Thursday, 27 November 2014

Black Veil Brides' 'Black Veil Brides' - Album Review

Like the last band I featured on this blog, Amaranthe, Black Veil Brides' last album only came out last year. Wretched and Divine: The Story of the Wild Ones (see my review of that album here) was the band's third album, and one that attempted to break the mould a little. The band's previous two albums had been rather straight ahead affairs, with plenty of catchy melodies and crunchy guitar riffs. On their last album, the band tried to branch out a little. The album was a concept album that followed a story, with lots of interludes and a varying songwriting style throughout. For a mainstream metal band, it was an ambitious album that got more right than wrong. For me however, it is an album that has not stood up as well over time, and I feel that while some of the songs there are excellent, there are lots of moments that seem to drag on slightly which do tarnish the album as a whole. This, the band's fourth album, sees them trying to return to the sound that brought them much success on 2011's Set the World on Fire with mixed results. One the one hand, there are a few really excellent songs on this album that reach the heights the band have become known for. These songs are well produced, full of soaring melodies, and have a certain sparkle that was lacking on many of the numbers on the band's previous album. On the other hand however, the rest of the album lacks any real hooks and falls flat as a result. For a band that has written and released four albums in four years however, this is hardly surprising. While Black Veil Brides are a prolific and hard working band, I feel we are seeing the law of diminishing returns in full swing here. While I am sure that die-hard fans of the band will lap this up greedily, those more casual fans (like myself) might struggle with some of the blander material here. The band's decision to team up with legendary producer Bob Rock was a winner though. Known for producing bands of the calibre of Mötley Crüe and Metallica, he knows how to make a metal record sound great. The production and overall sound of the album cannot be faulted, and it is easily the band's best produced album so far. It is just a shame that the songwriting here seems slightly rushed and uninspired in places. Still, there are enough good songs present to make the album worth a try.

The album's first two songs are very good. Single Heart of Fire opens with a strident 1980s rock riff before frontman Andy Biersack's smooth vocals come in. He has always reminded me of HIM's Ville Valo in places, and it is his understated vocals that help to create the band's sound. Jake Pitts fills the gaps between vocals with plenty of neat little guitar leads, and the song's chorus is very strong with lots of big harmony backing vocals and catchy vocal melodies from Biersack. He even unleashes a few screams, which reminds me of the band's 2010 debut album We Stitch These Wounds. Faithless is another great song with a slightly thrashy riff that maintains as the song builds up around it. Christian Coma's simple, yet fast drumming, helps the mood of the song and the sleazy verses make the most of the grittier end of Biersack's voice. Like the previous song, this has a really strong chorus that is brilliant live, and gives the fans plenty of chances to sing along. A heavy breakdown mid way through the song soon explodes into a fluid guitar solo that gives Pitts a chance to show off his skills. The guitar interplay between him and Jinxx is always really tight, and this breakdown shows it. Devil in the Mirror is not bad, but lacks the power of the two preceding songs. Coma's drumming throughout the verses is impressive though, with a good mish-mash of rhythms. The guitar work is good too, with lots of nice little melodic interludes from the two players. The song's chorus lacks the soaring quality of the previous two though, and this is what lets it down. For me, Goodbye Agony, sees a rather large drop in quality. The song is a rather twee power ballad that lacks the emotion and huge hooks that these songs need. The verses are made up of mournful piano lines with Biersack's vocals, but it fails to capture the spirit of the 1980s classics. Things pick up slightly during the chorus, which has more power, but it drops short of what it tries to achieve. World of Sacrifice is an improvement. It is a driving rocker that steams along at a nice pace. The twin lead guitar riffs are enjoyable and Biersack sounds really great during the verses as Coma's percussive drumming helps speed the song along. The chorus is slightly over-dramatic however, which does not really fit with the more stripped-back verses. Last Rites ramps the quality up again. The song has a nice, chunky riff that is sure to get heads banging, and it fits well with Biersack's gritty delivery. The pre-chorus is really melodic and interesting, with Biersack and the guitars following a nice pattern, and Pitts' solo towards the end is fast and full of excellent shredding. This is bread and butter for the band, but it is catchy!

