Saturday, December 3, 2016

Freedom Call - Master of Light (2016)

There is no question that power metal is a stand out genre in the ever growing metal tree, because it is close to the only one that genuinely sounds joyful, rarely using any darkness at all. There is no other band that shows this better than Freedom Call, the happiest metal band in the universe. Whenever I feel down or sad, I just put on this band, and their angelic anthems instantly brings a smile to my face. It never fails.

"Master of Light" follows on the same tracks as its predecessors. It is fast, powerful, epic, and cheesy, exactly what you would expect, and want, from a new Freedom Call record. The Germans certainly does not disappoint, this album will get your head banging and force your frown to turn upside down, even if you like it or not. Seriously, how can you not smile to this? It is like telling a kitten that it is ugly, it is just impossible (unless it is a hairless cat, then it is a little bit easier).

But what is it that makes Freedom Call so different from other power metal bands? What is it that makes them this happy pill? Personally, I think it is a combination of two things. The first one is the choruses, that are not only really catchy, but the band often uses choirs to amp up the epicness even further, and it works so god damn well. The other part of this recipe of happiness is the band's passion. You can truly feel that the band love what they are doing, giving 110% in every millisecond of this record. That passion is highly infectious, and a big reason to the drive of the record.

With that said, there is one thing that makes me a little bummed out over "Master of Light", and that is that it is nothing special. The band has done this before, showing little to no evolution in neither music nor lyrics. It is quite obvious that the band is comfortable in their sound, and that they have no intentions on changing it any time soon, but write some different lyrics at least, just do something to stir the pot up.

The monotony is annoying, but there are still several songs in here that stands really strong, showing the band's full potential. All you Liverpool fans will love "A World Beyond", where singer Chris Bay states that we never have to walk alone in a really inspirational way. We also have "Ghost Ballet", where the loud keyboards intertwine with some really heavy guitar riffs, creating a play that would make "The Swan Lake" look ugly. "Metal Is For Everyone" goes without saying that it is a metal anthem that should be sung for the ages, it is a potential fan favourite just for the title itself. And while I personally do not like it, "High Up" ends the album with one of the cheesiest vocal melodies I have heard in a long time. Some of you cheese lovers might appreciate it.

Despite looking like a discount Manowar album, "Master of Light" is Freedom Call through and through. It is happy metal at its best, energetic stuff that has the power to power entire cities for weeks. Yeah, it is not much different from any other record the band has done, but it gets the job done well. It is simple and epic power metal that might not stick in your mind for all too long, but for the moment, it is a happy pill with a 100% success rate. If you excuse me, I need to take my recommended daily dose now.

Songs worthy of recognition: A World Beyond, Metal Is For Everyone, Ghost Ballet

Rating: 7/10 Masters of Light

www.freedom-call.net/

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Oddland - Origin (2016)

The life of a band is not a dance on roses all of the time, just take the Finnish progressive metal band Oddland as an example. Formed in 2002, the band have won several different music contests over the years, but they started the band just for fun, not with any intentions of doing this more than a hobby. Somewhere along the way though, the band got more serious, involving more metal into their progressive rock, eventually landing a deal with Century Media in 2010. Now, the band has evolved into one of the most interesting progressive metal bands in recent years.

"Origin" is the band's second effort, and it is just as mysterious and intriguing as you would expect from the band. The melodies are perfectly cooperating with the more heavy beats, creating a captivating sound that twirls around you in a calm whirlwind. It would be just too easy to call this music... odd, but it does describe it fairly well, even if it does not skew all too much from the typical progressive formula.

It is kind of hard to compare this band to other bands, because their sound has a little mix of everything, fusing into something that you have not heard before. The singer Sakari Ojanen does have some similarities to both Mikael Åkerfeldt and Daniel Gildenlöw, but he has a darker tone that works extremely well with the sound, hitting the right buttons both here and there. As for the sound, it got some Tool, some Orphaned Land, some Opeth, and some Persefone, all blended into a dark and grand production that gives the sound great power. But as stated before, even if Oddland borrows influences from several other bands, it is not really fair to compare it to any of them, because they stand on their own platform.

Most of the exciting stuff of this album can be found on the first three songs. The opener "Esotericism" has a really heavy djent opening, not all that far from Mesuggah, but with more epic and clean vocals. The rest of the song is grand, taking up a lot of space in its three and a half minute run time. "Thanatos" is much calmer in its approach, but that changes around the half way point when the band does this small part where it feels like hell is raining down. The rest of the journey is chaotic, yet controlled in an interesting way. "Penumbra" ends the tri-fecta, and it is way more straight forward, where Sakari delivers some emotional vocals, and he is backed up with some neat guitar work from himself and Jussi Poikonen.

