Sunday, April 27, 2014

Slayer – Implode

Many might argue that the title of Slayer’s new single is an indication of what has happened to the band. Since losing Jeff Hanneman and Dave Lombardo, Slayer is obviously not what they once were, but it’s important to take a step back and consider who has taken over for these two legends: Gary Holt, an equally killer guitarist that is responsible for much of today’s thrash sound, and Paul Bostaph, a former member who has drummed in plenty of killer thrash bands. With this in mind, it’s best to put the debate of whether or not this is still “Slayer” to rest, and just evaluate the quality of the music the band is still putting out.

Before looking at the caliber of the music however, it’s worthwhile to note that Slayer has already addressed the most disappointing aspect of their last record: the production. The guitars are a lot thicker and sharper this time around which is only amplified by the heaviness of the opening, doomier riff. It is this opening that is actually a bit out of place for Slayer. Sure, they’ve done slow stuff before, but generally a Slayer single should be at breakneck tempos. After a while of this crushing downtuned riff, Tom Araya’s vocal patterns start to indicate that things are about to get crazy, and they do. The remaining 3ish minutes of “Implode” show Slayer doing what they do best: play insanely fast while Tom angrily yells at you. His vocals are certainly not as potent as they once were, but he does unveil a higher range in the chorus. This song has two guitar solos and both are completely frenetic and devoid of sense, which is exactly how they should be.

At a certain point, I think fans get too caught up in the legacy of a band rather than the music. This isn’t the best song Slayer has ever written, but other than the first minute, it is largely in line with the best years of their career. It’s hard to imagine fans of thrash and fans of Slayer not liking this track, but I have no doubt they’ll try.

Be sure to check out and like Slayer on Facebook!

Final Rating
4.25/5 or 85%. 

Written by Scott 

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Starblind - Darkest Horrors

From the metal wonderland of Sweden comes a new traditional heavy metal band: Starblind. Their primary influence appears to be Iron Maiden, but the band does manage to have their own sound on “Darkest Horrors”, their debut album. Starblind features an incredible wailer on vocals, who really drives most of the record. There is a moment on “Crystal Tears” where he gets a bit out of control, but for the most part, he’s got a great command of his voice. You’ll see this throughout the album, as it’s a very hooky record, with a number of tracks that are likely to be stuck in your head when it’s over. Surprisingly, however, the hooks are just as prevalent in the guitars as they are in the vocals. For example, the opener, “Ascendancy”, kicks off with a wicked dual-lead guitar melody. Meanwhile, the chorus of the title track proves to integrate harmonies a bit more subtly, but to equal effect.

A couple of the other prime examples of the catchiness of the guitars comes from the Maiden worship. “I Stand Alone” goes full on “Fear of the Dark” with its main riff. While not completely identical, it has a very similar feel that will stick with you. Likewise, “The Reckoning” manages to capture the essence of “Still Life” (possibly the most underrated Maiden song) in the verse riff, before unleashing some harmonies that are reminiscent of "To Tame A Land". As you might imagine, harmonies are rampant on “Darkest Horrors”. This is great because the harmonies are killer, but also because it allows the bass to step forward. In general, the bass on this record is not buried at any point, but it does stand out when the guitars are soaring. 

In terms of pacing, most of the record is pretty similar. The band never gets too fast, but things are usually upbeat. The chorus of “Blood In The Night” shows some decent double bass work that amps up the energy, but not necessarily the speed of the album. When the band does slow down, such as on the first half of “Crystal Tears”, the result is brilliant.  The intro of this song just screams Maiden with the way the clean guitars are used (a similar thing occurs on “The Reckoning”). Relative to some of the other Maiden moments on this record, however, this part of the song never feels like it’s borrowing from any particular Iron Maiden track. Of course, a “Powerslave”-esque harmony does show up after the guitar solos, but again, it doesn’t feel like Starblind is being unoriginal. Rest assured, despite the number of times the legends of metal were mentioned in this review, Starblind is very much their own band. “Darkest Horrors” is very much a unique experience; it just happens to draw plenty of influence from the greatest metal band of all time.

