Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Manic Movie Month: Cube (1997)

Welcome to manic movie month, a incredibly original idea where besides from reviewing the current metal records, I am reviewing some horror movies, and every year, I am gonna review one horror franchise, from first to last movie. Now, this project starts off late because of the incredible work load of reviews I have done (I can only blame myself for burying me with all these reviews), so why not start this off with a horror franchise that is not a bazillion movies long, a franchise that I think is quite forgotten.

"Cube" is what I consider to be the predecessor to one of the most successful horror franchises of modern time, "Saw". Just like "Saw", "Cube" revolves around traps, and people trying to escape them, while also finding out why they got here in the first place. It is a small budget film directed by Vincenzo Natali, and while it did not make too much from the box office, it did get a cult following and also ended up winning 13 different awards, and an additional 7 nominations, in several film festivals around the globe.

The movie starts with a man waking up in a cubic shaped room, confused and not knowing how he got there. The room also contains 6 doors (one for each side), and after some hesitation, he walks through one to another similar room, only to get killed by a trap. So he is dead, but the rest of the movie revolves around 6 characters with different backgrounds. We got a cop, a doctor, an office worker, a student, a prisoner (whom have escaped several prisons), and a mentally challenged patient. It is an interesting group we got here, and they do not feel like your regular "horror victim" group. Anyway, they understand quickly that they need to work together to even get a chance to escape, using all of their skills and brains to overcome this horrible experience.

Warning: Spoilers from here on, read at your own risk

So the story is nothing really special, it is basic stuff, but it is how it is all presented that is making this movie so exciting. It takes time to get through all the pieces of the puzzle, and it does so without feeling boring or too dragged out. The answer to getting out of here is by math, trying to find the coordinates to each room. It is something about prime numbers, and other shit that was kind of hard to follow with through the movie, but that was probably meant to be so, to make it seem like it was impossible to escape. Wow, who knew that math actually would be useful outside of school.

As stated before, the characters here are interesting, and they are mostly thanks to the actors who play them. While some of them, like Holloway (Nicky Guadagni) and Quentin (Maurice Dean Wint), are sometimes overplayed, the acting here is pretty good for this budget. But the character Worth nagged me a bit, because I knew I had seen him before. Turns out, the actor is David Hewlett, and I had seen him before, in "Stargate: Atlantis", where he plays that nerdy, but overly smart, Dr. Rodney McKay. He does a great performance, playing a man who has nothing to live for and thinks he deserves this punishment. Such a shame though that he is not doing all the math, because would have been fitting, but he and Andrew Miller (Kazan) are the best performers here in my opinion.

Discount "Stargate: Atlantis" crew
The thing that makes this movie so intriguing is that it basically takes place in one single room, but making it seem like it takes place in a contraption with thousands of rooms. The whole set consisted only of one 14 by 14 foot cube, in which all of the filming took place. The directors used special gel panels where they then lit up using different colored lights to make it easier on the viewer to see that the characters are moving from one room to another. And to make it even easier, the whole movie was shot color by color, with the meatier parts being in the first color, which was red. It is little tricks like that that makes this low budget film a little more special and impressive.

The film crew also got a lot of help from the special effects company C.O.R.E., who did all of the digital effects in the movie, including the traps and the outside of the cube, and they did it all for free. Yes, it certainly looks what you pay for (especially on that opening scene, that mesh is taken straight from some sci-fi bullshit), but they work, and who the hell can turn down free help? I sure can't. Anyway, there is not much special effects here, some digital stuff and an acid sprayed face, nothing much.

While the movie is not scary per se, it is god damn creepy, watching all the characters descend into the eternal pits of madness the longer they are in. The transformation is especially obvious with Quentin, who goes from being a natural leader, almost being the voice of reason (the smoking hypocrite doctor sure ain't one), to becoming a raging killer. That is truly some good script writing, because the transformation is not sudden, it comes in just the pace that it needs to come. "Cube" is truly a psychological thriller, and it excels at being just that.


So eventually, the group finds out that Worth helped design this gigantic cube, even if he only did the outer shell, but he is certainly not the bad guy. They also come to the conclusion that the big cube consists of at least 26x26x26 rooms (a total of 17 576 rooms!), and that the rooms also switch places (in a pace that is very sporadic). Well, Quentin does not care, because he has reached the boiling point, he wants out, pushing Leaven to figure it all out, and she does, only to realize that the answers can only be acquired through some complex algorithm that even she cannot do without a computer. Fortunately, she has Kazan, who goes full Rain Man and just spits out the right answers to every number.

Leaven, Worth, and Kazan then tries to shake off Quentin, trying to reach the end by themselves, and by some cunning strategy (or just outright stupidity by Quentin), they succeed, eventually reaching the bridge to the exit. However, while Worth is hesitating if he deserves his freedom, Quentin appears out of nowhere, and stabs Leaven with a broken door handle. He then beats up Worth and grabs a hold of Kazan, who is on his way out, but as Quentin tries to get over the threshold, Worth comes back and holds him back, just as the bridge cube moves, splitting Quentin in half (which we never get to see the end result of, thanks budget). All that is left is Kazan, and a white bright light.

While the ending leaves a lot of questions unanswered (most of them being answered in the prequel movie "Cube Zero"), it is still a satisfying ending. Quentin got what he deserved, Worth got his redemption, and Kazan, the most unlikely one of them all, survives to live another day. No cliches, no sad good byes, just bliss, complete bliss.


