Sunday, 25 September 2011

Album Review: Mastodon - The Hunter

From Mastodon's early albums of raw sludge riffs to the musical shift on their last album 'Crack the Skye'; which included progressive rock and psychedelic tendencies, the question on many people lips were where could Mastodon go next?

'The Hunter' is Mastodon's fifth album and after success of being one of metal's finest acts of late; especially playing high up on the bill for such festivals as Sonisphere, Mastodon have been noted as of the best live metal acts around have created a fairly large and loyal fan base. 

It's arguable that 'The Hunter' could be the most anticipated release of the year for many metal fans. After Mastodon's last album 'Crack the Skye' divided fans that were perhaps more used to their sludge riffs on early records, it was hard to deny that 'Crack the Skye' was a bold move and made Mastodon not just an ordinary metal band, but a band that could constantly shift your perception of who they are. 'Crack the Skye', however different it may have been from previous releases, still had key elements that were instantly recognisable as a "Mastodon sound". 

'The Hunter' however, couldn't be further from 'Crack the Skye' or any other album that Mastodon have released, and have yet created another shift and turn within their sound. You wouldn't be too wrong to assume that 'The Hunter' is like a balance between their early sound and their last album 'Crack the Skye', except you would be missing something. 

It's apparent that with 'The Hunter', there's a few songs that would be hard to classify as a typical Mastodon song or sound. Song's such as 'The Octopus has no Friends', 'Stargasm' or 'Dry Bone Valley' sound completely out of kilter for what the band have been known for. Songs such as the recent single 'Curl of the Burl' or 'Blasteroid', are a more accessible sound from the band, but is in no means a typical accessibility. Some fans may find this hard to swallow at first but on repeated listens, the catchy hooks, riffs and melodies will be hard to turn away from. 

The real star of this album musically has to go to Bran Dailor, whose drumming is phenomenal and really drives and accentuates the songs in a musical way that hasn't been heard from a band like this in a long time. Bran Dailor paid homage on the last album 'Crack the Skye' to his sister who had committed suicide and it seems as if the emotional journey hasn't stopped with 'The Hunter'. This time the new album is dedicated to Brent Hinds brother who unexpectedly died from a heart attack whilst hunting. 

The musical styles on 'The Hunter' constantly shift and challenge your awareness of what you thought a genre could be, pushed beyond it's limits. The band combine certain sounds that I doubt have ever been atomically combined on any album before. There's a whole sound world here to be discovered and you may have to pinch yourself to what you are hearing at times. 

'The Hunter' could well be Mastodon's best album to date and I guess only time will tell. Mastodon show us that they are one of the most forward thinking bands in recent years and certainly aren't holding back, but are pushing forward with every release. I'm sure this album will be one of the most talked about albums of the year and I will be surprised if it doesn't reach most people's favourite album of the year lists. 

Mastodon's 'The Hunter' has to be heard to be believed! 

'The Hunter' is out now!

Rating: 10/10

Album Review: Textures - Dualism

It's been over 3 years since Dutch progressive-metal band Textures released their last album 'Silhouettes'. Since then the band have changed two members; their keyboard player now Uri Dijk and most notably their singer who is now Daniel de Jongh, taking over from the amazing Eric Kalsbeek. It was a tough act to follow Kalsbeek who was such a versatile vocalist, who could easily change in one breath from intense vocals to clean vocal melodies bursting with emotion. Fans have waited in anticipation for 'Dualism' and the big question seems to be, does the new singer still meet the standards of the band? 

In one word: Yes. Daniel de Jongh does make a noticeable difference in Dualism and it's as if the rest of the band have shaped their sound around him. As you'd expect from Textures, there are very heavy and complex parts and it's something which Jongh deals with perfectly for growls but in a more death metal vocal style. It's on the clean vocal parts however that he really shines more and the album seems to be geared towards using the most of those sounds. All in all the vocal performance is as important and impressive as anything else on the album. 

In Textures previous releases you might have been familiar with longer songs but on 'Dualism', the focus seems to be more on creating well-crafted, concise songs, where the vocal performance can take more of the space at the top. That doesn't mean that there aren't great instrumental parts, but this time they are often driven alongside the vocal performance or given their own song, such as 'Foreclosure'. 

This has to be Textures most concise and melodically crafted album to date. You still get all of the tasty progressive and groove orientated riffs that you are used to, but this time instrumental parts don't over stay their welcome and you can happily listen to this album as a whole on many occasions, making it a very addictive record.  

If people haven't heard Textures before, this is probably the best place to start and I would suggest a listen to many progressive or metal fans, as the band can easily go under your radar due to a lack of exposure compared to other bands in the genre. Textures are a band that prove that they are more than just another Meshuggah wanna-be band and just so happen are producing some of the best progressive and metal music you could possibly hear in one package. 

What makes Textures unique is that they accomplish what most bands rarely can and that's the ability to create the perfect balance of 'heavy' and 'melodic'.

'Dualism' is out now!

