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  • Top 10 albums of 2008

    31 Dic 2008, 5:27

    I want to preface this list by admitting a few things. I believe that this year is somewhat of a recovery from the non-stop awesome that was 2007. Last year was a prog year, and this year is clearly a metal one. There are many albums that I heard maybe once or twice and enjoyed a great deal but did not include on this list simply because I don’t know them well enough (Ihsahn, Testament, Arsis). There are other albums that I never got a hold of that probably would have made it on this list if I had heard them in time (Cynic, Burst, Portishead). So as a result this is the list. Feel free to hate my guts for the decisions made therein.

    10. Antithesis by Origin
    I only added this to the list because I’m pretty sure that if I didn’t, an extremely large planet would fly from out of nowhere and crush me along with the rest of earth. This is music to study quantum physics to. It is the sound your brain makes when you realize that matter is comprised mainly of nothing. I’m pretty sure that Origin has created a new genre with this album, not because it’s incredibly original, but because it has ascended to a level of brutality and density that refutes any attempt I make to classify this as a metal record. All hail the new flesh.

    9. Assassins: Black Meddle part 1 by Nachtmystium
    You have no idea how much I wanted to hate this record. The hype built up around this album was nauseating and stemmed not only from my fellow metal heads, but also from pitchfork and other like minded hipsters, a sure sign that this would be an exercise in tedium. Well color me impressed with Nachtmystium, because unlike other hipster adored USBM bands like Wolves in the Throne Room, these guys have some serious balls. While stylistically this is a black metal album, it feels more like a thrash record simply because of how much emphasis is placed on the riffs in these songs. This album will most likely grow on me even more in the near future given the amount of layering and atmosphere that this record reeks of. If I did drugs, this would be my first choice for a stoned listen.

    8. 01011001 by Aryeon
    This definitely wins the “most over the top concept and presentation” award of the year. Ajren Anthony Lucasson’s newest album wraps up all of his previous rock operas into one single sprawling story. As usual the line up is twinkles with countless stars from the modern prog and metal worlds, most notably Hansi Kursch (Blind Guardian), Jonas Renske (Katatonia), Floor Jansen (After Forever) and of course Daniel Gildenlow (Pain of Salvation). Musically “01011001” is typical Aryeon, albeit a bit darker and industrial than before. There are lush synth layers abound, juxtaposed with strings, flutes, and other folk instruments. Bridging the gap is straightforward metal chuggerey leaving plenty of room to show off the vocalists. There are a few weaker tracks (mainly on the first disc), but when this album is good it’s unstoppable. And come on, it has Daniel Gildenlow on it, how could I not love it?

    7.Watershed by Opeth
    It says a lot about Opeth that one of their worst albums will still make it into my top 10. This is probably the least consistent record this band has released in well over a decade, and as such comes as a bit of a surprise to the senses. The problem with this record isn’t really in the songs themselves (except for the absolutely horrible Hex Omega, what the fuck where they thinking with that one?), it’s in the overall coherency of the album. Things just don’t seem to gel all that well. I appreciate the variety of styles that Opeth experiment with here, but I don’t think this record was ready to be released yet. That being said, Heir Apparent is in my top Opeth songs of all time, and the newer members of the band are both extremely talented. The follow up to this thing will be a monster.

    6.Fortress by Protest the Hero
    This album should be the worst thing ever. I should hate this with a passion. But no, there is nothing I can do but step down from my high horse and praise this album for the work of art that it is. The amount of notes flying around is dazzling and some of the playing here rivals more established modern prog bands such as BTBAM. The main thing that keeps me from enjoying this guilt free is the singer who sounds somewhere between Cedric from The Mars Volta and the guy from {insert random screamo band here}. This would ruin the record for me if it weren’t for the sweeping epic melodies that this guy is singing. Protest the Hero is the best guilty pleasure ever.

