Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Disturbed: Asylum (2010) Review

Disturbed's latest album Asylum came out today. I was a fan ever since I heard a promo tape for The Sickness, so I couldn't very well turn down listening to their latest.

Maybe I should have.

The album is in the power metal influenced alt-metal style the band has favored ever since their sophomore release. But they haven't been this ballad-heavy since that album--the only track that can't fairly be called a ballad is the title track, which, coming less than three minutes into the album, is easily the highlight. It's all downhill from there.

To be fair, there are moments that the ballads are listenable. "Never Again" and "Innocence" could make the cut. But the vast majority of it is the weak side of Disturbed.

Worst of all, they did a cover of "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For", a disgustingly overrated song by a criminally overrated band led by a complete douchebag. This version is only a slight improvement over the original.

I started to wonder whether I remembered their past albums fairly, so I went back to listen to a bit. Even Indestructible and Ten Thousand Fists were much more muscular than this.

The Verdict: It's 7 good minutes followed by 40 that aren't worthwhile. This is easily the band's weakest album, and I give it 2 out of 5 stars. I don't think I can consider myself a fan anymore.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Celtic Frost: Monotheist (2006) Review

As I mentioned earlier, I had never heard Celtic Frost when I reviewed Triptykon's debut. That album was so incredible, I picked up two Celtic Frost albums soon after: To Mega Therion and Monotheist.

Many people said that Eparistera Daimones was very much like Monotheist, and I agree. All of the elements are essentially the same: ultra-heavy death/doom with dissonant chords, lots of string-bending, ethereal female vocals, and Tom G. Warrior's powerful snarl. The sound is absolutely frightening and awe-inspiring, a darkness made only bleaker by moments of fragile beauty.

The simplest way I can put it is that Eparistera Daimones is the perfected version of Monotheist. This album doesn't flow quite as well, and even though it's actually 4 minutes shorter it seems to drag on a little longer than it should. Triptykon's album has neither of those problems, being perfect in every way.

The Verdict: If you liked Eparistera Daimones, well, I'm not kidding anyone here, you probably already have Monotheist. But if you don't (I didn't) then you should definitely check out Celtic Frost's swan song. It's an imperfect version, but not so much that it will disappoint by any means. I give it 4 out of 5 stars.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Nadja: Touched (2007 Re-Recording) Review

Drone doom is an almost completely forgotten subgenre within the larger world of metal, and its minimalistic, ambient (some would say "artistic" while others would say "gay") sound often relegates it to the dreaded "hipster metal" category. Not one to care whether something is hipster or not, I decided to look into it.

Nadja are sometimes referred to as the Canadian masters of drone doom. So, I picked up their debut Touched (the re-recorded 2007 version, not the 2003 version). I was a little leery about how obscenely prolific they are (over two-dozen full lengths and a dozen EPs/splits in less than a decade, not counting live and compilation albums), but I figured the beginning was a good place to start.

You could probably guess without my telling you that this is not for people with short attention spans. The track lengths are 14, 10, 18, and 13 minutes long (the last track is just 4 minutes of nothing), and "Incubation/Metamorphosis" has over 5 minutes of ambient noise before the actual music starts--this is not the only ambient interlude, either.

With the guitars barely audible, the music is barely metal (though they did make Encyclopedia Metallum, so it's possible they got more metal later on). And if you're paying attention to it, then it's extremely boring. But the sounds used are good sounds--ethereal or whispered vocals, lots of nice bass, and all the ambient swirl. So, if you want to lie back and zone out (something I can't do) or if you have it on as background to something that takes a lot of concentration, then it's pretty good.

A while ago I mentioned the Deftones were the only band I knew who could make metal sexy. I have been proven wrong. This music would work excellently as background to the congress between individuals. Perhaps that's the theory behind the album name.

The Verdict: A bit boring if you're paying attention, but quite well suited to certain tasks, I give Nadja's Touched 2.5 out of 5 stars. Some of their other vast catalog has been rated much more highly by others, so I may take a chance on another one of their records--but it's more likely I'll check out another band in the genre, one with more discretion in what they choose to release.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Noctiferia: Death Culture (2010) Review

Noctiferia is a Slovenian band who started out as a symphonic black metal / blackened death metal band, but have evolved into an industrial extreme metal sound. Their fourth full length, Death Culture, was released earlier this year. Since I'm a fan of industrial metal, I thought I'd check it out.

The band sounds a bit like Static-X playing Behemoth material, with just a touch of Dimmu Borgir. At times, it almost sounds like mainstream stuff, but they never lose the extreme metal edge to things.

Industrial metal always sounds like a good idea, but rarely works in practice. The sound Noctiferia has developed is excellent, and works really well when they have a good song to back it up. "Monarch" and "Rust" are the highlights, with some of the most memorable moments on the album, as well as more variety of tempo and rhythm. There are a lot of other really good moments, to be sure, but some of it seems to blend together.

Still, there's not a whole lot of good industrial metal out there, and this is definitely good. Plus, Slovenia is one more peg in my map of the metal world.