Those songs dominates the record, because the rest of "Origin" is good, close to great, but not very memorable. All songs have flashes of brilliance in them, whether it be a melody line, chorus, or a beat, Oddland knows how to engage the listener, pushing the right buttons. However, take out the songs individually, and they do not have the strength to hold up on their own. The epic "Faraway" may be the only exception to this rule, staying at the back half of the album and generating a great mood that is dark and scary, yet captivating. Ultimately, all of the songs work together, creating a cohesive and enjoyable album, but I would have liked more songs that I could just turn on without listening to "Origin" in full.

It is obvious that Oddland still has some way to go before they can go up against the big guns of the progressive metal scene, but they are heading on the right direction. "Origin" is a really nice sophomore effort that has its own cool sound, a dark sound that stands out strong. It still feels unpolished, but this is definitely a release that the progressive metal lover would not want to miss. It would not surprise me one bit if the next album the band releases ends up as a future classic.

Songs worthy of recognition: Esotericism, Thanatos, Faraway

Rating: 7/10 Skylines

www.oddlandband.com/
www.facebook.com/oddland

Friday, November 25, 2016

Slayer - Seasons In The Abyss (1990)

With the release of "Seasons In The Abyss", Slayer went back in its development, but possibly for the better. The mid-tempo songs that underlined "South of Heaven" were still there, but it was broken up more with what we saw from "Reign In Blood", which of course meant fast and technical riffing, plus an aggressive persona that is unstoppable. In other words, a blend of the two different sides that we have seen from the band, fused into one mouth watering piece of thrash candy.

One thing that is new though is that "Seasons In The Abyss" is a seamless album, transitioning between tracks very smoothly. This of course makes the album a lot easier to listen to in its entirety, but the individual songs do not suffer from this. Every song starts and ends in a natural way, and that just shows what a good connection the band had with Rick Rubin, even if he used the polisher a little too hard here.

The album opens with a killer song, and one of the band's all time classics. "War Ensemble" is just how you would want a Slayer song to be. It is fast, technical, fierce, and has a pair of amazing solos. King and Hanneman delivers big time, putting out some sinister riffs that just crushes your skull. Let us also not forget that breakdown that leads to a classic Araya scream. It may not build as much tension as the opening to "Raining Blood", but it makes sure that the solo hits you hard.

While the album does not reach those kinds of speeds or thrills again (except in "Hallowed Point" were the pedal is to the metal from start to finish), it makes sure to stay fresh and strong throughout its run time. "Spirit In Black" has a smooth speed that just suits well, eventually transforming to that classic Slayer thrash that we all know and love. "Dead Skin Mask" shows off more of the mellow side of the band, a slow tempo song that creates a disturbing mood. It is what the band tried to create on "South of Heaven", but was not able to. Then we also have "Temptation" that uses an interesting technique that I like to call "The Double Araya". Simply put, Araya sings in harmony, using two separate vocal tracks to give the illusion that the band cloned him and created a singing two headed monster. Have to admit, that would be sweet if it was possible.

While my inner Slayer fan is usually attracted to the faster stuff, the slower title track strikes as my favourite track of the record. "Seasons In The Abyss" has a mysterious doom like start, not too far from what Black Sabbath did in their early years, building the tension up in a horrifying way. The tempo suddenly ramps up, transforming into a charging stead fast beat that is both bone chilling and hair rising. To top it off, we get yet another amazing solo that just fits so god damn perfectly in there. If your head is not rocking back and forth to this song, then maybe you should go look for a band that is more suitable to you, like One Direction.

This album also marks the last time we will hear from drummer Dave Lombardo (at least until he returns to the band in 2001), and while his style is perfect for the band, it is very rarely I think "damn, I love the drums on this track". It is probably because Slayer is so riff driven, but it still needs someone to bring some impact into the songs, and Dave does so nicely. No matter what, it is always a bummer when an original member decides to leave, putting a dent in the band chemistry that is not easy to get rid of.

Slayer had all the ingredients to cook up a tasty thrash meal, mixing their two latest recipes into one. The end result is a very diverse record that takes the best parts out of their two styles, creating a symbiosis that is so beautiful to hear. This album is the successor to "Reign In Blood" that everybody wanted, and that "South of Heaven" could never be. A great album that has just the right seasoning for success.

Songs worthy of recognition: Seasons In The Abyss, War Ensemble, Dead Skin Mask, Hallowed Point

Rating: 9/10 Temptations

www.slayer.net/
twitter.com/slayer

More reviews of Slayer
Show No Mercy
Hell Awaits
Reign In Blood
South of Heaven
Repentless

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Metallica - Hardwired... To Self-Destruct (2016)

The day that never comes is finally here. After 8 extremely long years, the thrash legends of Metallica finally released their tenth full length album "Hardwired... To Self-Destruct". So what has the band been doing all of these years? Well, after releasing "Death Magnetic", the band has started their own record label called Blackened Records, started a short lived festival called Orion Music + More, made a full length movie called "Through The Never", made a collaboration with Lou Reed that no one expected (or wanted for that matter). They played countless of tours and shows, including one in Antarctica, and they have been bragging and teasing us about how many ideas they have had for this album (even losing about 250 riffs along the way), which is also why this album is 77 minutes long and spans up to 2 CDs (or 3 LPs).

