Tag Archives: 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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Album Review: Eden’s Curse – Cardinal (2016)

28 Nov

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Okay, okay, I’ll admit it. I’ve been slow in getting to the party that is Eden’s Curse. A very good friend recommended them and I’ve finally gotten around to taking a listen. So, first off, who are they? Formed in 2006, they have released five studio albums and one double live album. They have had a few line-up changes but the band currently consists of long-time members Paul Logue (Bass) and Thorsten Koehne (Guitars) alongside Nikola Mijic (Vocals), John Clelland (Drums) & Christian Pulkkinen (Keyboards).

They’ve released a new album in October called Cardinal which marks the first time Clelland and Pulkkinen appear on an Eden’s Curse studio album. Let’s check it out.

“Prophets of Doom” starts us off, full of pomp and polished writing which buries itself into your brain and has, my favourite, a catchy chorus! After a short intro build up the song kicks into gear with its double bass attack and crunchy riffing, add to that the hook-laden vocals and layered keyboards and it’s a strong start to what I found to be a fantastic album. It’s Eden’s Curse signalling their intent from the off, and how cool is “Prophets of Doom” as a title in the first place?

“Sell Your Soul” is the first single and is amongst the albums highlights for sure. It is an uplifting track, very upbeat. Strong keyboards and superb guitar playing throughout with lots of melodic hooks and again a really slick AOR polish. It has an 80s Journey sound to it and there is some deep sexy bass going on thanks to Mr Paul Logue. Mid-way through though it changes into a slightly slower direction and the dual solos of guitars and keyboards take the song into a powerful conclusion.

“The Great Pretender” continues in the same vein: catchy hooks galore and has a Bon Jovi feel about it. The track starts off with colossal riffs and has this massive instrumental intro. There are Symphonic Metal elements at play here. Vocalist Nikola Mijic possesses some epic pipes and this song gives him a chance to show off his outstanding range and the guitar work of Thorsten Koehne showcases what he can do also. “Messiah Complex” comes in a bit harder than the previous tracks with a cool riff and Mijic’s vocals containing more of an edge, before once again breaking out his upper range with vocals that remind me of DragonForce. Another song and another catchy chorus. There is an energy throughout as the song builds up the momentum. Possibly the albums heaviest song overall and it features another cracking solo.

“Find My Way” sees Eden’s Curse slow it down with a ballad. As you’d expect, the music is very powerful and grandiose and the song, epic. We’re in full Journey/AOR Power Ballad mode here with the Symphonic/Hard Rock edge. Whilst I can see why some people wouldn’t enjoy this song, I am quite partial to belting out power ballads now and then and this fit right into that for me. This track has it all really, cheesy keyboards, subtle piano, huge rhythms, Orchestral strings, passionate vocals and crushing guitars. An anthemic tour de force. Get those hands in the air.

Oh sorry, my playlist skipped to the Chili Peppers…oh no wait, this funk slap bass is “Kingdom of Solitude” – my mistake! Another piece of brilliance from Logue. It’s a bit of a stylistic change from all that comes before but it quickly settles back into full on rock territory with a killer riff. There is aggression mixed with some electronic elements. The band wanted to get a bit more heavy and technical on Cardinal and this is a song that I think showcases that for sure. “Utopian Dreams” starts off with some glorious lead keyboard riffery with its Symphony X/Dream Theater stylings. This is a song on speed. There is such a manic, hyper intensity about it, like they had one take and 5 minutes to nail it and they just blew through it. Power Metal levels turned to 100 on this one.

On first listen “This Is Our Moment” seemed to lack something to me and this is probably down to the fact that it has to follow the bonkers, ADHD affected track “Utopian Dreams” BUT that’s not to say that the song is bad, because its not. It rocks hard, it has fantastic keyboard and guitar work throughout and once again Nikola’s vocals are spot on. On subsequent listens it actually grabbed me the way it should have first time. It is an uplifting song and I would recommend it. I would advise that if you feel it lacks something on your first listen, to not fully dismiss it. “Rome’s on Fire” continues in the same vein with its Hard Rock/AOR sound and soaring chorus. I really enjoyed this track, it bounces around and the band are on point here. The galloping double bass drumming throughout gives it that extra punch and it’s very hard not to be singing along by the end of the song.

