Tag Archives: Heavy Metal

Album Review: Avenged Sevenfold – The Stage (2016)

1 Nov

thestage_coverart_jpg-1

7/10

When your last two albums (2013s Hail To The King and 2010s Nightmare) debut at Number 1 on the Billboard album chart, you know you’ve got a pretty good fan base and that you’d probably be able to pull off releasing a “surprise” album. Surprise in that we were all expecting something in December. Voltaic Oceans to be exact. A title/release that Fozzy frontman, WWE Superstar and close friend of the band Chris Jericho “leaked” (that’s it Chris, you’ve made the list!).

So what do we have here then? An 11 track concept album that clocks in at 73 minutes and 40 seconds, making this the longest studio album that Avenged Sevenfold has ever released. The theme is Artificial Intelligence inspired by the works of Elon Musk and Carl Sagan and also features a spoken word piece written and performed by astrophysicist, Neil deGrasse Tyson. It is also the first to feature drummer Brooks Wackerman (ex-Bad Religion) who replaced previous incumbent Arin Ilejay in November 2015.

This ambitious album opens with the title track “The Stage,” which, aptly enough, sets “the stage” for what is to come throughout. M. Shadows sings in a higher register as he channels his inner Axl Rose whilst Synyster Gates and Zacky Vengeance showcase their six-string skills as they are given a lot of room to play with thanks to the extended length. A theme prevalent throughout the course of the record.

“Paradigm” and “Sunny Disposition” are next and Brooks Wackerman shows why his place in the band is fully deserved. Some brilliant work on display here. Actually, brilliant work on every song to be fair. “Sunny Disposition” features orchestral elements as well as a horn section, which was a nice surprise. Upon hearing this for the first time I got a Specials vibe when the brass kicked in.

“God Damn” is the shortest song on the record. The most straight forward of them all. I can see it going over well with fans and along with “Paradigm” they showcase the flash that the rest of the album has, but without the length or pomp. They are much more concise in their approach. Something that a few other songs could’ve done with being in my opinion.

More fantastic guitar on display on “Angels” and “Simulation” from Gates and Vengeance. This is the albums turning point in terms of aggression. Whilst the twists and turns still come, it is, as I say, a slightly less aggressive half in comparison to the first.

Jason Freese’s keyboards kick off “Higher” resembling something from John Frusciante (think The Empyrean album) before choral sections come in and the track takes on a different life. It definitely takes you on a journey, much like many of the songs on the album do.

Another ballad in “Roman Sky” featuring strings and a film-score atmosphere as well as another great outro solo and is a good example of the band implementing those progressive touches. “Fermi Paradox” and “Exist” close out the record. The former has tremolo-picking and blastbeats that are almost black metalish whilst the latter finds Avenged Sevenfold at their most Pink Floydish. At 15:41 it is an opus that switches from thrash to ambient to metalcore to power ballad to rock and features the aforementioned Neil deGrasse Tysons spoken word piece. This is the band at their most experimental/epic.

Lyrically this is probably the best album they’ve done. Compositionally the album is fantastic. This is most definitely the Synyster Gates/Zacky Vengeance show. Their duelling guitar work throughout is incredible. Unfortunately though, good instrumentation doesn’t necessarily equate to good songwriting.

I’m sure The Stage will polarize listeners. Some will love it, others will hate it. I am in the middle. I think by emulating Dream Theater and other prog bands some of the songs get bogged down by the extravagance and grandiosity of it all. Style over substance. Not that I have issues with long songs, far from it. It’s just that some fat could’ve been trimmed in certain areas.

I would recommend this album if you are a fan of Dream Theater, Between The Buried And Me etc. I commend Avenged Sevenfold for stretching their creative muscles and creating an ambitious album and one wonders if this is the path they wish to take on future releases.

David

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Album Review: Korn – The Serenity of Suffering (2016)

26 Oct

kornserenitycdcover

7/10

History Lesson: Korn is an American Nu-Metal band from California that formed in 1993. Their current lineup consists of founding members Jonathan Davis (vocals), Munky (guitar), Head (guitar) and Fieldy (bass), along with Ray Luzier (drums), who replaced original member David Silveria back in 2007. The Serenity of Suffering is Korns 12th studio album and for many, a return to form.

For me, and most people would likely agree, this is probably the heaviest Korn have ever been. Certainly heavier than their last album Paradigm Shift thanks to riffs like “A Different World” and “When You’re Not There,” and Jonathan Davis’ use of manic scatting and guttural growls. If you’ve ever heard a Korn album before then you’ll be on well-trodden ground, and I can see why some people do not rate this record very highly in the grand scheme of things because of that familiarity. The same way I can see why people DO rate this album. For example, “Rotting in Vain” is essentially a heavier reworking of 1999’s “Falling Away From Me” with some throat-burning screams and aforementioned guttural vocals. I heard some “Freak On A Leash” in “Baby”, “Next In Line” doesn’t stray too far away from “Make Me Bad” and lyrically, Davis doesn’t surprise anyone who has been listening for the past 20 years. Basically, if there was a Korn bingo game, you’d easily be ticking off the boxes as you go along.

Where this record really shines though is on inventive bridges that switch moods in an instant. “Black is the Soul” feels like a Helmet song for about 20-30 seconds, “The Hating” finishes with some Primus-esque syncopation, whilst Corey Taylor (he of Slipknot and Blabbermouth.net fame) chimes in with some impassioned crooning on “A Different World”.