My expectations for this record were, not surprisingly, big, for several reason. The first reason is that I highly enjoyed "Death Magnetic", and its mix of modern metal and old school thrash. It was a fresh breath of air that rejuvenated the band in a way I did not see coming. Second, the band have had a long time to perfect this album, and the longer you have to wait for new music, the higher the fall could be if it does not kick ass. Third reason is an obvious one, it is Metallica we are talking about, one of the most important metal bands in history. No matter if you love them or hate them, your eyes and ears will be on them when they release new music. Okay, enough rambling, let us talk "Hardwired... To Self-Destruct".

Before the last couple of days before this album's release, the band had given us three tastes of the album already, and all three songs is found on the first half of the first record. The title track "Hardwired" opens things up, and this is as thrash as you can almost get. It is fast, have tons of cool riffs, and an in your face attitude that many thought Metallica had lost over the years. It is also a very short song, and it works in favour for the band, giving the album a kick start that we have not heard since "Blackened". Unfortunately, this is the only short song of the album, with the remaining 11 songs spanning between 6-8 minutes, so it does not represent the album very well. The other pre-tastes do though. Both "Atlas, Rise" and "Moth Into Flame" borrows elements from the predecessor "Death Magnetic", showcasing some incredibly fun guitar work and arena friendly choruses. Hell, the chorus to "Moth Into Flame" is one of the most melodic I have heard from the band, and Hetfield kills it so god damn well. A very impressive start from the band.

After that though, the album starts to lose its way, trying out several different angles and sounds that just ends up feeling more random than well thought out. "Dream No More" tries to act like it is the next "Sad But True", with some inspiration from the "Necronomicon", but the way Hetfield sings this is so god damn weird. It sounds more like Zakk Wylde, without the guitar wanking. "Confusion" is... well... confusing... and sluggish. Then we have "Here Comes Revenge" and "Am I Savage?", both very forgettable songs that does not stick out in any way.

The song that makes me rage the most though is "ManUNkind", not only because the title is stupid as hell, but simply because this song makes no sense what so ever. It got some groovy riffs here that are nice and all, and Trujillo gets some moments to shine here, like the intro, but it is a very unappealing song overall. The chorus is extremely boring, the overall sound is very monotonous, and it just does not fit the record at all. It has some Mercyful Fate mentality in it (which explains the music video, which is just footage from some black metal concert), but it is as demonic as me. In other words, not at all.

And that is probably the main problem with "Hardwired... To Self-Destruct", that it just does not seem to have any direction at all. The album has a little of everything that Metallica has presented us with over the years, some "Kill 'em All", some "Black Album", and, believe it or not, some "St. Anger". The roots are still planted in "Death Magnetic", but all these new angles just makes the album confused, missing a clear cut personality. And it does not help the fact that several songs just goes on for too long. Even if I am not bothered with the length, I know a lot of people will get annoyed by it (because that was the main complaint with "Death Magnetic").

Fortunately, there is enough brilliance here to make the album enjoyable. I have already mentioned the first three songs that was released as great material, but I also want to mention "Halo On Fire", which is a fantastic semi-ballad that goes in the same spirit as "Fade To Black" and "The Unforgiven", mixing some great guitar work with swell emotions, and Hetfield is once again utilizing his voice in a fantastic way. I also like the Lemmy tribute in "Murder One", where the band makes several references to famous Motörhead songs, and the final song "Spit Out The Bone" ends the album in the same way it started, with fast, rifftastic thrash (or thrashified skate punk if we are picky). Such a shame that we do not get to hear more of this in this record, because this is Metallica at their best, and I am not saying this to act like a "old school" Metallica fan, I say this because they show the most fire and passion in these songs, bringing out their youthful spirit.

So let us sum it all up. "Hardwired... To Self-Destruct" could have absolutely been better if the band had tightened up things a bit, by either cutting some songs or made them shorter, and the classic Metallica problems are still there (production that is far from perfect and Lars' drumming), but the album is still good. It has a fire that burns strong, and the band is showing a versatility that they have not shown since "The Black Album", and some songs here are really strong. The inconsistencies does force me to put this album below "Death Magnetic" in terms of overall quality, but there is enough good stuff here for the common Metallica fan here to enjoy. So even if it may be a confusing mess (just like the cover art), it is still an entertaining mess. Maybe not worth 8 years of waiting, but it is at least far from shit.