On “Unconditional” the band collaborate with ex-Leaves Eyes vocalist Liv Kristine. This is a classic 80s rock ballad right here and very radio friendly. The way Mijic’s and Kristine’s vocals weave around each other works really well. The contrast between the two is just superb.  It is slow and mellow and features a gorgeous bluesy rock solo in the middle before shifting gears into more of a shred whilst still retaining the melody. It’s sugary, it’s sweet but it’s certainly not bad for you. Again, if you have a penchant for the old power ballad, then you will enjoy this. However, if you pressed skip, you’ll be taken instantly to “Saints & Sinners” which goes back into double bass drums, monstrous riffing and takes us back into Power Metal territory.

“Jericho” closes the album out and at 7 minutes 50 seconds is the albums longest track. The song is based on the Biblical tale of the battle of Jericho. The keyboard and guitar work on display here is out of this world. Koehne and Christian Pulkkinen on top form here, as they are throughout the entirety of Cardinal to be fair. There is a long instrumental section, epic lyrics that outline the entire battle itself and the song musically shifts dynamics taking in multiple styles. One word. Epic. Actually two words! Epic Greatness!!

Going in, I hadn’t heard any previous material from Eden’s Curse other than “Sell Your Soul” but coming out of Cardinal I will be checking out everything and hope to catch them live very soon. If you like your bands with a bit of Power Metal, a dash of Symphonic Metal, a pinch of Hard Rock and a sprinkle of AOR then Eden’s Curse will be the band for you. Heavy instrumentation with soaring, powerful vocals singing catchy melodies. What more could you want?

More hooks than a pirate convention, catchier than a bout of crabs. You need Cardinal and Eden’s Curse in your life!

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

 

 

Why I write (mostly) positive reviews.

3 Nov

“Why are your reviews so positive?”

This was a question asked to me recently along with “Hey dude, why did you give Avenged Sevenfolds ‘The Stage’ a good review? It sucked”

Music is art and, as we know, art is subjective. It is all down to personal preference. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. One man’s junk is another man’s treasure. In MY opinion, that particular album was a pretty good listen. Sure it had some issues, in MY opinion, but nothing that impeded my overall enjoyment. You may have other issues with the record, you may go as far as saying it sucked. That is YOUR opinion and you are entitled to that. It doesn’t mean that either of us are right though. Opinions do NOT equal fact.

To write music, to play your songs in public and to make them available for the World to hear, takes guts. You are opening yourself for a potential beating. Why would you put yourself through that? As a musician myself, I know the giddy highs of finishing your latest ‘masterpiece’ and the excitement of having everyone listening to it and basking in your genius. I also know the suffocating paranoia of wondering what people will actually think when you make it available for public consumption and the crushing lows of watching your YouTube views or Soundcloud plays not tick over as much as you’d like. I’ve also experienced negative reviews. I despise the badly written ones. I can take a certain amount of criticism if it’s constructive but “You suck” isn’t.

We are all guilty of saying that a piece of music is shit, or that a band sucks. I hate myself when those words leave my mouth because what I should say is simply “I don’t like this piece” or “I’m not a fan of that band” – For every person that slates Nickelback, there are two that love them. Which group is wrong? Neither. Personal taste again. I like them myself.

All musicians want is for people to listen to their music. If I hear something that I’m not 100% enamoured with, I’ll try to gloss over the negatives and accentuate the positives. I’ll try be constructive where I can be, and always stress that anything negative, and positive for that matter, is simply MY opinion. I don’t expect any band reading a review I’ve written about their work to agree with everything I say, but I’d like to think that I am fair with my opinions and give a balanced viewpoint. If I don’t like something and I have to pass comment then I’ll try to explain why it didn’t mesh with me. It’s fine to have a different point of view and if you can explain to me why you have that point of view then that is great. You may even sway me to come around to your way of thinking. Oh I didn’t think of it like that.

So why do I write (mostly) positive reviews?

Because I genuinely enjoy music, can find enjoyment in the majority of things I listen to and am open minded enough to accept “differences” – Argh! He’s a witch!

I listen to a wide range of different music from Country to Blues to Pop to Metal and all in between. It allows me to be a bit more open minded (I think) about certain things and be more accepting. I don’t see the need to outright criticise a singer or a guitarist, or even the production because it is all down to that personal preference I spoke of before. The artist has made personal choices as to why their song sounds a certain way. It is then down to our brains to determine whether or not this choice fits in with what we like or dislike.

David