The Verdict: This will likely appeal to fans of Dååth or extreme industrial metal in general. I give it 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Borknagar: Epic (2004) Review

A while ago, I reviewed Borknagar's latest, Universal, and I was so impressed I said I was definitely going to explore their back catalog. So, I started working backwards, skipping the acoustic Origin for now.

The style is much the same. Vintersorg is the vocalist on this one as well, and there is still a great balance between the black metal and the more progressive elements.

On this record, there seems to be slightly less emphasis on electric organ, and much more obvious folk influence (like flute). I believe all the folk instruments are synthesized, but that seems to suit the sound. The overall feel of the record is less anthemic (it doesn't conjure images of Kansas in corpsepaint) and more epic, appropriately enough.

The songs are equally well-written, but quite different in approach. It's less hook-oriented and more progressive in intent, with standouts including opener "Future Reminiscence", "Cyclus", and "Quintessence". This record also seems to have more variety, including the mellow instrumental "The Weight of Wind" and the ballad "Relate (Dialogue)".

On the downside, it's not recorded nearly as well as Universal. It's still a good recording, but Universal was so perfectly recorded, with a huge sound and all instruments audible, that anything less is a slight disappointment. I suppose that's a problem I deal with when I work backward through a band's catalog, though.

The Verdict: Epic is very nearly as good as Universal, an album I already loved, and I'll continue exploring Borknagar. I give it 4 out of 5 stars.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Poll Results: What's the best metal record label?

I have to say I'm a bit surprised by the results of the most recent poll. Here are the rankings for the best metal record label:

1st: Metal Blade
1st: Roadrunner

I'm not at all surprised that Metal Blade got 1st place. They are the most reliable metal label out there (they only made one mistake, ever). I am surprised Roadrunner was able to tie it. I suppose that just shows how many mainstream people are still out there. How can you take a label seriously when their roster includes not only Nickelback, but also Collective Soul?

3rd: Relapse

I'm not surprised by Relapse's placement. Personally, I like them just as much as I like Metal Blade. They're a little more hit-and-miss, but I like that they're willing to take a chance.

4th: Century Media
4th: Earache
4th: Nuclear Blast

I'm a little bit shocked at the fact Nuclear Blast didn't get more votes. They're damn near as reliable as Metal Blade, and they're more extreme, so what's not to like? I am a bit shocked Earache and Century Media were able to tie it. Century Media is going downhill fast (as I've mentioned several times), and Earache is more important from a historical perspective than for anything they contribute to metal today.

None of the other labels got any votes.

Anyway, there will be a new poll up soon.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Metal Briefs: Cello Metal Tributes

Since Apocalyptica's new album 7th Symphony comes out next week, I thought this would be a good time to do some cello rock reviews. Cello rock is a style of rock music played on cellos, or sometimes other string instruments. Though a few groups play original songs, it's much more common to find tribute albums.

Apocalyptica: Plays Metallica by Four Cellos (1996)

Apocalyptica Plays Metallica By Four Cellos This is the album that started the cello rock genre. While there was an American band which had formed prior to these Finns, this album came out about two months earlier than that one. I can't imagine what it was like to try to sell the idea to a record company at the time. Translating the Metallica sound into cello has the strange effect of making "Unforgiven" actually sound better than "Creeping Death", oddly enough, and "Welcome Home (Sanitarium)" is the best track on the album. You can tell they love the music, and are more faithful to the songs themselves than the technical rules of playing the cello. I give it 3 out of 5 stars. Apocalyptica have gone on to become a great band with great original songs, and I'm really looking forward to the new one.

Vitamin String Quartet: Third Eye Open: String Tribute to Tool (2001)

Third Eye Open: String Tribute to Tool Vitamin String Quartet isn't really a band at all, but instead a name Vitamin Records uses for its massive collection of string "tribute" albums played by a variety of session cellists. They're not really tributes, though--a true tribute is done by someone who loves the music. And it's clear on this one that they're more faithful to the rules of the cello than to the songs themselves. The timing seems mechanical, as if they're following sheet music to songs they've never heard. However, Tool's music translates much more naturally into cello, especially since Maynard James Keenan's vocal style is more melodic. Even so, "Opiate" was a choice that didn't work well at all. On balance, it's not a very good album, but it does have some good highlights (like "Sober", "Schism", and "Pushit"). The musicianship is superb and they put emphasis in all the right places. I give it 2 out of 5 stars.