"Cube" is a wonderful little movie that does creep under your skin, even with minimum blood, gore, and jump scares. The psychological transformations that is happening to these characters before our eyes is very interesting to follow, and the suspense of not knowing if the next room is trapped or not is just great. While it does have its set of flaws, those do not take away the overall experience of the movie, and it is most certainly a movie worth watching for fans of the "Saw" franchise. No wonder this film spawned its own set of sequels eventually, but then again, it is a horror movie, it will get sequels, for better, or for worse.

Rating: 8/10 Algorithms

Monday, October 24, 2016

Only for the week: Part 38

All songs on this segment are gathered in a Spotify playlist, you can find it here

The Classic: Yngwie Malmsteen - Heaven Tonight

We can't have a kick ass play list without the Swedish virtuoso known as Yngwie Malmsteen. The man who personifies the "more is more" attitude has inspired guitarists for generations, and have done so by making a lot of great music over the years. "Heaven Tonight" is one of his bigger hits, a song that personifies the 80's with its big hair chorus, synthy melody, and of course, a classic Malmsteen solo that is faster than the speed of light. It may be guitar wanking, but it is the best kind of guitar wanking.

The Newcomer: Anciients - Ibex Eye

Anciients have soared up as one of the hottest new bands in metal, releasing a solid first effort in "Heart of Oak" in 2013, and now an even better record in "Voice of The Void". The clear highlight of this intriguing record is the 10 minute long "Ibex Eye", a accelerating track that just reeks of Mastodon, without straight out ripping them off. The Tool drum line and harsh vocals helps out too, making this song very versatile and exciting. It is even close that I wished that it would be longer.

The Personal Favourite: Human Cometh - Left Behind

The unsigned band Human Cometh from Örebro, Sweden is a true personal favourite of mine, with their mystical and mesmerizing style of heavy metal, they took me by storm, and have never let me down since. The band have released three excellent albums, so choosing just one song was hard, but "Left Behind" from the latest record, "Mayan Logic", is simply amazing. Great instrumentation that even has some neo classical elements to it, and a chorus that is as grand as it possibly could be.

sorry, no video :(

Stay metal!
Robert "Sharkruisher" Andersson

Saturday, October 22, 2016

The Dillinger Escaple Plan - Dissociation (2016)

It is always sad when bands are ending their run way too early, especially if they are at the top of their game, on the verge of being a part of the biggest in the industry. That is exactly what is going to happen with The Dillinger Escape Plan, the New Jersey *call it whatever you want* core output that have kept reinventing themselves in close to every album since their debut in 1999. After this final touring cycle, they are breaking up, despite being as popular as ever (as guitarist Ben Weinman said, they are pulling off a Seinfeld).

The band's last album, "One of Us Is The Killer", was quite organized and simple, with more of their jazz influences involved and more "normal" song structures. Well, there is nothing of that in "Dissociation". In this record, the band goes full weird, unleashing a final chaotic assault that is sure to leave every listener with a mind blown and a dropped jaw. DEP takes their sound and tries to stretch and bend it as far and wide as possible, doing everything in their might to leave with as loud of a crash so no one will forget that this band has been here.

It is certainly safe to say that "Dissociation" will be an album that will be remembered, not because of the old strategies that most other band uses (catchy choruses, awesome riffs, long ass solos), but because this album has so many layers and corners so you can get dizzy by just looking at it. We got crazy breakdowns, soaring vocal passages, sudden tempo shifts, and tons of different effects that alters the sound immensely. The most eye brow raising part though is one specific song called "Fugue", which is a fully instrumental song, consisting only of electronic sound! This is completely nuts, and the weirdest part is that it sounds great, fitting very well with the rest of the album. Man, that is something I never thought I would write about a techno song.

What really defines "Dissociation" and makes it excel is the band's performance, which is extremely precise and wild. The two guys that stands out the most though is the drummer Billy Rymer and singer Greg Puciato. Rymer's rhythms and beats are literally all over the place, in a good way, accentuating the defining parts of every song. Greg though, is a complete lunatic, taking his vocals to the limit in such extreme ways, never taking the foot from the gas pedal. Just listen to him in the opening track "Limerent Death", where he screams his lungs out in several different ways and tempos. Incredible how much the human vocal chords can sustain. The guitarist Ben Weinman gets his moments too, especially in "Nothing To Forget" where he opens up the song with an almost futuristic riff, drenched in effects. It is weird as fuck, but also cool as fuck.

The chaos in this record is intriguing as hell, keeping you busy for several hours in your journey to discover every corner of it. All of these incredible details could have easily been lost with the production, but the band has made sure to get everything right here, their swan song. While the album is chaotic as a full blown war, it still feels controlled and organized, carefully planed into the slightest detail. The band wanted to give the fans a helluva final album, and the fans got it.

While "Dissociation" is a unique DEP album, but it still have tons of familiar elements that we recognize from the band's career. The chaotic nature of this record is fascinating, and I am sure that it will stand the test of time, going to history as one of the finest DEP releases. It was hard to take in at first, but it managed to evolve the more I listened to it, making more and more sense. This is a fantastic record, and it is really sad that this closes the chapter that is known as The Dillinger Escape Plan

Good bye you technical and complicated guys, you escaped way too soon, and we will all miss you.

