Thursday, 28 November 2013

Motörhead's 'Aftershock' - Album Review

Everyone who is into hard rock and heavy metal music will at some point encounter Motörhead. While the band have never been wholly comfortable with being labelled as 'metal', there is no doubt that their sound and energy influenced many bands to come, particularly in the NWOBHM genre that emerged in the late 1970s. Aftershock is their twenty first studio album and one of the few that I have heard all the way through. I must admit, I am not the world's biggest Motörhead fan. I have seen them live and own some of their classic albums but I have never really been interested enough in them to go out and buy their whole catalogue. As far as I can tell, Aftershock is business as usual for Motörhead. Their sound has been established now for many years and, despite a few little tweaks here and there, has remained pretty much the same on every album. I always think that it is amusing how people seem to have a double standard about bands who released consistently similar albums year in year out. People think it is great when AC/DC, Status Quo and indeed Motörhead keep writing material that sounds very similar to their classic sound; but when bands like DragonForce do it they are accused of not moving forward in any way. I am probably one of the few people who wished that Motörhead would take a few more risks here and there, but I totally understand why they do not. When putting a Motörhead album on, people already have a pre-conceived idea of what it is going to sound like and diverting too far from that sound is likely to ruffle more than a few feathers. In that respect, Aftershock is a winner. Right from the outset, it sounds exactly like you would expect it to. There are plenty of big riffs, pounding bass lines and lots of Lemmy's signature gruff vocals. To it's credit, there are a few moments that do deviate from the norm slightly and, to me, these are the most interesting moments of the album; plus there are some genuinely enjoyable classiclly Motörhead-sounding songs that really rock. The rest of the album however, is a little uninspired and fairly unremarkable. I would say that Aftershock is a mixed bag. About half of the album is very enjoyable with the rest of it being fairly forgettable. The production is excellent however, and Cameron Webb has done a great job of making the album sound huge.

The album starts with one of the strongest songs Heartbreaker, which persuaded me to give the album a go in the first place. The main guitar riff from Phil Campbell is simple but catchy and Lemmy's vocal melodies are pretty inspired. There is a nice guitar solo too that borrows heavily from the traditional classic rock way of soloing. Coup de Grace is another solid track but it is let down by some pretty awful lyrics. I know that Lemmy is not exactly known for his insightful lyrics, but these are pretty hard to take when the accompanying magazine that came with the album (I bought the Classic Rock Magazine Fan Pack) tried to claim multiple times that his lyrics were fantastic. Despite that, it is a perfectly enjoyable song. Again, the main riff and solos are pretty memorable but it is nothing we have not heard before. Lost Woman Blues however is very interesting. It is a much slower song that borrows, pretty clearly, from the blues. Campbell's guitar is very tasteful and stays faithful to the traditional blueprint of blues music by keeping a nice groove down and breaking out occationally into little leads. Lemmy's bass line is also nice and compliments the guitar work very well. It picks up the pace towards the end and rocks out hard, just to remind you who wrote the song! End of Time is a nice punky track that is led by some fast drumming by Mikkey Dee. When you see the band live, Dee's drumming really stands out, but on the albums he never sounds that big or powerful. This is one of the few songs where he really gets to shine. It is hearing songs like this that make you realise how much of an impact Motörhead had on the trash metal movement. Fans of the faster and heavier end of the band's music will enjoy this one a lot. The next highlight is another slower number called Dust and Glass. The guitar work in this song is, again, very good. I really like the main riff, as it has a really smoky sound to it with just the right amount of effect. I really like the way Lemmy sings these slower songs. His voice really suits the mellower sound. The main focus point however is the guitar solo. I think Campbell is a pretty underrated player and his work on this album is very strong. His solos are always full of melody and stays away from too many speedy runs. The song ends rather abruptly though which is slightly odd and does spoil the effect a little.