Stolen Omen is similar. The main riff has something of modern Trivium about it, with some nice double bass pedal patterns from Coma to back up the tight riffing. Biersack makes more use of the harsh vocals here too, which have some really good effects on them to make them sound really gruff and underground. The chorus is a big contrast to this, as Biersack soars and uses the most melodic side of his voice to really project the powerful vocals. The guitar solo has a real 1980s vibe, with lots of dive-bombs and vibrato. It is cliché as anything, but it is clear to see where the band's main influences lie. Walk Away sees another drop in quality. The song is actually quite similar to Goodbye Agony with lots of piano and an overwrought atmosphere. The song makes use of lots of orchestral elements, so bits of it end up sounding like the interludes on the band's previous album. There is a good guitar solo though, and the key change afterwards is so ridiculous that you cannot help but smile. You would think that this would be the end, but no there is another good couple of minutes of piano build-up and more soloing. While none of this is intrinsically bad, it just seems slightly forced. The song is quite long, and it does outstay it's welcome by the end. Drag me to the Grave is great however and really gets the album back on track. While the 'woahwoah' vocal parts are a little silly, the rest of the song is real quality. The riffing is dirty, with plenty of pinch harmonics thrown in to give it that modern metal feel. Biersack really owns the chorus too, with some really delicious vocal melodies; and Pitts' solo is once again really strong. It is probably my favourite song on the album, and is hopefully one the band will play live for years to come. The Shattered God is another enjoyable number. The chorus is deceivingly catchy, and the riffing is really solid throughout. It is another song that has a strong 1980s vibe with some really tight twin guitar leads and lots of double kick drumming that still keeps the song at a mid-pace. The end of the song is a real guitar workout however, with a short burst of speed shredding that brings the song to a close. Crown of Thorns is the album's last song and it makes a good effort to see that the album goes out on a high. The verses are really strong, and the chorus attempts the epic and just about manages it. It lacks the power of some of the other songs here, but it has a good 'final song' vibe to it, and it rounds the album out nicely. Overall, Black Veil Brides is an enjoyable record that is let down in places by a few poorer numbers. If the band did not continually rush to release new music, they could probably be able create a really classic album. This is no classic, but it is fun.

The album was released on 27th October 2014 via Lava/Universal Republic Records. Below is the band's promotional video for Heart of Fire.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Amaranthe's 'Massive Addictive' - Album Review

The Nexus, Amaranthe's second studio album, was only released about 18 months ago (read my review of that album here) - so Olof Mörck and his band of pop-metallers have wasted little time in capitalising on their success. Massive Addictive is the band's third studio album and, while it makes no great leaps in songwriting or overall style, it delivers another album of highly catchy metal songs that are infused with irresistible pop melodies. The album does however, see the band's first ever line-up change as harsh vocalist Andreas Solveström left the band last year, and has been replaced by Henrik Englund (Scarpoint). Englund has a very similar vocal delivery to Solveström, so this change has not really affected the band's sound in any way. However, it does seem to me that his harsh vocals are slightly more prominent and more liberally used throughout the material here, which does give the album a bit more of a heavier vibe overall. The material here is once again written by guitarist Mörck, along with vocalists Jake E and Elize Ryd. Their voices have always worked well together, and it is good to see that all three of the band's vocalists getting plenty of time to show off their particular skills. Having three vocalists must be a bit of a blessing and a curse for the band. One the plus side, the band have the talents of three vastly different singers at their disposal, which can lead to plenty of diversity. However, it must be hard to keep all three of them happy and getting the balance right so as not to leave anyone out for too long. I have always wondered how the band cope live, as for some portions of the set, certain singers will not have anything to do. Hopefully I will catch the band on their UK tour next year, so I will be interested to see what the singers do while waiting for their next part. The band is rounded out by the dependable rhythm section of bassist Johan Andreassen and drummer Morten Løwe Sørensen, who's work really help to enhance the up-beat vibe that permeates through the band's sound. While none of the songs on this album really stand out as much as some of the band's previous singles (Hunger and The Nexus spring to mind), as a whole the album works very well and has a certain completeness about it. Massive Addictive feels more like a cohesive album, and less like a collection of songs, which does work in it's favour.

The album gets off to a bang (pun intended) with Dynamite, which really sets the tone for the album. The crazy, electronic synths that swirl around the chunky guitar riffs give the song a really modern feel - as the stop-start riffing with double bass drumming adds a metalcore vibe. As expected, the song's chorus is huge, with Ryd really pushing her voice further than she has on any other Amaranthe song before. Her duels with Englund in the verses work well, and Jake E mainly just adds backing here. The metalcore feel returns with a rather bassy breakdown and a short guitar solo. Drop Dead Cynical has a real groove and, even though it really sounds a lot like Marilyn Manson's The Beautiful People in places, actually works well for the band. Anyone who claims that Amaranthe are not a real metal band need to listen to the heavy verses here which sees Englund really shine with his harsh vocals. They have a much more stripped-back feel than most of Amaranthe's music, largely eschewing the synths for more traditional metal instrumentation. The song's chorus, and an industrial instrumental section later on brings them back in a big way, but it creates a great contrast, and makes this one of the more interesting songs on display. Trinity is a more typical fare for Amaranthe, and could easily have sat on their debut album. All three vocalists take turn to sing sections of the verse with Jake E's smooth delivery really standing out. The chorus is probably the album's best too, with really strong pop melodies that are well delivered by Ryd. Mörck also stands out with a short guitar solo, that reminds us of his work with both Dragonland and Nightrage. The album's title track is another more mid-paced affair, but it lacks the solid grooves that Drop Dead Cynical has. As a result, it is less interesting the album's previous songs and seems slightly more bland in comparison. However, the song's chorus melodies are deceivingly catchy, and are likely to get stuck in your head! Digital World takes this formula and hugely improves on it. The synths rumble away in the background as Mörck's heavy riffing leads the song and Englund gets plenty of opportunity to lay his harsh vocals down all over the song's verses. Again, the song contains a breakdown with some fast drumming from Sørensen that is only improved by some rather obnoxious synths. True is more of a ballad which sees Ryd and Jake E use the softer sides of their voices to create something which actually packs quite a punch with delicate piano and big guitar chords creating an appropriate backdrop.