Songs worthy of recognition: Nothing To Forget, Limerent Death, Symptom of Terminal Illness, Dissociation

Rating: 9/10 Honeysuckles

More reviews of The Dillinger Escape Plan
One of Us Is The Killer

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Sonic Syndicate - Confessions (2016)

When Sonic Syndicate burst out into the metal scene in the mid 00's, they quickly became the hottest thing since sliced bread. You could not listen 15 minutes to your regular rock radio station without hearing the band. After releasing three album in a rapid pace, the band had established themselves as a force to be reckon with (a very predictable force, but still). After that though, everything went wrong. "We Rule The Night" was a huge step in the wrong direction, and is still today considered as one of the worst albums from the 10's. The self titled and four year younger follow up gave the band some credit back, but they might have fucked up even greater now. How they did it? Beats me, but they did.

My stomach started to turn over "Confessions" almost instantly when I got my first glance of the cover art. Oh, sorry, I should have written "art". Not only is this a bland, half assed photoshop project, but there is nothing in it that says this was made by this band. I expect covers like these from pop artists, or your latest house DJ, but not a metal band. Even worse, the band logo (which I think is one of the cooler ones out there) is changed to one of the most generic fonts I have ever seen. They could have made it with Comic Sans instead, and it would have been an improvement. God, it is like they want everyone to not buy this record.

Thank god they did though, because the music is just as the album cover. I do not really know what it is, but it ain't metal. The band has completely abandoned ship, left their Gothenburg metal roots, and done a pop album instead. Yes, I am serious, dead serious. This is not a metal album. In fact, it is the complete opposite. It is just bland crap. I cannot see anything from the old band in this album. There is nothing heavy, close to no riffs, the harsh vocals are thrown out of the window, and so is every ounce of dignity the band still had.

As soon as the title track starts off the album, you get struck by a keyboard melody that is very reminiscent of some typical house song, a feeling that is only enhanced with the choir. 30 seconds in, and I want to turn it off already. Unfortunately for me, I have to torture myself through this and 11 more songs, and all of them are in the same style. Even if "We Rule The Night" was bad in itself, it at least had metal in it, a urge to expand their existing sound into something new, while still maintaining (some of) their past. This is nothing like that, this is just dumb. If it was a new project under a different name, it might have worked, but they did this because the brand was there. Nobody wins here.

But wait! I might have found a small grain of hope here, a track called "Still Believe", with a guest artist, someone named Madyx. Never heard of her, but I will give it a cha... aaaaaaand it is another pop song. Madyx sounds like a decent name, but this woman is closer to Taylor Swift (or P!nk judging by the photos I googled up) than Doro Pesch, which of course means that we got a romantic duet on our hands. GOD... DAMN... IT!!! This is even blander and more awful than the rest of the material (how that now is possible), and once again, I cannot believe that this is Sonic Syndicate we are talking about. This hurts sooooooo bad.

And the lyrics. The Lyrics. THE GOD DAMN LYRICS! What the hell is this? This is as unimaginative as possible, topics that are generic and boring, telling no interesting story what so ever. It is love, despair, a little more love, and some more love. It is so awful, not even fitting for pop music, which this basically is. You get tired of hearing it before you even get a chance. They truly went full pop, so that is... a thing.

But there must be something good about "Confessions", some little meaningless thing that is of redeeming quality, right? WRONG! There is nothing in this record that is worth your effort. The only thing I can think of is that the choruses are at least catchy, but they are still as disgusting as eating paste. I did my research to get an answer to why this sudden change happened, how something can go so wrong in just two years of time, but all I could find was that they changed bassist and that this was "a new beginning" for the band. If you could see me right now, you would probably see the deepest face palm the world has ever seen.

Sonic Syndicate is officially dead. The band that we all knew 10 years ago is completely gone and have turned into a band that should never be associated with metal ever again. It is like they have given up, said "Fuck it, let's hope the pop fans are dumb enough to love us". This album is so offensively bad, it truly makes me angry for all the wrong reasons. I have only given out one 0 rating ever in this blog, and that was to "Devlab", but there is a difference between these two zeros. "Devlab" did not sound like music, more like an ambient experiment, but this does sound like music, really crappy music.

My final confession is that this is hands down the worst album that you will hear this year. Actually, scratch that, make this album the worst album that you will NOT hear this year. You can thank me later.


Rating: 0/10 Closures

Monday, October 17, 2016

Only for the week: Part 36 and 37

All songs on this segment are gathered in a Spotify playlist, you can find it here

The Classics: Annihilator - King of The Kill and Joe Satriani - Surfing With The Alien

Annihilator have always been lurking way back in the shadows of the thrash giants, doing their own thing for over thirty years. They have created some great songs over the years, and while none of them have made it truly big, some have gotten a cult following over the years. "King of The Kill" is as simple as it gets. It is straight forward riff based chugging that is catchy, heavy, and simply kick ass. It is with moments like these where Annihilator truly impress, crushing everything in their path.

Joe Satriani is one of the most well respected guitar players in the scene, having tons of experience and is responsible for teaching several great guitarists, such as Alex Skolnick, Larry LaLonde, and Kirk Hammett. He has had quite a musical career too, like creating one of the best instrumental albums of all time, "Surfing With The Alien". The title track is an amazing song, with unique and mind blowing guitar play from Satriani. You can just close your eyes, and see the Silver Surfer riding through the voids in front of you, surfing on the solar winds.