Going to Mexico gets us back to more traditional Motörhead territory and serves up fast song with a very catchy chorus. The bass is very prominant here and drives the song along with Dee's powerful drumming. Again, Campbell gives us another great solo (with a little wah) and Dee backs him up nicely with some 'around the kit' drum work. Silence When You Speak to Me is a good mid-paced rocker with another good chorus. The riff is chunky and dominates the whole song, but the chorus is the most melodic part. Lemmy's voice rarely changes but there are some moments when it seems a little more melodic - and the chorus in this song is one of those. The next highlight is another speedy song Queen of the Damned. It has another very strong riff (similar to Ace of Spades actually..) but it soon descends into proper headbanging territory. I think, on the whole, I prefer Motörhead's faster songs than their more mid-paced ones. They tend to be fast, furious and never outstay their welcome. This is why Queen of the Damned is one of the best songs on the album. I think every self-respecting metalhead will love it! The last two songs on the album are also pretty good. Keep Your Powder Dry is a mid-paced song but one of the better ones. Again, the bass really cuts through the mix here and sounds obnoxiously fat - I love it. The chorus is also good. The guitar work under Lemmy's voice almost sounds like a tribute to 1960's rock 'n' roll music and the chanting of the song's title is likely to go down a storm live if the band decide to play it. The album comes to an end with another furious song called Paralyzed. While the song is nothing special, it ensures the album ends on an upbeat note and contains some nice tight drumming from Dee. Overall, Aftershock is another solid and enjoyable album from Motörhead but, as I said earlier, contains it's share of unremarkable songs. Fans of Motörhead will already have, and love, this album and those that have never liked the band are unlikely to find anything here to change their mind. However, having the slower moments like Lost Woman Blues and Dust and Glass definitely makes this album more interesting than your average Motörhead album and I think people should go and listen to these songs if nothing else, as these are different - in a good way.

The album was released on 21st October via UDR GmbH. Below is the band's promotional video for Heartbreaker.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Trivium's 'Vengeance Falls' - Album Review

Of all the metalcore bands to come out in the early 2000s, Trivium were always my favourite. In my opinion, they were always head and shoulders above their peers both musically and lyrically. Combining all their influences together, Trivium have an instantly recognisable sound that is much classier and technical than other metalcore bands; and, especially on their more recent albums, have much more intelligent lyrics that are often based around real-world events or mythology. While I believe that 2008's Shogun is their creative peak, I have enjoyed all of their albums and each has a recognisable sound and style. 2011's In Waves moved away from the more progressive elements of Shogun and went back to basics. What we got was a much more straight forward modern metal album with a healthy dose of thrash and the band's new album, Vengeance Falls, sounds a little like a continuation of the sound forged on In Waves; but with a slightly more clinical and polished approach. Much has been made in other reviews and online about David Draiman's (Disturbed; Device) involvement with this album. In my opinion, his production job here is excellent. The album sounds massive! The guitar tones throughout are really good and there is plenty of space in the mix for the all instruments to be heard clearly. Melody has always been a big part of Draiman's ethos, and on this album the melodies are front and centre. This is not a complex album by any means, but it is pretty heavy and full of good tunes. Matt Heafy's vocal performance here is very strong. He has always been a good singer, making use of both clean and harsh deliveries, and his work on this album is no exception. If I had to pick one word to describe the sound of Vengeance Falls I think I would choose 'refined'. There are no major stylistic changes to the band's sound but I think a little bit of fat has been cut here and there, and a little more focus has gone into making good melodies throughout the songs. This is probably the first Trivium album that sounds very similar to their previous one, but I think that is an indication of the type of music they want to make going forward. I do not see that as a bad thing at all, and I think that Vengeance Falls is probably a blueprint of what Trivium's sound will be like in the future.