    5.The Way of All Flesh by Gojira
    From Mars to Sirius was a flawed masterpiece. The ideas that the band were fooling around with were deadly potent and unique, however they tended to get too caught up in repetition and monotony, which was a shame because the riffs they were writing were bone crushing. Three years later Gojira have returned with strong riffs in tow, but with the added edge that comes from stronger songwriting and a better sense of melody. There are still a few riffs that go on for a bit too long (the end of Adoration for none), but overall this record glides where “From Mars to Sirius” trudged. The lyrics this time around are also much better especially in the moving and epic The Art of Dying (which I believe is an unintentional Bruce Lee reference).

    4.Twilight of the Thunder God by Amon Amarth
    BECAUSE WE ARE! GUAAAARDIAAAANS! WE’RE GUARDIAAAAANS OF AAAAASSSSGAAAAAAARD!!!!!!!! WE’RE GUUUUUUAAAARDIAAAAAANS!!!! GUAARDIAAANS OF AAAAAAAASSSSGAAAAARD!!!! (DUH-NA-NUUUH DUH-NA-NUHH-NUH DUH NA-NUUUH DUH-NUN-NUN)

    3.ObZen by Meshuggah
    ObZen is a record that must be listened to on large speakers with a huge subwoofer because not only does it hit harder than most other metal records, it bumps better than most hip-hop. Trust me, you will FEEL the low notes on this album. Meshuggah have taken the lessons learned in their long song experiments and are now applying them to more immediate formats. Songs range from thrashy (Combustion) to hypnotic (Lethargica). The real highlights are the mind warping Bleed and the triumphant (never thought I’d say that about a Meshuggah song), Dancers to a Discordant System. The fact that most deathcore bands cite Meshuggah as an influence is laughable. Class is back in session wimps.

    2. Declaration by Bleeding Through
    This is the greatest metalcore album released by a band outside of the holy trinity (Botch, Converge and Zao). This album is better than any deathcore album ever released with no exceptions. After taking a few steps in a few different directions with their last album, Bleeding Through have decided that the best course of action for the follow up would be to simply kick ass for the course of the entire album. The last traces of the “core” in Bleeding Through’s dark and dramatic style of metalcore have almost disappeared at this point and are being replaced by symphonic black metal a la Emperor and old Cradle of Filth. Oh, and the breakdowns are fucking great. There, I said it.

    1. Eternal Kingdom by Cult of Luna
    2008 is Cult of Luna’s lucky year. Finally they get to release an album that doesn’t have to compete with the rest of the big four of post metal (Neurosis, Isis, and Pelican). But even if “Eternal Kingdom” did have to stand toe to toe with albums like In the Absence of Truth it would more than hold its ground. Like Cult of Luna’s previous album, “Eternal Kingdom” is both ferocious and raw while still remaining starkly beautiful. No other band on the planet (not even Neurosis) are as good as Cult of Luna at writing hypnotic riffs that can last for minutes without boring the listener. New to the band’s sound though is a sense looseness that comes through on a few songs like The Great Migration and Following Betulas. Probably my favorite musical moment of the year occurs during the final track when the band switches from lock step 16th notes to a shuffled build up that explodes into a military march, complete with horns and battle cries.
  • Think of the children

    26 Nov 2008, 3:52

    Before I begin reviewing the real substance of this album I’d like to tell you a bit about my road to becoming a fan of metal music. I, like many others in my age group, started off as an ardent fan of nu-metal. I gravitated towards the aggression that the genre hinted at (and in reflection never showed) and I was young enough to find the more overtly pop parts to be “emotional” and “relatable”. Five years or so later you can find me worshiping at the altar of Neurosis and offering human sacrifice to Celtic Frost in order to get them to reform, again. Obviously this transition from the banal to the brilliant didn’t happen over night. I required a bridge to get from mainstream music into more original and worthwhile territory. For me, being a fan of aggression, this bridge was Master of Puppets. Sure it’s not exactly Darkness Descends, but it’s a helluva a lot closer than Korn.

    I believe that every fan of a watered down form of heavy music has a similar bridge to metal. Fans of metalcore have At the Gates and Dark Tranquillity. Fans of Trivium have older Thrash metal. And fans of DragonForce have Cellador.