The Newcomers: Meshuggah - Clockworks and Alter Bridge - Show Me A Leader

When Meshuggah releases a new album, you know that you are gonna be in for a beating, a good one. "Clockworks" opens up the new album "The Violent Sleep of Reason", and what an opening it is. Haake starts it up with some fast cymbal hits, that then develops into classic Meshuggah, an incredibly complex and chaotic rhythmic storm that  works like... well... clockwork. Huh, I guess the name spoke for itself. Anyway, it is Meshuggah, it is still god damn awesome.

Check out my review of the album this song is from, "The Violent Sleep of Reason"

Alter Bridge solidifies their spot as my favourite current hard rock band with another great release in "The Last Hero", an album that opened up in the absolute best way possible. "Show Me A Leader" is everything that I want from the band, a Tremonti that goes ham on the guitar, a Kennedy that delivers another powerful performance, and a song that is catchy as hell, without being annoying. Still to this day, a couple of weeks after release, I keep "whoa-oh whoa-oh-oh-oh" ing till the night turns to day, and I bet you do too.

Check out my review of the album this song is from, "The Last Hero"

The Personal Favourites: Soilwork - Deliverance Is Mine and Judicator - How Long Can You Live Forever

It would be easy to pick a Soilwork song from their last two albums, that are really good, but I have a crush on a hidden gem from "The Panic Broadcast", an uneven album that did lay the foundation for "The Living Infinite". "Deliverance Is Mine" is simply awesome, a Björn "Speed" Strid who is at his most aggressive mood delivers a powerful performance that blasts through the speakers with ease. The punch is fast and hard, and the band makes sure that it hits on all the right places. Melodic death metal goodness.

Last year, Judicator drop a bomb that I think went unnoticed to way too many metal heads. "At The Expense of Humanity" is a fantastic concept record about a man who gets cancer and does everything (literally everything) to fight it. The album ends with the epic "How Long Can You Live Forever", a beautiful song that has so many layers, so many emotions, and so many awesome moments, it can take months to unravel every bit of this track. The slow and moody opening, the emotional vocals, the lyrics, the tempo shifts, yes everything with this song is pure quality. Go check these guys out if you have not already, this is a band that I will not allow you to miss.

Stay Metal!
Robert "Sharkruisher" Andersson

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Sonata Arctica - The Ninth Hour (2016)

I really do not know why, but I had a good feeling going into "The Ninth Hour", the conveniently named 9th record of Sonata Arctica. Do not know if it was the album cover, or maybe the fact that the last album, "Pariah's Child", was a neat little record that had its moments, but there was certainly something that filled my heart with hope for this album. The band has delivered some mixed results in later years, so deep down, I knew that  everything could happen, but still, cheerful as ever, I pushed play and let "The Ninth Hour" wash over me.

So what is the first wave that hits me? A nostalgic sense of the late 80's/early 90's in form of "Close To An Animal". There is something about that twinkling Klingenberg keyboard that just oozes of nostalgia, something my parents would put on in my younger years. That has always been a thing with the band, they can create some great music, but also some odd things that makes it really cheesy and awkward. While it works nicely here, it goes the wrong way on the following song, "Life", an uplifting song where the lyrics are full fondue like. "Life is better alive"? No shit Sherlock! Life would be pretty shitty if you were dead, did you also find out that water is wet?

The cheesiness aside, the start to the album is very uplifting, making me happy and maybe also a little high. It feels wrong to go "La la la", but at the same time, so right. "Fairytale" continues on that track, a corny song that is just what the name suggests, a fairytale, but the music is nice, some cool power metal techniques are used, making it worth while. Sonata Arctica truly knows how to take out your corny side.

But eventually, the cheese just becomes too much, and while all of the music in "The Ninth Hour" is more or less on the bright side, it just gets too much for me. Remember that I said that the latest Twilight Force album "Heroes of Mighty Magic" was like Disney metal? Well, this could also be counted as that, but I would rather describe it as story metal, something the Grimm brothers or Hans Christian Andersen would create if they were around today. It just works so well in that type of environment, especially the song "Till Death's Done Us Apart" that literally is a fairytale.

While the album does have a lot of the same themes throughout, it is not a true concept album, which I initially thought when listening to it. I am actually kind of bummed out that this is not a true concept album, because even if I think that I would not have enjoyed it, it still would have been cool to see the band attempt it. It really felt like they had a well thought out and grand idea here, but it was just a small one.

The overall quality is not spectacular, but it is good enough. Most songs are just not sticking to me, but I do give in to some of them after some listens, making "The Ninth Hour" an album that holds up quite well over time. The music is an expected continuation of what we were offered with in "Pariah's Child", more old school Sonata Arctica, and less of the progressive version (it is still there, just in a small dose). Songs like "Fly, Navigate, Communicate" and "Rise A Night" could have easily be in "Reckoning Night" with their rough edge attitude.

The band does their parts in a good way, as always. Tony Kakko knows how to bring out the right emotions from his vocals, the riffs may not be memorable, but Viljanen makes them fit nicely in the songs, and Kauppinen and Portimo handles the rhythmic sections with great honor. Just a swell performance overall, just what you would expects from these veterans.

