Tag Archives: Music Reviews

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

 

 

 

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EP Review: Tallisker – Heliotrop (2016)

14 Nov

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Tallisker is a new, Paris based project helmed by electronic artist Eléonore Melisande . Melisande is a classically-trained cellist and creates music that fuses Baroque influences with Scandinavian folk and modern techno. She won the Inrocks Lab Award (2014) and the Booster Award (2015) and now she releases her second EP, Heliotrop this month.

Heliotrop provides me with the very first opportunity to listen to Tallisker and going in, I didn’t know what to truly expect. What I got was five tracks (I’m not counting the two remixes) of chilled out electronic music that mixed Victorian styles with trap aesthetics. The major force behind her work seems to be that of movement, expansion, drama and tension which are very much part of the Baroque aesthetic.

Airy, evocative Bjork style vocals ring out over lush soundscapes and luxurious textures. There is a haunting vibe throughout and at times, especially during “Cirrus” I felt a John Frusciante influence, most notably his To Record Only Water For Ten Days album.

There are definite hints of Bjork in the more introspective sections and when the epic, soaring strings and brass sections come in, there are elements of Sigur Rós and Massive Attack. There are filthy sub-bass lines going on here too which brings out the trap and rave side to Talliskers music.

In her words: “Most of the tracks were written in Glasgow, Summer 2015, while listening to a lot of classical music, mainly Baroque & Romantic-era masterpieces, plus techno and  trap music! It was my purpose to explore these extreme genres, from the most traditional to the most recent forms of music to accelerate the genesis of something hybrid and awkward. Heliotrop is also a manifest.”

Overall this is a good EP. As I said, I didn’t know what to expect going in but have given it a couple of spins and I have to say that it is a very well produced, put together record and one that is well worth checking out. For fans of the aforementioned Bjork and Sigur Rós.

David

 

 

Album Review: Idlewar – Impulse (2016)

3 Nov

 

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7/10

30th September 2016 marked the release of Idlewar’s first full length album, Impulse, following on from their well-received EP, Dig In (2015). I’ll be honest, I haven’t heard Dig In. I’d seen the band’s name over Twitter as a few friends follow and re-tweet them. They have been on my (ever growing) list for a while and now is the time that I finally got around to taking a listen. I’m gutted that it’s taken me so long. This Californian Power-Trio are fantastic. Combining elements of AC/DC, Foo Fighters and Clutch, Idlewar craft melodic Hard Rock music that demands to be listened to. So let’s give in to impulse (1 point for punnage) and dig in (ooh triple points).

“Stone in My Heel” kicks things off and immediately piques my interest. It has a bit of a lo-fi, Stoner Rock sound to it and James Blake’s passionate vocals pull off a sort of Ozzy Osbourne/Ian Gillan combo (on the chorus especially). “Soul” up next with Rick Grahams 70s styled fuzz guitars hooking you in. James’ vocals are once again superb, this time channelling Chris Cornell. Lots of comparisons to be made but he definitely brings together the best of the 90s-era Grunge mixed with the Classic Rock greats. Dirty solo before the closing chorus. What more could you want? Great stuff!

“Criminal” is the albums first single and reminds me of Chickenfoot. It’s a hard rocking, upbeat number with a ridiculously catchy chorus. It sort of goes against the majority of the albums overall sound but retains the catchy guitar hooks. From that upbeat, almost funkiness, we go into “All That I’ve Got” which is a very brooding, hypnotic, slower song. It showcases James’ vocals superbly.  Everyone is given space to manoeuvre and it creates this dark, unsettling vibe. It’s captured perfectly.

We’re back in uptempo-land next with “Innocent” and whilst there is nothing overtly wrong with this track, it surprisingly didn’t grab me as much as the previous four did. There is another cool guitar solo which I enjoyed and I’ve got nothing bad to say about the vocals. I don’t know, it’s weird. There is no reason why I shouldn’t have dug this song. Maybe it’s one of those that will grow on me over time??