Unreal is another more typical Amaranthe up-beat rocker with melodic synth patterns flowing over the top of a simple guitar riff. The drumming during the song's verses is actually quite interesting, with lots of unconventional patterns that stand out. The chorus is very bouncy with some good staccato riffs helped by some over-the-top synths. There is another guitar solo here too, and it shows that Mörck can really play. Over and Done is another ballad and features Elias Holmlid (Dragonland) on keyboards. Jake E dominates this song, and his voice mixes well with the piano lines that make up the basic melodies. It is a really nice song, that does not really rely on too many electronics. The piano here is well played, and there is a rather emotive guitar solo towards to the end, that has a very 1980s feel to it. Danger Zone is another heavy song that makes excellent contrasts been harshness and melody. Englund's verses are rough and would not sound out of place on your average melodic death metal album, while the choruses are real Amaranthe bread and butter with plenty of flashy synths, and the blending of both Ryd and Jake E's vocals to make something really catchy. It is a simple song, but it is one you can really get into as it is memorable and refuses to leave your head. The next couple of songs are a little less interesting. Skyline has a really catchy chorus, but the rest of the song is a little bland compared to the rest of Amaranthe's stuff. England delivers plenty of excellent vocal lines throughout the song however though, which saves it from becoming really forgettable. An Ordinary Abnormality is similar, although the song's thrashy verses are quite good. Amaranthe rarely get up to that kind of speed, so that is nice to see, but the song's chorus is a let down after the enjoyable verses. To be fair though, nearly all of their choruses are excellent, so it is a bit much to expect them all to be up to the same standard. it is a shame though, as the verses are great with some real metal venom. Luckily though, the album still finishes strongly with Exhale. It opens quite atmospherically with plenty of subtle electronics, and the song maintains this vibe throughout. Although it is melodic, it is not as in-your-face as the rest of the album which actually makes it stand out. The chorus melodies are really interesting, and seem to do something different which the band has not done before. It is hard to explain, but there is something unique about it. Overall, this is another solid and really enjoyable album from one of metal's most melodic bands. While it will not do enough to change anyone's established opinions about them, Amaranthe fans are sure to enjoy this!

The album was released on 20th October 2014 via Spinefarm Records. Below is the band's promotional video for Drop Dead Cynical.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Slash's 'World on Fire' - Album Review

Although this album was available with the Classic Rock Magazine's Fan-pack mid-September, it did not see a general release until last month. World on Fire by Slash (or Slash featuring Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators to give the band their full, convoluted name) was an album I was not originally going to get. For someone who enjoyed both his self-titled debut solo album from 2010, and 2012's Apocalyptic Love - the first of his albums to feature the same musicians on all of the tracks - this might seem an odd revelation. The thing that originally put me off though was the length of the album. At over 77 minutes long, nearly the full capacity of a CD, that is just too long. Unless you are Dream Theater, or any other progressive rock band, there is no need to make albums that length. At first I thought that the 77 minutes was the length of the Fan-pack version, as they usually come with lots of bonus tracks, but no, this was the length of the general retail release. Something about this really annoyed me and I decided not to pre-order it. However, when browsing in HMV one day shortly after the album's release, I decided to relent and give it a go and try and put the length of it out of my head. I am glad I did as, despite the overlong run time of this album, it really does rock and it is packed full of great songs! Slash and vocalist Myles Kennedy have once again written a collection of great, no-nonsense hard rock songs that ooze with equal amounts of class and sleaze. Those who are familiar with Slash's guitar sound and style will know what to expect here, and he does not divert far from his established zone. Although Kennedy is more known for his work with Alter Bridge, his work with Slash is actually starting to catch up now. With his band-mate Mark Tremonti working on his new solo album at the moment, I assume it will be a while before we hear any more from Alter Bridge! The rest of the band is made up of bassist Todd Kerns (Static in Stereo; Sin City Sinners), and drummer Brent Fitz (Union; Vince Neil) who have both toured and recorded with Slash for a while now. This band is as tight as anyone else out there touring at the moment and that translates well onto the album. On Apocalyptic Love, Myles Kennedy also played most of the album's rhythm guitar parts, but due to his commitments with Alter Bridge he has only contributed vocals here, leaving Slash to perform all of the album's guitars. This album also sees the band work with a different producer, Michael 'Elvis' Baskette, who Kennedy knows well as he has produced all but one of Alter Bridge's albums up to date.

