Monday, October 17, 2011

Iced Earth - Dystopia (2011)

March 3rd, 2011 was a said day for Iced Earth fans, as lead singer Matt Barlow announced his retirement from the band. Band mainman John Schaffer later announced that the lead singer of Into Eternity, Stu Block, would be taking over vocal duties for Iced Earth's new album “Dystpoia”. After listening to the album, there is definitely some ups and downs throughout the tracks. Musically it’s amazing but vocally… well, I’ll let you be the judge of that.

You’re immediately hit with marching snares in “Dystopia.” Electrifying guitar riffs run through octaves with catchy melodies as they carry you to the verse. Chugging guitars take over with fast drum patterns behind them. This all sounds like good old Iced Earth. However, the vocals are a whole different story. Block has some aggressive clean singing vocals in the beginning of the verse but then switches to this really high screaming voice that gets kind of annoying. The delivery in the high pitch vocals just doesn’t sound right. He goes back to the aggressive singing during the rest of the verse, and that sounds pretty good. But that high screaming just puts a damper on the song. You’ll really enjoy the refrain though. The lyrics are great and the melody in the vocals is very catchy. This part is the part we all know and love from Iced Earth.

The mood slows down with “Anthem,” which starts with slow none distorted guitars gently hitting gorgeous chords. The drums sneak in quietly with soft hi hats and other cymbals. Keeping the same melody, distortion kicks on with blaring riffs and snapping snares and kicks. The verse comes in with clear vocals that soar over the instruments, leading right into the chorus. You’ll definitely be singing along after hearing this one a few times. Guitars are slammed in the background leaving you bobbing your head to the melody. Block gets a lot better in this song, as he shows off some of his power metal vocals in the refrain at the end. As the music fades you run into a wall of guitar riffs in “Boiling Point.” The vocals jump right in with more rough clean singing in the verse while complex double bass pedaling runs wild in the background. The drum fills are mind blowing and full of speed. There are a few parts where that annoying high pitch scream comes in, but it’s not as bad as the first track. Surprisingly, this track is less than three minutes long.

Next thing you know, you’re moving right along into “Anguish Of Youth.” It’s starts out calm with soothing guitars and light drumming. The vocals in the verse are kind of weird. This is where you’re really gonna wish you had Barlow back. The clean singing just doesn’t have that delivery that an Iced Earth singer should have. It actually makes me think of the “bro” singing that Avenged Sevenfold does in their newer material. It just doesn’t have that heavy metal feel to it. The song is saved, however, with the catchy chorus. This is where the vocals get a lot better. The lyrics are performed in an aggressive manor while blaring distorted guitars play along with them. If you can get passed the weak verses then you’ll really enjoy the rest.

The album gets heavier with monstrous guitar riffs in “V.” The booming drums will have you pumping your fists in no time. The verses contain nothing but pure solid clean vocals. The chorus is the best part as both Block and Schaffer sing together while chugging guitars blast through the background. There’s even a part where they’re chanting loudly towards the end which really reminds you of some of their older albums. Also, there is a beast of a solo towards the end where the guitar is just murdering the musical scales one note at a time. Definitely make sure you check this track out.

I was a little iffy with “Dark City” at first because of some of the vocals. Soothing clean vocals echo in the beginning over soft guitar notes. Then out of no where comes more high pitch screaming. I was very tempted to just skip the track. Good thing I didn’t though, because the rest of the track is amazing. The drums kick in with detailed rolls that’ll have you bashing you head left and right. The vocals become harsh as they prepare you for the chorus. Catchy lyrics come flying in with chugging guitar riffs and blasting drum fills. This is followed by another pulverizing guitar solo. Later enters the bridge where the guitars are just relentless with catchy melodic riffs. Meanwhile the snare pounds away at you beating you into the ground. This will definitely leave you wanting to play this track again.

Jumping to “End Of Innocence,” things start out slow again with acoustic guitars and light drumming. Block does some clean singing that boarders the “bro” vocals that I mentioned earlier. However, it gets better as the distortion comes in. The vocals in the refrain are awesome as you're hit with catchy lyrics that you’ll find yourself singing along to immediately. Also the guitar work between verses is absolutely stunning. There are lots of wild solo parts that really take over the mood of the song. This leads to the last song “Tragedy And Triumph” which runs for a lengthy seven and a half minutes long. Snapping snares march in with distorted guitar notes along side of them. This builds up for about a minute and a half until the verse finally drops. Here you’re hit with thunderous double bass pedaling and uplifting guitar riffs. The vocals are delivered with harsh aggressive tones. Overall the song isn’t anything that really stands out from the album but if you pick up the deluxe version of the album you’ll find that there are three bonus tracks. Now these song definitely stand out and are a great way to close out the album. The songs are “Soylent Green,” “Iron Will,” and “Anthem (String Mix).” Make sure you get the deluxe edition because you do not want to miss out on these great tracks.

Overall, “Dystopia” is another successful album. Iced Earth manages to keep their sound and style of music even though Barlow is no longer with them. As far as the new singer goes, Stu Block does a great job for the most part. I can imagine that filling in as Barlows position isn’t an easy task and although there are some parts that don’t quite fit, most of the vocals stay aggressive and strong throughout the album. It’ll be interesting to hear them live. But definitely make sure you pick up the album. It’s definitely worth it.


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Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Podcast: Episode 24 (This band is your band, this band is our band.... of the month)

So many good albums, so little time. Murmaider was stuck on Insomnium this week. Hell22 digested more, with albums by Akribi, 3, and Agartha earning a variety of scores.

The beginning of the month is an exciting time in the Headquarters, as the gang has the opportunity to single out one band to take the "Band of the Month" honors. This time around, Pennsylvania progressive black metal project Appalachian Winter steals the show. Hell22 and Murmaider take some time to discuss the mastermind behind the music, the music itself, and the interview we were lucky enough to score.

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Saturday, October 15, 2011

Appalachian Winter: The Interview

Fresh off becoming the focus of our October "Band Of The Month," Daniel Klyne, the sole member of Pennsylvania metal juggernaut Appalachian Winter, sat down and answered some questions that Murmaider and Hell22 simply had to ask. We get a look into his influences, his collection of instruments, and why he hates doing vocals so damn much. This was a fucking blast, and we thank Dan for affording us this opportunity!

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Friday, October 14, 2011

Agartha - V (2011)

Straight from the country capital of the world, Nashville, Tennessee, comes Agartha, a one man band of metal grooves and opinions. Falling somewhere in the middle of black, gothic, thrash, and death metal, Adam Phillips' creation has taken on a life of its own. And on his new album, simply titled "V," Phillips looks to take things to the next level, with a flurry of chugging chords, rolling kicks and airy keyboards. But every man has an Achilles heel. And for Agartha, that fatal flaw could be the dreaded "core."

Light piano opens the album, with "The Council of God (Genesis 1-26)" building from nothing. The sudden crash of electric guitars bursts forth, covering the piano keys in a murky distortion. It descends into madness, double bass pedals ripping ahead, atmospheric keyboards stirring the pot. The first screams enter, falling somewhere between blackened death and thrash style coarseness. The keyboard and synthesizer sounds keep the track fresh at times, in what may otherwise fall into the rotten repetition of the "core" curse. The music becomes almost too mechanical, with the drumming sounding like programmed beats rather than a human touch. As a guitar solo takes the spotlight, the backing music fails to support it. Only when the music slows do all the parts come back together, fueled by deep, abrasive growls.

The music often feels disjointed, as is the case on "Destruction Of The Gateway." It begins like a black metal massacre, complete with hoarse, screeching vocals. But the instrumentation doesn't sync up in a way that really makes sense. It sounds, at times, like each band member is playing to a different time signature. It isn't until nearly the three minute mark that things fall into place. A guitar solo unites the pieces, and the song takes a turn for the better. Intermittent chugging mixed with ravishing drums creates a momentum that carries into the next track, "Eleven Shadows Of Ahasuerus." The downtempo track fits the band perfectly, allowing the guitars to simply inflict damage on top of a loud, powerful drum beat. The brief spoken word segment is forgettable, only hurting the flow of the track. But it is soon buried among the carnage of the punishing distortion. All the while, dancing keys flutter in and out, haunting the song like a ghost long dead.