String Tribute Players: Opeth String Tribute (2008)

Opeth String Tribute I can't find any info on this group, but they're obscenely prolific, having done covers of such bands as Lamb of God, Alice in Chains, and Slipknot--but they've also done crap like Hinder and Avenged Sevenfold, as well as regular rock bands like Tom Petty and many, many more. They make it clear that Opeth's music can translate well into a more acoustic format. However, I think the name String Tribute Players should imply there are multiple players, and that there are strings somehow involved, but this sounds like MIDI. That would imply one player, and a different definition of the word. It would also imply a lack of strings. I'm dead serious. There is little to no volume modulation, and you can't tell when they're emphasizing anything. Not Still Life, but lifeless. That, coupled with the fact they crank these albums out like so many linked sausages, makes me honestly think it's computer-generated. If you don't believe me, listen to one of their tracks. This album gets the dubious honor of being the first one to get a 0 out of 5 star rating from me. I made it partway into the 4th track and couldn't even finish it.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Century Media Podcast

I am now officially unsubscribing from the Century Media Podcast. They have now played Vampires Everywhere! for at least four consecutive months. That, on top of all the ads and the douchebag host, and only about 1/3 of the songs worth listening to--well, it's too much to handle. I'm done with it.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Metal Animals

These videos are both awesome and hilarious. We've got animals headbanging, on air guitar, and even on vocals.

Asteroid: Asteroid II (2010) Review

I should make this clear up front: Asteroid is not a metal band. But, I think they'll appeal to a lot of metal fans on those rare occasions they want something mellower. I picked up their sophomore release Asteroid II which was released earlier this year.

They are a Swedish psychedelic rock band who probably got their name from a Kyuss track. Since I don't really know my Kyuss, I couldn't tell you whether Asteroid sounds like them. To me, this sounds like pre-metal: Jimi Hendrix or the groovier moments of Blue Öyster Cult and Deep Purple. Or, you could see it as a mellow version of The Sword, including a similar vocal style.

The material ranges from the especially slow and psychedelic "River" to the more energetic "Fire" or "Lady". The rhythm instruments groove in a warm, very fuzzy, and laid-back kind of way, while the skillful lead guitar drives everything forward. At times it almost ventures into metal territory, but I never feel cheated out of the aggression like I do with many almost-metal bands; instead it seems more like gravy when that happens.

The whole thing has a very cool kind of vibe, like listening to any good blues or psychedelic rock. As an album it flows very well, culminating in closer "Time", which may be the highlight of the album.

The Verdict: Normally, non-metal doesn't interest me, but this is good stuff. I recommend it to anyone who likes the bands I mentioned above. I give it 4 out of 5 stars.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Black Label Society: Order of the Black (2010) Review

I have been a huge fan of Zakk Wylde's Black Label Society for the last eight years. The first three albums--Sonic Brew, Stronger Than Death and 1919 Eternal--are amazing pieces of ultra-heavy biker metal with amazing solos. This is the stuff that made me love the band. Then, they released The Blessed Hellride, which is a solid album, but also heralded the beginning of a shift to a more mainstream sound. The following three releases haven't been worth the money I spent on them.

The band released its first new album in four years yesterday: Order of the Black. I'm always optimistic about Zakk, so I went ahead and got it.

I can't say I'm disappointed.

Sadly, it's not a return to form. "Overlord" and "War of Heaven" are a bit heavier, but on the whole this is definitely the post-Hellride sound. On the other hand, the music is more memorable and interesting than anything on the past three releases. As you might expect, Wylde's amazing guitar skills show through a few times (like "Southern Dissolution"), but not as much as they did on the early albums. With great tracks like "Godspeed Hellbound", the former Ozzy shredder can get away without putting out another Sonic Brew.

There are several ballads, which, though none of them are as good as "Rust" or "Spoke in the Wheel", are at least nowhere near as awful as "She Deserves a Free Ride (Val's Song)". "January" almost sounds like it could have been on Book of Shadows.

The Verdict: Well, it's no return to form, but it's a marked improvement over the last three albums, and might be almost as good as The Blessed Hellride. I give it 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Marduk: Opus Nocturne (1994) Review

In Decibel's recent article (July 2010) on Watain, they had a sidebar on their picks for the five best Swedish black metal albums of all time. They picked Marduk's Opus Nocturne in the number 2 spot, so I decided to check it out.

As you might expect, they start with an intro--nearly every black metal album does. This one is organ. OK, after you get past that, it's crazy-fast tremolo riffing madness. They do have slower parts here and there, including whole songs ("Materialized in Stone" and the title track). These serve only to mix it up, though.

Marduk is at their absolute best when they're going all-out. The most impressive feat, perhaps, is "From Subterranean Throne Profound", nearly 8 minutes of high-speed riffing, without letting up one bit, and also without getting dull for one second. They manage it by changing up the riffs often, but it all seems to fit. The other major highlight is album closer "The Sun Has Failed", which is much more varied, alternating between an impenetrable wall of sound and passages with a little breathing room, tauntingly letting you come up choking for just a moment before plunging your head back under water.

The music is great (no disappointments there) but the production is also worthy of praise. Despite having that lo-fi, early black metal aesthetic (still sought out by some) they still manage to do everything well. You can hear the bass throughout (it's often a focal point) and the drums can be absolutely monstrous (see the opening to "Deme Quaden Thyrane" for examples of both).

The Verdict: Decibel was right, this is great black metal. The only bad thing I can say is I didn't really need two minutes of storm sounds at the end. I give Opus Nocturne 5 out of 5 stars.