The album's title track gets things underway in style. The opening machine gun riff is pure Slash and Kerns' pounding bass is prominent and actually drives the song while the guitar riff adds colour around it. Kennedy is in fine voice throughout this album, using a much more 1980s-inspired delivery than he does with Alter Bridge. In the song's chorus, he uses the upper end of his register to create a really driving vocal melody, aptly backed up by Kerns' punky backing vocals. Shadow Life opens out with a rather haunting clean guitar part, before the song explodes into another big riff which stops and starts throughout the verses, as Slash and Kennedy duel for the spotlight. This song sounds like something Slash might have come up with during the early Guns N' Roses days as it certainly has that vibe. It has a really excellent bluesy solo mid-way through too, that is quite fast but always full of melody. Slash has always written memorable solos that help the song's melody, and this is no exception. Automatic Overdrive has another stunning riff which is perfectly complimented with Fitz's ride-heavy drum pattern. It has that punky attitude that filled most of Slash's early work, and the song steams by quickly in a ball of energy. The song's main riff works well as the backing for the chorus too, with the descending guitar pattern making a good backdrop for Kennedy's soaring vocals. The next highlight is the strident 30 Years to Life. It opens with a simple drum beat that recalls Paradise City and some sleazy slide guitar, but the song soon kicks off and it is a real treat for all rock fans. Kennedy's lower vocals during the song's verses give the song real power, and as he gradually cranks through the gears the song builds around him. By the time we reach the chorus he is in full swing, and Slash's neat guitar leads in the background only help to enhance the atmosphere. I know this is a Slash album, but Kennedy really steals the show on this songs, and he shows why his is one of the best hard rock vocalists around at the moment. This is my favourite song on the album, and I hope this will become a live favourite for years to come. Bent to Fly is next and it opens with some really beautiful clean guitar and gentle, wordless vocals from Kennedy. This song actually has a very strong Alter Bridge vibe, especially with the way Kennedy sings in the verses. While they are fairly relaxed, the choruses are strong and powerful, turning the song into a real anthem. The song is pure class, and one all involved with it can be proud of! After a couple of more average tracks, we get to the heavy Beneath the Savage Sun. The song has a really dirty, almost metal riff and a verse that hangs on some seriously heart-stopping bass notes from Kerns. It still feels like a Slash song, but certain sections of the song are much heavier than we have come to expect from him, so it is nice to see him branching out a little and trying something different. The song's solo, however, reminds you instantly who it is!

Withered Delilah follows and this gets back to more familiar territory. It is not one of Slash's best, but it contains a really infectious chorus that is really hard to get out of your head. The riffs are still interesting, but it just lacks something that the earlier songs on this album had. Still, when Kennedy really lets rip during the chorus, you feel the power and it is hard not to sing along. Battleground is a pretty long song that goes through many different styles as it plays. It starts out as a ballad, with some really nice clean guitar patterns and Kennedy's gentle croon. The choruses are a little heavier, with some drawn out distorted chords. There is a really excellent guitar solo mid-way through that recalls some of his past moments of glory. It is epic in proportion, and goes on for quite a while as it builds up and gathers speed as it moves. Kennedy leads a wordless chant towards the end of the song that is sure to work well live with the arms of the crowd swaying in time to the music as Slash burst into another solo. Dirty Girl is exactly what it sounds like it would be, a sleazy strip club anthem. Fitz's punchy drums get things going, before a very 1980s hair metal riff comes in with a very danceable rhythm. Kerns' bass emphasises this rhythm in the verses which is sure to get hips shaking, and the chorus has great opportunities for crowd participation live. This is nothing clever or new, but it is a fun little song that does not care. Iris of the Storm is another song that definitely has that Alter Bridge influence in it. The guitar work is 100% Slash, but Kennedy uses the more emotional end of his vocals that has brought him so much success with his main band. The chorus has a great guitar arpeggio riff from Slash, and the guitar solo is almost shredded, which is a departure from his usual bluesy style. Again, this is something a little different that sets this song out from some of the others. It is great to see him try some new things, and it works very well here. Avalon is another punky hard rock number that sees plenty of soaring vocal lines and heavy, simple guitar riffs. At just under three minutes long, it is the album's shortest song, which is nice given the past two songs have been something more complex and original, so it's placing in the album really works well for it. The Dissident opens with a small, joke country rock section before one of the catchiest riffs on the album comes in and takes the song off in a really great direction. This is one of the album's best songs, as the chorus is huge and the riffing is full of that typical Slash melody. The playful melodies here are so infectious, and Slash's guitar solo is a real treat. A truly excellent song! After a short instrumental called Safari Inn, the album's last song The Unholy starts. It is actually not one of the album's best songs, and seems slightly anti-climactic after what has gone before. It never really gets going, and it is a shame that the album had to end on this song. Overall however, this is a very strong album. I still wish it was shorter, so my original doubts remain, but that does not take anything away from many of the songs here which are excellent.