The keyboards are never more important than on the atmospheric "The Cry Of Aggni." The keys take the lead, providing the melody. The contrast of the haunting tones and the aggressive vocals is a new direction for the band to take. This is a song that fully embodies what Agartha is capable of. No tricks, no gimmicks, just straight forward, synth fueled symphonic metal. Unfortunately, then follow up their strongest track with what is probably their weakest. "The Elder" is everything that metalcore has done wrong, from the mechanical chugging to the repetitive vocal patterns. A little guitar chord work is thrown in for flavor, but it does little to salvage the wreckage. The only saving grace is the outro portion, with keys standing alone in a ghostly sound. There is something to be said about "MCCCVII," a track that is equally short and brutal. At just two and a half minutes, it is a foray into the thrash/death realm, complete with rapid drumming and some impressive fret work.

There is some inspiration to be found on "The Dawn Of The 1st Great War," a track which seems to follow the metalcore formula, but sees a twist in the form of some well orchestrated horns and strings. This is a step outside of the box, a way to reinvigorate a (hopefully) dying style. Short, but strong, it leads directly into the closing track, "The Creation Of Parsifal." The keys steal the show again, remaining atmospheric behind a wall of pounding drums and muddled distortion. The vocals, by this time, are predictable. This isn't to say they are any less enjoyable, but there simply is no variation. Even as the instruments change their tone, with a blaring guitar solo erupting from below, the vocals maintain a constant delivery. But the instruments are truly the star, winding down to a sampled chunk of trumpets and drums.

Agartha isn't a metalcore band, but any means. But they do borrow from the genre too often to suit their talents. They take what would otherwise by a pretty rousing album of keyboard fueled brutality, and water it down with unnecessary use of industrial strength chugging. But, in this case, the good outweighs the bad. Each dark, mechanical cloud has a silver lining. And on "V," they weather the oncoming storm, and brace themselves for the next.


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Thursday, October 13, 2011

Ghost Brigade - Until Fear No Longer Defines Us (2011)

Back for another round of Finnish progressive death metal, Ghost Brigade comes out of the shadows with their new album, entitled “Until Fear No Longer Defines Us.” This is the bands third full length album and man what a performance it is. This ten track masterpiece has got everything from roaring growls to calm clean singing with constant change in tempos and melodies. Each song being diverse and yet just as amazing as the next.

You’re greeted with “In The Woods” which is a four minute acoustic performance with lead singer Manne Ikonan singing smooth clean vocals that will draw you deep into the music. The acoustic guitars float gently in the background with relaxing melodies. As the song fades you are rudely awakened with “Clawmaster” while guitars ignite with tons of heavy distortion. Deep demonic growling vocals come flying in on top as massive drums and cymbals explode behind them. There is so much bass in this song that you’ll feel the vibrations run through your body the minute the notes are played. The vocals are interesting as the verses go back and forth between the dark growling and the soothing clean singing. This is the same for the refrain as well. You’ll also find the guitar work to be quite incredible as blaring guitar riffs scream throughout the chorus. The instruments calm down again during the second and third verse. Definitely check out the guitar work during the refrain though. The melodies being played are just phenomenal.

“Chamber” leans more towards the first track where you’re hit with gorgeous clean singing while they hold off on the reckless growling. Drumming is added toward the beginning of the song as calm guitar notes play softly along side them. The bass gives off a very warm sound as it collects the rest of the instruments and keeps them close together. The refrain does pick up and get a little heavier musically. Distortion is added while the kick and snare start to become a little more repetitive with mixed patterns. The way the cymbals and hi hats are incorporated are quite catchy and will definitely make you want to bob your head to the rhythm. As far as heavy growling goes, you run into that in “Traces Of Liberty.” It’s accompanied by loud catchy guitar riffs and reckless cymbals crashing everywhere. This track definitely jumps out and grabs you by the throat. The refrain gets even more aggressive with dark melodic guitar riffs and more deep growling vocals. You’ll also notice eerie strings in the background which provide haunting tones to the music.

Things slow down with "Grain." The guitars are light as clean vocals are delivered with such passion. The verses contain beautiful lyrics as simple hi hats and snares lead the way to the chorus. The guitars become heavier as you hit the refrain. As distortion flies by, the vocals are what you'll be following. After hearing them once or twice you'll definitely find yourself singing along. Also the melody to the guitars are absolutely gorgeous and full of energy. Make sure you don't skip this song.

By now I’m sure you’re all looking for that one track that just completely consumes you. Well “Breakwater” is that track. It’s dark chugging guitars will surround you with dark tones in the beginning as the drums beat you down repetitively. This eight minute piece of work changes up a lot with its diverse song structure which keeps you at the end of your seat the entire time. After the demonic riffs fly through, vicious growling vocals follow destroying everything in their way. After the dust clears, the distortion disappears as calm guitars take over. This is where the softer clean vocals come into play. The relaxing tones in Ikonan’s voice put you at ease as you try to recover from the violent riffs before this. Of course this doesn’t last long as harsh guitar riffs come rumbling back in at full speed along with more wicked growling on top of it. Meanwhile the cymbals are just shattering from left to right. This is where you’re going to want to throw you’re devil horns in the air. The bass is just relentless in the breakdown towards the end as monstrous guitar riffs stomp you out. The song closes out with soothing guitars and deep bass lines as you finally get to catch your breath.

Another powerful track is “Torn” as it opens with a quick drum solo. Violent guitar riffs jump in after a few seconds as devilish growls follow after that. Pay close attention to the drumming in this one because the drum rolls in between each riff is absolutely bone crushing. The detail in each fill is incredible. The melodies of the guitars are catchy during the bridge with uplifting notes and soothing synths behind them. Keep in mind that the man behind the synths and keyboards is none other than Swallow The Sun’s Aleksi Munter. The instruments combined paint a beautiful image. This is followed by the final song on the album, entitled “Soulcarvers” which is another lengthy track only this time it stays to the more mellow side. Catchy guitar riffs run throughout the song while clean vocals soar over the top really reaching out to you. The refrain builds up with deafening guitars and destructive drums while the vocals stay clean. Again, the drum fills during the chorus are breath taking. You’re definitely going to want to play this track over a couple of times.

What’s great about “Until Fear No Longer Defines Us” is that anyone and everyone can find a little something that they love on this album. If you’re not really a fan of growling but you love heavy progressive instruments with amazing clean singing then you’ll love this album. Same thing for those who are all about aggressive guitars and harsh vocals. There’s no way around it. You’re gonna find something incredible about this album. Their diverse style is what makes Ghost Brigade such a magnificent band. So make sure you check this one out. It’s an album you cannot miss!


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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

3 - The Ghost You Gave To Me (2011)

After a seemingly endless absence, the band with a number for a name returns with a new studio album. 3 has soaked in praise from all corners of the country, thanks to their critically acclaimed album, titled "The End Is Begun," and in part to their slot on the Progressive Nation Tour of 2008. But three years later, Joey Eppard and company have compiled a collection of songs that may take them to new places. "The Ghost You Gave To Me" sees the Woodstock, NY four piece with an edge that is sure to garner some serious attention.

The intro track, "Sirenum Scopuli," is vintage 3, taking the dulcet tones of clean guitars and pairing them with Eppard's often airy voice. It has a short but sweet effect, connecting directly into "React," a sure fire crowd pleaser. The alternating bursts of fast and slow, combined with a catchy melodic vocal hook, are the perfect way to get the ball rolling. Eppard's strength as a vocalist and frontman is equaled only by his prowess on the guitar strings, with fluttering flurries of acoustic notes floating through the air. The first single from the album follows, and "Sparrow" has a stomp that may catch you by surprise. The sizzle of cymbals and crushing guitar riffs that lead off give way to the soft crooning of the verse. But that aforementioned edge cuts through in the pre-chorus, a heavy strike that is a welcomed change from the normally progressive rock vibe. This is a realization of how impactful this band can be.