In the end, I am kind of torn apart. "The Ninth Hour" is certainly not a bad album, it has some nice work here that shows the band's quality and experience, but at the same time, the lyrics and the whole theme is just so god damn cutesy that it is close to cringe worthy. This H.C. Andersen metal is not something I would want to listen to every day, but it might work as a good closure to the day, just laying in bed and letting your imagination run wild and free. It certainly is a nice experience, an album that stands out, but its flaws keeps it from being complete brilliance. Oh well, all is well that ends well. The end.

Songs worthy of recognition: "Fly, Navigate, Communicate", Closer To An Animal, Rise A Night

Rating: 7/10 Fairytales

More reviews of Sonata Arctica
Pariah's Child

Friday, October 14, 2016

Meshuggah - The Violent Sleep of Reason (2016)

Ah, Meshuggah, the band from the northern Swedish city of Umeå, the effervescent entity that seems to be 5 steps ahead of the rest every time, the band who do not know what the word "simplicity" means. To say that these guys are unique is an understatement, there is simply no band like these masterminds. Every time I hear these guys, my thinking cap comes on, because it takes every bit of power from my brain cells to even comprehend everything that these guys present. So a real workout awaits every time a new album comes around.

"The Violent Sleep of Reason" is the title of the band's 8th studio effort, and it rides along on the same basic concepts that "Koloss" was based upon. To put it simply, it is violent, extreme, progressive, and colossal metal that hits you straight in the face with tons of force. One major difference though is that this album was recorded like a live show, which means that the band played it together, and not individually. It certainly feels more cohesive and organic, so I would say the change of approach here has been a successful one.

As per usual, it is the bass and the drums that is the driving force of Meshuggah, the engine to the vehicle. Dick Lövgren and Tomas Haake spits out these extremely technical and complicated beats like nothing, it is second nature for them, and it truly is their technicality that makes Meshuggah so mesmerizing and intriguing. At times, it is mind boggling how a regular human being can create these beats and rhythms without dislocating every possible joint in the body. The band chemistry has to be spot on for all of this to come together, and it certainly is.

The album starts off really strong with "Clockworks", a song that works just like its name. It is 7 minutes of heavy, technical goodness that never seems to end, creating some controlled madness that only Meshuggah can create. "Born In Dissonance" keeps the momentum going, with ultra heavy riffs that gets your groove on, and with its short play time of 4and a half minute, it is one of the catchier songs of the album. The great songs keeps on coming, with "Monstrocity" that goes up and down the scale in an amazing style, the title track that certainly uses the odd rhythms to its full advantage, and a "Stifled" that relies more on atmosphere and melodies than pure chugging (something that the band rarely does).

But while this album is diverse and extremely impressive in a lot of ways, it still feels kind of meh, especially when compared to earlier Meshuggah releases. To me, there are three things that drags this album down the drain. First off, there is not many parts from this album that is too memorable, probably because the riffs are kind of hollow most of the time. Second, the production is kind of a let down, not being as massive and grand as "Koloss", something this album might have needed for it to generate more power. Finally, the album is hard to get through because of its massive density. The songs are great, but put them together, and they make a massive block that needs determination to drill through. Do not get me wrong, this is a really cool album, it just has some flaws that keeps it from matching up with the band's impressive history.

While "The Violent Sleep of Reason" ends up as kind of a disappointment, it is still Meshuggah. This album is technical as it can be, and the band performs like highly advanced machines, perfect in sync with each other (which makes it even more impressive that this was recorded like a live show). The band stays firmly ahead of the curve, and while not being as innovative as before, they are still maintaining a position that most other bands only can dream of. So while I might enjoy albums like "Koloss", "Destroy Erase Improve", and "ObZen" much more than "The Violent Sleep of Reason", I will still do a Jens Kidman while listening to it. In other words, bring out my lower jaw, roll my eyes back to my skull, and bang my head to the infectious rhythm.

Songs worthy of recognition: Clockworks, Born In Dissonance, Monstrocity, Stifled

Rating: 7,5/10 Ivory Towers

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Alter Bridge - The Last Hero (2016)

It is hard to imagine that Alter Bridge was risen from the ashes of Creed, bursting out as a colorful phoenix that took classic American hard rock to a whole new level. The band has done some great work over the years, releasing 4 albums that all had something to offer. And for every release, the band has turned up the heaviness factor a little bit, and it reached its climax with the 2013 release "Fortress", one of the best hard rock albums in several years.

"The Last Hero" is not that much heavier from its predecessor, but the quality of the craft is still high as hell. The band takes the momentum that they created from "Fortress", and rolled with it, creating a very suitable follow up. Sure, all of the Alter Bridge albums have a similar feel to them, but it really feels like the band stepped up their game significantly after "AB III", marking a new era for the band.

There are tons of material here that is easy to appreciate, mostly for the same reasons, the guitars and vocals. Myles Kennedy is one of the most recognizable voices out there and he delivers them with pin point accuracy, while Mark Tremonti adds a lot of personality to the songs with his nicely executed riffs and solos. Those two certainly makes most of the band, but the other guys (bassist Brian Marshall and drummer Scott Phillips) pull their weight as well with honor and pride, completing the puzzle.

The 1 hour long album does have one clear highlight, and sadly, it is at the very beginning. While it is a shame that the band tops the album with its best song, there is no doubt that "Show Me A Leader" starts off the album in the best way possible. It is a 5 minute long song that contains a really cool opening (where Tremonti just goes full Sonic), a intriguing melody, a powerful chorus, and a classic Iron Maiden trick, some "whoa-oh whoa-oh-oh-oh"'s to make the listener sing on impulse. It is a heavy hitter that sits firmly in place after the first listen, and it is topped off with a fast paced killer of a solo. Blown away from the gates.