Score: 9/10

Monday, 19 September 2011

Album Review: Opeth - Heritage

“We are rebelling against Metal” - Mikael Akerfeldt
Opeth formed in 1990 purely as an extreme death metal band but in more recent years have created a unique name for themselves, infusing the likes of extreme metal with progressive rock and folk influences. This has made Opeth a widely talked about and critically acclaimed band and you would be credible to mention them in both extreme metal and progressive rock circles.  

'Blackwater Park' (2001) is considered the bands magnum opus and perfectly blends the extreme metal and progressive sounds with a stark intensity and atmosphere, which the band has been known for. Since 2001, Opeth have leaned more towards a progressive sound, which is most evident on albums such as 'Ghost Reveries' (2005) and their previous album 'Watershed' (2008). Whether Opeth have been a metal band or a progressive band has been debatable for a while now, yet for the most part they get a wider coverage from the metal side of the music industry, including support from popular metal magazines such as Terrorizer. 

‘Heritage’ the band’s tenth release and latest album is the start of a controversial new venture and sound for the band, in which they have opted to do a pure progressive rock album. To start with, the most obvious comparison to previous albums is that there are no metal growls on this album. Part of Opeth’s distinctive trademark sound was always utilising the dynamic shift between metal growls and clean vocals, but here along with the extreme metal side of their sound are all stripped away. The heaviest this album gets is more towards the definition of rock music, akin to such bands as Deep Purple or The Scorpions, which is most notable on songs such as ‘The Devil’s Orchard’ and ‘Slither’. 

The rest of the album is nothing other than pure progressive rock bliss, which most metal fans will find hard to swallow, but most songs still keep that distinctive darker edge that Opeth fans will be most familiar with. Not only is ‘Heritage’ distinctive in dropping the bands extreme metal side, it also introduces a very strong Jazz influence. This is most evident within the musicianship, being the focal point of this album but also in such highlights as the jazz-flute instrumentation on the track ‘Famine’.  This album may have opted for progressive rock over metal but it still has a brutal intensity, except not in loudness but in the opposite dynamic, in which there are sections where you could almost hear a pin drop in the arrangements.

Most metal bands today that take influences from the genre of progressive rock might take it from bands such as Pink Floyd, King Crimson or Rush but with this album Mikael Akerfeldt takes influences from more obscure progressive rock bands, which have mostly been forgotten or in some cases unknown. It is here on ‘Heritage’ that Opeth show you these lost and forgotten sounds and deliver something very fresh and original to your ears.

The way Opeth recorded this album is also distinctive from previous albums, as for this album the band rejected modern recording techniques and instead opted to record everything in a live manner. This album therefore really captures the magic of a band playing live together in a room and is very refreshing compared to other modern bands, which utilise a more 'overdubbed’ sound.  In this way ‘Heritage’ has a retro but classic production which perfectly fits the progressive rock style and although rough around the edges due to the live technique, it’s imperfections make the album sound more human.

To summarize, Opeth have created the beginnings of a new sound for themselves that some fans will love and absorb for days but that others will immediately hate. Some bands may create left turns in their sound for the sake of doing so or to be controversial but for Opeth it feels as if they are meant to be here at this point in time. To Opeth it appears that on the most part it is a sigh of relief to them that they can finally leave their metal roots behind.

Whether you are new to Opeth or have listened to them before, this album will take at least 3-4 listens before it fully settles with you. This isn’t an album to be taken at face value and regarding the sound and lyrics as a complete picture, is a very personal album to dig deep within. It’s such a shame that many people having listened to this album already have instantly dismissed it, that possibly due to the many distractions of the modern world, attention spans might not be enough for some people to fully appreciate this album.

‘Heritage’ could well be Opeth’s most important release to date but it could also mean instant suicide to their hardcore metal fans.  

Opeth prove that they are one of the bravest bands around.

'Heritage' is out now!

Rating: 10/10

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Unsigned Review: The Black Lights

The Black Lights

James McCulloch - Vocals
Steven Nicol - Guitar/Vocals
Tony Riccio - Bass
Stuart Penketh - Drums
Cameron Arndt - Guitar


Rock and Roll

You'll like this if you like:
Guns 'n' Roses

Current Release:
Rock Awesome (2011)

There are certain genre's of music which make you want to swing a shirt over you head and flail your limbs around like a loon. Bands like KISS and Guns 'n' Roses imposed on their audience a sense of fun and debauchery. This is exactly what Scottish rockers The Black Lights do. Each track on their debut release, 'Rock Awesome', is full of the attitude that made rock and roll all those years ago; feel good, unrestricted exuberance. 

It has to be said that The Black Lights aren't venturing into new territory with their release, rock and roll is a genre which has had its boundaries pushed as far as possible. However, TBL's do not have any intention on pushing rock and roll into a new era. Their music is about rocking out, having fun and trying to get this message and attitude out to as many people as humanly possible. 'Sweet Salvation' is a perfect example of this, putting the listener in a feel good mood. 'Rock Awesome' is a great debut, and is best listened to live. So check these guys out when you can!

Rating: 3.5/5

'Rock Awesome' is available via the bands website (see below).