The sound described above is evident right from the outset. Brave this Storm is unmistakably Trivium, but a little more polished. Heafy's snarling vocals on this song hark back to 2006's The Crusade with the musical style of In Waves backing it up. Harsh vocals are used sparingly during this song - mostly in the pre-choruses - letting Heafy show off his diverse range, but it is in the choruses that he really shines. He also also performs the song's main guitar solo and it is the technical feast that we have come to expect from the band. If Draiman's influence can be heard anywhere on the album, then it is on the title track. Heafy's delivery has that staccato aesthetic to it that Drainman is famous for but that is as far as it goes. The song is nothing really that special though. It has a decent chorus and Corey Beaulieu's short solo is flashy, but everything else is pretty average. Luckily, most of the rest of the album is better! Single Strife is much stronger. Nick Augusto's punchy drums drive the song and the verses are so infectiously catchy. I think that Augusto is a bit of an unsung hero in the band. Replacing Travis Smith cannot have been easy but he is just as good as Smith and his fast footwork in this song is enjoyable. If this album has an anthem, then this is it - which is probably why they made a video for it. It has the first real guitar duel between Beaulieu and Heafy. Having two good lead guitarists in a band can be a blessing as well as a curse, but I think Trivium's music manages to get the best out of both of them. No Way to Heal is definately a throw-back to the sound the band had on The Crusade but with added harsh vocals. Heafy's barks sound really strong and Augusto's drums make certain parts of this song sound really monstrous. It really highlights just how strong the production is on this album too, as Paolo Gregoletto's bass really stands out despite the big dual guitar riffing and drums. To Believe is another really melodic piece. I will say at this point though, that the lyrics on this album are a little hit and miss, and certainly not as strong as they have been in the past. Still, when the melodies are strong enough this almost makes no difference as you are likely to find yourself singing along with them anyway. The overly melodic nature of this album leaves little to be discovered on repeated listens which maybe affect it's longevity but it certainly makes it instantly enjoyable.

At the End of this War is a little more underwhelming. Opening with an acoustic guitar line and delicate vocals is a new thing for Trivium, and it works well, but the rest of the song is more standard. I would have actually liked to hear more of the acoustic elements of the song. The band have yet to do anything like that and a fully acoustic Trivium song would probably be quite good. Still, the chorus is perfectly enjoyable and saves the song from being otherwise mediocre. Through Blood and Dirt and Bone on the other hand is probably the best song here. As soon as it starts, you are struck by a brilliant riff that is full of groove and some really delicate harmonies. The verses are a little slower but the great riff returns for the pre-chorus which leads to some really inventive vocal melodies from Heafy in order to compete with the guitar excellence. If I was to pick a top riff of 2013, then this song's main riff would probably be number 1, it is just so good. The icing on the cake though is a really melodic solo from Heafy before Beaulieu takes over and shreds all over the song - excellent stuff! Villainy Thrives is another really strong one. Augusto lays down an almost Chris Adler-esque drum pattern in the verses; which is high praise indeed as, in my opinion, Adler is one of the best drummers in metal today. The chorus is, once again, excellent and has Draiman's signature melodies all over it. After the second one, there is a vicious passage of harsh vocals followed up by an equally vicious dual guitar solo. Incineration: The Broken World feels a little bit flat after two such great songs. It is not without it's highlights though and Heafy's harsh vocals sound really strong, probably the strongest that they ever have. Also, there is a cool bit towards the end were Gregoletto's bass becomes really high in the mix and he performs a short but fun little bass solo! He clearly has some skills and I would like to hear more prominent bass work from him in future. The album comes to an end with Wake (The End is Nigh) which is easily the most varied piece here and sounds a little like something that could have been on Shogun without the spark that made that album such a classic. Still, this songs fits the sound of this album very well and is a very fitting closing number. There are a few tasty riffs dotted throughout the song but some of the lyrics are pretty silly and takes the sheen away a little. Overall, Vengeance Falls is a good album from a band that are now well established in the metal scene. If this is the sound that the band want to pursue in the future, then I would be happy with that. It is good to see a modern band putting so much emphasis on melody and I am sure they will continue to release quality material going forward.