Once that midway portion of an album hits there is always that worry of how the second half will stack up against the first. Some bands are notorious for putting their best material at the front end and hoping it’ll carry through to the finish. I didn’t need to worry. Peter Pagonis’ drums come out of my speakers before Rick Graham churns out another catchy guitar riff and the stoner groove of “Glory” is in full swing. Sort of Alice In Chains meets Deep Purple. That groove is so hypnotic. What’s that? Another catchy riff? Oh, come on Rick, you’re spoiling us here. This would be “Apathy” and with “Damage”, “Burn All This” and “On Our Knees” following they all offer an up-tempo riff-fest to close out the album.

All three members of Idlewar are on top form. From Pagonis’ hard hitting drums, Blake’s groovy bass-lines and impassioned, gritty vocals to Grahams stellar guitar riffery, there is very little to fault here. There is a live feel about the songs which adds to the overall sound of the record and its 37 minute running time made it very easy to digest. It has a sleazy, bluesy, stoner vibe to it and if you’re a fan of bands like Sabbath, Deep Purple, Soundgarden etc. then you should easily find something to enjoy here.

Well worth checking out. I’m putting on Dig In as I type this and look forward to hearing how that one sounds.

David

 

Album Review: Helmet – Dead To The World (2016)

2 Nov

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7/10

Has it really been six years since their last album? (2010s Seeing Eye Dog). Helmet have been genre blenders since they emerged onto the scene in 1989, mixing Classic Rock, Punk Rock, Heavy Metal and Alternative. It’s because of this that they defy classification so easily. Why be pigeon-holed into one genre when you can blend so many so well?

Dead To the World is jam packed with sludgy, down-tuned riffs and the grooves keep on coming. Relentless. In fact we speed through the 11 songs in 36 minutes 58 seconds. In a World where bands are pushing their albums running times to eek out every last possible second, it’s positively refreshing when a band puts out an album that doesn’t conform to being 75 minutes long for the sake of it. So what Helmet have given us with Dead To The World is an album that doesn’t outstay its welcome and demands to be repeated. Helpful in an age where the collective attention span has reduced significantly.

From the opening seconds of “Life or Death” you know exactly who is playing and what to expect. No build up into the verse, just straight into a bludgeoning slab of 90s Post-Hardcore.  There is an energy and vibrancy to this record that the momentum of “Life or Death”, I Love My Guru” and “Bad News” as an opening trio carries through to the end.

As I said previously, this is a short, sharp record and the majority of the album follows in a similar vein with Hamilton and Dan Beeman trading sludgy, razor sharp riffs that cut through the more melodic moments and show that Helmet are not taking it easy almost 30 years into their career.

Page nasally croons over the backdrop of unhinged, unrelenting guitar riffs and lead guitar wails and delivers one of his best vocal performances for a while. He seems to have tuned into a formula for making his vocals accentuate the songs rather than hinder them. There is a snarl and there is a melody. Yes, he may not be biting but there is still plenty of bark.

There are some crushing doom rhythms (“Red Scare”), the utilisation of synths (“Dead To The World”, “Look Alive”)  and a cover (“Green Shirt”). An Elvis Costello cover to be exact and it sort of feels out place amongst the originals with it being a lot more upbeat and quirkier than everything else. They make it work, however.

“Expect The World” is an angsty slow burner whilst “Die Alone” just spits out vitriol. “Drunk In The Afternoon” contains backmasking at the end, showing a side that you don’t often get with Helmet and before long you get a reprise of “Life or Death” which gives the opening track a renewed purpose by making it slower and more menacing.

There is a lot of anger and frustration in the lyrics. Songs such as “Bad News”, “Life or Death” and the title cut “Dead To The World” seem to reflect the disappointed political attitude that Page Hamilton has towards society.

Dead To The World is another good album from Helmet. There is the melody that made 1994s Betty a hit along with the relentless jackhammer riffing of Meantime and whilst they haven’t strayed too far away from what made them successful, they have released an album that offers something different to what is currently being put out by others.

All in all I enjoyed and would recommend it and at just shy of 37 minutes it is definitely worth a listen.

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