Songs worthy of recognition: Halo On Fire, Hardwired, "Atlas, Rise!", Moth Into Flame

Rating: 7/10 Savages

metallica.com/
twitter.com/metallica

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Thomas Giles - Velcro Kid (2016)

Well, this was unexpected. I did not anticipate a new solo release from Between The Buried And Me singer Thomas Giles Rogers this soon, but what is even more surprising is that "Velcro Kid" is a very different album from "Modern Noise". That album was pretty straight forward, showing off Thomas' less progressive side. Here though... I am not really sure where he went with this.

"Velcro Kid" is most certainly not a metal album. Instead, we get to experience some atmospheric electronic music that wants to create a full picture of the album. Thomas Giles takes his opportunity to expand his writing to more unknown territories, making sure that no one can connect this to his main band. This also means that fans of BTBAM might not enjoy this record at all, but I believe that every fan should give it a fair chance, even if it is a big step out of ones comfort zone.

The best real comparison to "Velcro Kid" I can do is the more ambient releases of Devin Townsend, because even if it does not sound anything like "Devlab", "The Hummer", or "Ghost", it is an album that does not have a lot of structure, is very calm, and is far, far away from what we are used to hear from Thomas. Speaking of Devin, he does make a guest appearance on the track "Gazer", and he uses his smooth silent voice to give this ethereal track even more ethereality (is that even a word?). Every time the Dev appears, greatness happens. Another guest is Jake Troth, whom I have never heard of before, and while he does add his touch to the song "Devotion", it is more than likely that I will not look more into that guy's career (mostly because he makes pop music... yep).

The whole sound is very soothing and relaxing, but there is very little in here that sticks with you in an instant. The preaching propaganda in "Strangers In A Paranoid Mind" certainly breaks up the album in a neat way, making it easy to remember, but the album overall is kind of a big blob. It is all the same theme, same tempo, and since the song transitions are smooth as silk, it makes it harder to notice where they start and end. At the same time though, it acts like a strength, making the album feel unified, well welded into a solid structure that will not crumble.

If I had to choose a favourite, I would go with "Slow Gold Becoming", not because it skews off an awful lot from the rest of the material, but because the subtle things in this track are simply exquisite. The tingling keys that taps on the music like light rain, Thomas' soft vocals, and the sporadic drum pattern, they all help in making this song really cool. Other sweet highlights are the before mentioned "Strangers In A Paranoid Mind, the opener "Immersion Highway", and the symphonic "Future of The Year".

In the end though, the question is if "Velcro Kid" is an enjoyable album, and I would say that it is. While it may not have the strong songs like "Modern Noise" had, it instead impress with solid performance and a nice sound that works nicely for those who just wants to wind down for a moment from the hectic life that we all live. The lack of metal is of course one point that might make the most of you to ignore this album, and I totally get that, but give it a fair chance instead of dismissing it instantly. After all, Thomas Giles made a lot of effort to get out of his comfort zone, so doing the same is the least you can do.

Songs worthy of recognition: Slow Gold Becoming, Immersion Highway, Strangers In A Paranoid Mind

Rating: 6,5/10 Gazers

www.thomasgilesmusic.com/
twitter.com/tommybtbam

More reviews of Thomas Giles
Modern Noise

Monday, November 14, 2016

In Flames - Battles (2016)

In Flames' transformation from being one of the pioneers in the Swedish melodic death metal scene to a more mainstream metal band is more or less complete now with the release of "Battles", the Swede's 12th studio effort. Now, why was it not already complete? Because they have shown some of their roots in their previous efforts. Maybe not to a great extent, but enough to recognize the band and its past. The last two albums, "Songs of A Playground Fading" and "Siren Charms", may differ massively in pure quality, but both have some small grains of the old In Flames in them. "Battles" does not.

Even without the hints of death metal, "Battles" is not pure trash, a album that should be instantly thrown away as a eye (and ear) sore. Sure, it is not the best side I have seen from the band, but they have created a solid entity that follows the red line with ease. Most of the focus here are on the choruses, where all of them being really catchy without being annoying. Just take the first single "The End" for example, a epic chorus that has been stuck in my mind ever since the first time I heard it. It even have a children's choir (something the band uses a couple more times in the album) that oddly fits, but it is not something I would want to see as a common thing in the band's sound.

While the album excels in its choruses, it fails miserably in what might be the most important thing in In Flames' sound, the twin guitars. The production is really flat, giving you the illusion that the band only utilize one guitarist, which ultimately makes the music feel empty. The only time where the guitars actually sounds good is in the solos, and the solos are great as always (thank god), but it is not enough. I wanna hear Björn Gelotte and Niklas Engelin's crunchy and melodic riffs, but "Battles" won't allow me.