While "The Last Hero" never reaches the same highs again, it still shows a lot of quality and versatility with its song library. Some slower and mellow tunes in "You Will Be Remembered" and "Cradle To The Grave", some aggressive in "Island of Fools" and the magnificent "The Other Side", and some catchy sons of bitches like "Crows On A Wire", "The Writing On The Wall" and "Losing Patience", making "The Last Hero" a diverse record that rarely gets boring, despite its lengthy length. So yeah, this album has a lot of cool and interesting songs to offer, and I could almost mention every song on this album, because it is consistent as hell.

But then we have the cliches, those songs that are more American than apple pie. As a Swede, these songs do not sit right for me (for obvious reasons), but I do get why the band do them. This is just a cultural preference, but my firm opinion is that "My Champion", "You Will Be Remembered", and the on going theme about heroes is not only weak, but kind of cheesy. So do not take these criticisms seriously, I am just here for the stuff that makes Alter Bridge stand out from every other American hard rock bands.

While it may not be as rock solid as "Fortress", "The Last Hero" will still most likely be the best hard rock album that you will hear in 2016. It got more or less everything that you want from a Alter Bridge album. It is heavy, versatile, and really professional. It is obvious that Alter Bridge is in a good place right now, rolling hard with their momentum in just the right way, and it looks like they will not stop any time soon. It may not be a straight on bull's eye, but "The Last Hero" is still on target.

Songs worthy of recognition: Show Me A Leader, The Writing On The Wall, The Other Side, Island of Fools

Rating: 8,5/10 Crows on a wire

Monday, October 10, 2016

Epica - The Holographic Principle (2016)

Once a band has created its own unique sound, it is hard for said band to further develop it, taking it to the next level in each and every new album. While Epica is a part of those bands that has not taken huge steps in their evolution, they have still steadily built from their foundation, taking their skills and knowledge  further and further into the future. That is even more evident in "The Holographic Principle", a album that measures up to a length of 1 hour and 12 minutes, containing 12 songs, which is a little less than half that the band has written over the course of the past year. The band is going big, and I could not expect anything less from the Dutch. 

The first thing that strikes me with this album (besides that beautiful album cover, easily the best one from this year), is that sense of familiarity, yet still containing enough freshness to not feel like a deja vu. Yes, we still have the epic choir, the grand sound, the heavy guitars of Mark Jansen and Isaac Delahaye, and the incredibly stunning vocals of Simone Simons, one of the premier female singers on this planet, so there is really nothing ground breaking over "The Holographic Principle", but why fix something that ain't broke, just perfect it even further instead.

So yeah, it is pretty obvious straight from the start with the short instrumental "Eidola" and "Edge of The Blade" that Epica is not here to go wild and crazy, they are more or less as close to safe as one can be. "Edge of The Blade" is vintage Epica, a catchy and beautiful melodic song where all major elements gets their chance to shine. Yeah, you have heard it before, but it is still fine quality to it. The same can be said to the first released song, "Universal Death Squad", a song that I did not give too much about in the first place, but has really grown on me lately, with its interesting structure and great, but subtle, riffing.

And the album gets even stronger with "Divide And Conquer", a fairly complex song with lots of layers, and several cool stuffs going for it. It is one of few songs that Mark Jansen and his harsh vocals gets some room, and he kills it, cooperating with Simone in a fantastic way. But it is the chaotic ending, and the bone chilling choir that really makes "Divide And Conquer" a big highlight of this album. The goosebumps will surely hit you hard here.

After that though, the album takes a plunge. Not that the drop of quality is all the way down to the rock bottom, but it is a drastic one still, a bland mix of slower songs and uninteresting ones makes "The Holographic Principle"'s middle part a very dull one. It is a shame that this dip comes, because the band has good track record when it comes to consistency, and just hearing the band sounding like The Gentle Storm from time to time is not good at all.

The band does get back into shape towards the end with "Tear Down You Walls" and the 11 and a half long title track. The title track is especially interesting, because Epica is not well known for their mastodons, even if they have tried it before (like in their last album, "The Quantum Enigma"). "The Holographic Principle" was intriguing at the first few listens, but failed to grow. Still, a valid effort that ends the album in a good way.

"The Holographic Principle" is a beautiful record, but there is some smudge here and there that takes away some of the album's overall quality. The uneven quality hurts the album quite badly, and while the grand production masks some of the flaws, it cannot cover them all. The sound is still there, epic as always, but it might be time for the band to either evolve it, or just minimizing it, making the most of every second. "The Holographic Principle" is after all a fairly long record that does not last all the way through, and does not hold up against Epica's grandest creations. Still a good album, just not brilliant.

Songs worthy of recognition: Divide And Conquer, Edge of The Blade, Tear Down Your Walls

Rating: 6,5/10 Universal Death Squads

More reviews of Epica

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Live review: Huskvarna Rock & Art Weekend

In the small town of Huskvarna, just a few kilometers outside of Jönköping, there was a party happening at Folkets Park. Some of the best tattoo artists from all of Sweden and even Europe would be summoned, to a weekend of tattoos, music, and booze.