The album was released on 13th October 2014 via Roadrunner Records. Below is the band's promotional lyric video for World on Fire.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Sanctuary's 'The Year the Sun Died' - Album Review

Most people in the metal world will be familiar with Nevermore, but not everyone is probably familiar with Sanctuary who are, in many ways, Nevermore's prequel. They were formed in 1985 by future Nevermore members Warrel Dane and Jim Sheppard, along with guitarists Lenny Rutledge and Sean Blosl, and drummer Dave Budbill. They released two albums on Epic Records: Refuge Denied in 1987 and Into the Mirror Black in 1989; and saw a relative amount of success until they split up in 1992. By this point, Blosl had left the band, and a young Jeff Loomis was touring with the band in his stead. Of course, after the break-up of Sanctuary, Dane, Loomis, and Sheppard formed the band Nevermore and had huge and genre-pushing success with their unique brand of progressive/alternative metal. In 2010 however, Dane announced that Sanctuary were reforming to play some shows and, eventually, record a new album. The final line-up of Dane, Rutledge, Loomis, Sheppard, and Budbill was originally intended to be 'Sanctuary' moving forward, as Blosl decided to continue on with his career in film music. However, when Nevermore spectacularly collapsed in 2011, Loomis also left Sanctuary and a replacement had to be found. Brad Hull (Forced Entry) was chosen to be Loomis' replacement, and this line-up of the band has been touring ever since. Last month, the band's long-awaited third album The Year the Sun Died was released and it seems to have been welcomed by the metal community. Sound-wise, the album certainly has more in common with Nevermore's recent sound than that of Sanctuary's early records. Much of this can be put down to the lack of high-pitched vocals from Dane. Early Sanctuary records were full of them, as was common in the US power metal scene at the time. In Nevermore he developed a much lower vocal register, and that is what he uses here, apart from during a few vocal harmony sections. That being said, this does not just sound like watered-down Nevermore. The songs are much more immediate and catchy, and the guitar riffs are heavily inspired by 1980s thrash and US power metal, as the original Sanctuary records were. Comparisons can also be drawn to Dane's 2008 solo album Praises to the War Machine which also features a much simpler, albeit more modern, sound.

The album gets off to the good start with the strident Arise and Purify which has been available on Youtube for sometime before the album's release. It was a good track to kick off the album with, as it contains everything that is great about what is to come. The opening guitar work is excellent with Rutledge and Hull teaming up together well with a great lead/rhythm combination, and Dane's distinctive vocals are present in the verses. He is one of those vocalists that has a natural 'howl' vocal style, and that is used to great effect in the song's chorus. He backs himself up with layers of high-pitched vocals which creates a huge, melodramatic sound. Let the Serpent Follow Me is a similar song and keeps up the pace set by Arise and Purify. Budbill's driving, percussive drumming really drives the heavy verses which sees Dane sounding his most deranged - something which he has always done like no-one else. The choruses however are a much different affair, with a slower, darker vibe which mixes heavy power chords with mournful clean guitars to create something interesting. There is a great guitar solo mid-way through the song too that makes great use of melody. Exitium (Anthem of the Living) is a different beast altogether. Opening with some really odd spoken word, the song is a slow, doomy masterpiece that takes a few listens to really get to grips with. While there are some fast riffs, the song never really picks up the pace, and is a vehicle for Dane's sorrowful crooning. When I first hear this song on Youtube - as it was another one posted before the album's release - I found it difficult to get into, but now I really love it and consider it to be one of the best songs on the album. No-one else besides Dane can really pull off a song like this and make it the stand-out that it is. After the catchy, but less remarkable, Question Existence Fading, the next highlight is the semi-ballad I am Low. It opens with a clean guitar riff that sounds like it came straight out of the songwriting sessions for the next Iced Earth album, and this riff forms the basis of the song's verse. Despite the fact this song reminds me a lot of another band, it is still really enjoyable and that sort of guitar playing works well behind Dane's vocals. It does get heavier during certain parts with some excellent, dissonant guitar playing, as well as some great duel lead playing towards the song's end.