    Cellador have many elements that are similar to everyone’s favorite Guitar Hero oriented power metal band. They have the same tendency to focus their energy on catchy and uplifting choruses with much less care being placed on the verses. Most of their songs have long drawn out guitar duel passages with plenty of neo classical sweeping and cycled sections of hyper speed melodic shredding, some times doubled and sometimes accompanied by blast beats. Unlike Dragonforce, Cellador write actual metal songs, not pop songs dressed up as metal, although No Chances Lost gets uncomfortably close to Dforce territory with its acoustic breakdown and melodramatic key change. There’s none of the gimmicky video game noises or overbearing keyboard bits. In their place we actually get tons and tons of authentic power metal riffs such as those found in Leaving All Behind or almost any of the verses of just about any song here. There’s nothing startlingly original or innovative but everything makes sense and works well.

    Like most power metal bands, Cellador place a heavy emphasis on their vocals. Gremio is a passable, spirited young singer who despite having some a pretty strong range under his belt does not fair all that well under the spot light. His higher shrieks, while impressive, can be a bit too sharp and trebly at times. His voice isn’t thin by any means, but doesn’t feel full or confident enough to really drive these songs to the heights where they obviously want to be. As noted before, he’s much stronger in the choruses than in the verses.

    Cellador’s lyrics are pretty stock fair. A read through the liner notes brings to mind motivational posters with sparkling stars, eternal oceans, and majestic dolphins leaping over rainbows. They take a few shots at organized religion, but only do so in order to emphasize individuality and free will, an ironic stance considering the average and plain imagery used. Still it’s better than anything Herman Li and co. have ever attempted lyrically, and nothing conjures up images of band members sitting in floating see-through egg chairs over serene water.

    By the end of Enter Deception I can’t say that I’m ever blown away, but I am entertained. This is pretty straightforward and fast paced modern power. It isn’t going to change the game, and it probably won’t do much for you unless you’re an avid fan of power metal or Dragonforce. There are a few interesting parts such as the chorus of Seen Through Time which overall is the best track here as it strays out of the band’s comfort zone more than other songs. This isn’t amazing, but if it helps kids get from Ultra Beatdown to Defying the Rules then I’ll endorse it by gum!

    (originally written for www.metal-archives.com)
  • Colors Live

    26 Nov 2008, 3:43

    There is only one audible mistake on this album. Near the beginning of the first track, Blake Richardson botches one of his fills in a way that’s hardly noticeable to any one except a drum nerd such as myself. This says a lot about this cd/dvd collection, and about the band playing on it. Between the Buried and Me are flawless musicians. When they were starting up they routinely outplayed the bands they were opening for until they ended up on tour with the fathers of modern virtuoso themed metal, Dream Theater. If Colors_Live does nothing else, it certainly shows how talented the four instrumentalists in this band are.

    But while the perfectionist mindset is astounding to behold, it also kind of ruins the point of the CD release. When you buy this package, you get the album colors played all the way through on CD and DVD, as well as a truckload of Colors related extras and a second set of older tunes on the DVD. This leaves the CD with pretty much nothing going for it. What you get is a slightly stripped down version of Colors with fewer guitar overdubs, better clean vocals, worse harsh vocals, and a few tempo shifts not present on the original. While it’s still a hell of a listen, there isn’t too much you haven’t heard before on the studio version. The only song that feels better on this version than on the studio album is Prequel to the Sequel, which is a result of Tommy Rogers handling all of the vocal duties instead of leaving some to that terrible guest vocalist that nearly ruined the climax of the original.