Unsigned Review: The Furious Horde

The Furious Horde

Ruptured Souls - Vocals/Guitars
Awake - Bass
Josiah- Keyboards
Mortiroth - Guitars
Lazarus - Drums

Essex, England

Symphonic Black Metal

You'll like this if you like:
Dimmu Borgir
Cradle of Filth

Current Release:
Instigation EP (2011)

It is difficult to imagine a black metal band hailing from the rather chavvy shores of Essex. After all a major aspect of black metal is the inspiration it draws from the harsh, yet beautiful landscapes which surround its artists. So it is even more impressive that The Furious Horde have captured the harsh and raw spirit of black metal, despite being surrounded by chavs and concrete.

The most impressive aspect of The Furious Horde's sound is that they've managed to capture the most important ingredient of black metal; the harsh production. Their sound draws upon such influences as Mayhem and Darkthrone's early works, reminding us of an era where the emphasis was more focused on the mood and ambience of a record rather than making it sound polished. The keyboards add depth to each track, and in some places producing a rather demented and creepy atmosphere. There is definitely Dimmu Borgir influence, particularly on the track 'Crimson Ice', but the rawer edge gives way to a rather intriguing sound. Ruptured Souls' vocals wouldn't sound out of place on a Mayhem or Cradle of Filth record, and it is definitely one of the strongest aspects of the Furious Horde sound. None is this more obvious than on the delirious 'Come Hither', which has a Dani Filth-esque edge which creates a very sinister tone. The Furious Horde have taken a dated sound and turned it into something intriguingly eerie.

Rating: 5/5

The Furious Horde won Metal 2 The Masses 2011 and will be performing at Metal Camp 2012!

'Like' them on their Facebook page:

Monday, 12 September 2011

Album Review: Dream Theater - A Dramatic Turn Of Events

"After a few dramatic turns, Dream Theater still come out on top".

It’s almost a year to the day that co-founder, band spokesman, and legendary drummer Mike Portnoy was fired from prog-metallers Dream Theater. In that time, the remaining members of Dream Theater have auditioned 7 drummers, have been on the summer festival circuit and have written and recorded a new album, just released, titled ‘A Dramatic Turn of Events’.

Many fans were in doubt after Mike Portnoy left Dream Theater, as he was often considered the heart and soul of the band. Portnoy had certainly left an impressive legacy behind that would be hard for the remaining members of Dream Theater to walk away from. The politics of firing Portnoy and the reasons why were badly handled by the band and had almost left a bitter taste to their fans.

After doubts of where the band may go post-Portnoy, the announcement of new drummer Mike Mangini gave a sigh of relief to fans, that perhaps the post-Portnoy Dream Theater, although different, would be something to look forward to.

After giving ‘A Dramatic Turn of Events’ a first listen, it was an immediate and overwhelming surprise that Dream Theater had crafted and captured something very spectacular on this album, especially after the mild disappointment of recent albums. The opener ‘On The Backs Of Angels’, which was released as a single at the end of June this year, is typical Dream Theater fare, often residing in the comfort of their sound that fans are most familiar with. However, it is from ‘Build Me Up, Break Me Down’, where the album really changes  gear and offers one of the heaviest songs to come out of this band since the ‘Train of Thought’ album.

The next song ‘Lost Not Forgotten’ showcases the first of Jordan Rudess’ beautiful piano arrangements at the start of this song. The track then goes into some very technical musicianship, of which the band have been widely recognised for. To those that had thought Dream Theater had rested on their laurels more recently or had passed the baton to newer, more technical bands, think again with this album. 

‘This is the Life’ is one of the more melodically driven highlights of this album, that makes singer James Labrie shine on this song particularly. ‘Bridges in the Sky’ again follows a more heavier formula, but shows at best here that this band can be heavy but also melodically catchy. ‘Outcry‘ continues this heavy theme whilst also being the main highlight on the album for technical showmanship. 

‘Far From Heaven’, is the perfect post-climactic song and at most just features Jordan’s Piano arrangement and Labrie’s very breathy, open and personal vocals. ‘Breaking All Illusions’ is again another of the melodically driven highlights of the album, whilst ‘Beneath The Surface’ is a wonderful closer to this album, which with its lush arrangements and short time is unlike the longer songs that you would expect a typical Dream Theater album to close on.

To summarize, ‘A Dramatic Turn Of Events’ deserves to be up there with Images & Words and Metropolis Part 2 as some of this bands best work. The band seems to be at their most focused here than they have been for a long time, and the unnecessary or over-crammed ideas have gone. Mike Mangini offers some new and fresh technical flourishes to the band and he fits in almost perfectly as Portnoy’s successor. The band almost leave you wanting more with this album, even at close to 80mins and for a prog band especially of Dream Theater’s nature, this is rare. There is not a weak song on this album and is an utter musical pleasure to listen to from start to finish. 

This album is the perfect balance of well crafted songs, strong melodic hooks, beautiful arrangements, heavy riffs and pushing the envelope once again in musical showmanship.

For those that thought Dream Theater was just an excessive progressive metal band with over the top technicality, above all else with this release you will find it hard not to be singing these songs in your head for days.  

'A Dramatic Turn of Events' is out now!

Rating: 9.5/10