I also get the feeling that the setting in which this album was recorded (Hollywood, California) had some influence to its sound. No, none of the songs in "Battles" is straight up film music, but it is a more glamorous sound picture that the band is presenting us. It is something that will divide the fan base even further than before, which is kind of an amazing feat since it is already divided quite a bit.

Even with this softer sound, In Flames made sure to pack "Battles" with several killer songs, with great melody and strong punches. Songs like "Save Me", "In My Room", and "Trough My Eyes" is straight up knock out punches that will leave bruises on your skin, remembering what happened when you encountered them the first time. "Through My Eyes" especially stands out by being the heaviest song, using a very tough attitude, some very groovy riffs, and another ultra epic chorus where Anders Fridén actually delivers some stellar clean(ish) vocals, an already proven weakness for the front man. Another stand out is "Wallflower", a more progressive song that is the longest of the record (just over seven minutes). There is a lot of instrumental bits here and a very calm mood that is not like the band at all, but it works really well, ending up as one of my favourites from this album.

But then we have the duds that should not be here at all, and they are close to making me mad (not in a "Siren Charms" level though). "Here Until Forever" is some weird metal core crap that I associate more with Bring Me The Horizon, Bullet For My Valentine, or any other similar band. It just does not suit the band well at all, and especially not Anders. No other song is as bad as "Here Until Forever", but "Like Sand", "Before I Fall" and "Drained" are just boring, and the over use of the children's choir in "The Truth" is very close to cringe worthy. Yeah, "Battles" have more good sides than bad, but it is still obvious that this is far from the best album the band has made.

Despite the poor production, the softer sound, and slight quality inconsistencies, "Battles" is actually not that bad of an album. The melodies are there, and so are the choruses, carrying the album towards the finish line in determined fashion. I might consider myself as one of the more stubborn In Flames fans out there, because while this albums shows so many flaws, it still has enough resonance in me to give me my much needed kick out of it. For me, "Battles" is an okay album, but I am sure that most of you will at the very least dislike it, especially if you do not like the modern version of the band. Still, this is a better and much stable album than "Siren Charms" will ever be, so give it a chance if you dare, do not be afraid to take up the battle that this album brings.

Songs worthy of recognition: Through My Eyes, The End, Wallflower

Rating: 6/10 Truths

www.inflames.com/
twitter.com/inflames_swe

More reviews of In Flames
Siren Charms

Friday, November 11, 2016

Slayer - South of Heaven (1988)

With the success that Slayer has gotten over their first albums, bringing a fast and demonic attitude to the growing thrash genre, many were possibly surprised when they listened to "South of Heaven". Unlike its brethren, this album is notably slower and not as heavy, which is actually a intended move by the band. Jeff Hannemann himself has said that the band knew they would not be able to top the predecessor "Reign In Blood", so they wanted to try something different, change up the pace of the band's career. An odd move indeed, but a successful one none the less.

Because while "South of Heaven" may not have the same anger and fury as "Reign In Blood", it still has enough fire power within to make the listener bang its head relentlessly. With songs like "Ghosts of War" and "Silent Scream", you can't really go wrong, it is classic Slayer in its best kind of form. Pure thrashing madness.

The rest of the songs though are kind of hard to melt down, mostly because we are not used of hearing Slayer playing like this. The beats are slow and moody, and Tom Araya is rarely screaming, toning down his voice by a lot. It is a lot to take in for the fans of the band, and it even might act as a divider, but there is no doubt that this is a Slayer record, a different one. The title track is evidence enough of that, being just as evil as you want the band to be.

My main concern over the album is the guitars, mostly because there seem to be no energy to them. We get some good riffs here and there, and some cool solos as well, but Hannemann and King is not delivering their A game here. It is not that I think that they cannot slow things down, I just think they did not put their hearts out here, not committing to the music fully. The same could be stated about Araya, but I think it is more that his vocals just do not fit in here properly. Simply put, he held back a little too much here, should have loosened up a bit.

In fact, the only one that seems to be fully on point in this record is Lombardo and his drum beats, but that could be a mirage since the drum track is pretty high in the mix. Maybe it was a good choice because it gives these slower songs some more impact, without drowning the guitars all too much. Songs like "Mandatory Suicide" and "Live Undead" take full advantage of this production, sounding a lot fresher than what they might have been with quieter drums. Still though, I do not think that is the make or break point of the album, it is just there as a nice added touch.

Speaking of nicely added touches, we got a cover in this record, and while it is not necessary at all, it is still an interesting one. Slayer have covered the Judas Priest classic "Dissident Aggressor" from "Sin After Sin", a great song that Slayer transforms to their own, and while it does not steal the show, it is a valiant effort that gives the song a new character. I like it, and it fits neatly into the album.