That is pretty much all you need to know about Huskvarna Rock & Art, a tattoo convention and music festival combined, creating a beautiful symbiosis between two amazing cultures. This was my first time going, and it was quite a good timing, because the even has expanded, including more tattooers and allowing the music acts to perform on a proper stage, instead of a rather small one inside the convention hall. It was a cool feeling going through all of the booths, hearing the humming of all tattoo machines doing their work, and looking at all the art that was created. It certainly gave me a urge to get one myself, but since I had no clear idea of what I wanted, I passed.

But that is not all, other stuff in the hall was being sold as well, mostly related to metal and tattooing of course. CDs, vinyls, merch, steel necklaces, paintings, tattooing equipment, and a whole lot of other stuff too. Needless to say, you could easily get busty without getting under the needle, and I purchased 4 new albums to my collection. Iron Maiden "The X Factor", Dio "The Last In Line", Stormhold "Battle of The Royal Halls", and Kotipelto "Waiting For The Dawn".

Then we have the shows, all of them happening on Saturday (except for some acoustic sets that was played in the convention hall from time to time) in a special venue called Teater Ladan (The Theater Barn), and the line up was pretty good, knowing how small this festival was. There was a total of seven acts performing, and I got a glimpse of all of them. However, I will not review all of them, since I did not spend my full time on all performances. I only got a small peak of the cross over thrash band Negative Self and the black metal band Mordant, mostly because it was not my (and my pals') type of music. I did get a good look of the remaining 5 acts though, so here are the reviews of their shows.


First band out was Stormhold, a power/heavy metal band from around my neck of the woods, Värnamo, and also one of the main reasons to why I went here in the first place. I have always wanted to check this band out live, but never really gotten the chance. Well, I was determined to not miss out this time, even if they played relatively early (15:45).

So how can I describe these guys? Well, imagine if Gloryhammer started playing a mix of Iron Maiden and HammerFall, and you might get a good image on what this band is. Here they come in, dressed in their own medieval gears, and starts playing passionately with their cool style of classic heavy metal and cheesy power metal. It works out really well, and the band gets a great response from the engaged, still relatively small, audience. Sing alongs were loud, the showmanship was top notch, and they really gave it all they had.

Stormhold, bringing up a storm... hold
Most of their set list is based on their only released studio album, called "Battle of The Royal Halls", that was released last year, and it is a really nice album, with catchy melodies and cool riffs. We also got a sneak peak of what would come, a new song called "The Stranger" was played from their upcoming album, and it certainly got some good response as well. It will be interesting to see what these guys can do in the future, and judging from their performance, it is a bright looking one. Go check them out now if you have not already! Here is a good place to start --->

Best: Legions of The Brave

Worst: Their time slot was too early, otherwise nothing really

Rating: 8/10


Battle of Royal Halls
The Final Decision
Legions of The Brave
Fear Your Death
The Stranger (brand new song)


Absolva is a British band that was formed in 2012, and while they are still in an early stage, they have came some way already, like being the band who backs up Blaze Bayley. Their style is more or less classic modern heavy metal. No fuzz what so ever, it is straight on and in your face.It may not be the most original style out there, but it works if you have enough passion and song writing skills.

While I have close to no clue about this band before watching them (hence why no set list, sorry), I really did not expect anything from them. What I got was a band that was filled with adrenaline, never stopping and just being overly active, like they all had ADD. While most of the guys handled it quite well, I do think that the singer Chris Appleton took it a little too far, being off pitch here and there. But hey, who can really blame him, we was really excited to play his first real gig with his band in Sweden.

Literally the only non-blurry picture I could get of Absolva
Overall, the music certainly kicked ass. It is a type of music that works really well in a live setting, inviting to sing alongs, and gives room for the band to unleash hell. I really have to give some extra credit to the drummer Martin McNee, who was a god damn machine, delivering in every beat and even doing a pretty sweet, and not too long, drum solo. So job well done from the guys of Absolva, a band I will certainly be looking out for in the future.

Best: The passion of the entire band

Worst: Me, for being unprepared

Rating: 7/10

Sorry, could not find a set list here :(


Okay, so this is not really a review, but more of a rant, because I simply cannot take Skitarg (Swedish for pissed off).

First off, for those of you who do not know of this band, consider yourselves lucky. They can easily be best described as a Swedish version of Insane Clown Possy, because they are all clowns, and they are all out of their fucking minds. The music is kind of good, some cool melodies here, some catchy choruses, and some sweet riffs, but it is the overall image of the band that just makes me sick to my stomach.

Most of the band's lyrics relies on filthy, sexual, childish things, like finding brown treasures, supporting abortion, slaughtering dog owners, and breaking the necks off horses (all sung in Swedish as well). This is seriously disgusting, and I cannot take it in CD form, even less in a live setting.

Bring out... THE CLOWNS
I gave it a chance though, watching a couple of their songs, but seeing both of the singers, one having no pants and the other only wearing what could be best described as something German Tarzan would wear, them LITERALLY fucking each other, and then shooting their fake splooge over the audience. Sure Rammstein does this too, but they mix it up with cool stuff, like fire and shit, but seeing this being done by clowns is seriously nightmare inducing. So nope, nope, nope, nope, and more nope, this simply is not for me. It is something for someone else, but not me.

No setlist here either, because screw that.

Blaze Bayley

Despite not going on last, Blaze Bayley was the sole reason to why many of the visitors bought their tickets, because it seems like Huskvarna really love the former Iron Maiden singer. This is his third time performing on this event, and not only that, he really made sure this would be a special show for everyone here. For the first time ever, the whole "Infinite Entanglement", Blaze's latest album and first part of a trilogy concept, would be played live, and recorded for an upcoming live DVD.

