Saturday, 26 February 2011

#026 Hemoptysis - Who Needs a Shepherd?

Not long after I started listening to this EP, the first thing to strike me was the timeless style of the thrash involved. This release is Hemoptysis' debut, and upon listening, this one transports you back approximately twenty years, to a time regarded as the golden-age of thrash metal. And yet, despite this, the album is young, new, and fits into this decade just as well as It would have fitted in to the eighties. That alone, is a quality worthy of admiration.

the band's style of thrash is refreshingly different to many of the modern thrash bands out there. As opposed to the formulaic, exact, retro thrash style adopted by so many, Hemoptysis have taken the style and done their own thing with it, as the best bands do. What has resulted is impressive, with clear, tuneful solos, and soaring, thrilling riffs, being driven by a solid rhythm-section. The screamed vocals remind me heavily of bands like Skeletonwitch, which cannot be a bad thing, and helps to find the band a little independence from the more traditional thrash styles of the eighties.

At only five-tracks, the band have gone all-out to make every track count, and there is certainly next to no filler present on the record. The first track "Shadow of Death" especially, is the sort of track that will, in time, be known as a classic. The song, from start to finish, echoes of a band who are running at their best, and taking no prisoners. The song will also be on their upcoming album, with even more thrashy goodness crammed into it. The rest of the EP is equally pleasing, with tracks like "Who needs a Shepherd" consisting of the kind of excellent thrash which it would be a shame to lose. The guitar work on that track in particular reminds me of Megadeth, and I can't help but wonder if the band held Megadeth as a major influence.

I can't say I can find much in way of criticism for this EP, and what few criticisms I have are insignificant. Sure the production values aren't perfect, but frankly, thrash was at it's best at a time when production values weren't perfect anyway. I think this band show a lot of promise, and the release of a followup to this debut in a few weeks time will stand testament to that. Judging by the samples on Amazon, it's going to be excellent.

I give this EP 8/10.

Hemopytsis on Myspace
Hemoptysis official site

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

#025 Anacrusis - Suffering Hour

Sometimes, you wonder why It takes you so long to discover a band, especially when they give away most of their albums for free on their website. Anacrusis was one such band for me, and I'm quite glad now to have discovered them, thanks mainly to the legal downloads thread on the Metal-archives forums. I'm normally a little bit weary of the term "Progressive" when it's attached to metal, as I'm a bit of traditionalist, however, Anacrusis are a band who have done progressive right. It's thick, thrashy goodness, with a spicy and different twist, although this album is among their most down-to-earth.

One of the things which first struck me about this album is it's deep, sludgy guitar. I'm not good at recognising tunings, but I'm willing to gamble that it's not in E-standard. this fact immediately set the musical style apart from a great deal of the thrash out there, and before long, other differences reared their, generally musically pleasing, heads. The vocals for instance, are unbelievably varied. From powerful, heavily backed vocals, and soft, unique vocals in tracks such as "Imprisoned", to the screamed, retch-like (In a good way) vocals, this album is an extremely diverse one.

The instrumentation, too, is musically diverse. Not only does it have all the usual features of thrash, it has plenty of little quirks which you wouldn't expect, too. You can expect ballad-like stuff which is nothing short of epic, at the start of "Twisted Cross", and plenty of other bits and pieces here and there. Another thing I must commend is the production-values, which are deep, rich and thick, even by todays standards, despite the album being released in 1988. For an album older than me, this one still sounds full of youthful energy.

The album is solid, especially for a low-budget debut, and flaws are quite few and far between. The screechy edge to some of the vocals can be a little jarring, but is generally tollerable, and very unique. I was taken by this album the moment I heard "Twisted Cross" and it's well worth listening to from start to finish. Frankly, even if you have doubts, the album, and a couple more, are offered for free on the bands website. You stand to lose nothing by getting this album, and you may well find it utterly worth listening to.

I give this album 8/10. Listen to it, it's damn good, and just so happens to be free.

