Tag Archives: Metal

Album Review: In Flames – Battles (2016)

29 Dec

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I’ve been meaning to review this album ever since it came out back in November. So here it is, better late than never.

Many bands go through stylistic changes. It is natural. You can’t necessarily expect someone in their 40s to be the same person that they were in their 20s and therefore musical preferences change. We’ve seen Opeth go from Death Metal pioneers to Prog Rock kings, whilst still showing their focus remains on their music.

Then we come to In Flames. To say that Battles is polarizing would be a massive understatement. For over 26 years In Flames have been one of death metal’s pioneering bands, heavily involved in shaping the iconic Gothenburg sound we know and love today. Their discography is a melodic death tour de force. In some respects it is difficult to believe that todays In Flames is even the same band.

“Drained” opens up Battles on a strong note with a lot of aggression towards the beginning riffs. It comes across as a continuation of Sounds of a Playground Fading (2011). Vocalist Anders Friden belts out his screamy lines and instrumentally the song is tight. It sets the tone for what is to come – intricate tight riffing, harsh and clean vocals and big choruses. Lead single “The End” has an infectious groove. Through the guitar tones, the leads and the riffs, the song hints heavily towards the bands earlier days. The guitar solo is a definite flashback to their past, albeit encompassed by the more modern, accessible framework that it has around it. There has been a lot of debate about Friden’s vocals and on “The End” he sounds as caustic as ever.

“Like Sand” features your standard In Flames bouncy groove and has a reasonable chorus, but the song itself feels average compared to the standouts on the record. It doesn’t help that it is sandwiched between “The End” and next song “The Truth” – a song that introduces, what seems to be, a children’s choir to enhance the anthemic chorus. I know a lot of people have been put off by the “gang shout” that is the choir, but I like it, it fits the song and when you add in the old-school lead guitar work, you’ve got a really cool track.

“In My Room” starts off as another average sounding song before the chorus hits. It has just enough about it to keep it interesting. Just. The twin guitar work piqued my interest though and it is something that In Flames can just tap into and do no wrong. For me, it’s the verses that ruin this. Delayed riff and bouncy electronic bass kick off “Before I Fall” which features intricate, precise riffing throughout, as well as an absolute scorcher of a guitar lead! As with everything on Battles the chorus is catchy as hell and gets in your head.

We’ve already touched on the fact that there are moments throughout this album that manage to blend the past with the modern tendencies and none of these are more satisfying than on “Through My Eyes” with its shredded riffs and double bass drumming during the verses that meld into the memorable chorus melody. In some ways this track is reminiscent of their Swedish compatriots Soilwork. My one gripe with the track though is that wah-wah solo seems to be turned up WAY TOO LOUD. Seems like someone is screwing with my volume knob. It takes me out of the song completely, which is a shame.

Possibly the biggest chorus on the album is saved for the title song “Battles” – coming in at 2 minutes 58 seconds, it is the shortest on the album and features some fairly heavy riffing also. “Here Until Forever” has a bit of an emo vibe. I hear 30 Seconds To Mars or My Chemical Romance in this. The jazzy drums are a nice touch and sets it apart from what has come before it. The song does have a power to it and whilst I found it to be fairly memorable and I did enjoy it, I can see that haters gonna hate.

“Underneath My Skin” ramps up the aggression and power once more. Heavy riffs and impassioned vocals from Friden but is a song that could’ve easily been left off the record. “Wallflower” offers up something completely different from the rest of the album. It is a mean and moody slow burner that is initially dominated by the bass guitar of Peter Iwers (playing on his last In Flames album). It is a song that is given room to breathe and builds ominously, playfully toying with doom influences and creates an eerie atmosphere as it does. There are touches of Depeche Mode/Nine Inch Nails when the song gets Gothic-sounding and electronic darkwave in tone. The chorus is sprawling that ups the tempo and, as with all the choruses on Battles,  ramps up the melody before the minimalism returns along with its claustrophobic atmospherics. New drummer Joe Rickard does a great job on the record as a replacement for long-time member Daniel Svensson, and here he plays more in the pocket, allowing his fills to be more tasty than explosive. The dynamics on “Wallflower” are showcased wonderfully. A definite highlight on Battles for sure.

