Thursday, 12 September 2013

Newsted's 'Heavy Metal Music' - Album Review

Back in January, former Metallica bassist Jason Newsted made his mark as a solo artist with the EP Metal (my review of which can be found here). Seven months on, he and his band - who go under the name Newsted, have released their debut full-lenth album entitled Heavy Metal Music. Stylistically, the album follows on from where the EP left off and gives us a good solid slab of back-to-basics heavy metal with a little dose of thrash on the side. The EP promised a lot but I am not sure if this album quite lives up to that potential, which is somewhat of a disappointment. Two of Metal's best tracks - Soldierhead and King of the Underdogs - are present here and it is prehaps telling that these two songs are still among the highlights of Heavy Metal Music. While the album is certainly enjoyable, quite often it feels formulaic and extremely unoriginal. Being unoriginal is not necessarily a bad thing, but I feel that if this was released by a band that did not contain a metal legend then not that many people would take any notice of it. Newsted's name definately sells the product but sometimes I believe the album falls short of expectations. Still, Newsted's voice still impresses me. His gruff, but clear, delivery helps to drive the songs along and can easily hold his own against many other more recognised vocalists. Also, the production is nice and big and the instruments have lots of space to be heard. It is quite raw, but still very tight, and I think that is in it's favour. While I seem to have been somewhat negative about the generic nature of this album, I still think there are plenty of memorable riffs and catchy vocal melodies to enjoy. This is not a bad album by any stretch, it's a perfectly good one in fact, but I just felt it could have been so much better! It is worth pointing out the the band have now become a four-piece with guitarist Mike Mushok (Staind) having been added to the line-up.

The rocking Heroic Dose ensures that the album gets off to a good start. The main guitar riff has an excellent groove to it and is backed up by some huge bass from Newsted. It is mostly a mid-paced tune, but some nice double bass drumming from Jesus Mendez Jr. helps add a little speed and thrash influence to certain parts of it. There is a lengthy, fluid guitar solo too. Soldierhead is up next. My views on this have not changed since reviewing the EP, Metal, so check that out to read my thoughts on it - it's still an excellent song! ...As the Crow Flies follows and this is another strong one. Again, it ticks along at a mid-pace but the strength of this song lies in it's chorus. It is surprisingly catchy and no doubt is one to sing along with live! The guitar solo is another highlight. It starts off with some traditional classic rock phrasing before entering into a speedy run, the complete contrast of the first part. It is one of the album's best songs. Ampossible is the first of the album's more average tracks. Yet another mid-paced rocker, it plods along without really containing anything too memorable. I think that the album suffers from being pretty one dimensional as most of the songs, with the obvious exception of Soldierhead and sections of a few others, are mid-paced so overall the album feels like it never quite gets going properly. For me, Ampossible seems to embody that. It is certainly not a terrible song, but it is unremarkable in almost every way. Also, what does 'Ampossible' even mean..? Things get back to a better place with Long Time Dead. It is a little faster with a pretty anthemic chorus and some good guitar interplay between Mushok and Jessie Farnsworth. The pace varies nicely within the song, mixing fast sections with some more groove-oriented sections to good effect. Newsted's voice also sounds particularly strong on this one.

Above All is up next which boasts a nice catchy guitar lead over the song's main riff. This riff helps the verse to be interesting and the chorus is simple but works very well. It is another one of the album's highlights and brings the best out of the band, particularly the guitarists. There are lots of lead lines here to sink your teeth into and the rhythms have great patterns that stray just far enough away from the norm to be considered different. King of the Underdogs follows and this is the album's best song. Again, my views on this song have not changed since reviewing the EP so seek that out for my views on it. The grungy Nocturnus follows and goes a little way to creating a bit of light and shade that the album as a whole is sorely missing. There is a Sabbathy feel to the main riff but some slightly mellower sections stop the song from becoming a doom-fest. Twisted Tail of the Comet is up next and this is probably the last decent song on the album. It has a great feel to it and an excellent bridge that contains a bit of the previous song's grunge. The whole song is driven by some massive bass work that helps to keep things sounding big. Kindevillusion (again, what's with the weird titles?) and Futureality round out the album and are quite uninteresting, which is a shame as it the album seems to tail off without ending on a high. Overall I have mixed feelings about Heavy Metal Music. On the one hand, I enjoy a majority of the songs on it and like the no-frills approach to the songwriting and production; but on the other hand, I find this album to be lacking any real dynamics. As mentioned before, most of the songs are mid-paced rockers and I can't help but feel that more changes in pace would make things more interesting. Having come from a thrash background, a couple of really fast songs played at break-neck speed would have really helped the album have a bit more variety. A ballad or slower song would not have been a bad idea either. I know that not everyone likes ballads but it would have offered yet something else different to the pot and created some light to go with the shade - and in return we would have a more balanced album. Hopefully, Newsted will explore these kind of ideas on his next album as I am sure he has it in him to make a really special album in the future!

The album was released on 5th August 2013 via Spinefarm Records. Below is the band's promotional lyric video for Above All.

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