Anacrusis Official Website (you can download the album here)
Anacrusis on Myspace

Sunday, 20 February 2011

#024 Megadeth - The System has Failed

"The System has Failed" could be considered Megadeth's post-comeback album comeback album. "The World Needs A Hero" had already begun the job of restoring Megadeth into a more metal direction, but, due to injury on Dave Mustaine's part, the restoration stopped there for some time. This album marks a full, unrelenting comeback to Megadeth's older, heavier style, but manages, in spite of this, to be a unique and noteworthy album; It even has the temporary return of the band's semi-original guitarist, Chris Poland.

As an album, The System has Failed offers a very mixed bouquet of music, with a lot of styles which hadn't been seen in Megadeth for a long time, or indeed ever. Chris Polands playing style does something for this album, something hard to pinpoint. Songs such as "My Kingdom" have overtly Poland solos, but the entire album has a a certain something, with Chris and Dave's playing styles merging to create something exciting, and different from anything which has come before it. I get the impression that this is what Megadeth would have sounded like had Poland accepted the offer to return to the band to record "Rust in Peace".

This album certainly has a blend of "old" and "new" Megadeth styles, with songs such as "Kick the Chair" sounding like they should have been on "Rust in Peace" and other songs sounding quite unlike anything done before, such as "Truth be Told" which is a crushing but melodic rampage, using extremely moshable riffs, and excellent lyrics and vocals. Overall, the album is something very different, and, retrospectively, marked the  beginning of a chain of high-quality efforts by the band.

Granted, this album has a couple of filler tracks, for example "Shadow of Death" does very little for me, and "I know Jack" leaves me wishing it had been extended to be at least two-minutes, but aside from those two, there are essentially no weak tracks at all, with each one being unique, refreshing and powerful.

I give this album 9/10. It's some of the best of Megadeth's recent material.

Megadeth Official site
Megadeth on Myspace

Friday, 18 February 2011

#023 Abigail - Forever Street Metal Bitch

I've sometimes wondered what "blackened-glam-metal" would sound like. Now I know. Abigail perform metal in a way in which only Japanese bands can, and in doing so, sound like Motley Crüe being ambushed by Bathory in a dark alleyway. Essentially, Abigail play the most crazed, frantic, and sexually raucous Black-thrash metal I've ever heard, and "Forever Street Metal Bitch" is certainly no exception.

The most perverted and explicit album I've lent my ear to in a long, long time, FSMB combines the screams and raw production of black-metal with the sexual themes of glam metal, although glam metal is timid in comparison. Frankly, I am shocked that this band has not been banned in a few countries around the world, especially with album covers like the one above. The Japanese are world renowned for weird and wonderful (and perverse) ideas, and Abigail is no exception to this.

One of the first things that hits you about this album is it's speed. This album is fast, and in many places technical. There are many places in which interesting time signatures are used, definitely to the extent that this is more than your average black thrash-metal, in terms of raw speed and viciousness. Songs such as the sensitively titled "Bitch, we gonna kill you!" jump out of the speakers rabidly, going straight for the throat. With a listen or two, some songs begin to sound distinctly unique, using styles which haven't been seen in metal in a long time, if indeed ever. The intro to "Shooting master", for instance, has something uniquely Japanese about it, and I've heard nothing like it anywhere else.

From a technical point of view, I admire the band for being able to maintain such speed and relative cohesion. I won't lie though, the musicians are good, but they aren't as tight as some you would encounter. The drums go out of time every now and again, and the occasional mistake is audible. However, I get the impression that the band don't particularly mind, and that fact compliments their style of music excellently.

I give this album 7/10. I love it, but it's not for the easily offended.

Abigail on Myspace

Monday, 14 February 2011

#022 Iced Earth - Burnt Offerings

"Burnt Offerings" was Iced Earth's third full length release, and marked the emergence of the bands most recognised sound, with a a more power-metal edge, compared to previous releases, and the talents of Matt Barlow taking up vocal duties for the first, but certainly the last, time. Burnt Offerings is very much a textbook example of Iced Earth's style, with the band having grown comfortable and experienced, but still having something to prove, still being filled with youthful energy.

The first thing anyone listening to Burnt Offerings is likely to notice depends heavily on what is being looked for; This really is an album which has, well, more or less everything. The speed and agility is there, for each and every band member is a master of their trade. Those looking for beautiful, atmospheric songs will find it in the albums softer pieces, such as "The Pierced Spirit", and those looking for lengthy epics? well, the last track is a sixteen-minute monster, and a track about Dante's Inferno, no less.