The vocal delivery that has become the band's signature returns on "High Times," a track that showcases the sheer power of Eppard's voice. he hits all the right notes, and all the right styles. His ability to cut back and forth from purely clean, to slightly raspy and gritty is enough to keep the more elitist members of the metal community happy. The rhythm section follows suit, with blasting fills and a head bobbing bass line keeping things tight. The rattling opening to "Numbers" reminds you that drummer Gartdrumm is alive and well behind the kit. The softly sung verses trick you, setting you up to be shaken, not stirred, in the chorus. A smoldering guitar solo takes you on a ride, and crashes you back in the middle of the booming riffs. The blasting outro is one that will shake you to your core, only to be saved by the beautifully sung "One With The Sun." The lyrical content has a dark playfulness, one of the band's best qualities. There is a soul to Eppard's voice, something lost far too often in the mind numbing progressive metal scene. he captures every ounce of emotion in each syllable, playing his tones off of the resonating guitar notes.

The title track begins with a pulsing drum beat, and machine gun snares. A weaving, winding guitar riff twists around you, all the while you are soothed with Eppard's vocals. From the ethreal "oooo's" and "ahhhh's" to the wild tremolo in his voice, he keeps your ears hooked. The opening riffs of "Pretty" lead into a downtempo verse, one that allows the bass to come through loud and clear. But the undeniable appeal of the chorus will be sure to get any crowd bouncing. The contrast of crunchy riffs and soothing vocals is what makes this band so accessible to so many. The guitars build in strength, initiating the head bobbing you may have resisted thus far. For fans of 'The End Is Begun," the track "Afterglow" is going to be a favorite. From the distorted guitars to the light tap of cymbals, you will find so many things to enjoy. The upbeat nature of the tune is infectious, with every layer folding together in a perfect harmony.

The clean guitar notes that dominate "It's Alive" will stick with you for days. Their immediate descent into something heavier is awe inspiring, with Eppard letting out a mighty scream over the top. It plays out like organized chaos, even through the solo portion, crashing cymbals capping off a decidedly heavy, stomping riff. The surprisingly long "Only Child" follows, and in true 3 style, commands every ounce of your attention throughout. There is so much going on at any one moment, whether it be a great bass line, a ridiculous fill, or the overall arch of the vocal melody. The track length allows the band to take a longer path from A to B, jutting off on tangents here and there. But the flow remains from one piece to the next, connected through each riff, and the haunting keyboard notes. The closing track, "The Barrier" brought to mind Beck's "Ramshackle," with the band taking a stripped down approach in the early stages. The track builds to a rolling boil, twisting and turning through solid guitar passages and vocals. It is a delicate end to an aggressive album.

Despite their past successes, 3 seem to still be relatively unknown, or at least as much as a major label band can be. The comparisons to Coheed and Cambria have been lobbed time and time again, whether they be fair or otherwise. But "The Ghost You Gave To Me" sees the band stepping out of the shadows, and into the spotlight in a way that they hadn't on their previous works. They have found a balance that could, and should, propel them into the collective consciousness of metal fans the world over. And with a slot on the Metal Sucksfest, they are sure to get some nods of approval along the way.


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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Insomnium - One For Sorrow (2011)

Finally, melodic death metal band Insomnium has returned with another pulverizing, action packed album. It goes by the name “One For Sorrow.” It’s got tons of progressive riffs mixed with deafening guitars and depressive tones. You will find nothing but godly guitar solos and beautiful melodies throughout the entire album. There is even some diverse change ups in the vocals as they add a little more clean singing mixed with there demonic growls.

The album starts off with “Inertia“ which is a three minute intro that really builds up the album and gives you a little taste of what is to come. It’s nothing but insane guitar work and catchy melodies. As the intro fades you fall right into “Through The Shadows” which opens with loud monstrous guitars that chug rapidly with violent drum fills. They layer this with the lead guitar throwing melodic notes from left to right relentlessly. The motion of the song will have you bobbing your head from start to finish. As the verse starts, you are hit with a deep devilish growl that will make you flinch as he lyrics beat down on you. Fast chugging riffs accompany the vocals as they build louder and louder into the refrain. A mixture of clean singing and growling are combined together in the refrain leaving a catchy melody echoing through your head. After hearing this, you won’t be able to help but replay this track again and again. It’s got so much energy and overwhelming vocals that consume you deep into the album. Although when you finally do decide to move on to the next track, you are definitely in for another treat. “Song Of The Blackbird” provides you with complicated drum fills and blaring guitar chords with heavy distortion on top of them. The snap of the snare will constantly shake you violently as the bass lines run you over. You’ll find similar elements in “Only One Who Waits” as well. It’s nothing but pure melodic death metal being shoved in your face. This bridge in this song has got a really catchy melody to it as well as it starts off quiet and builds up to be a gigantic wave of reckless guitars all mashed together with a solo to follow. This will destroy you.

“Unsung” is a crucial track off the album that you don’t want to miss. It starts with a soft melody that is immediately torn down by the monstrous guitars that follow it. The verse kicks in with harsh growling that runs along side dark aggressive guitars and exploding drumming. The double bass pedaling is phenomenal. You are hit with the refrain often throughout the song as melodic guitar riffs take over sending you to a whole different dimension of sound. About three and a half minutes into the track you will come across the bridge which contains some beautiful clean vocals which have heavy amounts of reverb. This then leads into the refrain one last time as machine gun double bass pedals come through with explosive energy.

The band takes a break from all the violent guitars and heavy growling with “Decoherence.” This little three and a half minute track is a gorgeous instrumental with lots of soothing strings and acoustic guitars. Its got a lot of passion and it definitely adds more beautiful to this beast of an album. They use some interesting flange effects on the drums as well giving it sort of an unclear image. This is one of those relaxing tracks then let you catch your breathe as you prepare for more heavier songs like “Lay The Ghost To Rest.” Wild melodic guitars coming flying in with booming drums. Meanwhile cymbals are crashing all around you. The verse contains some vicious growling as the guitars provide the melody. Definitely check this track out.

Towards the end of the album you’ll come across another great song, entitled “One For Sorrow.” It starts out slow with soothing clean guitars and calm drums patterns. The verse comes in with layered vocals. They combine clean singing with a light growl that barely fades behind it. This gives off a very eerie feel to the song. The chorus however, is straight harsh growling lyrics with overwhelming guitar riffs chugging in the background. The guitar work overall is incredible and definitely gives a epic sound to the music. As the song fades, you run into the final song on the album, called “Weather The Storm.” This is the beast of them all as far as wicked growling goes. The vocals are amazing as dirty guitar riffs soar in the background carrying the deep growls throughout the track. The drums are relentless as well as they leave no time for rest with all of the constant snares and kicks. The fills towards the end of the song are absolutely mind blowing.

Clearly the band has shown that they will continue to release the fantastic melodic death metal sounds that they have always produced. They have improved again and again with each and every album and they have done it again with “One For Sorrow.” Hopefully they do a world tour so we can witness these incredible tracks live. Don’t miss out on this exciting new album!


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Monday, October 10, 2011

Akribi - Black Morning Sun (2011)

There are no rules to music. No one can ever say something is right or wrong, a fact that Akribi states very clearly on their website. They even go as far as quoting the great Duke Ellington, who said "If it sounds good, it is good." There is no argument there. But the question is, who gets to decide what sounds good? The band put their musical theory to the test on their album "Black Morning Sun," which may be fodder for many a thesis, review or discussion. Full of wandering melodies and disjointed fragments, this may make Mr. Ellington rethink his original thought.

The album opens with a flash, as "Puppies Of War" takes hold of you. The high speed attack of drums and guitar is an eye opener, leading into some strong keyboards, akin to a Dream Theater jam session. The production work is clear, until, that is, the vocals enter. Lacking the sort of clarity and strength necessary to complete the track, things take an odd turn. Even as the musicianship remains strong, twisting and turning through verse and chorus, the vocals seem to suck some of the air out of things. Frontwoman Jessica Ahman can't seem to find a home, hovering somewhere between clean and operatic vocals, but not filling either role particularly well. "Where The Water Meets The Sky" succeeds on a number of musical levels, though it falls short on the fundamentals. The bass line is well crafted, placed alongside some delicate piano work. However, the track stretches for an exhausting nine minutes, which seems to be four or five minutes longer than it deserves. The band fall into a common trap, spending too much time on solos that simply add little to the track as a whole. The keyboard solo mid way through is overreaching, to a point that nearly stops the song dead in its tracks.