Overall, "South of Heaven" is a disappointment, with some lows and some highs in just over 35 minutes. We all knew that it would not reach the same heights as "Reign In Blood", that was given, but one would hope that it still would hold a high quality. It is a challenging record, one that tests the patience of the common Slayer fan, but there is enough interesting stuff in here to keep it from being boring. I like the fact that the band tried something different here, but let us be honest, we want the faster stuff instead of this. So move on over "South of Heaven" and let me get to the next album in the discography already.

Songs worthy of recognition: Silent Scream, South of Heaven, Ghosts of War

Rating: 6,5/10 Mandatory Suicides

www.slayer.net/
twitter.com/slayer

More reviews of Slayer
Show No Mercy
Hell Awaits
Reign In Blood
Repentless

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

HammerFall - Built To Last (2016)

With the release of "Built To Last", Swedish power/heavy metallers HammerFall have finally reached their tenth release, a milestone that many bands wish to reach. It is proof that the band's determination and hard work have really payed off, building a grand fan base and a reputation of quality that has stood with them ever since their first couple of releases. It has become a stronghold that is guarded by their loyal hero/mascot Hector, and will most certainly stand tall for a lot more albums to come.

With that said, the band has had a nasty habit of almost being safe in their song writing. If we look back in their catalog, it is easy to see that the band are comfortable in their style and themes, but rarely want to go away from them (and when they do, they mostly get hammered by the Templars). The same story is told here in "Built To Last", we get a lot of familiar themes here that we almost expect from the band, songs about warriors, steel, and battles. I know the guys can tell these stories well, but it can turn to cheese quite easily, and there is a lot of it on this record. But then again, what would a HammerFall record be without some cheese? The answer, a boring one.

The music is very familiar too, we got several classic HammerFall tunes here that are surely enjoyable, but far from any future classics. We got some pure power songs that gets you pumped up, some slower and catchier songs with classic battle choirs, and also that pesky ballad that the band forces into every album. There is no song in this record that seems to steer away from what HammerFall has been doing since the start, which is truly a shame, especially since "(r)Evolution" had a couple of songs, like "Wildfire" and "Origins", that may have borrowed a lot from other power metal bands, but was new and exciting to HammerFall. Simply put, the innovative energy is not here in "Built To Last".

That is not to say that there is no energy here though, because there is plenty of it. "Dethrone And Defy" has some good pounding double bass, chugging guitars, and a force that gives the whole album a needful spark. It still lacks in star power when compared to the fantastic "Hector's Hymn", but the solo itself makes it a clear highlight that cannot be missed. "Stormbreaker" and "The Star of Home" continues in the same fashion, but the plot thickens in the final song "Second To None", a fresh finisher that has a really nice mood, and some great performances in this semi ballad. It is the cherry on the top of a tasty second half.

Unfortunately though, the whole album has a problem with lasting all the way through, forcing you to skip some songs. We have a clear Accept rip off in "New Breed" that shows that the band has not lost their more traditional heavy metal vein, but it just does not work this time, and "The Sacred Vow" is just sluggish, having a hard time catching my interest. And of course, the ballad "Twilight Princess" is also very forgettable, being one of many bland HammerFall ballads that is not even close to reaching the heights that "Glory To The Brave" reached. So overall, the quality of "Built To Last" is decent, but far from spectacular.

One thing that is always spectacular though is the band's performance. Joacim Cans and his high voice is on point as always, and the twin guitar attack of Oscar Dronjak and Pontus Norgren is as solid as ever. My worries were with the new drummer though, especially since David Wallin comes from a different spectrum, playing in the industrial metal band Pain. Fortunately, he does a good job, maybe mimicking Anders Johansson a little too much, but he does what he is asked to do, so job well done.

While I do believe that "Built To Last" is a good album overall, it has some dents that needs to be taken care of. Some songs are really enjoyable, but the album as a whole feels like one big deja vu, not adding anything that we have not already seen from the band. If you are a fan, this album will go down smoothly for you, it is classic HammerFall stuff that seems to never grow old. For you others, you better just ignore this one.

Songs worthy of recognition: Dethrone And Defy, Stormbreaker, Second To None

Rating: 6,5/10 Hammers High

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(r)Evolution

Monday, November 7, 2016

Manic Movie Month: Cube Zero

With the third and last movie of the "Cube" franchise, it was pretty obvious that we needed a lot of closure. I mean, there is only so far that you can go with the same basic plot line over and over again (well, unless you are the "Final Destination" movies). So when "Cube Zero" was announced as a prequel, it was pretty much a relief. We would get the answers that we never got from the first movie, and none of the tesseract bullshit from "Cube 2". So yeah, there were some hope for this movie after all.

