Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Metal Church – Generation Nothing

Metal Church is a band that I’ve struggled to keep up with. Their first two albums are all-time classics, and I still revisit them regularly, but they have a relatively vast discography, and after a recent break-up, I sort of forgot about them for a bit. But now the band has reformed and put out a new album, and it is definitely impressive. The record begins with the energetic “Bulletproof”, and while the main riff is by no means original or inventive, it brings you back to the good old days of heavy metal. The second Ronny Munroe’s vocals come in, you will be sold (assuming you had never heard him before). This guy is in the upper echelon of metal vocals; he has the perfect amount of rasp to compliment his singing ability. It adds a dimension to the music that makes the band sound like they’re out to prove something. David Wayne cannot be replaced, but Munroe does a fantastic job singing in Metal Church.

Aside from the opener, there are quite a few inspired tracks here as well. You’ll find yourself regularly revisiting “Dead City”, “Jump The Gun”, and “Hits Keep Comin’”, among others. The music is pretty accessible for metal, but that’s why it’s so effective. “Generation Nothing” is just a collection of great songs created by some veterans of the scene. “Dead City” is a great example of a common riff style on the album. Guitarist Kurdt Vanderhoof chugs along through the verse, until the end of each section where there are some heavy rhythmic accents. It’s a far cry from the speed metal of “Beyond The Black”, but good nonetheless. The area where Vanderhoof has not lost a step is in his shredding. In the old days, it felt a bit less restrained, but this newer tighter style compliments the change in the music on “Generation Nothing” compared to the prior records. The title track has a vocal line that brings me back to an Overkill song (though I cannot quite recall which one), but it might be because on this song, Munroe genuinely sounds like Bobby Blitz. He does this both through his normal singing voice, and through using a bit of a higher pitched scream (the end of the chorus has a great example).

Overall, it’s pretty hard to be dissatisfied with “Generation Nothing”. Though I can’t speak to the quality of most of Metal Church’s recent releases, this one is very solid. It certainly has convinced me to go seek out the rest of their discography that I’m missing. If you dig old-school, fun traditional/speed metal, it’s time to take a look back to one of the genres originators: Metal Church.

Be sure to check out and like Metal Church on Facebook!

"Dead City"
"Hits Keep Comin'"

Final Rating
4.3/5 or 86%. 

Written by Scott 

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Leaves' Eyes - Symphonies of the Night

My enjoyment of Tarja-era Nightwish led me to branch out and explore the world of female-fronted symphonic metal. Leaves’ Eyes seemed as good a place as any to begin this journey, and it turned out to be pretty much exactly what I expected. This style of music tends to be very song-driven (much like power metal), so when it’s good, it’s really good. There are a couple of really cool tracks on “Symphonies of the Night”. The opener, “Hell To The Heavens”, is definitely the strongest song, mainly because of its chorus. There are a lot of similarities to Nightwish on this song: the classic heavy riffing style without much substance, operatic vocals at times (the chorus), male vocals as support. These male vocals are definitely on the harsh side though. It provides a pretty good contrast to Liv Kristine’s clean vocals, particularly when they sing in tandem. Speaking of her vocals, she is actually a really talented vocalist. The reason she’s so effective is because she can do both a more typical singing voice and an operatic voice, so it provides some nice variety on the album. In fact, these two sounds are often harmonized, not unlike bands such as Deicide that use a similar tactic (albeit in a very, very different style).

My issue with “Symphonies of the Night” is that it simply doesn’t have enough quality content to justify its playtime. It’s easy to see how fans of the style will enjoy this, but I consider Nightwish’s “Century Child” to be the pinnacle of female-fronted symphonic metal because there is no filler. Unfortunately, Leaves’ Eyes struggles to maintain the same level of quality throughout “Symphonies of the Night”. Even if there were one or two songs that weren’t up to par, it would be ok, because it’s a fun style of music to sit back and listen to. The problem, however, is that there aren’t many tracks to look forward to on here aside from the first couple, so once you reach the midpoint of the album, it can be rough to get through the rest. To rectify this, it would be nice to see some better interplay between the male and female vocals; it is this tandem and aggression that it creates that makes “Hell To The Heavens” such a potent track. One surprising thing that is a bit of a nice addition to this album is that the symphonics are not overbearing. They definitely exist, but they don't dominate the record the way you might expect. Instead, this is a vocally driven album. Nonetheless, it will definitely appeal to fans of this sound, but otherwise, it's probably best off sticking to Nightwish.