The album closes with “Save Me” which once again mixes in the old and the new. The power in Anders Friden vocals on this song really does shine through. There are classic sounding lead guitar lines that hark back to the older In Flames whilst the chorus (yeah its catchy! surprised?) has more of a modern mainstream metal approach, but comes together in a powerful way and is a great way to close the album out.

So for all the hate that Battles has been getting, is it a bad album? No! If you are looking for a return to say, Whoracle (1997) then you will be disappointed, but if you’ve followed the band album to album, you’ll see this natural progression and you’ll probably embrace it.

It’s a record that represents where In Flames are in 2016. They have naturally moved towards a cleaner sound and whilst old-school fans may feel alienated, Battles is a solid record that showcases the sound of In Flames 26 years after they exploded onto the scene.

David

 

 

 

Album Review: Metallica – Hardwired… To Self-Destruct (2016)

18 Nov

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It has been eight years since Metallica released Death Magnetic, an album that was heavily criticised for it’s brick-walled production and lack of dynamic range, but saw the band try to relive their Master of Puppets heyday. Eight years! This makes Hardwired… one of 2016s most anticipated releases, if not THE most (unless Tool put something out in the next month…).

Opening track “Hardwired” was the first single released and harks back to the good old days of machine-gun drumming, barked vocals and thrash riffs. The refrain of “we’re so fucked, shit outta luck, hardwired to self destruct” resonates much deeper post-US Election. Not that it was the intention of course. Funny how life imitates art sometimes.

“Atlas, Rise!” continues the thrash onslaught. James’ right hand palm-muted chugging in full force (seriously, Hetfield must have THE best picking hand. He’s so fast and precise). Kirk Hammett’s wah-wah solo serves the song well and overall it has a NWOBHM, Iron Maiden feel to it. “Now That We’re Dead” slows things down slightly and I’ve heard some people criticise this particular track but it’s not too bad at all. I think the song as a whole could’ve been slightly shorter and I could hear “Enter Sandman” in places but overall I liked it. They groove very well on the doomy “Dream No More” which sees them using lyrics once again inspired by H.P.  Lovecraft’s Cthulu mythos (first time on a Metallica record since 1984’s Ride The Lightning) The song itself is a slow-burning, Sabbath-esque number.

The first half of the album (this is a double disc) wraps up with the awesomely epic “Halo on Fire” which treads the line between straight up Hard Rock and intense Metal. The way the track culminates with Kirks leads was an adrenaline rush for me. I couldn’t help but move to it. Kirk didn’t contribute to the song-writing on this album which marks the first time ever that that has happened. However, his presence is still felt throughout with his creative lead guitar work.

The second disc is longer than the first and kicks off with “Confusion” – a mid-tempo number chock full of great riffs and once again, killer work from Hammett. The song itself is written from the perspective of a soldier with PTSD. “ManUNkind” is a sort of ‘Hard Blues’ song that starts off with Rob Trujillo’s bass in the forefront (he received a co-writing credit for this one) and an odd sort of clean, bluesy, guitar part before it shift gears into the familiar Metallica ‘scooped’ crunch sound and Papa Hets trademark aggressive bark. This is another song I’ve seen get criticised and whilst at times it does come across as a few different ideas just slapped together, it didn’t annoy me but I do think that perhaps they could be guilty here of overthinking. Some of the time changes feel a bit strange to me too.

“Here Comes Revenge” is another song that has a bit of “Enter Sandman” about it but this may be the portion of the album where it drags on a bit for me. There is a blistering guitar solo and the chorus has enough about it for me to get into it, but the verses are where it gets bogged down  – almost ballad like with Hetfield’s crooning. However, that said, on repeated listen this song did grow on me. “Am I Savage?” is another plodding paced doom track that Metallica like to do, but whereas something like “The Thing That Should Not Be” or “Sad, But True” goes somewhere and gives you that payoff, “Am I Savage?” never really does. It does, however contain a great solo. So bonus points for that.