Frozen is another fast, thrashy number and was the song that the band chose to make a video for. Budbill's punchy drumming opens the song before a great 1980s guitar riff takes over. This song is a real guitarists treat, with Rutledge and Hull trading leads and solos throughout the song, and there are plenty of great riffs to get your head around. Dane's vocal performance is much more straightforward here too, but no less powerful for it. There is nothing fancy about this song, it is just pure heavy metal - pure and simple! Those enjoy a good headbang are sure to get a lot out of this. One Final Day (Sworn to Believe) is another strange song. It opens with some rather jarring acoustic guitar chords, and then opens out into a rather staccato acoustic-led verse with some odd vocal melodies from Dane and gentle drumming from Budbill. The choruses are heavier, with Dane letting rip with his trademark howl, but it is the acoustic guitars that stand out here. The little classical flourishes that appear occasionally are a real treat. It is quite a short song, but it stands out by doing something a little different to what has gone before, and it shows the band's willingness to experiment. The World is Wired (not 'weird' as I first thought it said when I saw it..) gets back to the more traditional heavy metal of previous songs. It is a real riff-fest, with plenty of different catchy passages of excellent guitar work from Rutledge and Hull. There is even a section where Sheppard's bass guitar stands out, which is nice to hear. The bass is quite buried on this album, and holds the foundation rather than showing off - which only adds to the heaviness of some of the riffs here. The Dying Age is probably the only song on the album that I do not really get. I cannot put my finger on why that it is, but to me it just does not seem as inspired as some of the rest of the material here. It is quite slow, and never really builds up to anything, which is probably one of the reasons it leaves me slightly cold. It does have an excellent guitar solo though, which redeems it from being a true dud. The penultimate track here is a short acoustic instrumental, Ad Vitam Aeternam, that acts as an intro for the album's final song which also happens to be the title track. The title track is another really strong piece that works well to bring the album to a close. It mixes clean guitars in the verses with heavier, melodic choruses and sees Dane really put in an excellent performance. The way his voice mirrors the lead guitar lines during the choruses is great, and only enhances the melodic nature of the piece. Overall, this album is a winner. While some people might be disappointed that it is not more like Sanctuary's original two albums, those who like powerful, emotional metal will really enjoy this. Well over twenty years have passed since Into the Mirror Black was released, and this is a Sanctuary record for the 21st Century and, hopefully, it will not be their last!

The album was released on 6th October 2014 via Century Media Records. Below is the band's promotional video for Frozen.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Scar Symmetry's 'The Singularity (Phase I - Neohumanity)' - Album Review

Usually when I write these reviews, I am pretty familiar with the back catalogue of the band I am reviewing. I might not always be a total expert on the band, but I often have reference points from the band's older material that helps me contextualise what I am reviewing. In this case however, this is not so. The Singularity (Phase I - Neohumanity) is the very first Scar Symmetry album I have heard. Sure, I have heard the band's name mentioned a lot and am pretty sure I have heard the odd song on Youtube over the years, but this is the first time I have made an effort to get into the band. The lyric video for single Limits to Infinity really piqued my interest, so I decided to take the plunge and order the CD. I am pretty sure that my bank account will not be so happy about this, but I will probably now have to go out and buy all their back catalogue, as this is a fantastic piece of work from a band that has mostly eluded me for years. The band take the best elements of progressive metal, power metal, and melodic death metal and throw it into a blender. The sound that comes out is polished, heavy, and melodic; and this is always a winning combination for me. It is a lush-sounding album does not apologise for containing highly memorable songs that are still fairly complex and musically interesting. This is the first album where lead guitarist Per Nilsson has written all of the music for it since the departure of rhythm guitarist Jonas Kjellgren in 2013. He has also mixed and produced the album, giving himself complete creative control over it. Usually, I prefer it when an external producer lends a hand to an album to keep internal egos at bay, but Nilsson has done a fantastic job here. It sounds huge with crunching guitars, washings of keyboards (also played by Nilsson), and fast drums from Henrik Ohlsson. Ohlsson, as usual, has also written all the lyrics for the album. It is worth pointing out too that this is the first album in a trilogy that deals with the themes of artificial intelligence. His lyrics are perfectly sung by the tag-team duo of Lars Palmqvist (who handles the clean vocals) and Roberth Karlsson (who handles the harsh vocals). They work so well together and mix their contrasting styles to emphasise heaviness or melody - or both at the same time! Although the mixture of clean and harsh vocals is becoming pretty cliché in metal these days, I love it and it shows there is room for both brutality and melody in the genre.