Be sure to check out and like Starblind on Facebook!

"The Reckoning"
"I Stand Alone"

Final Rating
4.0/5 or 80%. 

Written by Scott 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Paranorm Interview

SFM: Congratulations on the successful release of your new EP, “The Edge of Existence”! How would you describe the EP for those who haven’t heard it? 

Markus: Thank you! I think it would be best described as thrash metal with a lot of riffs, melodies and some arrangements previously unheard in thrash metal. The album starts off with some in­your­face thrash, while pulling towards longer songs with more riffs and some cleaner, slower sections towards the end. 

Fredrik: Thanks a lot, man! I’d probably describe it as something like: “Crushing riffs with unique dual workouts and great melodies, aggressive vocals that might remind you of a young Mille Petrozza, blazing guitar solos stuffed with shred, melody and tasty bends and vibrato… coupled with intense drumming that offers some blast beats here and there… and some clean instrumental parts to mix it all up a little even more!”. 

SFM:  What do you think are the biggest differences between “The Edge of Existence” and the last EP? 

Fredrik: I think the two EPs are on two whole different levels when it comes to songwriting and technical skills. Obviously, we have been working really hard on improving on both areas. Heck, we formed the band at pretty much the same time that we picked up our respective instruments, so naturally the sound of the band has evolved side by side with how we evolve as musicians and reach new plateaus. Also, in my opinion, what you hear on “Pandemonium’s Rise” is a band searching for its identity, whereas on “The Edge of Existence” I’m pretty confident that we’re pretty close to finding it. 

Markus: The biggest difference in my opinion is the songwriting. On “Pandemoniums Rise” we wrote songs that we felt like writing at the time, whereas on “The Edge of Existence” we wrote songs that we had a goal for, and that we worked hard for to get every detail exactly right. We knew the kind of sound we wanted for the EP, and we wrote songs to fit that sound. And meanwhile, we worked hard to get our personal skills up to par with the sound we had in mind, and I think that shows on “The Edge of Existence.” 

SFM: It’s been about two and a half years between the two releases. What has the band been up to in that time? 

Fredrik: We released the first EP, “Pandemonium’s Rise”, in late 2011 and followed that up by doing promotional work for it. We went out with a bang in early 2012, did shows around Sweden and went on a mini­tour. During the following year we did a couple of shows here and there while working a lot on compositional and technical skills, and of course started serious work on the material that ended up on “The Edge of Existence”. 

SFM: Based on my impressions of the new EP, it sounds like you guys draw a lot of influence from technical thrash bands like Coroner and Toxik, among others. What would you say are the main influences in Paranorm’s sound? 

Markus: Coroner and Toxik are of course legendary bands. We draw a lot of influence from this kind of technical thrash, but at the same time, we don’t shy away from other sorts of influences, like newer kinds of death or black metal. For me personally, when I compose new music, I draw the most inspiration from new thrash bands like Vektor and Hexen. 

Fredrik: Besides these bands that have been mentioned already, we also draw influences from the good old classic thrash stuff, as well as NWOBHM. Those kind of things that we grew up on, you know? But it doesn’t stop there really. Personally, I listen to a lot of different kind of rock and metal, and you pick up little things here and there, either consciously or subconsciously, that influence you in different ways. 

SFM: When it comes to more technical or progressive thrash metal, Vektor seems to be mentioned more than anyone these days. How do you think Vektor has affected the popularity of this sound, if at all? 

Markus: I think Vektor has done an incredible thing for thrash metal. Vektor was the first band to really take thrash to a new level in this age that we live in, which in my opinion is exactly what thrash metal needed. Obviously, Paranorm draws a lot of inspiration from this new way of viewing thrash metal. Of course, we don’t seek to mimic Vektor, but seek to find our own sound within thrash metal. There are loads of areas yet to be explored within the genre! 