As previously stated, "Cube Zero" is a prequel, but not only that, we get to see the events of the cube from a different perspective, the perspective of watchers Wynn (Zachary Bennett) and Dodd (David Huband). Both are almost like prisoners in their jobs, forced to monitor the test subjects that supposedly signed a consent form to be in there instead of getting the death penalty. When being asked by the higher ups to monitor one Cassandra Rains Stephanie Moore), Wynn gets her file only to discover that she has no consent form at all. He grows more and more suspicious of everything, and then almost loses it when he sees someone reaching the exit, a former colleague called Owen (Tony Munch). He gets incinerated for not believing in God, and in that moment, Wynn simply decides to enter the cube himself to rescue Cassandra from her fate.

Warning, spoilers ahead, read at your own risk.

So the plot is most certainly different from the previous two movies, even if it still have some similar elements to it. We still get to follow one group of people trying to survive the cube and its traps, but the perspective changes from time to time, from inside to outside. It is interesting to see Wynn and Dodd, how they deal with this situation. Sure, their characters are kind of cliche, one having tons of guilt and one trying to stay loyal to the company because he has no real choice, but they work, so I cannot really complain.

As for the people within the cube, we do not get too much information about them (except for Cassandra Rains of course), and that is fine by me, because I know from the start that Cassandra will be the only one who will survive. It is all about the journey in this movie, and how the persons in the cube try to survive. One thing I must praise the movie is that it is actually explaining how they are thinking on ways to escape, that the letters are basically coordinates. It is a thing they failed miserably in the last movie, and that alone makes "Cube Zero" much more enjoyable, even if it is more simple math involved here.

As for the traps, they are not all too original. Sure, some of them are gruesome and truly effective, but most of them are borrowed from the first movie, or just slightly altered. One good example of this is the opening scene, which we follow a man named Ryjkin. He enters one room, and gets sprayed all over his body. At first, it just seems like water, but eventually his flesh starts to melt, hinting that the liquid was acid. Sounds familiar? One of the characters in the first movie was also sprayed with acid, only it was only on the face and the results were more immediate. Still, that scene itself is actually really cool and creepy, making my skin itch when he scratch away his flesh to his bare bones. It is one of few moments were the movie uses gore, and it does it well those other few times as well.

Hey! Stop slacking, get back to work!

Besides from the changed perspective, this movie is basically the original, with few minor tweaks here and there. It is very minimal in its approach, and it tries to build the suspense as well as possible, and while it does a fine job, I am kind of disappointed that they did not try to expand it even further. Sure, the fact that we see the reactions of the observers is cool, but the cube itself has not changed one bit (except that the rooms have letters, instead of numbers). I would have liked to see something new to the cube, nothing too crazy, just something to spice things up.

Which leads me to the acting, and the overall dialogue. It is not the most inspired writing I have come across, and it kind of shows in the acting, especially inside the cube. As previously stated, we do not get to know too much about the characters, which makes it kind of hard to feel sympathy for them. It is not like the last movie, where I really wanted to see them all die, but I do not see any reason to care for these people's well being, except for Cassandra just so that she can be reunited with here daughter. And that is ultimately the biggest problem with the movie, that this is basically about two people, Cassandra Rains and Eric Wynn, the rest are just filler... except for one particular character...

Ending

So after Eric enters the Cube, the higher ups sends someone to make the problem disappear. Enter Jax, one of the cube's supervisors, and a real life version of the Yu-Gi-Oh character Maximillian Pegasus, but instead of getting a sarcastic toon lover who created the world's biggest card game, we get a creepy psychopath who takes any means necessary to get things done. Jax makes this movie that more awesome, and the actor (Michael Riley) does a great job in selling the character, creating the most memorable character from all three movies. Jax and his two henchmen, Finn and Quigley, instantly takes control of the command center, and Dodd can just sit there, and worry about what will happen to his colleague.

Eventually, they find Wynn, who in his turn has found Cassandra and Haskell, a former Izon henchmen that got sentenced to the cube too. However, they does not get much further, since Jax sets the traps to surround them, and just as he is about to go for the kill, the power shuts down, and the cube goes into reset mode, which means that our protagonists have 10 minutes to find the exit, or else they will get obliterated by the cube's "clean sweep".

After killing off Dodd (who caused the power shortage), Jax gets the idea of activating the chip inside of Haskell's brain, turning him into a mindless super soldier for them. This is without any doubt the most ridiculous part of the movie, where we see Haskell jump a full room length, from one floor to the one above it. I do not care if that chip changes your nerve system and shit, it cannot give you ultra human strength and agility, and if it really did give him that, he still dies like a bitch, being outsmarted by Wynn and Rains, who finds the exit and escapes just as the clean sweep starts.