Kicking things off is the short introduction The Shape of Things to Come which sees Palmqvist singing over some big keyboards and muted guitars, but it soon morphs into the first 'proper' song on the album Neohuman with a traditional melodic death metal-type riff and speedy drumming from Ohlsson. Palmqvist's vocals dominate the early part of the song, but Karlsson gets chance to show off too when the heaviness kicks in later. The song is over eight minutes long, but it really races by because it is so enjoyable. There is a massive chorus with some perfect AOR vocal melodies, and the whole song has a rather theatrical, over-the-top feel about it. Nilsson is a really excellent guitarist, and mid-way through the song unleashes a fluid solo before Karlsson takes over with his deep, growled vocals. The progressive nature of the band comes to the fore in the latter parts of the song as different sections fit seamlessly together, and the song transitions between heavy and melodic many times. The song that persuaded me to get this album, Limits to Infinity, is up next. It is more instantly accessible than the previous song because of the heavy power metal feel it has. The verses have a rather 1980s swagger to them as the two vocalists trade off sections. While Palmqvist's vocals are always catchier, I feel that Karlsson actually stands out more here. The pre-chorus section where he sings over some really fluid keyboard runs is stunning, and he competes with Palmqvist during the chorus for a real melodeath treat. The latter part of the song is much heavier with Ohlsson laying down some real death metal grooves with Karlsson's brutal delivery. However, the following guitar solo, and effects-drenched vocals from Palmqvist make me think of Amaranthe, and the melody is back in full force. Cryonic Harvest follows and it begins with a more mellow keyboard run but it is not long before the song gets heavy with Karlsson's dominance during the verses. The riffs here are very thrashy with little progressive flourishes to keep things interesting. This song has the best chorus of the album so far which sees Palmqvist really take hold of the melodies and make them soar with his pure delivery. The outro of the song sees plenty of fast drumming and a wall of keyboards, before it all drops out to be replaced by a rather stock sci-fi voice over. Sure it is cheesy, but it fits the mood of the album well!

The Spiral Timeshift is a much simpler song. There are big, catchy guitar riffs that Karlsson revels in growling over. Again, the vocalists trade off vocal sections - their contrasting vocal styles mixing well together. The band's music is very versatile and fits either vocal style, as both styles seem to fit well over the same riffs well. This song's chorus is a prime example of this, as Palmqvist's vocals (which remind me a lot of UK band NeonFly here) soar, while Karlsson - over the same riffs - manages to make the whole thing sound hugely heavier. A shorter instrumental piece Children of the Integrated Circuit follows, and it is basically a chance for Nilsson to show off his guitar playing abilities. Moody synths and distant drums form the backdrop of the piece while he shreds and sweeps over the top of it all. There is something of Yngwie Malmsteen's early work about sections of this piece, which other parts remind me of the more atmospheric side of John Petrucci's playing. Neuromancers follows and this is another simple, melodic piece. The chorus here is probably the best on the whole album, with Palmqvist's clean vocals really taking hold of the song and forcing it down your throat. This is not as heavy as some of the rest of the songs on the album, but it makes up for it with plenty of lush melodies that are instantly memorable. I am sure this song will become a live staple, just for the fact that the vocals are so catchy and singable! The album's final song is the ten minute plus Technocalyptic Cybergeddon which is a real progressive metal treat. It is heavy, complex, and highly enjoyable that mixes lots of different distinct sections together well to create a song that makes sure the album ends on a high. Nilsson really shines throughout this song. Whether it is a fast guitar solo, a section of melodic keyboards, or a grand soundscape - his work is always highly polished and sonically pleasing. This song is not as catchy, but it still manages to work it's way into your brain after a few listens. The guitar solo towards the end of the song is one of the highlights of the album for me as Nilsson slowly builds up the pace, and it climaxes with a repeat of the song's chorus which sees Palmqvist and big keyboards mix well together to bring the album to a melodic end. Overall, this is a really great piece of work from a band that I knew very little about before hearing this collection of songs. I shall now have to go back and explore the rest of the their work, and I look forward to the rest of the trilogy!

The album was released on 6th October 2014 via Nuclear Blast Records. Below is the band's promotional lyric video for Limits to Infinity.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Evergrey's 'Hymns for the Broken' - Album Review

When people talk about progressive metal, you tend to think about long, complex songs with plenty of elongated instrumental sections. This can often fill people with dread (not me - I love it!) but not all progressive metal bands are like that. Sweden's Evergrey is a prime example of this. They cater in emotionally-charged songwriting that aim to create a specific kind of atmosphere, rather than going for the over-the-top compositions. While they have never been as successful as some of their contemporaries, they have always maintained a loyal following and have been praised by fans and music critics alike. Unlike the soaring vocals of many other progressive metal bands, Evergrey's founder and sole original member, Tom S. Englund has a much deeper voice, which he uses well to convey the emotions in his music. His vocals are a key part of what makes the band stand out from the crowd, and there is a reason he is often considered to be one of the best vocalists in metal. Since releasing the band's eighth album Glorious Collision in 2011, times have been tough for Englund. That album was made with three new members of the band and it did not reach the heights that he had come accustomed to. In fact, things got so bad that the band nearly broke up, something which Englund has highlighted in many recent interviews. It is a good thing that they did not however as Hymns for the Broken, their ninth album, is fantastic. Both guitarist Marcus Jidell and drummer Hannes van Dahl left the band last year, a fact which I am sure contributed to the band nearly breaking up. Once again, like during the aftermath of  2008's Torn, Englund was tasked with filling the gaps. Long time keyboardist Rikard Zander was the only member left with any real history in the band, as bassist Johan Niemann had only performed on Glorious Collision. However, in a move which pleased the fans and revitalised the band at the same time, Englund managed to convince guitarist Henrik Danhage and drummer Jonas Ekdahl to rejoin the band. Both had left the band in 2010 and fans often said that these members were sorely missed. Now, with the band once again complete - and almost back to their 'classic' line-up, the band's new album could finally be completed. Hymns for the Broken is the Evergrey album that fans have been wanting for years, and is sure to make them plenty of new fans along the way as well!