“Murder One” is a tribute to the late, great, legendary Lemmy Kilmister. I get that Motorhead was very influential on Metallica but to take a bunch of song titles and Lemmy’s lyrics just doesn’t work, and it comes off as really cheesy. I think this approach could’ve been better if they played it double time and would be more favourable had it been a straight Motorhead clone.

The album closes with the best song on the second disc by far, “Spit Out The Bone”. We’re back in Thrash country for this one. This is fierce, fast and brutal. There are subtle nods throughout the song to every part of their career. Blast beats and thunderous drumming from Lars and for all the aggression and violence, it is precise and melodic. The pace of the track shifts naturally and allows for some truly quality moments, such as Rob Trujillo channelling the man himself, Lemmy, with a, sadly, too brief distorted bass solo.

At 77 minutes 29 seconds this is a lengthy album, but for the most part it flew by for me. The first disc is the better of the two, as songs like “Murder One” and “Am I Savage?” do bring the pace and momentum down. However, even if you class those songs as missteps, this is still a solid album chock full of great songs and riffs.

I can’t fault Metallica here though. They have released a fantastic album and with the length that it is, you’re always going to have the odd lull. Each member is in cracking form and either Lars has been practicing or there was some studio wizardry at play. Recommended listening no doubt. Hardwired… is not Metallica resting on their laurels, this is Metallica screaming at the top of their lungs “We are still here, and we’re not going anywhere”

David

 

 

Album Review: Avenged Sevenfold – The Stage (2016)

1 Nov

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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

Album Review: Meshuggah – The Violent Sleep of Reason (2016)

26 Oct

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9/10

One of the most anticipated releases of the year, Swedish colossus Meshuggah return with monolithic new album, The Violent Sleep of Reason, chock full of groovy riffs and such an intense, relentless atmosphere. For a band going into their 30th year(!) they have staved off any hint of stagnation and produced an absolute belter.

For this, the bands eighth full-length album (excluding EPs), Meshuggah seem to be time travelling back to their beginnings. Not only was this album tracked live in the studio, it also marks the first appearance of proper live drumming on a Meshuggah album since possibly as far back as the original version of the Nothing album. *side note* the band had been using Drumkit From Hell samples exclusively (Catch 33) or augmenting Tomas Haake’s performances with these samples since then).

This has resulted in a more organic, less sterile sounding album and the most alive the band has sounded in ages. (bonus points for use of Alive pun). I would say that the music itself has become a little faster and perhaps a little less technical. In terms of the polyrhythms and the riffs, this is Meshuggah’s most straightforward album in a while. So let’s dig a little deeper.

“Clockworks” kicks off the record and it’s a bit of an overture to what has made the band so loved over time: brutal, technical riffs, Tomas Haake’s incredible drumming (how many arms does he have??), screaming guitar solos. It is also the albums longest song, clocking in at 7:15. “Born in Dissonance” and “MonstroCity” follow and they comprise of similar-sounding material as all three of the opening tracks seem to come off as ever so subtle variations on a theme. With those opening three songs, there is a heaviness and a speed which resembles the Chaosphere era.

There are then the songs that sound reminiscent of the Nothing days, “By the Ton” with it’s slower groove and “Stifled” that features a fantastic solo from Fredrik. In fact, Fredrik’s solos on this record are some of my favourites things about the album as a whole. He seems to have taken time and care over these solos and they never feel out of place, or a bit slapdash (looking at you Koloss)

“Ivory Tower” is mostly a slow groove with a block levelling guitar riff and again features a superb guitar solo. “Our Rage Won’t Die” opens up with a thrash riff that sounds like it could have been pulled from Contradictions Collapse and “Into Decay” rounds off the album as another slower groove song.

The last time I felt a Meshuggah album was this complete from start to finish was probably with I (though that was just a single 21 minute EP) or Catch 33 (2005) and The Violent Sleep of Reason should completely satisfy those fans already enamoured with the bands aggressive music and should surely attract more metal heads to fall in love with the art they create. Though if you could never “get” Meshuggah before, you probably won’t get them now to be honest.

For me, it’s a masterpiece.

 

David