    So instead of going into detail about an album that has been discussed to death, I will sink my teeth into the DVD portion. In short: good but could be better. As I mentioned before, it’s mind blowing to see these guys play. Consider for a moment that from the start of Sun of Nothing to the end of Prequel to the Sequel these guys do not take a single break. That’s about 33 minutes of nonstop prog metal insanity. The DVD highlights many of the more impressive technical moments of the album, especially those performed by lead guitarist Paul Waggoner. Dude can shred, and the camera is there is pick up every solo and every off the wall lick that the guy performs. Back up guitarist Dusty gets a fair amount of screen time as well, but no where near as much as Waggoner. Bassist Dan Briggs gets his moment in the spotlight during an incredible bass solo in the tune Viridian but is other wise never the center of attention. That would be lead singer Tommy Rogers. The majority of the DVD is spent following Tommy on stage as he screams, bulges’ his eyes, and makes wild arm movements. If you’re a fan of the guy then this should be fine, but I could see this being really annoying to most people, especially if you want to get some good looks at Blake Richardson who gets practically nothing, even during his opening fill to Sun of Nothing.

    The real treat on this DVD is the second set. Comprised entirely of tracks chosen by the fans, it represents the simpler times in BTBAM’s history when songs never repeated a single part and never passed the 8-minute mark. For newer fans of BTBAM, of which there are plenty, this is a good education and incentive to pick up the band’s older records. For long time supporters of the group, such as myself, it’s a dream come true. The tunes from the band’s first two records sound a good deal different then their originals which is to expected considering only two members remain from that period. Mordecai and Ad A Dglgmut both sound better then ever, although the drumming is far less hammering then the studio versions. Backwards Marathon is a must see for Tommy’s unreal falsetto scream near the end of the song. Seriously, there is no way that he should be able to hit that note and go back into death growls but he does it anyway. Aspirations is done with more passion then I would have expected from a band that must be totally sick of the song. “Shevenal” and “Selkies” both end up sounding a bit silly for different reason. “Shevenal” shows the band still trying to figure out exactly what they are, and to see the fully realized band playing it just doesn’t look right. It’s pretty clear that no one in BTBAM ever wants to play “Selkies” ever again, as they rush through the song and Paul’s infamous solo feels lifeless compared to the performances he gave on Mordecai or White Walls.

    The special features are pretty lame for the most part. The making of video has been on youtube for over a year, the pre show footage shows how gullible and dimwitted the majority of the band’s fans are, and the interpretation videos are lame. Reading Tommy’s intents behind the songs is interest and the artwork made for the tracks is nice, but I was honestly expecting a bit more. If you’re a fan of the band, and especially a fan of Colors, then you should pick this up, but if you can’t stand the band then avoid this like the plague.

    (originally written for www.metal-archives.com)
  • Truth or Dare?

    24 Nov 2008, 17:03

    Bleeding Through’s fourth album finds the band in the college stage of their coming of age story. Their previous three albums are still firmly cemented in their personality and sound, but they’ve taken the concepts from those records to the next level. They’ve also begun to indulge themselves in the more open-minded culture of their surroundings, most likely prompted by their roommates (they’d toured with bands ranging from AFI to Cult of Luna at this point in their career). What this means musically is that The Truth is very much the successor to This Is Love, This Is Murderous but fills the holes that plagued that album with new experiments the push and pull the band in multiple directions at once.

    I usually dislike making a big deal about the production of an album, but in this case I really have no say in the matter. Listening to this album directly after the previous one, I nearly fell out of my seat. The whole album sounds HUGE in comparison with the last three. Every instrument is audible, even the bass. On top of clarity, there are also tons of bells and whistles such as phaser effects, flanged guitars and vocals, and spiraling guitar lines bouncing back from speaker to speaker. This is probably the most consistently noticeable element of Bleeding Through’s newfound experimentation. That and the surge of keyboard parts that pop up all over the place on this album. The opening track, For Love and Failing would have been a decent but underwhelming track on an older Bleeding Through album, but Marta Peterson’s keyboards bring it to the next level. I mean really, a synth lead in a Bleeding Through song? Who saw that coming?

    The first two tracks of the album, keyboard leads aside, would do a great to convince listeners that this album is just more of the same but better. The previously mentioned opening track retains the quick fingered riffing of old Bleeding Through, with added blast beats and tremolo picked black metal riffs, and Confession focuses more on the churning, grinding death metal oriented parts that appeared in bulk on “This is Love, This is Murderous”. Once again dead set on breaking their own rules, Bleeding Through follow up with one of the best songs, Love In Slow Motion. This is the quintessential metalcore growl/croon song to end all growl/croon songs. The verses are straight up modern thrash metal and would fit in quite well in any of the revival acts running around these days. And then it segues perfectly into a grand over the top melodic chorus complete with keyboard flutters and vocal harmonies. And unlike most of the bands that stole this formula and made quick cash off of it, there’s no attempt to water down the heavier bits to fit the softer sections. If anything its the other way around.

