Sunday, April 26, 2015

Armory – S.M.I.

Armory is billed as a speed metal band that comes from Sweden. The band put out a 4-track demo a couple of years ago, and has returned in 2015 with a second demo, entitled “S.M.I.”. Though the speed metal label is quite fitting, it would be equally fair to say that there is a lot of thrash in their sound. In other words, this demo comes from the darker and dirtier side of speed metal (think early Slayer rather than double-speed Iron Maiden). The production is rough, but the consistent buzzing of the guitars cuts through the mix. There is an overload of riffs, and pretty much all of them are high-charged, explosive affairs. This energetic approach works well when combined with the vocals. Armory’s singer embraces the raw approach of this music well; on the one hand, he uses a more melodic style most of the time, but on the other hand, his vocals really aren’t all that polished. That doesn’t mean that he can’t hit the notes, but more that his technique doesn’t sound all that refined. A good comparison would be to the singer of Deathrow (though Armory’s vocalist has a bit more range), who has a really solid voice, but doesn’t exactly sound like Bruce Dickinson.

Part of what keeps this record firmly planted in the speed metal territory is the use of melody. A song like “Alien Invasion” shows the band pulling off some great leads, alongside plenty of shreddy guitar solos, and the opening song "Blazing Lazers" has some wicked harmonized guitars that quite fittingly sound like blazing lazers. No matter how melodic the band gets, they never let up the energy. Even the latter parts of the aforementioned "Alien Invasion" are travelling at warp speed as Armory’s vocalist lets off some crazy-high wails. Regardless of how you categorize this demo, it is clearly an inspired release. It doesn’t really scratch the surface of being original, but it has more than enough enthusiasm to make up for that fact. While the rougher production actually does suit the band’s music, it would be very interesting to hear a tighter sound on their upcoming full-length.

Be sure to check out and like Armory on Facebook!

Highlights
"Blazing Lazers"
"Alien Invasion"

Final Rating
4.0/5 or 80%. 

Written by Scott 

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Encyrcle – Encyrcle

If you’ve been out of the loop for the last couple of years, you’ve missed the emergence of the fastest rising and one of the highest quality labels in metal: Unspeakable Axe Records. What makes the label so great is that every single release sounds different. While they primarily deal in old-school metal sounds (speed, thrash, death), no two bands on the roster sound the same. Even better, nearly every band on their roster has something unique about them, even when compared against the rest of the metal world. In this case, it is the Danish speed metal group, Encyrcle. The speed metal formula is largely in place at this point in metal history, but as with most of their labelmates, Encyrcle manages to put their own twist on this style. They primarily do this through a sideways, twisted style of riffing. A great example is the opening of the first full-length track, “To The End”, which has a strange tremolo-picked riff that makes use of some uncommon intervals. This sound is a common theme on the record, as Encyrcle consistently finds ways to surprise the listener with interesting riffs.

Of course, at its core, the primary elements of heavy metal are still here. The riffs hit hard and support the energetic rhythm section. Most of the songs are pretty speedy, though Encyrcle is able to mix up the tempos within the songs to prevent them from becoming one giant blur. Their vocalist is an excellent complement to their sound. He’s more of a singer than a screamer, but he doesn’t utilize an absurdly high range. Instead, he’s like a more subdued version of a more insane singer like John Cyriis. This approach is effective because it allows the guitars to shine a bit more, and given the distinctiveness of the band’s sound, this is a good thing.

One thing about “Encyrcle” that is a little surprising is that the songs haven’t really stuck with me. Despite having given this album numerous listens over the past week, I still couldn’t pick out any of the songs or riffs just by the titles. It’s not so much that the material isn’t good, but more that the song structures and melodies aren’t that conducive to being picked up easily. All of the elements are executed effectively, but it might take a bit longer than normal to be able to sing along to anything on the record. Nevertheless, as with all Unspeakable Axe Records releases, it is an essential purchase!

Be sure to check out and like Encyrcle on Facebook!

Highlights
All of it

Final Rating
3.8/5 or 76%. 

Written by Scott 

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Nightwish – Endless Forms Most Beautiful

Nightwish is now 20 years into their career, and in an interesting spot. Despite losing two singers (including the one that is arguably the reason for their initial burst of fame), the band seems to get more and more popular. Even for me, they’re a bit of a mystery; some of their material is brilliant, while other songs are uninteresting (often on the same album). With that said, a new singer being in the picture is a good opportunity to check out the band, especially given Floor Jansen’s incredible abilities.