This album was released when the band was very much a Thrashy affair, but they are never afraid to unleash the occasional keyboard, which they use to good effect, with few of the issues which can occur from misguided keyboard use. There are also quite an abundance of effects which cannot be repeated, such as multiple, overlapping vocal tracks by Barlow, which, despite creating the potential for making songs unplayable at a live level, the band manage to defeat this and perform the songs live with great gusto.

Many regard this album as being a bit confused; Not quite the style of their early days, certainly not the style that was to come. However, this "confusion" is definitely open to interpretation. some say it's confused, but I prefer to think of it as being the best of both worlds. My only criticism is that, despite technical excelency, some tracks just feel a little bit like filler. I'll leave you to decide which tracks those are, to avoid clouding your judgement.

I give this album 8/10. 

Iced Earth - Official site
Iced Earth on Myspace

Saturday, 12 February 2011

#021 - Winterfylleth - Ghost of Heritage

English Heritage Black metal... The phrase sounds rather dry and uninteresting when there are no connotations to back it up. Bands of the subgenre, like Winterfylleth, and brothers in arms Wodensthrone provide the much needed connotations, and rather good connotations they are too. "Ghost of Heritage" is Winterfylleth's first full-length offering to the world, and it is a very interesting offering to behold.

Winterfylleth have seemingly adopted a punchy style to their music, compared to the more "epic" efforts of some of the other bands in the genre. This is evident in many of their songs. The album begins with the almost punk-like, simplistic opening riff of "Man Tor (The Shivering Mountain)", which then dissolves into a very Burzum-esque, tremolo picking filled onslaught of yummy Black-metal goodness, which gives the song a very epic, melancholic feel, which the band also use to good effect on many of the other songs on the record.

The band also makes great use of very atmospheric acoustic sections, and chanted vocals in places, features which are rapidly becoming distinguishing parts of the English-Heritage Black-metal sound. Winterfylleth, however, in contrast to some of the other "founders" of the genre, seem to have stuck closer to "Traditional" Black metal. Songs like "Casting the Runes" would not feel out of place on a release by a band like Gorgoroth. Although this may lead the band to an expanding fanbase, the generic nature of some of the albums songs could also lead to a lack of uniqueness, although most of the songs more than make up for that.

 The only place in which the album is tarnished is in the vocal department. Although some of the vocals are excellent, in other places they seem a little weak, and the recording process has not been kind; The vocals seem a lot quieter than they should be, and they are drowned a little in the mix, as opposed to riding it as they should, in some of the songs.

An interesting album, from an interesting subgenre, I give it 8/10.

Winterfylleth on Myspace

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

#020 Gorgoroth - Pentagram

Debuts albums are always interesting, even when they occurred fifteen years ago. Pentagram, by Black-metal giants Gorgoroth, is a particularly interesting specimen, with the band creating their own approach, with crisp production, and tight, very spot-on musicianship. Some of the rougher, more raw releases of the time make Pentagram come accross as streamlined, razor-sharp, and fresh, a sound which served the band well through their early years, and is exemplified by this album.

The albums heaviness is hard to judge. To the casual onlooker, it is insane, but within Black metal itself, it falls somewhere into the middle regions, somewhere between early Burzum and post-Dead Mayhem. The guitar parts, especially, are heavy in an essential form, based on skill, speed and sound, as opposed to the poor-production and extreme-overdrive which some bands rely on. This demonstrates Gorgoroth's massively talented lineup at the time; Unique, terrifying vocals by "Hat" (Norwegian for hate), "Infernus" delivering atmospheric and accomplished guitar work, and spot-on drumming by the dubiously titled "Goat Pervertor".

Many Black-metal bands manage to sound sinister, but Gorgoroth are one of the few which manage to sound genuinely scary. Songs such as "(Under) The Pagan Megalith", especially the ending, sound exactly the music I'd expect to accompany a descent into hell, and I can only praise the band for it. If you listen intently, you can hear something of a Thrash influence in the style of the albums riffs. This, I believe, is one of the secrets to the bands success, as the Thrashy elements, bolstered by sinister tremolo picking, timings and bridge sections, combine to form the band into Black-metal Kings.