Fredrik: Yeah, huge props to Vektor. They really have pushed the boundaries and brought something totally unique to the table. Truly inspiring! 

SFM: Historically, Sweden has managed to pump out an impressive number of extremely proficient bands. Paranorm seems to fit that mold. How do you think Sweden’s metal scene encourages this high quality musicianship? Is it in anyway the result of Yngwie blowing everybody away in the 80’s? 

Markus: Actually, there aren’t a whole lot of truly classic Swedish thrash bands. There are obviously a few, but I think the way Sweden has become a landmark in metal is more through melodic death metal and black metal. For Yngwie, I think he inspired a lot of emerging young guitarists in Sweden, just by proving that we can truly be the best, most groundbreaking guitar players in the world. However, I would not give all the credit for the success of swedes in music to him. I think it’s rather due to a huge interest in music among swedes in general.  

Fredrik: Well, you gotta have something to get you through the dark and cold winter months, haha. No, but seriously, I don’t know… I suppose swedes are really passionate and interested in music in general, and with great passion comes great music. Regarding Yngwie, I’m a huge fan so my opinion is perhaps a bit biased. But, the way he decided to just go for it, leaving for the US, bringing pretty much nothing more than a guitar and a toothbrush, and ends up being one of the top guitarists in the world sure shows that even us from this little place called Sweden can be the best. I think it’s a great story and source of inspiration, and that possibly in ways have fueled people enough to dare dream and believe, take the leap, and just go for it! 

SFM: What does the rest of 2014 hold for Paranorm? 

Fredrik: Continuing promotional work for “The Edge of Existence”. We’re really psyched to get out on the roads and just gigging our asses off and promoting this new one and meeting the fans again. We’re working on booking as many gigs as we possibly can, and would love to get some kind of tour going during the summer or fall. It would also be great to broaden our horizons a bit by playing shows outside of Sweden. Besides that, we have started to take aim on our debut full­length album. We have started writing little pieces here and there, and this process will most likely snowball during the year. I’m really excited to just take all the things we learnt writing “The Edge of Existence”, heading in the same kind of direction, putting the pedal to the metal and just getting together a beast of a record that truly will display what Paranorm is all about. 

Markus: The rest of 2014 will probably see Paranorm playing in as many places as we possibly can, like Fredrik already said. Meanwhile, we are writing as much new music as possible to get a full length record going! 

SFM: A lot of thrash bands in recent years seem to base their sound almost entirely off of some combination of Kreator, Exodus, and Slayer. You guys obviously have some other influences as well, but do you feel that thrash as a whole is stuck worshipping the same bands instead of moving forward? Is it a genre that should move forward?

Markus: Yes, I feel like a lot of new thrash bands are stuck in this way of thinking. Obviously, bands like the ones you mentioned are huge in the sound that they originally created. However, this was close to 30 years ago, and the thrash metal genre still hasn’t evolved a lot since then (apart from a select few new bands). I think every genre should always strive to move forward, and this is what we are determined to do as a band. The genre doesn’t have to change, but there are a whole lot of sounds that haven’t been explored, still to this day. 

Fredrik: At the same time I think it’s great that some bands still stay confined within the areas that were the origins of the genre. It really shows that thrash metal is an enduring and long­lived motherfucker. Also, at the risk of sounding like a mood killer, the classic thrash bands will, unfortunately and inevitably, have to call it quits at some time as old age kicks in or whatnot. And in my opinion it would really suck if touring bands sounding like the old school also would completely disappear off the scene. I think it’s healthy having a solid mix of both sides, but people should not be afraid to go nuts and experiment with the genre and push the envelope! 

SFM: How does social media affect your interaction with fans? As Facebook continues to lower the reach of pages to fans who have liked their page, are you finding it harder and harder to get to your fans? 