The next track, "Surface" is where the album takes a decidedly hard turn. Clean guitars echo through the intro, but are simply squashed as Jessica enters with a voice that is equal parts dull and out of place. It is followed immediately by a quick burst of keyboard that brings to mind an old Nintendo midi. This melody seems to come and go, thankfully. But alternating periods of guitar wizardry and oddly toned keyboard parts forces the track off of any sort of path, and into the deepest forests of meandering metal. It becomes less of a song, and more of a patchwork quilt of ideas. Then we have "Angel Kiss," which is a song that follows its name down the road of ballads past. The rumbling lows accompany a solemn piano, setting the scene for arguably the best vocal performance of the album. The more down tempo music seems to fit Jessica's talents best. That is to say, something far less "metal" and far more "show tunes." As you sit back and soak it in, you may wake to realize that you are, in fact, lost in the world of Dirty Dancing or Footloose.

The rock returns on "Blue Clay" allowing a dynamic bass line to lead the way, joined soon after by the sizzle of cymbals, and a bit of much needed distortion. Even the keyboards take a heavier turn, making this one more progressive than the previous four, including some brilliantly off-time drum beats. This is a darker jam, changing pace and time signature several times through the arc of the song. A well placed and masterfully played set of solos fires through. Piano first, in a jazz/blues style that oddly fits so well. Guitar next, blazing up and down the neck in a flurry of notes that set the track ablaze, just in time for the conclusion. There is certainly a somber tone to "Carry The Rain," carrying a weight that seems to finally bring Jessica's voice to life. She finds her strength, projecting her lower register. The crunching of guitars emerges amidst the thumping drums. But a familiar issue remains. The track is simply too long, becoming more filler than fire. This song would be a dream for up and coming producers, with so many clear lines to be drawn as to what stays and goes. But instead, they leave it all in, padding out more than nine minutes of musical folly.

The two shortest songs on the album follow, with both being mercifully under the four minute mark. "Wither And Die" is an odd mixture of seventies prog keyboards and a vocal performance that brings to mind elements disco, blues classic R&B. This is one that may stick with you for days, though whether you consider that good or bad remains to be seen. "The Plains Of Nevermore" more straight forward, with keys and piano coming together in a beautiful harmony, layered with Jessica in a ballad of sunstance. There is no denying the talents of keyboardist Andreas Tiberto. That aside, the band returns to form on "The Sum Of It All," which is, more or less, a brilliant instrumental that is clouded by vocals. This is a showcase of all the members and their individual talents, from the thunder of drums to the shaking bass. But the singing does nothing for the track, with poor choices of timing and tone coming into play far too often. The title track is the finale, with "Black Morning Sun" trying to guide you to the end. Half ballad, half bravado, this one is indicative of all of the failures and victories the album has to offer. 

An album with this many twists and turns is often described as "eclectic" or even "refreshing." But unfortunately, Akribi falls short in the most meaningful ways, failing to create an album that has both substance and form. Each track feels like multiple ideas, jammed together for the sake of padding out one track instead of providing three shorter ones. They lack flow, a true concept of cohesion. Each musical victory is cancelled out by a trip and fall. Whether it be a track that is simply too long, or a vocal melody that falls flat, "Black Morning Sun" may lead those same puppies of war to revolt.


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Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Podcast: Episode 23 (A picture worth... about tree fitty)

Back in the Headquarters, we have plenty to talk about. But we must be distracted. Did we really say this was episode #24? Wrong!

Murmaider was pretty impressed with the new Machine Head album, "Unto The Locust," as well as the one and only album from Solution .45. Hell22 had similar luck this week, stumbling on Myrath, a powerhouse from Tunisia, and Old Silver Key, a new project featuring Neige from Alcest. What a great week of bands and reviews!

But we have gone off on so many tangents the last few weeks. Dream Theater, Opeth, Mastodon, the list never ends. So, the topic on our minds tonight has been shelved for far too long. Album artwork. It can tell us so much about the album without ever listening. So, we explore the ins and outs of cover art and give you some tips on how to judge a book by it's cover.

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Saturday, October 8, 2011

Omit: The Interview

 Kjetil Ottersen, one of the minds behind melodic doom monster Omit, was kind enough to give us some insight into the band, the album, "Repose," and his current music choices. Check it out, and make sure to check out the album. It can, and will, redefine "doom."

First and foremost, we wanted to thank you for taking the time to answer some of our questions. We, and our readers, greatly appreciate it.

Thank you for your interest in Omit! It will be my pleasure to answer your questions.
What is the story behind the name "Omit"? As a band, what led you to choose that name to represent you?
We wanted the name to be concise and communicative in terms of our musical expression, yet somewhat subtle at the same time.

Your style is succinctly described as "Melodic doom metal," but it goes so much deeper than that. How did you come together and create this musical direction?

Cecilie and I first worked together as members of Fallen (Norwegian doom metal act). By the time we left that project, we both had come up with extensive material which we felt necessary to take with us and channel into a self-contained framework. Omit became that framework, involving a completely different environment and musical scope. This was largely due to the participation of Tom Simonsen, who took great interest in the material and introduced to the mix a refreshing and experimental compositional approach. Technically, you could say that our musical direction is characterized by a mixture of diatonic and pandiatonic elements; function versus non-function, with the former brought in primarily by Cecilie and me, and the latter primarily by Tom.     

Who were some of your influences, both as a budding musician, and as a band?

Personally, I have always regarded Queen as my primary source of inspiration. I do not know about the other guys, though. As a band, there is no direct inspiration, to be honest.

You have all been in other bands. What has your experience in Omit been like, when compared to past experiences?

I think we can all agree that the keyword is professionalism. Each member knows his/her role and does it justice. This goes for administration and other extra-musical matters as well. I have never been involved in such a well-organized band relationship before.

What is the writing and recording process like for Omit? Where does each band member fit into the timeline?

Seeing as we have only done one album as Omit so far, I will refer to the process behind ‘Repose’.

 It all started out with the bulk of the album’s orchestral, piano and acoustic/clean guitar themes which I had written and recorded prior to Omit’s inception, coupled with sketches and near-finished vocal melodies and harmonies by Cecilie. Some rudimentary drum patterns also existed at the time. Figuratively speaking, all of these components would work as sporadic nodes between which Tom provided the interconnecting lines in the form of either entirely new or supplementary guitar riffs, additional instrumentation, and song arrangement; a somewhat unorthodox approach, but nonetheless intriguing. Drums were subsequently perfected by Tom, and Cecilie ultimately finalized the remaining vocal parts. Apart from a few exceptions, this was the main songwriting methodology. Whether we will pursue a similar one in the future is yet to be decided.

The lyrics for ‘Constriction’, ‘Dissolve’, and ‘Insolence’ were penned by Tom, ‘Fatigue’ by my former Funeral (Norwegian doom metal act) colleague, the late Einar AndrĂ© Fredriksen, and ‘Scars’ by me. The use of Einar’s work is with his family’s blessing as the legatees of his intellectual property.

Lastly, the recording sessions occurred at different points in time at different studios between 2006 and 2010. I did the preliminary engineering, Tom did the main engineering and mixing work, and we joined up for the mastering. The originally programmed string parts were transcribed to sheet and re-recorded by violinist Mira Ursic and cellist Rosamund Brown.

We hesitate to use the word "epic" to describe a band or album, but the word fits "Repose" so well. Tell us a little about the challenges of making an album this long, this grand in scope, without things getting stale.

I hold that the challenges are generally about making each song inherently progressive; that the sum of form and substance yields a momentum that makes the piece commence, mature and terminate in a sinuous fashion, regardless of its duration. It is fairly comparable to writing a sentence: A weak syntax will make the sentence fall apart and cease to communicate, but if carefully built, the sentence can go on for quite a while without losing its significance. In my personal opinion, this is a universal rule when it comes to writing popular music in particular, and I argue that it is highly relevant to serious music and folk music as well. I know too many cases where songs have been created by throwing parts together randomly and repeating them three-four times; a rather insipid formula that shines through in the end.

The album features a lot of rich instrumentation, ranging from the traditional bass, drums, vocal to the inspired use of real strings. What inspired you, as a band, to go beyond the norm and create a deeper sound?