    This song says a good deal about “The Truth” as a whole. The band is pitting two very different instincts against each other. On one side, they’ve made a very obvious attempt to streamline their song writing for catchiness. On the other they clearly wanted to make this album even heavier and more in your face than their previous outings. The result is songs like Kill to Believe which alternate between skull crushing brutality and stadium ready sing-a-long choruses. Of course they still have a sweet tooth for non-stop riffage punctuated by breakdowns. Dearly Demented serves as this album’s Number seven with a Gun albeit with added keyboard parts and a guest vocal spot. It’s a big lumbering mosh pit ready number with a breakdown that avoids monotony by coming out of left field and centering itself on a riff that would fit into an Iced Earth album. But just as this track ends, the band takes a complete 180 and drops a power ballad on you. Yes you did read that right. This is the first of two songs that show Bleeding Through expanding into directions previously left untouched. The Truth is the band’s most accessible and radio friendly album, and Line in the Sand is living proof of that. This could have been a fantastic surprise but it has one problem; Brandan Shcleppati. Although he has continued to improve his singing since starting the band, his clean vocals still fall flat when they aren’t supported by strong melodies.

    The second half of the album is considerably more effective than the first, which is a complete reversal of the last album. She’s Gone does everything the shorter songs off of “This is Love…” wanted to do and more. There is no reason other than the vocals that a fan of Chthonic wouldn’t dig this tune, especially considering that the ending piano bit is a dead ringer for one of the songs on Seediq Bale. Tragedy of Empty Streets is another shorter track that crams in the best riffs this band has to offer (the one that comes in at 1:00 is the best the band has ever done). The last two songs before the title track represent more of the schizophrenic urges that Bleeding Through struggle with on the album. Return to Sender highlights melodic singing and grandiose keyboard parts, along with short guitar solos, and Hollywood Prison embraces fast riffs, tough guy beat downs, and has the single most badass line lyric on the album. When some one says that they’ll rip out your spine after ten songs describing his emotional distress, you’d better believe that he’d do it.

    The title track of the album is essentially a giant question mark. It’s a dark brooding post metal song, with no vocals, a bass solo and swooshing keyboard parts. If it weren’t for the production and keyboard settings, I could see this on an Isis album. After the last strands of feedback worm their way out of my speakers I am left wondering: “What is the true Bleeding Through?” Is it the poppy yet hyper aggressive songs in the first half of the album? Is it the rumbling brutality of the bands shorter tracks? The more experimental sections of this album show that The Truth often brings more questions than answers. Luckily for us, the band’s next album will set things straight once and for all.

    (originally written for www.metal-archives.com)
  • The Anti-Shred

    24 Nov 2008, 16:50

    Aaron Turner is a very busy man. When he’s not writing, recording, and touring with post metal giants Isis, he can be found running a record label, doing commissioned album art for bands, and playing in side projects ranging from sludge to black metal. As such I’d imagine that the other members of Aaron’s main project often have oodles of free time on their hands. Nova Lux is most likely the result of these spans of down time in between Isis album cycles.

    In many ways, MGR’s debut is exactly what you’d expect a solo project from a member of Isis to be. Over the course of five tracks, Mike Gallagher takes the soft, ambient moments that make later Isis so enthralling and expand them into full songs. So if you’re expecting something along the lines of “Red Sea” don’t look here.

    Most of the album is comprised of Mike Gallagher’s guitar playing. It’s an inversion of the usual metal guitarist solo album formula. Instead of off the wall over the top shred fests, the five songs on this album are minimalistic and atmospheric. In fact the compositions of these songs are even more barebones than even the softest Isis songs. Often Gallagher’s guitar shimmers alone in a sea of humming and white noise. Occasionally a double tracked guitar will add a counter point to the main melody, but for the most part this is the sound of Mike Gallagher alone with his guitar in the middle of the night.