Markus: Facebook and the like have helped bands to get more in touch with the fans. Now more than ever, fans have a way to truly speak their minds to bands directly while the bands have a way to hear the opinion of the fans. As long as you distinguish the criticizers from the all­out haters, you have a lot to gain from the possibility of fan­interaction that social media offer. 

Fredrik: It’s true what Markus said. It does simplify and offer a new way bands and fans can communicate with each other, which is nothing but great. In my opinion however, Facebook’s recent actions that limits and really puts a lid on how many people you will actually reach by each individual post is… very questionable, to put it mildly. It is counter­productive and the whole idea of having a platform where you easily can interact with fans kind of loses its purpose. 

SFM: Any last words for the fans out there? 

Fredrik: First of all; thanks for the interview! And to everyone out there; check out “The Edge of Existence” if you haven’t already, grab a copy from our webstore, share and headbang your brains out! And hopefully we’ll see you on the road!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Edguy – Space Police – Defenders of the Crown

With each new Edguy album over the past 8 or so years comes the claim from vocalist Tobias Sammet that this one is heavier, faster, and better than the last one, as well as a return to the band’s roots. Objectively speaking, he’s been wrong about those albums being heavier or faster. Whether or not they’re better is up for debate, but I, alongside many other Edguy fans, would say “Tinnitus Sanctus” and “Age of the Joker” were not the band’s best work, despite having some great songs. The good news is that “Space Police – Defenders of the Crown” is by far the band’s heaviest and faster album since at least “Rocket Ride”, and possibly even “Hellfire Club”. More importantly however, this album feels like Tobi put as much effort into it as he does into Avantasia. The Avantasia records from 2008 and onwards are not stylistically all that different from Edguy’s recent output; the band has interspersed small amounts of power metal alongside more straight forward traditional heavy metal and hard rock. For some reason though, these Avantasia records tend to be a lot more compelling than the Edguy ones from the same timeframe. Nevertheless, the band is back on track with this album, as the beginning shows.

Opening up with “Sabre & Torch”, the band unleashes a “Mysteria”-esque riff that eventually gets pretty heavy. This track is upbeat and makes for a great sing-along chorus. Tobi does sound a bit tired on this track, making me wonder if he’s overworked given the sheer number of releases and tours he does, but his vocals actually sound a lot better on the rest of the album. This is most noticeable in some of the more laid-back tracks, such as “Do Me Like A Caveman”, which has a chorus that sounds like it was written in the same sessions as “Angel of Babylon” and “The Wicked Symphony”. It’s quite simple, but catchy nonetheless. In fact, it is memorability that is a big factor in separating “Space Police – Defenders of the Crown” from the other recent Edguy albums. Both title tracks have infectiously catchy choruses. The buildups to the choruses are well done, and culminate in fantastic sing-along moments. In fact, the latter title track brings back the “whoa-oh” sections that so many power metal bands have abandoned in recent years. It is these moments that make this style of music so much fun, and it is great to see them return.

Of course, what would an Edguy album be without something weird? The first of these strange moments is the alien sound effects on “Space Police”. This is annoying at first, but ends up improving the strength of the choruses that bookend it. The next head-scratcher is the cover of Falco’s “Rock Me Amadeus”. This song has some hip-hop/rap influenced sections, but again, those are easily ignorable due to the grandeur of the chorus. It’s easy to see how this track would be a turn-off to most metal fans, but perhaps my love for Edguy is blinding me as I actually really enjoy the song now.

The single on this record is “Love Tyger”, and it is certainly one of the tracks that harkens back to the sound of the last couple of records. It has a large glam influence, as it strives to be a fun song with a lot of energy. In the context of the album, having one song like this is actually a nice change of pace. And to vary up the rhythm of the album even more, the very next track, “The Realms of Baba Yaga”, is the speediest most old-school sounding song on the album. Don’t let the strange title fool you; this is Edguy playing some serious metal, complete with double bass, soaring vocals, and a shredding guitar solo. "Shadow Eaters" is stylistically similar, and is also likely to be a fan favourite.