I believe this is because we all perceive doom metal as particularly suited for uniting the three musicological distinctions and their typical instruments, i.e. serious music (commonly generalized as “classical music”), folk music and popular music. On ‘Repose’, all three distinctions are present, although folk music only slightly.

I would be crazy not to mention Cecilie Langlie's stunning vocals. They are powerful, yet so delicate and gloomy. What is it like to work with a vocalist with her talents?

The immediate answer to that question is “comfortable”. I feel very comfortable collaborating with Cecilie in a doom metal context because this music is her specialty. I have worked with several trained and untrained vocalists, and Cecilie stands out as one of those most cognizant of their own musical habitat, so to speak. What is more, she is a markedly able vocal composer; a skill which definitely contributes to flattering results considering that she decides exactly what to sing and how to sing it.   

As I am sure you have seen, the feedback in the online community seems to have been widely positive. How does it feel to see positive reviews from all corners of the globe?

Very humbling.

As a metal musician, what do you find yourself listening to in your spare time? What bands or albums have consumed your time lately?

I do not see myself as a full-blood metal musician, really, and I know that I can speak for everyone in Omit in this regard. True, I am and have been occupied with metal bands and projects, but that is only a portion of my musical activities; it is simply the metal music affairs of mine that have been officially released, and once a project goes public it quickly defines you as a musician. If anything, my background is mainly classical, i.e. trained pianist, guitarist and vocalist.

I listen to a variety of styles, e.g. progressive rock, industrial, trip hop, noise music, post-metal, synthpop, early Renaissance music, and impressionist music, to name a few. Moreover, I take music listening very seriously as a devoted audiophile, meaning that I consider sound quality and musical quality as equally important. Audio is basically the vehicle through which musical content is conveyed, and if the sound quality is mediocre, the music will not be properly articulated. Therefore, the combination of a fine-tuned listening room, a solid stereo system, and a good-sounding album is imperative. Unfortunately, in these times of ongoing loudness war idiocy, the last criterion is becoming increasingly rare.

Anyway, in the recent months ‘Mezzanine’ by Massive Attack, ‘Ten Summoner’s Tales’ by Sting, ‘Heaven or Las Vegas’ by Cocteau Twins, ‘Violator’ by Depeche Mode, and ‘Lateralus’ by Tool come to mind.  

Are there any plans to take this album out on the road for extensive touring? If so, where would you want to play, and what bands would you hope to share a stage with?

No touring plans, I am afraid. If we were to do anything live in the course of this album cycle, it would be as single events with thorough live pre-productions somewhere in the Oslo-area.

Lastly, what are the plans for the future of Omit? Any thought put toward your next release?

We will eventually begin the writing process for our sophomore album, which is probably taking a more neo-classical turn. We shall see.
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Friday, October 7, 2011

Kamelot - Epica (2003)

Looking back at the discography of symphonic gothic metal band Kamelot, they have clearly outdone themselves with each and every album. For those of you who are not familiar with their work, they have a total of nine incredible full length studio albums, each with their own unique story and instrumentation. If I had to choose one album that really sticks out from the rest of the albums, I would have to say their 2003 album, entitled "Epica," would be it.

After the short introduction track comes one of the most astonishing songs you'll ever hear. The title is "Center Of The Universe." You are immediately hit with powerful guitar riffs filled with melodic energy as fast relentless drumming flows behind them. This is all accompanied epic synth tones running up and down the scale. This is where you're gonna want to start bobbing your head. Lead singer Roy Khan enters with his soothing power metal vocals pulling you deep into the music. He is joined by a thumping bass line as rapid guitars are blasting away with tons of distortion. The refrain is what really consumes you into the track. Its catchy lyrics and exciting melody will have you singing along the first time you hear it. The guitar riffs in the background have an uplifting tone to them. The structure to the track is just fantastic. Later you will run into a magnificent guitar solo that will completely sweep you off your feet. Meanwhile the cymbals are crashing and the double bass is pounding away at you. This is definitely a song that you're going to want to replay often. It's definitely considered one of their classics.

The next couple of track start out a little heavier. "Farewell" has got some aggressive riffs right of the bat. Head banging is your only option. The instruments slow down while the verse kicks in as soft strings play quick little melodies in the background. About half way through the verse enters the monstrous guitar riffs and deep bass lines. The drums just keep pounding away throughout the song. You're gonna be hooked with the catchy lyrics in the refrain. Khans' vocal delivery is just marvelous in this track. His jumping from low to high notes is most impressive, especially when he makes it all flow together so well. "The Edge Of Paradise" is another energetic track that begins with symphonic string mixed with heavily distorted guitars. The verse is delivered with slow soothing vocals as the guitars continue to chug away. This all builds up to the uplifting refrain. The strings in the background are mellow yet surround the rest of the instruments as they hypnotize you deeper into the song. The end has an interesting bridge which consists of melodic chanting that will definitely catch your ear. This goes right back into the chorus as it repeats one last time.

The great thing about this album is how it slowly moves from fast upbeat tempos to slow ballads. "Wander" is the soft ballad that will take your breath away. The chorus in this track has so much going on meanwhile you can't help but sing along to the catchy vocals that Khan displays. Angelic piano notes float in the background as blaring guitars get slammed to the beat of the drums. Tons of cymbals splash alongside the guitars adding more passion to the music. "Descent Of The Archangel" is similar with its gentle verses of beautiful lyrics and ravishing strings. blaring guitars take over in the refrain as Khan soars over the drums and bass. There is also some soft piano notes that enter and carry into the next verse that give off gorgeous tones. After hearing this four and a half minute masterpiece you'll be wishing it were longer.

Later in the album you'll run across the song "On The Coldest Winter Night." The song is beautiful and quite calm as the lead instrument is an acoustic guitar. Although he's been showing off his voice throughout the whole album, this is where Khan really steps forward to shine. While angelic notes softly in the background, the vocals lay gentle on top pulling you deep into the music. The strings during the refrain add so much feeling to the mix as the vocal hum behind them. The little acoustic solo towards the end really tops it off. This is definitely you don't want to miss skip. As it fades you are hit with "Lost And damned" which starts out with slow drums that fade in softly. Eventually echoing guitars come blasting there way through with a wild melodic solo. What a great way to start off a song. The structure is similar to some of the earlier songs as the verse are soft with lower vocal pitch as the chorus builds up with heavy double bass pedaling and constant guitar chugging as the vocals lift an octave or two. If you love guitar solos than this is the song for you. You'll find a couple of areas where the lead guitar goes off and completely destroys the musical scales.

After hearing it all the way you will be blown away with the performance on this album. "Epica" has got everything from symphonic strings and mind blowing guitar work to slow beautiful ballads and calm soothing vocals. It's got it all. And while Kamelot has never let us down with any of their albums before, it'll be interesting to see where they go next!


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Thursday, October 6, 2011

Solution .45 - For Aeons Past (2010)

Brand new to the metal scene comes a band by the name Solution .45, which sounds like a mixture of melodic death metal with progressive tones. They are from Sweden and Finland. "For Aeons Past" is the first and only full length studio album of their career. It's got ten solid tracks on it full of mixed vocals, rapid double bass pedal action, and overwhelming guitar work.

The first track, "The Close Beyond," starts off with jack hammering guitar riffs filled with distortion as another guitar lays some quick melodic notes on top of it. Exploding drums consume the background as cymbals are splashing all around. The double bass pedaling is played with incredible speed, not skipping a single beat. In come the verses with a mixture of clean singing which then switches to devilish growling. The refrain takes over with catchy melodic vocals that soar over the blaring guitars. This is a perfect opening song that definitely gets your blood pumping. The guitar solo towards the end is absolutely insane as it throws wild melodic notes at you from all directions.

The following song, "Gravitational Lensing," wastes no time jumping right into the fast paced guitars and booming drum fills. The growling vocals immediately grab you by the throat leaving you no chance for air. The soothing clean vocals take over for the refrains giving a calm feel at the same time. This is followed by a hell raising guitar solo that will blow your mind. "Through Night-Kingdomed Gates" is another song that has got some intense guitars that quickly start chugging away rapidly with demonic chords. The bass adds thunderous tones underneath leaving your brain rattled. The clean vocals add an uplifting sound to the music meanwhile the growling just comes straight down and crushes you. The chorus is full energy as the relentless guitars continue to chug as the singer flies high over them. The breakdown in this track gets pretty heavy as layered guitars chug away with reckless growls on top. This track is perfect to rock your fists too.