The album opens with the instrumental piece The Awakening that mixes sound effects of a busy world with distant, cold-sounding synths. It then morphs into a spoken word piece that sets the mood for the rest of the album, before the song bursts into the album's first single King of Errors. Ekdahl's marching snare drum work is the centre of this song's opening, but it is not long before a simple guitar riff comes in and Englund starts to sing. His full-bodied voice sounds excellent throughout this album and really draws you into his world. The chorus is really melodic and catchy, but it still maintains the sombre mood of the song. Zander's delicate piano mixes well with Englund and Danhage's guitars to create a dense, yet accessible sound. It is easily the simplest song on the album, and works well to ease you into the album. Danhage's guitar solo is stunning too, full of fluid phrases and emotionally-charged bends. A New Dawn follows and the sound is immediately heavier from the outset. Doomy, slow Black Sabbath-esque riffs mix well with passages that would not seem out of place on a modern Killswitch Engage record and make for a song that encompasses all that is great about metal. Symphonic choirs back up Englund on a few occasions during the song, and Zander's keyboards knit the whole thing together with melodic precision, especially when his piano dominates the latter part of the song. Despite the clunky title, Wake a Change is a really soulful piece that brings the best out of both Englund and Zander. It is piano-led, with the rest of the instruments taking a back seat, only coming in when necessary. It feels like a ballad, but the crunchy guitars stop the song from slowing the pace too much so early in the album. Danhage's tortured guitar solo mixed with Englund's wordless vocals bring the song to an excellent close. Archaic Rage follows on perfectly on from the previous song, but places emphasis more on the heavier end of the band's sound. Keyboards still play a leading part, but it is the doomy guitar-led passages and bass-heavy verses that stand out more here. The chorus soars in a rather muted sort of way, but this is perfect for the piece and only helps to highlight the faster sections of the song that appear mid-way through. Barricades is a much more openly heavy song, and boasts the very dry sounding guitars that are popular in metal at the moment. Englund's vocal melodies are very catchy throughout this song, and are a great contrast to the very djent-like guitar riffs. Zander's piano flourishes help to alleviate this feeling a little, and Englund and Danhage's duelling guitar leads bring class into the mix.

Black Undertow again opens like a ballad with simple piano arpeggios, but it soon grows into a full-band effort with an excellent chorus which seems Englund challenge his natural range with the occasional 'high' note. The slightly strained delivery here actually helps the song overall, as it really taps into the band's emotional streak, and this is fully cemented when Danhage's solo takes over and just washes over you perfectly. The Fire is another heavy piece, opening with a riff that sounds like something Mark Tremonti would write for his upcoming solo album. The verses are a little more subdued, with certain sections being handed over to a children's choir to sing, but the choruses are heavy with massive guitars and pumping bass. This is a simple piece that is over quite quickly, but helps to ramp up the metal again after some slightly more emotional songs. The album's title track is up next, and the soaring guitar leads that lock in well with the opening riff have a very 1980s metal vibe to them, but the piano that follows has something of power metal about it. The song is quite a chugger though, with big palm-muted guitar chords and staccato drumming. This is a guitarist's song however with plenty of excellent lead work and a fluid solo that claws back some of the limelight that the keyboards have hogged for the past couple of songs. Missing You is a proper ballad that, although it is short, it packs an emotional punch. Zander's piano is the only instrument on the song, and Englund's vocals sing perfectly over the top of it. Zander steals the show on this song though, with perfect piano lines, especially the sections where the unexpected higher notes come in. The album's final two songs are both mini epics that each clock in at over seven minutes long. The Grand Collapse is a heavy piece with crunching guitars and powerful drumming from Ekdahl. The song's main riff is very classically metal, and stabs of distant piano help to add hints of melody into the heavy darkness of this song. The spoken word from the album's intro also returns for a brief moment, before a really crazy guitar lead and some dense riffing just takes your head off. The heaviness continues throughout the rest of the song, and acts as a great contrast to The Aftermath which follows. To me, this song has a huge Pink Floyd vibe running through it, with effects-drenched slide guitar parts and wordless female vocal parts drifting through occasionally. There is also something of Anathema's recent work with the tone of the guitars and the way the song builds around repeating patterns. It is a perfect end to an album that has been pretty heavy throughout. Overall, this is a really excellent piece of work that is sure to put Evergrey firmly back on the map. I just hope that the band tour this heavily and promote it, as this album deserves to be heard by many!

The album was released on 29th September 2014 via AFM Records. Below is the band's promotional video for King of Errors.

SikTh - Plymouth Review