Be sure to check out and like Leaves' Eyes on Facebook!

"Hell To The Heavens"
"Fading Earth"

Final Rating
3.6/5 or 72%. 

Written by Scott 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Omnivore – Omnivore

The sheer quantity of new thrash bands hailing from Italy is astounding. But despite this swarm of young manic thrashers, it seems that most of them are only interested in sounding like a couple of bands: Exodus and Overkill. It takes a great label like Unspeakable Axe Records to unearth and deliver Omnivore, an inspiring brutal death/thrash group. Their eponymous debut is a tribute to those truly relentless bands of the past. The most notable of which, Sepultura, they honor by covering “Arise”.

Over the course of a half hour, Omnivore delivers pounding rhythms, break-neck drumming, and vicious vocals. In fact, the vocals tend to be so rough that they escape the realms of thrash and belong almost solely to death metal. In spite of the ruthless tempos, the riffs on “Omnivore” are often somewhat technical. Perhaps not in the Coroner or Toxik vein, but certainly more complex than your typical Slayer clone. One area where Omnivore does parallel those tech-thrash giants is in the bass playing. Much like Sadus, Omnivore manages to deliver relatively loud, quality basswork that cuts through the wall of guitars. As you might imagine, these guitars are the highlight, simply because the number of riffs in this short record greatly outnumbers the quantity that you’d find on hundreds of other death or thrash albums. Tracks jump from one riff to the next, to the point where none of them are memorable. While I am usually the first one to criticize bands for poor songwriting, that’s really not the case on “Omnivore”. For one thing, this style of thrash isn’t conducive to being catchy. When you deliver an album that is pretty much the equivalent of taking a jackhammer to the head, you’re better off sticking with excessive brutality until the listener can take more, which the band does, with only a few exceptions. The other reason why Omnivore’s songwriting style is actually pretty good is because they sprinkle in more memorable bits alongside the aggression. They do this through the use of spoken word intros to separate the feeling of monotony between all tracks, as well as through the occasional interlude (“Nothing More Than Dust”, for example).

After braving the storm presented on “Omnivore”, you’re sure to come out with a sore neck, and the bad news is (for your neck, at least), you’ll keep coming back to this one. This style of thrash is sorely missed amidst the unending line of Exoclones, but just as Besieged has recently taught us, it is a style well worth revisiting often.

Be sure to check out and like Omnivore on Facebook!

"Nothing More Than Dust"

Final Rating
4.25/5 or 85%. 

Written by Scott 

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Chapel – Satan’s Rock ‘n’ Roll

If there’s one subgenre of metal that I’m surprised has yet to really take off, it would have to be black ‘n’ roll. On the surface, this style combines the ever-popular extreme metal vocals with a punk-infused speed metal sound. Drawing its influences from Motorhead and Venom, among others, it really does astound me that few bands other than Midnight have really been well received with this sound. Another contemporary of Midnight’s is Chapel, hailing from Western Canada. Their debut album, “Satan’s Rock ‘n’ Roll”, is a great example of how brilliant this sound can be when it is done well.

As mentioned, the primary inspiration for this album is a cross between Motorhead and Venom, with the vocals of Bathory. The band generally uses a pretty rocking tempo, accompanied by a punk drumbeat (accenting the bass drums between beats, rather than on them). There is plenty of energy, and the playing is pretty loose. That’s not to say the band are poor musicians or that this album is messy, but Chapel’s general sound isn’t conducive to tight playing. Likewise, when a guitar solo erupts, it sounds both spontaneous and erratic. It truly has that Motorhead rock ‘n’ roll feel to it. In terms of the songwriting, “Satan’s Rock ‘n’ Roll” is a mixed bag. The first half of the record is much stronger than the second, and the opening four tracks are the best. Regardless, at 32 minutes, there is just enough of this sound for you not to get bored. The major highlight is “Hell Breaks Loose”, which features some very oldschool riffing that is pretty different from anything else on the album, but it mixes things up in a good way. 