Despite how impressive this record is, it does lose a bit of steam near the end. “The Eternal Wayfarer” is much in the vein of the tracks on the first half of the record, but is not quite as inspired as those early songs. The lone ballad, “Alone In Myself”, is the only song that is not particularly enthralling, as it doesn’t bring back the memorability of “Forever” or “Scarlet Rose”. For this reason, I’d suggest buying the special edition of the album, as it features another highlight: “England”. This song is pure Iron Maiden worship, literally. This track is actually a pretty catchy slow number, but it is the hilarious lyrics that make it even better. 

Space Police – Defenders of the Crown” is Edguy’s best record is a decade. The problem with most power metal bands that slowed down was never the fact that they mostly stopped playing power metal; it was that the music just wasn’t as good anymore. On this album, Edguy prove that when you bring back the high quality songwriting, this style of metal is just as awesome as the old stuff!

Be sure to check out and like Edguy on Facebook!

"Space Police"
"Defenders Of The Crown"
"The Realms Of Baba Yaga"
"Do Me Like A Caveman"

Final Rating
4.75/5 or 95%. 

Written by Scott 

Friday, April 18, 2014

Insomnium – Shadows of the Dying Sun

Melodic death metal has never been a favourite subgenre of mine, but Insomnium is one of the few bands that really shows how brilliant this style of music can be. Much of their music is based on the conflicting emotions of despair and uplifting hopefulness. It is truly incredible how they balance the two sounds, and it creates for powerful experience unlike any other. “Shadows of the Dying Sun” is the sixth full-length record for the band, and it largely continues in the style they’ve carved out over the last couple of records. Clean vocals have been fully integrated in this album; that’s not to say they appear on every track, but songs like “While We Sleep” and “Lose To Night” feature them prominently. In fact, the former track lets the clean vocals feel like the lead over the harsher growls because singing opens each of the verses. Ville Friman’s singing is still technically unimpressive, but he does a fantastic job fitting the emotions that the band conjures up. For this reason, “Shadows of the Dying Sun” is a tough sell on first listen. These are songs that you really need to listen to multiple times before they grow on you, but it is well worth the investment.

One aspect of this album that will not take long to get into is the improved quality of the guitar solos. Bringing in Markus Vanhala from Omnium Gatherum has definitely brought some inspiration to the band’s shredding. The solo at the end of “While We Sleep” is a fantastic example of a solo where every note is completely gripping, and given how impactful these songs already are, a great solo brings them over the top. Another stellar performance comes from vocalist Niilo Sevänen. His vocals are extremely deep and are definitely what keeps the death metal tag on this band.

From a songwriting perspective, there are a few obvious highlights. Both singles, “Revelation” and “Ephemeral”, are among the best tracks. “Revelation” is one of the band’s fastest and thrashiest tracks on this record, but the band still manages to intersperse their trademark melancholy sound throughout the song. By contrast, “Ephemeral” ditches the speed in favour of pure catchiness. This is the one song that after a single listen will remain in your head for hours. Nevertheless, every song is ultimately very true to Insomnium’s core sound. While a track like “Black Heart Rebellion” uses blast beats to mix things up, for example, it never strays from being an epic, sorrow-filled journey. The band primarily achieves this through lingering melodic lines atop pounding, mid-paced double bass work. When Sevänen isn’t growling, he often uses some whispering vocals, but this again just adds to the feel of the music. 

My one criticism of “Shadows of the Dying Sun” is that it is too long. Forget the fact that albums nearing an hour already tend to be excessive; Insomnium’s music is genuinely draining to listen to in lengthy bursts. By the end of the record, there is definitely a feeling of sameness from each song, even though most tracks do have something unique about them. Nevertheless, nobody does this style better than Insomnium, so if you need another fix of killer melodeath, “Shadows of the Dying Sun” will be a favourite.

Be sure to check out and like Insomnium on Facebook!

"While We Sleep"

Final Rating
4.25/5 or 85%. 

Written by Scott