Gorgoroth are now veterans, and border on being quintessential Black-metal. If that's what you seek, you cannot go wrong. Even if you are just curious, seeking a more extreme direction of music to explore, this album would suit you utterly, as it's Thrashy sound gives it a certain versitility. This was the first Black-metal album I ever listened to, and It has become the album which got me into the Black-metal genre, forever.

The more I listen to this album, the higher the number creeps. I give it 9/10.

Gorgoroth Official Website
Gorgoroth on Myspace

Sunday, 6 February 2011

#019 Holy Grail - Crisis in Utopia

Holy Grail formed in 2008, chiefly composed of members who had left the band "White Wizzard", which, despite being a young band, Jon Leon goes through band members with great rapidity. "Crisis in Utopia" is Holy Grail's first full length album, and an excellent entry into the world of Metal.

Traditional Metal is essentially what it says on the tin - Metal which sounds like it belongs in the British early-eighties, however, bands like White Wizzard and Holy Grail are bringing the genre back into the spotlight, on the west coast of the US. Holy Grails debut epitomises how diverse and interesting the genre can be.

Unlike the tight, but somewhat unoriginal playing of White Wizzard, Holy Grail have gotten quite a unique sound, which seems to blend Traditional-Metal with some Thrashy influences, which results in a powerful, heavy, but traditionalist sound. James Paul Luna's vocals are exceptional, controlled and tuneful, however he throws the occasional growl into the mix, which adds a little variety to the vocals sound. This, combined with excellent lead work, and solid musicianship elsewhere, creates a pleasing sound, akin to Avenged Sevenfold crossed with Iced Earth.

Songs like "Call of Valhalla" showcase the bands style, combining catchy traditional aspects, with a double-kick toting, pulsing, heavy influence, although the song is doubtless leaning on the traditional side of things. On the other hand, songs such as "Crisis in Utopia" contain a more Lead-guitar intensive, heavier style. There are even some very competent growled-vocals, which on paper, sounds offputting, but the band manage to make the growls sophisticated and fitting with their refined style.

This is an excellent album, especially for one which is essentially a debut, and the band itself seems very overrated. The band push the boundaries of Traditional metal, and can fit in neatly anywhere between Thrash and Metalcore. This could potentially lead to criticism from anyone whose a bit of a genre purist, as Holy Grail transcend many of the boundaries.

I give this album 7/10. I expect great things from this band.

Holy Grail on Myspace

Saturday, 5 February 2011

#018 Venom - Welcome to Hell

In 1981, The world was shaken by a raucous band of Newcastle lads, who had grown tired of the NWOBHM's oversaturation and mainstream success. Venom were about to leave a cacophonous dent in the nicely polished surface of music, with one of the most significant and Influential albums in Metal; Welcome to Hell.

The album's influence is very plain to hear. You can hear the future in it very clearly, with the Proto-thrash riffs, in a style which would later be adopted by bands like Slayer, and Megadeth, and Satanic, dark imagery which was a heavy influence on the early Black Metal scene, although the fact that Venom's follow up album is titled "Black Metal" was probably equally significant. These factors, and more, plead the case that "Welcome to Hell" was an album ahead of it's time, although it is probably more accurate to say that Venom Invented their time.

Most of the songs on the band would later become prime example of Venom's style, with Guttural (but not screamed or growled) vocals, and utterly Bulldozing riffs backed up with distorted bass. For instance, songs such as "Angel Dust" and "Live like an Angel" would be my answer to anyones enquiry as to what Venom sounds like, or, indeed, what metal itself  sounds like. Contrastingly, "Mayhem with Mercy" is a chilling and beautiful minute long instrumental, quite unlike any of the other songs on the record.

The guitar work on most of the songs is instantly recognisable as being of a very Thrashy style; very fast and technical, however, being a three piece, the technical proficiency of much of the Thrash which Venom inspired is lacking, although this is more than made up for by the sheer speed, inventiveness and wallop of their music. In 1981, Venom were the Heaviest band around, and they weren't afraid to live up to that fact.

This album is potentially the source of much of the influence of Thrash metal, Black metal, and other forms of extreme metal, although it itsself is in many ways unlike any of them. This is advantageuos, as it can be appreciated by Metal fans of more or less any persuasion, and as you listen to it, you get the feeling of listening to a piece of hugely influential musical history, which adds to it's power.