The album was released on 14th October 2013 via Roadrunner Records. Below is the band's promotional video for Strife.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Fish's 'A Feast of Consequences' - Album Review

Every so often, an album comes by that has a certain buzz surrounding it months and months before it's release. A Feast of Consequences, Fish's tenth solo album, is one such example. This is an album that had been in the works for some time, and the title A Feast of Consequences had been floating around on the internet for at least a couple of years before it's release. This is his first album in five years, since the excellent 13th Star was released in 2008. Lots has happened to Fish in the meantime, including a couple of vital operations on his vocal chords which probably saved his singing career. As far as two rock albums go, 13th Star and A Feast of Consequences could not be more different. The former had a stark, almost industrial production quality that really suited the bleak and angry material; whereas the latter feels much warmer and organic. The link between the two is the main writing partnership of Fish and bassist Steve Vantsis who has returned to the touring band after a few years away. The two of them seem to have an excellent chemistry and understanding and, between them, have created one of, if not the, best albums in Fish's solo career. Joining Fish and Vantsis we have guitarist Robin Boult, who has played with Fish a lot in the past; keyboardist Foss Paterson, who again has had significant stints with Fish throughout his career; and journeyman drummer Gavin Griffiths (Karnataka; Panic Room; Mostly Autumn). Boult's return to Fish's setup has really bolstered the band in the studio and live. No disrespect meant to Frank Usher, but I think Boult is the perfect guitarist for Fish. He has also made significant writing contributions to many of the songs on the album and I think this is one of the reasons for it's success. The biggest thing that strikes me about this album though is that it does not really feel like a solo project, it feels like a proper band. The five musicians really work well together and the songs they have created are tight, melodic and interesting. This will probably be quite a long review as I have quite a bit to say about A Feast of Consequences but the short version would be: it's brilliant! If you have not heard the album before, then stop reading this and go out and buy yourself a copy. Before talking in more detail about the music, I would quickly like to talk about the packaging. I do not normally do this in my reviews but, since I bought the delux version, I thought I should mention it briefly. The special edition comes in a 100 plus page hardback book full of excellent artwork by Mark and Julie Wilkinson and a DVD documentary by filmmaker Dave Barras called Preparing the Feast. This is a really insightful look at the songwriting process of the album and is well worth a watch.

The album opens with the slow-burning epic Perfume River that really sets the tone. The song has two distinct sections. The first part is an atmospheric, progressive piece with some excellent rhythmic drumming from Griffiths and swriling keyboards from Paterson; and the second part is a more up-beat rock section led by an acoustic guitar. Vocally, this is the best Fish has sounded in quite a while. He seems to have accepted the limits that his voice now has and has written material that showcases his remaining strengths. As usual, his lyrics are excellent. He is one of the best in the business at creating really vivid mental images with his words and this song (and album) is no exception. Perfume River is a hard song to describe. It reveals itself over repeated listens, so is a real 'grower'. It is just quintessential Fish! All Loved Up is much more straightfoward. It is a cynical look at the current culture of being a 'celebrity' and contains tonnes of Fish's trademark black humour. Based around a simple riff from Boult, the song steams along at a good pace and is catchy as hell! Seemingly, this song is doing well in the Polish charts and I am not surprised as this song screams 'single'. If only the UK radio stations played music like this instead of the types of 'musicians' that this song is ridiculing. It is just a really melodic song that does not take itself too seriously but makes a statement about today's society. Blind to the Beautiful is a really nice acoustic number in the same vein as A Gentleman's Excuse Me from his 1990 debut solo album Vigil in a Wilderness of Mirrors. This is also the first song on the album to prominantly feature Elisabeth Troy Antwi on backing vocals and her contributions to this album should not be underestimated. She harmonises well with Fish and is the icing on the cake. Towards the end, there is a really good violin solo from Aidan O'Rourke that personifies the melancholy of the song as a whole. The album's title track is up next and this is another straight ahead rocker based around a neat riff from Boult. All three main components of this song are excellent. The main verses have a nice groove, the pre-chorus backed by the piano is delicate and that leads nicely into the catchiest chorus on the album. Throughout his career, Fish has always been able to tackle many different types of song. He does the longer, more progressive songs well; but he also has a knack for much simpler, melody-driven songs and this is one of the best examples of that.