On the whole, “Endless Forms Most Beautiful” exceeded my expectations. The album is filled with catchy songs, that, despite some hiccups, still manage to be worth hearing. The biggest problem with “Endless Forms Most Beautiful” is the same one that Nightwish has had for a while: it’s too long. Even if this album were 79 minutes of the most brilliant material in existence, it would be too much. Of course, there is still a bit of fluff amongst that run time (particularly in the 24-minute “The Greatest Show On Earth”, though that song also has some of the album's best and most intense moments). When the band is playing full steam, however, they will keep you rocking. One great example of this is the opener, “Shudder Before The Beautiful”, where Emppu Vuorinen greets you with one of the heaviest Nightwish riffs ever. The band has their tamer moments as well, including the single, “Élan”, but as long as there’s no interlude, they are generally playing something enjoyable.

Of course, perhaps the most important aspect here is Floor’s vocal performance. There is no doubt she is quite talented, but it was unclear how she would fit in with Nightwish’s sound. To be honest, the result is a bit disappointing. She hits all of the notes and always sounds in-tune, but she just doesn’t sound all that powerful. It has nothing to do with her skill, but more just that the vocal lines sound like they were written for Annette, rather than Floor. There are a few moments when she really lets loose, and it becomes clear that there is a lot of potential in Nightwish with her at the helm.

Despite my criticisms above, this album is still worth purchasing. The songs are filled with layers upon layers of interesting material, much of which will take a few listens to truly appreciate. Tuomas Holopainen is always delivering something exciting on the keyboards, and it’s clear he has truly mastered Nightwish’s current songwriting craft. It doesn’t seem like bassist/vocalist Marco Hietala makes as many vocal appearances as he has in the past, but each one is fitting and well performed. Overall, “Endless Forms Most Beautiful” is an excellent demonstration of a band that knows their sound and executes it well. Though one would typically associate a singer change with a mid-life crisis for a band, Nightwish has handled it incredibly well, and one can only hope that Floor’s talents will be better utilized in the future.

Be sure to check out and like Nightwish on Facebook!

Highlights
"Shudder Before The Beautiful"
"Endless Forms Most Beautiful"
"The Greatest Show On Earth"

Final Rating
4.2/5 or 84%. 

Written by Scott 

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Blasphemer – Demo of Darkness

Though metal fans of the underground have made an impressive effort to uncover all of the lost gems of the old-school death metal scene, it is inevitable that some bands have fallen through the cracks. One such example is the UK’s Blasphemer. Although they never put out an album, they did put together a few demos in the early 1990s, and recently resurfaced. In 2015, they unleashed the appropriately titled “Demo of Darkness”, and gave everyone a reminder of what old-school death metal should sound like. The riffs on this release hearken back to a time when the thrash influence was still prominent in death metal, with many of the faster riffs sounding like something you would find on an early Cannibal Corpse or Morbid Angel record. Similarly, the vocals also take an old-school approach; they’re fully growled, but also entirely understandable. A good comparison would be to modern-day Autopsy (another band that Blasphemer worships, as they throw some slower, doomier sections into their music occasionally).

One really awesome thing about this demo is the approach to soloing. Both tracks have numerous guitar solos (though “Immortality” definitely favours them more), and go for a noisy, spastic, Trey Azagthoth approach. The solos are incredibly furious, and although they pay little attention to coherent musical form, they do appear quite deliberately planned.

Of the two tracks, “Immortality” is probably slightly stronger, if for no other reason than it feels a bit more consistently fast. In reality, both of these songs are a prime example of a band that fits in with the early 1990s quite well (because they were there). Once again, it is the thrash influence that makes this obvious; bands are usually better when they sound like they’re developing with a scene rather than simply worshipping it. As much as I love modern rehashes, sometimes you just can’t beat the original, and Blasphemer is original UK death metal!

Be sure to check out and like Blasphemer on Facebook!

Highlight
"Immortality"

Final Rating
4.3/5 or 86%. 