The Serenity of Suffering is a heavy enough return to form that will satiate fans clamouring for a return to the ‘good ol’ days’ and I would say it stands proudly amongst their discography.

So have Jonathan Davis and co released their best album in around 15 years? It depends who you ask, I suppose. I personally have enjoyed everything they’ve released since Untouchables. I even enjoyed their foray into Dubstep on 2011s The Path of Totality, but there is something very familiar and “Korn like” about Serenity that makes everything feel right and because a lot of people did not like the musical direction that the Head-less Korn were taking, this will go a long way to satisfy them.

All in all, I would recommend this album. It rarely breaks new ground but it is still a worthwhile listen that I have enjoyed on repeated listens.

 

David

Album Review: Gamma Ray – Empire Of The Undead (2014)

21 Apr

7/10

Guitarist Kai Hansen first emerged onto the heavy metal music scene in 1984 as one of the founding members of Helloween. During his tenure with the band, he made an appearance as both lead guitarist and lead vocalist on the band’s debut EP and studio album, before ultimately stepping away from the mic in ’87 to allow Michael Kiske to take over vocal duties and provide Halloween their first taste of International stardom. Soon after departing in 1989 he formed the highly influential German Power Metal band, Gamma Ray.

It’s been almost twenty years since Gamma Ray released two of the genre’s defining albums in “Land Of The Free” and “Somewhere Out In Space,” but the quartet is still alive and well into its fourth decade. Lately, however, Hansen seems content to rest on his laurels, as the band’s last two albums have played things about as safely as possible. It’s been a full four years since “To the Metal!” raised concerns over whether Gamma Ray had anything left in the tank, between the album’s inconsistency and borderline plagiarism, so “Empire Of The Undead” has some questions to answer.

The album begins promisingly enough with “Avalon”, a song that harkens back to the glory days, winding through nine minutes of shimmering guitar verses, melodic grooves and a nice solo. New drummer Michael Ehré certainly proves his mettle, if somewhat more conservatively than the departed Dan Zimmerman, as he effortlessly throws in back-beat fills and changes styles on a dime throughout the song. This song showcases Hansen’s striking vocal abilities, engaging guitar work and a handful of energetic tempo changes that strap the listener down for a chaotic ride. Seven minutes into this nine minute long anthem, you begin to believe the song has reached it’s triumphant end, only to be launched off once again into another melody driven chorus.

Throughout “Empire Of The Undead’s” recording and mixing, Hansen stated that the album would have a more “thrashy” sound, and there are a number of songs that live up to that promise. “Hellbent,” “Empire Of The Undead”, and “Seven” are the more speedy sides of this album, all of which are incredibly fun and catchy whilst ballad “Time For Deliverance” provides a Queen/Freddie Mercury inspired moment. Listen to the chorus and try your best not to sing “Weeeeee are the chaaaaampions”

“Master Of Confusion” references the bands troubles with actually making the album, as drummer Dan Zimmerman unexpectedly retired and the band’s studio burned to the ground during the mixing stage. This track is a clear stand-out and has the feel of a classic Gamma Ray song, probably because it’s almost literally a composite of previous Hansen-penned singles.
The main riff, verse, and solo are ripped straight from Helloween’s “I Want Out,” while both the chords and lyrics of the pre-chorus (“and now I’m riding on the wind, but I won’t have much time”) echo “No World Order!’s” “Heaven and Hell” (“riding on the wind, there’s only one place left to go”).
During the song’s post-solo build, Dirk Schlächter lays down some walking bass as Hansen changes the lyrics up a bit, giving the final chorus a feeling of satisfying resolution.

“Born To Fly” may not be a bad song in its own right, perhaps the lowest point of the album maybe, but guess what? It’s another anthem about flying high like an eagle in the sky! Though I’m not going to bash the lyrics because it’s Power Metal and all Power Metal lyrics are cheesy, you do have to ask the question,’how many more songs can be written about soaring like an eagle?’

Further solidifying the album’s centre is the title track “Empire Of The Undead,” a thrash/speed number built on unrelenting drumming and shredded guitar leads. Kai’s screech fits much better here than say, on “Pale Rider,” with his signature dramatic screams ushering in both the bridge and solo section. With “Pale Rider” he just has a tendency to oversing every line and it gets very old, very fast.

“I Will Return” starts off with a sample from Terminator with Arnie saying the classic line “I’ll Be Back”. With strong leads and catchy verses and choruses, this seven-minute shot of energy is a Gamma Ray classic right from the start.
Placing the album’s two best songs as the opener and closer really increases “Empire Of The Undead’s” replay value, and in the end, weaker cuts like “Demonseed” prove relatively easy to gloss over.

So my final thoughts? Well, whilst “Empire Of The Undead” does have largely the same DNA as Gamma Ray’s last three albums, the difference here is that “Empire Of The Undead” showcases flashes of the top-notch Power Metal Gamma Ray built its reputation on for the first time in a while, and that, in itself, is worthy of your attention.
My only issue with this record is that Kai Hansen’s song-recycling comes off as an uninspired and, dare I say, lazy approach to songwriting.
The singing/screeching, killer guitar leads, melodic choruses and dynamic synths should make this an appealing listen for any Power Metal fan and, I think, could offer a way in for newcomers to the genre also.

David