Satan’s Rock ‘n’ Roll” is just one of those albums that reminded me why I like metal. It’s doesn’t take itself too seriously, is a lot of fun, and just rocks out. Even if you prefer cleaner vocal styles, Chapel should have pretty wide appeal as they don’t really play up any of the clichés of extreme metal aside from the vocals (and even those are pretty tame relative to something like Gorgoroth or Burzum). 

Be sure to check out and like Chapel on Facebook!

"Rock 'n' Roll From Hell"
"Satan's Rock 'n' Roll"
"Hell Breaks Loose"

Final Rating
4.1/5 or 82%. 

Written by Scott 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Skull Fist – Chasing The Dream

Of all the bands from Toronto’s great traditional heavy metal scene, the two giants, Skull Fist and Cauldron remain my favourites. While the latter has pumped out three albums in rapid succession, we’ve had to wait three long years for the follow-up to Skull Fist’s debut. Was it worth it? Mostly yes. “Chasing The Dream” is filled with Skull Fist’s classic speed metal sounds, and it’s hard to see fans of the first album being disappointed with this record. Despite that, however, there is one reason that some fans may not be satisfied: Jackie Slaughter’s vocals. He’s still a wild singer, but unfortunately most of his vocals throughout the album (particularly on the first two tracks) sound very processed. It really turns the vocal performance into something more appropriate for a pop record than a metal one. Nonetheless, after several listens, you get used to his new sound and it becomes only a minor annoyance.

Beyond the vocals, what “Chasing The Dream” delivers is a variety of heavy metal clichés in impeccable form. The speed metal burners that dominated the first album are back in the shape of “Hour To Live”, “Sign of the Warrior”, and “Mean Street Rider”. The first of these three tracks opens the record in the same way the debut began: Slaughter’s lone guitar shredding your face off! As he enters with a classic riff, he speeds up several times, before unleashing a dangerous lead (that has a striking similarity to the lead in “Head of the Pack”). One surprise on this album is the second song, “Bad For Good”. While Skull Fist are no strangers to creating stomping mid-paced classics, this track takes more of an AOR/glam approach. The chorus is irresistibly catchy, and the tempo really gives the song a great driving feel. Another area where Skull Fist do something different is on the intro and outro to “Mean Street Rider”. The band uses a pretty evil sounding riff that is pretty out of place, but the majority of the song is a high-speed affair. The final track I have to mention is “You’re Gonna Pay”. While nothing out of the ordinary, this is one more track where Skull Fist really displays great songwriting through an unforgettable chorus. The first album was more song-driven, as there were a select number of stand out tracks, but this record is much more well-rounded in terms of quality. 

As one would expect, “Chasing The Dream” is also a complete shred-fest. Whether Slaughter and Jonny Nesta are dueling it out against each other, or working in harmony (such as on the opener), they really never stop showing off. It seems like half of the tracks on this record are driven by a riff that ends with a mini-solo. Nevertheless, this is exactly what heavy metal should be about, and is yet another reason why Skull Fist is a really killer band. If you are looking for in your face, aggressive, guitar-driven metal, “Chasing The Dream” is going to blow you away.

Be sure to check out and like Skull Fist on Facebook!

"Hour To Live"
"Bad For Good"
"You're Gonna Pay"
"Mean Street Rider"

Final Rating
4.6/5 or 92%. 

Written by Scott 

Monday, January 13, 2014

Amon – Liar In Wait

Many years after leaving Deicide, the Hoffman brothers have surfaced with a new record under the pre-Deicide band name, Amon. And a couple of years later, the album is finally being reissued with proper distribution and cover art. Since the departure of the Hoffman brothers, Deicide themselves have had a bit of a rollercoaster ride in terms of quality, but the sound was largely unchanged. This meant that Amon was actually a pretty big question mark, but the good news is that “Liar In Wait” displays the trademark early Deicide style riffing that made the band so popular in the first place.