I can totally see why Blaze chose Huskvarna for this grand event, because the crowd really do love him to death. The sing along was loud and clear from the get go when Blaze entered the stage with "Born As A Stranger", and it only grew louder and stronger with the following two songs, "The Launch" and the Iron Maiden song "Futureal". So a good start to the show, right? Well, it would have been, if it had not stopped all of a sudden after that. The lights died, Blaze came back on stage to thank a lot of people for making this show possible, and asked for a 5-10 minute break. I was really confused, and a couple of my friends even left for a moment to get a quick beer. I was fortunate to get a quick word with Blaze after the show, and he said that it just died, nothing like this was planned.

So yeah, a set back that certainly killed the mood, but it did give a good opportunity to present the main act of the show, the "Infinite Entanglement" opera. I really was not sure this was going to work all too well, because while the album is a good one (one that I enjoy more now than on the day I did the review), I was worried that Blaze would not get the audience along for the entire ride. Fortunately, I was wrong.

Scream for me Huskvarna!!!
To help Blaze out with this massive project, we of course had his backing band (whom consists of 3/4 of Absolva), we had voice actors who would act out the story of the record between the songs, a opera choir, Thomas Zwijsen on acoustic guitar, and Anne Bakker on the violin. So this was quite an arrangement (especially since the stage itself was not the largest I have seen), and it worked out really well, giving a whole new life to the album and its story. And my biggest concern seemed to be overly exaggerated, because the audience was as loud as ever this time too, singing along on every chorus
that Blaze threw at them.

The show was not over after that, it continued with a couple of more songs from Blaze's career, the highlight being the final two songs. First we have "Man Hunt", the only Wolfsbane song on the set list. In a live setting, it is a fantastic song, with a chorus that is cheesy, but so god damn fun to sing. Just hearing and singing the "Man Hu-hu-hu-hu-hu-hu-hunt" is fun in itself. But it does not stop there, because during the solo part, the guitarist (which is also the singer of Absolva) goes buck wild and starts pushing Blaze away, starting a insane solo part where every part of the backing band is in. It is fast, insane, and incredibly fun. I usually hate it when the instrumental part drag out for too ling, but this was just so god damn ridiculous. A rebellion that was extremely enjoyable.

The last song was, not surprisingly, Iron Maiden's "Man On The Edge", but this was performed with every artist who was in the opera, which made it a little more special, and it was also the ultimate showing of Thomas Zwijsen's mad guitar skills. Even if he played acoustic and Chris Appleton played electric at the same time, I could actually hear Thomas, and my god, what a shredder he is. Seriously, go check him out on his YouTube, where he is most famous for his covers of Iron Maiden songs (called Nylon Maiden), a great musician in general.

So yeah, this was quite a 2 hour show, one that exceeded my expectations by miles, even with the technical difficulties in the beginning. I am excited to see the upcoming DVD, see if I am in it :)

Best: The whole opera and "Man Hunt"

Worst: That sudden break was a real bummer

Rating: 9/10


Born As A Stranger
The Launch
Futureal (Iron Maiden song)

Infinite Entanglement opera (performed with voice actors and opera singers)

Infinite Entanglement
A Thousand Years
What Will Come (with Thomas and Anne)
Stars Are Burning
Solar Wind
The Dreams of William Black (with Thomas and Anne)
Calling You Home
Dark Energy 256
A Work of Anger

Stare At The Sun
Virus (Iron Maiden song)
Blood And Belief
Man Hunt + instrumental rebellion (Wolfsbane song)
Man On The Edge (Iron Maiden song, with all participating artists)

Hardcore Superstar

The Blaze show took a lot of energy out of me, and close to everyone else, so it was no surprise that the Hardcore Superstar show was not nearly as energetic, even if the band tried everything they could to get the party started, and they succeeded... to some extent.

The setlist was very varied, having songs from nearly every album the band has made, so old fans of the band were of course pleased with it. Me? Well, it is kind of weak, but that could be because I am not a huge HCSS fan. I am most critical over the end of the setlist, ending it all with "Above The Law", one of their most boring songs. Jesus Christ, if people was not ready to go to bed before, they were surely now.

The band still have some killer songs though, and most of their big hits, like "Dreamin' In A Casket" and "We Don't Celebrate Sundays", got some great response. My personal favourite though, "Last Call For Alcohol", got an even bigger treatment. All of a sudden, a big bar is rolling into the stage, ready with Jägermeister and beer, and since the band is so generous, they invited up some of the audience up for a drink. And like that was not enough, the drummer was brought forward, because it was his birthday. So you all know what that means, birthday sing along!

Yes, I'll have a Jägerbomb please
So in the end, a nice ending to a night of metal, but I still think that Blaze should have had the honor of closing it out. A pretty decent desert that did not taste quite as good as the entree.

Best: Last Call For Alcohol

Worst: "Above The Law" as the closing song? Really?

Rating: 7/10


Touch The Sky
My Good Reputation
Dreamin' In A Casket
Silence For The Peacefully
Someone Special
Punk Rock Song
Last Call For Alcohol
We Don't Celebrate Sundays
Dear Old Flame
Above The Law

Stay Metal!
Robert "Sharkruisher" Andersson