"For Aeons Past" and "Bladed Vaults" are two tracks that really stick out from the album. The refrains are full of catchy clean singing while the verses are just completely out of control. The guitars are relentless as they constantly pound you into the ground from front to last. Make sure you check out some of the lyrics to these tracks because you will definitely be trying to sing along. Also, you'll notice that some of the growling in "Bladed Vaults" almost sounds like straight black metal vocals. Its got that real screechy, almost uncomfortable sound to it. the deliver is excellent. Later you're hit with "Wirethrone" which opens with more violent guitar riffs but slowly fade out when the first verse hits. Clean vocals come in with soft lyrics as the guitars start to build up in the background. The solos are full of complex guitar work and the drum fills will have you throwing up your devil horns in no time.

The final track is a true masterpiece that will sweep you off your feet. The song is titled "Clandestinity Now" and runs for an impressive 16 minutes long. The song structure or original and is constantly changing tempo patterns and melodies throughout the song. The growling has some of the heaviest deliveries I have heard on the entire album. The guitar work is simply amazing from the slow heavy chugging to the fast solos. Also prepare yourself for the bass of the drums. The amout of power that the kick holds will definitely knock you on your ass. The vocals keep you hooked as they consistently switch from singing to growling. After all of the insane solos and interesting vocal performance, you're going to have to go back and hit the replay button a couple of times. You're not going to be able to catch everything at once!

Solution .45 has got a lot of potential. The performance and song structure on this album is phenomenal. The constant change in vocals really keeps the album fresh and unique. You don't have to worry about getting bored of a certain sound. Solution .45 makes sure to provide a little bit of everything with "For Aeons Past." It will definitely be interesting to see where the group goes from here. Make sure to check these guys out.


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Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Old Silver Key - Tales Of Wandering (2011)


Alcest mainman Neige has joined yet another band, bringing his total to somewhere near 382, near as we can tell. The man is about as prolific a writer as you will find in music these days. His latest project, dubbed Old Silver Key, sees him joining forces with the entire band Drudkh, a black metal outfit from Ukraine led by Roman Saenko. Together, they have created a sound that borrows from the raw, unpolished roots of black metal, but takes them in a strictly melodic direction. They begrudgingly called this album "post-rock," but with a few listens, it runs deeper than that.

Things open with the tapping of drum sticks, inviting others to join "What Once Was And Will Never Be Again." The sporatic picking of guitar strings, clean as can be, and the occasional piano keystroke enter. This is contrary to what you may expect from a band of this caliber, but it is a fitting intro to an album of this nature. The tapping slows and fades, and "November Nights Insomnia" comes into range, with a drum beat that may seem familiar. Typical kick/snare/cymbal action is all that is needed. Neige's voice, somber as ever, hits all the right notes, layered on top of guitars that start melodic, but lean toward the abrasive. The ability to cut back and forth between enchanting melodies and the more coarse guitar work is key, allowing piano keys to intermingle with grating guitars and fast paced drumming. This is atmospheric metal at it's best, with layers or sound creating a wave that crashes over you. Even the dulcet tones of an acoustic guitar make it into the mix.

The beautiful piano that opens "Cold Spring" would make the perfect accompaniment for a rainy day. As the light patter of drums enter, it provides a platform for an acoustic guitar to stand. A lone voice enters, solemn and trembling. The melody gives way to rapid sweeping of guitar strings, a build up that black metal fans have grown to love over years of fine tuning. The combination of a soft voice and the harsh music is uncanny. So much so, in fact, that the lack of screams won't even occur to you. As simple this all seems to be, it is powerful in ways that are hard to duplicate. The fast pace returns with "Nineteen Winters Far Away From Home," which is a deep blend of post rock and black metal elements. The consistent plucking of the bass guitar embodies so much of the post rock style, while the wild drumming in the middle section keeps you off balance. This is a track that doesn't try to do too much. It is an instrumental of the purest sense, allowing music to tell the story, rather than clouding it with vocals that may detract from the whole.

Neige returns on the melodic pleasure that is "Star Catcher." There is a lighter feel to this one, with the drumming coming in a more straightforward way. This may be as happy as the Frenchman has ever sounded, with his voice carrying an air of lightheartedness. The sonic cloud that rises from it all is stunning, with every piece locking together. Crashing cymbals and the occasional fill only strengthen the track. "Burnt Letters" is the most complete offering on the album, with an atmosphere that so many musicians work their entire lives to achieve. Each small section flows together, with Neige's voice as the engine that drives it all. The unexpected bursts of double bass pedaling rattle your ribs, while the combination of coarse and clean guitars are inspiring. Even the outburst of pure melodic black metal musicianship at the end takes you by storm.

The closing track, "About Which An Old House Dreams," is every bit as eclectic as its predecessors, taking all of the elements that their collective works have to offer. Neige has a melodic power that is undeniable, as anyone who has heard Alcest can attest to. His voice hovers above the crowd in an emotional way that so few achieve. An despite neither a scream or growl to be had, Roman and Drudkh play to their strengths, creating a stirring backing band that provides both melody and morose. As the music fades away, a lone piano plays you out. The sound of a projector spinning down is all that remains, a fitting end to this piece.

When you go through the catalogs of both Neige and Drudkh, you may form some sort of opinion of what Old Silver key would sound like. And in doing so, you would be both right and wrong. Sure, the past works of both shine through at times. But this is an entirely new direction at the same time. There are harsh guitars chords. There is plenty of Neige's haunting vocals. "Tales Of Wandering" isn't just a mash-up. This is something more.


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Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Machine Head - Unto The Locust (2011)

Heavy thrash metallers Machine Head are back with a brand new full length album entitled "Unto The Locust." This is a strong follow up from there 2007 album "The Blackening," which had raving reviews. There are tons of destructive guitar riffs and pulverizing drum rolls all throughout the album. You will also find the vocal performance interesting as it offers a mix of relentless yelling and clear singing. This definitely keeps a unique tone to the music.

The album is introduced with "I Am Hell (Sonata In C#)" which is one hell of an opening track, as it runs for over 8 minutes long. It starts out similar to a Dimmu Borgir album with soft chanting vocals layered on top of each other adding an eerie yet beautiful feel to the track. This is soon disrupted by rumbling guitar riffs with their quick chugging patterns. Next comes the echoing growls that will make you shit yourself. The verses pick up speed with rapid melodic guitar riffs and complex drum fills. Head bobbing is your only option while this song is blaring. You'll also run into a mean guitar solo completely shredding up and down the scales leaving no time to catch your breath!

Another song that really sticks out on the album is "Be Still And Know" as you will discover its amazing guitar work. the guitars are constantly blasting detailed melodies while double bass pedals switch from fill to fill knocking you on your ass. The refrain consists of a catchy melody delivered with powerful clean vocals that will make you want to sing along immediately. The verses take over with more "beat'em up" vocals and rough lyrics. There is a vicious solo toward the end of the track that will absolutely blow your mind. This is definitely one of the best songs on the entire album.

"Locust" is up next as it starts with calm guitar notes while catchy drum rolls slowly build up in the background. Eventually reckless guitars enter with massive amounts of distortion. This is another song with a catchy chorus that is sung with clean vocals. The verses continue to keep things heavy as the yelling lyrics bash you into the ground. "This Is The End" has got some aggressive screaming vocals as well however some of the clean singing in the refrain doesn't quite seem to fit. It's not a bad performance of the vocals it just doesn't seem like it mix well with the mood of the music. "Darkness Within" adds on to this awkward singing. The song is good its just not what you would expect from a band as heavy and violent as Machine Head. It does start to pick up during the bridge with thrashing guitars and thunderous drumming. This track is good to hear once in a while but it isn't "replay button" worthy.