We then find Wynn and Rains outside in some wood landscape, where they cannot rest, because Izon is right behind them, and eventually catches up to Wynn, but Rains escapes and gets reunited with her daughter. Unfortunately for Wynn, he gets captured, gets some serious comments from Jax, and then goes under the knife, where he basically is being lobotomized. This is where we reach the true ending, but also the start of the first movie. It turns out that Wynn is basically Kazan, the dude that escaped in the original. You know, the mentally handicapped one. And while the scene itself have different actors, the dialogue and actions are the same as in the first movie, which is really cool, and answers some questions, like how Kazan basically knew the way out and how the traps worked. A very satisfying end, despite some questions being unanswered.

Summary

As a prequel, "Cube Zero" does its job. It gives us another perspective on things and it answers some of the questions that the previous two movies never could. And while in my opinion it cannot really match the unique nature of the original, it still manages to create an enjoyable experience that you most likely want to stick around until the very end, even if some parts of the ending are kind of predictable. So yeah, not as good as the original, but a hell of a lot better than the tesseract bullshit.

Rating: 6,5/10

Friday, November 4, 2016

Avenged Sevenfold - The Stage (2016)

There were probably no one that was not surprised over the sudden album release of Avenged Sevenfold (except those who do not care). After releasing the first single entitled "The Stage", there were rumours that the new album would be called "Voltaic Oceans" (a very weird title if you ask me) and that it would be released some time in December. Fast forward two weeks, and the band drops the new album out of nowhere, with a very interesting cover and a totally different, and more boring, name in "The Stage". I like that there are some bands that goes away from the regular album promotion cycle, being spontaneous and give everyone some jaw drops, but you better believe that the material have to hold up, or it was all for nothing.

Let us first talk about the first single, "The Stage", which certainly got my attention when it was released. First I have to say that I do not like the music video, it is simply boring and ugly. The song itself is intriguing at least, having a length of 8 and a half minutes, and is not as direct as regular A7X singles are, and not as catchy too for that matter. "The Stage" grows on you, and it has some neat moments here and there, like Gates and Baker's riffing, but it is not the exciting opening that I hoped for.

After hearing it, I thought that the title track would be a odd track on the album, but instead, it is actually a good representation of the whole album. "The Stage" is a fairly long, fairly complex album, going away from the more mainstream and linear style that A7X is more well known for. It still sounds like A7X though, and that is a big sigh of relief, since the last album, "Hail To The King", was a huge disappointment, acting more like a cover album than an original piece. Of course, this is no Dream Theater level of complexity, but do not expect any catchy hits like "Bat Country" or "Afterlife" here.

With that said, that does not mean that "The Stage" has some good, memorable songs in it. Several songs, like "Sunny Disposition" and "God Damn", shows a lot of aggression and power that comes straight from the finger tips of Synyster Gates and Zachary Baker, spitting out some insane riffs here and there, and mixing it with more mellow stuff from time to time. Together with new drummer Brooks Wackerman (what an awesome drummer name), bassist Johnathan Seward, and rough edge vocalist M. Shadows, the band plays with fire and passion, something they truly lacked in the predecessor.

But most of the album are reflected in the album cover. The structures of the song can be best described as space like, feeling very distant and mysterious, which somehow works really well. In "Creating God", we got some really cool riffing starting up, but the song evolves multiple times, and the chorus is long and sweeping, a very interesting transformation indeed. And there are several other calmer parts of this record that either work or do not. One really confusing song is "Simulation", which is basically Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in musical form. It opens up with a very calm, almost ballad like opening, then suddenly, we get some demonic and very heavy riffing together with a frightening Shadows. This shift between personalities goes on for the entire song, making it very confusing.

The whole second half of the album is very peaceful and slow, which is another thing I did not really expect, but it is done with enough finesse so that it does not become stale. Songs like "Fermi Paradox" and "Higher"are extremely soothing, yet enjoyable, and I know that A7X have done some slow song in the past, but these songs are more refined, not as cheesy. Another surprise can be found at the end of the album, a whooping 15 minute and 41 second track called "Exist". While I do think it is cool that the band tries their hand on songs with mastodon length, but this was a failed attempt, close to 16 minutes of wasted space. There is a lot of instrumentation here, performed well for sure, but it does not add anything, it is just senseless jamming, and it does not get better towards the end, where the last third of the song is the same melody line over and over again, together with some mumbling from Neil DeGrasse Tyson in the background. I definitely love me some science, but this is so god damn unnecessary! If we scratch the last song, we got roughly an hour of quite good material.

"The Stage" is not your typical mainstream Sevenfold. Instead, we got a band that is expanding their horizons, trying to evolve their existing sound. This is a big step forward from "Hail To The King", but it is also obvious that the band still has some way to go in their new direction. Because even if "The Stage" is a good album overall, it is still too long, and it needs some more meat on its bones. The stage is certainly set for more greatness in the future, so let us wait and see if the band can give us an unforgettable show.

Songs worthy of recognition: Creating God, God Damn, Higher

Rating: 7/10 Sunny Dispositions

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Hail To The King