been listening to these guys a lot, including seeing them multiple times live, since before their first full-length, The True Speed of Steel (which I reviewed) back in ’09. Needless to say, I was quite surprised when I heard Miseries. Where The True Speed of Steel was a bit silly and funny at times, there’s little fun to be had with this EP. It’s foot-to-the-throat for all three songs, which is both good and bad. The most endearing part of Razormaze’s first full-length was how fun it was, which at times overshadowed the over-the-top attitude of the band members. It’s nice to know, however, that the guys can make music that’s more serious, though (which helps them avoid being treated like band who rely on schtick to be successful).

In terms of the music and production, though, it’s another stretch in the right direction for Razormaze. It’s still full of catchy riffs and melody lines everywhere, and the guitar solos just keep improving. A lot of people criticized Alex Citrone’s vocals on The True Speed of Steel (I always thought they were great), and he’s stepped up his game as well. The only real downside I can see to the new stuff is that they’ve started to wander away from their very unique brand of thrash in favor of a less original and more traditional thrash sound (which, if you think about it, might not even be a negative).

Regardless, Miseries does just what a good EP should do – shows promise of forthcoming new material and gets the mouths of ravenous fans watering.

Since there’s only three tracks, I’m not going to give the EP a rating or make track selections, but I’ll say it’s definitely worth checking out. You can grab a copy for free from the band’s Bandcamp page in just about any format you like.

Annotations of an Autopsy – The Reign of Darkness [Review]

The Reign of Darkness is the second album from the English quintet Annotations of an Autopsy, a followup to 2008’s Before the Throne of Infection, and is released on Nuclear Blast records.

Among the clutter of the various metal sub-genres there lies a nice niche of bands that are a cross between deathcore and grindcore – no band embodies this better than Annotations of an Autopsy. This is known almost immediately after beginning the album when the first instrument you hear are the drums – a gut busting fill followed but a simple blast beat – then the rest of the troops fall into place. The grinding guitars and thick raspy voice follow behind the drums, and it sounds as though you’ve got a brutal death metal album on your hands. Then the tempo change, straight into the first beatdown of the album.

After you’re about three minutes into the album, you have pretty much heard the entire arsenal this band employs – the good news is that the limited arsenal does not hold the band back. All of the breakdowns are varied, the riffs never gets stale, and the drums are on point. By far the biggest letdown of this album are the vocals and lyrics. While Steve Regan’s (aka “Sewer Mouth”) enunciation is pretty phenomenal at times, he always sounds as though he has a mouth full of jello, or is simply gargling into the microphone. Every syllable of every word on this album sounds almost identical, and it becomes very repetitive and annoying.

Simplicity lends itself all to often to this style of music in terms of guitar work, but that is something Annotations of an Autopsy have decided isn’t really the best strategy to keep a listener’s attention. At times the guitar parts are very simple (see many of the verses), but when it is time for the guitars to step it up, the do so in a big way. Solos are not often a huge part of the more brutal metal styles, but this album has a few very tasteful and unique guitar licks and some very groovy riffs.

When taken as a whole, The Reign of Darkness is a pretty standard drag-you-through-the-mud deathcore/grindcore album that is not about taking prisoners or breaking boundaries. It’s a very humble album that knows what it does, what it wants, and how it’s going to do it. A solid second album from a band who put out an embarrassingly bad first album, something that leads me to believe this band has a very promising future.

Song picks: “Catastrophic Hybridization” and “Portrait of Souls”

Overall score: 7.5 out of 10 devil horns

From Exile – Monolith [Review]

From the heart of the south, Atlanta metal band From Exile are one of the few bands out there that refuse to be pigeonholed. Self dubbed as “progressive thrash metal” they truly transcend that, touching nearly every style of melodic metal out there on Monolith, the band’s second full length album. Currently, From Exile is only comprised of two members, and the band is without a label.

From Exile Monolith

Instantaneously when I began playing Monument I knew I was onto something interesting. Upon the first guitar chord, my only thoughts were about how horrible the recording/mastering work on this album was going to be. Fortunately, it was just an adjustment/placement issue. Upon further listening, the sound of the album turned out to be the defining factor for the album. When I spoke with Eric (guitars, keys, vocals), he said “it is truly a massive record” – something I was immediately skeptical of. I wish that I could come up with some better way to describe the album as succinctly as Eric, but I can’t. I simply concur, and state: this is one massive record.

More interesting than the sound itself is the styles the band plays in, and the incredible songwriting on the album. Unlike band such as Opeth, metal bands regarded as incredible songwriters, From Exile does not need fifteen minutes to write an incredibly deep and engaging song. The whole album spans only a mere 32 minutes, but is some of the most dense and prolific composing I have heard in such as small time frame. Monolith features a substantial amount of complex guitar work, including guest solos from Eyal Levi and Emil Werstler (of Dååth). Among all the dense and complex musicianship on the album, there is a lot of material I feel as though I have heard before. Not in the sense that it is old and played out, but a warm and familiar way. From Exile have presented many themes from their various influences with a fresh take, almost in a nostalgic way at times.

Easily the most shocking part of the album is the incredible lack of vocals. Amidst the fourth track on the album, “Exhumed”, I realized I had only heard a small handful of vocal lines, none of which were memorable or recognizable, even after a few more listens. At such a short length, the lack of vocals is the biggest downside of the album, though does nothing to lessen the listener experience. In fact, the lack of prominent vocals on the album only solidifies the band in their niche among the “post-metal” and “instrumetal” acts that play off the ambience factor.

Even after sixteen listens through the album, I always run into the same problem: there needs to be more. When the last second of the last track ends, I am not ready or prepared, even given the feel of “In The Faded Silence”. During the album it feels stretched out and that more time has elapsed than really has, but upon finishing the album it is noticeably too short. This is not to say Monolith is an empty or incomplete work. Imagining anything else on this album would ruin it, much like it would ruin Cynic’s Traced in Air to add anything more to its 34 minutes of music. A full and complete work that is compelling enough to deserve more time, but leaves the listener unsatisfied enough to be hooked like a junkie.

Crushing blows followed by majestic and glorious guitar solos, this is most definitely an album that fans of quality shred must hear. For those who are fans of brilliant songwriting, this is also a must hear. For those people who like hook-laden and vocal-centric metal, there is nothing at all here for you. Little to no vocals or obvious hooks can be found on Monolith. When you put this album on, be sure that you have set aside time to listen to it in its entirety, both to do it justice, and because you won’t be able to stop listening until the album is over.

Track picks: “Apparition” and “Veritas”
For fans of: Kris Norris, Dååth, and good quality guitar work
Overall Score: 8 out of 10 devil horns

If this review has piqued your interests, you can buy the album from the band’s MySpace page for only $7.