Nearly everything about this release is similar to the first three Deicide albums. For one thing, the vocalist is about as close to sounding like Glen Benton as one could without actually being him. There is a very convincing sound to his growls. This is complimented by the occasional use of harmonized higher screams. In terms of the riffs, they are pretty top-notch throughout. Sometimes they get a bit chuggier (whether through gallops or straight chugging), but songs like “Among Us”, the title track, and “Sentience and Sapience” really display a great old-school approach. The lead playing on this release is stellar. It manages to be flashy and acrobatic, but in an evil way. The shredding absolutely fits the theme of the album, but it still works its way around the fretboard with ease. Often times the band relaxes the background music in order to let the solos breathe (see “Eye of the Infinite” for two great examples), and this is extremely effective, as it gives an entirely different feel to the album, while still not losing the atmosphere of the record. Another track that really displays how great these guitarists are is the closer, “Wrath of Gaia”. It has a lot of similarity to “Slave To The Cross” from “Serpents of the Light” in that it has a sweeping melody that dominates the main riff of the song. Having spent this much time discussing the lead guitarists, you can be rest assured those are the highlight of “Liar in Wait”. Moving on, the drumming is fairly standard for death metal. All of the standards are there, but it’s clear that it isn’t Steve Asheim drumming on this album. Nevertheless, the drummer is more than serviceable, and he compliments the riffs well. 

Listening to “Liar In Wait” and “In The Minds of Evil”, it is pretty apparent how well all four of the core original members of Deicide complimented each other. While both of these records sound very similar on the surface, it is clear that neither band is entirely complete without the others. Amon retained the better riff writers, while Deicide know how to construct a more enjoyable song. Ultimately, however, we are left with two great bands, so it goes without saying that if you like Deicide, you’re going to enjoy “Liar In Wait”.

"Among Us"
"Liar In Wait"
"Wrath of Gaia"

Final Rating
4.25/5 or 85%. 

Written by Scott 

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Condition Critical - Operational Hazard

Condition Critical made quite a bit of noise with their “Bred To Kill” demo, so it was a long 2-year wait until the release of their debut album, “Operational Hazard”. As you are greeted by the ever-familiar Ed Repka cover art, you will also notice that this record does a pretty great job conforming to the late 80’s thrash style. This album is pretty short, and it really never relents. The band manages to reach their levels of brutality in differing ways from other crushingly heavy bands such as Sadus. Rather than simply only firing out riffs as fast as possible, Condition Critical know how to use more bludgeoning riffs that are amplified in heaviness by how thrashy the production is. With that said, there is no shortage of speed. The opening track, “Random Acts of Killing”, does a pretty great job of showing how the different sounds can be meshed together successfully.

Like all great thrash records before it, “Operational Hazard” is driven only by the quality of the riffs. The drumming is of course impressive, but it does not stand out relative to other extreme metal drumming out there. It was nice to hear the occasional blast beat integrated, but otherwise, this is relatively standard thrash drumming. Likewise, the bass may be noticeable, and extremely thick in tone, but the playing won’t wow you. It did pop out nicely with a solo on "Gravitational Dismember" though. In addition, the vocals are very predictable for thrash. As a huge thrash fan, I could not be more pleased with the singing on this album. The singer manages to grunt pretty fiercely, and the moderate use of gang vocals brings the intensity up another notch. One area I would not mind the band exploring more is featuring more shredding. The solos on this album are really impressive (see: “Morning Sickness”), and the band would benefit from abusing them throughout the record.  

Overall, Condition Critical does little to reinvent the wheel. Thrash fans should be all over this record, however, because of its textbook execution of quality thrash metal. There isn’t a questionable moment on “Operational Hazard”, as every riff is high quality headbanging material. If you want to go back to the 80's, give this record a listen!

Be sure to check out and like Condition Critical on Facebook!

"Random Acts of Killing"
"Sector 16"
"Gravitational Dismemberment"

Final Rating
4.2/5 or 84%. 

Written by Scott