Following A Feast of Consequences we get to the centrepiece of the album: The High Wood suite. This is a five-part epic that is inspired by a trip Fish took to the World War I battlefields in Arras, France. Both of his Grandfathers faught in the war so these songs are based partly on their experiences, which he learnt about during his trip, and partly on more general military history. Paterson made significant writing contributions to these songs and they are, unsurprisingly, quite keyboard dominated. The first part, High Wood, which, after a gentle intro, is pretty dramatic with some spiky guitar work and almost orchestral keyboard parts. Fish sets the scene of the High Wood, which is a small wood in which many people died during a major World War I battle, in this song which leads beautifully into the second part Crucifix Corner. Atmospheric is a good word to describe the opening. Fish's voice and the piano intertwine well as the song slowly builds up and it is not long before Boult's big guitars come in. During this section, Fish's vocal melodies are possibly some of the best that he has ever come up with. When listening to his hypnotic voice, you really can imagine the scenes of the First World War that he is describing. My favourite part of The High Wood suite however is the third song The Gathering. It has a similar vibe to The Company from Vigil in a Wilderness of Mirrors and details how people from the towns and cities of the UK all signed up to the army together. It perfectly captures the pride and excitment that these men had, but it also describes a much more naive and carefree world where the horrors of war were largely unknown and unreported by the press. I dare anyone not to listen to this song and not feel slightly patriotic! From there, the album moves onto Thistle Alley which could not be more different from The Gathering. The horrors of war are now fully known to all serving and this heavy, murky song makes this clear. Musically and production-wise, this is similar to the style found on 13th Star. It is a very dark piece that pulls no punches and sees Fish almost approaching metal territory in places which suits the horrific subject matter perfectly. The fifth and final part The Leaving sums up the suite really well and seems to be more of a reflection on the war as a whole. It is very poignant and intelligent piece that, for me, has given some meaning back to things like Remembrance Sunday. It ends with a line repeated from The Gathering that seems to take on a totally different meaning out of context and set to different music. I have to congratulate Fish, as The High Suite is easily the best series of songs on the subject of war. It is similar in style and structure to that of Iced Earth's Gettysburg trilogy but better in every way, plus much more relevant to British listeners.

Luckily, the final two songs left on the album manage to stand up to the genius that has just been witnessed. Other Side of Me is a typical Fish ballad, and by that I mean that it is brilliant. Antwi's vocal contributions on this song are again excellent and features the first proper guitar solo from Boult on the album! It is strange to think that this album contains hardly any solos and does not suffer from it at all. I guess that Fish's music is primarily a vehicle for his excellent lyrics but it is nice to hear the odd solo on occation. The album's last song is The Great Unravelling which brings the album to a close very well. I really like the call and response vocals from Fish and Antwi and the really atmospheric keyboards. It also has the best instrumental break of any song on the album as Boult finally cuts loose for a really monster solo, which is the last thing you really hear before it ends. Overall, this is just a brilliantly written and contructed album. It is quite long, but it is so well paced that it just flies by without every feeling boring or contrived. Being that there was quite a big gap between this album and 13th Star the fans were expecting something special and they have certainly got that! When I get around to deciding my end of year top 10 albums list, this will come in at a very high place. This could very well be my album of the year, but I am not 100% sure which album will take that crown yet. 2013 has been such a good year for new music, but A Feast of Consequences is one of the highest of high points. I really love it, and you should too!

The album was released on 14th September 2013 via Chocolate Frog Records. Below are a couple of previews of the album released by Fish to promote it.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Dream Theater's 'Dream Theater' - Album Review