I give Welcome to Hell 8/10.

Venom - Official site
Venom on Myspace

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

#017 Lazarus A.D - Black Rivers Flow

Black Rivers Flow has undoubtedly been my most anticipated album of 2011 so far, But I can immediately tell that it is going to mix opinions; It is not the pure Thrash of their first album, and it is going down a somewhat more mainstream road. The album is somewhere in the misty limbo between Thrash and Metalcore, the best way I can describe it is that Lazarus A.D have taken Metalcore, and subjected it to extensive medication to kill off most of the parts which many Metalheads find dislikable. What has resulted is a blend of Thrash, Groove metal, and a hint of Metalcore, which gives the album something of an identity-crisis.

The songs on the album fall into two vague categories; The Thrash metal, and the Groove metal. Songs such as the swinging, relatively slow-paced "The Ultimate Sacrifice" fall neatly into the latter category, with a walk-like Groove-metal vibe, which is one of the closest songs to what I regard as "Groove metal" that isn't played by Pantera themselves.

Thrashier songs, such as "American Dreams" exhibit the bands second-to-few ability to play very tightly at high speed, as well as showcasing the new, more catchy... far more catchy edge which Lazarus A.D have picked up since their last album. The choruses, making use of new, more melodic vocal styles, have become especially catchy, which is a good thing, choruses are horribly neglected among many of the newer thrash bands, but this band are bringing them back with full-power, fist-pumping catchiness, and they cannot fail to bring forth the urge to sing along. They even have about a minute of ballad on one track.

Of course, this album is going to have its fair share of criticisms. Lazarus A.D have changed one heck of a lot since their first release, and not everyone is going to appreciate that. While the first album was an unrelenting Thrash, this release is more melodic, mainstream, and diverse, in places bordering on being Metalcore, which is unlikely to please some of the more purist fans. Some may go as far as saying that the band have sold out, although, in my belief, this is not the case. Lazarus A.D's latest is as good as it's predecessor.

I give this 9/10. I was not disappointed, although the potential for disappointment is definitely there for some.

Lazarus A.D Official Site
Lazarus A.D on Myspace

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

#016 Testament - The Gathering

In the late nineties, when many believed thrash to be a dying genre, doomed forever to exist only in the underground, few bands had managed to stay true to thrash, with many selling out, developing a softer sound, or disappearing altogether. Testament were never one  the bands likely to take that path.

With great bravery, and to their eternal credit, they produced one of the heaviest, fastest, and best sounding records of their career, staying true to Thrash, in the face of emerging Nu-Metal, Metalcore, and the countless other genres which were encroaching into Metal's territory. "The Gathering" was that records name, and In my humble opinion, It is one of Testaments finest records to date, if not one of the finest records in metal as a whole.

The album roars into being in a furious rush, with "D.N.R" one of Testament's most adrenaline releasing, heavy tracks, which would turn any mosh pit into something resembling a blender in seconds. The track takes off, and sustains itself at a colossal speed, with the thunderous drumming of none other than Dave Lombardo, of Slayer fame. Other tracks, such as the groove-filled "Careful What you Wish for" are slower, but their heaviness is not diminished in the slightest by the slower tempo.

A major strength of the album is the superb musicianship exhibited by each and every member of the band, From the godly drumming of Dave Lombardo, along with the prodigious guitar work of Eric Peterson and James Murphy. The bass, which, although overshadowed, is nonetheless superb, provided by Steve DiGiorgio, who would later go on to play in Iced earth. Chuck Billy, vocalist extraordinaire, provides what has become his trademark tuneful-roar, and, in places, growled vocals which would have Randy Blythe jealous.

Although not to everyone's taste, I find, personally, very few things to criticise about this record. It's definitely not in the style of Testament's earlier material, that is certain. The old and new may as well be two completely different bands, as they are incredibly different. However, this album suits Testament a lot better than their previous release "Demonic", which was a very death metal oriented album. This record is a happy medium, and it sounds fantastic.

This is my favourite Testament album, and I have helped show you why. 10/10

Testament Legions (Official site)
Testament on Myspace