    There isn’t much tonal variety on this record, so often it is difficult to tell when one track begins and another ends. When the eerie reverb heavy droning appears out of nowhere in the beginning of the second track, I’m often surprised to find that I’m already 45 seconds into the song. Because of this, the untitled movements on “Nova Lux” should not be separated from each other, as they feel empty and insubstantial when isolated. It’s like the photograph on the cover of the album. The clouds moving across the sky at a snails pace look boring and pointless on their own, but when seen in sequence the create a beautiful image.

    That said the fourth track is probably the best of the bunch. All of the songs are hypnotizing (especially the third song) but this one is tension filled and attention grabbing. The waves of delay that wash over the song every once and a while suck the listener deeper and deeper into an ocean of noise. The muffled electronic drums that are unique to this song and the following track on the album help this one stand out, but the guitar lines and ambient effects would have done that on their own. While the tracks before this one are soothing and relaxing, this one hints that something grand and awe-inspiring is right around the corner. The song suddenly shifts gears at about 5:30 in a way that suggests an explosive climax akin to Gallagher’s main project, but it never comes.

    If you’re a fan of ambient music I can not stress enough that this is right up your alley and that it needs to be in your collection. If you’re new to the genre, this is probably a good place to start considering that it still has recognizable notes and melodies, things that are often lost in the more pure ambient releases. “Nova Lux” is perfect for fanatical Isis fans (I don’t know any other kind) that can’t get enough new material from the band. This should hold you over just fine.

    (originally written for www.metal-archives.com)
  • Pretty soon...

    24 Nov 2008, 16:43

    I'm going to start putting my reviews from www.metal-archives.com up here. Should be fun.
  • This tour's name is misleading

    12 Ago 2008, 19:09

    Mon 11 Aug – Thrash and Burn Tour

    There was no Thrash, and Nothing was burned. But besides that, I had a ton of fun at this concert. because there were so many bands that played, I'm going to split .

    The Good:
    Abigail Williams put on a great show. I don't know who their new drummer is but he ruled, despite having absurd amounts of triggering on his kit. One of the problems with the early show is that the sound wasn't that great, so I couldn't really hear the guitars.

    Arsis were even better, despite the sound still not being that great. They were easily the most technically proficient of any of the bands at this tour, especially James Malone who gets extra points for shredding his guitar and his voice at the same time. Having the singer of Anthrax come on for We Are the Nightmare was awesome.

    Darkest Hour were great but could have been better. They mostly played songs off of their two most recent albums, and while those albums do rule, it would have been nice to hear more Sadist Nation material. Kris Norris is a fantastic guitar player.

    The Bad:
    Arsonists Get All The Girls were awful. I don't even know how to describe the mess that this performance was. If some one could fill me in on this joke, please help me out.

    Winds Of Plague I'm sure I'll get heat for this, but these guys were terrible. I don't even think they're all that bad on record, but they just had nothing going for them live. I couldn't tell if they were playing songs or breakdowns.

    The Mediocre:
    Everyone else. There really isn't much to say about the rest of the bands except that I'm really confused as to why Misery Signals are so huge now.

    Final Verdict: If you like metalcore with a lot of breakdowns feel free to go to this tour. If you like Thrash, don't cause there is none except for the aforementioned Anthrax guest spot, but even that is iffy since Arsis aren't a thrash band any way. If you like Darkest Hour a ton, and can tolerate the other acts, go because it's only 20 bucks.
  • Doing some spring cleaning...

    30 Mar 2007, 23:04

    It's that time of year, and I'm starting to clean up my iTunes library. There's a ton of music that I either haven't listened to forever or just haven't listened to enough to justify my owning. I'm running through some of the albums that I've neglected for a test listen to see if I should keep it or not. So if you see anything on my last.fm page that seems extremely un like my taste, that's why.

    (expect a ton of metalcore)