Dream Theater are one of my favourite bands and have been for a few years now. I enjoy all of their albums to a greater or lesser extent so was looking forward to this, their twelfth studio effort, simply titled Dream Theater from the moment it was announced. Unusually for a prog album, the feelings that I had during and after my first listen to it are pretty much the same as they are now. In short, I like the album. It is definitely their most instantly accessible album for some time and there seems to be a much greater focus on melody. With 2011's A Dramatic Turn of Events the band had something to prove. After the departure of drummer Mike Portnoy, the band had to show the world that they could continue on without his influence, and they did that in spades. A Dramatic Turn of Events was a brilliant album that put the band back on the map after a couple of seemingly average releases (this is the popular opinion, but I disagree as 2009's Black Clouds & Silver Linings is my favourite Dream Theater album). After finishing the huge world tour undertaken to support that album, and with new drummer Mike Mangini fully embedded into the creative processes of the band, Dream Theater went back into to studio full of confidence to write and record Dream Theater. When listening to this album, what you hear is a band who feel that they no longer have anything to prove. This is just Dream Theater doing what they do best by creating interesting and melodic songs that have feet in a number of musical camps. However, it does feel much more streamlined than the band's other more recent releases. It is shorter and sleeker overall with an excellent production throughout aided by a great mix from Richard Chycki. The 22 minute epic at the end of the album aside, Dream Theater does not feel as 'progressive' as usual (this is all relative of course..). To me, this is no bad thing. Songs do not have to be overlong or full of complex sequences to be good and it seems that this is the approach the band have taken on this album. That said though, this is still unmistakably a Dream Theater album. All the hallmarks of their sound are present but the overall package just feels slightly more polished than usual. This slightly more slimline approach to songwriting might disappoint those with very fixed ideas of what Dream Theater are meant to sound like, but those fans who are open to a well produced album of progressive but melodic material will find plenty to enjoy here. Another thing that I think about this album is that the songs seem to be made to be performed live and I hope that when the band take this album on the road that they play a good chunk of the material. 

For the first time in their long career, Dream Theater have decided to open an album with an introductory piece of music. False Awakening Suite is short and sweet but gets the album off to a menacing start. The simple, fat guitar riffs could be taken straight out of a Symphony X song; and this vibe is aided by the demonic strings. It soon fades into the album's single, the heavy The Enemy Inside. It has a sound similar to that found on 2003's Train of Thought but as soon as James LaBrie starts to sing the melodies really take shape. Mangini really makes his mark on this album. He did well on A Dramatic Turn of Events but here, on songs he has helped write, he shines. He is a real beast and his technique is flawless. Jordan Rudess takes more of a back seat on this song and his keyboards create layers of texture that really enhance the mood. However, he does unleash his trademark nifty keyboard work in the instrumental section towards the end that sees him duelling with John Petrucci. The Looking Glass is up next and this might be my favourite song on the whole album. If I had to pick one song to sum up the themes and sound of the album, it would definitely be this. It demonstrates the more streamlined approach to songwriting that I was describing perfectly. The main riff is sublime and Rudess lets rip more here with some very 1980s sounding keyboards that would not have sounded out of place on 1992's Images and Words. The song seamlessly mixes strong rock passages with beautifully mellow sections to great effect. Petrucci takes an uncharacteristically basic approach to soloing that works well in this context, backed up by a beefy bassline from John Myung. Dream Theater have not included an instrumental on an album since Train of Thought but this changes now with the tour de force that is Enigma Machine (although they did write a piece called Raw Dog that was on the God of War: Blood & Metal soundtrack EP in 2010). I am not normally a fan of instrumental music, but this piece just flies by. There is so much going on that it is a little hard to focus on individual moments but it is safe to say that it is impressive. The solos from both Petrucci and Rudess are fast and intricate on the whole, but about two thirds of the way through it really slows down and Petrucci unleashes a section that David Gilmour would have been proud of! The Bigger Picture on the whole is a much gentler song. The verses are led by piano and acoustic guitar - backed by a delicate string arrangement - and give LaBrie a chance to show off his breathy 'ballad voice'. The song is built around an anthemic chorus though that is just classic Dream Theater, the second of which segues perfectly into a dreamy guitar solo. This approach is continued somewhat in Behind the Veil. The intro is pretty cinematic with some great keyboard textures mixing well with the strings but it is not long before a big Petrucci riff comes along and smashes through the wall of sereneness with a sledgehammer. The verses are a mixture of the mid-paced chugging that follows on from the main riff and clean passages that make good use of picked guitar lines. The only problem that I have with this song is that it's chorus is very similar to The Bigger Picture, but the solo is much more in Petrucci's traditional style though!