You're met with a wicked growl at the beginning of the seven minute song "Paerls Before The Swine." The vocals echo sending a haunting chill down your spine. The relentless drumming constantly pounds away while the bass rolls heavily underneath. This is definitely a song that will make you want to spin your head around recklessly. Towards the middle of the song enters monstrous chugging guitars with insane drum fills that are full of detail. This leads right into another heavy verse of wild yelling vocals. As the instruments fade you run into the final track "Who We Are." It starts with a bunch of children singing the chorus of the song in an a'cappella while snares slowly fade in from the background. This switches over to harsh yelling vocals and booming drum fills. Heavily distorted guitars rush in as they chug away to the verse. One of the most impressive parts of the song is of course, the guitar solo. The electrifying melody and clashing of layered guitars will have you wanting to replay this song again and again. and even more, it'll have you wanted to restart the entire album again as well. I must say they really do go out with a bang.

"Unto The Locust" is the seventh official studio album of the bands career, and it is definitely up there as one of their best. Machine Head has really executed with a solid song structure and a solid performance. They have clearly stepped up their game and continue to get better and better with every album. Having to wait four years for this album was definitely worth it!


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Monday, October 3, 2011

Myrath - Tales Of The Sands (2011)

Music is the universal language of the world. From North America to Europe and beyond, the powers of metal have unified many a people. And with that, Myrath, a progressive power metal band from the African nation of Tunisia, is poised to take the world by storm. Started by guitarist Malek at the tender age of 13, they have evolved from a teenage cover band to a prog force. Their third studio album, "Tales Of The Sands," is a loud reminder that good metal knows no boundaries.

The other-wordly sounds of a female chanting voice launches "Under Siege" into action, furnished by a plethora of Middle Eastern sounds. This is no introductory track, but rather a display of strength. The drums are almost mechanical, delivering a punch on each down beat, with a precision that is simply uncanny. The vocals are sensational, with clean singing that has all of the range and power of some of the prog power greats. Keys and guitars come together in a growing melody, with layer upon layer of vocal harmony tying them all together. The siege may be over, but the attack continues, with the thunder of "Braving The Seas" coming your way. The air raid sirens punctuate a booming intro, paving the way for that soothing, melodic voice. This is an all around winner, from start to finish, carrying all of the emotional weight of a ballad without losing the harder edge. The instrumental work is fantastic, from the groove of the bass line to the lightning fast guitar chord changes, and the daring keyboard solo. No need to drag this one out into a meaningless epic.

The use of ethnic instruments does wonders in "Merciless Times," forming the backbone of the track. This is the new perspective that metal has been longing for. Amidst the flashes of folk brilliance, the band manage to keep it heavy, but not overbearing. Each kick drum finds a home, rather than dominating the overall sound of the track. Orchestrated strings and winding chants occupy the opening moments of the title track, "Tales Of The Sands." Tribal style drumming takes a hold of you and welcomes you to another flowing verse. The guitars finally get to shine, with a shredding solo punctuating a dazzling breakdown portion. The vocal patterns alone will keep you coming back for more, and they are merely one piece of this musical puzzle. A well placed acoustic outro leads you back to quiet.

But the silence doesn't last long, with a string and piano intro tugging at your soul. Even as the guitars and drums blast forward, you are pulled along for the ride. The instruments dart in and out of one another, like the braiding of hair. Drums become intertwined with guitars, keys become tangled in bass, and the vocals surround everything. The depth in the voice of frontman Zaher Zorgati is mind blowing, hitting every note with no effort, all the while pouring out his innermost emotions. Alongside his voice, the guitars have begun to speak for themselves, igniting a fire within each stroke. "Dawn Within" starts with a flurry of drums and guitars, creating a north African stomp unlike any you may have heard before. In the mere three minutes, you are treated to everything you could want from a prog power metal track, from crashing drums to high octane vocals.

The rolling thunder of drums welcomes you to "Wide Shut," before hearing a more delicate side of Zorgati. This is not to say his strength has diminished in any way, but there is a certain soul this time around that peaks through. The beautiful use of strings and keys heightens the experience, especially when paired with the sonic acrobatics of chanting. The bass line is the driving force in this track, setting up every burst of guitar or drums. The breakdown section has some dueling solos that would make the masters of the genre jealous. The music cuts, and there is simply piano and vocals. Moments later the track explodes, and cruises to the end. The ensuing blast, also known as "Requiem For A Goodbye," is not what you would expect by a song bearing that name. This is no sappy ballad, but rather a booming one, allowing each piece to holding the spotlight together. The use of keys and synthesizes creates a grandiose tapestry to build upon. They blend the metal spectacle of a wicked guitar solo with the heartfelt crooning that all emotional tracks must possess. Seamlessly, they come together.

In a flash the album is coming to an end. "Beyond The Stars" sees some of the heavier moments on display, with the drums taking a particularly heavy handed approach., whether it be through a series of rapid double kicks or a brilliant fill. The ever present ethnic influences are subtle at times, but front and center at others. The ability to use, but not overuse, these elements is the key to distinguishing this from other bands. Tracks like this one put those instruments in the perfect proportions. But this is still a guitar driven band, and guitarist Malek gets to flex his musical muscles with another rousing solo. The final track, the aptly titled "Time To Grow," is your reward. from start to finish, you have been treated to an array of tempos and melodies, and this is no different. This is harmony on display, each instrument complimenting the others.

It is hard to compare bands and genres in a logical sense. It is truly like comparing apples to kangaroos. So, rather than trying to concoct an equation that states if you like Band X, then you will love Band Z, it is much easier to appeal to your roots. If you like heavy music, Myrath is a band you need to hear. If you like folk influenced metal, Myrath is a band you need to hear. If you like melodic metal of any kind, Myrath is a band you need to hear. After listening to and being consumed by  "Tales Of The Sands," Myrath was certainly a band that I needed to hear.


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Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Podcast: Episode 22 (We put the curl in your burl)

The guys return for an episode that reminds Hell22 how he got his handle so many years ago. He takes some time out to talk about Falloch and Omit, while Murmaider wants to give a moment or two to Ars Moriendi. But, he is noticeably preoccupied. Our inaugural Band Of The Month launched, and who better than Mastodon to take the honor for the first go round. So, we take time out from our normal ranting and raving to dissect the band, "The Hunter," and the winding road that got them to this point.

We have had so many guest spots on the podcast, that a war is ready to break out. The Scenario can't wait to get back to the headquarters and have a few choice words for Chester and Duct Tape. Soon...

Download Part 1 here.

Download Part 2 here.
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Saturday, October 1, 2011

Ogen: The Interview

Ogen mastermind Hartagga sat down to answer some questions from us about "Black Metal Unbound," his influences, and all those black metal stereotypes. We want to thank Hartagga, as well as Lorenzo at Kolony Records, for making this possible.

First and foremost, we would like to thank to you for taking the time out of your schedule to answer some questions for us. We greatly appreciate it.

It's a pleasure for me and I'm indeed the one who has to be grateful for the interview!

Growing up, what prompted you to become a musician? And with such a wide variety of talents, which instrument are you most happy playing?

Well, basically I'm a guitar player or, at least, that's the instrument I'm most trained in. I firstly decided to become a musician on the wake of one of my major musical influence which has always been classic heavy metal (Iron Maiden on top of the list), then opening my mind to each and evey kind of metal-related styles and other stuff outside of heavy music too, like, for instance, soundtracks, weird electronic music, etc.
What bands and albums were your major influences before and during the recording of the album?
I'd say many bands from the early 90's Norwegian black metal scene, like Emperor, In the woods, Ulver, Enslaved (which I happen to very much like even in their new approach to black metal) and even some stuff from neighbouring Sweden, like Bathory, mainly from the epic period.

How does the recording process work, with you being the one true member of the band? Does it help the writing process to be the sole input? Has there been any thought into expanding the line-up to a full band?

I already extended the line-up in order to be able to take the stage, shaping a full band made of musicians that I know I can rely upon; nonetheless Ogen still remains a solo project; with me being the sole input songwriting-wise, I do not only feel that the songs are really focused, coherent and tight as far as the overall mood is concerned, but I also take great pleasure from being totally free of any limitation or musical compromise that you can't avoid being in a proper band. So it's real fun!

When you set out to create unbound black metal, what did that entail for you? What about the black metal genre did you seek to unleash?