Written by Scott 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Backhill – Shadow Man


Backhill is a new project from Finnish multi-instrumentalist Kimmo Perämäki, who handles the guitars, bass, keyboards, and vocals on “Shadow Man”. Though his musical history lies in power metal (he is a former member of Celesty), “Shadow Man” leans in a bit of a different direction. The best description of this release would be melodic metal. It’s definitely a bit of a vague term in general, but it perfectly describes this album. The songs are built around great melodies, both vocal and guitar, and it sort of sounds like “easy-listening” metal. In fact, the only song on this entire album that displays any aggression is the short tune “She Said” (which is one of the stronger tracks). Aside from that, the rest of the album is more straightforward, and very easy to get into. At times, the band builds a bit of a creepy atmosphere, such as on the title track, but overall, this album is just about having fun.

Two very apt comparisons to Backhill would be the bands Altaria and Fullforce. Both are more focused on writing really great songs rather than sticking within the confines of power metal. As a result, the music ends up being a bit lighter, and perhaps alienates those who need some double bass, but the music ultimately proves very rewarding. Backhill takes a similar approach on “Shadow Man”. As the album goes on, it actually strays further from metal and more into rock territory. One exception is the closing ballad “Little Lighthouse”, which is neither rock nor metal. Despite being the softest song on the album, it is actually one of the best. It is a duet featuring some female vocals, and a really catchy chorus. The song actually sounds like it was written for Michael Kiske; or at least, both singers offer a similar delivery that is very effective (it's just easy to imagine how incredible Kiske would sound on this track). Another great tune is the instrumental "Jaako and the Beanstalk", which displays both Perämäki's shredding abilities and his ability to write incredibly captivating guitar lines.

Despite my praise above, I find the album to be lacking just a little. As mentioned earlier, I’m ok with it not being too heavy, but unfortunately it doesn’t feel like the songs always make up for the lack of speed and intensity. When they do, this album is incredibly enjoyable, but at other times, you kind of just want Perämäki to let loose and unleash a power metal assault. At the very least, this album displays a lot of potential. There’s nothing that’s outright bad, but perhaps a better balance between the band’s softer approach and some more rocking tunes could make the band’s future records stronger. Nevertheless, this is highly recommended for fans of the aforementioned Altaria and Fullforce, as you can never have too much of that style of music!

Be sure to check out and like Backhill on Facebook!

Highlights
"Shadow Man"
"She Said"
"Jaako and the Beanstalk"
"Little Lighthouse"

Final Rating
3.75/5 or 75%. 

Written by Scott 

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Grethor – Cloaked In Decay

Cloaked In Decay” marks EP number 2 for Grethor. This American black/death metal group plays really twisted music. It’s almost misanthropic; this EP truly sounds like the soundtrack for anyone who hates anything and everything. This is most obvious from the vocals, which hack, wheeze, and scream their way through the EP. Despite offering a variety of different vocal styles, all of them sound bizarre. Of course, this is a perfect fit for the music, which presents unique-sounding sections of excessive dissonance. The guitars are often playing melodies and riffs that are technically unpleasing (though this is the intended effect). It seems that as these guitar lines stray further and further from any sort of standard music theory, the rest of the band also ramps up the intensity, with the drums usually finding a way to blast at inhuman speeds.

The band does spend some time playing more straightforward black/death metal. There’s no shortage of brutal, downtuned riffs on “Cloaked in Decay”. Many of these riffs tend to be consistent 16th note patterns that flow well with the continuous thunder of double bass. As these sections are not the primary focus relative to the dissonant sections, it is understandable why the production is not particularly clean. This EP is on the noisy side of things, with no one instrument really winning the battle. Certain aspects of the drums are quite a bit louder than others (noticeably the ride cymbal), but for the most part, the instruments are jumbled together in a way that will take multiple listens to truly decipher. Nevertheless, this approach to production seems congruent with the band’s musical direction, and you can’t really fault them for it.

Admittedly, I’ve never found much appeal in this style of music. Grethor does execute it well, but it feels like once you’ve heard one album like this, you’ve heard a lot of them. Perhaps that changes with extensive listening of this style, but sometimes the idea of making music that breaks all of the rules is better than the actual result of it. Again, this is no comment against Grethor’s musical quality, as “Cloaked In Decay” accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do.

Be sure to check out and like Grethor on Facebook!

Highlights
All of it

Final Rating
3.5/5 or 70%. 

Written by Scott