Surrender to Reason follows and the intro has a very clear Rush influence. However, the very 1980s keyboard sweeps and guitar riff soon drop out to be replaced with simple acoustic guitar and vocals. This, in turn, is soon replaced by a big riff with some Uriah Heep-esque organ - so within the short space of about 1 minute 30 seconds, we have had three distinct sounds used and nothing sounds contrived. The rest of the song is much more basic and driven by some excellent bass from Myung. Overall, he is much more prominent in the mix than on previous albums which can only be a good thing! He even gets a bass solo in this song, which Petrucci trys to outshine by soloing over the top of, but Myung's big tones win through. Along for the Ride again harks back to the band's early sound. It is a bit of a pseudo-ballad that is so catchy I am surprised it has not been released as a single. It reminds me slightly of Back on the Ground from LaBrie's recent solo album Impermanent Resonance (a review of which can be found here) as it has a similar AOR vibe. The chorus is massive, and so melodic. Rudess' keyboard solo is delightfully cheesy and shows that keyboards can be just as good as a guitar in the right context. The album's final song is the 22 minute epic Illumination Theory. Dream Theater have written many excellent epics over the years - I'm thinking specifically of Learning to Live from Images and Words and The Count of Tuscany from Black Clouds & Silver Linings which are probably my two favourites - and while Illumination Theory is not as good as either of those songs, it is still good in it's own right. As you would expect, there are many distinct sections and there is so much going on that this is probably the only song on the album that took me a few listens to really get into. Trying to describe it all would be fruitless, but there are some standout sections. About a third of the way in, the traditional instruments drop away to be replaced with gentle ambiance that soon morphs into some really excellent strings. This is not some gimmicky symphonic metal section tacked onto the song, this is the real deal. If you took this section of the song out and played it on Classical FM, people would be singing it's praises from the rooftops. The drum and bass bit that follows is also excellent. Myung lays down a great groove and locks in so well with Mangini that they feel like the perfect rhythm section. The remainder of the song is classic Dream Theater. LaBrie gives one of his best ever vocal performances in this part of the song and really helps it to stand out. Illumination Theory seems a little disjointed at first, but after a few listens really beings to make sense and is a perfect way to end the album as it is in stark contrast with the rest of the material. Overall, Dream Theater is another great album from the band. It's more immediate and melodic nature might curtial it's longevity somewhat (but I doubt it) but I do not think most fans will mind and, in fact, this will be a perfect entry point for new fans.

The album was released on 23rd September 2013 via Roadrunner Records. Below is the band's promotional video for The Enemy Inside.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Glamour of the Kill's 'Savages' - Album Review

Back in 2009/2010, I loved Glamour of the Kill. While that statement is in the past tense, it still holds somewhat true today. I first got into the band in 2009 when I heard that they were going to support DragonForce on their UK tour, so I bought their self-titled EP which I enjoyed a lot. In 2010, I saw two gigs in two days on their own UK headline tour, where they previewed a few songs from their up-and-coming debut album, and had a great time on both occasions. That album, The Summoning, was finally released in 2011 and, while my initial excitement had worn off to a certain extent, I enjoyed the album immensely - and still do. I saw the band again on the tour supporing that album, which again was excellent, but a lack of any major UK activity after that tour started to errode at my love for them. As of November 2013, the UK has still not seen another Glamour of the Kill headline tour (apart from a few shows at the end of 2011 where The Summoning was played in full, something I sadly could not make) and this strikes me as odd. 'Why are you talking about all of this in a review of the band's latest album?' I hear you ask, and the reason is that I think this lack of any real UK activity (Yes, I know they supported Motionless in White along with The Defiled earlier this year - but their set was very short and sadly, again, I could not make any of the shows) has effected my enjoyment of the said new album. That album is called Savages and, on the whole, is a solid effort. Thankfully, the band have stayed true to the sound they crafted on their EP and The Summoning. I was worried that, due to the huge popularity of the genre, Glamour of the Kill would go down the quasi-screamo/deathcore route but this fear turned out to be misplaced. Savages is full of melodic metal songs that owe as much to the 1980s glam scene as they do to bands like Bullet for my Valentine and Escape the Fate but somehow it just feels much less inspired than their previous work. I am in two minds about this album, which is why it has taken me quite a while to get around to writing this review. On the one hand, I enjoy it for what it is. Most of the songs are catchy with good riffs and solos; but, on the other hand, I was expecting much more. When I got around to pre-ordering Savages I was instantly taken back to those gigs in 2010 in the company of great friends and great music. That nostalgia built my hopes up far too much, so I believe I only have myself to blame in finding this album a little underwhelming.