The title 'Black Metal Unbound' was chosen as a kind of testament to the genre ever-changing and ever-developing nature, which may apparently seem to be in contrast with the very musical foundations of black metal. But it's a matter of fact that black metal itself and black metal musicians very often tried to push further their musical quest. On my part I tried to express my own approach to this extreme kind of metal, basically relying on not so obvious (or, at least, I hope so!) guitar harmonic solutions and interesting arrangements and song structures.

We are always interested in the artwork of our favorite albums. Can you give us a little insight into the album cover for “Black Metal Unbound”?

It's a very simple yet ominous photo made by a Russian guy, that the label purchased for the release of the EP. It's an image that fits very well the musical and lyrical content of the album. Simple, evocative, beautiful.

All of the tracks on the album have very interesting names. Were there particular meanings behind the titles, such as Black Tusk Retaliation, As A Leaden Sun Shineth Upon, and Shattered Earth Volcano?

All the tracks deal with extreme nature environments, telling stories that take place on the mountains and talk of the perennial struggle between man and nature itself. I tried to express the sense of wonder and frailty that a man could feel standing in front of such natural spectacles as an erupting volcano or a pale sun reverberating itself on winter snow.

The production work on the album is very crisp, very clean. What made you decide to go with more polished production, as opposed to the traditional raw sound?

Actually we made some decisions that were intended to recreate the vibe of 90's albums, such as recording the drums on tape, with the drums being the only instrument tracked into a professional studio. All the guitars, bass lines and vocals were made by home-recording and all has been made in record time, in order to capture the freshness of the very composition sessions. The very good mixing and mastering duties were handled by super skilled producer Daniele Mandelli, who previously worked with Italian bands like Forgotten Tomb, Tragodia and Dark Horizon, to mention just a few.

Describe your lyrical influences. Where do you take your inspiration from?

My main lyrical influence is the nature of mountains, forests and woods that you can find on the Alps, near where I live and which I always felt a great deal of awe for. This particular environment is the perfect theatre to set haunting stories into.

Black metal musicians are always lumped into the same stereotypes; Satan worshippers, church burners, etc. What are your feelings on those stereotypes, and in particular, the scenario of burning churches?

I always cared about the music and never felt any interest in the stereotypes you mentioned. That's the same feeling that I have for every metal genre. I love music and I look at it as a neverending inspiration and source of innerself expression. I can't understand why you have to destroy something that you dislike or does not represent your belief system. And that applies to everything, art, religion, architecture, research... so I totally distance myself from that kind of scenario which I of course condemn. As a human being I 'feed' myself with all the artistic wonders mankind created through the ages, be it ancient pagan remains, northern stavechurches or egyptian pyramides, since I'm a true lover of art and, even more important, I wholeheartedly support freedom of expression and respect points of view differing from my own.

The metal scene in Italy isn’t widely known, with very few bands making a splash in the US. So, what is it like to be a metal artist in Italy, and more specifically, a black metal artist?

Actually there are thousands of bands, even in the most extreme fields of metal. What I think Italy lacks the most is a proper musician-friendly culture, both in the way overall 'popular' music is perceived and the kind of feedback you get from the medias, which are always into huge superstars, and don't care about up and coming bands, new trends and innovative approaches to music.

What are your plans for the future of Ogen? Are there any plans to take this project on a broad tour of Europe or other continents?

Well, a broad tour of Europe or other continents would be great but it's still very far from becoming reality. I'd love to give Ogen's followers some new tracks, even some free-download tunes in the future, in order to feed their interest in the band, maybe acoustic renditions of songs that were on the EP, or new tracks as well, but that's something I have to discuss with the label of course.

Thank you again for allowing us to ask these questions. We appreciate the time, and wish you the best of luck with the album, and future efforts.

Thank you so much for all your support and interest! Stay tuned!
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Friday, September 30, 2011

Appalachian Winter - Appalachian Winter (2011)

Recently, I have come across an incredible self-titled album by the band Appalachian Winter. This is a one man band from Pennsylvania who has clearly put so much effort and detail into this album as you will find it packed with different orchestral instruments and beautiful complex song structure. D. G. Klyne has written and performed the entire album, which I have found to be most impressive. As far as the genre goes, it is definitely a mix between progressive black metal and symphonic metal with a little bit of folk sprinkled on top.

The first track on the album is "Winter" which starts with dark and beautiful piano notes. This quickly opens up with symphonic horns and orchestral string. The music sounds like a score to a Lord Of The Rings scene. Heavy drums with echoing cymbals bash away at you as heavy guitar riffs begin chugging. The epic horns really build up the album as they fly high over the strings. About two and a half minutes in comes the verse with clean but aggressive vocals. The lyrics are delivered in more of a spoken word than a sing melody. Soon after enters machine gun double bass pedaling booming at insane speeds. This will have you pumping your devil horns immediately. The refrain is interesting as his clean vocals are then layered with a deep demonic growl on top of them. There is also some pretty impress growling in the last minute while chugging guitars blast away with uplifting orchestral horns soar over them. This seven and a half masterpiece is sure to have you hooked and hitting replay!

Acoustic guitars fade in with "Wind" as clean singing vocals enter right away. Angelic strings build up in the background as double bass drum patterns start to kick in. This is where your head will start to bob. The style of the verse is interesting as you will half of it sung in a clean, almost pagan like, singing voice. Then enters dark devilish growling to complete the second half of the verse. The mixture of the two really hold that beauty and the beast feel to the track. The refrain contains very catchy lyrics that will have you singing along as soon as you hear them. All the instruments fade out after the refrain as the acoustic guitar takes over again opening up the second verse of clean singing and vicious growls. These growls are really delivered with amazing performance and seem to just get better and better throughout the song.

"Wolfghosts" is where some of the folk metal influences come into play. The song opens with some catchy melodic flutes with soft acoustic guitars in the background. As the rest of the instruments drop, a deafening and haunting growl comes rolling in with distorted guitars and snapping drums behind it. The guitars are chugging away as the verse starts with evil spoken word delivered in a very low tone of voice. Now get ready because half way through the song comes some more insane double bass drumming as the vocals switch from spoken word to the monstrous growling. The instruments definitely give that black metal vibe as wicked melodic guitars are running up and down the scales during the heavily filled double bass pedaling runs through you. There is even some clean chanting vocals in the end leaving an epic feel to the mix.

Soft piano riffs open up "Forever" as depressive spoken word enters in the beginning. A alluring flute fades in and out between words teasing you with its gorgeous melodies. Orchestral strings take over adding a soft symphonic feel to the album. This is the shortest song on the album running for about four minutes long. As it fades to the end, you are met with beautiful guitar notes in "Solitude." This is quickly shattered with another monstrous growl that opens the door for the heavy chugging of vicious guitar riffs. Strings float in the background which consume you deeper into the song as a wall of double bass pedals fall on you with thunderous speed. Later in the song enters more horns as the drumming and distortion fade out. The melody the horns produce give such a passionate sound to the song and are full of meaning. Eventually chanting vocals come flying in with more rapid double bass drumming and crashing cymbals. There are also some dark spoken word towards the last 30 seconds of the song that ends with a huge echoing growl that will knock you off your feet. It final fades with the ravishing flute that started in the beginning.

The sixth and final track on the album is "Night" and runs for about eight and a half minutes long. It starts out slow with layers of strings hitting all different octaves as dark whispering spoken word drifts through them. Heavily distorted guitar enter for a short time as exploding drums follow them. This quickly fades as the strings continue to play. After more whispering words are spoken, the instruments pick up with more guitars chugging away as violent growling vocals take over. The delivery is absolutely remarkable. The drum fills roll perfectly into the next set of growling as the symphonic strings lift the rest of the instruments higher and higher. About five minutes into the song, everything fades out as a soothing synth takes over. This is later backed by light drumming and more orchestral strings. More spoken word is layered on top just before the loud guitar riffs explode back into the scene. This is a real electrifying way to end the album.

"Appalachian Winter" is so diverse and unique. The way the vocals are constantly changing and the atmosphere around them are constantly switching from fast and heavy to slow and symphonic really make this album stand out. Klyne does a great job of keeping the album flowing smoothly from track to track. The structure of the songs are so fascinating well thought out. This truly is a magnificent album and a great experience. Whatever you do, don't miss out on this phenomenal piece of art.


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