Savages gets off to a good start with the riff-heavy romp Break. From the outset the production is clear and crisp and the guitar work of lead guitarist Mike Kingswood is as impressive as ever. I am glad there are young bands that are genuinely passionate about good lead guitar and the work during the verses of this song is excellent. Frontman/bassist Davey Richmond's voice seems to have a little more grit this time around, which I like. The lead single, Second Chance, is probably the best song on the album. Opening with an excellent twin-guitar harmony riff, which really shows off their 1980s influences (along with the gang vocals in the chorus), the pace and quality does not let up throughout. As is expected from the band, the chorus is extremely catchy and, based around a simple melody, it works very well. Kingswood also delivers probably his best solo yet. It is quite long, proving that his solos are not thrown into the song as an afterthought and treads the line perfectly between melody and technicality. The Only One is another decent track. Again, the chorus is the stand out part of the song. It is full of melody and holds your attention well throughout. There is another good solo, but the lead work in the song's main riff is a little throw-away and struggles to be heard properly. Live for the Weekend however just does not sit with me. I have always hated hearing people say that they 'live for the weekend' (it always sound so juvenile and ignorant) so that, coupled with some pretty dreadful lyrics, just make this song a real dud in my eyes. It also reminds me too much of bands like Blink-182 (no idea why, as it's not really a pop punk song) so this is one I can leave. A Freak Like Me gets the album back on track. I really like the keyboards in the intro and the verses are extremely infectious. When the whole band seems to shout the lyrics at you it gets you really pumped up and the chorus does not disappoint either. The problem is that hearing this song also makes you realise that a lot of the album lacks the energy and 'balls' that it has. I wish the whole album was this inspired! Heartbreaker is another solidly enjoyable song but it feels very safe after the excellent previous track. Again, however, I do like the use of keyboards here. While The Summoning had keyboards in some places, here they are used a lot more. I like that experimentation with the band's sound and hope that they continue to use them in the future.

Rescue Me is another really good tune. It is much faster and akin to their previous work. Ben Thomson's drums in the intro are nice and speedy but he does not seem to get as much chance to show off on this album, which is a shame. Harsh vocals are also used sparingly on this song, to good effect, and the really mellow breakdown after the solo sounds like something Killswitch Engage would do and works very well. After that song however, the album starts to tail off. The next three songs are pretty unremarkable and fail to be memorable in any way really. If these songs had been spread out throughout the album, I do not think it would have been as noticeable but, the way it is, this portion feels weak. It all feels very safe and extremely unadventurous. I find it hard to believe that an album can contain songs of the quality of Second Chance and A Freak Like Me and then also have such average filler like Leave it all Behind and A Beautiful Day to Die. The thing is, none of these songs are really terrible, they are just so unmemorable which is almost worse in a way! The last of the three Tears of the Sun is a little better though as the band attempt a ballad and it works somewhat. I think the song would have worked better as a 'proper' ballad though, rather than mixing gentle verses with heavier choruses. On their next album, I would love to hear a real ballad as I think they are suited to that style. Luckily, the album ends on a good note with Welcome to Hell. A nice atmospheric intro with a weird spoken word part hails a nice big riff that ensures the previous few tracks are almost forgotten. It has a very epic and dynamic feel and mixes fast verses with a powerful but slightly more stripped back chorus. I like the variety here and I hope that this kind of song is a taster of things to come. Again, keyboards make a welcome contribution to the song, this time in form of some tasteful piano towards the middle that ensures the song remains interesting. To cap it off, there is an excellent shredding solo from Kingswood that is the icing on the cake! Overall, Savages is a perfectly enjoyable album. I have reservations about it which I hope I have managed to get across in an intelligent and constructive way. I almost decided against writing this review, but I wanted to get my thoughts down on paper and, despite my problems with it, there is still lots to enjoy. I really hope that the UK sees a full headline tour soon too, as hearing songs live can really help them to open up!

The album was released on 23rd September 2013 via Steamhammer/SPV GmbH. Below is the band's promotional video for Second Chance.